Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sculpting Tut: Tools

First off I want to point out that I added a list of resources in my links list. I am not exaggerating in any way when I say that is how I learned to sculpt. Everything I learned and am still learning has come from the generous people who took the time to make tutorials or share their tips with me. Also thank you for everyone who commented here and at my Deviant Art journal on this tutorial. I really appreciate the support, it keeps me writing.


I should start off by saying that there are no “absolutely necessary” tools. My first sculpts were done with one rubber tipped tool and a butter knife from the kitchen. I have seen the most amazing works done with cut up plastic spoons, dental tools, pastry knives, exacto blades and heard of a man who did a complete statue using a single blade buck knife. So really this is all a matter of personal preference. Below are listed some of the more commonly used tools as well as some that I find useful for the type of work I do.

Basic Tools

1. Rubber Tipped Tool: This is a tool that looks like a paint brush but has a rubber tipped end in a few different shapes. I recommend taper point in medium thickness size 0. I use this one most often and did 90% of my first sculptures with just this for a detailing tool.

2. Wooden or Flat Tools: Very helpful in the starting and blocking stages of a sculpture is a flat wooden tool to help apply clay and push it around and smooth it to an even surface. I use two that came from a larger set I got for about 10$ and had several pieces.

3. Clay Carver: A tool that has a curved blade at one end and a pointed end at the other. They are very good for removing areas of clay and cutting in small details. You can use an exacto but the curved end is very helpful. I found mine at a pearl, I am not sure of the technical name for it. Here is a picture from Mumbo Jumbo’s tutorial you can find them in the sculpting sections.

4. Calipers: These are very helpful for checking proportions from your ref picture to the sculpture. I consider them to be almost essential. There are all different kinds of calipers but any of them will do the job.

Note: You will see an unusual set of calipers in my tool set. These were a gift from a dear friend and sculptor Dave “Sharpenr”. You can find instructions to make your own pair here Calipers: Tools for Sculptors

5. Drill: To put the holes in to the board and stand.

Note: if you do not own a drill it is possible to go to a local home depot and many times they will be willing to drill a hole or series of them in a piece of wood for free. The first two boards I used I carved the hole out with an exacto knife I had on hand. Now I use a Dremel (see below for more information)

6. Pliers/Wire Cutters: You will probably need at least a set of needle nose pliers and a set of wire cutters. (Sometimes the needle nose pliers have a wire cutting area on them.) To help size and twist the armature in to place. You can usually pick up a good set of wire cutters and pliers at a home depot.

*Tip: A pair of small jeweler’s pliers can be invaluable for making wire details and accessories for a figure with out leaving marks in the wire. Also they are used in making your own loop tools (more on this later).

7. Paint Brushes: These have a number of uses in the finishing areas; you will need at least one med soft bristled brush to use with your smoothing solvents. I usually recommend a flat brush for this.

*Tip: I use a short flat synthetic brush I cut even shorter to make it stiff. I find that it works very well for smoothing tool marks out of small nooks.

8. Sandpaper: Multiple grain roughness helps sand and polish areas after baking and priming. You can find this in any home depot; you can also find sanding blocks, and wire wool which is also good for sanding. The number on the sand paper is equivalent to the granules per square inch. 200 would be rougher than 800 grit. I use 400 grit and higher.

Tip: When you are finishing and polishing areas of your sculpts you will need a very fine sand paper. Look for Wet or Dry and then use a bowl of water, this will help clean the grit off the sand paper, and allow you to use pieces for much longer than if only used dry.

Advanced Tools

1. Dremel Multi Tool: This little tool has a number of attachments that can be used to do everything from drilling, sanding to cutting through metal. It is an excellent tool to have for its many applications. Including filing down large areas, buffing, and removal of already baked on parts for replacement. I recommend the 300 series its mid range but good and strong.

*Tip: You can also get adapters for your tool to use all kinds of additional attachments. I use many of these in repair. (I will have much more on this later in the tutorial).

2. Loops and Mini Loop Tools: These are used to help shape and refine the sculpture. Good for removing small amounts of clay at a time. Kemper makes a set that is 5” or 6” long called Wire and Wood. (The link has a bad picture but you can see them in the photo of my tools above). These have wire ends and in many cases will have a wooden tool built in to the other end which is very handy.

*Note: You will see that I have two very small loop tools. These were made by a friend but there are sites that will custom make you very small ones like, Perfect Touch or if your interested in making your own there is a thread at concept art.
Make your own tools.

3. Spatulas and Flat blades: These are very nice for adding and smoothing bits of clay around tight areas that the large flat wooden tools can’t access. They come in any number of sizes and flexibility in some cases I have used a very small pallet knife.

*Tip: You can take a steel tool with a flat edge and grind it down, then use a wet stone to sharpen it to blade good for very small details and facial planes on a maquette. (This tip from David “Sharpenr”)

4. Burnisher: I have never used them but the Shifflett brothers swear by it stating they do 90% of their work after build up with it. So I thought it was noteworthy

5. Detail Wheels: These allow you to turn the sculpt while you’re working on it and view it easily from different positions. Amaco makes two one is low and flat plastic very good for working on standing sculptures. The other is the no 5 which is lifted up I find it to be helpful to work on things at eye level because it allows you to brace your elbow on the table and work.
Amaco 8" Decorating Wheel
Amaco no. 5 Decorating Wheel

6. Light Source: You will find that a good light source is very important. With sculptures having one that can be moved around is very handy so you can check how shadows fall and see details more clearly. I recommend Ott-Lights they come in a number of sizes and shapes. From small table to standing floor models. I find the true light bulb is very good for reducing eyestrain.

That ends the tool section of the tutorial; however I would also like to say a few things about your work space. There are all kinds of different work spaces from work benches, to drafting tables, to full out workshops with custom made tables. While granted having a nice tall table to sculpt on is very helpful, you can make due with just about anyplace. The key is a good chair, you want to take special attention to remember to sit up or stretch often. (You will thank me for this). As you can see below my own space is pretty humble.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sculpting Tut: Basic Supplies

Okay so we are going to start this tutorial/q and a thing now. I apologize if my first couple of posts are a bit wordy, while I’m trying to figure out a good pace and format to explain what I need to. Since some of you mentioned you might want to follow along on your own sculpts, I’m going to start with a list of supplies you will need. Most of these you can find at your local art supply store, or you can order from I will give you the links so you know what you’re looking for.

Supply List

1. Super Sculpey- Super Sculpey is a semi-translucent, beige-pink clay that offers excellent modeling and tooling qualities. It can be baked in a regular kitchen oven.

*Tip: You can mix a 2 oz block of black and white Sculpey III to turn it gray and make it easier to pick out details. Or preferred with some professionals is Super Sculpey firm which is made in gray. (see below for more on clay)

2. Armature wire- I suggest Aluminum armature wire because it is more pliable. But any non plastic coated wire will do. You will want to get a medium thickness for the base skeleton, and a thinner one for arms, legs. (I recommend 6 or 4 gauge and 16 gauge to start)

*Tip: Gauge on wire is strange the smaller the number the larger around it is. So 16 gauge is thin while 4 is much thicker. For comparison a standard earring post is 18 gauge.

3. Wooden base- This can be any piece of smooth flat wood with no finish on it. I use cheap plaques from the art supply store.

4. Tin foil- Used for bulking out items, you can get this at any grocery store. I find the cheaper the better as it compresses much tighter. I usually wait for jewel to do a 10 for 10$ and stock up.

This ends the MUST HAVE part. Everything past this point is nice, or can make things much easier but is not necessary.

5. Plumbers putty- You can get this at any home depot/ace it’s a two part fast curing putty that you mix with your fingers and it sets in about five minutes. It will come in a tube its used for securing places where wires join. Here is a picture of what it will look like.

*Tip: I use Aves Apoxie for almost everything now. It has a much longer cure time but I use it over tinfoil or by itself to reinforce the frame work under thin areas. Some sculptors actually sculpt out of the Apoxie itself. I use it in maquettes because it makes them much sturdier for repeated transportation and display.

6. Wooden base- It makes a good finishing statement, and takes away any problems you might have with balance on a figure. They are a little harder to find some people can pick them up at collectible stores. You could sculpt directly on to the display base, but as they usually have a finish on them, when its baking it often bubbles and you end up having to sand it all flat again, and it is discolored if your not priming it.

7. Smoothing solvent- I have heard/used several different types, all do the same thing. It’s a liquid applied to the clay to smooth its surface prior to baking. Most commonly used is Turpinoid (A colorless odorless turpentine substitute), Sculpey solvent, Rubbing Alcohol (97%) or Lighter Fluid (I really do NOT recommend this)

*Tip: Once you learn the properties of each you might find yourself using more than one. I use alcohol on my sculpts because as it dries it leaches the oils out and can help firm up clay that I think is too soft. Turpinoid I use in the end because it dissolves the top layer and allows it to be smoothed down. A little goes a LONG way.

8. Primer- Probably the best kept secret in the world of maquettes is the liberal use of spray primer. You can buy it from any number of places, hobby stores, art supply stores, auto supply stores.

*Tip: make sure that its SANDABLE auto primer. I usually get fast dry in gray.

This ends the supply list, I will make another full post on tools as it deserves its own entry.

Also I would like to write a little more about Sculpey clay mix. This is as personal to most sculptors as a thumb print; some are very picky about texture, or firmness. Also like the solvents each mixture has a little different properties to it. When your first starting I recommend using Sculpey right out of the box, or mixed with some black and white for color as there is no need to spend time and money for a fancy mixture you may not even like. However for those of you that have a little more experience with clay and are looking for some different attributes you may find one of the recipes below helpful.

Please note these may not be the mixes the sculptors are currently using. These are just the mixes I have heard them or they have told me they use. I keep them on file under the names supplied so I remember where they came from.

Smellybugs Maquette Mix (Peter Konig’s Mix)
1 box Super Sculpey (1lb)
1 2oz block Sculpey III White
½ 2oz block Sculpey III Black
Nature of the mix: A soft mix that’s very easy to smooth and is very responsive with tools, very good for larger pieces and very delicate work if you have a smooth hand. Will bake up to a medium matte feel.

Popeye’s Mix (Tony Capraino’s mix, I think)
1 box Super Sculpey
1 2 oz block Fimo White
1 2oz block Fimo Black * (can use Sculpey’s Premo! For same results)

Nature of the mix: A more firm mix with a slight waxy feel, that will allow you to cut away more detailed designs. I have found it to be much more resistant to baked in cracking on thick parts. Cooks to a smoother matte finish.

Morty’s Mix (Mark Newman)
1 box Super Sculpey
1 box Super Sculpey Firm

Note: I have never used this mix, I was told that it’s more a “pinch” of one and a “pinch” of another worked together in his hands.

Shape Strong’s Mix (my mix)
2 boxes of Super Sculpey
1 pound of Premo! translucent
3 2oz blocks of Premo! White
1 ½ 2oz blocks of Premo! Black (or more if needed)

Nature of the mix: Very waxy feeling mixture that is very stiff to the touch and requires a lot of working to soften. Very good for carving away small details and building up vertical details. Cooks to a very smooth matte.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The start of my tut and Q and A

I have been asked to explain and show how I sculpt. When I learned to sculpt I spent hours and hours on line looking at tutorials, and forums to find out how to make Maquettes. While I still say there are amazing resources out there for those willing to look, people have asked in specific how I'm able to sculpt the smooth cartoon style, and match it with colored or vector art. So here we go, I encourage you to ask any questions you with both here or on my deviant post Questions Needed for Tutorial

An amazing artist and good friend Leigh Young has agreed to let me use one of my favorite works of hers "As If" for the test subject. Let the fun begin!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Girls Girls Girls

Girls, Girls, Girls!

This was the blog post I was supposed to make today, but I got side tracked with Wizard World round up. I wasn’t able to show this year due to lack of any new work and or time to put together anything impressive (I barley found both socks to put on). I have had an idea rolling around in my head for the last few months on what new direction I wanted to go.

A few weeks ago while watching the road to eldorado I made my decision. My focus for the next year is the curvy pinup. I know what your saying, isn’t there enough pinups in the world? No! I’m not talking the Catlin Fairchild’s (Gen 13) with the size DD chest and size 2 hips. I’m talking about the ample round mama’s that we all know growing up. Maybe she was the girl next door who woke up one day with hips, or the hottie at the bowling alley with her retro looks.

I can say that as far as art goes Leigh Young is probably the one whos art slapped me upside the head the most. To the point I traded one of my first and most beloved sculpts for an original art design (Rosie Shape Strong’s mascot) her Des Nudia still makes me swoon.

The most fun I have had working on a sculpt was doing the curves on “Frankie”. Recently I revisited my love of curves when I stumbled across Arthur De Pins and his short hippy women. Inspired by fat little feet I created the Venus De’ Shapestrong.

I am very excited to start work on this series! I have already contacted some of my favorite artists and have gotten really optimistic responses over it! So I’m looking forward to it!

If you know of any other good inspirations please drop me a link, I’m always looking for great work!

Wizard World Chicago: Good and Bad

This years Wizard World Chicago was really amazing, I totally spent every last cent I made, but I kind of knew that was going to happen so I’m not too heart broken over it. I only got about an hour and half total time to walk around and check things out. I always make a bee line right for Artists Alley. I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed at the same time by the turn out this year.

Good things I found in Artists Alley:
1. Alberto Ruiz- I always try and get to his table on preview night or first thing Friday so I can get any new book he has out. Grabbed both of his new books, Although one was a duplicate of two books I already owned, I don’t feel bad now because I have loved and ref’ed the originals to pieces. Alberto's Books

2. Tiki, T-Dawg and Whatnot the art of Tracy Mark Lee- I sent my friend back to pick up this one, and was lucky enough to snag the last copy they had. I have been a huge fan of his work now for a few years. When I first started to get in to sculpting I went to Electric Tiki for inspiration. His art is fantastic and my only regret was he wasn’t there so I could say so inperson. Check out this stuff. I SWEAR Quinne from the Suicide Girls is in there.

3. Kano Art of the Hustle- I didn’t get a copy of it while I was there because it was SOLD OUT! But, I know where to find it and with next weeks paycheck that baby will be MINE. It was also awesome to open it up and see some vynals that ArtHammmer worked on. He is a really awesome guy who has helped me with tips and tricks at every turn. You Tease me Kano....

4. Sketch Tavern- Tim, Dan, Mike, Ian, Hen and the lot. I love these guys, and I always have. They are among the most active artists I know of! And really nice guys, I was a few rows from them last year and the guys made time to come over, say Hi and check out my work. This year I was able to deliver Samhain.

5. Khary and Greg- OLD pals from the led before time. *har har* Every year I run in to these guys they leave me collecting my jaw off the floor. I wasn’t able to snag Khary’s black book from this year. But I will be ordering that with kano’s book. And Greg Titus holy crap, the man is amazing.

Bad Things:

1. Seriouse lack of good art- I blame that on the fact that SDCC was just two weeks before anyone who busted their wallet to get there, couldn’t make it to Chicago.

2. Missed Mike Kunkle- Self explanatory… I didn’t even know he was going to be there till it was all over.

3. Pinup count down- Well the curvy ones at least, a major influx of smash up bash up, but a total lack of good curvy art, a few of the mainstays made it, but I’m always hoping for a Leigh Young or even some rockabilly influx. No luck.

4. Pole WTF?- For what ever reason Khary and Greg ended up behind a POLE in artists alley. I missed them twice because of the damn thing! I wouldn’t have found them at all if I hadn’t gotten lost.

5. Chamba, Skottie and the others I missed- I ran in to kweli on the way out the door and missed Chamba. Saw Skottie for like half a second when I was schlepping in Oblong work. I really need to make it out to the after show bar and chill out with the guys its been forever.

6. Suicide Girls- I was SO excited to see them and hoped to grab an art book. But they only had art on playing cards, which I would have lost. The girls there were almost scary thin and most looked like they needed two shots of coffee and an infusion of personality. I know they are probibly exhausted but for as huge of a booth as they had. I wished they had brought some pinache. (sp)

But all in all it was good times.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wizard World Chicago

Well I had a great time at Wizard World Chicago this year. Originally I wasn't supposed to go, the last year has been such hell with the family I had nothing to show and no money to go. At the last moment a good friend Darcy J. Watt contacted me about working a booth for his pal Angus Oblong. (Of the Oblongs) He is one part down to earth artist and one part bat shit crazy clown. But I was able to deliver a maquette long over due to "Dapper" Dan Schoening of the Sketch Tavern. Last October I asked if I could work from his art and make a Halloween sculpt, now I missed the deadline for the Taverns Halloween contest but did manage to pull out some interesting works. This is "Samhain" (which I never say right). I didn't take any photographs of him after he was baked and primed sorry.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bust but Good

I am going to put up some of my old work here and explain some of the things I learned. In this case this was the first bust I did using new methods with apoxie and spray primer. The result is a very smooth surface. Thank you to Jisuk Cho who gave me amazing turn arounds and permission to sculpt Ferris. Ironicly this is the only person who has a sculpt from both myself and Alena (Mumbo Jumbo) who was my inspiration for sculpture.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Okay, No this time I mean it

I keep forgetting about this thing. But everyone I really admire uses this so I'm thinkin... I should really start using it. I have been working on alot of sculpts in the recent times, most of which probibly won't be shown here because.... Yeah they are comissions and i'm not terribly proud of them. This one tho I did for myself a while ago. Based on a album cover with art by James Jean.

The Black Parade.