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How To Improve Your Hobby Skills Through Sculpting 2 – Tips & Tricks

Hey, it’s Mr. Pink here again from the blog Modern Synthesist to share some more tips and tricks about How to Sculpt Miniatures. In my previous post, I outlined the basics tools you need to start sculpting and went into a bit of detail about how to use them. In this post, I want to impart my 4 Sculpting Caveats and a couple of tips and tricks or greenstuff hacks.

How to Improve Your Sculpting Skills by Mr. Pink

Sculpting Caveats

My 4 Sculpting Caveats are the following:

  1. Use Lubricant
  2. Be Patient
  3. Work in Levels
  4. You Need Practice

1) Use Lubricant

We kind of already covered this in the previous bit where I suggested that lubricant is a key part of your sculpting tool box. Greenstuff is so sticky that it is impossibly hard to work with if you don’t find a way to keep it from sticking to your tools or hands. The only further tips are that you should only use as much lubricant as you need, and you need to keep the lubricant mostly on your tools/hands and not on the models or putty you’re using.

For example, I don’t want to get my cream all over the model or putty, so when I’m first kneading the putty and placing a ball of it on the model, I use water to lubricate my hands and tools. Water won’t cling to either the putty or the model, and it dries pretty quickly. Only once I’ve successfully attached the putty I’m working with to the model do I put a thin skein of cream on my tool, wiping any excess off on my hand.

2) Be Patient

Many a sculpting project has been marred by trying to do too much at one time. You get a bit of detail perfect on the model’s face…

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

…and then you go to sculpt a bit on its leg, but—WOOPS—you just mashed your finger into your carefully sculpted face detail while shifting your grip on the model!

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

DOH!

I speak from experience. I still do this from time to time when I’m excited to get one miniature done. Sure, if you’re fastidious about mounting your models on corks and never touching the actual model, you might not need to worry about this. However, no one is perfect, and it is never worth a big fat fingerprint where an awesome detail should be.

A little bit of patience in the short term will save you a lot of sanity in the long term.

I typically have a couple of projects I’m working on at once so that when I’m happy with a detail on Model A, I can set it down and switch to sculpting on Model B to allow Model A plenty of time to dry. The working time of Epoxy putty is 2-3 hours, so I’d recommend setting a model aside for at least 2 hours before going back to it and sculpting something else. If in doubt, check if the putty is dry by prodding it gently with a tool. There’s a way to speed up the drying process, but I’ll get to that below.

3) Work in Levels

I think a lot of people get frustrated with greenstuff because they take a big lump of it, plunk it on a model, and assume they’re going to sculpt a head/shoulder plate/whatever from scratch. However, greenstuff is very pliable in its workable state, so if you’re working on a big hunk of it, without a solid structure beneath to work against, it has a habit of distorting and stretching.

To remedy this, build your greenstuff up in layers, allowing time for each layer to fully set before you start on the next, and add fine details only in the very topmost layer.

If you’re sculpting thin things that stick out from the model, like arms, tails, or weapons, start with an armature: a piece of strong wire that you bend into the rough shape of the thing you want to sculpt.

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

Then add a layer of greenstuff to rough in the shape of the appendage, and allow this to set.

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

This combination of a wire armature with cured, hardened greenstuff over it, makes the wire less likely to bend and the greenstuff less likely to snap. Once you’ve got the wire armature reinforced with a layer of fully set greenstuff, you can go back and sculpt in final details and sharp edges with your final layer.

If you’re sculpting bigger things onto the body of the model, rough in their size and detail with one layer of greenstuff, allow it to set, then sculpt in the fine details and sharp edges using a subsequent layer.

In both these examples, your greenstuff work is less likely to distort or warp because you are working with a solid backing. What’s more, in both of these cases the cheap and plentiful Apoxie Sculpt I highlighted earlier is the perfect material for your roughed-in base layer, and then you can sculpt over it (once it’s cured) with a thinner layer of greenstuff to add the details. Here’s an example of how I did that on my Tyranid Dominatrix from a Hierodule project.

First, I created a wire armature for the hand, then blocked in the palm with apoxie sculpt:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

I let this set, then went back to add the details to the hand using Greenstuff:

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

4) You Need Practice

If you think you’re going to become a greenstuff whiz by reading some articles on the net or watching some YouTube tutorials, I’m sorry to disappoint, but it’s not a realistic goal. It might seem like an obvious conclusion, but the only way to get good at sculpting is by DOING IT. All of the tips I’m sharing in these articles are meant to give you the most solid basis possible for starting your sculpting journey, but, at the end of the day, you’re the one who needs to step up and try it out on some models.

I’m only as good at sculpting as I am because I’ve been practicing (and failing!) for years. Don’t believe me? Well here’s some proof.

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

Exhibit A: My first ever attempt at sculpting a Tyranid Dominatrix from a Forge World Heirodule model. Impressive scale, but not a sculpting job that’s going to win any awards. You can see this was done in 2007.

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

Exhibit B: My second attempt at sculpting a Tyranid Dominatrix from a Forge World Heirodule model. This one was done a year after the first, applying everything I’d learned from sculpting the first one. And, with a proper paint job from Moloch, that one DID actually win a Golden Demon 😀 (If you’re interested, you can read my full article on Creating a Dominatrix from a Hierodule)

Modern Synthesist Sculpting Skills

What I’m trying to illustrate is that no one is born as a natural sculptor. Anyone you’ve seen who can do eye-watering greenstuff work is someone who, at one point, produced a bunch of really rough, finger-print-studded, greenstuff duds at one point in their career! So, once again, the only way to get better at sculpting is by picking up your tools, digging out those old ork models you never threw away, and experimenting with some actual sculpting.

Greenstuff Hacks

The 4 Caveats outlined above will get you most of the way they when it comes to handling epoxy putty without tearing your hair out. However, I’ve been gifted two other hacks that focus on extending the life of greenstuff so you can buy less of it and get a longer lifespan on the putty you mix.

Greenstuff Hack: Mixing Greenstuff with Apoxie Sculpt

In my first article, I mentioned how Apoxie Sculpt is a cheaper and more plentiful alternative to greenstuff. Though it has its own properties that differ from greenstuff, the two are, essentially interchangeable. In fact, they’re so close in terms of application and chemical composition that you can combine them!

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

Why would you ever want to combine greenstuff and apoxie putty you ask?

The main reason I do it is that it makes my somewhat pricey greenstuff stretch further. Everything I sculpt these days is made of a 1:1 mix of greenstuff and apoxie putty. This hybrid putty, which I’ve dubbed Apoxie Green (TM), has all of the benefits of the two putties with none of their weaknesses. It also means that I use half as much greenstuff as I usually would by diluting it with the cheaper apoxie sculpt.

In general, I would definitely recommend everyone pick up some Apoxie Sculpt. You get so much of it for such a reasonable price that I feel like it inspires me to try out bigger projects without worrying about wasting putty if they come out horribly. I’ve been able to use it to great effect in creating Tyranid scenery, for example.

Modern Synthesist Tyranid Barricades

Modern Synthesist Tyranid Mycetic Spores

Greenstuff Hack: Use Hot and Cold

The chemical process that causes all epoxy putties to cure is affected by hot and cold. High temperatures cause the putty to set faster, and cold temperatures cause the putty to set slower.

If you’re in a hurry and want your sculpting to harden quicker, you can place your sculpted model close to a halogen lamp. However, don’t do this with sculpted details on plastic or resin models as the heat will also warp the plastic!

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

If you want your putty to last longer, you can decrease the temperature of it. This might not seem like a very useful application as no one wants to be sculpting in an icebox. However, where this fact is very useful is in extending the life of putty you’ve mixed up from 2-3 hours to 1-2 days.

This, I feel, is one of the most game-changing revelations about epoxy putty and greenstuff. I used to waste so much of the stuff because I would mix too much and not be able to use it all before it set. Now, whenever I start sculpting, I portion my extra greenstuff into even sized balls…

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

…Dump them into a small, sealed container…

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

…and drop them in the freezer.

Modern Synthesist How to use epoxy putty

Then, as you’re moving through your sculpting queue, you can remove the greenstuff one ball at a time, leaving the rest in the freezer.

If you get the putty into the freezer right away, and you have a particularly cold freezer, I’ve been able to pop the stuff out and use it as much as 2 days later. You might even be able to stretch it to three, but I’d say that’s pushing it a bit. Best thing to do is test the putty, and if it feels like it’s getting too hard, chuck it all and mix some more.

With these two hacks in your back pocket, you should start to get a lot more mileage out of your greenstuff. If you’d like to read some more of my thoughts on the Caveats or Greenstuff Hacks, check out my post How to Sculpt Miniatures 3: Sculpting Skills.

Go Get Sculpting!

Now that you’ve got the basics for pushing putty, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t get out there and try some sculpting for yourself!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my two articles on greenstuff skills and sculpting. Like I’ve mentioned, there’s a lot more where that came from on Modern Synthesist under the How to Sculpt Miniatures series.

I’m also trying to come up with some more ideas for this series, so if there’s anything you’d like to know about sculpting, please share your questions below. Additionally, if there are specific things you’d like to learn how to sculpt (like stitches, or spinal columns, or musculature or whatever), please share those suggestions, and I’ll see if I can whip up some more detailed tutorials for everyone 🙂

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  • Articles like this bring me one step closer to trying my hand at proper sculpting things and not just filling in the gaps.

    • Agreed, Mr. Pink makes it look so simple 🙂 But I agree with his comment about it just takes practice and time.

      • I will find a model some day that requires it and just dive in. Until then I have this saved.

        • Honestly, Rory, the sooner you try it, the sooner you’ll start to grow as a sculptor 😀

          • Not sure how much I need to grow as a sculptor 😉

          • Well if you do the Magnus riding a Sphinx idea I planted, it may need a bit of gs magic 🙂

  • D Power

    Very informative, and relatable too, particularly the elusive thumb print scenario. I guess it’s good to know you’ve just got to git gud, even muggles like me can become the next Michelangelo if I only practice! The apoxie hack is a new one on me too.

    • too many times has my thumb caused, um, extra practice…

      • D Power

        Well, that’s one way to look a it!

    • The easiest way to avoid thumbprints is to scale back on how much you’re trying to sculpt at once. Or, if it’s a matter of sculpting on small, fiddly bits that you need to hold while sculpting, pin them, and stick the pin in your pin vice, or a cork, so you can hold on to the pin vice or cork, not the component.

  • Learning to work in layers was one of those revelations that was a game-changer for me. I was guilty of trying to create a masterpiece in one blob of green stuff, which of course never worked. I learned the hard way to use layers, and it probably is the best single piece of advice when it comes to sculpting.

    • very good point indeed. I know for me, it was looking at finished sculpted pieces and it looks like one masterful piece so it made sense to try to do everything at once. But just like painting is done in layers of dried paint, it’s much easier to build up putt as well.

    • YES! I believe there are two reasons people become frustrated with greenstuff and give up:

      1) They don’t use lubricant, and the greenstuff is too sticky. #SculptingRageQuit

      2) They try to sculpt all their detail at once from one big lump of greenstuff, and the stuff starts shifting and distorting and getting finger prints. #SculptingRageQuit

      The four tips I share here are what you need to eliminate 94% of the frustration from sculpting. The rest comes from practice.

      • Haha #SculptingRageQuit for sure. I had a couple of ideas that I gave up on because of that… but perhaps it is time to give it a try again. Armed with these great tips I think it will go a bit better.

  • Wonderful stuff. Thanks so much for contributing with this great article. Saved this to read over later in more detail!

    • Glad you appreciate it, Greggles, but your real homework is to dig out a crumby model and try sculpting something onto it!

  • Grenn Dal

    Great info. I still am not cofortable sculpting things.