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Making an orca

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The orca model was the second in my “underwater illusion” series. like its predecessor the “narwhal”, this sculpt had several separate components. The primary feature is a resin plate that is supposed to mimic water. Unlike the narwhal however, this little orca is suspended over the wooden base by the “water effects”.

The idea behind this piece is to give the viewer two perspectives: the surface above the water and the submerged world where the creature thrives. I could have chosen to completely encase the creature in resin, but I chose not to.

The purpose of the water effect is to mark the line separating both environments and the viewer still has a clear view of both sides.

The orca was sculpted separately, like the stone work that serves as the anchor for the resin sheet. To give ripple effects on the water, I used hot glue and made squiggles  both on the plastic sheet and on the wooden base.

Resin is tinted with a little blue ink and poured carefully over the set up. To suspend the whale, two holes were cut on the sheet,one for the rock anchor and one for the whale. Hot glue holds everything fine at least until the resin is poured, dries and secures everything in place.

This was a fun little project and I was pleased when it sold on Etsy. I will continue to explore this series with different animals, and maybe with fantasy creatures. I like the idea of envisioning two worlds, the surface and the mysterious world beneath the waves.

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This was a fun little project and I was pleased when it sold on Etsy. I will continue to explore this series with different animals, and maybe with fantasy creatures. I like the idea of envisioning two worlds, the surface and the mysterious world beneath the waves.

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Handmade Gaming Aids

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A few days ago I decided to re-open my etsy online store. Reopening my store also meant re-thinking the focus of my fantasy art.

When I introduced my blog, I mentioned that table top games were for many years a hobby. Needless to say I spent a lot of time making terrain for gaming tables. The creation of terrain pieces meant that I needed game boards too, so I began making my own scenic tiles and play mats. Eventually this inspired me to take an even bigger step, sculpting my own figures.

Going back a little further in time, before table top games, I played role-playing games like D&D. Most of the visual aids for my games were handmade. I also spent plenty of time designing and mapping fantasy worlds.

With this said, it is no surprise the direction my fantasy art is taking. Today the table top industry  is much larger than when I began the hobby years ago. There is a definite  place for handmade art in general gaming, but more specifically, in the role-playing community.

In today’s busy routines, there is little time for players to make gaming aids for their games, let alone handmade miniatures. That is where I come in.

One of the problems with commercial gaming miniatures is the low availability of the average peasant, the well dressed lord or the noble lady without the huge sword in her hand. Warriors and heroes abound, even in my own work.

So, what about the dwarf miner, or human farmer and his crops, the average townsfolk. My new series of projects will involve these lesser seen character themes for RPG’s.

I will be redefining the focus of my Etsy shop with this goal in mind, providing handmade gaming aids, from miniatures to terrain. At the very least, I will be pursuing what I love most, creating fantasy worlds and helping others create theirs.

Narwhal

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Underwater environments have always intrigued me. Back in the days when I worked in biology, I did a lot of snorkeling so it is not difficult to envision submersed seascapes.

Last year I began a series of sculpts that depicted a marine animal beneath a tinted resin sheet that gave the illusion of water. My first model for this series was the narwhal. I chose this creature because it is a fascinating one, often referred to as the unicorn of the sea.

I began work with my usual tinfoil armature, then a two part epoxy dough for the body. A toothpick would serve well for the tusk.

The model was simple to make, I just shaped the body, slit for mouth and little holes for eyes. The toothpick was carefully inserted into the clay and I let the piece dry before adding the fins.

I wanted the sculpt to appear underwater, so I needed something to support both the narwhal and the sheet of tinted resin that the narwhal is under. My solution to this was to sculpture an ice berg on the wooden base that supports the piece. The berg provides an interesting addition to the aesthetics of the piece, more importantly, it secured the narwhal nicely.

Next was the water effect. A sheet of clear, sturdy plastic was cut to size and fit over the berg and narwhal assembly. Holes were carefully cut on the sheet so the tip of the ice poked through, this included the body of my narwhal.

Next came the crucial step, water effect. I tinted a good amount of the resin after it was mixed thoroughly with the hardener. I made little walls of hot glue along the edges of the plastic sheet to prevent the resin from overflowing. To simulate wavelets on the water surface, I used the hot glue again. Then I poured my resin carefully, sculpting and spreading with a craft stick.

Once the resin dried on the plastic, it made a hard but light weight sheet of textured resin that simulated water nicely.

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This was my first sculpt of this type, I later perfected the technique with other models. The narwhal sold on etsy soon after it was listed.

In conclusion, I hope to continue making more of these pieces, this time trying fantasy creatures or prehistoric animals.

Photographing Sculptures

Photography is key to my sculpting process. I use photos to document the phases involved in creating a sculpture and for documenting in portfolio collections. When I decided to sell online, photos of all my work were key to sales. Therefore, this required that a section of my studio be dedicated to photography.

So, while I was selling on etsy, I read a few articles on how to photograph one’s art work. A particular article caught my eye: “making a light box”.

Apparently there are many ways to go about this, but the easiest involved a cardboard box, tinfoil and two LED white light lamps. I also needed to cover the interior with a solid color, so I used foam sheets just for that purpose.

The light box has become a crucial tool for taking pictures of miniatures and larger sculpts alike. Moreover, I can change the blue background to white by simply removing the foam sheets that cover the interior. Thus, replacing the blue back ground with a white one to create nice clear photos of a piece.

I use a GE 14.1 mega pixel digital camera with 15x wide zoom, it is an older camera that I borrowed from my brother to get the work done. A new camera is on the wish list but for now I make due. I take photos of different angles and save them to an external drive, a digital collection that is rapidly growing.

Documenting my work with photography is not entirely new to me. I have files of some of my older sculpts which helps me to see how much I have indeed progressed with sculpting.But these pictures are often under poor lighting which obscures details and makes the piece look worse than it was.

The light box is a new addition to my tool set, thanks in part, to the needs of my online shop. A photo of the product is all a potential client has when buying online, so pictures have to make the art work shine.  In fact, the light box helped to increase sales on etsy as photo quality improved.

Photos of figures inside the box were simply better, especially those of miniature sculpts. The box eliminates distracting shadows and enhances those fine details on a sculpture.

Of all the tools I use in my craft, this home made box has become vital to promoting and cataloging my work. While my photos are not the best quality, they are an improvement over past photography. It is fun to think that not only are my figures handmade, but so is the tool used to display them for everyone to see.

 

 

Magic Portals, Mages and Beasties

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Sitting in my studio yesterday, listening to music and finishing up another fantasy sculpture. I sat back to take a break and glanced at my inventory shelf, rapidly filling with clay sculpts of all kinds. I am on a roll with the fantasy theme lately but I needed another project, something simpler than sculpting a figure.

Three figures caught my eye, these were older sculpts, some of my favorites. The miniatures had been for sale individually before and I had not listed them in my new shop yet.

inspiration for the miniatures came from a story I wrote for national writing month two years ago (NANOWRIMO), they were characters from that story.  I realized these figures were meant to be together, so listing them as a set would be the way to go.

But I wanted these little creations to be a part of something more interesting,. More importantly, people seeing the trio wouldn’t know the story they were a part of, hence they would not have as much meaning on their own.

I remembered my story was about a fantasy world where portals to pocket dimensions existed and covenants of mages were assigned to guard them, or rather

So, keeping my miniature’s theme in mind, I reached for a wooden base and a cup of coffee.

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So I began work on a diorama that would tie the figures together with the theme of the story they came from. A portal in the diorama was a necessity. I used an old plastic lid for the portal and cemented it to the base with epoxy clay. Sculpting a few steps leading to the circular structure worked nicely while securing the piece to the base.

Clumps of tinfoil on either side of the lid provided armature for the snowy rock-work and I added more stones, vegetation and snow effects.

To secure the figures without gluing them to the display, I created circular slots in the epoxy layer, carefully using the bases of the figures themselves to ensure they fit.

The project was completed today, since the figures were already made all I needed to do was make the display. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Now that the display only needs a few touch ups, I see it feels right. Not only is the diorama more interesting than three individual figures, it conveys a little of the story without the details.

All in all, I can take a break now and relax. The portal, mage and her beasties are finally part of a theme, an environment full of magic and high fantasy.

Dark Guardian part 2

Work continued today on the sculpture that I call “The Dark Guardian”. I have been working on this piece three days now and invested about thirteen hours so far. Progress has been steady since I began work on the armature. This is the first figure I make depicting a fantasy creature that is half spider, half woman.

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The figure is sculpted from smooth on two part epoxy clay, working the medium with plenty of water ensured that I had little problem with it. I had to let the early stages of this sculpt to dry before I could move on with the detail phase. I used procreate clay for the details. The sword still needs work, and I plan to use the dremel to polish it for a nicer finish on the blade.

The creature’s face was sculpted out of polymer baking clay and attached to the armature very early on.

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A few more details are necessary to finish the sculpt and prepare it for priming and finally painting. I will use an air brush for the first base coat, then take it from there.

Hopefully the model will be completed soon, then it will be listed in my online shop.

Dark Guardian

I love fantasy, so today I continued work on a sculpture I have been working on since yesterday. I call the piece: Dark Guardian and it depicts a creature common in contemporary fantasy, except I added my own twist to it.

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The figure is still a work in progress and it will probably be female, for today I put enough work on it. I am using smooth on two part sculpting medium, a very tricky epoxy clay to use, but so far I am happy with it.

I mounted the sculpture on a recycled lid and has some pretty fancy rock work with a face sculpted on to one of its sides. The most difficult part of this piece has been the spidery legs, getting the clay nice and smooth while wrapping it around the armature took patience.

I hope to finish this piece soon so I could paint it and listed in my handmade shop.

Decorating Handmade Figure Bases

When I sculpture I often like to decorate the bases of the sculpt to represent a fraction of an environment the figure is a part of.

For fantasy and wildlife sculpts alike, I often use home made “flock” or commercial static grass, but vegetation can be handmade many ways.

For flock I use saw dust and color it with a mix of watered down acrylic paint and white glue. The fluid is mixed with a mini blender and the sawdust is then poured into the mix and stirred. A few minutes in the microwave speeds up the drying process. Alternatively, I heat the mix carefully with a hair dryer while stirring.

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flock is one of those decorative mediums I learned about during my game days with miniatures. Sprinkled over glue on a figure’s base creates the illusion of grassy area.

But vegetation takes on many forms and larger decorative pieces are necessary for variety.

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Hedges are a personal favorite, I make mine with craft wire and rope filaments, spray craft glue on the armature, then insert the whole thing in a container of flock. these pieces can be left long or they can be cut into smaller shrub like pieces to adorn figure bases.

Another technique I use involves finely cut foam or sponge pieces, which are then covered in glue and covered in flock. These pieces are used to resemble bushes, but they can also be incorporated into armatures for making small trees.

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Finally, there is tall grass and reeds. For aquatic reeds I use an old paint brush and cut off the bristles.

Bristles are then glued in clumps to a plastic piece with white glue and dried. The clumps can then be pulled off intact and glued or placed in bases with resin water effect. The same technique is used for rope filament, which is less stiff than the bristles of a brush but it makes good tall grass. I often make batches of these decorative media and store it for future use.

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Armatures

Making an armature is a very important step during figure creation. I use a variety of materials for armatures, but the most common material is craft wire and tinfoil filler.

The wire forms a skeletal support for the figure, while the tinfoil fills in space to avoid using too much clay and it provides a surface for clay to attach.

Once the armature is constructed, I can pose it to get the desired action pose if required. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

In this stage the model is very crude, it actually reminds me of the stick figures I drew when i was a kid. Slowly the sculpture takes shape, but not before I am satisfied with the pose. I use green stuff or procreate to attach a sculpt firmly to its base and I sculpt when the figure is firmly attached. The following photos are from a sculpture of Cthulu I made as commission, I use it as my first example.

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I added the wings using the same method I described above, using the wire and tinfoil filler. I will not detail all the stages in Cthulu on this post, since i want to show other armatures. But here is the finished sculpt:GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Cthulu took about twenty – five hours to complete over several days. The base was decorated with water effects by using resin and I added a mini ship made from craft wood and green stuff to convey the size of this ancient being.

My African elephant armature used the same technique. I also added Air soft epoxy dough as filler. This clay air dries and produces a nice surface for a final layer of sculpting medium. Both Cthulu and the elephant were sculpted using these epoxy two part clays, they were not sculpted with polymer clay.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

This wire and tinfoil methos does work well with polymer oven bake clay, I find that the frame work heats beneath the clay, thus cooking the model inside out.

This technique worked for another commission project I worked on recently, perhaps the most challenging piece I have worked on so far. A friend commissioned me to make a clay mech. I was worried about the commission at first, but took to the challenge. So I created the armature for the mech using all the same techniques.

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The armature looked nothing like a mech, more like a strange alien. Slowly but surely the mech began to take shape though. After thirty hours of work, spread over a week, the sculpture was finally ready for painting.

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My clients were happy and so was I. My readers will probably note this technique when they browse other posts. You will see it in my bird art, and fantasy themes.

For miniatures I use a slightly different method, as tinfoil adds an unwanted layer to an armature that is already tiny, that will be the subject for another post.

To conclude, I thought this subject would be of interest to my readers since it is an important part of my work. For my clients this also shows the first step in a series of phases that transforms a stick figure into something else entirely.

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