“CARVING AWAY ON EXPENSIVE FIGURES AND OTHER BAD IDEAS”
by Matt Kimbro



 
What makes one want to take a beautiful figure by Tim Selberg and grind/sculpt/sand away at an already perfect face?

Insanity?

Curiousity?

Both?

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 ever.

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 drying.

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, tinkering, 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 to shape.

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 Ventriloquist Central Marketplace. If you’d like to follow more of my artistic adventures check out: http://www.upperlipsneer.blogspot.com

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: matthew.kimbro@gmail.com
 

 

 

Click on pictures for larger view