Sunday, 6 February 2011

First foray into the world of sculpting...

I've always been truly envious of those who can sculpt and ever since I got involved with the model horse hobby and watched some of the biggest names in ARs show step by step guides to their latest work I've had a hankering to try it out for myself. I'd used fimo and milliput before for making accessories and things but never an actual model creature so I had a go at a couple last year which, if I'm honest, weren't all that successful.

I made an armature but didn't pad it out with anything so ended up using a lot more clay than I needed to, which led to cracks, wonky legs and odd proportions. By then I'd convinced myself that sculpting was not for me and I needn't bother trying it again. Yet, despite that, I still longed to make something and when I stumbled across this tutorial on a concept art forum (by the man who sculpted Draco from Dragonheart no less which instantly had me interested!) I knew I just had to give it one more shot before admitting defeat. I found a cheap supplier of super sculpey on ebay and ordered some up and while I waited for it to arrive I started work on designing how my creature would look.

That part of it wasn't too difficult as I already knew what I was going to make - a Vaskal - an original species of mine I created for the fantasy novel I'm still in the planning stages of writing. (click the pic for a ref sheet!)

  I've been trying to pad out the world it's set in recently so reference sheets and colour schemes have been top of the agenda whenever I do some drawing. One of the reasons I wanted to sculpt a Vaskal was that I'd be able to use it as a proper reference for when I'm drawing things and would also allow me to make up some appropritate tack for him. (Plus, any questionable anatomy could be passed off as fantasy biomechanics!)
 In essence they are a combination of horse, big cat and dog anatomy (with a bit of Tapier thrown in!) most of which I knew was going to be awkward. (I'm so used to drawing horses that I can't stop giving canines knees!)


The sculpey arrived yesterday so I got to work fashioning an armature out of garden wire, scrunched up tinfoil and masking tape. Having learned the hard way that more clay = bad sculpture, I made the most of the foil to create muscles and stronger limbs than just the wire alone. It also meant that I could get a feel for how the finished sculpture would look.  I added the ears on a bit later on, once I'd got some clay on the head to hold them in place firmly.

I had a bit of a 'gah, what if it won't stick to the masking tape!?' moment when it came to putting on the first bits of sculpey but I needn't have worried as it went on nice and cleanly.

 Having never worked with Super Sculpey before I have to say that it's wonderful stuff. Really, absolutely brilliant. Unlike the fimo I was used to, it was soft and malleable straight away with no need to spend twenty minutes furiously grinding your hands together just to get it soft enough to do anything with.

I started off by blocking in the main muscle groups by referring (badly!) to the many reference photos I'd printed out in advance.

I found it really useful as it meant I could actually see how everything would work and what bits would connect to others. I made a bit of a mess of the shoulders mind you but it can't be helped! The eyes are simply wooden beads. I was hoping to use some glass ones but I didn't have any the right size.

I was originally intending to leave the head until last for fear that I'd knock it over and ruin it but I couldn't resist giving him his ears and a few facial features which gave him a lot of personality even this early on in the process.

I wanted him to have an open mouth so that when it came to making his tack, I'd be able to give him a proper bit. Compared to my reference drawing (see background) the gape is much wider which I hadn't intended at all, but it all worked out alright in the end...

As I added more clay, the creature I'd envisaged started to take shape - literally as well as metaphorically! I'd always pictured them as shortish stocky animals - rather like traditional cobs and M&M ponies - very rotund but muscular with a thick neck.

On Arden (the planet my story's set in) they are the equivalent to our horses so they have a lot of roles to fill; mount, draught and pack animal, food (in some parts!) and of course as a natural part of the ecosystem.

I didn't realise it until that stage how much he reminded me of the Oberon resin! (one of which I've always wanted)

Ooooh, after browsing through the gallery I've rediscovered the one I fell in love with when I first got into the hobby. Drool much? XD

Anyway, back to Mr Vaskal!

The right shoulder was a right pain to get looking reasonable and even now I'm not entirely sure it looks right.
Ho hum.

 Sculpting the ears wasn't quite as tricky as I thought it would be, although the one that's flicked back sits a little too far up on the skull which I only noticed when I was about to bake him which meant I had to do a bit of gentle manouvering to get it looking slightly more feasible.

Unusually for me, my desk was reasonably uncluttered, with only the pack of sculpey,a drink for myself and some reference pictures (and models!) getting in my way.

One great thing I noticed about the sculpey was that it didn't crumble like fimo does so there was almost no mess from it at all.

Hard at work!      I'd laid out loads of tools that I might use prior to starting out but I only used three:

1. My fingers!

2. A blunt ended wooden skewer thing I found somewhere - I think it was intended for sculpting actually.

3. A straw! Yep, it was one of those scoop-shaped ones from a coffee shop which came in really handy for removing layers of clay.

Come the second day, he was looking much more polished and after a few hours work was nearly ready to head into the oven.

 I decided against putting his teeth in until after his first baking as I didn't want to faff about inside his mouth until I was sure I wasn't going to mess up his face!

 One leg (nearhind) bothered me a bit but not enough to want to adjust it before baking.

I was quite wary about sculpting the paws as I'm not exactly brilliant at drawing them, let alone creating them in 3D! Luckily a quick google had given me some brilliant reference photos of lion and tiger paws and they turned out to be much better than I'd expected which was a relief!
The claws are a total cheat - sesame seeds! Most of them fell out during baking but that isn't too problematic as I can just glue them back into the depressions they left.

 With all last minute checks done and all his claws in, it was time for Mr Vaskal to head into the oven.

Twenty minutes later, he was out and after he'd cooled down and I'd stopped hugging him, I started work on his dentures. :P When I went to add new sculpey on as gums for his sesame seed teeth to sit in, I found that it wouldn't stick to the cured stuff properly so I had a look on one of the sculpting forums for help and they said to either use liquid sculpey (which I don't have) or some vaseline to help the new clay adhere to the old. I thought that sounded fine so had a look in the bathroom and vaseline. I checked literally every room in the house and couldn't find anything so ended up raiding my mum's makeup bag and used some strawberry lipbalm because I reckoned it was bound to just be flavoured petrolleum jelly after all. XD It actually worked really well - just like glue for clay.

He isn't burnt by the way - I couldn't find any alcohol to smooth out the rough bits so had a rummage around in the bathroom until I found some Savlon liquid stuff which had a high alcohol content and apparently it turns purple in the oven! XD  He also smells like cake which is a bonus. (burnt cake mind, but still...cake.)


As of today he hasn't had much work done other than some sanding and a little tweaking on his ears with the superglue/bicarb of soda trick but I'll keep you updated on his progress!

Last night I gave him his first coat of paint and started work on his bridle. He still won't tell me what colour he wants to be but it's so nice to see him in a slightly more 'finished' light.

I still can't believe that I actually sculpted him, seriously. XD


  1. What an awesome project! I like both the creature and how he(?) is turning out so far! I will be watching his progress most curiously.

  2. He looks totally fantastic! And I love your ad hoc methods. Strawberry lipbalm and savlon - genius!

  3. Wow ... How do you do O.O ?