Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How To Sculpt Miniatures 4: What to Buy

This How to Sculpt Miniatures series is my attempt to demystify the idea of sculpting your own miniatures. It seems that more and more people are taking cracks at it these days as the means of production are getting so very cheap and third-party casting companies are growing like mushrooms. Still, no matter how many head-swap bits are retailed, there is going to come a time when you have an awesome idea for a miniature, and there might not be a compatible, ready-made bit. You're going to have to make it yourself, and it is my belief that the only thing standing in your way is a few helpful tips.

Greetings Epoxy Crafters!

I was trying to decide whether to write this article or not to write this article. I figured that if anyone was interested in procuring the tools/materials I highlighted, they would probably just look them up on the Internet, but, in case you're lazy or you're looking for some direction, I'll go over where I found the tools and materials I recommend.

First off, in case it is necessary to state this, what follows are just suggestions. I, in no way, endorse the majority of the suppliers I'll highlight or link to here (well, with the exception of Sculpture Supply Canada as I've been going into their store and dealing with them in person for some time now), and I assume absolutely no responsibility for your dealings with them. The experiences I've had with retailers and am relating here should be taken as anecdotal and could differ greatly from your own dealings. Though I'm trying to give you the best advice I can, you take it at your own risk.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get onto the shopping list:

Shopping List Item #1: Tools!
In the Tools of the Trade article, I already touched on how the cheapest and easiest solution for an up-and-coming sculptor looking for some tools are the sets of wax carving tools that you frequently find popping up on eBay. I bought my own set of tools from ebay, and a quick search for "wax carving tools" should bring up some options. There are a number of things that come up in that search that are not the kind of thing you're looking for, so, once again, here's a picture of the kind of thing you ARE looking for:
That's the 12-tool set I bought last year. It cost me something like 12-14 Quid, and you can find sets for even cheaper than that in the search I linked to. One thing I'd caution is that you get what you are paying for. If you were to invest in a slightly more expensive set of these tools, the physical metal work on them would probably be a lot higher.

I previously commented that tools like the spoon and knife that I'd bought one-off are duplicated in the above set. However, when comparing my one-off tools to the set's equivalent, it is easy to see that the workmanship on the tools in the set (top of the two spoons) is not as high (check the shape of the two spoons in that photo). That isn't to say that the tools are un-polished hunks of iron, just that these cheap tools will do you fine, but don't be surprised if the tool ends are not perfectly symmetrical/have a nick in them here or there.

You can buy the tool sets in different quantities (4, 6, 12, 18, 20 individual tools), but I'd recommend a set of 12 like I have. Though I mentioned that you won't wind up using every tool in the set, I also mentioned that the tools you use most are based on personal taste, so it's best to have a few more from which to choose your favourites. Plus, at between $10-$20, it's not like you're breaking the bank to buy the set of 12. What's more, a set of 12 is actually a set of 24 because each of the 12 tools has two different ends on it.

Though the wax carving tool set will put you in a good place in terms of having the tools you need for the job, I mentioned a few others that can contribute significantly to this set. First were the ball burnishers/embossing tools. They also go by the name "ball stylus tools," and they commonly come in double-ended varieties with a different sized ball on either end of the tool. They look something like this:
I have never had any trouble finding these in any large-ish graft store (like Deserres or Micheal's if you come from Canuckland), but, if you like, they can also be found on eBay. I have two, they provide me with four different sizes of balls, and that is all I need.

Which brings us to the real Pièce de Résistance: the silicone colour/clay shapers that I can't say enough good things about. I was handed one by Hydra, but I went into the local Deserres art store to look for a few more of them as the one he'd given me was a little large.

As with anything, you can go the eBay route, but after snooping around it seems as though these colour shapers are more meant for large amounts of paint than small amounts of putty. Thus, I'd be wary of buying a set of them online and having them turn up on your doorstep only to discover that they were WAY BIG for the kinds of sculpting you were wanting to do. To eliminate that possibility, why not nose around your local art stores before committing to something that you've never had the chance to handle from an online store.

One warning: these tools are kind of expensive. I bought a smaller one at the local art store after I had fallen in love with Hydra's, and it cost me nearly $10 CDN for the one tool:
That being said, I asked one of the employees if they had any more, and he pointed me to this set of three that was on discount. The quality/flexibility of the silicone is not of the same level as the smaller, more expensive tool, and they are a little large, but at $5 CDN for the three, I figured it was a deal I couldn't pass up:
Here are all of my colour shapers all lined up. You can see they have size/style numbers printed on them, which may help if you're trying to buy online, but I have no idea if these numbers are standardized.
One thing I touched on that I should stress: it's good to be able to see and hold the colour shapers before you buy them. Someone commented on Warpshadow that they had bought silicone colour shapers online, only to discover when they arrived that the shapers were WAY too soft for shaping putty.

If you've never used one before, it may be tough to anticipate how soft/hard you want them, but--to be completely subjective and unhelpful--I'd recommend a medium to soft shaper. What I love so much about my shapers is that they have a far softer touch than the metal tools to which I'm accustomed, and the difference in sculpting is something akin to the difference between a D-Pad on a Nintendo and the sexy analog joystick of a PS-whatever. You can get things done with the D-Pad/metal tool, but you've got far more subtle control with the joystick/shaper. Thus, it seems silly to go out and buy a hard shaper as you might as well stick to metal tools!

Shopping List Item #2: Putties!
As I assume everyone has been using greenstuff for years, I figure it's also safe to assume that you all know the cheapest/easiest way to get it in your neck of the woods. That being said, if this hasn't been made abundantly clear to you already: don't ever buy greenstuff from Games Workshop. You will be paying about 2 to 3 times the price of the stuff since they package it in such small quantities. Even if you're thinking you only need a little of the stuff to start with, as you get more comfortable you will be wanting more.

I tend to use eBay to find mine as it seems to be cheaper and more readily available than anywhere else. The full name for the stuff is Kneadatite Blue/Yellow Epoxy Putty, if you're having any trouble finding it, but a search for "greenstuff" should bring it up as well. One thing I mentioned before: if you can manage it, go for the type that is packaged with the blue and yellow components in separate tubes (I think Kneadatite likes to call this kind of packaging "bars").
The more common type has the blue and yellow packaged together in a long ribbon (or "tape"), and this just results in you having to cut out and throw away the part in the middle where the two putties are packaged in contact with each other.

What a waste. Still, I've been using the ribbon stuff for years (and throwing away the centre bit), and it works just fine if you can't find the bars/tubes.

When it comes to buying Apoxie Sculpt, Aves, fortunately, packages the Part A and Part B putties separately in tubs, usually with the two tubs shrink-wrapped together. Whereas Greenstuff comes in one colour--green--Aves makes Apoxie Sculpt seemingly in all the colours of the rainbow. That being said, I've not found another colour that I like so much as the standard, unadulterated "natural." This is the neutral colouring of the chemicals/compounds that make up Apoxie Sculpt, and it hasn't had any pigments added to it.

You'd think that pigments couldn't, really, affect the workability of the putty; however, Hydra once bought some of the super white by accident, and he swore that the pigment did something to change the consistency of the putty. So, unless you've got some good reason to buy blood red Apoxie (which you are probably just going to paint over anyway), best to stick with the "natural."

You can buy Apoxie Sculpt in a number of sizes. The smallest is a "sample," 1/4 lb variety that you can waste your time with if you're short on cash, but what I'd recommend would be to invest in the 1lb/16oz container set.

It will provide you with more material to play around with than the two tubes of greenstuff, and it'll be cheaper.

Now, if you've got a bit more cash lying around, and you have any interest in ever getting into sculpting anything larger (scenery, monsters, etc.), you might as well just invest in the 4lb size.
Sure, that sounds like a lot, and it is probably too much putty for most, but once I started sculpting Tyranid scenery and large beasties, I started plowing through the 4lb containers. They are HUGE, but they're not exactly expensive, and they don't expire in any way I've ever noticed.

In terms of where to get Apoxie Sculpt, I get mine from a Canadian retailer by the name of Sculpture Supply Canada (SSC). They've got a bricks-and-mortar store out in the west end of Toronto that I frequent, but if you're not in Toronto, you can shop online via their e-store. I've never done it myself, but I expect their service would be just as good online.

If you're not in Canada, I've had luck going straight to the source. Whether looking for it in Germany or Japan or England, I've always emailed Aves to ask them for a list of suppliers in those countries. They've always been both kind and helpful.

Now, though I'm not getting paid by either Aves or SSC to promote them on here, if you decide to contact them, please let them know that Mr_Pink over at sent you :)

I think that, pretty much, covers all you need to know to get started with buying sculpting materials. However, I've been doing this so long that I've probably missed something, so if you have any questions about where to find particular tools/materials, please post them in the comments section so everyone can learn from them, and I'll get back to you with as good an answer as I can come up with.

If you've stuck with this article through to the end, and you haven't learned anything you didn't already know, well then I apologize, and I promise that the next How to Sculpt Miniatures article will get back to actual sculpting. That being said, it may not be up for a while as my Norn Queen is about to leave the country, and we'll be spending most of our free time cramming in fun things before she does. In the interim, I'll try to keep folks interested with a new series entitled "Deepthought", which are Hobby Editorials when they're at home. I know that words, words, words are not as instantly gratifying as tentacles, but these are things I've put a lot of thought into, so I hope you'll find some value in them.

> Next: How to Sculpt Miniatures 5: Sculpting Spines (Video)< Previous: How to Sculpt Miniatures 3: Sculpting Skills


  1. I hope you don't mind, Mr. Pink, but I included you in my blog post over at detailing a couple of great places with sculpting tutorials. You have a remarkable tutorial set here and I can't wait to get started practicing on some green stuff applications.

    Krisken of Scratchbuilt 40k

    1. Mind!? I appreciate it, Krisken. I'm happy that you found the tutorials so helpful, and I'm eager to help more folks through people disseminating the articles.


  2. Awesome blog you got here! Did wonders for my sucky sculpting skills :P I was wondering if you know what these acryllic boards with saw like patterns(for making tentacles and stuff) are called? Have been searchig on e-bay, but cant find them-.- Look like you used something like that for your hemavore pain tokens, so figured you might know^^

  3. Chris, the one I used was from Battlefield Berlin, gifted to me from Hydra. They've got a supplier, the name of which I can no longer remember.

    I was previously in talks to get some of the boards in question as samples from...I think they were called Green Stuff Studios?

  4. Hi I’m loving your tutorials and it’s nice to see product I can find in Canada. As for the silicone sculptors I got a nice package selection from Michaels in the Clay section. They came in size 0 and are not too hard or soft.

    1. Great! I'm always happy to hear about a fellow Canadian benefiting from my advice. I think those silicone shapers are going to serve you VERY well!

  5. Mr. Pink; just a note on the Apoxie Sculpt. I finally finished my first two tubs (4 lb size) after using and storing it for the last 13 years. There is always some discoloration on the hardener, but no matter what color it was, it always mixed to the correct color and consistency. Plus, it always worked (solidified) correctly. I have no idea if they (Aves) profess to know of a usable storage life, but I can attest to 13 years.

    1. Thanks Kelly! I feel like the apoxie sculpt I've still got kicking around must be close to that old. I'm happy to hear that yours is still working for you. It really is amazing stuff!

      Now I wonder if Greenstuff gets old. I've got some that I'm using which is getting pretty tough, though it still sculpts well when mixed. I just placed an order for some new stuff, so I'll have to see if that works better...

      Keep up your sculpting!

  6. Super late to this party but for anyone else who stumbled here from Google: Check taxidermy shops for Aves Apoxie! They often carry it in the big tubs for not too expensive, and it's great to support local.