Long before we invented downspouts, the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were worrying their pretty heads off about water damage. I’m guessing it was during a night of serious debauchery, that someone had the idea of strategically placing sculpted lion heads with spouts on the sides of buildings, thereby redirecting the flow of water from rooftops to prevent erosion. Brilliant, n’est ce pas? And so began the idea of adorning buildings with human and animal stone carvings, to protect masonry and mortar from water. They became highly popular during Medieval times, and graced the facades of many cathedrals like Notre Dame de Paris. It was believed the more grotesque looking ones served as a reminder of the evil that lurked about, while others served to protect from evil.
I have loved the troubling little faces of gargoyles and grotesques ever since I can remember, but only recently learned the difference between them. A spout. When it rains, water flows through the gargoyle’s elongated body, shoots out of its mouth through the spout, earning it the charming nickname “water vomiter.” If a stone sculpture lacks the unique ability to vomit water, it is called a grotesque. Today, however, the terms seem to be interchangeable.
When making your gargoyle/grotesque, keep in mind that a variety of human and animal forms were used. Animals were chosen for their symbolic meanings, and common ones were dogs, lions, eagles, wolves, monkeys, goats, and snakes. Some were fantasy creatures like dragons, griffins and chimeras (imaginary creature composed of body parts from different animals), while human gargoyles were often strange and humorous looking, perhaps like your Uncle Freddy.
When designing your own gargoyle or grotesque, it’s helpful to look at some images first:
A quick internet search for “gargoyles and grotesques”will turn up many useful images.
These are photos I took where I live, in Toronto, and also while travelling:
Here are some images of what are probably the most famous gargoyles from Notre Dame de Paris:
Amazing work by the artist Walter S. Arnold:
Other images of gargoyles and grotesques:
A great book:
- pencil and paper
- air drying clay
- small, hard surface for base
- sculpting tools like skewers and chopsticks
- small bowl of water
1. Using pencil and paper, sketch out some ideas of what you want your creature to look like. You can combine different features from various animals, or make odd looking humans. Anything goes.
2. Air drying clay dries quickly, so open up your packet just before use. The best tools to use are your fingers, for pressing, pulling and pinching the clay to form the features on your creature. Added pieces are prone to falling off. Other tools can be used later on to add details and create hollow spaces in the nostrils and mouth. Dipping your fingers in water will help to manipulate the clay if you find it drying, and will also help smooth the surface out.