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Sculpting Miniatures

by Professor Christian Ellegaard


Sculpting is probably the finest art in the Games Workshop hobby. Unlike painting, you start with nothing in your hands but two strips of blue and yellow stuff, and if you have patience you will watch your miniatures grow steadily, from the very beginning of knitting the Green Stuff together and to the final touches.

Throughout this guide I shall share my experiences of sculpting miniatures with you. Although I describe the process from the beginning you can use the same techniques for adding small features to your own miniatures as well. I will discuss every step as I used to do it, but note, however, that I am far from a pro, and I lack many of the techniques that the professional sculptors possess. My techniques may be rather primitive, and mind you that these tips are only one way of sculpting - there are plenty of other ways, and as you get started you will quickly develop your own techniques.
            Also remember that having read this guide does not mean that you can goand sculpt your own Citadel standard miniatures. As with painting it is always good with some tips and hints, but in the end the only way to achieve your goal is by learning things yourself. Sculpting requires experience, so don't collapse if your first miniature turns out like a true horror!
             If you have any questions or comments, then please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

Talent
            Before going into details I would like to mention talent. Of course everybody has talents on different areas - not everybody is equally good at painting, and the same applies to sculpting. Some are better than others, and some even refuse to touch a brush because they claim the models look much better when they are gray and boring than when they paint it themselves.
            Let's face it - sculpting is much more difficult than painting. Especially in the beginning, because you have to get used to the techniques and the stuff you work with. It's a bit the same as with painting - I clearly recall my first Space Marine that I painted. It was quite funny and a bit weird - I didn't really know how much paint to add to the brush, where to paint the model and so on.
            But truly, sculpting requires some talent, just like painting. Not everyone can just sit down and sculpt a miniature so that it looks rather good. It is a very fine art, but regardless how talented you are you should have a chance of sculpting beautiful miniatures. Some learn it very quickly while others must work harder to achieve good results.
             But regardless if you are gifted or not, then sculpting is a good challenge, and it is great fun to work with. If you give it a go, then it pays in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools and materials
            Before you can start you must have the right tools and materials. Getting the materials is quite indeed - all you need is the so-called Green Stuff which can be bought from Games Workshop and hobby stores. It costs around 3 or 4.5 US$, and although it may seem a bit expensive compared to the fact that you can get a metal miniature or two for the same money, then don't hesitate to buy it - one blister of Green Stuff is enough for at least ten models, most probably more.
             There are other materials than Green Stuff from which you can sculpt models, but since I have only experience with the Green Stuff I will limit my article to that.
            In addition to the sculpting stuff you will also need some steel wire to form an armature. Cork is useful for sticking the steel wires into, but I prefer small plastic containers with screw caps because they are more steady and easier to use.
            Now it comes to tools. Looking at the tools that a pro sculptor uses will make you fade. However, don't lose the enthusiasm yet - I use only two things for sculpting: A matchstick that has been sharpened in one end and a pin!
            Basically you will need something very small and very pointy. A pin is very good for this, and you can bend it in different angles to make it reach all parts of the model. This will be used for sculpting small details such as the face, fingers, belts and so on. Secondly a larger kind of tool is necessary for forming the limbs, the torso and the main shapes of the model.
            Apart from those basic tools you can use whatever sharp and pointy tools you can get your hands on: Knives, cocktail sticks, needles, etc. Even though the great sculptors have dozens of sharp and pointy tools this is not really necessary at this level.
            Bear in mind that metal tools may be preferable, especially for details. The Green Stuff tends to stick less to metal than to wood, and you will probably have to clean your wooden tools more often than your metal tools.
            I have heard that some people use various oils and other greasy stuff to coat their tools in so that the Green Stuff does not stick to it. It is worth trying, but I don't know how effective it is - I never use it, and you may end up with a whole mess. I can imagine too that you will have problems with getting the Green Stuff stuck to the model as well.

Your working area
           Your working area should be a bit like the area you use for painting and modeling. However, sculpting does not mess that much, so you can easily use your dining table, desktop or any other surface for sculpting. I suggest that you clean the table before you start working. Remove any unnecessary things and leave the table bare apart from perhaps a protecting cloth.
             It is a good idea if the table and the floor is white or just light. You will sometimes drop your Green Stuff, and if you don't want to get it under your feet or having it eaten by the cat you will probably want to find it again. Therefore, Oriental carpets are rather out of place here.
             A sharp spotlight is necessary. You will need a very lot of light to be able to see all the outlines and contours - much more than when painting. It is important, because otherwise you will sculpt in the belief that it all looks very nice, but when you get it into real light it looks far too rough.
            Some people prefer to coat their working area in water so that the Green Stuff does not stick to everything. I don't practice that principle finding it quite nice that you know where the Green Stuff is and don't get everything messed up, but again it is worth trying. However, you must remember that Green Stuff dries faster when the temperature is low, and thus you must use smaller dots of Green Stuff at a time.

          

 

 

Green Stuff
            The mystical Green Stuff, known as epoxy ribbon, is actually not green at all! It is bought in strips of blue and yellow, and by knitting it together you achieve the green color. You will find that the yellow stuff tends to stick to your fingers a lot while the blue is more neutral, and it is my experience that you will need a little more yellow than blue when knitting it together. This will make the Green Stuff softer and more sticky, but you should try to experiment with what you find most suitable.
            Originally, I think, Green Stuff is used for proofing various materials such as windows etc, but some clever guy has found out that it can be used with great success for sculpting miniatures as well. Note, however, that it is not very healthy and should be kept away from small children. Remember to wash your fingers after having been in touch with it, and don't ever eat it!

 

 

 

Working with Green Stuff
             It takes some hours before a piece of Green Stuff gets dry and hard, and it is often very difficult to sculpt upon a soft piece of modeling putty. Therefore I suggest that once you have sculpted the way through the first horrors and you slowly get used to the stuff you sculpt three or maybe even more models at a time. It will save you a lot of time, and it means that you can spend an entire afternoon sculpting without waiting a lot before you can touch the miniature again.
            The professional sculptors spend about a week on sculpting a single fantasy miniature and a bit more for science fiction models on their full-time employment, but that is far from what you need. Remember that they must get each and every single detail perfect - a small rough surface cannot be accepted as everything they do is multiplied and sold in thousands.
            I can sculpt a model in three or four days, and to this I include the time it takes for the Green Stuff to get dry which is at least half a day which interprets I work no more than one hour in a row. A schedule could be that I get up in the morning and sculpt the very basic shape. This takes perhaps twenty minutes, maybe half an hour all depending on what a model it is. Then 
I go to school or do whatever has to be done for the day, and when I get back again in the afternoon I can sculpt the basic clothes such as trousers, a shirt, boots, belt, the shape of the head and arms and so on. The next morning I may have time for sculpting the face or adding a few details, and the following afternoon I can add even more details. The next day I will add further details, and if a fourth day is needed then I can put the final touches on it as well.
            So with little work you can have a complete model in about three or four days.
            As you get used to the sculpting process you will be able to put a schedule together, and you can slowly but steadily add fresh models to your army or war band. It all requires experience, and as with painting you must know the techniques, then everything goes much faster and much easier. If you work with three models at a time, then you will save a lot of time, exactly as when painting.

Planning
            You should have a rough plan before you start on the armature. Decide what race you want to sculpt - although humans might seem most appropriate it is far from the easiest models to start with. Orcs, (Dorks - ha-ha! -Chris) Goblins, beasts and other more chaotic races are often easier to sculpt as they are so twisted and warped that it does not really matter if one arm is a bit longer than another.
            Draw up a rough sketch picturing how the complete miniature will look. You do, of course, not have to follow this plan exactly as it more often than not turns out to look cooler if the model looked to another way, had a crossbow instead of a longbow, had a cloak and so on. This is just great, but you should still have a basic imagination of what it is going to look like.
             Also, keep I mind what kind of model it will be. Will it be a hero? If so, then the armature should be erect. This can be represented in many ways: The position of the legs is perhaps the most obvious way. If he is a proud hero, then it looks very much out of place if the legs are sculpted so that it looks that the model is pissing his pants. However, this can make a good 
effect if you are sculpting a scared Henchman for a Reiklander war band in Mordheim. The 'body language' is very important when you are sculpting, and I studying pictures of sculptures can give you a lot of inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The armature
            Before you can sculpt you must have a so-called armature. This is a sort of skeleton of steel wire, and it will keep the Green Stuff in the beginning so that it won't collapse.
            An armature looks like an A, and there are several ways of making it. I have found that using a small plastic container with a screw cap is excellent - you drill two holes where the feet should be, cut off a piece of steel wire and stick it through the holes until you think it looks reasonable. If it is not steady enough you can reinforce the wire on the downside of the cap with some strong tape, modeling putty, glue or whatever.
            Note that an armature must only be made for the legs and the torso - not for the arms, unless your model has got some really huge biceps! The problem is that you will most probably have to bend the arms, and then the armature is only for little help and will only cause problems.

Filling on with Green Stuff
           Once you are satisfied with the armature you must start knitting your Green Stuff together. Take a small hunk of the yellow and blue stuff and twist it together a lot until it takes a completely green color. No yellow or blue pieces may be left. It should not be too dark green, nor too light. Also, start with only a little bit Green Stuff. Too often I have overestimated the amount of Green Stuff I needed, and that has left me with small chunks of Green Stuff with which I couldn't do anything. Don't use too much - you can always knit some additional Green Stuff together if it is not enough what you have.
           Now you take a piece off the chunk, not too big, and roll or knock it flat. Carefully roll the piece around one leg until the Green Stuff sticks to the armature. This is easiest done with the fingers, and once it has stuck to the wire you can take a bigger tool (such as a matchstick) that is preferably round in one end and work with the Green Stuff. Repeat this with the other leg. Try to get an equal layer from where the wire meets the screw cap or the cork till the legs unite in the body. The legs should be quite 
thin - don't worry if it looks completely awkward, because later on you will add muscles, clothes and so on.
           Take a larger piece of Green Stuff and roll it out again until it is rather flat. Take that piece and cover the torso with it. As with the legs, once the Green Stuff has stuck to the armature you can start using tools to get it more straight. Again, it does not matter if the torso is too thin - all this will be fixed later.
            When you feel the very body of the model is complete, with the thin legs and the torso (i.e. without head or arms - this will be added later), then you put the model aside to dry for at least half a day.

The basic shape
            So, the skeleton of the miniature has been sculpted. Now you can start adding Green Stuff here and there to represent muscles and flesh. This is a very important step because it will influence the rest of the miniature - if you are not very careful then one leg might be longer or thicker than the other or bent in a completely awkward angle. It is worth paying attention to basic human anatomy, and you must know where the different muscles are and how they look exactly. Why not visit some art museums, look at the ancient sculptures of Romans and Greeks and all the old fellows? (Gee, we're getting damn cultural here... -Chris)
           You can also add a neck, the head (smaller than you actually want it to be as you will later on have to add more Green Stuff for the face and hair which naturally makes it larger) and, once you've decided how the model will look, what weapons it will carry and so on, the over arms.

 

 

 

 

Dressing the model
           Now you wait until the Green Stuff has dried. After some hours you can start sculpting the clothes. This includes trousers, shirts, belts, lean clothes, boots and so on - just exactly as you dress yourself. There is no need for putting too many details on yet, otherwise you will just squeeze it out again, and the details are destroyed.
           A really tricky thing is sculpting creases. Loose clothes and many creases you can make the models look like if they were standing on a windy battlefield or in the middle of the storm. This adds some drama to the figure.

           Sculpting the creases is quite difficult, and it requires some sense of realism (which, I have found, many of us gamers lack... Chris). You can try to put a little bit more Green Stuff on the model than needed and take a round tool and drag it down the soft Green Stuff to create a simple crease. Do this two or three times over a certain area until you find it reasonable. Note that no two creases have the same size - often there is one rather large with a few smaller around it.

            It really is a difficult thing, but the more you practice the better will you get. Again, museums with sculptures from the Antiques provide excellent inspiration. Some sculptures are really beautiful, and apart from inspiring you they also show brilliantly how to sculpt creases, muscles, bodies and so on - many things that are very appropriate to sculpting small miniatures. (I told you - I am very cultural! -Chris)

Details
            Sculpting the details is perhaps the most interesting thing. Here you can seriously take care of the face, the body, the hands and fingers, weapons and so on. Depending on what kind of model you are sculpting, this step can take a few hours if you really want an outstanding model.
            A good place to start is the belt. Here there is always a lot of things to sculpt: A clasp, small purses and pouches, daggers and knives, bottles, maps an many others. Afterwards you can go on to the face.
            This requires a lot of neatness and practice, and sometimes it is a good idea to sculpt faces in two steps: First the mouth and the jaws, and when this is dry the nose and eyes. One important thing about the face is to get both sides equal - it looks weird if there is a joyful smile on one side of the face but a roaring man on the other side.
            Get any details on that you wish, be it knives, throwing stars, compasses, watches, relics, artifacts, keys, fish, lamps, skulls, medallions and whatever. Only your own imagination and virtual space limits how many interesting details you can include.
            Note that you must keep the actual use of the miniature in mind while sculpting the details. While you can easily overburden your general or heroes with all manners details it looks a bit off on civil warriors that are to be included in huge regiments. Some models are sculpted for drawing the interest of the players, but if all miniatures have too many details then this effect is spoiled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weapons
            Since these games are war games you may wish to give your warriors weapons. Sculpting razor-sharp blades, hyper-technical weapons and long bows is definitely possible, but it is waste of time. Although Green Stuff is an excellent material it is after all not that resistant and tough, and if you knock a miniature with a flimsy bow down on the earth then the bow is finito.

            It is much better to use ready-made weapons. Dig through your bits box and see if there are any suitable weapons you can glue on or simply attach with Green Stuff. Don't worry - the pro sculptors do the same!
            If you sadly don't have any weapons, then there is nothing else to do than making your own.
            To make your own weapons you will need a good armature to make it more tough. Use normal steel wire for this. Around the armature you can then sculpt the sword, bow, club, ax or whatever as usual.

The final touch
            When all details and weapons have been sculpted it is time for adding the final touch. Now you must be very critical: Are there any spots that look out of place, ugly or that could have been done better? Green Stuff is like plastic, so it is possible to cut in and file in. If one arm is a bit too thick, then a needle file can do it. If there is a hole, an uneven surface or anything else that looks unfinished, then you will just need to knock on some more Green Stuff to cover it again.
            Be sure to get all errors corrected. Once you have started undercoating the model it is too late - or, well, it is not, but when you can sculpt the model once and paint it once, then why sculpt it twice and paint it twice?
            It might be that there are some things you are not completely satisfied with and that you could have done better. You can always put the final touch on all of these things, but in the end you must complete the model at some time. You can never get things perfect - there is always one little detail you could have done better such as the arm that has been bent a little bit funny, a too big foot, a too big head etc. But if you should correct all these things then you could spend weeks on one miniature - and then it is no longer funny to sculpt. At some time you simply must say stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting the miniature
            Painting your own miniatures is slightly different from painting Citadel miniatures. The thing is that somehow the professional sculptors always achieve a nice, perfectly plain surface, but this will not always happen to you (unless you are very gifted). Therefore, most home-made miniatures are rather rough, and this requires some extra neatness when painting.
            There will be spots that are less decent, but in my eyes that does not matter - painting is like laying make-up. You can cover most scars, rough surfaces and so on, but you must be very careful and pay even more attention to all the details than you used to when painting Citadel miniatures.
            Remember the base!!! The base of a miniature is just as important as the model itself, perhaps even more. No matter what an outstanding painter you are your miniatures will look incomplete and uninspiring without a finished base, but even though you use simple painting techniques you will reach a really high level just by finishing the base.

The final result
            Finally - having spent hours on sculpting and painting you can go to war with you miniature! There really is nothing like having a war band, team or just a skirmishing group of models that you have sculpted yourself - it's a fantastic feeling that cannot be described. You must experience it!
            I like to use my miniatures in campaigns and special scenarios, and usually I write up backgrounds, special rules and stats for my models. This is great fun, and you will feel that you almost need to give the miniatures additional character having sculpted them all from the beginning.