Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Woodland Creatures - Fey Project, Part 1

My latest project is the result of a very special request. I am working on a display piece, based on one of Reaper Miniatures' Warlord figures. The request was to paint up a fairy, or similar creature of the wilds, and this figure fits the bill. As an added bonus, I am experimenting with large-scale display base construction, using Super Sculpey polymer clay. This installment will focus mostly on that. Future entries will cover paint and other basing work.

Super Sculpey is a a bakeable clay. The polymer remains pliable and sculptable for months, or even years, left on its own. To harden it, you need to make it in a 140°C (275°F) oven for 15-20 minutes. That alone makes it way different from the two-part epoxy putties that I am used to, and that is not the only difference...

Nearly every figure I have ever painted has been based to allow its use as a gaming miniature. For this project, I instead began with a wooden display stand, and began to build the Sculpey terrain up from there.

I started out by test-fitting the miniature to the base and marking roughly how I wanted to position it in the final piece. Note that, at this stage, I hadn't decided on the final Sculpey design, but I know that there would be at least 4-6mm of material between the wood base and the metal figure.

To help hold things together in the final piece, I glued a length of brass wire into the wood. The plan was to sculpt the base around the wire and have that pierce the Sculpey, running straight into the figure's foot.

Sculpey is not very sturdy, and I knew I would need to remove it from the wood block to safely fire it. The tip I had from ReaperCon was to make sure I built the thing up in a moderately think layer, say 4-6mm. Any details or terrain could be built on top of that. In this case, I built the whole thing as a gentle slope, and inserted another brass post into the base to serve as an armature to hold up a larger terrain feature.

I noticed that Sculpey is substantially stiffer than uncured green stuff, and also less elastic. In fact, the texture is a bit like a soft wax. That makes it less prone to springing back from a new shape, and easier to work with in large blobs. On the other hand, it is also less able to hold fine details, and it is harder to work incrementally, since no part will harden on its own. You need to bake the piece all at once. To add to it, you, essentially, need to sculpt new parts and then glue them onto the existing parts.

I made the main focal point of the base (aside from the miniature) a large tree stump. Adding, and its sprawling root system, allowed me to frame the piece, and set a bit of a scene around the main subject. I may also wind up extending the roots down along the wood base using green stuff later to tie the whole thing together. I haven't decided yet. As you may guess from the picture above, I was able to pop the sculpted base off the wooden substrate surprisingly easily.

Once sculpted, I placed the base onto a metal tray and ran it off to the oven to fire. The baking process was a touch nerve wracking, since the Sculpey does not change appearance all that radically while it bakes, but I have heard that it is possible to burn it, if you bake it long enough. I basically left it in the oven until my nerve gave out, and declared it done. It was reasonably hard, but nowhere near the durability of green stuff.

I think that'll be all for now. Stay tuned for the next installment!

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