Step by Step: Thursday Evening

By Barry Biediger

I have always been intrigued by art that leaves something to the interpretation of the audience. I like to try to accomplish something similar with my box vignettes. I do have my own idea what is happening in my scenes, but I’d rather leave some of it open to the viewer. I’m fascinated by the different points of view I hear at shows; sometimes people interpret what’s going on in ways that never even occurred to me.

 This scene has evolved a great deal from the original idea, which I came up with about five years before I finished it. I completed three other scenes in the intervening years, and the experience gained making those gave me confidence that I could finish this one close to how I saw it in my mind’s eye. Generally speaking, this box shows a lonely man in what is possibly a cheap weekly-rate hotel with a glimpse of the world outside his window. The title “Thursday Evening” was suggested by my good friend Jim DeRogatis as I was struggling to come up with a title that didn’t suggest too much about what the scene is about. (Jim interjects: Barry needed a name for the box on the Thursday night before the start of the 2015 MMSI Chicago Show on Friday, and that plus the noir vibe of the box made me think of the great Robyn Hitchcock song “Raymond Chandler Evening.” Voila—instant title! Barry tends to overthink things.)

I originally planned to use a casting of the head in Poste Militaire’s 70mm Algerian Tirailleur, but when I finally got back to this box, I had more experience sculpting heads, so I decided to sculpt one from scratch.

 For me, the most important part of the scene is the pose of the figure, so I put a lot of effort into getting this right. I started with cardboard mockups of the chair and table so I could make sure the figure would sit right as well as plan the layout of the scene. The neon sign was intended to be a minor lighting effect, but this changed when I saw the effect of the figure’s shadow being thrown on the wall from the light of a neon sign outside. (I do a lot of experimenting with a cheap LED flashlight and theatrical gels.) The mocked-up lamp seen in the photo was quickly forgotten when I saw how dramatic the neon light was, and that became the major light source.

There is a spotlight shining on the figure from the front to provide a bit more light so some of the details can be seen. I made the fixture with a standard LED panel mount, and styrene strip, sheet and tubing. Gels can be cut to size and slid into the holder glued to the front of the fixture. Here I have a frosted diffusion filter and a golden orange gel to soften and warm up the cool LED. The fixture is held by a simple mount fabricated from brass wire attached to the ceiling of the scene by a nut, bolt, and washer.

Once I have the most important elements at least mocked-up, I plan out the layout of my scene using foam-core, Styrofoam, illustration board, cardboard, and anything else that will work. Based on the mockup, I make a simple drawing of the plan view so I can get an idea of how much will be visible on each side and how big the outer box needs to be.

The building that is visible through the window is part of the façade of an HO scale urban building. An LED throws the shadow of a figure against one of the windows. I had forgotten to bring the figure I had selected for this window when I brought the box to the 2015 Chicago show. Luckily, Jim came through for me again by providing a figure from his stash of Historex parts. I was skeptical that the figure of Christ on the cross meant for a roadside shrine would work, but Jim propped it up with some blue tack and to my surprise, the awkward angle he ended up in on the first try casts a perfectly mysterious shadow in the window, so I went with it. Another LED covered with industrial mercury vapor-colored gel simulates the warm glow of streetlamps against the building.

No cheap old hotel room would be complete without a steam radiator. I try to add details that give a sense of place to my scenes. Although I am now primarily a figure modeler, I still love plastic modeling and have a lot of fun scratch-building these details.

The completed figure.

And finally, a shot by Bob Sarnowski of the box as displayed at the Chicago Show