Peter Pan – the PRELUDE
1. It seems a long time since you first showed me the start of this project, how many hours from concept, sculpt and paint job were invested in this?
The Peter Pan project is the 3rd piece we made together, but it was the first project we had in mind when the 2nd Star project began. So at the end, if I consider all the concept parts and I count all the hours, probably it’s around 6 months of work, but the full period was 2 years.
2. What’s the creative process like between you, how do you organise, plan and ensure the best possible outcome?
First of all, it is important to understand that we have been good friends for years, we phone each other at least once a week, only for the pleasure of speaking (unfortunately we live pretty far away and it’s not easy to meet).
This makes everything easier! The work on Peter Pan and other projects is basically divided into three parts: design, sculpture and painting. Some might think that the more complex and longest parts are the second and the third, but it is actually the designing that takes the longest time.
It begins with the idea, we did a great brainstorming, we make proposals, then Max begins to throw down some ideas, send drawings and despite his talent is not easy to hit the target on the first try. In particular with this piece that was the first one that we designed together, the designs were many and we spent a lot of time to decide the various details.
It was only when the project was clear that we started working on the piece. Usually, we use a WhatsApp chat to share each step.
Also, some trusted friends were aware of the project and we had them involved during the steps to give us advice and criticism. For the sculpting, in particular, the Master Mariano Numitone helped Max a lot during the sculpting process.
In the end, it’s teamwork, there has to be a lot of trust between each other and to follow each step with care and passion.
3. The text that accompanies your post on FB about being able to fly, is this also a personal observation about pushing oneself to become a better painter for instance also?
The texts we used to accompany the piece on Facebook are obviously all quotes from the Peter Pan story. I like your idea of connecting it with pushing ourselves as artists, but in fact, the feeling was simpler and perhaps deeper: Peter Pan is a story about children who do not grow, but is actually talking about adults who want to keep their childhood, based on his own childhood.
We believe that this is the perfect metaphor of the miniaturist who “plays” with dolls and to use them to tell stories of distant and amazing worlds.
We are all at the same time little Peters, forever getting distracted in search of new adventures and with your our heads “in the cloud” and little Wendys, with her book of fairy tales to tell to the Lost Boys.
Flying ultimately means being able to dream, and when you stop believing you can fly, you never will fly again, you grew up (or maybe you’re dead?).
In the spotlight of the freehand by Francesco, you will find a discussion about the history of the piece as a whole and more detailed.
4. Tell us a little about the 2nd Star project.
I have already written that the first project that we made together was just Peter Pan and the title of the work is “… and then straight on till the morning”.
Those who know a little ‘the story of Peter Pan will have already drawn conclusions. Seriously this is just the way to get to Neverland: “Second star to the right, and then straight on till the morning”. Hence our name does not refer to “us”, we are not “two stars”, this is the second star, the one to keep straight to get into the world of fantasy.
Aside from that joke about the name, the creation of this project was born from an idea of Francesco, precisely at the end of 2013. Francesco had become a father in October and had imagined doing something that was ideally dedicated to “children” and the world of fairy tales. His favourite story was always Peter Pan, so he decided to do a project on this. At first, he had thought of doing everything himself, but he needed someone who had a “vision”, a personal way of seeing things. He and Max had already been friends for years and he had already developed a work about the novel Pinocchio with excellent results.
Max was not a perfect sculptor, he had yet to grow to that, but he had something more important for this project: a style similar to the illustration of books for children, accompanied by a hint of “grotesque and a little ‘gothic’. In some ways very similar to the style of Tim Burton. Much more than a perfect sculptor was what he wanted.
Max has obviously accepted and we started working on it with passion.
But at the end of 2014, the project had been temporarily stopped. Building it required a certain prize that was difficult to propose to a collector.
We, therefore, decided to first work on some smaller projects and here came the real architect of the 2nd star project: the friend (because it is, first of all, a friend) and collector Edouard Negre, who has agreed to invest “in the dark” on our first project “Hansel and Gretel” and then on the second job “Steadfast tin heart” dedicated to Andersen’s tale.
It was also he who would agree to fund this major project and we can never thank him enough for that.
Meanwhile, Max has become more skilful in sculpting and the experience of the first two projects together served him well to tackle the project of Peter Pan in a much more simple and conscious manner.
In the end, it’s simply two friends and miniature lovers who try to tell some stories in their own way: in a world of dragons, soldiers and monsters we felt that the children’s point of view it was an interesting read for our environment. We try to do that.
5. What do you have planned next, what’s the next big project, any clues??
We have two small ones for later this year, just two “divertissement”. But if all goes as we hope for the next two years, we have another big project, also obviously linked to a fairy tale, perhaps the best that has ever been written, and the most difficult to recreate… But clearly, we won’t tell you anything about that now.
Spotlight on Francesco
1. You have a very unique style and a great understanding of colour, light and atmosphere, yet your projects with 2nd Star are very innocent and childlike. Will you continue this style with other 2nd Star projects and if so why do believe this is the case?
Good question, with an actually very simple answer: I paint miniatures, is my passion: I love to paint miniatures. For me, the most important thing when you paint is telling a story. My painting and my technique are at the service of this story.
This means that while maintaining faith in my visual style that (hopefully) recognize my pieces, I try to change my approach depending on what I’m telling. The pieces born from the 2nd Star projects are pieces dedicated to the world of childhood and to be a sophisticated and a bit ‘dark version of the illustration of a children’s book.
The answer, as you see it, was already contained in your question: If I have to paint the bust of a knight templar in Jerusalem I will try to portray the gritty and violent realism of history behind it; if I have to tell Peter Pan which is a beautiful fairy tale for children I will try to bring out the dream and “poetry” that is a fairy tale, then if I do this well or not is another question.
2. Can you explain some basic rules with painting to generate atmosphere taking, for instance, your piece about “Sherwood Tales”?.
This question is the natural sequel of the previous one: to create atmosphere means, first of all, have a story to tell.
What, Why and How (WWH). This is my personal slogan when I hold my painting classes (Do you remember Jason? SMILE). Whenever you deal with a piece you need to ask three questions: What are we doing, why we’re doing it and how are we do it.
The last question is actually the least important. If you have responded clearly to the first two, the third is only the technical application.
Let’s take the piece that you mentioned as an example. Tuck, it is a character that embodies all the ideals of ‘good’: he’s a cute and solar character, who does not evoke wars and battles, but “love” and “charity”.
This I wanted to tell. I wanted to smile. But at the same time also suggest the grim reality in which we find ourselves, poverty and battle against a tyrant. That’s why I chose the autumn: is a season that still has the summer sun, but feels close to the cold of winter. It ‘a melancholy season, as it is melancholy in his jovial character.
Here, all these reflections tell us the what and why of the story we’re telling. The how is a consequence: warm colours, the predominance of ochres in all their shades, an almost rosy filter on the whole piece, soft lighting that focuses in the contrast of the face and the texture of the garment.
Then we could spend hours talking about how to use colour to suggest different moods, for now, I leave a small and simple “trick”, choose a dominant colour that will be in all colours that you will use. This will be your white balance that will put the colour range of the whole piece. One of the secrets to a subject does not make a simple patchwork of pieces of different colours is just to have narrow vanes and some colours present in all compounds, start with one and then add. For example, a drop shadow and a similar light, or a medium tone. The possibilities are endless.
Spotlight on Max
1. Where do you draw inspiration from for your sculpting?
There is no precise artist who inspired me, my sculpture skill is still immature, and so I try to hide my shortcomings with a very basic design. The last pieces made for the “2nd star” project taking inspiration from animation. For example, our first piece “Hansel and Gretel” we see the strong influence of the Tim Burton film that remains even in “Steadfast Tin Heart” and “Peter Pan”, where you surely will notice the influence of the Disney classic film, and certainly Manga of which I am a big fan.
For the “Peter Pan” in particular, I want to also cite as inspiration the great Spielberg movie “Hook” from which I took a lot for the design of the scene and environments.
2. Can you talk us through the basics of how you create your Maquettes and the materials you use?
To sculpt I use different materials depending on what I have to re-create, usually to set the mass of the sculptures I use the classic Fimo which I do most of the anatomies with. For smaller details and more fragile instead, I prefer green stuff because it’s more chewy and it’s much more resistant to impact and this is very important in one piece.
On the crocodile, being a very big subject, I preferred to create a core of cork to lighten the sculpture, then covered with polymer clay and finally I carved the skin and the details with Magic Sculpt which I find very good for large areas.
In addition to classic putty to create the figures I use a lot of wood for structures and locations, it is a material that I always love and I have worked with for several years. It is lightweight and shock resistant also I find that gives a very personal touch to my creations.
3. How do you balance good design and anatomy with your rather unique sculpting style?
As I said earlier my style is still immature and is not comparable to that of the great sculptors for now. For this reason, I try to overcome the shortcomings with special design although very simple. For me, the most important thing is to try the movement and good interaction between the figures and the environment.
In “Peter Pan” This work has not been at all easy given the high number of elements in the scene. With Francesco, we spent several hours on the phone for months to discuss the details of the composition of the scene, and I also had great help from Maestro Mariano Numitone who advised me in the most complicated steps and for that, I thank him very much.
Besides being the complex project I had to make several changes during construction to be able to better adapt the idea from the 2d to the real project.
I have often posted some of my step by step technique to make freehand around the web. This is not very different.
The rules that I have expressed before remains the same: WWH (what, why and how). first of all be clear what to tell and why you’re putting certain elements there, then comes the how. In this piece, the freehand work is concentrated in two parts: the tattooed body of Smee and of course the clock dial.
The technique I use to create tattoos is very simple and intuitive: just adding black to the skin tone and draw the shapes that we want to achieve on the skin. You can copy existing or invent new tattoos.
In the second case, the important thing is to have the general shape in your mind. Personally, I really like “tribal” with elements that are transformed into figures. In the case of Smee, shapes move on figures that “joke” on the relationship with Captain Hook’s almost as if it were a lover.
Many painters like discolouring tattoos to make them more realistic: it’s correct, but I like the tattoo BLACK, I love that it is visible and contrasted and since I’m doing a fantastic character no one can say that it is not realistic.
As for the Clock dial, it’s obviously more complex: it is an elaborate design and it took me a long time to think of it: yes a lot of time to think, more than doing it, the problem was what to put here.
To understand perhaps you need to analyze the piece as a whole: our project is a “symbolic diorama” and very abstract, where the story of Peter Pan is synthesized in a nonlinear way, it is a kind of crossover with contemporary art, a mix between a classic diorama and a symbolic installation.
Throughout the piece basically tells the “flight” to Neverland: from London (represented on the base as a simple silhouette) passing through the second star to the right, until the raging sea around the island and then the Island itself dominated by the big tree, home of the Lost Boys.
The watch is a key element of the story of Peter Pan: is the only thing that scared Captain Hook: when the crocodile devoured his hand even swallow his watch which has since announced a ticking the arrival of the monster.
But the fear of the clock is also the fear of time passing, which is the deep sense of the whole novel of Peter Pan, to remain children inside. The time is scary to adults because it brings them closer to death. For a child, time is infinite. I believe that this was the sense of what Barrie told us. And I find it beautiful.
Returning to our quadrant: the watch is exactly halfway between London, the real world, and Neverland. It seemed natural that it could represent the night sky, the moon and the stars.
Our piece is littered with symbols that refer to the book: the thimble, the sirens, the Indians, the wheelchair: anyone who loves the book will recognize them. It was two details that were missing: the shadow of Peter Pan (protagonist of the first part of the story) and the flying ship that closes the book. Somehow you create a circular, beginning and end, the clock is a circle, time is a circle.
Now once we explored the what and why it’s time for “how”. Here my technique is always the same. I usually do not like to copy the designs: I Use a lot of references but reinterpret it in my own way. I’m not a big “copyist”, there are a lot of much better designers figurines than me. What I believe to be able to do quite well is to create personal designs (as possible) and work on the details.
Sometimes I use Photoshop to build a rough idea of the design to use it as a reference. In this case, I did that as you can see. Technically I use a system that I transposed from digital painting: many digital artists use to make the full drawing in scales of grey and then using colour filters at the end.
I use that method. I sketch in a very crude way, mostly to occupy space in terms of elements and then I go over to finish everything, always using a very simple recipe: black, khaki and ivory plus white for the last lights. The only trick the colours must be very opaque to be able to suck the remaining filters.
That way I focus only on the design and volume while the colour I care than once the design is finished.
Following the pictures, you can see how the drawing come out from something very rough to a most detailed one. And then from the grey scale complete drawing to the coloured one (colouring is the last part of the work, very quick, I use different layers of filter and then I recover the contrast, cause the filter equalize a little bit the volumes).
My love for textures is something that I have developed over the years: I come from a school of painting where everything had to be lacquered and smooth, ultra-precise and even a little cheesy. But over the years I have learned more and more to appreciate the gesture of the brushstrokes, even when it becomes extreme and material. personally, I place myself halfway believe among ultra smooth painters and those ultra-expressive (but I love both a lot), seeking a bit ‘my middle way: just choose a shade or texture depending on the story I want to tell (as you can see I repeat myself).
But rather than talk about textures, I would speak of painting gesture, where the brushstroke tells different types of surface. My approach to painting is very physical and organic, love to mix colours directly on the miniatures, blurring fresh and not love the “linear” shades, light to me always becomes particles, even on seemingly smooth surfaces. So more or less obvious I tend increasingly to “break up” the hue and light with micro gesture painting, points, lines, commas ETC.
From a technical point of view to simulate the variety that makes a realistic texture is not enough to work in the tip of the brush, it will tend to do, all the same, losing realism. I love instead use the brush making “open the bristles” erratically and then giving thrusts painters or side also circular on the part that interests me. If it’s exaggerated I wipe using washes and intermediate glaze.
Is a very instinctive technique, it comes down to do something similar to drybrush but obviously with the wet brush, wet-brushstrokes-blending.
Devising the Composition
Let’s talk about the composition of the scene. Surely this was the longest and most difficult part of all the work. When we had the idea of a diorama of Peter Pan wanted to create something never seen before, trying to integrate all the most important elements of the story in a unique scene that recalls a movie poster of the 70s – 80s.
We were determined to represent the scene of various stratified floors up and the first major decision was to represent the different levels of suspended simulating floating islands.
This first drawing as you can see is not yet complete with all the elements, but it served as a basis for drawing up the various ideas on the scene. absolutely we wanted that the clock was the centrepiece of the diorama, and it was an integral part, is why we decided to use branches as supports that would surround the clock as if they were continuations of the tree roots and at the same time would fill the middle part of the scene.
Final in the sketch we have added several characters and slightly changed the composition to balance the scene.
Let us return then to speak of the islands that make up the scene, the choice to have the circular planes with holes in the middle was taken to perform better in light of the various scenes and on the clock.
The lower island is, of course, the largest to maintain the pyramidal structure and presents the front 2 of the most important elements of the scene, that is Captain Hook, and Sponge in the form of busts and behind their pirate ship. The choice to use different scales to represent the various elements has been crucial to the originality of the composition. On the opposite side so we find the Indian village.
To ensure that the various elements interacted best we placed on the front of the main tent with the characters frightened busy watching the dangerous captain on the other side. Finally, at the back, we find the sea and the sirens, element certainly less important but very useful to fill the wide spaces of the scene. The top on the island, the tip of the pyramid, and the tree house are central to the giant crocodile represented almost suspended as if he were swimming with all the lost children that play around to give more dynamism to the scene. Finally, we placed the tip of the main characters in order to guarantee him a position of prominence.
I conclude by saying that this piece, of course, was born with the precise intent to be explored in real life in order to enjoy the complexity of the scene in 360 degrees.
We hope that has given some insight into the process behind these large projects that we do and we would like to thank everyone for reading and Jay also for the opportunity to publish our work.
Francesco and Max