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Old 06-03-2015, 01:51 PM   #1
night painter
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Join Date: Feb 2006
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Default Miniature Sculpting 101

Mkay, so I promised a tutorial on miniature sculpting... even though I've not really done much of it. So really, this is less of a tutorial and more of a behind-the-scenes, side-by-side sort of thing. You'll get to see what I'm thinking, how I do things, and also how I screw up.

Tools and Prep

So, let's get to it. First of all, what are we sculpting today?

I've been working on a 1:48 scale J7W1 Shinden, with some pieces from other planes kitbashed in. The model itself is great; easy to assemble, nice fit, good detail... but the pilot provided is in a standing, gloves off, non-piloty pose. So I want to sculpt a new one.

Generally it's a good idea to draw concept art, and then sculpt off of that. But for these one-offs for myself, I generally just wing it. So, off to the tools required.

From left to right, we have:

- 24 ga galvanized steel wire.
- Two-part epoxy putty (ProCreate, in this case)
- Pin vise (miniature hand drill)
- Craft knife
- Sculpting needle
- Clay shapers, size 0, extra firm, flat chisel, angle chisel, cup chisel, and cup round.
- Pliers and wire cutters.

To go over in order what each of these things is for...

Steel wire: It forms the armature on which you sculpt. Some people prefer brass wire. The thicker the wire, the stiffer it'll be, but also the more problems you'll have if you screw up the armature. It's nice to have a variety of diameters you can choose from, but a good all purpose wire size is 22 ga wire. I simply like 24 for women (who this is going to be) due to it being slightly thinner for their thinner bodies.

Two-part putty: There are a lot of them out there, but the main ones really fine enough for miniature work are Green Stuff, Brown Stuff, Milliput, and ProCreate. I've rewrapped mine in parchment paper because the plastic it comes in sticks too much to it. It's possible to vary the mix from 50/50 to get either a more flexible putty or a harder putty. I'm using ProCreate simply because it's easier to take pictures of.

Pin vise: Occasionally you'll need to sculpt parts like heads separately, drill a hole, stick in some wire and glue them together. That's what this is for.

Craft knife: When all else fails, you can redo a part by hacking your way back down to bare wire.

Sculpting needle: You can make your own by attaching a nail to a stick and sharpening it. This is for the finest of details, like eyes.

A close up look at the clay shapers. These are silicone shapes attached to a brush-like handle, and quite simply, they handle 90% of all my sculpting needs, with the remainder taken up by the needle and my fingers. They're not strictly speaking mandatory, but I would place them very high on a mini sculptor's wish list.

Pliers and wire cutters: Should be self-evident.

The Boring Parts

The first thing you need to do is cut a length of wire about 3x the height of the figure you're sculpting.

Which reminds me... how long is that?

For scale modellers who work in easily understood conversions like 1:72 or 1:48, the answer is pretty simple, height of an adult / 48 x 3 = a bit more than 4 inches. But if you're working with stupid scales like 28mm or 54mm, that height is theoretically from feet to eyes of a 6' man. I don't bother, and instead I print out this helpful scale reference guide from Patrick Keith, someone who actually does this for a living.

Either way, you're probably going to want to print a properly scaled reference figure of a skeleton, and work off of that. Miniature sculpting is very unforgiving with proportions, because being just a little off translates into pretty big errors.

So anyways, bend the wire in half. Make a tiny little skull-sized loop for the head, then twist the two legs of the wire under it until you reach shoulder height. Slip in a longish length of wire you'll trim later, continue twisting down to the pelvis, and then split them away from each other. Make sure to crimp at the knees and ankles, you'll want those for reference later.

...I forgot to mention another thing, didn't I? That clamp is pretty simple to make, just a bolt, wing nut, some washers, and a piece of wood drilled through and split in half, and the ends coated in Apoxie Sculpt, a much cheaper, but rougher two-part epoxy putty. An easy alternative is bottle corks, which many sculptors swear by.

Now, we can finally start sculpting!

Take some water, dampen your fingertips a smidgen. Not wet, just slightly damp. These putties are EPOXY putties, and can be very sticky at times. Green Stuff is notoriously sticky.

Take a tiny pinch of both parts of putty. It really doesn't take much to do miniature sculpting, so less is more. You can always mix more later. Mix them until it's nice and homogenous. Dark green in the case of Green Stuff, gray in for ProCreate.

Apply to the torso, and legs. Arms will stay bare wire until the torso and legs are done. Try to keep small gaps at the joints, so you can pose it before doing more.

And... now you're done for this session. Take a break, stretch your legs. If you have leftover putty it's probably a good idea to make more armatures rather than let it go to waste.

Yep, miniature sculpting is a lot of waiting for putty to cure. Trying to sculpt on top of uncured putty is an exercise in frustration. Better to wait until hardened. You can speed up curing using MILD heat, like that from a halogen lamp, but I still wouldn't expect more than two sculpting sessions in a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening.

Oh yeah, go wash your hands. A major component of these putties is BPA, a plasticizer that reusable bottle manufacturers all over the world now try to keep out of their products.
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