Clay Wars, the first annual Monster Clay Sculpting Contest
The Monster Makers in partnership with Stan Winston School of Character Arts and American Fine Arts held the first annual Monster Clay sculpting competition called Clay Wars in both the 1/6 (human scale) figurative maquette and life-size mask categories. Entries had to be Star Wars themed but didn't need to be based on core characters of the Star Wars universe.
We're proud to introduce you to Luke Welch, the grand prize winner of the 1/6 scale figurative maquette category for his work "Toodun'ata." And next week we'll be featuring Trevor Ingeneri, the grand prize winner of the life-size mask category for his work "Mercenary."
- Team Stan Winston School
From collecting comics statues to making my own creatures
By Luke Welch
I am the youngest of three brothers, and when I say youngest, I mean by a mile! My oldest brother is 18 years older than me, and the other is 14 years older. So growing up, I was influenced by them in a big way. Lucky for me, they were into some cool stuff. I have vivid memories of reading their old Conan and Incredible Hulk comics. I also remember all the artwork from their concert T-shirts and album covers, particularly Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast! I watched a lot of horror films as a child, but my favorites were the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. The special effects and ideas they came up with were just way beyond anything I’d seen before. I’ll never forget my dad buying me a copy of Fangoria at a gas station one day. It changed the whole way I viewed movies. It showcased the guys behind the scenes and showed the effort it took to create a scene that may only last a few seconds in the film. The true impact of that didn’t sink in until much later in life when I started sculpting my own creations.
Pictured above: Luke Welch, the grand prize winner of the "Clay Wars" 1/6 scale figurative maquette category.
My love for art started with trying to draw like my favorite comic book artists. As I grew older, I didn’t have much confidence in my talent as an illustrator. It eventually lost its fun and became like a chore. So I dropped it. I even quit reading comics. My focus went to music, and everything else your typical teenager gets into. Years later, I saw the cover of Image magazine with Red Hulk on the cover. I’ve always had a fascination with Hulk, so I had to pick it up and see what the deal was. Now I was back into comics.
Pictured above: Custom Ibanez Hulk Guitar by Luke Welch.
I then began collecting statues of my favorite characters. It was great to have a 3D representation of Thor or Hulk sitting on your shelf. The problem with statues is they aren’t cheap, and they don’t make statues of every character. I found myself reading comics and wishing I had a statue of these obscure characters. I decided to figure out how to make my own.
Pictured above: Thing from the comic Fantastic Four by Luke Welch.
Finding the right basic material
Most of my research was done via YouTube, but Tim Bruckner’s book, ‘Pop Sculpture’ is worth its weight in gold. It is a must-have for any aspiring sculptor. Over the past several years, I’ve tried all sorts of clays and materials and created all manner of beasts! It takes a lot of trial and error to be a sculptor and to find what materials you are most comfortable with. But once you find it, the process becomes second nature. My clay of choice is Monster Clay. It allows me to work up ideas quickly and not have to worry about an armature to support the clay.
Pictured above: "Hammer" by Luke Welch, sculpted in Monster Clay.
Pictured above: From left to right, "Ogrim the Wretch" and "Demon Sorcerer" by Luke Welch, made from Monster Clay.
Pictured above: From left to right, "Black Moorey" and "Mangler" by Luke Welch, made from Monster Clay.
‘Toodun’ata: Hunter on Dagobah’
I was so excited when I found out about the Clay Wars contest because it revolved around the use of my favorite sculpting medium and, of course, Star Wars. You had the choice of sculpting an existing character from the Star Wars universe, or you could create your own. How could I pass on the opportunity to create my own design? My first instinct was to create a Sith or Jedi character. I took a step back and thought about what makes Star Wars so special compared to other sci-fi films.
Pictured above: "Toodun’ata", Luke Welch's grand prize winning Monster Clay sculpture in the "Clay Wars" 1/6 scale figurative maquette category.
The phrase, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” sums it up perfectly. Star Wars feels vintage, yet advanced. It found a way to make sci-fi more grounded and not too outlandish. There are so many unique designs in those films. I wanted my character to feel like he fit in. It had to have the “look” of a Star Wars character. One thing you’ll notice in Star Wars is lots of wardrobe. Nearly every character is wearing long robes or wrapped in strips of cloth. Just about all that is seen are the hands and head of the character. There aren’t a lot of non-humanoid shapes either, so you can’t go wild with an alien concept. I searched through my library of reference books until an idea grabbed me. I ended up going with a turtle concept, specifically a terrapin. I wanted it to resemble a turtle, but not so close that he looked like one of the Ninja Turtles. I decided that having no shell would help with that issue. The name, ‘Toodun’ata’ comes from the scientific name ‘Testudinata,’ which is used to class shelled turtles.
Pictured above: "Toodun’ata" from different angles.
When I sculpt a figure, I like to create a short story for it in my mind and work that into the sculpt. I want it to look like you’ve caught them in the act, not like they are posing for a picture. It gives a sculpt more life. I decided to make him a hunter. Using the book, ‘The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide,’ I picked out a planet and prey for my character. I chose the iconic swamp planet, Dagobah. My character’s victim is a Giant Swamp Slug. I designed all of his armor and weapons to look like they were handmade. I wanted him to look like a guy that lives off the land and uses everything he can from his past kills. For example, the armor on his arms and legs are giant scales taken from some large beast he’s slayed in the past. Most people that first see the sculpt think that is part of his body, but if you look close, you’ll see where the scales are tied together with rope. Even with all the detail in this piece, it all came together quickly once I had the backstory for my character figured out. I think the key to character design is coming up with a great story and grounding it in reality, to make it believable. I hope I’ve managed to do that with this design.
Pictured above: "Toodun’ata"
I’m honored to be selected as the Grand Prize winner of the contest and can’t thank the incredible judges, Steve Wang, Chet Zar, and Casey Love enough. I can’t wait to see the end results as the American Fine Arts Foundry turns my design into a bronze.
- by Luke Welch