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.



DivaLea said...

A note on Ott-Lite lamps: they're florescent. If you have a sensitivity to florescent light, they will drive you nuts.
I wanted one so bad, and my eyes freaked out when I turned it on!
Halogen gives a fairly clean light, you just have to be careful because they get hot!

I use all the tools you use. Those rubber "brushes" are the shiznit. I have a bunch of different sizes. I find I use most of the same ones again and again, but every once in a while, one of those seldom-used tools is exactly what I need.


hey Autumn Sims,(awesomw name btw)

are you going to continue these tuts?

hope so

i'll back in :)

Jem said...

I recently started sculpting, but came across a few problems. Then I found you on deviantart and these tuts have helped me already =] please continue on to part III!

Gnarfdeath said...

wow!!! your sculpts are gorgeous!! thanks for sharing your knowledge!

LinkC said...

Excellent tutorial, thank you for sharing. Your workplace is very well organized

Don C. said...

Thank you for posting that!

the tools look great, although I would have no idea how to use them. The sculpts on your page look more like the result of the talent of a sculptor, though, and not the tools they use. How do you get oil-based clay that smooth? I use Van Aken, and the only time it looks like plastic is when I smooth with a wax spatula. Problem is, tool marks...

Anyway, you seem to be into animation, and if you like the behind the scenes crud, there's plenty of that to look at on my blog. :)

Well met! *wave*

Peter Holland said...

Michelangelo said: "A man who does not make his own tools does not make his own art."

Thanks for a great blog and a great tutorial. I like your sculpts!


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