Renata Jansen sculpts tiny Kings Of Leon heads for their album Walls.
The Grammy-winning band Kings Of Leon knew exactly what they wanted for their latest album cover: doll heads of their likeness with no hair that could withstand liquid, specifically milk. The four band members just didn’t know who they would get to make them.
Kim Malone was a good person to ask. As president of The Dollery (which specializes in limited edition dolls and has been in business for over 37 years), Malone had contacts to all the rising dollmaker stars.
Renata Jansen recalls receiving Malone’s email one evening in June of last year, just before bed. “It was so exciting that sleep was definitely out of the picture,” says Jansen.
But it was a mixture of excitement and panic. On the one hand, she had just been asked to do something amazing, on the other hand, she had been given a six-week deadline. And for a woman who is not known for her speed, that was quite a challenge.
Sculpt of Matthew Followill
Getting to Work
The next week she started the project. She began by looking for photographs of each band member online. “I was not lucky enough to work from life or photographs taken for the project, as the band is very busy,” says Jansen. But she pointed out that she “always sculpts from photographs so this was not a problem. I had to use what I could find on the internet and fortunately there are quite a lot of photos of the band members online.”
The clay heads were built around a brass tube, which runs from the top of the head to just under the chin. This made it possible to attach them to wooden dowels under the milk for the photoshoot. Jansen used a mixture of Cernit and Fimo polymer clays—which created relatively firm clay, great for sculpting details on portrait work.
Sculpt of Nathan Followill
“I always sculpt in polymer clay over a wire armature,” says Jansen. “I start by making a clay skull which is cured onto a thick wire armature. The face is then sculpted on top of this. The eyes are made separately; they have crystal cabochons for the lens so that it magnifies and appears like the dome of a real eye. … I then always start with the profile of the face. Once that is blocked in, I block in the width and length of the face, adding clay in small amounts until I have the basic idea of the face.”
Each head took four days to sculpt and another day to paint. Extra days were needed to make eyes and a skull armature for each head. Jansen was also tasked by the Kings Of Leon to document her process, so she would have to remind herself to look up from her magnifier on occasion to take photographs and film clips so they could use them to make a short film about the making of the album cover.
Sculpt of Jared Followill
Jansen made many pairs of blue eyes to find four pairs that matched perfectly. “I had to add eyelashes and make sure they would survive being splashed with water and milk,” says Jansen. “The paint I use is set with heat and is waterproof so that was thankfully not a problem. I didn’t need to give them hair because only their faces would protrude from the milk for the photograph.”The refining process is “quite long,” says Jansen. During this time details are added and the clay is smoothed and then cured.
A Completed Project
After a little over a month of working day-in and day-out, the tiny Kings of Leon heads were finished. They measured 4 centimeters high, were exactly what the Kings of Leon were looking for and they arrived in time for their album release.
Sculpt of Caleb Followill
“Somehow when you are under pressure you manage to step up and the skills you learn under pressure stay with you afterwards,” says Jansen. “This was definitely the most challenging project of my career and the one that taught me the most. It didn’t always feel it but it was a really wonderful experience, which I was extremely lucky to have been a part of.”
Check out the following video to learn more about Jansen and the making of the Kings of Leon album cover:
Jansen went on to sculpt entire figurines of the Kings Of Leon; they are 12 inches tall. She sculpted the full bodies together with a diorama of the stage set in the original promotional photograph for the album. They were displayed at an exhibition for fans when they went to see their concerts.