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Corporea

Sculpey Base Tutorial

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aka All Your Base Are Belong to Us!

 

This tutorial will teach you some basic and some intermediate ways to use Sculpey to create custom bases for your miniatures.

 

First, some basic information. Sculpey is a polymer clay which does not self-harden. It must be cured at 130 C/ 275 F, baking time based on thickness. After it is baked it is rigid, can be sanded, carved and painted. There are several types. Fimo, Sculpey, Super Scupley, Scupley III, Premo, etc. It is less expensive than some of the other sculpting materials available, making it great for basing projects! It is similar to standard ceramic clay in terms of workability, but a bit more elastic. It can be stored for years, and only requires a bit of kneading to soften it again.

 

You will need:

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Why super sculpey, you ask? Because I have some! The same thing applies to the tools- you can use just about anything to shape sculpey. Wooden tools, pins, flatware and especially fingers! But for the projects below, I specifically used the tools above. The pin tool is from a standard ceramic set and the other two shapers from a wax carving set.

 

We need to start by waking our sculpey up.

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It will come in an easily separated cake of cylinders. Break off a piece, knead it in your hands, warm it up, roll it around, etc, etc until it's nice and pliable. If you've never used it before, play around with pushing different textures into it. Rocks, sandpaper, pinebark, plastic wrap, canvas, and cork can all create interesting patterns. Plus, you'll get a sense of how much detail the sculpey can hold. It's not as much as some of the other sculpting materials available- which I think of as a plus. It won't really hold a fingerprint for example, so you can safely pick up what you're working on. It makes it a very forgiving medium for beginners! And you'll quickly realize it has the best quality of all- it does not stick to everything!

 

Now, what can we do with this sculpey? How about cobblestones? Those make great bases, right?

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So here we're using the thin shaper to carve stonelike shapes and smooth our edges. That sort of pattern can be created very quickly with just the single shaping tool. I like my cobbles to have curved edges, making the stone looks more 3-dimensional.

 

Bricks, or a brick pathway is another option.

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Here's an example of how to use the pin tool (like a thick needle. A small nail would also work if attached to a handle) Using our trusty Canadian Sandpaper as a guide, the pin tool creates a brick layer. Then we go back and add the individual brick shapes and add some details. Cracks, slightly curved edges and the sandpaper texture can all be used to make a more realistic brick. I also used the thin shaper to curve the edges of the brick. I've only added details to the top bricks to illustrate the process.

 

But this is boring, you say! Bring on the fancy bases. We want props!

Ok... for this next project we'll be using twigs from the garden. Here I've stuck a few twigs in a slightly carved lump of sculpey. I rolled out some little coils to make roots and pressed them on.

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Now I smooth the edges of the roots with the larger shaper. Then add texture to the roots with the pin tool.

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...and we have terrain!

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In our next installment I'll go step by step through an entire base! Stay tuned!

Let me know if you all want more detail or clarification on anything.

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this is ally helpful as ive just started to try sculpting at the moment im working on a grand double door entrance to go with my dwarven forge things. if i think of some other things id like help with ill post it here and hopefully get a tutorial. Maybe something like a skeletal hand? not in 25mm a scale a bit bigger im thinking of using some for embellishments...Keep em comin lol :)

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Ohhhhh...shiny. I like it. For those just tuning in (a.k.a. all the new people) if you don't have any sculpting tools, and you are on a budget, there is a great link the The Craft section about making some sculpting tools

 

I provide the link here:

 

http://www.reapermini.com/TheCraft/27

 

In addition you can do an amazing amount of sculpting with a dulled #11 X-acto blade.

 

Hurry up with that next installment. Right meow!

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For our step by step, we'll be using our volunteer, the Praying Paladin and a 40 mm round base.

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Step one: Squash sculpey onto base.

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This step is therapeutic. Squash away! Build up a nice thick layer. You can always remove layers or sand the finished piece later if you don't like the height. You can also add sculpey to the top and smooth it on with your fingers like in the second picture. Thickness? Well, it's safe to start thick. Start with at least 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Anything thinner and when you remove it from the plastic base it can bend on you and warp. However, in the interest of full disclosure, you can make these bases really thin in places, because once they're cured they act like resin- hard, but brittle. As long as you don't drop them taking them out of the oven, they're durable once attached to your plastic base.

 

At this point I often flip the base upside down and push it into the table and squash it a bit more in order to start with a level surface. Next I trim my edges with the xacto knife. There's no science here, but I like to trim it at the angle of the plastic base to make a nice smooth line.

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Step 2: Put miniature on base and start making a plan of attack.

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Here I've put our trusty paladin a little off center toward the back of the base. I plan to continue the broccoli vegetation out over the edges, so I'm marking my edges for reference with the pin tool. Quite often I'll come up with a plan before I even start sculpting, but it's ok to wing it and let the sclupey guide you. It's like using the force. If you push at it with different tools sometimes shapes will suggest themselves. This sounds silly, but I make fun rock shapes using this method...

 

Step 3: Props! Why sculpt rocks when you can pick them up!

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Here we'll learn to do 2 things: make rock shapes using sculpey, and attach rocks to a sculpted base. As you can see above, I've stuck some rocklike shapes of sculpy into the back of the base in the first picture. The best way to make sure the new sculpey sticks is to blend it in, either with a shaper or your fingers. Also, squash it in! After the sculpey is attached, I chose 2 rocks and pushed them into the surface of the sculpey. It isn't necessary to push them too far, just enough to create an indentation you can find later, and enough to keep them on while you move the base around as you sculpt. Here I've started to create my vegetation shape. Note- don't be fooled by the overlapping sculpey hanging over the back of the base- it's going to go away. Remember- we have to cut this off the base to bake it, so no overhangs- it will need to sit flat on the baking sheet. If you want overhangs, add them later with greenstuff,etc.

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Here's a shot with the 2 rocks. I've removed the paladin (see the impression from the base?) and I'm smoothing out the area under his base- just to make sure the bits I attached stay put. I like the broad shaper for this. It's a pushing/dragging motion- start at the top and slide/pull down and in to the center of the base.

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Real rock next to carved rock. Again- there's not really a science to making rocks. I use the narrow shaper to pull up from the base and create a rounded bottom to the rock. I then push in at the division between one rock and the other to create the illusion of cracks or depth in between. I do this until I have a rocklike shape, the add some texture, usually with the thin shaper. I tend not to change tools often while I'm working because it interrupts my rhythm. Each tool is also versatile, so no need to use a whole bunch. I kept track of the tools I used in this tutorial and it really was just the 4 above.

Next I'll add some broccoli vegetation, continuing the pattern of the miniature. The idea here was to make it look as if the vegetation was draped over the rocks underneath.

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In the second picture I've found a gap in between my rock, paladin and base. So this illustrates how to add a dot of sculpey to an area. Roll a little ball, pick it up using the shaper (stick the end of the shaper into it if it's pesky) and push it into the gap. Then smooth the edges and blend it into the base. Note- whenever you're combining rocks, a miniature and a sculpted base, make sure you don't completely encase any object you're not going to bake. Make sure every object is removable. I do this by frequently removing each piece to make sure I'm not sculpting myself into a corner. Also, if you find you're getting too many crumblies or the sculpey is acting chalky or not blending smoothly, either work it in your hands to warm it up or don't push quite so hard. In terms of the rocks, if it's hard to make the shapes, just look at a rock and copy it in miniature on your base. Or, stick on more real rocks. Just remember- whatever you stick on has to come off for the bake and you have to remember where you put it. I recommend taking a picture of it so you don't forget. You can always soften the boundaries between rocks with greenstuff later on.

 

ok- must sleep. more later.

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Yaawn! Good morning, sculptors!

 

Here's a bit more information on how to make rocks.

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I'm using the wide blunt shaper tool to push into the sculpey, taking advantage of it's shape to create my rock face. I can also use the tool to push the sculpey against my other rock- this helps create a smooth transition and helps hold the real rock in place while I work. In the second picture you can see where I'm starting to build my rock shapes. You can use anything to create texture. I forgot to mention above- the broccoli texture is created using the pin tool.

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So now I've got rocks and simple vegetation. Notice the imprint from the paladin's base. This is a good place to hold the base later on when you've started to work on all the edges! If you want to get creative, instead of doing the simple broccoli, stick found objects like twigs, seed pods or bark on the base. Or you can leave blank areas to flock or use static grass. I like using things like lichen or reindeer moss. Anything you get from the yard needs to be stuck in the freezer for at least a few days to kill any potential home invaders.

 

Step 4: Keep sculpting.

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I often reach a point where I run out of inspiration. What the heck am I going to put in front of this paladin? A fallen foe? A grave? Hmmn. In the interest of moving this tutorial ahead, we're starting simple. I'm going to create a set of steps leading down. So to do this I carve away excess sculpey to create gently falling terrain. In the second picture I've put in a few more rock shapes and the start of my path. Halfway through doing this, I decided to change my path direction. That's a great thing about sculpey- it doesn't dry out, so you can change plans at any time. Here I've got some flatter shaped rocks for variety. Variety is good when sculpting. It makes the work look more natural.

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Here are the steps in their early stage. I'm using the blunt wide shaper tool because it has a fairly flat back to create my flat step. I like curved steps, but you can make square ones, or even carved flagstones. To create the edge of the step push straight down with the tool and either remove excess sculpey or smooth it into the step below. Just check the steps from the side to make sure they're level. If they're not, cut away excess sculpey with an xacto knife and re-smooth. If you cut too much, add more. Sculpey is so forgiving!

 

Next we need to create a lip on the edge of the step. Most steps have some sort of lip or beveled edge. The best way to do this is actually to push the sculpey straight in with the thin shaper. It may raise the level of your step slightly, but you can always scrape excess off the top with the xacto. The top step has a bevel, and I'm in process of creating the bevel on the middle step here. Start by pushing the tool in step by step and don't worry if it looks choppy. Once you get a lip created, you can go back and drag the tool across the surface to smooth the line. The reason I chose the thin tool here is because I want shallow steps. If you want taller step, you'll need to use a wider tool. And in that case, pushing in the sculpey won't work- you'd need to carve away the excess. There are some different tools I use for that- I'll cover that in a later post.

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Oh no! Why didn't I cut my nails! I photoed this stage because no matter how careful you are, you will inevitably need to do touch-ups. I've also decided I wanted to extend this step a bit an make it wider, so 2 birds with 1 stone and all that. Roll out a thin string of sculpey. The easiest way to get a uniform thickness is actually to use 2 fingers and apply pressure from the center and slowly slide your fingers outwards while rolling back and forth. It takes practice, but it's worth it because a nice uniform coil can be used to create a lot of shapes and effects.

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Next stick the coil onto the step and blend it in. Then go back and create the lip. Finally I'll finish the bottom step. Here I want the bottom of the step to be level with the edge of the base. So the lip will actually slightly overhang the edge. The best way to create this effect is to have the sculpey overhanging, draw a line where you want your lip with the pin tool, then use the thin shaper to push in and drag down, removing the excess sculpey level with the edge. You can see the lines of sculpey on the base where I've done this. After that, go back and drag the flat side of the shaper against the underside of the step to smooth it.

 

Step 5: Touch ups and final checks.

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I've put our paladin back on the base, checked it from all angles, made any final adjustments I wanted. This is a good point to try to handle the base just from the plastic part or by touching only the top and bottom where the paladin will sit, so that all of you nicely sculpted edges won't get too blunted. I usually use this time to go back and add more texture to the rocks and deepen some of the grooves. Look at the base from all angles to make sure you're happy with how the terrain flows.

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Yup. It'll do.

Edited by Corporea
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I'll also remove everything again and check several time to make sure everything fits and there are no glaring gaps. Small gaps can be filled in later with greenstuff.

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Step 6: Removal.

Yup, it has to come off the plastic base. No you can't bake it on the plastic. I must admit having tried this. Once. I now have a nice melted plastic base I plan to use for some twisted horror-related miniature.

This is where the xacto knife shines. Make sure you've taken all found objects/the paladin off the sculpey so that they don't fall off while you're removing the base and roll under the desk or into a dark corner.

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The larger the base you make, the harder this becomes, because you need to get the center of the base free. Start with the knife parallel to the plastic base and slide it into the sculpey as close to the bottom as you can. Just slide the knife tip all the way around the edge of the base to free the edges. It's almost a sawing motion. Then, after that is accomplished, gradually slide the knife farther in and around. Generally this is enough to get the base to pop off. If it bends a bit, never fear. If the edges get a bit squashed, never fear. Sculpey never dries out- we can always go back later and do touch ups.

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Here is what it looks like removed and flipped over. See where the knife made planes? No worries- you can smooth it out if you want by gently running a tool or your fingers over the bottom, but I just leave it- it's just going to get glued back to our plastic base later and no one will see it! I do remove any sculpey from the plastic base, though. You need a nice clean surface. In the second picture I've illustrated how to hold the base while you do touchups. I've also stuck the rocks back on to make sure they still fit. I also place the sculpey base back on the plastic base to make sure it lines up nicely, hasn't warped or bent, and will still lie flat. You can also set the sculpey base down on you desk to allow it to flatten. Gently pressing where the paladin sits (even using the paladin miniature) will make sure you've got a level surface.

 

Step 7: Baking.

Preheat oven to 130 C/275 F. You could use a toaster oven, but I don't have one. Follow the directions on the package. I use a baking sheet that I don't use for food, but if you're limited, you can place parchment paper (not wax paper) on the baking sheet and put the base on top of this. Be aware that the edges of parchment paper can curl, so weigh them down with something that is oven safe- like a pie weight, dried beans or free sculpey rocks. Rocks from the outside world are not necessarily oven safe- some types can pop/explode/crack at high temperatures- best not to risk your oven. If you've sculpted a thin base, you want to be especially careful to make sure it sits flat on the sheet. Most of my bases are thin enough to bake for 15 minutes. I occasionally cheat and put the sheet in the cold oven, set the timer for 20 min and let the whole thing preheat together. Don't worry if you burn the sculpey- you're going to be painting over it anyway. I'd err on the side of cooking it longer, as if it's under-cured, it can be bendy and rubbery. Please be smart and don't pick the base up off of the baking sheet with your finger right away. It'll take a few minutes to cool. if you're desperate to hold it, you can pick it up with a pot holder. Also, don't glue it on to your base while it's hot- melted plastic and all that.

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Here's me testing the cooked base to make sure my rocks still fit. You can see the difference in color of the cured sculpey on the left compared to the pre-bake picture on the right. Hooray! I had a brief moment of concern when I tried to fit the paladin on the base backwards...

 

So that's a step by step creation of a base. I'll keep adding on things here. Feel free to join in and add your own forays and tips/tricks!

Edited by Corporea
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Never having worked with Sculpey, how does it handle? I know modeling clays only cure when you bake them, bit some tend to dry out after time and need to be misted to keep them easily workable. Is this an issue with Scupey?

 

On a note about your stones, a quick and easy way to make stone textures is to tap your clay with a piece of motor. No need for fancy tools.

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I have some fimo and sculpey that's probably about 10 years old and still workable. After time it does get a bit more flaky/crumbly, but I found if I warm it and knead it with my hands, it works fine. I've never misted mine, but I live in a very very humid area, so mine has never been exposed to a desert-type environment. It's more in danger of getting too much mold...

 

Cool idea for the stones, thanks!!! I'm always looking for new techniques!

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I actually trained as a sculptor for a few years. I mainly did earthen ware, so misting is just second nature. Hopefully my local craft store has some sculpey, I have to get some clay in my hands again. May put some of my techniques on here when I work the rust off. All the tools you have up there are pretty standard in ceramics. If live near any large enough city, you can get them pretty cheap. If not, go online.

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ah ha! Another sculptor! Yup, my poor wheel is languishing while I indulge my miniature hobby! The only tool I've transferred over from my pottery set was the pin tool. The others I use are a wax sculpting set and some old dental tools. Sculpey kneads a bit differently than regular clay. It feels more plastic, a lot dryer, and doesn't like as much smoothing with my fingers as I would do in conventional clay sculpture. The closest I can approximate is that it likes a burnishing technique with the metals tools and doesn't like to be pulled with my fingers. Not sure if that makes sense. It also will roll into very thin coils much easier than clay. It's less prone to drooping with gravity as well. ::):

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ok, I haven't been feeling like painting recently, so I thought I'd update my sculpey-ing. One of the things I like about sculpture is that it can be additive or subtractive. Meaning you can create a form by slapping some extra material on an area, or you can carve away at an area to create your form. Both work great and are useful tools to learn. I thought I try to take a stab at a skeleton since Goblyn asked for a mass grave... it's a start!

 

First I'll do some adding.

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I stuck a blob of sculpey on a flat disk that can act as as base. I was without my basing materials and lighting for this, so forgive the poor picture quality. Next I sketched out my idea of a skeleton lying on it's back with slightly bent legs. I used a pin tool for the sketching. Most important here is to make sure I like the general size, composition and placement of key landmarks like the head, ribcage and pelvis. Although I can tinker and move clay around later, it's easier to start with everything more or less in place.

 

Now for some subtractive work. With sculpey being so pliable and soft, it's harder to get sharp lines by adding. Much easier to get by carving away at a form.

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I know I want deep recesses under the ribs and between the legs I also know I want the form to curve nicely when viewed from the side. I'll probably still carve this down a bit more, but I like the arch in the spine- I may "put" some rocks under the back to accentuate the arch. When sculpting it's important to look at your work from all sides, to constantly check for symmetry and to make sure you like the way it looks both up close and from a distance. If it's not feeling right, let it go. Sculpey is forgiving- squash it into pulp and start again!

 

I've added in a few more details here and blocked in the basic skull features. Hmmn- now that I look at it, I'll want to change the ribcage anatomy and probably tilt the head to the side. But, it's a work in progress...

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Now for some tool pictures. There are lots of great sculpting tools out there. I like having a variety- each one's shape lends itself to different tasks.

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This one is good for blending down and flattening next to the legs. It's curve also is great for making round egg shapes.

 

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Here are the narrow tapered wedge and pin tool at work. I love my pin tool. The benefit of the narrow tapered tool is that it makes smoothing a bit easier. The pin is mostly good for rough detail work.

 

well... and drilling eyeholes. ::):

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I put the second shot in because it occurred to me that sometimes I sculpt without explaining very well how to do it. When I'm working on the miniature scale there are several things that are necessary: Good lighting. A comfortable chair. Music. Water to drink. A conscious effort to drop your shoulders and sit up straight or your back really will hate your hobby. Get in a comfortable position since you may get distracted while working and forget to take breaks. Try to take breaks to stretch. Brace your hands while working on details. I like to use my pinky finger to brace like in the second picture if it's not feasible to brace the heel or side of my hand. Have several points of contact with the desk- elbows, hands, fingers, etc. It minimizes shaking and strain on the small muscles in the hands. Being a small person I also like to have a footstool under my desk to rest my feet. If you're starting out, start with good habits. Your neck will thank you later.

 

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A few more tools in action. The first is smoothing and defining the arm and scapula. I used the back of the hook to define the lower leg a bit. The xacto is carving down on top of the upper leg to create a more believable leg angle.

 

Ok- that's all for now. More updates and progress to come. Tempted to scrap the ribcage and start it again...

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