What is sculpting? The American Heritage Dictionary defines sculpting as “To shape, mold, or fashion especially with artistry or precision.” For gamers and modelers, it means you’ll likely be creating something from scratch, or converting something to give it a new shape. The purpose of this article is exposure to the different physical components of miniatures sculpting and to create a primer for future sculpting articles.
Typically miniature sculpting is done with epoxy putty, although it can also be done with polymer clay. For the purpose of this article we will be limited to epoxy putties. Epoxy putty is a two part compound with two relatively inert halves that react with one another when mixed to form a hard, solid mass, and can be used for creating and maintaining shapes without the need of an outside heat source. In English, it’s a compound with two parts that you mix together, and it will harden naturally over time. The advantage for gamers and modelers is that it doesn’t require an additional heat source (like baking clay in an oven), so shapes can be made with relative ease, and that it can stand up to both the casting process and to normal wear and tear.
There are many types of epoxy putty that can be used for sculpting. The following are commonly used:
Kneadatite Blue-Yellow (a.k.a. Green Stuff):
This is the most common putty used. It cures solid, but retains a little flexibility, much like a hard rubber. It is excellent for making organic shapes, but does not hold well for sharp edges. Green Stuff can easily be cut once cured, but is difficult to sand or file.
Kneadatite Brown-Aluminum (a.k.a. Brown Stuff):
This is a “hard” putty that combines a bit of flexibility with the ability to be sanded and filed into sharp edges. It is often used for making mechanical and other metal parts. It can also be mixed with Green Stuff to add some stiffness to the putty while maintaining greater flexibility.
This is a self-hardening synthetic clay that combines the features and benefits of clay with those of epoxies. It initially mixes very soft and has a much longer working time than other putties. It is typically very soft for the first hour, pliable for the second and third, and then becomes more rigid after that. Once cured it is rock solid, and takes sanding and filing very well. It can be mixed with Green Stuff to extend the working time of the putty and give it more rigidity.
Epoxy putty that cures rock hard. Once fully cured Milliput can be machined, drilled, tapped, turned, filed, sawn, sanded. It can also tend to be brittle, which makes it excellent for projects that involve broken stones or pavement.
Mixing Epoxy Putty and Cure Time
Mixing epoxy putty is very simple. First, use a sharp knife to cut off equal amounts of both parts of the putty. Make sure your knife is lubricated because even unmixed the putty components will stick to the tool. Straight water is fine for this.
Note for the above picture: I buy larger quantities of Green Stuff available as a rod shape, and store it in small resealable containers. The blobs shown above are those rods over time.
Next, take the equal portions, and knead them together with your fingers. Your hands should be clean since any dirt, oil, or other debris will get mixed into the putty. Make sure your fingers are well lubricated as well, since putty will definitely stick. Water, again, works just fine. As the two colors combine you’ll notice a marbling effect with the color. Keep kneading the putty because you want that color to change and become uniform. An example is mixing the Blue-Yellow epoxy thoroughly to have a solid green putty (hence Green Stuff). Be sure to knead and squeeze thoroughly, working out any possible air bubbles or water bubbles.
After mixing the putty will be soft and pliable. You will have about 20-30 minutes where it is very soft. This is a good time for basic shapes. After the first 20 minutes the putty will start showing more rubbery characteristics and begin to harden. Most epoxy putties will have about 1-1.5 hours of working time before it is too hard to work anymore. Epoxy putty will typically cure fully in about 24 hours.
Mixing enough to be about the size of a pea is a good start and will provide you with plenty of putty for most projects.
WARNING: Some people have an adverse reaction with putty contacting skin. If you notice a problem, wear rubber gloves while sculpting.
The first thing to note is there is no right tool. There is no magic tool that will make sculpting easier. There is no bag of tricks. The only trick is to find a tool that suits you and use it.
Sculpting tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some store bought, others home made. The important thing is that all tools push putty around, and many specialized tools are mostly useful if only to save time on specific jobs. Here are some different types of tools. Check the examples at the end of this article to see how these tools can be used.
Wax/Clay Carvers, Dental Tools, and “Sculpting Tools”:
These are often store bought metal tools that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most well known is the “Wax #5″ tool popularized by other miniatures companies. It has a broad knife-type end on one side and a small bent spoon-like end on the other. Some examples are shown below. Note the different types of ends that can be useful for different kinds of marks in putty.
These can be tools of any size and shape that you can imagine. They will be personally designed to suit your needs. Anything you can find that makes a mark in putty that you want can be turned into a tool. Knife blades and sewing pins are very common for this. Even mechanical pencils can be useful for making rivets and buttons. The tool below was made from a piece of wooden dowel, a sewing pin, and some Green Stuff/Apoxie Sculpt mix to secure the pin.
Hobby knives are useful for cutting lines, cutting putty, pushing putty, etc.
Color Shapers and Clay Shapers are tools, shaped like a paint brush, with rubber tips. They are commonly used in the miniatures hobby for sculpting and are good with epoxy putties because they do not typically leave tool marks and do not stick to putty. These are also excellent for burnishing and smoothing surfaces.
Epoxy putty is sticky! For most tools, and even fingers, putty will stick and be difficult to work with. How do you get around this? Lubricate your tools! Straight water, saliva, petroleum jelly, cooking oil, the oil from your forehead, and lip balm are all good lubricants to use. Some work better than others for given situations. Oils and petroleum jellies last a long time, but need to be washed off before applying more putty or even paint. Water and saliva can work effectively, but dry up very quickly. Given a little practice you’ll find what works best for you.
Sculpting with epoxy putty is not like classical sculpting, where you remove material to reveal a shape. Miniature sculpting is more about pushing the putty into place and into shape. Ever heard of The Conservation of Matter? Simply put, matter is neither created nor destroyed. Anytime you press in one place the putty will displace somewhere else. Understanding that will help to understand that a little bit of putty goes a long way.
Fortunately if you find you have excess putty in one spot it can be easily removed with a sharp knife or some clippers.
Working in Stages
Work in stages. Sometimes you have to set up a foundation for something before you sculpt in detail. For example, don’t try to sculpt an entire arm at once. Instead, lay down a base of green stuff [to establish the basic mass] and let it cure, then lay down another layer or two than can be sculpted into muscles. The reason for this is because often if your foundation is soft you will only be pushing the putty out of shape. If you have a firm foundation, as in cured layers of putty, then new putty can be pushed into shape without fear of deforming the whole project.
Work in stages. This is important for another reason: it is aggravating to put your finger into uncured putty because you are working the other end of a model. One time I found I was rocking through a project and I still had unused putty. Not wanting to be wasteful I kept on going and got a lot further with the project. Turning the model around to admire the entire thing I found that I had accidentally put a finger print in one of my previous details, and pushed it out of shape in the process. Let parts cure before moving on.
Know what your subject looks like. It is easier to create 3-D shapes if you have a reference, and easier to mess something up if trying to go from memory. Books and photos are a perfect reference for sculpting anatomical shapes, as well as common items you might want to use. Sketches and drawings are also useful for this.
Here’s an example of why references are good: You may have read the Ogrun Bokur Conversion article I wrote. It was a lengthy project that involved sculpting a lot of detail. One of the details I sculpted on that model is a buckle for the strap holding the polearm. Look carefully at the pictures below; one is the front of the Bokur with a large belt buckle sculpted by the original artist, the other is the back with the buckle I sculpted. Notice a problem? I did much later: I sculpted the tang of the buckle backwards! This happened because I trusted my memory of how a belt buckle looks, rather than using a reference. I didn’t even turn the Ogrun around to see how the original looked.
Sometimes waiting for putty to cure can be frustrating. Often you’ll find you need to lay down one layer or detail, and have to wait for it to cure before you can move on to the next. This is one of those parts about working in stages that can really make you feel like you’re not making any progress.
There is an easy solution: Build an oven for baking the putty. But wait! Epoxy putty cures at room temperature and doesn’t require baking to harden. This is true, but adding heat actually speeds up the curing process, so what normally takes 24 hours will only take 1-2.
A miniatures oven is pretty easy to build. Use either a metal coffee can, or a cardboard container that has a metal lining (like for coffee creamer or beef jerky). Remove the top from the container. This is where the heat source will be applied. Cut a small window at the bottom so that you can slide a miniature inside. Finally, use a desk lamp or a shop lamp to mount the top of the can and hold the bulb inside. The heat from the light bulb will help green stuff and other epoxy putties set up faster and allow you to get back to work faster.
WARNING: Do not use a very hot lamp. The optimum number I’ve seen for the inside of the oven is 120 degree Fahrenheit. Any hotter than this and the putty is likely to be ruined. Green Stuff tends to turn brown, and becomes spongy and porous.
Usually a 15W or 25W light bulb will work. I’ve had best luck with 25W. When I first experimented with the oven, a 60W bulb baked Green Stuff too hot; turning it into a mess, and melted the base on the figure I was converting. 25W seems to be about right.
Since this article is a sculpting primer, I won’t go into great detail about how to sculpt specific things. Some subjects, like sculpting muscles or cloth, are best covered under their own articles. However, here are a few basic examples to get started with. These illustrate ways to use epoxy putty and how to put some of the tools mentioned above to use.
Example :: Gap filling a Dire Troll Mauler Extreme
Once assembled, I noticed the new Dire Troll Mauler had a few gaps that needed to be filled to make the joint transitions smooth and organic. For this, I mixed equal amounts or Green Stuff and Apoxie Sculpt. The putty was pressed into the gaps, and smoothed out using a size 2 Color Shaper and a size 2 Clay Shaper tool.
Example :: Backpack
How to sculpt backpacks is something I’ve seen comes up frequently. This example uses straight Green Stuff, metal tools, plus my homemade tool, and is a good example of how to push putty into shape. It’s also a good example of how to work in stages.
Start off with a small blob of putty. Place it on the back of the model. A Winterguard trooper is our guinea pig here. Press the sides with a sculpting tool to form the blob into a box-like shape. Take the point of a sculpting tool and press in where you think the flap for the backpack would be. The pictures below should give you an idea.
If you’re worried about messing it up at this point, let it cure. This is a good reason to use an oven.
Next, lay out a small strap and set it in place over the flap. The top portion if the flap will become the buckle, and the bottom portion will be the tongue. Next, use a knife or pin to press in the lines of the buckle, and the holes in the strap. Finally, place a small roll of Green Stuff at the top of the buckle to be the tang.
Take note that this is an important example of when to use a reference. In this case, I have mislocated the buckle. The visual effect is there, but the buckle is actually too high on the backpack. It should be right below the flap.
Example :: Chainmail
For this example, I wanted to give a Trollblood Fell Caller a chainmail loin skirt. I started with filling in the loincloth with Green Stuff, as shown in the pictures. I then took a pointed tool and poked holes in for the chain. Here’s the trick: You must go in rows across, and each new hole must be pulled slightly towards the previous one. Each row should go in alternating directions.
Example :: Fur
Matt Gubser wrote the Circle Conversions article for BrushThralls.com. In it he illustrates how to sculpt fur. The tool used was similar to the home made dowel-and-pin tool shown earlier.
So there you go. All of the basics of miniature sculpting rolled into a bite-sized morsel. This is an immensely large subject that is difficult to capture within the confines of a BrushThralls article, but this should provide a good starting place for anyone just getting into miniatures sculpting, or even conversion work that involves using putty. Don’t be afraid of the green gum, go out and make something.