Seeing some neolithic figurines I thought they would make good chess pieces. So I made them.
While I decided to have the pieces on each side be different shapes as well as colours I aimed to have them both built on the same principles, with influence from standard chess pieces, to try and keep it easy to see which piece was which. I don’t seem to have been successful as most people I showed them to haven’t correctly identified the pieces.
The pawns for each side where intended to be the basic design motif for each side, with the other pieces being variations on that idea. The pawns where also smaller, and simpler than the rest of the pieces. The bishops where then larger and more elaborate versions of the pawns shape and the king and queen going another step up each. The knights where supposed to be identifiable as having more animalistic features, recalling the horse of the standard chess set. Finally the castle was made to be inanimate.
I sculpted the chess pieces with Daz, which is an air drying clay, and painted them with acrylics. I started by painting each peice in multiple coats of very wet paint in their main colour. I then, after letting them dry, went over all the groves with wet paint in the second colour (getting quite a lot of paint outside of the grooves as well. Finally I dry brushed over the surface in the main colour, which covered up the paint that had escaped the grooves.
The White Pieces
The white pawns were based on the standing stones (menhirs) with faces at Filitosa, dating to 1500 BC. The shape of these pieces has earned the white side the name of stone men or, less generously, potato men.
The white castles where based on stones with cup and ring marks, which are common across prehistoric Europe.
The white knights are based on neolithic ram figurines. I added a mouth and eyes, which end up giving them a rather wonderful Muppet like expression.
The bishops are simply a larger version of the pawns with more details. For some reason people often interpret them as knights, thinking they look like an actual human knight.
King and Queen
The king and queen take some inspiration from a set of bronze age figurines with wide dress like bases. The differences between the king and queen are quite minimal, with the king being slightly larger and having a bigger head with markings indicating a crown. However, despite this, people have had no difficulty distinguishing them.
The Red Pieces
From this view one of the problems with the red set is quite obvious – they look quite similar from head on, which makes them a bit harder to play against.
The red pawns are based on a set of figurines from the Vinča culture, which provided the initial inspiration for this project. Their hunched animalistic shape has earned them the nickname of mole men among my family.
The red castles have no direct inspiration from any artifact. They are just my idea of an inanimate form that fits within the red pieces general aesthetic.
I am well aware that they look like traffic cones.
The problem I encountered with the red knights was that all the red pieces already looked rather like chess knights.I tried to give them a sleeker shape and a large mane to evoke the horse idea but this seemingly did not work as people on first inspection generally think the bishops are the knights.
The ‘mane’ has also been misinterpreted leading them to be called the hedgehogs.
The red bishops are simply enlarged versions of the pawns with more decorations. I gave them a crest with a cut into the front to mirror the slit in the head of the bishop in the standard chess set.
King and Queen
One again the king and queen are larger versions of the same form as the pawns,with the king being distinguished by a large transverse crest like crown.
I really like how these turned out. My favourite pieces are probably the red king and the white castles and knights. The unfortunate thing is that I neither like nor am good at chess.