An Introduction to Sculpting

The right approach...

Everybody has their own approach to sculpting and what works for me may not be the way you prefer to work, in time you will develop your own style and find the best way that works for you.

I am new to sculpting myself, but I have found it totally addictive and it is particularly rewarding when a piece turns out just as good or even better than you anticipated.

While I make no claims to being an expert sculptor I have recieved many emails asking for help and advice and so to save me writing individual replies, I hope this article will give beginners a place to start.

Which putty?

There are many choices of putty for miniature sculpting - I can only comment on Milliput and Greenstuff as I haven't tried any of the others. Both Milliput and Greenstuff come in two parts which must be mixed together and both take a fairly long time to dry - several hours, although the drying time can be speeded up using a hot lamp.

My first sculpts were done using standard grey Milliput, mainly because I always have some Milliput handy for filling gaps and such like on models so naturally I used what I was familiar with in the beginning. Milliput is a good medium and many professional modellers use it. It dissolves with water and I soon developed a habbit of licking my sculpting tools while working in order to moisten the putty - however it tastes bad and I am reliably informed that Milliput is highly toxic if ingested.

Milliput would still be my recommendation for the base material on a larger piece such as a troll or the Watcher in the Water - it's like a big lump of plasticene that dries like stone! very very hard when dry - but this allows you chisel away with a knife afterwards if necessary.

Greenstuff or 'Kneadatite' is available from GamesWorkshop stores and is vey much like working with bubblegum. Its softer and much stickier than Milliput. When fully dry Greenstuff still maintains a certain amount of rubbery flexibility - not unlike dried bubblegum. Greenstuff is initially much harder to work with, however with a little experience it is without a doubt a superior meduim to Milliput when producing small miniatures such as 25mm figures.

Greenstuff is used widely by military sculptors and by the artists at GamesWorkshop.

What Tools?

To begin with I used the tip of a old scalpel blade and a point of a pencil as tools for pushing the putty into shape. If you do a lot of sculpting however you will eventually require some proper tools and you'll find them a great improvement when you start to get proficient.

There are many tools available from good art supply shops - but if you want a quick solution then visit the following link to 'The Wargames Foundry' - they supply a good pack of sculpting tools complete with a strip of Greenstuff.

What shall I make first?

For your very first project you need to do something very simple - just to get the feel of the putty.

A good start might be to put a cloak on a figure that doesn't have one - or you could put Frodo's hood up for example (though this would mean you'd first have to remove the hood from his back with a craft knife). Maybe add a longer mane or a different tail on a horse model.

My first project was actually a Wraith - and although this may seem an abitious first project - a Wraith really just a big cloak! he doesn't even need a face - so its' a good choice if your feeling confident.

From here on I shall detail how I made my Wraith model. I used Milliput for this project - but if I were to do this one again I would now choose Greenstuff in preference. The method is the same.

Making a mounted Wraith

First of all, I used a GW Rohirrim plastic horse - now I actually chose to alter the position of the legs on the horse so that the horse was standing rather than running - but I'm not going into any detail on that in this article - but it was a simple enough conversion for an experience modeller.

Stage 1: The Sausage Man

The first step is make a very basic figure shape - I call this 'the sausage man'.

Mix up a small amount of putty - no more than the size of your thumbnail - and roll it out into a sausage. For our mounted figure the legs can be done with a single length of putty thrown over the saddle.

Add a blob for his bottom - and a piece for his chest - then just add a pinch at the top for his head.

All we are looking for here is the shape of the figure - the proportions need to be roughly right, and the pose needs to be how we want it. The head of our Wraith is simply a pinch of putty - since he doesnt have a head - this will form the back of the hood and when dry will give us something to hang his hood from.

Stage 2: Leave it alone!

This is the hardest part! we've just started, we're all excited - but we must be disciplined and allow the sausage man to fully dry hard - this may mean leaving him overnight - or at least for several hours. To work on him further at this stage would prove disastrous - we need a solid base figure to work from not a soggy blob of goo.

Stage 3: Adding Layers

Now that we have a base figure to start from, we can start to apply the layers of clothing that will form the final figure.

Using small amounts of putty at a time, flatten the putty out and apply it to the figure just as if you were applying cloth.

Using a sculpting tool or a blade or similar - stroke the putty into shape - if you are using Greenstuff you may need to lick or dampen the end of your tool in order to prevent the putty sticking to it.

Smooth the putty into shape and use the tool to form the folds. I find this comes naturally, but if you need inspiration for how the folds should look refer to another figure.

Stage 4: ... and more layers...

I made the sword for this figure from millput - but this was difficult and not entirely satisfactory. A weapon could be pinched from another model or made from plastic card.

The hood goes on over the cloak and sits over the shoulders hanging forward from the original 'head' on the sausagemen.

Build the figure up slowly, adding small amounts of putty at a time.

Stage 5: Leave it alone!

At various stages - leave your model to dry. The worst disaster that can befall you as you do more and more sculpting is that you put your finger on a bit that you were really happy with! it will happen, and I can tell you that it is very frustrating. If you do a bit you really like - do no more! don't worry if you have some putty left - throw it away or put it in the fridge (this will slow the drying time down) or start another figure - but leave your figure alone and let it dry. Modelling in stages is the key to success.

Fine Details

The feet are covered by the cloak - he has no face - the sword we pinched from another figure - the only detail we must add is the hands.

Cleaverly, one hand is covered by the other on my model shown here - so I only have to do one!

It's not as difficult as it looks. A simple 'mitten' shape is made to form the hand - using a scalpel blade push the knife into the mitten three times to form the fingers. Remember that his middle fingers are a fraction longer - use your own hand as a reference.

The finished model.

All that's left now is to paint the finished model. and then start the next one!

As you get better you'll find that you'll get quicker and be able to do more work at each sitting. Fine detailed areas such as a face are done separately to main figure - often I will have a head stuck on the end of a paper clip at work while I work on the face a tiny bit at a time - once I'm happy with it the head is added to the main figure and so on.

Have a go! and if you make a mess of it - have another go!