Monday, February 24, 2020

An Introduction to Sculpting

Sculpting can really elevate your conversions, giving you incredible control.


This article first appeared in Volume 2 of the digital magazine 28.

Conversions are a hallmark of almost all models created in the 28 style. Rather than building a model directly as shown on the box, the creator changes it, sometimes beyond recognition, to suit their vision and narrative. This endeavour has been made easier over the years, due to the vast range of model kits that Games Workshop produces, most of which are roughly the same scale, allowing one to mix together kits, or "kitbash." However, after building enough models, even kitbashing can feel limiting. At this point, the next logical step in the creative process is to try sculpting with modeling putty. While this comes with a learning curve and can be time consuming, it provides an unparalleled level of flexibility and freedom when creating models. In this article, I want to talk about how I approach sculpting, provide some tips for news sculptors, and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of modeling putty.



A Death Guard Chaos Space Marine based on a Primaris Space Marine, with extensive sculpting work done with green stuff and Milliput to modify the armour to look like MKIII Iron armour.


Learning to sculpt can be a long and challenging process, but also a very rewarding one. If you are just starting out, following three simple principles can make the process less daunting:

1. Have the right tools
2. Don’t try to do too much at one time
3. Practice


A Sister of Sigmar Matriarch, with segments sculpted using green stuff, milliput, and apoxie sculpt.


1. Have the right tools:

While there is no substitute for practice, having the right tools can help immensely when starting to sculpt.

Lubricants:

When thinking about sculpting, the notion of lubricating your hands and sculpting tools might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it is very important, possibly even more important than the physical implements you use to shape and manipulate putty. All two-part modeling putties have a sticky characteristic when mixed, helping the putty stay affixed to what you are sculpting on. This is a double-edged sword because you will find that the putty also sticks to your fingers, your sculpting tools, and almost anything it touches. You can easily overcome this by applying a lubricant to your hands and tools. The lubricant creates a thin barrier between the putty and your tools/hands. Water can serve nicely as a lubricant for several modelling putties, and is primarily what I use when sculpting. Water is not suitable as a lubricant in all cases because some types of sculpting putties begin to dissolve or lose their rigidity when exposed to water (Milliput, Apoxie Sculpt). Hand lotion (Nivea creme, vaseline, petroleum jelly, etc.) can be a good alternative to water. Hand lotion does not quickly dry or evaporate, affording you longer working time before you need to reapply the lubricant. With water, you can find yourself needing to frequently re-moisten your tools.

Sculpting tools:

Of all my sculpting tools, the ones that get the most use are my color/clay shapers. These tools are essentially paint brushes with their bristles replaced with a silicone head of various sizes and shapes. After applying modeling putty to the area you want to sculpt, you can simply use the color shapers to shape the putty however you desire. They are tremendously helpful for creating smooth surfaces and seamless transitions between the putty and the actual model. Modeling putty is much less prone to sticking to the silicone of the shapers than other metal sculpting tools or your fingers. Despite this, it is still a good idea to lubricate the tip of the shapers before sculpting work with water, or a water-based cream like Nivea. The color shapers come in various shapes and sizes, but I have found that taper points, angle chisels, and flat chisels work the best for my purposes (sizes ranging from 0-6).


A selection of silicone color shapers.


Metal sculpting tools:

Although not nearly as essential as the color shapers in my sculpting arsenal, metal sculpting/dental tools can be very helpful for particular sculpting tasks. Most metal sculpting tools have two edges, a bladed one and a flatter spoon-shaped one, for detail work and broad putty manipulation/shaping, respectively. Since the tools are made of metal, they can be better than the soft silicone color shapers for packing puttying into areas or forcibly stretching the putty. Counterproductively, since the tools are made of metal, putty has a tendency to stick to them, making it essential to use some form of lubricant. While I use these sorts of tools occasionally, often I find I can achieve the things I want using silicone color shapers exclusively. Ultimately as a sculptor, you will come to find particular tools that mesh well with how you sculpt, so I strongly encourage trying different types.


A “true-scale” Space Marine sculpted primarily with green stuff.

Sculpting putties:

The market is filled with different two-part sculpting putties, which require the two parts to be mixed before use. Despite the variety, I spent years sculpting solely with one epoxy putty: green stuff (Kneadatite blue/yellow epoxy putty). This was largely due to its accessibility at my local game shop and the fact that it was the only putty offered by Games Workshop. While green stuff can meet nearly all of your sculpting needs, other putties offer a variety of advantages. Here I will summarize some of the two-part epoxy putties I have used, as well as some of their advantages and disadvantages.

Green stuff:

In terms of applications, green stuff is a versatile modeling putty that can be used for anything from gap filling to sculpting entire miniatures. When mixed, green stuff has a rubbery/elastic texture that holds an edge nicely and works well for sculpting small details. Unlike some other sculpting putties, green stuff is not water soluble, meaning water is a great lubricant for your tools. If you are sculpting without a frame or armature to stabilize your work, green stuff has a tendency to droop. Because of this, it can be a challenge to sculpt thin, wispy details (like the edge of a cloak) and get them to maintain the orientation you want, without them starting to sag. However, even with this small disadvantage, green stuff is probably the best sculpting material for such details, as it maintains a flexible and rubbery texture after curing, meaning thin details are more likely to flex than to break.


Green stuff


Though it is hard-to-the-touch after cured, green stuff is prone to tearing or being scratched when sanded or filed. Because of this, you need to make sure you are happy with the fit and finish of anything before it hardens, because you cannot go back later and sand it to make it smooth. In a pinch, you can carefully reshape hardened green stuff by cutting pieces away with a sharp x-acto knife.

You can buy green stuff in a few different formats. It is most commonly seen in ribbon form, with the blue and yellow parts physically touching in the center (this is how Games Workshop sells it, for example). This contact between the blue and yellow parts means that this region of the putty has already started to cure. Because of this, it is often a good idea to remove the center portion of the ribbon before mixing the two halves. Although it might require some searching, you can also buy green stuff with the blue and yellow packaged in separate tubes, much like you see with other putties. The biggest disadvantage of green stuff is the cost. Compared to other commonly available epoxy putties, green stuff is an order of magnitude more expensive (~8-15x). This is because it is sold as a niche miniature wargaming product, rather than a more general sculpting product for diverse functions. Though it works great for small conversions or sculpting projects, if you plan to sculpt a large model purely out of green stuff, it can quickly get expensive.


An Imperial Guard operative with many details sculpted with green stuff.


Milliput:

Milliput is another popular two-part epoxy putty used for miniature sculpting. Milliput comes in several different grades, from the standard Yellow-Grey, to the superfine White, each with slightly different characteristics and applications. The standard Yellow-Grey Milliput is the one typically used for miniature sculpting.


Milliput


One of the main advantages of Milliput over green stuff is how hard it becomes after curing. Unlike green stuff, Milliput can be safely sanded and filed after it hardens. This makes it ideal for sculpting large smooth surfaces, like those seen on body armour or shields. Milliput is remarkably good at holding its shape while you are working with it. It will typically not sag like green stuff is prone to, making it perfect for blocking in general shapes that can be refined later with sanding and carving.

Milliput functions very similarly to clay when exposed to water. As you add water, Milliput begins to produce silt, and will eventually dissolve if too much is added. This characteristic makes it a great putty to fill in seams on models, since you can paint the putty into the seams with an old paint brush. By adding small amounts of water you can also make very smooth surfaces.

It should be noted that while Milliput cures much harder than green stuff, it is much more brittle. This makes it less suitable for small details or thin pieces that benefit from some flexibility. When trying to sculpt small details, Milliput has a tendency to crumble and crack. This characteristic makes Milliput ideal for sculpting stone or brick textures, however, as it naturally takes on a believable stone texture. Another strength of Milliput is that it is significantly cheaper than green stuff per weight.


Milliput is excellent for sculpting stones, due to the rough texture you can achieve with it.


Due to the ability to sand cured Milliput, it is ideal for creating armour plates. Finer details can then be added in later sculpting sessions, using green stuff.


Apoxie Sculpt:

Apoxie Sculpt falls somewhere between green stuff and Milliput. It is a two-part epoxy putty that has similar characteristics to sculpting clay. It is partially water soluble, like Milliput, with its consistency softening with the addition of water, making it easy to achieve smooth surfaces and transitions. It does not have the elastic qualities of green stuff. Like Milliput, Apoxie Sculpt cures hard enough to be sanded and filed. Of the three epoxy putties mentioned, Apoxie Sculpt is the cheapest and can be purchased in bulk.


Apoxie Sculpt


Combining different epoxy putties:

Each of the modeling putties described above have their own unique characteristics that lend themselves to different applications when sculpting. By mixing two different epoxy putties together, you can create a hybrid putty that has characteristics of both. For instance, if you mix equal parts green stuff and Apoxie sculpt you get a putty that handles similarly to greenstuff but has the hardness of Apoxie Sculpt after curing. You can combine green stuff and Milliput to get a similar effect.

By changing the ratios of each putty mixed, you can create putties with different properties. Now when I sculpt, I usually use a 50/50 mixture of green stuff and Apoxie Sculpt. Experimenting with different epoxy putties and different mixtures of them is a worthwhile exercise, as you never know when you will discover something that suits your sculpting style. Another benefit of mixing putties is that you are using less green stuff and, therefore, saving money.


2. Don’t try and do too much at one time:

Initially, it is important to focus on small and simple tasks. It is easy to get discouraged if you initially try to sculpt too much, particularly if the results are not to your liking. I started by filling gaps and seams on my miniatures. Once I was comfortable with this, I moved to sculpting small details like belt straps and pouches. Eventually, I moved on to larger, more complicated features. As you gain more experience sculpting and start more complicated projects, it is still important not to do too much at once. Trying to finish everything in one session will frequently result in sloppy work and mistakes, like crushing areas you just sculpted with the slip of a finger.


A time-course of sculpting details on the back of an Imperial Guard model. The green stuff was allowed to cure fully before moving on to the next step. Without doing the sculpting over multiple stages, I would not have been able to add many of the fine details, like the tiny clasps and buckles.


When sculpting, I always try to break the process down into several sculpting sessions. There is simply no way I could have done some of the intricate belts, buckles, and clothing details on my recent Imperial Guard models in a single sculpting session. Trying to force your sculpting into one or two sessions generally forces you to settle with substandard work. If you want to add crisp detail on top of something you just sculpted, you will not be able to properly manipulate the additional green stuff, as applying any additional pressure will crush your previous work. While you might be tempted to get most of the sculpting done in one session, I promise that you will be much happier with your sculpting results if you spread it out over multiple shorter sessions, with breaks in between to allow your just-finished details to fully cure. Furthermore, by taking things in stages you also afford yourself more time to reflect on your work and plan the next steps.


3. Practice:

Like everything else in this hobby, whether painting or just assembling models, the more time you spend sculpting, the better you will get at it. No one wins a Slayer Sword at a Golden Daemon painting competition with their first model. They spend hundreds of hours practicing and honing their craft. Sculpting is no different. Your success will be proportional to how much time you invest in it. There is no substitute to spending time with sculpting. You need to practice and experiment, all the while trying to push yourself with each new project.

As mentioned earlier, when just starting out, it is good to start with simple things, like filling gaps or creating small details to add to a model. This allows you to get familiar with the different types of putty and sculpting tools, and builds your confidence. With each new project you can attempt a little more, until you are sculpting large sections of, or even entire models.


Conclusion:

Learning to sculpt is time-consuming, but it is ultimately a very satisfying and fulfilling process. When I started my blog, Between the Bolter and Me, I had never used modeling putty or sculpted anything. It has taken me seven years to reach my current level, and to create the models seen in this article. The process was filled with many ups and downs, but I have grown tremendously as a hobbyist as a result.

If you are just beginning sculpting, you will not simply become good at the technique overnight. It will take time. But if you persist, you will get better and start to enjoy the process more and more. Ultimately, I encourage everyone to try sculpting. At the very least, it will give you a deeper appreciation for the designers of your favorite miniatures.

Finally, while I tried to cover most of the basics for sculpting within this article, there is a lot of details I couldn’t cover, due to lack of space (and experience). If you would like to learn more about virtually every aspect of sculpting, I would highly recommend that you visit Mr_Pink’s blog Modern Synthesist, where you can find many articles and videos about the subject.



Summary:




This article was written by Adam, Eric, and Greg Wier, with input and editing by Nicholas Jones and Nicholas Tregidgo.

1 comment:

  1. Finally read through this all. Really a very useful resource. Great stuff!

    ReplyDelete