Sunday, November 4, 2007

Chess Anyone??

It is my youngest daughter's birthday today. She is 12 years old, and she is a terrific kid. She is a voracious reader. Some of her favorite books are about dragons, or about fantasy. Tarmar Pierce's books, or the Dragonology books. She is currently reading Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.

This summer she learned to play chess, and was pretty good at it, and enjoyed it. So when I went away for a week long retreat in August, I decided to take these two interests, and create a very special chess set for her birthday. I finished all the pieces, but one king, and one queen, while I was there. I tried to make a board for her, but it did not work out as planned, and will need to be revisited when I have a bit more time. But I have a beautiful wood chess board that my dad had made. He never made the pieces to go with the board, so this works out nicely.

I have not done much sculpting with polymer clay, so the task was a little bit intimidating at first. But, since this was not something I was selling, and I knew no matter what I did, she would appreciate it, it took away a lot of the pressure.

If you ever decide to do a chess set, I can share a bit of what I learned. Some of it along the way, and some of it from the wisdom of Maureen Carlson, who has made a few chess sets, and is a whiz at sculpting with polymer clay.

1. Figure out a design theme, or concept. Your pieces can be figures, or abstract. In my case, with fantasy as the theme, I knew right away that I was going to make the knights as dragons. The bishops became wizards, and the pawns were either toadstools or cauldrons, depending on if it was the side of dark or light.

2. Figure out how you are going to distinguish one side from the other. You can go with the classic black and white, or other contrasting colors and/or tones. I decided to make one side black, white and grey. And the other side colorful.

3. Size matters. there is a hierarchy to the sizes of chess pieces, and you want your pieces to conform to that hierarchy so that a player will not be confused as the pieces becomes scattered on the board in play. The king and queen are the tallest pieces, followed by the bishops, knights, rooks and pawns.

4. Balance and Space. The pieces are moved around in play, and for that to happen easily there are two things to consider. The pieces have to be well balanced so they do not easily topple over during play. I found making a base on many of the pieces helped with the balance, and the ease of sliding a piece on the board in play.
The pieces also need to stay within their own geography, vertically. This tip from Maureen was a huge help. You need to consider the size of the squares right from the beginning, and then make sure that your pieces do not extend outside that space, not just at the base, but extending vertically upward.

5. Make all of a particular pieces at one time. If you are making the bishops, work on all of them together. This will help you make sure they are uniform in size and in construction. I did find that my abilities to sculpt improved as a worked through a series of pieces. The last wizard I sculpted is the one both my daughters fell in love with. Even though I did not finish the last king and queen until nearly two months later, I made the basic body form and head at the same time as the completed ones. I knew that they were going to be the right size. I saved some of the clay used for the head to make my arms and hands so that they would match the face. So when it came time to finish, I just had to make the robes, hair, crown, arms, and base. All things that were either easy enough to replicate, or had room for variation.
6. Break a few rules! This is my own personal rule. My pawns are different designs on each side. And the cauldrons break the color rule by having a yellow green brew bubbling inside. But both sets are similar in size, and each set of pawns stays with the fantasy theme. In the end, it works. If I had forced myself to come up with an idea that would work in both black and white, and in color, I doubt I would have been as satisfied with the end result. And that lime green brew is just so perfect!
It was fun to go outside the work I usually do, and play with sculpting a bit. Most of us start out with this sense of play and exploration in our medium, but we can sometimes lose touch with that. Making a gift for family or friends is always a way to play again, and go outside our usual comfort zone. And the hug I got this morning was worth all the time spent on the project!


Deabusamor said...

I love the fact that the potion in the black cauldrons isn't a dreary gray or white. The bright lime green makes it that much better. The whole set is so inspiring! I had been planning on a custom set for my nephew and I was so overwhelmed at making so many pieces I've been putting it off. After seeing your set I'm so excited to try it myself. I like how even though some pieces are copies (the bishops, knights, pawns etc) each one has its own character since they were individually sculpted. Beautiful work.


Judy said...

Thanks Dea!

Kathi said...

what a wonderful gift to give your daughter! I love it. I am not an avid chess player but I sure would become one with a set like that! I love the lime green brew in the cauldrons. reminds me of McBeth