Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sculpting Tip #2-Clay Shapers

I thought I would continue profiling the various sculpting tools I use and picked one of the most useful - clay shapers. The clay shaper is an awesome tool used for smoothing and creating folds in clothing and many other jobs. Clay Shapers rank in my top three tools that I use and they are a must for anyone that is serious about sculpting.

You can find them easily on the web by doing a Google search for "clay shapers", be sure to order the size 0. The type I use are made by Royal Sovereign. The shaper comes in three different colored tips, white (soft), grey(firm) and black (extra firm). I use the black tipped ones the most although I do have a grey set.

Here is a link to the Royal Soviern website:

There are five different shaped tips in a set. A flat tipped shaper that is great for smoothing out broad surfaces, a pointed tip which is used for creating grooves and folds, a circular "cupped" tip that I use for rounding off things, a wedge that is great for cutting lines, and finally a curved tip which I honestly haven't found a use for but I'm sure there is.

I decided to include a little tutorial video of the clay shaper in action. In this video I'm using the flat clay shaper to smooth out a figure I'm working on and a cupped tip to round off the "naughty bits". These tools are quite easy to use, to smooth with them you just run the tool across the surface of the putty in broad even strokes. Please note: the little munchkin in the background is my 3 year old son, he decided to add the commentary to the video. Also please excuse my stubby fingers, I'm still working on my cinematography degree.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Email Correction

It was brought to my attention that the email address that I listed to send questions to had a problem so if anyone sent me any here is the correct email :

Sorry for any confusion this may have caused and thanks to Derek for giving me the heads up on the error.

Sculpting Putty Part Two - Green Stuff

Today we are going to cover the most commonly used sculpting putty "green stuff". Green Stuff has been popular with miniature sculptors for many years. Also made by Polymeric, green stuff is widely available, here is a link:

You can also find green stuff at most miniature companies however I would recommend doing some price shopping before you buy, compare the price to the length of strip you get. The product above is about a 2 foot strip (don't quote me on the length but I'm very close) for $12.00.

Green Stuff comes in a multicoloured strip (yellow and blue). The blue part is the hardener and the yellow part is the softener. When mixed in a 50% 50% ratio it will cure in about 20 minutes. Again if you use more hardener the putty will be thicker and harden faster; add more softener and it will have a thinner consistency and take longer to dry.

Green stuff has a very soft consistency to it. This characteristic makes it ideal for organic sculpting. It's great for things like faces, capes, hair, and other non technical objects. It is somewhat hard to master using green stuff (something I still haven't managed) but once you do it can hold very sharp features; just take a look at any of Tom Meier's work and you can see how truly amazing this putty can be in the hands of a master.

My only gripe about green stuff is that it can't be sanded or shaved once it dries. It is very unforgiving in this way. If you mess up a part or need to smooth something out you pretty much have to cut away the offending section and redo it.

Next up -Procreate

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sculpting Putty Part One-Brown Stuff

On my other post anonymous asked the question: "What are your sculpts made with?? I.e. what kind of putty are you using, it looks like you use at least 3 different kinds and are there reasons you use certain ones?"

I have in total about four different types I use and each has it's own unique properties and uses so thought it would be a good idea to make a series of posts about each one.

The first we will cover is "Brown Stuff". The company that produces it is called Polymeric and it is readily available on the Internet. Here is a quick link to a supplier : Other suppliers include Rafm miniatures and Reaper Miniatures just to name a few.

Brown stuff is a two part epoxy putty, the white strip is the hardener and the brown strip is the softener and when the two are mixed the putty will cure in about 20 to 30 minutes. Normally you mix the two 50% white, 50% brown. As with all expoxy putties a trick to remember is that your ratio of hardener to softener will determine the eventual density when it dries. If you want a harder surface for armor plates or technical pieces use more hardener, if you want more organic shapes or flowing texture for things like faces and drapery use more softener. The mix ratio will also determine how quickly it cures. If you are working on something that is particularly challenging that you know you want to spend extra time on use a higher ratio of softener; this will make the putty cure slower and give you more time to work.

The main advantage of Brown Stuff is that when it hardens you can sand it or shave it with a scalpel. If you want to sand it use a fine grade sandpaper. This characteristic makes it best suited to hardline sculpting where you require a keen edge and flat surface. I often use Brown Stuff for things like armor plates, guns, and other technical parts. I normally recommend Brown Stuff to beginners because unlike say green stuff, which can't be sanded very easily, if you make an error with brown sometimes you can rescue a piece by going back and shaving out rough spots and uneven surfaces. This is something you can not do with green stuff. Brown also has a thicker consistency than green stuff so it is a little easier to work with for beginners.

Next time I will cover green stuff.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Do you have any questions about sculpting, the gaming industry, or terrain building? Working on a project and need advice? Ever wondered how something works in the gaming industry like the production process. Any gripes, complaints or topics you would like me to discuss. You can post these questions or, if you wish to remain anonymous you can email them to me at:

(just add "knife's edge" to the header) and I'll do my best to aswer them.

James Van Schaik

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sculpting Tip of The Week

Each Wednesday (schedule permitting) I will post a sculpting tip. To start off the tips section I thought I'd begin with a valuable tool I use called a glue tip. These tools are used for applying resin or glue and are common in the jewelry industry. If you have ever seen a company logo pin with coloured resin, medals for kids sports with coloured centers it is very likely that the coloured parts is really expoxy that has been applied with a syringe. Here is what they look like (minus the putty handles I added):

These are readily available at most hobby supply stores. You can find a set here at Lee Valley tools,110,42967&ap=1 . This is a good set but the only drawback is that you only get a few different sizes of tips. I got my set from Rio Grande tools. You can also use mechanical pencil tips but you are limited to one size if you do.

This tool is useful for doing things like rivets, buttons, lace eyelets, and many other effects. They are very simple to use, you pretty much just have to press them into putty to create the above effects.

Here is an example of making a rivet with a glue tip on a squat that I am working on for a Space Hulk campaign I am playing in.

Step:1 The first thing you do is apply a small amount of putty to the place where you want the rivet to go, in this case it is on his shoulder pad. Press down on the putty to make sure it sticks to the model firmly.

Step:2 Gently press down with the tip into the center of the putty. Make sure you use plenty of lubrication (Vaseline works) or the tool will stick to the putty and pull it away from the figure and stick inside. Make sure you press all the way into the putty.

Here's what you should end up with. You can see the outline of the rivet and the excess putty around it.

Step 3: Next take a pin tool or exacto blade and gently pull away the excess putty. Be careful not to push toward the rivet- pull the excess putty away.

Presto! The perfect rivet making tool!

I used the same technique for the studs on his gauntlets. You can find these tool very easily, what you want to look for is adhesive tipped syringes if you Google them. I would highly recommend picking up a set because the have a multitude of uses and will improve your modeling projects immensely.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Inside the Sculpting Process

I thought it would be interesting to go into the "making of" a miniature for the first few posts. Often I get asked how the sculpting process actually works overall. The first thing that happens is the planning process. The client will provide all the specifics like scale, desired pose, number of parts etc. Some clients provide full concept art that includes an exact pose and full turnaround art.

What is turnaround art you ask? Turnaround art is a drawing that includes the front, back and complete blueprints of any equipment like guns etc. A lot of gaming companies use this art because they need it commissioned when they design their game to get a unique look and include it in any rulebooks they produce. It serves a second purpose by allowing them to supply the art to sculptors if they produce miniatures for their game. Other companies that own major Intellectual Properties insist on turnaround art to control the quality of the property.

Turnaround art makes the sculptor's job easier because it cuts out a lot the research that I would otherwise have to do myself and provides an excellent guide. The only drawback to turnaround art is that it limits the sculptor's creative license and means that you have to follow the art exactly, which can be difficult when you are first starting out. The above photograph of the ninja is a piece I sculpted for Aberrant Games and is an example of a figure that I was given turnaround art for.

Often you are not given turnaround art, in which case the client usually provides a set of guidelines as to what they are looking for but otherwise leaves the details up to you. This is normally done for historical pieces or fantasy pieces where they will say something like" I want an elf with a bow". If the character is already established like a comic character, such as the figure below, or from a movie, the client will provide you with reference but not turnaround art.

So once I have the art, I get the scale from the client, which is usually in mm. This is provided by the client and if I screw up and go over the given scale, I am responsible to fix it. Scale is one of those skills that you have to constantly work on and develop, and it grows with experience.

When I first started sculpting, I struggled with scale and often my figure grew to be to big and I had to redo them but it is a natural part of the learning process that develops with experience.
By no means am I infallible when it comes to scale, but I have trained myself to watch scale and my figures usually match the specifications I am given more often than not these days.

Often a client will ask you to sculpt in a specific style. Clients usually have a complete range that is done in a specific style and will desire any new figures to match that style. This can vary from sculpting more realistic proportions to sculpting more cartoony or misproportioned figures. As a professional you have to be prepared to meet the needs of your client regardless of your own tastes.

The last thing you consider before starting a project is production requirements. This usually involves how many parts the client desires the piece to be when it enters production. This can effect the complexity of the pose because any parts of a figure that are on a different plane will need to be molded separately which increases the cost of production.

That's how a sculpt is commissioned, how it is actually sculpted is another matter altogether.

James Van Schaik

Monday, March 10, 2008

Welcome To my Blog!

Hello and welcome to my new blog.

In this blog I will share with you the everyday experiences of a sculptor as well as modelling and sculpting tips and other insanity that goes on in the gaming industry. I will also offer and comment on things like industry ethics, iP rights, and current events taking place in the gaming world and offer an insider's point of view that is both new and unique.

Throughout these posts I invite you all to chime in with your own comments, the goal here is to create a environment where like minds can engage in a interesting and informative dialog about gaming.

Until Next Time
James Van Schaik