This art should communicate metaphorical bear, not literal bear
January 10, 2013 3:20 PM   Subscribe

How do I improve this piece of artwork that I made out of my body hair?

I shaved off all of my body hair and made a life-size self-portrait. [More weird, than NSFW, but contains pubic hair] Picture here.

There are a couple of things that I'm not happy about, and I would like to try to fix them, if possible, and remake the piece.

1) The finished piece comes across as much hairier than I am in real life. On the one hand, I think that the glue makes the hair look darker. For the first version, I laid out the hair and then blotted a mix of elmer's glue/water on top of it. Is there some kind of spray-on adhesive or something else that might not add any additional color/thickness to the hair? Or maybe I could rub the outline with a glue stick and then sprinkle the hair on top of it?

2) The hair turned out much clumpier and matted than my natural body hair is. My normal arm hair looks something like this. Is there some way to straighten the hair on the piece so it has that natural look to it? Even my chest isn't particularly curly, and tends to have more of the natural parallel lines to it.

3) I think the white paint probably made things stand out more. I did a quick comparison between paint and natural wood. Does it seem like the wood tone would be a better background for the piece?

If anyone has any other ideas or suggestions for this piece, I would be curious to hear them.
posted by andoatnp to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
3M makes Super 77, a spray-on adhesive that old people used to use to put together printed brochures, advertisements, and other collage-like things.
posted by spacewrench at 3:30 PM on January 10, 2013

Well this is delightful and weird! Bravo, andoatnp.

1. You can buy spray-adhesive of varying types. I'm thinking that there is going to have to be some experimenting on your parts with a combination of surfaces and adhesives before you get what you want. But I'd definitely start with making the surface sticky before applying hair, and then going over the top with something like a spray varnish. I think a term that might be helpful to you when looking at options is decoupage spray. Most of that is made for paper applications, but it's usually formulated for porous materials, which hair is. You'll need to think about matte, glossy, and variations in between.

2. If you're starting with a sticky surface underneath then this will be harder to do, but I think without that layer then you might lose a lot of hold. Regardless, have you tried combing? Comb the hair lightly with something that is fine-toothed but also maybe more wideset (because the hair isn't embedded in anything) than a normal comb. You can experiment with this, too. Also, think about preparing the hair before you shave it off. You can condition it thoroughly, which will not only be fun and feel nice but will make the hair behave more predictably and less clumpy. Unfortunately this might make the spray adhesive less effective. I suppose you could also just meticulously arrange things hair-by-hair in the places that it's important to you that it's straightened out. You might even be able to use hair spray to help hold things in place temporarily. This is a chemistry thing though, and will be idiosyncratic.

3. I'm not sure what your end goals for the piece are so I can't really say if wood tone or white or something else would work best. If you're trying to go for self-representation, though, then I suppose that something approximating your skin tone might make the most sense. I like the stark contrast, personally, although it also might be really interesting on a colored background that isn't natural at all - to emphasize the texture of the hair by contrast.

Keep on keeping on with your hairy self!
posted by Mizu at 3:37 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, think about preparing the hair before you shave it off. You can condition it thoroughly, which will not only be fun and feel nice but will make the hair behave more predictably and less clumpy.

Do you mean to just use a normal hair conditioner on my body while in the shower before I shave it off?
posted by andoatnp at 3:41 PM on January 10, 2013

That silhouette has much less surface area than you do. If you're trying to make the distribution of hair match your own, consider using only hair from the front of you, or increasing the scale to more than life-size, or making it in the shape of your entire skinned pelt rather than your silhouette.
posted by contraption at 3:45 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Did you try taking a comb to the hair after you put it on the page but before using the adhesive?
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2013

Three quick questions: What's the goal? What's the deadline? What's the budget?

Right now it looks a bit like student work, especially with the blocked forms. In order to be better compositionally (as well as more representative), you should be thinking about figurative shapes, especially in using the hair as a shading to imply depth for the rounded parts.

As far as backing, what are you trying to imply? The wood will give more of a natural feel; you could also use plexi (though it will show the adhesive more unless you can use a wash-off one) for a more clinical feel.

Finally, I'd recommend Yes! paste or any other clear, stick-flat binding glue. You can manipulate the materials (because it dries slowly) and it's archival.
posted by klangklangston at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can also do something like a digital negative/liquid light exposure to pattern the backing, then use the hair itself to add depth. And I wouldn't worry too much about seeming too hairy here — the point seems to be to call attention to your atavistic avatar through the hair, so I'm thinking that a vanity about being too bearish is misplaced.
posted by klangklangston at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2013

Response by poster: consider using only hair from the front of you

Yes, sorry for not mentioning that is my plan. It will minimize the hair being used on the arms and legs portion, although it will be the same amount for the stomach/chest, as I didn't attempt to use my back hair in the original piece.

Did you try taking a comb to the hair after you put it on the page but before using the adhesive?


What's the goal?

It's a commentary on my feelings about my identify as a "bear".

What's the deadline?

My plan was to attempt round two this weekend or early next week. If I'm not happy with it after the second time, I'll try again. No final deadline.

What's the budget?

If there is a good solution that costs money, I'm open to spending money. I don't have a budget.

Finally, I'd recommend Yes! paste or any other clear, stick-flat binding glue.

With that, are you suggesting putting a layer of that down on the wood, and then attempting to arrange the hair on top of it?

the point seems to be to call attention to your atavistic avatar through the hair, so I'm thinking that a vanity about being too bearish is misplaced.

Yes, perhaps I was overly concerned with realism. An overly exaggerated hairiness to the piece could work with what I am trying to convey.
posted by andoatnp at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2013

With that, are you suggesting putting a layer of that down on the wood, and then attempting to arrange the hair on top of it?

Yeah. Yes and others (ask around at your art supply shop, they should have a selection if they're of a decent size) will dry clear and are tacky, so that you can press the hair into them. Use a thin layer, though you can build it up if you want more.

You can also buy gel medium, which is used as a clear paint/adhesive, especially for impasto. It will be a little harder to deal with (as it's more paint viscosity than paste) than just pressing hair into tackiness, but you can do it pretty quickly and it's clear.

If you had more time, you could also use the technique of essentially needle pointing the hair, like making a wig, where you wrap a thread around the bottom of the hair after poking it through the paper or backing.

"It's a commentary on my feelings about my identify as a "bear"."

Sure, but how and why? Materials should reflect intent, and your identity as a bear is something that's constructed from both inside and outside, so how would you reflect your personal/external identity in the work?

(I don't mean this to come across as peevish, but I find too many people make work under the rubric of "it's a commentary" without being able to articulate what that commentary is.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:19 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you're only using the hair on the front half of yourself for the final piece, you can use the hair from the backs of your legs (and wherever else) on test swatches. Even if you're going for something less thought-through than klangklangston is getting at, never discount the value of getting the right materials and techniques down first.

By conditioning, by the way, yes, I mean like conditioner in the shower, only you might be interested in a little leave-in conditioner too. Hair is a really finicky and fragile material to work with, and I'm sure you've experienced just how crazy your beard can get, for example, when you've just shampooed it and not used anything to put moisture or oils back in. So I'm thinking (and this is just a suggestion with no basis in experience, as I've never decided to glue down the masses of hair I've shaved off) that if you try to get your hair to behave as nicely as possible while it's still on your body, it will behave better once off it, as well. It would catch on itself less if the shaft of each hair was smooth as possible, at the least.
posted by Mizu at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2013

I can't believe I'm still thinking about this, but here's an idea that might allow you to get natural-looking growth patterns in the finished piece:

1) Don't shave, wax. This will give you a collection of wax pads with hair stuck in them in the same orientation and distribution as when it was on your body. Maybe comb/handgroom these to get all the roots extended to about the same length and sticking straight out from the wax as much as possible.

2) Prepare the surface with a thin layer of a glue that dries hard and clear (this surface could be your final piece or, if you can find the right combination of glue and surface, you could make something that could be peeled off and used as a hair patch which you could trim to shape, arrange and affix to the final piece afterward.)

3) As gently as possible, position the wax pads over the glue layer at just the right height that you get most of the roots into the glue. You might want to hold the wax pads up on some sort of spacers (paper clips, folded cardboard, etc.) for this part. Allow the glue to dry, cementing the roots in place.

4) Turn this whole hair sandwich upside down so the wax is hanging by the now-glued hair. Carefully apply heat to the wax such that it loosens up and you're able to slowly pull it away from the hair.

If all goes to plan, this will result in the actual growth patterns of your hair being translated to the final piece. But like they say on the Nair bottle, "Test first on small area."

You may have some difficulty removing all the wax from the hair. Somebody may be able to suggest a glue-safe chemical for that job, or maybe you could just go over the whole thing with some spray lacquer that could also improve the longevity of the piece (at the expense of a naturalistic look.)
posted by contraption at 4:35 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I would try combing it after putting it down on the pre-glued surface. Probably the glue will end up on the comb too and the hair will stick to it. To avoid that, maybe oil the comb? Or if you have more hair on the surface than you need for the final piece, maybe it won't matter if a lot of it sticks to the comb.
posted by lollusc at 4:43 PM on January 10, 2013

Interesting medium. And I thought *I* made the occasional oddball art project (as a theater projectionist, I make these..... pictures/THINGS with old strips of film) --- I salute you, sir!

Were you going for something life-size? If yes, consider starting with something resembling a murder-scene outline: lay down on your paper/wood (consider a sheet of drywall), and get someone else to lightly outline you in pencil. Maybe experiment with different poses.

Working in smallish areas, spread a section with a slow-drying glue (I think you're fine with the Elmer's, but whatever), then add LESS hair then you think will be enough --- remember that you can always add more, but it's hard to take off excess. Using something like a small pocket comb, comb the hair so it's all going in the same direction, which will make it less 'clumpy' and possibly look lighter, too --- if it's all going the same direction, that reduces the shadows in a clump.
posted by easily confused at 4:50 PM on January 10, 2013

Well you are hairy. But in that picture, not just hairy enough. i think you need to go all out a bit more: make the sillouhette smaller so it fills up with hair more. Don't be shy, don't be ashamed, go for it! And fake it if you need to to (with re-imprinting or false hair or whatever.)
much hairier than I am in real life
Maybe not. I think you need to be more expressionist and exagerated with it - a 2D representation doesn't naturally have any of your animal magnetism so don't be shy about what you can do with that hair on the paper. You may need more of it, or to play with it more creatively.
posted by glasseyes at 6:39 PM on January 10, 2013

If you look at your arm while squinting, you will see that it looks hairiest/darkest on the outer edges, that is because along the outer curves of your arm, the hair is layered with the hair behind it (going around the curve of your arm), while in your self portrait, the hair is evenly scattered. Have you tried having less hair in the center with progressively more hair on the edges? That might get you a different depth while getting the 'hairiness' you are looking for.

You could also get this effect with lightening the hair in the center areas, to make it look like there is less.

(I am explaining this badly, I hope some of it makes sense.)
posted by Vaike at 10:59 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love the way the artist Robert Gober uses human hair. He uses beeswax as the substrate and I think it may be what you're looking for.
posted by dottiechang at 12:49 AM on January 11, 2013

Couple things you could try...

Make a line drawing of your body (or maybe a self portrait) and then replace the lines with hair.

Think about your "bear" identity and come up with another image that could represent it. Make this image out of your hair.
posted by orme at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2013

Response by poster: Here is version two of the piece, which I finished over the weekend.

I laid out the hair on the wood, and then sprayed Super 77 on top of it.

Thanks for the advice.
posted by andoatnp at 7:09 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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