This will be a different kind of post than usual, to share some Voynich-inspired art. As some might know, alongside researching and writing with Koen, I am working on my long-term sculpture project that led me into the Voynich Manuscript in the first place: sculpting three-dimensional interpretations of Voynich imagery using porcelain and glass.

When I first started making VM sculptures I began with some plant forms, but I also had many ideas of how to incorporate the VM nymphs. However, the question of how to sculpt the nymphs was a challenging one. I knew that I wanted to use porcelain, and that I wanted the style to capture the character and details of the manuscript’s imagery. I also knew what I did not want to do: interpret the figures as realistic-looking women. This would rob them of their weirdness, which in my opinion is what makes them interesting. (Well, it’s one of the things—VM researchers can probably agree that there are many!)

Before working on the VM nymphs, I had many years of experience with porcelain sculpting, but I had never sculpted any human figures (except for one time back in art school when I tried making a life-size ceramic torso, but at that time I was more interested in other mediums, so I did not pursue the figure sculpting any further). I will admit a second gap in my artistic knowledge: I never studied human anatomy either. But when it comes to Voynich figures, perhaps this lack of experience was an advantage, or at least… not a disadvantage. Since they do not follow conventional rules of body proportions anyway, this means there were fewer conventions of figure sculpting for me to “unlearn”. I wanted to purely focus on sculpting the nymphs according to the way they are drawn, preserving their original style and what some might call their imperfections.

Still, it took quite some time to develop a technique. I studied some tutorials of miniature figurine sculpting, which were somewhat helpful, but those techniques were meant for realistically proportioned figures. I did not exactly have an instruction manual of how to replicate the strange proportions of Voynich figures in three dimensions. Then around this time I happened across Koen’s posts on this blog about Voynich nymph proportions. His diagrams illustrating the observation that they are consistently “four heads tall”—the height of four of their heads stacked on top of each other—were key in my understanding of how to sculpt them. Whereas a realistic human body is on average “seven heads tall”, Voynich nymphs operate by a different set of rules. Yet there are some consistent patterns in the way they are drawn, and in other characteristics such as the way they stand. Since this observation helped form the foundation of my process, it seems fitting to share some of that here.

Eventually I came up with a repeatable nymph-sculpting method that can be modified in various ways. So far, I’ve used this method to make several porcelain nymphs:

I have many more in mind, and most recently, I’ve been working on a sculpture inspired by the nymph on the top of f80v.

This sculpture also incorporates “cloud-bands” that she stands within, and perhaps more importantly the infamous “Thing” that she is holding. I will show my process with porcelain and glass, and the steps that led to the finished sculpture.

This is how it starts…

Porcelain Nymph Sculpting

Porcelain sculptures usually need to be hollow inside. This is because the porcelain clay I use must be fired at temperatures up to 2,232 degrees Fahrenheit (1,222 degrees Celsius), and it must be completely dry all the way through before firing. Otherwise, moisture trapped in the clay will expand during heating and cause cracks or even explode. A big solid piece of porcelain—aside from being unnecessarily heavy—may not properly dry inside, and has little chance of making it through a kiln firing intact (*of course, there are always exceptions to that rule, such as the work of artist Nishida Jun who fired massive solid blocks of porcelain to make them melt and warp, but this is not typically advisable…) Instead, porcelain forms are normally sculpted hollow by a variety of techniques. One also must avoid trapping air bubbles within the clay—for example when adding clay or joining sections together—because this may also cause cracks during firing. Compared to other types of ceramic clay, porcelain is unique in its lightness and ability to be compressed eggshell-thin. But it can also be used to make more substantial forms that will be very strong. My sculptures are not made with extremely thin walls, since I don’t want them to be too fragile, but I do make some parts of them hollow. 

I start by sculpting the lower half of the body, because the position of the legs is important for the entire body pose. With a variety of tools: a knife, a thin wooden stick, and mostly by hand, I model the shape out of a solid piece of clay, while comparing it to a scaled-up copy of the manuscript image for reference. 

Next, I make the beginnings of the torso and head in the same way. As you can see, the head and upper body are nearly equal in size, and not very recognizable yet. I also begin to add the breasts and shoulders (which according to Voynich proportions, are somewhat inseparable from the neck.) 

Before adding any more detail, I check the proportions and usually must trim some excess clay from the torso or waist: Voynich nymphs are more compactly built than one would think. The second photo below is my mental image as I am working: is she going to be four heads tall when I later add the feet? If so, I can continue…

After the proportions are looking right, I scoop out as much clay as possible from each half while still leaving enough wall thickness so that the shape doesn’t collapse. At this stage the faceless head looks quite odd… 

But shortly I will show how I make the face separately. Normally this is the next step, but for this particular nymph, I incorporated a new technique of embedding a wire inside of the torso and one arm, to help support the object she’ll be holding. This is a high-temperature wire that will withstand the kiln firing and permanently stay inside the sculpture.

For the face, it is difficult to sculpt the subtle details after it’s attached to the body; trying to handle the delicate hollow form while working on the features is awkward. It also takes a long time to sculpt the features, so I found this is better done separately. So I developed a molding technique to streamline the process.  

I made several original nymph-faces using polymer clay (the kind that bakes at relatively low temperatures in a kitchen oven). Polymer clay doesn’t dry out as quickly as porcelain, so I can take my time with the subtle details, it’s not messy, and bakes quickly. (I made this assortment while I was sculpting some other nymphs from folio f73r.) 

Then I pressed these faces into pieces of porcelain clay, which I kiln-fired to create a reverse mold. Now every time I need to make another face, I can just press some more soft porcelain clay into the reusable mold. After removing it from the mold, I made some slight changes to more closely match the f80v nymph’s features—adding clay to the nose and cheeks and changing the mouth and eyebrows. 

VM nymphs are already weird-looking, but particularly so at this stage of the sculpting… 

The two halves of the body are now assembled, and the face is attached, but the head looks misshapen even by VM nymph standards. It all starts to look better, though, when I flatten the back of the head and shift the excess clay towards the front. Then I add the crown and long hair.

All the while, I keep the clay wrapped in a damp cloth so that it doesn’t dry too much and the consistency remains uniform and workable. I model the miniature feet/lower legs and attach them by scratching into the clay and applying a “slip” or liquid clay, then blending the join with a wooden stick. (These extremities don’t have to be hollow like the body; they are small enough that they will dry adequately.)

I save the arms for last since they are the most delicate part:

And even more delicate than usual is the last step of attaching one hollow arm with the wire running through. This will take too long to explain here, but if anyone wants to see the technique, I made a short video.

Finally, after last details of the eyes and face, the sculpture is ready to dry, which can take up to a couple of weeks since the porcelain needs to air-dry slowly—at first covered with plastic and then gradually uncovered each day. At this stage it becomes extremely fragile.

When the clay is completely dry, it goes through a “bisque” firing (the first of three kiln firings), which makes the clay durable enough to handle and lightly sand. In this state it is still porous and somewhat fragile, and needs to be glazed and fired again to the final temperature.  

The glazing is minimal; I left it mostly unglazed but applied a small amount of brown in the carved lines, then cleaned away the excess. The hair got a yellow glaze, and the mouth and blush a small amount of red. The crown is the only place with a shiny glaze, because later I will be adding gold luster on top.

After firing, the porcelain shrinks by about 10-15%. But as originally planned, she remains four heads tall!

Lastly, I painted gold luster on the crown, which goes through a third kiln firing. Because of some mysterious alchemy, the luster paints on red before it’s fired, but turns gold and shiny.

Gold luster is made of particles of real gold dissolved in a liquid medium, which burns off in the kiln, leaving a deposit of pure gold behind. 

“The Thing”

To sculpt the object held by the nymph, I used both porcelain and flameworked glass. First I used porcelain to make the pointy part on the end, and the “dots” that run down the center. 

These were also bisque fired, glaze fired, and then painted with gold luster:

Once I made all these parts, I could determine exactly what size to make the object by laying everything on a piece of paper and sketching the surrounding shape.

Here I worked on a glassblower’s lathe to make a small glass form. A glassblower’s lathe is a machine that holds and turns a tube of glass while I heat the glass with a hand-held torch and blow air into the glass shape via a long flexible hose attached to one end.

I made an opening at both ends so it can slide over the wire, with the beads inside, and I glued everything together with silicone adhesive.

Porcelain Cloud-bands

To make the base of the sculpture I hand-sculpted porcelain “cloud-bands”. As I mentioned before, porcelain can be made very thin and delicate, so the material is well-suited to form these wavy ribbons. 

Starting with a molded shape in the center, I added multiple layers of cloud-bands. 

After blending them together with various sculpting tools, the base was dried, fired, glazed, and finally painted with a different type of luster for a mother-of-pearl iridescent effect on the edges.


Another material that I have been incorporating into some of my sculptures is epoxy resin. Especially in sculptures where I want the effect of VM nymphs standing in pools, resin allows me to support the figure in an upright standing position while providing a translucent effect with the feet underwater. The resin also permanently bonds to both glass and porcelain, expanding the possibilities of combining these materials which otherwise require incompatible kiln temperatures. 

Before I poured the resin, I positioned the nymph to be held in place by a clamp. It takes 72 hours for this type of resin to completely cure, during which time I am careful not to touch anything…

If you were wondering what happened to the second nymph, she is waiting in reserve for when I make another similar sculpture. I made two nymphs at the same time to ensure that at least one would turn out the way I wanted, because porcelain sculpture can be very unpredictable and can sometimes unexpectedly crack while drying, or during one of the multiple kiln firings. But luckily both made it through the process, so I do plan to make a second version of this “cloud-band” sculpture sometime. First, though, I have some other nymph-related sculptures in mind that are based on different folios, so those will be coming next. 

Finished Sculpture

This sculpture is named “What She Wields”. (Because, of course, that is what we all want to know: what is that thing anyway???)