Welcome to On the Tudor Trail Emily! Could you share with us a little about yourself and your background?
Where to begin!? Hello, I am a soon to be 22 year old Technical and Special Effects artist from East Sussex – don’t worry no-one knows what it is either! Basically I sculpt and make props, which are used in film, adverts, theatre or events.
I would say that sculpting is my passion, but it has become more of an addiction as the years go on. I started off as a kid digging up clay by a stream down in the woods by our house and shaping into animals or objects from my favourite T.V show – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My parents named it ‘mud monstering.’ Little did I know there was a real profession out there somewhere.
At school, it was a toss up between becoming a respected vet and taking home a decent salary or continuing with making a mess and filling my parents house with odd creations from art college… to my parents despair, I chose the latter.
I soon applied for a place at university at Wimbledon College of Art so that I could at least gain some credit as an artist. Happily, I managed to bag a First Class BA Honours Degree in Technical Arts and Special Effects and a wealth of knowledge and inspiration!
You recently made a life-sized waxwork Anne Boleyn figure that is now on display at Hever Castle as part of the ‘A Royal Romance’ exhibition. Why did you choose Anne as the subject of this project?
The disgusting and humorous facts within the pages of the Horrible History books were my first taste of the exciting and entrancing world of the Tudors. Along side ‘mud monstering’, as a kid I had a love for history and as for many other young girls, castles were of real interest. One weekend, after making everything possible from Art Attack or Blue Peter and exhausting all of the loo rolls in the house, my parents decided to amuse my brother and me by taking us half an hour down the road to Hever Castle. It was love at first sight. A petite castle hidden away in the country – I had to know who lived there. And this is where my relationship with Anne began. Hers is a story of ultimate girl power, holding her own in a male dominated age and I found myself buying every film and book I could find on her.
In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to make a piece of work based on Anne and her story, so when 3rd year at university came around and we were permitted to explore our own areas of interest, Anne’s was there – waiting patiently. I have always been inspired by the Madame Tussauds exhibition in London and the mash-up of history and special effects art, so I looked to her for inspiration and the rest, they say, is history!
Please tell us about the process you followed to make Anne Boleyn.
As with any sculpture or piece of artwork, you have to know your subject and even more importantly – understand it. This meant months of research before any clay was even touched! I focused on Anne’s story and how she has been represented throughout the centuries, from historical accounts of her appearance and personality (notoriously difficult in Anne’s case) to modern day depictions of her through films like ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ and ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and other artworks based on her image from Madame Tussauds’ waxwork to Royal Doulton’s toby jug. After attacking my 5000 word dissertation on this subject – writing has always been my nemesis – I settled on Holbein’s sketch of Anne as it has always been my favourite, and is by far the mostly realistic reproduction, in terms of skill, of her image from around the time.
The next stage is to choose a model as, of course, I could not simply ask Anne to supply me with her measurements – séance’s are scary business! Luckily, my friend at university looked remarkably similar to Holbein’s sketch. Numerous photographs were taken from 360 degrees around the model and hundreds of measurements recorded using calipers, so that the sculpt can be as accurate as possible.
And finally, the real work can begin. An armature is welded together to support the sculpt and the figure is slowly built up over a few weeks using clay– referring to the images taken and scrupulously following the measurements taken from the model.
The head is removed in the final stages (many a laugh was had in Anne’s case) so that the portrait can be refined and the real ‘character’ of the model can be worked on. The body would take roughly 10 weeks – quite a long time, as many of us had never sculpted a life-sized piece before – and the head would take about 5-6 weeks.
The next stage is the scariest and messiest – moulding. A plaster waste mould was used for Anne’s body and a fiberglass body was cast out of it. For the head, it was a more challenging process of a silicone jacket mould – a soft mould which allowed the delicate wax head to be removed with ease. The wax is poured into the head and hand moulds, the eyes are then burned into the head and the eyebrows and eyelashes are punched in by hand. The head and body can then be reunited again ready for painting!
Finally, the waxwork is coming together… and it’s dress up time! For my original university project, I made Anne a Tudor corset and shift (which were most definitely incorrect for the time as my knowledge of costuming is extremely limited). However, she is now rightly dressed in a stunning coronation outfit at Hever, which suits her a lot more!
Did you work collaboratively with other specialists when reconstructing Anne’s coronation gown?
Anne’s coronation gown was an independent project commissioned by Hever that I did not have a part in. But it is absolutely gorgeous! She looks so regal and elegant in it that I wish I came up with the idea myself! For my own show, I depicted her in her undergarments to show a more private and personal view of her. I used symbols to portray her story and reflect the concepts of Tudor portraiture and accompanied her with her very own handmade pomander beads (Tudor perfume.) But I absolutely love the gown they have created for her at Hever. It accurately replicates the outfit worn for her coronation and shows her off at the height of her life and I feel very privileged that my waxwork has her very own custom-made outfit – it’s like having a life-sized Barbie! If you fancy checking out the original outfit and exhibition, pop to my website www.emilypooley.co.uk.
What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of this project?
Many of the processes were extremely challenging, as this was the first time I had ever attempted anything of this scale, and only the second time I had sculpted a figure! However, Anne’s life is so enchanting that whenever I had a bad day sculpting – she was always there to help me through, be it through a film or a trip to Hever.
At one point, when Anne’s body was safely out of the mould and ready to be fixed up – she was left standing up whilst I popped back home, 10 minutes down the road. I heard the doorbell go and there was my friend who worked behind me at uni: “Don’t worry, it can all be fixed.” My heart sunk as I learned that Anne had been knocked over and the cast was damaged. Alas, it was fixable but I soon learned to look after her, laying her down and covering her as if she were my own child!
Moulding was the stage I liked the least as you effectively destroy the weeks of hard work put into your sculpt in order to gain a hard copy of it… many a sleepless night was had at this point as you are never quite sure how it has turned out until you open the mould.
The final moment and most satisfying for me, was placing Anne Boleyn’s infamous ‘B’ necklace around her neck. I had vowed that I would not put the necklace on her unless I felt my work was worthy of representing the infamous Anne Boleyn. “Yes!” I had finally completed my yearlong affair with Anne.
The cherry on the cake was seeing my work in Anne’s childhood home and the place I have adored since a child… I remember telling my mum and dad on about our 5th visit that I would get my work in even if I had to smuggle it in! It is a real honour to bring Anne Boleyn home.
Who are your favourite Tudor personalities?
It goes without saying that Anne Boleyn has been a complete fascination of mine for years now – it amazes me that she creates so much intrigue centuries after her death! But putting Anne to the side, I would have to say the Tudor artists are a real inspiration. Hans Holbein is one of the most iconic portrait artists of the time and for me, his work is truly stunning. It is through his eyes and his paintings that we can step back in time and meet the characters that we all love. Because of him, we can stand face-to-face with history.
Do you plan to make any other life-sized waxworks?
I think I am all waxworked out for now! It takes an incredible amount of stamina, time, patience and elbow grease – not to mention about £1000 in materials alone- to create a life-sized piece. Luckily, I have landed a dream job thanks to Miss Boleyn with a company called Artem Visual Effects. This means I get to create many weird and wonderful creations and satisfy my ‘mud monstering’ inner child on a daily basis. My favourite job recently was working on the animatronic Chruchill dog for the car insurance adverts starring Martin Clunes. A dream job.
I am however in the middle of my own personal project of creating a ball-jointed doll based on Thomas Hardy’s character Tess of the D’urbevilles (I must have a fascination with doomed female figures!) Hopefully, if I am happy with the outcome and there is a demand, I would love to sell some dolls at some point.
And there is definitely room for an Anne Boleyn porcelain doll – I don’t think I am ready to let her go just yet…
Thank you for your time!
Thank you! It’s lovely to get the chance to talk about your work.
(Photos published here © Emily Pooley)