Powertex Mermaid Tutorial

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I've never been one to like getting my hands dirty working with messy materials, and working with gloves was too restrictive for me, so I knew I wouldn't be using the Powertex in the "normal" way (ie. dipping and draping tee shirt fabric).  I was more interested in how it could be used to stiffen fabrics, and as a sealing and finishing medium as part of my figurative art.

Our doll club had an "H2O" challenge due in December 2009, and I thought a mermaid would be the perfect thing to try the Powertex on.  I was intending to use it as a "sealer" over Paperclay and to cover textural treatments, and to stiffen fins and hair.  The figure started with a wire armature and was built up with aluminum foil wrapped with florist tape. The upper part of the figure was then sculpted with Paperclay.  After it was completely dry, I applied my first coat of Powertex.  I was surprised that bronze was so dark - the mermaid figure looked like she'd been poured from chocolate!

To create fins I used a synthetic tightly pleated fabric, which I cut into fin shapes, running a needle and thread through the tight narrow ends to hold them together and keep them from stretching out of shape. I pinned the fins into position onto plastic-wrap-covered cardboard and applied several coats of diluted Powertex - two on each side. The fins stiffened beautifully.  After attaching the fins to the tail with hot glue, I glued individual blue spruce cone scales up the tail to the hips. Several coats of Powertex were brushed over the scales. I found some of the scales had some natural substance that seemed to repel the Powertex, so it needed to be thick, and required several coats to cover completely.

Not that fond of the dark chocolate look, I brushed on a bronze metallic folk art paint to highlight the texture of the tail and lighten her body. using water-base varnish as an adhesive, I applied tiny individual bits of gold and metallic leaf to the tips of her fins and tail, the top of her tail at her hips, up her torso, and around her hairline. Tiny shells were glued around her hipline as embellishment. I even found a tiny baby sand dollar less than a centimeter in diameter!  Tiny pearls were individually glued between the shells. The beads and shells were brushed with diluted bronze paint to help tie them into the bronze overall look of the piece. 

I wanted hair that would look like it was flowing underwater. I took small pieces of wavy mohair and dipped them into a dish of Powertex. That proved very messy, and a lot of mohair ended up in the Powertex, and the dipped mohair lost it's waviness and ended up a wet matted mess.  Next idea was to take more mohair bits and first saturate them with hairspray and let them dry. Then I dipped the stiffened curls in diluted Powertex. That worked way better. After drying, the mohair pieces were individually hot-glued onto the head. I added some tiny shells into her hair for embellishment and a large shell filled with strings of pearls in her hands, and she was done.

The finished mermaid is 52 cm tall.

Tutorial by Martha Boers
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Photos Of Completed Mermaid
Martha Boers

Martha Boers (nee Reitsma) came to Canada at age 5, when her family immigrated from the Netherlands. Even as a child, she always had an overwhelming need to create, and an insatiable curiosity about the world around her. At the age of three, Martha learned to knit and sew, and each birthday and Christmas brought gifts of new exciting art and craft supplies. Over the years, she became proficient in many skills, although it was difficult to focus on any one thing in particular - everything was so interesting and exciting! She could draw, and paint, knit and sew, weave and sculpt. She loved paper mache and puppets, but in the end it was dolls that won her heart. Making those small lifelike figures required every art and craft skill she had ever learned - finally a way to put them all together for a single purpose!

In the early 1980's Martha developed a popular line of cloth collector dolls. In the late 80's, in an attempt to find a way to make a more "realistic adult" figure for her ever more elaborate costumes, Martha began experimenting with polymer clay. Her youngest sister, Marianne, took an interest and soon showed an amazing skill in sculpting wonderfully realistic figures. The doll making team of Martha and Marianne was born, and their dolls went on to International acclaim, winning many awards, and appearing in many books and magazines.

Martha and Marianne no longer make dolls together, having moved on to new creative endeavors. Martha is presently re-inventing herself as a doll artist and is experimenting with a wide variety of media, and through her photography she has also found a great new artistic freedom in expressing her love for flowers, nature and the world around her.

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