The course is designed to fit most circumstances, i.e. the common requirements of model-making in general, but it can be tailored to the needs either of specific groups or the complement of individuals. I make a point of properly assessing the needs of participants beforehand (requesting information on why they want to do the course and what they hope to get out of it) with the result that each course becomes slightly different.
“…the course does not involve the completion of a finished artifact – such as a cute little interior- but rather the practical results of a number of personal, interconnected experiments.”
The core schedule of the course as it stands is as follows:
The first day tackles the basis of model-making in both the theoretical and practical senses. Through discussion the purposes and uses of models are outlined, as are the fundamental requirements of the discipline, such as keen observation, keeping to scale, drawing-up and forward planning. Then the group looks at a selection of materials used for the underlying construction of models, ranging from simple cardboard and sheet wood to available plastics. Students are encouraged to solve construction challenges in terms of ‘boxes’ or ‘layers’, are given guidance on how to cut and glue different materials effectively, and shown how to cope with the challenge of intricacy. They then engage in a choice of practical tasks designed to de-mystify the challenges of three-dimensional scale construction.
The second day continues with the theme of cutting and assembling flat materials but turns to metals i.e. giving the option of shaping from a flat construction. Different forms of metal are considered, not only brass or aluminium (wire, rod and sheet form) but also different types of mesh. The main practical task of the day involves soldering a metal figure armature, suitable either for a fixed model or, with modifications, for an animated puppet. Effective soldering, using both brass and aluminium, is demonstrated in full and there is also a look at metal etching techniques.
Following on from the practical work with armatures on the previous day, this day deals with ‘shaping and modelling’ as different from construction. Students are encouraged to think in terms of ‘controlled limitation’ i.e. the use of armatures, templates and formers, when faced with the challenge of manipulating soft materials. Different material options for the more ‘organic’ forms such as figures or trees are explored, ranging from soft foams to modelling clays and relief paints. Modelling a small figure forms the basis of the practical component for this day and students prepare a form to be used as a prototype for the following day’s casting session. The specific question of how to model curtains and fabrics in scale is also considered.
Being able to make moulds and casts is an invaluable skill in almost any 3D discipline, and this fourth day is devoted to it. The day begins with a look at the reasons and benefits of casting, and an outline of the most commonly used mouldmaking and casting materials. Students then go on to make a simple mould in fast-setting silicone and explore casting in different materials, including methods of press-moulding with Sculpey and Polymorph. The day is concluded with a look at latex, both for simple mould-making and as a casting material for relief surfaces.
Achieving the desired surface qualities and colour effects with forms is just as important as achieving their shape, so the last day of the course is devoted to various methods of surfacing and painting. At the start of the day issues such as the importance of good visual references and the question of scale in modelled surfaces are addressed, as well as the more practical one of preventing warping. Surfaces can be created by the following different means; building up, breaking down, cladding or gluing/scattering. These techniques are outlined and a selection of materials for each are explored. In particular the uses of rigid foams for embossing textures and tissueprint techniques are demonstrated. The main practical outcome of the day is a collection of surface/painting samples mounted on pages, using the materials provided and intended as the beginnings of an ongoing sample book for future reference. The effectiveness of common paints such as acrylic, gouache or enamel is compared, as are the techniques of dry-brushing, washing and using coloured pencils. Special tasks such as staining wood, simulating wood and metal, earth and grass effects or general weathering are also covered. Finally reference is made to the use of digital programmes in the creation of surfaces, such as tiling and wallpaper.
No course like this is any immediate use unless the materials recommended and the tools needed to work with them are reasonably accessible and moderately priced. Furthermore the course acknowledges that, for most designers, model-making is an occasional rather than continual pursuit and it is unlikely that many would be able to equip a dedicated studio. For these reasons the course confines itself to processes requiring only simple hand tools for the most part, rather than complicated or expensive machinery.
Another important aim of the course is to offer a companionable forum for questions and discussion. This is usually ably fulfilled by the people involved without any coaxing. Participants may share the interest, the desire, or perhaps just the professional need for working in model form, but their origins and intentions may be various. They bring richly varied responses and input to shared challenges, and enjoy the support of fellow-feeling without the bite of direct competition. If time allows, it is an occasional feature of the course to have a short programmed discussion at the end of each day on a particular making problem (chosen by consensus). This provides a further opportunity for the group to share both common and different experiences.
David Neat has worked as a professional model-maker for more than 25 years, alongside his other practices as designer, sculptor/painter, writer and teacher. He trained on the Motley course in the mid ’80s and went on to design for major theatres both here and abroad. In addition to running his own courses he currently teaches at a number of leading design colleges including Rose Bruford College, Wimbledon College of Art, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, RADA and LIPA. His instructional book Model-making: Materials and Methods, which was developed out of the 5-day course and published last year, is fast becoming an industry reference book for model-making.
Further details about David’s Model-making course may be found on his website
Published by The Crowood Press