Sculpting a miniature Johannes Brahms and his piano

June 09, 2019  •  2 Comments

Lois loves a creative challenge, especially in three dimensions. She was recently commissioned to create a miniature model of German composer Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) sitting playing at his grand piano. Destined to be shipped to Germany (where it will ultimately be housed in a Brahms museum), the piece had to be strong and durable, but also lightweight, hence Lois used a wide variety of materials in her design, including foam and foamboard, automotive ducktape, angle and mounting brackets, cardboard, matchsticks, paper fasteners, plastic drinking straws, cotton thread, buttons and badges. This page shows a photographic record of the stages of progress. Commissions are always welcome - please contact Lois to discuss.

Below: Lois beside her finished sculpture of Johannes Brahms and his grand piano. May 2019

The piano sculpture can be displayed open or closed (see video below), rather like a real grand piano. Lois is very grateful to Ute and John Cooper, who kindly allowed her to view their beautiful grand piano in detail at close quarters, to help her in designing this miniature model.

Johannes Brahms was a German composer, pianist and conductor, often grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs". There are many photographs of Brahms, as well as a number of drawings, including the two sketches of him in profile below by Willy von Beckerath (1868 - 1938): "Johannes Brahms at the Piano", on which Lois based her sculpture.

Below: The finished sculpture stands beside a pile of books that helped with research and photographs.

Stages of Sculpting Progress

Lois began by cutting out the overall shapes from sheets of black foamboard, which is relatively strong but extremely lightweight. She attached angle brackets for the three legs.

Below: Paper fasteners make convincing pedals.

A black plastic drinking straw conceals the strong aluminium wire that links to the pedals from the underside of the piano.

Pairs of car audio system mounting brackets are riveted together and bent into shape to create the characteristic curves of the piano.

Clamps are applied while glue sets. Meanwhile, the piano keyboard is underway, with pieces of matchstick painted black, fixed to a piece of white foamboard.

Layers of thinner 'funky foam' sheet obscure the metal brackets.

Pieces of strong cardboard are used to make the piano lid. The piano is beginning to shape up.

Black automotive duct tape is used to cover most of the piano to strengthen, protect and seal the structure, and to suggest the sheen of polished wood.

The inner frame of a grand piano is a complex structure and has to be simplified for the miniature sculpture. Lois cuts the frame out of another sheet of white foamboard.

Work begins on sculpting the figure of Johannes Brahms, using wire for the basic structure.

Lois constructs a three-legged piano stool out of oddments of metal, pin badges and wooden buttons, threaded onto aluminium wire, which will attach to the figure of Brahms for added strength.

The finished piano stool.

Lois sculpts the head and facial features, the hands and feet (shoes) of the figure out of Fimo (polymer clay) modelling material, which must be baked at low temperature in the kitchen oven in order to harden it. Tools include traditional wax/clay modelling tools, a surgical scalpel, and other items.

The wire figure is 'fleshed out' with aluminium foil, and then coated in Plaster of Paris modelling rock (Mod-roc) and acrylic paint.

Finishing touches are added with a small brush.

Work resumes on the piano. Lois sews the strings of the piano frame, now painted rich gold. Metal rivets from an old rucksack reinforce the round holes in the frame.

Another piece of foamboard is inserted and shaped to make the music stand.

Raising the piano up slightly with small additional 'wheel' fixings on the bottom of each leg.

The lid is hinged in place. Lois finds some appropriate music manuscript, which is printed out very small and then stained with teabags. The sculpture is complete.

Lois demonstrates how the piano unfolds (30 second video):

The music is derived from a facsimile of a manucript in the Yale University archive. Hear it played here by Tamas Vasary (1982).


Stefan Freedman(non-registered)
An incredible achievement artistically and technically.

The choice of music score is superb as it looks complex and dramatic. The pose with hands crossed is flambouyant, expression and body language masterful. (Good idea to lose the cigar!)

Dignity and grandeur with just a dash of humour. Amazing.
Simply fantastic!!!❤
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