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  • Susan Elaine Jones

New Year, New Face

Happy new year! Happy new lockdown (I think we're on lockdown mark iii, but it is honestly getting hard to tell). What have you done so far this year? Stormed a seat of democracy? Been impeached?

Feeling like I was under-achieving, but having a bad spate of health, I've finally put some flesh on the bones of an old friend. Putting a face onto a skull may sound trivial, even frivolous, but looking at a face makes a big difference in how much you feel you know something about a person.

With the help of a paperclip (depth checker) and some non-sulfurous modelling clay (whatever not-plasticine is called), Plastic George got the "benefit" of my first attempts at facial reconstruction. And only having enough clay to fill in one half - leaving depth markers on the other half for reference.

The very first run thorough was... cadaverous. It could have passed for the passport photo of Ramasses II. (Unfortunately, though the story of his mummy needing a passport to be able to be flown to Paris for repairs might be inaccurate, its still fun. And the next story along is about Alfred Hitchcock's body floating down the Thames...).

It turns out that many books give a lot of emphasis on the muscle groups, they often skip over or don't mention the subcutaneous fat that is SO important to the cheeks and that, not-a-cadaver-mummy look!

So I made a second attempt. This time with a full compliment of fat and saliva glands. Not too bad. And found more not-plasticine, so had enough clay to make a whole face.

But they eyes weren't quite right. It turns out that they are weirdly oval - being about 25mm diameter but 44mm deep, so making a rough sphere for the eyes makes them far too big. So, had to find a nice eye-gouging tool (for reference, a strong handled tea spoon is about perfect, but a sharp grapefruit spoon will work too, though the not-plasticine will get stuck in the serrations).

Third time lucky, with a re-evaluation of the nose (which had slipped down his face so grown an extra inch of "topping up" the first time). And... not too shabby. Plastic George looks more like Gary from the Rugby club. And, stick a hat on him, and he could be in any 1950s film noir.

What surprised me is, even badly made up the first time, in comparison to the third attempt, there is still a strong resemblance. The skull really does make the scaffolding for the face. I had been told this the lovely people at the University of Sheffield (who set up this wonderful free course). But until I got "hands on", it was hard to really believe it. I can't tell you how much more faith I have in forensic and facial reconstructions.

But the really strange thing is how much effect it has to see the face. Suddenly, even the plastic skull of George becomes much more part of a person. Which is so odd because in real life you rarely think of judging how much you know about someone by just looking at an image of them. But, somehow, it also makes all the difference in the world.

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