|What makes one want to
take a beautiful figure by Tim Selberg and grind/sculpt/sand
away at an already perfect face?
In the case of HENRY it was the fact
that I knew this was a figure taken from a mold and not one
of a kind. Also, someone had already modified the original
head giving him a horrible KNUCKLEHEAD style paint job. This
was obviously not done by Tim Selberg.
Ventriloquist Kenny Warren emailed me
a photo of a beautiful Selberg “Reggie” he had (not the
newer Reggie II) recently purchased. The Reggie head was
fantastic. He was actually bald with a sealed head (meaning,
no access to the mechanics) and painted on hair (see photo).
Could this have been a custom request? I really don’t think
so. The work was not up to Tim Selberg’s standard. His
movements were eyes, wiggle nose, upper lip (quite sticky
upper lip, but not bad) and moving mouth. I studied the
photo and started doodling. What I doodled was Reggie as a
Caucasian old man. I suddenly thought of how cool this
figure would look as this older character.
So what was I going to do you ask?
Was I going to take this expensive
Selberg figure and just start modifying it?
Did I have the gall to think I could
improve on an original Selberg design?
Improve is a strong word. Not improve
in the least. Just modify into an original character,
without losing that Selberg spark of genius.
I purchased the figure from Kenny and
a few days later Reggie arrived. That day I called Greg
Claassen to tell him about my project. I spoke with him
about my ideas for this modification. Particularly that the
first thing I was going to have to do was carve down the
lips into thinner old Caucasian man lips. Greg told me that
once I did that, I was committed. There was no going back.
This sounded ominous, and a bead of sweat began to form on
my brow. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. So I did
the only thing I could. I drove home and opened up the box
from Kenny. I took the head downstairs, clamped the head and
began carving away at that polyurethane head. I didn’t give
myself time to breath or think. I was a carving machine.
After some careful grinding those lips began to thin down
and take the form I had envisioned in my mind and on paper.
The first day I carved down his lips
and with a sculpting compound started filling in the rougher
areas and smoothing them out. I called Greg Claassen and he
actually praised the grinding job I did. I’m not sure if it
was just to boost my confidence but it worked. Maybe he was
just adding fuel to the fire to see what kind of disaster I
could concoct – but it worked. I was more motivated than
I started sculpting in the forehead,
the nose, one of the ears, and added in an eyelid. The
eyelid was tricky. I placed some card stock into the eye
socket to give his eye clearance so that the sculpting
material wouldn’t bond with the eye and hinder the movement.
I sculpted the lid over the card stock divider and took a
photo. Greg said that he wasn’t sure if it would work. This
had me worried, but I knew I could always sand it off and do
something else if need be. A day’s worth of drying would
tell the tale!
The following day I go into my shop
and pick up the head. I pull out the card stock. SUCCESS!
The lids are nice and solid and stable. The eyes move
fluidly and freely. YES! The lids look great and really age
the character appropriately. It will need some sanding/final
detailing but I’m happy!! Now I immediately stick the card
stock in the other eye and begin sculpting that lid. Now,
why is it the first lid was so easy to sculpt, but I had to
play with the second eyelid sculpture for a quite a while to
get right. After some patience (and I’m the most impatient
person in the world) the lid began to take shape. After a
few hours I went ahead and pulled the card stock and the lid
looked good, although it still needed another days worth of
Later on that night I went into the
office with some sandpaper and started sanding, sanding,
sanding. Softening the wrinkles…making sure the additional
sculpture was flush with the original head. Smoothing the
nose and lower lip…sanding..sanding sanding. Have you ever
noticed that when you’re having fun doing something the
hours of effort involved don’t matter and seem to fly by? I
do think that by just being able to afford this character a
few hours a day was a benefit. I did what I could during
that timeframe and let him dry. If I had to work solely on
HENRY, for say, an 8 hour stretch I might get burned out and
not want to touch him for a week. By working just a few
hours a day I slowly began seeing his character take shape.
After a few days of looking at HENRY I
decided that the eyelids had to go. They took away from the
Selberg spark. I sanded those off along with finishing up
Henry’s other sanding and he was ready for paint. I
carefully mixed up a batch of skin-tone and applied several
coats. After those dried the fun part started. SHADING! On
the first attempt I might have spent a day shading, shading,
Upon entering my shop the following
afternoon and glancing at HENRY I immediately know that I
was not happy with the results so after a little sanding and
another layer or two of skin tone I was ready to start
again. The second round didn’t take very long because I had
a good idea what I wanted to do and shading this guy was
fun! He is quite extreme, red cheeked, nose, etc. I was
achieving the Bill Nelson style I was going for.
I decided he needed a few more touches
such as skin blemishes and liver spots. I painted those on –
and then went online and searched, and searched until I
found the appropriate material to turn into his scraggly
eyebrows. I placed my order and waited a week for the
material to arrive. Once it did I applied it and trimmed it
You think you can’t see HENRY on
stage? He is MADE for the stage!
Lastly, I had to modify his hands. I
sculpted in a vein on each hand to give them age. Next, I
painted on a few layers of skin tone, CAREFULLY painted in
his fingernails (I hate it when artists don’t appropriately
paint the fingernails), and viola’, HENRY had hands. I then
put on HENRY’s costume and he was truly born!
I really had a great time modifying
this Selberg. I definitely wouldn’t advise anyone to take
this kind of thing on, but if you find a beat up old figure
that might still have some life in him give it a shot. You
might end up with a new friend!
I did forward some photos in advance
to Tim Selberg and Bill Nelson to see what they thought of
my work. Tim told me that he thought I had really done a
good job on my HENRY project, although he would not want
people to start whittling away on their Selberg figures.
Don’t worry Tim. I don’t think this will start a trend
(unless people want to send them to me).
I would like to say thank you to BILL NELSON for his help
during this project. I would write him quite frequently with
questions (Ok, so I still write him quite frequently with
questions) and he was always willing to help. After sending
him the final photos of Henry he gave me a very positive
response (and Bill gives a very honest critique….from my
experience he doesn’t pull punches because that will not
help you grow as an artist).
If anyone is interested in giving
HENRY a home, please check out the
Marketplace. If you’d like to follow more of my artistic
adventures check out:
Lastly, if you have any old, beat-up,
unused figures that perhaps you would like to see
re-invigorated into new and totally one-of-a-kind
characters, please write to me:
pictures for larger view