Sculpting the Prequel
By Phil Lewis
Originally Published in Forge Magazine #3
When I wrote the original article about figure sculpting in Forge #1, I spent some time trying to decide where to actually start. I have to admit that I was a little bit worried that you might find my scribblings somewhat boring if I went into too much detail about all the bits and pieces you’d need if you fancied having a go, and, of course, there’s only so much space in the magazine!
Well… How wrong can you be?
The comments that have filtered back have shown that there are a lot of you that would like to have a go at this arcane art, but need more information before you set off.
This time, we’ll try to take you through some of the tools and materials you’ll need. We won’t have the space to give you an absolutely complete list, but again, if there’s anything you don’t understand, or would like expanded, let us know and we’ll do our best to cover these points in future issues of Forge.
If I were to give you a comprehensive list of all the tools and accessories I’ve got at my disposal, you’d either turn to the next feature in the magazine in horror, or decide whether to go to see your bank manager for a loan. Having said that, many of the bits and pieces I’ve got get used once in a blue moon. They certainly wouldn’t be required if you’re just starting out. For now, we’ll try to keep it to a minimum. With luck, some of these items may be in your collection already, but, if you haven’t got any of the following, you’re going to need: corks, wire, modeling putty, modeling/dental tools, a pair of wire cutters, a pair of fine pliers (or a tool combining both), a pin vice and some small drill bits, and some super or crazy glue.
From a safety point of view, some disposable gloves and some form of eye/face protection should also be purchased (check out the warnings on the putty!).
Let’s look at the items one by one…
The cork is used to hold the armature of the model firmly in position. It also doubles as something convenient to grip whilst you’re working on the figure. Unless you’re being very ambitious with your first model, you shouldn’t need anything larger than a cork that would fit in a Demijohn (one of those large “jars” used in home brewing – not that I’d know anything about that subject of course). If possible, avoid the corks that have a hole drilled through the middle. These are usable but the solid ones tend to be more convenient and versatile. For smaller figures, wine bottle corks are fine (photo 1).
You should be able to find suitable corks in specialist wine making stores or the home brewing departments of larger chemists and supermarkets.
SAFETY FIRST! Do be careful when snipping wire, especially brass. Always point it away from your face. I never cease to be amazed at the speed a small piece of brass wire flies away when cut with nippers. I’ve sent numerous bits pinging into the walls about 10 feet away from my work desk. They’ve still been traveling at a good lick when they’ve hit with the wall! Imagine what one of those could do to your eyes. Wear eye protectors. Your sight’s too precious!
Back to the wire. We need this to make the frame (or armature) of our figure. Think of this as a very rough skeleton of our model. Really, any kind of wire of a suitable thickness can be considered. As long as you can bend and position it without it snapping, you should be OK. For the purposes of this article we’ll assume you’re having a go at making a figure around 30mm tall. At this scale the suitable thickness is around 1 mm. Personally, for a model of this size I
use “Tinned Annealed Copper Wire” which has a standard wire gauge (SWG) of 20. This wire has a diameter of just over .9 mm. It bends easily, but still has enough rigidity to act as a good frame for the putty (photo 2).
This type of wire is usually available at (or can be ordered from) shops/stores that deal in electrical components. In the U.K. expect to pay 5 pounds for a reel of 200 gms. As an alternative, brass wire is available in many local model shops and may well be easier to get hold of. Inch for inch, it works out far more expensive than the tinned copper, but you are able to buy it in much smaller quantities. In the short term this can make it a cheaper alternative if you’re only looking at making a couple of figures to start with.
Brass wire has the advantage of being more rigid but the disadvantage of being more difficult to bend (surprise, surprise!). Once bent into position it’s harder to “tweak” into a new pose without the danger of it snapping due to metal fatigue. Although the copper wire will also eventually break if you bend it back and forth a lot, it tends to be more tolerant. Of course, as the brass is more rigid, you can use a thinner thickness for the same job. You should be able to find some with a diameter of around .7 mm that is quite acceptable. A piece this thickness should cost around 30p for roughly 30cm.
In the first article I started with three pieces of wire that had been soldered together. You’ve probably noticed that a soldering iron and solder aren’t on our requirements list. That’s because, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to make a simpler but just as effective frame for the figure (photo 3).
This armature is just a piece of wire looped over to give us a frame for the body and head. Parting the wire at the figure’s ‘hips’ forms the legs. You’ll probably need to experiment with the measurements of shins, thighs, torso, etc. until you find the combination that works well for your own style. Keep a record of the measurements you use so you know what works and what doesn’t.
If this is your first attempt I’d suggest you don’t try for a massive amount of leg movement. It’s very easy to end up with one thigh or complete leg looking much longer than the other. For a guide, take your measurements from an existing model. Don’t be surprised if your initial attempt ends up much taller than expected. This is quite a common problem when starting out. Don’t be discouraged if this happens.
SAFETY FIRST! With any epoxy putty you must take careful note of the instructions. Any warnings on the box aren’t there for fun. They’re there to help and protect you. You have been warned! If you have any doubts about the instructions, have a chat with your supplier.
Probably the most popular putty for figure sculptors working in the 25-30 mm scales is Kneadatite. This is a two-part epoxy putty that comes in the form of a long ribbon, one side being yellow and the other blue. Once mixed together thoroughly the putty becomes a uniform green colour (you’d never have guessed that would you?), giving it its nickname amongst designers as “green stuff” (photo 4).
When starting out, only mix up small amounts of the putty until you get used to how quickly it starts setting. If you mix up too much you’ll find that, although excess putty remains “workable” for quite a period of time, you’ll end up wasting a fair amount because you’ll sometimes have difficulty in getting it to stick to the model. However, once you’ve got more experience you’ll find you want to mix larger amounts to save you having to blend in “joins” on larger areas of your figure.
Take your time when putting on the initial “skin” of putty over the wire frame (photo 5). Strangely enough, until you’ve done it a number of times, this can be an extremely frustrating experience. This bit looks as though it’s so easy and it is once you’ve got the knack, but your initial attempts may well drive you into a fury. You may think that if you can’t manage this first step, how can you ever go on to make a model? Persevere – you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.
Now, regarding the putty, there are too many tips and techniques to go into in this article. I’ll have to be rather mean and leave you to experiment on your own; otherwise there’ll be a very real danger of this article taking over the magazine. See how you get on. If you have any specific problems write in and let us know. We’ll try to deal with these in future issues. As far as I know, the only place you can get Kneadatite from in the U.K. is Opium Hobby Aids, P.O. Box 262, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH 16 3FR, phone 0 1 444-415 027. In the States, contact PSI, 723 Wheatland St., Phoenixville, PA, 19460-3394, phone (610) 935-1170 or 1-800-CAULK-IT.
Now, though there are numerous modeling/dental tools available from certain model shops and distributors, for figure designing I don’t believe that any of these are quite as useful as the figure designers’ favourite, the Wax 5. Or, to give it its proper name, the Wax Carver Number 5. Until you’ve worked with one of these you won’t be able to appreciate how useful it is for making miniature figures. The Wax 5 is the middle of the dental tools in photo 6.
A probe of some sort is also very useful, though this could be substituted for a simple pin or needle. Some form of handle would make these easier to work with. The probe is at the top of the photo.
Dental tools are, by and large, far more expensive to buy than modeling tools, though in many cases they’ll look identical. Usually, this is due to the quality of steel used in their manufacture. In general, dental tools are only available from dental suppliers. Check out your Yellow Pages under the heading Dental Materials and Equipment. Expect to pay some- thing around l2 pounds, possibly more, for a Wax 5; it’s all dependent on the make.
If you can’t find a local supplier for dental tools in the U.K., try H.S. Dental Care, 261 a Nottingham Rd. New Basford, Nottingham, phone 0115-979-1844. If you have trouble finding modeling tools in the U.K., Hobby Aids (phone 0 1 444- 415027) should be able to help you. (Hobby Aids can also supply Wax 5s.) In the States, you can get dental tools from any dental supplier, and modeling tools from Micro Mark, 340 Snyder Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ, 07922-1595, phone (908) 464-6764.
Obviously, the cutters are for trimming the wire to size, and the pliers for bending the frame into position. Try to get a reasonably fine-pointed pair of pliers; they’re much easier to use as far as our requirements are concerned (photo 7). You may well be able to find a local model shop or hardware store that can supply you with these. If not, our friends at Hobby Aids should be able to help you in the U.K. In the States, try Micro Mark.
Pin Vice & Mini Drill Bits
Again, your local modeling shop should be able to help you with these items. Otherwise, check out the firms mentioned for the pliers and wire cutters.
The pin vice is a very useful modeling tool that comes in various styles. It’s basically a small hand-operated drill, which is why you’ll need the drill bits (photo 8). In our case, we’re going to use the vice and an appropriately sized bit to bore a hole through the figure’s torso at shoulder level (see photo 5).
You can do this at any stage, once there is enough putty on the model’s body to allow you to do this. On the other hand, quite a number of the designers that I know will all but finish off the figure before adding the arms in this fashion.
Never drill into a figure with your fingers in such a position that there’s a danger of boring into your own flesh. It’s very tempting to grip the model being drilled with a fingertip over the precise point where the drill bit is going to emerge. If you slip, use too much pressure, or the bit snaps you can send this fine piece of metal quite a good way into your digit. It’s really painful! (says he, speaking from experience – ouch!)
A spot of this put on the middle of the wire you’re going to use for the arms should hold it firmly in position. Again, follow any instructions on the tube or bottle of the glue you’re using. (photo 9)
Finally, wherever you do your modeling, try to keep the area as tidy as possible and protect the surface you’re working on, even if it’s just with an old newspaper. You don’t want to scratch up the surface of a valuable table, or worse tip super/crazy glue onto it. You’ll also find yourself very unpopular if you walk putty into the carpet!
Well, I guess that’s about it! If you combine these words with the article in Forge #1 I hope you’ll have enough information to have a go at making a figure. As I’ve said, I hope we’ll have room to answer any questions you’ve got in future issues of Forge. I’m sure there’ll be lots, especially about the use of the putty. There just isn’t enough room here to cover everything that I could tell you about. Mind you, if I don’t get back to pushing my own putty about, that awfully nice Mr. Watts at Heartbreaker is going to start wondering where his Ezoghoul has got to. First of all, I think I need to go out and buy a large chisel to separate the parts that someone has crazy-glued together. But that’s another story…