TUTORIAL: ZBrush 2021 Cloth Dynamic Slime

General / 11 August 2020

Hi Everyone!

Thrilled to be part of the beta again this year, thanks Pixologic! Thanks also to all the amazing and inspiring artists who were in the group. I will be sharing some of the test images and tutorials I put together along the way. I hope you enjoy them. I will post more at maddiemonster.com.

First off I used the cloth dynamics in an unusual way to make slime. Check the tutorial below for this process: 




Thanks for reading! See you next time! 

-- Maddiemonster 



COVIDEMONI creature design with TUTORIAL

General / 06 August 2020

Over the course of the COVID 19 lockdown here in London, I was asked by Pixologic to do a series of ZBrush Live web streams. I decided it would be a good opportunity to develop a creature design based around the personification of the coronavirus as sentient malicious entity. This would be an interesting challenge to develop the entire creature, from ideation to the sculpting process live and with an audience. I thought it would be valuable to see how I work out shapes and ideas in a sculpting medium in sketch form and how much stream of consciousness and just pure sensitivity to curves, angles, and shape language informs decision making. Here is the final result of the three sessions. If you would like to view the videos themselves and see this piece come together visit the links at the bottom of the post to the Pixologic YouTube channel. 

For inspiration I drew on the prompts of suffocation, respiration, infection, aggressive and jagged shapes contrasted with elegant reverse curves. For other artworks I drew on the images of sculptors,  illustrators, and painters who dealt with themes of putrefaction and disease such as Harry Clarke, Jean Delville, and the Renaissance sculptor Zumbo who created an incredible series of wax miniatures about the plague. 

I hope you enjoy the images and the associated tips and callouts I made to hi-light parts of the process I thought other might find useful. All the best, stay healthy, and be well. 



VIDEO: View my recent Gnomon Livestream on Creature Design

General / 31 July 2020
In case you missed it you can catch my recent Gnomon livestream where we talk about the creepy, the crawly, the eerie; those monsters, my friends. Three hours of discussion on design, composition, thematic consistency, and all the other bits and bobs that go into presenting a creature design. 

VIDEO: Creature Concepts in ZBrush Masterclass video

General / 31 July 2020
Recently, I presented a masterclass on creating concept sculpts in ZBrush. I hope you enjoy it! Here is a little time-lapse.

To check out the full session, follow the link below:

The Art of Creature Creation Gnomon Livestream with Madeleine Spencer

General / 29 July 2020

Join me for a deep dive into creature creation on Friday, July 31st at 11:00 AM PDT as Senior Concept Artist Madeleine Spencer (@maddiemonster_art ) discusses her process for developing and presenting a creature design using examples from both film and personal work. Madeleine will cover topics such as how to develop ideas, maintain a thematic harmony, as well as practical examples of sculpting and presentation techniques, and more. Learn more about the event: https://bit.ly/2X5uBAE

#gnomon #gnomonschool #creature #art #monster #drawing #creaturedesign #artist #sketch #nature #horror #creatureart #characterdesign #conceptart

ZBrush Live: COVID-DEMONI Part 2

General / 17 June 2020

Hey Everyone! Maddie here! 

Check out that awesome caricature above which was done for me by Lola Hale! I love it! 

I am thrilled to present the second part of my ZBRUSH:LIVE COVID-DEMONI series which just went up on YouTube. In this session we carry on developing the COVID Demon, talk shape language, monsters, influences, and various tools tips and techniques! 


ZBrush Masters Encore: COVID-DEMON continued!

General / 10 June 2020
UPDATE: Links to these events are in my most recent posts. You can watch here:

Watch the ZBrush Live stream COVID-DEMONI Part 2 

Two chances to hang out with me and make monsters next week!! This webinar and the Cave Academy webinar in my other post.

In this ZBrush live session I will carry on with the design of the COVID-DEMON. We will dive into the shapes, brushes, and strategies for presentation to create the most compelling of creatures! 

Free live creature design webinar Thursday June 18th

General / 10 June 2020
Two chances to hang out with me and make monsters next week!! This webinar and the ZBrush Live Encore in my other post. 

CAVE Academy and VES London are extremely excited to bring to you our next FREE masterclass, which will be presented by the very amazing, Madeleine Spencer. 
In this session, Madeleine will focus on creating concept sculpts for VFX. She will start with the ideation of a concept in Pixologic ZBrush before moving on to adding shape and form, anatomy, and giving the creature personality.
The masterclass will take place on Thursday the 18th of June at 20:00 BST, and you can sign up here:

Maddiemonster's Library: Goldfinger's Human Anatomy for Artists

General / 30 May 2020

Hello Everyone! 

Welcome to this instalment of Maddiemonster's Library: My favourite art instruction manuals. Every term at Gnomon, I find that  I recommend a variety  of books for my students on everything from anatomy and sculpting to design and shape language. There are so many wonderful texts which I have encountered over the years, I want to share them all with you. Because of this passion for reading and research, I decided to start a monthly blog  in which I recommend a title or author and give some background on why I find that particular book so valuable.I hope you enjoy it and perhaps find a few gems you have yet to discover. Clicking on the book cover or the link at the end of the article will take you to the Amazon purchase page.  Welcome to Maddiemonster's Library! 

Today we will talk about what I believe is the best modern anatomy book for Artists, Goldfinger's Human Anatomy for Artists. I will wax lyrical on the many many merits of this text below but suffice to say it  is worth every penny and will be your companion for many years. It is available from amazon.com here.

Eliot Goldfinger is an artist best known for his work with anatomy. He is the author of two wildly successful anatomy texts; Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form and Animal Anatomy for the Artist. He helped develop the anatomy program at the New York Academy of Art and several of his busts of the mayors of New York City are held in the Museum of the City of New York. I first encountered Goldfinger's anatomy book while a student at The Savannah College of Art and Design where it was a required text in the course of a professor who would become my mentor and friend, Paul Hudson. Paul taught several anatomy courses in which the subject was appeoached with drawing as well as sculpture. Goldfinger's guide appealed to his training as a designer (he was an Arts Center alum) and his appoach to teaching which was to break down complex forms into easy to conceptualise forms and then commit those to muscle memory by repetition of reproduction. Paul also encouraged us to learn the name for every form, not beauce this helps sculpt it more accurately, but rather because when you have a name for a thing it is much easier to learn about it and file that information away in your brain for later recall. While I tell my students today to not become embroiled in too much worry about learning every name for every muscle, I do believe there is a value in this notion of naming a thing accurately to master its details. 

What sets Goldfinger's book apart is  his clear attention to the details of form but also his sensitivity to the needs of the artist to understand theshapes and the interconnectivity of the muscle groups. This leads the author to include Axial images, birds eye views, of the muscles in cutaway. This is profoundly helpful in understanding just how thin some muscles actually are and how they interrelate to the deep layer tissues beneath. Often we over emphasise shapes we are trying to understand and I found that Goldfinger's approach helped me dial back and see that many muscles such as the Trapezius are far more influence by deeper layer muscles beneath than thy are by their own inherent volume. 

In the image above it is clear how the text takes a notoriously evasive form such as the serrates and renders it in a clear and concise manner. We used this book as a guide while sculpting our own ecorche figure in class, learning the name, shape, origin and insertion of each muscle as we laid it on the skeleton. This brings me to another point about Goldfinger which is important, he clearly illustrates where the origin and insertion of each muscle lies. I have found as I progressed as an artist this information was extremely important and I try to tell my students to learn that detail first. The reason being that if you sculpt a muscle and indicate its form flowing in the correct direction from origin to insertion. you are 80% there. It will look correct even without further embellishment. We are able to register the placement and flow of muscle forms as they intertwine and interlock over the skeleton much more accurately than the untrained eye sees every nuance of form. These large sweeps from point to point help us establish some anatomical accuracy while also keeping our strokes loose and gestural, bringing life to the figure. 

The sample pages here show some of the wonderful illustrations which are used to elucidate on the high contrast photography in the book and communicate complex topics in a clear and concise manner. 

The book is worth every penny and will be your companion for many years. It is available from amazon.com here.

Maddiemonster <3

The book is worth every penny and will be your companion for many years. It is available from amazon.com here.

Maddiemonster <3


Life, Learning, and Dissection: Reflections on my Time in a Medical School Cadaver Lab

General / 23 May 2020

It was winter 2008 when I first dismembered a human body.

By dismember, I really ought to say, “disarticulated the shoulder girdle from the axial skeleton by disconnecting the sternoclavicular joint and points of muscular attachment.” The former seems more concise –if not more gruesome– while the later is a mouthful in mixed company.

The fact is, when you find yourself disconnecting a limb from the body of a deceased human being, you are set upon by the immediate and unsettling notion that there are only two types of people who ever do such a thing. You sincerely hope that you lie firmly on the “professional” end of that spectrum rather than the Silence of the Lambs side  as you find yourself working alone at such a task. You see, I’m not a doctor; I am an artist and the study of human anatomy has been an ongoing pursuit throughout my life and career.

image: Women in the dissection room, Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1892.

In centuries past, artists risked the Inquisition for access to human cadavers against the edicts of the Catholic church. Even today, there is no denying a powerful taboo lurking beneath the surface when you first confront a deceased human with the intention to cut it open and explore the inner workings. Even when you are operating in the professional confines of a medical school classroom, the experience can be wholly transformative on a professional, as well as a deeply personal, level.

In the winter of 2008, I was actively researching and writing a book on sculpting and human anatomy for a company that specialized in creating educational products for the artist market. My employer had previously worked with an anatomy lab in the midwest. He arranged for me to spend a week there working with the specimens in the medical school. With a strange tincture of dread and elation I boarded the plane to Utah.

Being mid-December, the halls of the school were almost entirely empty. It was simultaneously serene and unsettling to walk the deserted campus. In the entrance hall of the main medical building there was a small specimen museum for the students. Various human body parts sat inside Perspex tanks suspended in an amniotic formalin dreamworld. They were beautiful to behold. It would be a few days into my own experience of removing fat and fascia to expose the muscles beneath, that I could come to see just how elegantly executed those prosected specimens really were. It takes a deft touch and an expert eye to produce wet specimens such as these. 

image: Prosected reference head.

My employer and I walked through the snaking empty halls, our footfalls echoing through the linoleum passages until we came to a nondescript door marked A104. A strange feeling came over me as entered that room. I felt, for a moment, that I had come upon the precipice of something truly magnificent. it was not at all dissimilar from the sense of Kantian sublime I might feel entering a great Cathedral of Europe. This was indeed, a church. I was silent, looking around tentatively, unsure of what my next action should or could be. The room was slightly cooler than the rest of the building had been; a rather large classroom space filled with about 15 gurneys. On each of them was a vaguely human form shrouded in white fabric and an outer shell of thick clear plastic sheeting.

“Just pick someone and get started. I will find you a lab monitor,” my employer said, as he went toward a door at the back of the room. I was frozen in place. It occurred to me that I’d expected to be part of a class and following the guidance of an experienced professor. I had no idea how to begin. My mind was beset with questions. Can I do this? Should I do this? A million doubts rushed in on me, only to be broken by the sudden entry of a lab monitor. She was about 20, moving with the speed and confidence of someone well-versed in every aspect of her space and her job.

“Hey! Welcome,” she said. “So, just pick a body and go.” She opened a white cabinet and pulled out several objects, setting them down on the nearest gurney beside a pair of plastic sheathed legs. Her confidence put me at ease.

“I’m not exactly sure how to start,” I said. She smiled reassuringly. “Ah, then let me show you what you need to know!” She took a few moments to guide me though the basics, procedure and tools, and most importantly how to change a scalpel. This is invaluable information when it comes to a blade that can take your finger in a single inattentive instant.

After a quick, but thorough, tour of the tools and procedures she paused. “Ah! You will need this,” she said, taking a spiral bound book down off a nearby shelf. It was large and colorful with with a photo collage of dissected human body parts on the cover. In bold script letters the title read, “Grant’s Dissector.”

“What’s this?” I asked.

“That is the manual!” she replied brightly.

image: Grant's Dissector. "the manual."

She quickly moved toward the exit, offering a hand if I needed anything else. I was surprised to discover that I was starting to feel a strange sense of anxiousness I hadn’t considered before. These were human bodies. The postmodern philosopher Julia Kristeva says that cadavers represented the ultimate abjection; the purest expression of that which we avoid and flee from as humans. In the face of this profundity I felt a touch of guilt for not being a surgeon in training; for not being a Michelangelo or an Artemisia Gentileschii. Did my worth as an artist merit this?

Most medical students have the benefit of processing their reactions to anatomy lab among peers. There’s an opportunity to compartmentalize, joke, be serious, to focus on the work at hand, and come to an understanding of the gravity of the gift these people left us. Being alone in the lab granted me greater freedom, but it also left me dealing with the very real and profound humanity of the situation on my own and without the benefit of a group dynamic.

I took a moment to look through the various bodies in the room, delicately unwrapping the heavy plastic sheets and the white bed linens underneath. Many had been flayed already and their body cavities emptied. Apparently, the anatomy classes had focused on the major arteries and nerves, as well as excavating the body cavity. The superficial layers of muscle were exposed and the deep layer undisturbed. This was ideal, as my focus was the superficial to deep layer of muscle anatomy and I would have the opportunity to look at these structures intact.

I unwrapped a large form in the middle of the room. He was an athletic man of about 50. I felt a sinking sadness for this man who died relatively young, whilst obviously taking good care of himself. The faces of the bodies are all wrapped separately for discretion and dignity. I tenderly unwound the fabric from his face. I felt a strange need to see him, to know what he looked like; to put face to this grief I felt for a perfect stranger. When I unwound the wraps, I found his face intact and undissected with the soft tissues of his flesh slightly plasticized by the embalming process. On the side of his forehead was a small deep contusion. It looked like a point of impact. I carefully covered his face and wrapped him back in his sheets and plastic to rest quietly.

The other bodies were considerably older men and women. Some specimens had seen more use than others. Over time the muscles can start to look shockingly similar to beef jerky as they dry out from exposure to air. To combat this we are supplied with a spritzer bottle of formalin –a modern replacement for the highly toxic formaldehyde. This is used to keep the exposed tissues preserved as you work. The hands and feet of all the bodies were also in little socks, soaked in chemicals to keep the muscles pliable and soft. There was something touching and a little sad about seeing a flayed cadaver with little white footie socks on.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt

I decided to work with an elderly man in the corner of the room. It was a choice that I made by feeling who seemed the most comfortable; who invited me to work with them. Over the course of the week I spent in the lab, I found myself alternately anthropomorphizing and disconnecting from the bodies. I found I could not effectively work if I maintained too close a proximity to the sense of the cadaver as a person. Other times, as I worked, I found myself being sure to treat the body gently and to turn him slowly and kindly. They were never just objects to me. If I were to disconnect and never again engage with their humanity, I would do a grave disservice to their generosity. 

Following the instructions in Grant’s Dissector, I removed the flesh of the leg by making a series of incisions and a puncture unto which I could insert my finger. This facilitated peeling back the flesh in a process called “degloving.” As the flesh is removed you must carefully scrape away the subcutaneous fat and fascia underneath. Fat and fascia are everywhere beneath the skin. Fat tends to look like wet popcorn and it is present in every nook and cranny of the body. Depending on how heavy the person was in life, it can even be between muscles and inside the body cavity. The skill required to cleanly and efficiently remove both left me with a much deeper respect for the prosected specimens on display outside the lab.

Fascia looks like a fine layer of spiderweb over the muscles. You use tweezers to pick it up then detach it from the muscle gently with the scalpel. It’s a tedious and time consuming process and you must be very careful not to nick or damage the muscle tissue with your very sharp scalpel blade. Every time you think you have all the fascia, another layer seems to materialize. Fascia is essentially a connective tissue barrier that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and organs. It can be quite a beautiful thing to observe.

Fascia over muscle.

Over the process of working with the cadavers, I was struck by how much never translates into anatomy books. I had studied anatomy books for years up to that point; from 100-year-old volumes with hand drawn plates to modern photographic editions complete with axial MRI scans. None of them captured the nuances and beauty of the human body as seen in person. One particular feature leapt out at me. The tendinous bands in the body, those flat bands of tendon that extend from the belly of the muscle to the ends, have a shimmering quality not unlike mother of pearl, and a pronounced iridescence that’s nearly impossible to photograph. I found myself taken aback many times by this beautiful shimmering hidden inside the body. It’s the proverbial difference between the map and the territory. 

Over the week, I spent every day in the lab, peeling back layers of muscle, labeling and pinning each one until the limbs looked like strange blooming flowers with petals of flesh. Finally, I came to a point where I needed to disconnect the arm from the axial skeleton to better facilitate working with it. Up to this point, I had been working on the body as a whole. The process of detaching a human arm from a torso was an experience unlike any other I had encountered. I was concentrating and noting the position and composition of the sternoclavicular joint, the makeup of the shoulder girdle and the manner in which it moved across the thoracic. At the same time, I couldn’t disregard the fact few people ever see a human body in this state of disarticulation. I reassured myself it was okay, alone in this lab with no fellow students to ease the sense of isolation, that I was part of a long tradition of artist-anatomists working with human cadavers. Below is a page from my sketchbook where I rendered the extensors and flexors of the forearm as I dissected each one and pinned it back. In the moment I remember thinking it looked like a beautiful yet ghastly flower. 

We have such an estranged relationship to the dead in Western culture. This experience changed me personally as well as professionally. It calls to mind the Buddhist practice of Cemetery Contemplations. In this tradition, the practitioner will seek out and contemplate various kinds of corpses in burial grounds. It is intended to aid in breaking down attachments to the self and the physical world. I thought of the Bon Chod Tantric practitioners who go to the burial ground at night to meditate with the corpses. I thought of the women in ancient Greece washing and anointing the dead, tenderly working the magic of the underworld for their souls. 

Illustration of two Cemetery Contemplations from an early 20th century manuscript from Thailand.

At the end of the week, I flew back to Northern California. I had filled sketchbooks with drawings and notes and taken several reference photos. My mind was racing with all I had learned and the greater understanding I had gained from the experience. A couple days after my return I waiting in a queue in my car, when suddenly I was crying. I had to pull the car off to the side while I sobbed uncontrollably in a parking lot. I sat there for half an hour weeping in grief and thankfulness to people whose names I would never know. 

As I sat in my car, I reflected on all those people whose bodies I’d spent the last week with. Not being a doctor, what they taught me would never be used to save a life. I would never diagnose or treat an illness. Instead, I hoped that I might honor that gift by bringing some beauty to the world with art, or perhaps by helping some future student to a greater understanding and appreciation of the human form. I hope I do them honor by my respect and by sharing with you the wonderful things they showed me.

“Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.” ― Jim Carroll

--Maddiemonster <3