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How To Improve Your Hobby Skills Through Sculpting 1 – Tools & Putties

Howdy! Mr. Pink here from modernsynthesist.com for a guest post all about sculpting.

Though Joe touched a little bit on Greenstuff/epoxy putty for doing things like filling gaps when building models, there is a whole world of miniature modification that opens up to you when you embrace greenstuff and sculpting.

Improving Your Sculpting Skills with Mr. Pink

However, I understand that greenstuff and sculpting, in general, can be a daunting thing to tackle if you have no prior experience. I felt the same way once, and that’s why I created my How to Sculpt Miniatures series to give people tips to get them started with sculpting. In this post, I’m going to give a high-level summary/introduction, and if you’d like to read more, you can feel free to explore more of my series on my blog at Modern Synthesist.

Tools of the Sculpting Trade

Just as Joe has outlined for his other articles, to be successful when sculpting, you need the proper tools. At the simplest level, you need:

  1. A Sculpting Medium / Putty
  2. Some Sculpting Tools
  3. Lubricant

That last tool is one that not everyone is properly told about, and it could well be the most important! Let’s break down the list now.

1. Sculpting Mediums / Putty

What follows is not an exhaustive list of putties. I’m going to highlight the two types of sculpting putty that I use most often and which I think can handle 98% of your sculpting projects. Other puttiess to consider, which I don’t have as much experience with, are brownstuff or grey/whitestuff (which are like Greenstuff but take sharp details better) and Super Sculpey (which is typically used to sculpt full models at larger scales).

Kneadatite Epoxy Putty (Greenstuff):

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

The most common putty that most miniature-based hobbyists choose. This is the slang term for it, and what you’re actually dealing with is Kneadatite Epoxy Putty. The name “greenstuff” derives from the fact that this is a two part putty that comes in blue and yellow. When these two parts are combined, it sets off a chemical reaction that causes the putty to start to harden.

If you’ve never before used greenstuff, think of its consistency as being similar to a hard Silly Putty.

Upsides of Greenstuff: It is easy to find in hobby shops and online. It is very tacky, so you don’t need to worry about it sticking. It is also stretchy while you’re working with it, which allows you to do some interesting things when sculpting fabric or skin. The cure time is pretty long (you can work it for about two hours. Finally, it sets to pretty hard, but it is still slightly rubberized, so you don’t have to worry about it being brittle.

Downsides of Greenstuff: It can be expensive if you’re looking to do a very large project with it (especially if you’re buying your greenstuff directly from GW). The stickiness of it can get annoying in some circumstances. Though it’s not brittle, it’s also not as strong as some putties, so it needs to be sculpted onto armatures (wires) if you plan on making anything long and skinny with it. This also means that, though you can file greenstuff, it doesn’t respond as well to heavy machining/carving (like taking a Dremel to it, for instance).

Aves Apoxie Sculpt:

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

This putty is well known to people who do a lot of sculpting in the community, or people who sculpt very large models. Though not as common as greenstuff, you should be able to find it at most specialty sculpting stores (that does not include your average art store). If you’re having trouble finding it, contact Aves Studio, the manufacturer, directly. I found their customer service staff to be very helpful when I was living in the UK and had to track down some putty in Wales.

If you’ve used greenstuff before, then you can easily use Apoxie Sculpt. It is the same idea, where it comes in part A and part B, and when you combine them together, a chemical reaction causes the putty to start hardening.

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

If you’ve never before used Apoxie Putty, it has a consistency similar to plasticine.

Upsides of Apoxie Putty: It is CHEAP! It is a high-quality sculpting medium, and you can get about a pound of it for the same price as you’d pay for a tube of greenstuff. It sets pretty hard, which means you can machine and file it. Its cure time is comparable to greenstuff, and it is slightly less sticky than greenstuff (if that kind of thing appeals to you).

Downsides of Apoxie Putty: Because it’s so hard, It can get brittle if you’re making very small/finicky details out of it.

Putty Conclusion:
If you’ve never sculpted before, I would recommend using greenstuff. It’s tacky/sticky nature is helpful when you’re sculpting onto an existing model, and its stretchiness helps when spreading/smoothing it over a surface. Apoxie Sculpt is cheap and amazing, but I find it more useful for larger sculpting projects or sculpting on many models. If you’ve already got your feet wet with sculpting, and you want to take on larger projects (particularly terrain, or scratch sculpting a bunch of bases), I recommend getting some Apoxie Sculpt. However, with small projects, I mostly use Apoxie Sculpt to extend my greenstuff (which I’ll talk about later).

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into my thoughts on putties, check out my article How To Sculpt Miniature 2: How to Use Epoxy Putty, Greenstuff, Apoxie Sculpt.

2. Tools

Though Joe is right that you need the proper tools to get serious about a given part of the hobby, these tools are just a baseline that you will grow from. A successful sculptor is not a product of their tools, and anyone who tries to show off how many tools they have is probably making up for something.

I have a core set of about seven tools that I use regularly:

Modern Synthesist Tools for Sculpting Miniatures

However, of those seven tools, I say that if I had to flee the planet suddenly in the wake of a Tyranid invasion, I would take only the following 4 Tools:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures Tools

Realistically, though, I mostly use the bottom three tools (the top one is a custom one my hobby buddy Hydra made me). If you went out tomorrow and bought only three sculpting tools, I would recommend these three. They are called the following:

A) Silicone Shaper / Silicone Brush tool
B) Le Cron Wax Carver / Games Workshop / Blade tool
C) Beale Wax Carver / Dental Elevator / Spoon tool

I’m sorry about the confusions in the names there. I’ve accrued my tools from a number of different places, and I stole #3 from my brother, so I have no idea where it came from or what it’s supposed to be called. However, if you google those names, they should lead you to the right places.

A) Silicone Shaper / Silicone Brush:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures toolsJoe has written about these wonders before. If I were only now getting into sculpting and hadn’t already developed a sculpting groove with other tools, I would be able to do 80% of my sculpting with this tool alone. It is like a brush for greenstuff, which is HUGELY helpful when sculpting organics (skin, bone, flesh, Tyranid stuff), or when trying to blend GS into a model. If you’re already sculpting and don’t have a silicone shaper, go and buy one. If you’re just starting sculpting, this is a great tool to get.

Here’s an example of the kind of soft, organic results you can get from a silicone shaper:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures techniques

B) Blade/Games Workshop Sculpting tool:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures tools

Though you can get this elsewhere, this is the tool Games Workshop sells for sculpting, and it’s best for sculpting sharp lines and flat surfaces. I guess it makes sense for them to sell it as most people play marines >:P  The most useful part of this tool is the blade as the tiny spoon shape on the other end is a poor substitute for the third tool I’ll describe. This tool is a favourite of Tyranid players as it is, pretty much, the Tyranid Armour Plate Sculpting Tool. The best way to use it is to cut sharp lines into your putty with the blade end, then smooth flat surfaces with the flat side of the blade. It can achieve effects like this:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures techniques

C) Spoon/Beale Wax Carver/Elevator tool:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures tools

Before I discovered the silicone shapers, this was my hands-down, all-time-favourite sculpting tool. Actually, it might still be my favourite sculpting too. The convex side of the curved, spoon-shaped end is phenomenal at smoothing out putty to eliminate fingerprints, and generally pushing it around on a models surface. The concave side can be used like a spoon to scoop out excess putty. And then the other end of the tool has a very small dart/blade shape that has all kinds of uses. I think everyone should have one of these tools. Here’s an idea of what it can accomplish:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures techniques

Tools Conclusion:
You don’t need very many tools to start sculpting. You also don’t need to use these tools if you have something else that works for you (I knew of a guy who used an old, metal Howling Banshee sword as a sculpting tool!). However, if you are not sure where to start with sculpting tools, these three will serve you well. Once you want to expand your collection, check out the rest of the seven tools I outlined in my article How to Sculpt Miniature 1: Best tools for sculpting miniatures.

3. Lubricant

The oft-forgotten but ESSENTIAL tool in a sculptor’s arsenal is lubricant. It is so simple, but very much required. Greenstuff is a very sticky medium, which is good when you want to stick it to a model, but annoying when it sticks to your tools or your fingers. There’s not much to say about lubricant other than you should use it.

You have two options for lubricant:

  1. Water (or spit, if you’re gross)
  2. Cream

Water works pretty well. Simply dip your tools in a pot of clean water frequently to keep them wet. Similar with your fingers if you’re touching the greenstuff. The downside of water is that it will dry up pretty quickly.

Cream is my preferred lubricant. A long time back, my hobby brother Hydra told me to use pure Nivea cream as a lubricant for my tools, and I’ve never considered using anything else.

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures sculpting skills

The benefit of using the cream as lubricant is that it lubricates your tools for much longer as it leaves a sheen of oil on them. However, you want to use it SPARINGLY so that you’re not getting it all over your models/putty. If you wipe cream on your tool, then wipe most of it off on your hand, the tool will look pretty clean but will still have a residue on it that will keep putty from sticking. Here’s what that looks like:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures sculpting skills

What’s more, that leaves you with a reserve of cream on your hand, and the softest knuckle in the land!

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Miniatures sculpting skills

Lubricant Conclusion:
Use lubricant, but not too much. When I learned how to use water on my tools, I went from being unable to use greenstuff to being decent with it. Once Hydra told me to use Nivea, my ability with sculpting jumped yet again as it makes it so much easier to get a smooth finish on your sculpting and buff out annoying fingerprints.

One thing to consider, though, when using cream is that you should probably wash your miniatures with soap and water after you’re done sculpting to remove any residual oil. That being said, I’ve been doing this for a while, and have sculpted bits on my whole Haemonculus Coven, and I’ve never had issues with primer adhering (I don’t wash my models). So, though I never bother with washing, it’s something you might like to consider.

Now Get Sculpting!

With these tools in hand, you are ready to start experimenting with greenstuff and taking it beyond simple gap filling on your models. However, this is just part one of a two-part series on sculpting and greenstuff. In my next article, I will impart my 4 Sculpting Caveats, which are meant to make the sculpting process a little less frustrating for new sculptors. I will also share a couple of hacks for making the most of your greenstuff.

Until then, please feel free to share any sculpting questions you might have, or your own tips for best tools. My goal with sharing these articles is to demystify sculpting and greenstuff so that more people will feel comfortable modifying their models or creating new ones from scratch!

See you next time!