How to make a wax doll


In December 1997 I got the job to do a wax doll of King Gustaf III (1746-1792) for the new Bellman museum on Aspa Herrgård.
I gladly accepted and immediately got started .
My first problem was how to get the true likeness of the king.
I remembered that I once saw a picture of a death mask of the old king in a book.
I started calling around and after a while I got in contact with the Art Academy in Stockholm who had that original mask in their collection.
When I had explained my problem they kindly let me borrow the Kings death mask.

And they sent it to me with normal post.....
Scary trust in the postal system!!

After I had received the plaster mask and I had been amazed by all the history I now had in my hands I dared to make a cast of it in silicone.
The death mask actually had some of the old kings eyebrows stuck in the plaster so history was really present!!
In this silicone mould I pressed down hot Roma plastelina to make what we call a clay press.
After letting it cool down I could pull out a copy of the death mask in clay. I attached this to a plaster bust I already had. Now I just had to sculpt the rest of the head and fix some things with the face such as opening the eyes.
If I would have done this today I would have used Chavant clay instead as this is better for the silicone mould

Skulptur av Gustaf III

Now it was time to make the big mould that I was going to make the wax head in.
For this project my mould choice was silicone, because of the softness, the flexibility and possibility to make a mould without seams apart from the back of the neck..
When the sculpture was all done I coated it with a thin layer of plastic spray to protect the silicone from the oil and sulphur in the clay.
Then we started adding silicone in a thin layer of thickened silicone.

After an hour or so the first layer has hardened so much that you can add another layer and build it to about an 2-3 cm in thickness.
After 24 hours it is all dry and you can cut it open with a scalpel.

Here you can see the two piece plaster bandage mould I made on top of the silicone mould so it would hold its shape when not supported from within. When making this kind of mould it is very important to not get any undercuts.
An undercut is when the mould grips the other half of the mould and then it can't be separated.

Time for wax. You melt the wax in a pot that you put in the oven.
When it's all melted and transparent you pour the wax into your mould and let's it flow around. If you don't cover all the mould at once you may have problems with cracks or with the shrinking that occurs when the wax cools.

You can clearly see that one of his eyes is lower than the other. This is not me being a bad sculptor.
He had a birth defect that distorted his face.
He was embarrassed about this his whole (short) life and all portraits were corrected.

Now I have put the eyes in. The eyes are real prosthetic eyes and I bought them from an eye doctor. When they was in place I poured in a little wax to keep them in place. I have here started to paint my doll with an air brush using liquid acrylic colours. I always paint in layers and I start with veins and deep shadows like beard shadows. Then I put on the skin tones and different kinds of red tones to make him come alive. 

Now Gustaf needed to get some hair and this is solved by using a sawing needle with it's eye cut off, so that it looks like a small fork. With this you grab one straw at a time a punch it into the wax. You do the eyebrow and lashes the same way.

Now he is almost finished. I have made some colour corrections on the skin using standard grease paints from my makeup case.

The body I made from a mannequin that originally was standing, but I sawed it apart and put him back together again but now sitting down. I used fiberglass with polyester resin, tape, some steel wire and a LOT of patience. It was not fun! Fiberglass itches, smells terrible and it a drag to work with in this kind of scale. Don't do it! I won't do it again.

The hands were also made in wax the same way as the head.