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Extraordinary clay sculpts

By 3dtotal staff

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Date Added: 10th August 2017

Romain Van den Bogaert's clay models positively come alive with personality. We talk to the artist about the many inspirations behind his work and key advice for those beginning to sculpt...



3dtotal: Thanks for speaking to 3dcreative, Romain! Could you introduce yourself with a bit about you and your background?
Romain Van den Bogaert: First of all, thank you for allowing me to present myself and my work in your magazine. Before beginning my professional sculpting career a few months ago, I was a long-time hobbyist sculptor. I've sculpted more or less regularly for a decade. My initial training was not artistic but scientific: I have a Master's degree and a PhD in soil science. My recent choice to turn professional came after a careful consideration of my passion for sculpture; I was in a period of my life when it was the perfect time to launch into it full-pelt. I am mainly self-taught, and I've had the chance to learn at my own pace and with passion all these years.

The Chubby Guy – Personal work, 1/4 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2013

3dt: What inspired you to become a traditional sculptor? What inspires you today?
RVDB: Since I was a child I was attracted to fantastic universes, myths and legends, science fiction and fantasy novels, role-playing games and miniatures games. I devoured dozens of books and comics from an early age. I have always loved creating things with my hands, and the choice of sculpture came very gradually. As a teenager, I began to paint and sculpt miniatures for specialized contests such as Golden Demon. At that time, I was very motivated by the rise of online communities and forums that allowed me to share with other enthusiasts and receive constructive criticism on my early work. Over time I put the paint aside a little and persevered in sculpture, expanding more and more on the topics and scale of my creations.

These are the tools I mostly use for creating small to medium-sized sculptures

My influences and my inspirations have always been very wide. I am sensitive not only to graphic inspirations, but also to moments of life and to various personal experiences. I feed constantly myself with the work of other artists I admire. I spend considerable time searching for inspiration and new influences, in bookstores or on the internet mainly. Today the web is a great source of inspiration and discovery. More and more references are available and more and more artists share their work. I think it is very important and fruitful to be aware of others' work, both from the past and by recent artists. The eye is thus exerted in an incredible way and you gradually create your own mental universe.

Andean Man Portrait – Personal work. Life-sized portrait, natural clay, approximately five hours of work, 2015

I have boundless admiration for many artists, very varied, that inspire me and teach me a lot. The list might not be exhaustive, but I would like to mention a number: of course Rodin, Claudel, Rembrandt Bugatti, Bourdelle, Terada, Szukalski, Carlos Huante, the Shiflett Brothers, Simon Lee, Mœbius, Brian Froud, John Bauer, Sergio Toppi, the anatomical reconstructions of the brothers Kennis & Kennis, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Claire Wendling, N.C. Wyeth, Schiele and Klimt, Otomo, Carlos Nine, Winsor McCay, Sempé, Aryz, Igor-Alban ‘The Black Frog' Chevalier, Paul Komoda, Gio Nakpil, Peter de Sève, Steve Huston, Nicolai Fechin, John Howe, James Jean, Kent Williams, Koji Morimoto and so many others. Music and movies are also major sources of inspiration.

The Little Dreamer – Personal work. Life-sized portrait from the imagination, natural clay, approximately eight hours of work, 2014

3dt: What tools and materials do you generally use for your works?
RVDB: I'm basically a modeler and the materials I use are themselves quite varied. I do not actually have specific preferences; each of them has their own peculiarities, advantages and defaults. What is important is the strength of the volume, not the material with which I create. Certain materials are more suitable for large scale, others for tiny details. The choice is dictated by the speed at which I want to work, by the final rendering of the sculpture: highly detailed or a more sketched look. The purpose of the sculpture is also decisive, i.e. if the sculpture is unique, whether it is for molding or a mass production.

Archivist Demon – Personal work, 1/6 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2015

I love working with soft plasticines for large sizes and quick sketches. For small sculptures or those intended for molding and production, I prefer polymer clay such as Super Sculpey Firm. However, I am now trying to expand the range of materials I work with, especially for the presentation and finalization of my large sculptures. I've begun to include wood, metal and ceramics for specific pieces.

My tools are often homemade or customized from standard tools. The ones I use are not that unique: wooden and metal spatulas, needles or ball-shaped tools, brushes for smoothing when needed, and so on. I use a Dremel tool for drilling, sanding and cutting. I think using tools is pretty personal, and it's hard to explain when and why I use this or that at a certain moment. Everything is very automatic. Thinking about it, I regularly exchange tools throughout the modeling process.

Horny Witch – Personal work, 1/10 scale miniature. Super Sculpey Firm, 2012

3dt: What subject matter do you like to explore with your artwork, and why?
RVDB: Life. Definitely life. I want to depict these subtle emotions and postures of people, animals or even creatures, that make living things come alive. I could spend hours meticulously adding details to a face, or refining the expressions of a hand, a foot...

I like to create not only the character and their expression, but I also like if one wonders about the character's history, environment, and motivations. Who is this character? Why do they seem to laugh, why is he dressed like that? Could this character really exist?

Fresh Night – Personal work, 1/6 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2013

Of all the moments of life that I like to represent, the joy of living, good nature and mischief are probably my favorites. I can't project myself into morbid or dark creations; I want my work to communicate light and joy, which is too rare in figurative art in my opinion. Capturing the beauty of the female body is also becoming one of my favorite subjects; be it the coldest beauty, to very erotic representations.

I am passionate about adventure in the very childlike and pure sense. Frankly, I slightly transform all my personal experiences into extraordinary adventures – I'm still a big kid! That's what I try to convey when I create a character. I try to assemble visual elements that create a sense of adventure, legend, fabulous stories or tales. Traditional cultures are so wonderfully rich to research, clearly inspiring many of my creations with that sense of mythology and legend.

Shamanic Journey – Personal work inspired by Mœbius, 1/6 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2013

3dt: What advice would you give to an artist who's new to traditional sculpture? What do they need to get started?
RVDB: The key is to have fun learning! The tips I could give here are valid for both traditional and digital sculpture. I would also like to raise a point here that seems important to me: I am very grateful to 3dcreative magazine for coming my way as a traditional sculptor, because I think that the distinction between traditional and digital sculpture does not really have any reason to be.

Inuit Fisherman – Personal work, 1/6 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2014

There really is not much needed to begin: a good book on anatomy, some clay, some tools and get started! Nature is queen – always try to get closer. I work a lot from photo references, though if you have the opportunity to work from live models, do not hesitate! Never be burdened with details at first, but mentally break down complex shapes into simple shapes. Then move on to finer and more complex forms. The mirror is also a terrible friend, who doesn't hesitate to point the finger at the shortcomings we tend to forget. Practically speaking, constantly look at the sculpture from all angles throughout the modeling process, to get the correct 3D volumes.

Wild Troll – Personal work, 1/10 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2011. Edited by LeBeN Models

There is also a good balance to find: you must finalize some projects, but don't hesitate to move on when they are not on track. I often see very talented people who throw or drop a job as soon as something is wrong, or when they are not immediately satisfied with the result; at the other extreme, people sometimes stubbornly pursue a project that started badly. In both cases, the learning process is no longer effective.

Untitled Portrait – Personal work, 1/5 scale. Super Sculpey Firm, 2013

3dt: Lastly, what are you currently working on? Any interesting projects or ventures we should look out for in the near future?
RVDB: I am currently working on many projects: commissions for the figure industry, including ethnic-inspired busts, halfway between imagination and reality. I am also currently organizing courses, sculpture training and to set up my professional website. A video showing my work will also broadcast the launch of the website – I cannot wait! I am also working on organizing a personal exhibition of mine in the south of France, where I will present many originals and new larger sculptures. For the future, I am extremely interested in exploring the potential of digital sculpting and 3D printing, and also by creating larger and larger sculptures.

Turkana woman, Kenya – Personal work, 1/2 scale portrait. Edition 1/8. Resin, aluminum, paint and pigments on a wood base, 2015

Related links

Head over to Romain Van den Bogaert's ArtStation
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Sculpting Characters in Clay


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