Patgnome Oswood - Absurdist Adventures Beyond the Comfort Zone

So it all started with a tweet. Or, more accurately, a reply to a reply to a tweet by well-known comedian Patton Oswalt (currently on tour, and with tickets still available!)

On February 5th, 2020, the following interaction occurred on Twitter:

Oswalt received a tweet saying "I guess it's easy to go low when you are such a small man" (An uninspired height joke- Oswalt is 5'3" tall)

To which Oswalt replied "You keep running your mouth & I'm gonna surf over to your house on my strawberry leaf and throw an acorn at your mailbox"

Oswalt is one of a handful of people that I follow on my still-fledgling Twitter (@MadDashStudio) and so I got a notification about that particular interaction. Well. An image like that - surfing across the pavement on a strawberry leaf, acorn in hand, to exact some kind of weird suburban-The-Borrowers-revenge? An acorn-wielding gnome? The image was priceless.

I replied to the tweet - something about PatGnome Oswood, Woodland Warrior, and how much I wanted to sculpt such a thing.

After all, I already had tiny acorns on hand!

And pre-blended strawberry leaf clay!

But I had (And still have, tbh) a pretty full queue to get through.

So I figured that I'd forget about it.

And I waited. And worked on other things.

I did not forget about it.

For Three Weeks.

So, since I couldn't get the image out of my head, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I rarely sculpt anything humanoid. I've never really done a portrait piece before.

And on top of that, making something basically for my own edification or interest is really rare for me. But that's how we learn, I guess. So I started with the obvious - A wire armature. I used "official" armature wire for the core and legs, but wrapped and added jewelry wire for the arms and to fill out the body, as well as making the form easier for the clay to adhere to.

The advantage to making a portrait of a public figure or celebrity is that in this day and age, it's easy to access literally hundreds of source photos from virtually every angle. Click the link, or simply do an image search for Patton Oswalt's name or that of any public figure and you'll find photos of various vintages, angles and styles. Additionally, for many famous people, actors in particular, basic statistics are easy to look up. Thus I was able to find out Patton Oswalt's height, as well as, purely by accident, his officially reported hair and eye color. The eye color info was handy- it can be surprisingly hard to figure that out in even the best photos.

Added to that, I have access to Netflix, and two of his comedy specials are available there. (Annihilation and Talking for Clapping - for which he won an Emmy) I'd watched both, and remembered being particularly captivated by his shoes in Talking for Clapping. There should have been more excitement about those shoes - they were amazing! ...But more on that later.

So I added a little clay to the armature, and started gathering reference images.

Now, I think that Patton Oswalt is a good dude. I enjoy his work. I enjoy his Kind-Cynical-Nerd persona. Kind, cynical nerds are my people. But I'm not really the screaming-fan type.

For anybody. I'll usually admire somebody for their work and hopefully for their actions as humans and leave it at that. But since I had decided to make a portrait of somebody, I needed information. "Images - Patton Oswalt" "Patton Oswalt Shoes" "Patton Oswalt Costume" "Patton Oswalt Shoes - Christmas" "Patton Oswalt Red Carpet" "Does Patton Oswalt Surf? Skateboard? Snowboard?" "Surfing Stance" "Patton Oswalt Left handed?" "Patton Oswalt Shoes minus Christmas, minus Xmas, minus song, m... NO I DON'T WANT THE SONG, I WANT TO SEE SOME OF THE MAN'S DAMN SHOES! IT'S FOR ART, DAMMIT" Searching the same name over and over with different variations looks a bit fishy. My search history looked obsessive, though in the most boring way. "Well, luckily for me," I thought to myself, "the only people seeing my search history are me, my spouse, and the AI that are going to try to sell me lots of shoes. I know I'm not a creep, and my spouse is used to weird internet searches. And SURELY the next step, which other people might actually see, will exonerate me as a non-creep... Now, what's the next step...? Oh. Oh, well."

I am not, by nature, a planner. My whole entire process is really, really organic. I may have a few ideas or directions pre-planned, like save points in a video game, but I mainly improvise. A lot. I knew that I had acorns and strawberry leaf clay, and I knew that I had to start with an armature, and I knew that I would have to pose PatGnome OsWood in a surfing stance. But the rest of the process was kind of an unmoored blur, especially since I'd never done a portrait before. Since I had no idea how I wanted to finish the sculpture, in terms of wardrobe, pose specifics, or accessories, there was only one option, especially since polymer clay allows me the freedom of more than one firing for each piece. I'd have to build as naturally as possible, and that meant making a "life drawing" in a skin-tone clay.

Fortunately for me, I have a reasonable grasp of human anatomy, and have seen a profound amount of naked people over the years, (under the most Innocent and Banal of Circumstances, believe it or not) including many folks with a body type similar to that of my subject. My first minor snag came in the form of a poor armature choice on my part. In addition to making the arms overly long, I had likewise added too much wire to the torso. As such, a knot of wire had become twisted when applying the first layers of clay, adding a subtle protrusion in an area I had no interest in focusing on. Fortunately, I knew for certain that the finished piece would be wearing trousers of some sort, and I had even kept the clay legs slightly narrow to accommodate a layer of clay fabric. Once I realized that the solution to the problem was "pants," I let myself ignore the issue and move on to more important things.

So I finished building and did a first-fire on the body.

Next I started on the hair. He and I have a similar hair color, a very soft, sort of ambiguous brown, though in more recent photos, Oswalt's was making the subtle transition to grey. I wanted to create that soft-brown-fading to silver look, and the only way to do that without painting it was to create a millefiori cane. I made a silver-to-pearly-brown gradient cane, which I turned into a petal cane, and layered and reduced it until I could make and apply thin strips of the subtly color-changing hair, which I textured with a dental tool (One of my favorites) and a tool that was incredibly handy for this sculpt - a vintage version of an opthalmological tool called a "Davis foreign body spud" (I'll hopefully post a bit about this tool in the future, either here or over on the Mad Dash Studio Instagram.) I left the eyes, hands, and feet unfinished for the time being. The lower armature wires would ultimately have to be anchored in the strawberry leaf, meaning that the feet wouldn't be completed until afterward. Delicate details like eyes, and extremities such as hands can't be constructed until they are no longer likely to be warped or dented by other activity. Once the hair had been applied, and a second firing was completed, it was time to dress the figure.

I decided to go with a sort of ambiguous look - neither the elaborate dress of a high-fantasy character, nor the era-specific casual jeans and a T-shirt. Various photo references showed that Oswalt's personal wardrobe included a lot of blues and purples and subtly iridescent material. He wears jackets and collared shirts and, somewhat surprisingly to me, a lot of vests. So I built blue grey trousers that look a bit denim-ish, but not overwhelmingly so, and a smoky blue long-sleeved shirt. I also added a little more texture to his hairstyle. I used my costume-sewing knowledge to build each garment very much as if it were being tailored. (Some of the photos show the "pattern" pieces and scraps) Since I intended to add a vest, I realized that I would need to build and attach hands. (The 4th image above was my answer to a "What are you up to right now?" text from a friend - I was taking a break before working on hands, and I thought that a photo of merlot-dipped shortbread set against the backdrop of a tiny gnome-man in front of an egg-cup full of glow-in-the-dark-sightlaber blanks and a cheese box full of tiny cookie cutters summed up my life rather nicely) So, hands. Remember how I mentioned that I am not a planner? Yep. Nope. I'm not. I'm occasionally very jealous of the plan-havers our there. See, rather than doing a smidgen of proportion math and carefully working on one precise set of perfectly balanced hands... I made... a dozen hands - 6 sets, of which I fired 5, including two right hands formed around acorns. (I dropped the sixth set before firing - they were covered in miscellaneous fluff and had to be tossed.) They ranged from under 1/8 of an inch to around 1/4 inch in size. Having made 5 pairs of hands, they were batched, matched, attached, and dispatched. (I sorted them back into pairs, figured out which pair was the right size and fit for the sculpture, and attached them to the arms, then set the other sets aside for future projects) Then I fired the full sculpt, with hands, before moving on.

I added the vest, subtly striped with iridescent blues and purples.

Attached a knapsack that I had fired previously. I actually made 4 different knapsacks, thimble-shaped, pod-shaped, and a more traditional leather knapsack shape, but settled on the stitched-leaves design. Blended the buckskin-toned clay that I knew I would want for the shoes, and created a strap for the knapsack. The only deliberately visible non-clay element on the sculpt is the ring on the knapsack strap - a copper-colored steel jump ring from my jewelry supplies. I built the strawberry leaf that Oswood was meant to surf on. I'm a plant nerd, and also a nerd-nerd, so I considered the fact that strawberry leaves have three leaflets, compared the pros and cons of attempting to surf on one, two, or three leaves, and I decide that the central leaflet (only) was the most logical choice for surfing, since using either side leaflet would result in some gnarly pull. During this stretch, I also realized that Oswalt wears glasses in about 50% of his photos. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to pursue that aesthetic, (And I couln't ask the man himself whether he had a preference) but a well-timed post in the u/polymerclay subreddit gave me the idea to give it a try. I made 3 different pairs of glasses entirely from thinly-pressed translucent Premo Sculpey sandwiched between layers of glass. Though I ultimately decided against using glasses (for now) I would consider the experiment of making them a success.

Though the photos don't do it justice, one of my great points of pride through this whole process was that the figure would balance almost perfectly on its own, even once the armature wire was attached to the strawberry leaf. A part of me would have loved to leave it at that, a figure balancing on a leaf, but I am a bit fixated on sturdiness and balance, so in addition to finally adding the eyes, I decided to add a stretch of sidewalk for Patgnome Oswood to surf on. Being that I am an overachiever (but only when it's really impractical and/or extra interesting to me) I did an image search for "L.A. Sidewalks." Well, all the photos of sidewalks were of cracked sidewalks with greenery pushing through. Naturally, despite the fact the I REALLY should have been working on my actual to-do list, I couldn't just make a slab of concrete, I had to make an aging, greenery-spotted sidewalk crack, complete with collected soil and exposed pebbles. (I think it came out rather well, if a tad over-the top.) I also finally finished his eyes They're itty-bitty, so it's really hard to tell, but they have distinctly textured pupils and the irises have the subtle gold sheen of all brown eyes. I also applied a thin layer of tinted liquid clay to the lips, adding some subtle red tones to make the face look more natural and healthy. Last of all, I made shoes. Oswalt, like many male comics, seems to wear fairly fancy shoes. (Is this a thing? I feel like it's a thing. Like there's a secret "Fancy Shoes Theory" of comedy... but I digress...) I have to confess to a bit of covetousness over the shoes Oswalt wears in "Talking for Clapping." I could find very little information on them, but they're midnight blue and burnt sienna oxfords. Rather than copy them, I created a color-flipped shoe design, meant to echo that pair, but also to be a compromise between a modern spectator shoe and a viking boot.

I finished sculpting Patgnome Oswood on March 5th, exactly one month after the tweet was published, and one week after beginning the sculpt.

My favorite detail is almost invisible, even when deliberately and specifically photographing it is the addition on Oswalts left hand of a wedding ring. I couldn't determine for sure if he regularly wears one, but it seemed appropriate to add that subtle touch.

My second favorite detail is the fact that the acorns in his knapsack are removable. Because why not?

Probably the greatest challenge was the character's face. Working as small as I did (the figure is under 2.5 inches tall) the face was inevitably going to wind up slightly caricatured, particularly since I was trying to slightly restrict my work time on it the piece. More than anything, I had three goals on the face (which extended to the figure as a whole.) 1. Stay as true as possible to the source material - that meant making Patgnome Oswood resemble Patton Oswalt as much as possible. 2. Capture his personality - that of a kind-hearted, cynical, friendly, gently-sarcastic nerd, and 3. Most challenging of all, try to do all this without being insulting to Oswalt himself - a person that I find to be fairly admirable and kind, and who offered a delightfully absurd inspiration. This is made slightly more challenging by the fact that Oswald is unconventionally attractive, and acknowledging and pursing the qualities that make him a distinctive figure also runs the risk of being viewed as deliberate insult. Nevertheless, I like to think I succeeded, at least to some degree.

This sculpt was built entirely by hand using polymer clay. As a rule, I used Premo Sculpey clay, with the addition of translucent, red, and black liquid clays. This figure includes one non-clay decorative element in the form of a steel jump ring, and only one non-clay coloring agent; the tiny sliver of clay applied as a wedding band contains a little copper or mica powder for a subtle metallic finish.