Ever since I first started sketching Peblo, I had this idea of how he might look in 3D. Rather than a round and soft shape, I always imagined him being faceted. That way he had a very distinct silhouette and could allow me to sit him on different sides when it came to animation.
A physical version could be made from all sorts of materials. A block of wood sanded down in an assortment of angles to make a faceted shape or cast in concrete. I never liked the idea of creating a cgi version of him. Yet, the biggest issue I had was tooling up. Sanding a block of wood would look great but getting access to a standup sander was tricky. Sadly I wouldn’t be able to achieve the same effect doing it by hand.
Early sketches and inspiration
So to keep things simple, I toyed with the idea of making him out of concrete or resin. In order to do that, I’d need a mould which meant making a model of him first out of Balsa wood. Balsa wood because it’s cheap to buy and easy to cut with a fine saw.
It was actually quite difficult to sculpt because I didn’t realise how brittle balsa is. So achieving clean lines proved pretty challenging. After a couple iterations, I’m happy with the texture but might try sculpting a potato (yep I said potato) to achieve sharper lines. Then I can cover it in silicone to make a reusable mould.
Sculpting a block of balsa wood
The many incarnations of Peblo!
How he looks nowadays
I love these types of projects because you just need to get stuck in to find your way. Often you make mistakes, but that’s all part of it! Just playing it by ear is so much fun. It’s refreshing and such a contrast to my day job where you only have so much time. Deadline-free, I thought: as long as there was a similar texture and charm to the illustrated version then I’m happy. Otherwise it’s not a Peblo.
So when I had set aside some leftover plywood for my van, thinking I’d make a table out of it....I thought how often am I really going to use it?! Instead let’s make 2x huge versions of Peblo. That way I could experiment a bit, choose the best and maybe sell/gift the other one. Who wouldn’t want to be greeted by that face every day - especially during lockdown!
I did some loose sketches by hand. I’d not drawn Peblo this big before and wasn’t too precious about him looking exactly like the illustration. So did some rough planning in pencil before cutting.
Cut once. Measure twice.
I don’t own a work bench so I have to make do with this ledge in the garden. I’ve cut everything this way. It can a bit laborious! So maybe I’ll indulge in a proper work bench later down the line. I’m sure the neighbours would appreciate something less echoey!
Coarse Sand. Fine sand.
After some sought after advice from a chippy, I used a coarse grit sand first then finished in a finer grit. I’d never really paid much attention to grit level before - but it makes a hell of a difference when you’re painting wood.
I was keen to find a way to paint the wood but not fully cover the grain because there was some really nice texture coming through. A white wash was the answer. You just water down the paint your using, and use a cloth to rub into the wood. Also it doesn’t have to be white paint, it can be any colour you like. I used some scraps to test the paint colours I bought along with ways to apply it such as a cloth, toothbrush, wire wool and brushes.
The real deal
Then it was time to get stuck in. I masked off shapes so I could make it look faceted. You couldn’t keep the tape on there for too long - otherwise you created quite strange borders. I took my time to build up the layers of colours. Switching between the light and darker colours to add depth and mimic the illustration. I added texture with a toothbrush - either flicking it to make specks or dragging it across the surface.
The edges looked a little odd left natural, so I finished them in the dark paint.
Equally the most important aspect was Peblo’s face. I used a couple penny’s to map out where the eyes should go. 1p size so I could paint circles larger and not leave any pencil marks behind. Painting his smile and eyes was absolutely nerve racking. I haven’t got a steady hand! But I’m quite happy with how one of them turned out. It’s the circles that are a struggle, with a paint brush you ended up making so many mistakes you have keep going back over what you’ve done.
Sure enough since making him, I’ve had my photograph taken with Peblo - a neighbour is taking portraits of self isolators in Southville as part of a photography project. Interested to see how that turns out!