Guide to Thames Foreshore locations

I’ve started to hunt on the Thames Foreshore again, the first chance I’ve had since the beginning of the year. But before I get too wrapped up in the promising present, I wanted to put some of the work I did in January to rest. I say ‘work’ because I worked hard to justify the time I was spending and to put my obsession to good use. The only solution for self-indulgence is to share it! So I developed the idea that I could create my own artificed version of my Thames Foreshore experience .. a collection of small cast and painted forms which could pile together like a diverse, colourful and symbolic shingle, and which could be .. perhaps quite literally .. sold by the ounce! For the moment I’m calling this rather prosaically my Thames Foreshore Collection.

So in the folder Thames Foreshore above, which I added last year but has remained practically empty, I’ve added my project log. I had also got somewhat sidetracked into feeling that an organised account of each foreshore location I visited would be worthwhile. So I’ve also put the beginnings of those there. As always this was as much for myself as anyone else, because I needed first of all to decipher and pinpoint where the access points actually were from the outdated guidance; to remind myself of notable hazards; to remind myself of any aspects of local history which could be relevant to what might be found below, and lastly to record the things I’d not only found but experienced there.

I’ve started each location write-up by marking the precise access point on Google maps, together with photos of the steps and immediate foreshore terrain. After a short listing of any ‘Hazards’ there’s a summary of local history where I’ve included sections of a very detailed Ordnance Survey map from the 1860s as an indication of the past life of the area. For example, here is the Google map entry showing the location of Horn Stairs in Rotherhithe; followed by a section from the 1860s OS map detailing the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard as was, in the Deptford/Surrey Quays area, and a photo of the entry gate to the steps at Greenwich Power Station.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, location of Horn Stairs (Google Maps), Thames Foreshore, Surrey Docks

Thames Forshore, Upper Watergate upstream 3, Thames Foreshore, Deptford

David Neat, Thames foreshore access at Greenwich Power Station

Where I’ve found interesting images to illustrate the history I’ve included them, such as this rendition of the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, formerly on the site which became the Royal Naval College, now University of Greenwich.

Palace of Placentia Greenwich in 1560

Then for each location there are the ‘Opportunities’ afforded, and I’ve started to illustrate some of these with the things I’ve been able to find so far. I’ve put up what I can for the moment, but there’s a lot more waiting to be added.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, early 18th century clay pipe

Such as .. a portion of 18th century clay pipe found at Enderby’s Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula, and the shingle bank underneath Morden Wharf nearby.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, shingle at Morden Wharf

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, frost on shingle Greenwich beach December 2016

Winter frost on the beach at Greenwich and an unusually large piece of pottery dug out of the mud there.

David Neat, large potsherd, Thames foreshore Greenwich, unidentified pottery sherd on-site record as found

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, large piece of coral (ship's ballast), Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

Coral, weathered bricks and flints, and buried ship timbers at Rotherhithe; lastly the remains of a present-day offering to the river at Surrey Quays.

brick and flint forms, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, buried ship's timber, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, river offering, Thames Foreshore, Deptford

 

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Making a simple all-purpose modelling tool

I’ve seen these coloured ‘lolly sticks’ in the past in places like The Works but recently I saw that Poundland also has them. I’ve found these very useful for making quick, all-purpose modelling tools when I have been teaching large groups. I don’t know exactly what the wood is but even though soft it can take a fair amount of pressure while working because it is pliable .. best though with fairly yielding modelling materials such as fresh natural clay, properly conditioned Super Sculpey, soft modelling wax or warmed plasticine.

Poundland wooden lolly sticks

Basically, what one needs from a single tool for fine modelling are the following .. a fine blade-like point and edge; a more rounded point and edge; a flat spatula-like end with rounded edges. With this combination one can achieve a lot .. but of course not all! This tool is for pushing, impressing and dragging, but it’s not designed for scooping i.e. removing clay. A separate type of tool is needed for this, shown later.

Here below are the simple stages in making, shown from top to bottom. First a pointed end is made by slicing off at an angle, to a little less than half-way along the stick. As said, the wood is soft and easy to cut, not brittle, with a fairly fine grain. The cut edge then needs chamfering down (sanding at an angle) on both sides, to make the blade-like cutting or scoring edge .. any sandpaper would work but I used a fairly coarse one, i.e. P80 first . I’ve also rounded all other edges, especially giving the opposite end a smoother shape. All that was then needed was a careful rub-over with fine sandpaper or sanding-pad, shown below, until completely smooth. I didn’t find it necessary to oil or varnish the surface to seal it .. at least, if one mainly works with polymer clays or waxes the bare wood will quickly get a protective patina, as shown by the slightly darker tone of the used tool below.

stages in making an all-purpose modelling tool

It’s a funny thing .. I must have almost a hundred different modelling tools, bought over many years, but I often end up just using this one, partly because of the range of marks it can make but also maybe because, having designed and made it myself .. I feel I truly ‘own’ it.

variety of toolmarks made in Sculpey

Here are some other self-made tools for fine modelling .. using standard dowel from model shops, which I’m guessing is probably birch for the thinner, pine or ramin for the thicker. I’ve carefully drilled most of these at both ends (Dremel, 0.5-1mm drill bits) so that metal can be inserted. Shown at the top, I’ve fixed a slightly bent pin in one end and an ‘L’ of ‘piano wire’ in the other. Piano wire is very hard spring steel, available down to 0.4mm thickness from 4D modelshop. As with all of these shown, I’ve used a 2-part epoxy glue to secure the metal inserts. For the next down I’ve inserted the ends of a plastic cocktail stick.

Next is a collection of fine ‘scoopers’ made by bending 0.4mm piano wire into various shapes and inserting into the wood. I found that they needed to be strengthened by mounding the epoxy glue over the insertion point. Only piano wire will work, as ordinary wire will not be rigid enough under pressure. This type of tool is important because one can only achieve so much by displacing the modelling material .. one will often need to cleanly remove it. Last of all here, I found that LEDs make perfectly round and smooth impressions and they also come in a variety of sizes.

a selection of self-made modelling tools

 

5 favorited in January – VandA Collections, Nikon Microscopy, CGTextures, Nick Cave, Anatomy For Sculptors

V&A Collections

VandA Collections Search

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

The Victoria and Albert Museum is Britain’s flagship museum of historical and contemporary art and design, and one of the world’s largest collections of its kind. Its online database contains almost half a million images which can be searched by keyword. If you’re looking for something very specific it’s best to enter general keywords first .. i.e. ‘armchair’, which will bring up thousands .. and then refine from the drop-down choices given. Medium-size images can be easily saved by right-clicking, but high resolution versions are also available for personal or academic use on signing up. Although the choice has its limits, the main advantage of using this first over Google is that one will receive accurate and often detailed background information including provenance, dimensions, makers and materials. It is particularly useful for furniture or prop research as many of the entries include multiple views and detail close-ups.

18thc side table

Above and below  Decorative side table, mid 18th c, originally from Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire. England/Italy (base designed by the architect Henry Flitcroft 1734-1743, table top made in Italy 1726). Photos © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

18thc side table detail

 

Nikon Microscopy

Ralph Grimm 'Chrysopa (lacewing)'

http://www.microscopyu.com/

Nikon’s Small World Competition was established in 1977 and has taken place every year since, featuring the best and often the most beautiful examples of photography through the microscope. The Small World image gallery contains all the prize-winning and commended entries for each competition since it began.

Stephen Nagy 'Section of diseased ivory'

Apart from this the site is a textbook resource for those involved with microscopy and contains a huge amount of technical information which will be far beyond the casual visitor. However, the brief summaries of the different imaging techniques employed are clearly written and well worth looking at. The site is a must for anyone interested in the subject, whether professionally or otherwise.

Jacek Myslowski 'Acari (arachnid)'

Photos are from Top Ralph Grimm ‘Chrysopa (lacewing) head’ 130x reflected light, image stacking Middle Dr Stephen Nagy ‘Section of diseased ivory’ 15x polarized light Bottom Jacek Myslowski ‘Acari (arachnid)’ 100x polarized and oblique light

 

CGTextures

CGTextures homescreen

http://www.cgtextures.com/

This is a huge, free database of photographed textures, in its own words ‘striving to be the world’s best texture site’ and in my opinion succeeding! It is founded/managed by Marcel Vijfwinkel and Wojtek Starak in the Netherlands and has been conscientiously maintained and added to for a number of years now.  What characterizes the site .. apart from its vast range! .. is its simplicity and fairness. Basically it allows any form of private or commercial use unless the texture image itself is just being re-sold unmodified or bundled with a product as it is .. but you need to read the ‘Conditions of Use’ because it can get complicated! You have to register for free membership which allows up to 15mb per day or paid membership starts at 100mb. There are more than 100,000 real surfaces to choose from, organized into clear categories, and most are available in resolutions up to around 3,000 x 2,000 for free. It’s well worth a look in the ‘Showcase’ section to see how CG artists utilize these textures. During its development CGTextures accepted masses of photo contributions from enthusiasts (and these are dutifully still credited on the site) but now it has a select team of photographers which include the founders. There are also some useful tutorials, including tips on how to take one’s own surface photos properly.

CGTextures 'rust' album

 

Nick Cave

sd_nickcave_0309

http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/nick-cave/

Why should the fashion and performance designer Nick Cave adjust his name just because there’s a famous musician with the same one? That was the second thing that impressed me about Nick Cave .. for the first I just had to get a glimpse of his truly extraordinary work! He’s one of these artists that makes you sit up and wonder what else you might be missing .. I’m dumbfounded that I hadn’t heard of his work until last year although he has been exhibiting his ‘Soundsuits’ since 1999. These are costumes designed to be performed in, but are often exhibited as sculptures. Nick Cave spent some time as a dancer before turning to the visual/design aspect and is currently a Professor of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photos courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

NickCave4

 

Anatomy For Sculptors

Anatomy For Sculptors 'Main landmarks of back of the torso'

https://www.anatomy4sculptors.com/

There are a great many figure reference sites out there, most having similar names, but this one struck me as one of the most organized and .. there’s no better word .. sensible! It concentrates on the fundamentals one needs to know rather than merely re-trawling from the vast sea of figure photos like the others do and it instructs mainly through diagrams, keeping text to the minimum. Because of this you need to study the visuals to understand what is being said, but that’s a great deal of the point .. and it’s well worth it! Some may find it a bit simplistic, and some may disagree with the choice of priorities, but I can say that these visuals have been useful for me and they have stuck in my memory while working.

Anatomy For Sculptors '3D scan of middle-aged woman'

I’ve always found 3D figure scans a particularly valuable source of reference and the site makes good use of these for some of its illustrations.

Modelling with Milliput

Here is the page on Milliput I’ve just completed for the Modelling part of the Materials section. It’s a summary of all you’ll need to know about this modelling material, together with a few suggestions re. similar products. I only discovered recently that Milliput can be pushed .. if heated carefully with a heat gun .. to cure rock-hard within minutes.

My page entries are usually meant to be added to and often start with general outline information, price guidance, suppliers and useful links followed by my worklog where I can put further info and photos when I have them.

Definition

Milliput is a 2-part, very hard-setting epoxy modelling putty, available in two fineness grades and a few different colours. It is most suitable for small, delicate work. ‘Standard’ Milliput is a light yellow/grey colour when mixed while the extra-fine grade is white. When equal amounts of both parts are thoroughly blended together (until the colour is uniform) the putty begins to harden, not requiring additional heat to cure. It remains easy to model for around 40-60mins, after which it gets gradually more ‘rubbery’ (but see below for making use of these changes while modelling).

Milliput standard grade

Advantages of using it

It sets much harder and stronger than most other modelling materials .. stronger than fully baked Sculpey for example .. and this final hardness is not dependent on bulk i.e. very small forms will cure just as hard as larger ones. This makes Milliput (more especially the fine white version) more ideal for delicate forms.

1:25 figures modelled in Milliput. First stage of modelling

The 1:25 figures above were modelled with a blend of ‘Terracotta’ and fine white Milliput. They represent the first modelling stage after completion of the wire armatures described in the post Modelling small-scale figures – Part 1: ‘twisted wire’ armature from March 2013.

Milliput sticks very well to a variety of materials, again unlike Sculpey, and is often used for repairs or as a gap-filling cement. It is commonly used in the restoration of antiques and art objects because of it’s high adherence and its strength when cured.

Once it has hardened it can be easily sanded and tooled (i.e. sawn, drilled), even carved with a scalpel. Scraping with the scalpel can work particularly well for fine smoothing once fully cured.

There is no noticeable shrinkage, and that coupled with its strength means that it’s very unlikely to crack.

Unlike most 2-part epoxy materials it can be used with water! This can be used to help smooth the surface while modelling, or water can even be mixed in to make a softer paste i.e. to use as a gap-filling cement or to join Milliput parts while working. But Vaseline on the fingers can also be effective for fine smoothing, as is methylated spirits.

When used as directed and left to cure on its own it will harden more quickly than air-drying modelling materials, reaching an apparent full hardness in 3-4 hours (though full curing will continue for a few more). However, this can also be accelerated by using heat and, with care, Milliput can be rendered rock-hard in a matter of minutes (see .. below). Even if the advantage of heating is not taken up, benefit should be made of the fact that it will start to become firmer after about 40mins .. so for example basic modelling could be done first and then later, when this becomes a firmer support and the surface less sticky, detail modelling can be easier.

What it can’t do

It is very sticky when first mixed, noted above as an advantage, but this also means that it can clog the fingers annoyingly while modelling .. when I’m working with it I need to have a moistened flannel on hand to keep them clean.

Even in its freshly mixed state, Milliput has more ‘push-back’ than modelling wax or Super Sculpey .. i.e. it is slightly rubbery. This increases as it cures and starts to get firmer, so for example after a full hour impressions can still be made with modelling tools but they will diminish a little as the material springs back.

Because of the cost relative to other modelling materials Milliput is not a viable option for large work (see cost comparison of different modelling materials in Modelling and shaping, part of the Making realistic models series in the Methods section).

What it costs and where to get it

Milliput is sold in most good art or hobby shops such as Tiranti, 4D  Price (2014) c.£2.28-£5.06 (Tiranti) per 113g packet dependant on type (ranging from standard to fine grade and colours e.g. terracotta, black). See ‘Quick view materials info’ for ‘modelling’ in the ‘Materials’ section for current suppliers and prices.

Working life

According to the manufacturer it has a shelf life of c. 2yrs if stored cool, dry, sealed in polythene bags provided.. but see notes below.

Further info sources

http://www.milliput.com

http://www.mbfgfiles.co.uk/docs/milliput_tech.pdforklog

Worklog

July 2013

At the time of writing I have not found any other epoxy putty to compare with it. You may come across similar looking 2-part epoxy putties in DIY shops but these are not marketed as ‘modelling’ material and tend to be even more expensive. An exception may be Magic Sculp which looks promising but I’ve yet to try it .. see below July 2014.

Apparently the setting of Milliput can be speeded to just a few minutes by applying heat (Tiranti website) .. but see June 2014 below. Best method of mixing; portion equal amounts and press these together, then roll this into a long ‘string’, gather up and twist together then roll long string again .. repeat etc. After 3-4 hrs hardening, it needs at least the same amount of time to fully cure. Heat resistant up to 130C. Can be coloured by blending in powder pigment (or even oil paint, or spirit-based colourants) while mixing. Different Milliput versions are intermixable but also resin or hardener parts between them (as long as one knows which is which) are interchangeable. The ‘hardener’ is usually the darker of the two and will develop a resinous crust over time. If used as a press-casting material, ‘talc or a light oil’ can be used as a releasing agent according to the Milliput website. Another tip from this website is that, if you have to interrupt work during modelling, it will keep in its uncured state for up to 36hrs if put in the freezer.

How to model with Milliput Use should be made of the fact that Milliput will change in consistency as it cures i.e. for the first 30mins rough build-up when at it’s softest, after which fine detail especially imprinting and smoothing are easier once its getting firm. Carving can be done after c. 2-3 hrs when almost set, then sanding/filing after 3-4hrs.

Accelerating hardening 7/2013 ‘Tips’ found (not yet verified) include: baking in oven (max 50C) for 30mins. Since cured Milliput is heat-resistant up to 130C successive adding/baking is possible (but see later addition June 2014 below).

How long will Milliput remain usable? I recently made a test of some Milliput I’ve had for at least 10 years. In fact, I was going to throw it away because it had become rock-hard and the darker ‘hardener’ part (as I assume it to be) had developed a tough, resinous skin. I was surprised though that after managing to chop off two equal pieces and starting to squeeze them between the fingers they became softer and eventually soft enough to start mixing together. For this first test I left the tough skin on, believing that it might still blend, but it remained as small hard granules.

mixing Milliput

Above, my usual method of mixing Milliput is first to combine the two parts roughly and then start rolling the mass into a long thin string, which I then divide, twist the strands together and then repeat a few times until the colour is even. The hard fragments of skin remained so I tried chopping and pressing the mixture on a tile in case that got rid of them.

mixing Milliput_2

It didn’t help much, so I stopped blending (it had taking altogether about 20 minutes) and left the piece to harden, below. The consistency was not good (compared to fresh Milliput), ok perhaps for rough work but rather fibrous and prone to fissuring when stretched.

10 year old Milliput

I did another test but this time peeling off the crust from the darker Milliput stick, just using what remained. This mixed very smoothly, a little harder than new Milliput but still a good, smooth consistency, below. I needed 10 minutes to mix it thoroughly.

crust removed before mixing

I’ve never properly timed the setting of Milliput up to now and I’m glad I did that with these tests because I’ve generally been telling people that they have about an hour to model with it. In fact it’s much longer .. if one can make use of the changes to model differently (and later carve) as it toughens. I made a further control test using new Milliput in addition to the two above.

10 year old Milliput with ‘skin’ included After 1 hour firmer but still could be kneeded and modelled; less sticky, and ideal in this state for impressing with tools; little rubbery ‘springback’ as yet i.e. marks made with tools stay as made. After 2 hours no longer easily kneeded or modelled, but still very flexible; still easily cutable with a knife; still good for impressing though slight ‘springback’ i.e. marks made with tools fill in a little; easier to smooth the surface without distorting the form.

10 year old Milliput with ‘skin’ discarded After 1 hour same as above. After 2 hours same as above, though a little firmer and impressions spring back more

Both tests After 3 hours still cutable with a knife; still bendable, but no longer mouldable; can be squeezed but springs back like rubber and impressions do not hold; very good for carving. After 4.5 hours like tire rubber; ideal state for carving

New Milliput thorough blending took 10 minutes. After 1 hour still very soft, a little firmer, a little less sticky. After 2 hours still mouldable and very flexible; cutable with a knife; still takes impressions well with minimal springback, but fissures occur when trying to ‘smear’. After 3 hours no longer mouldable; still flexible and cutable but impressions do not hold.

7/2013 the nationwide £shop chain ’99p Stores’ now stock a form of mixable epoxy putty from the ‘Do It Right’ brand. This is packaged in small, pre-portioned pellets which one just has to blend together. Each pellet is c. 4g and there are 8 to a pack so this doesn’t work out any cheaper than standard Milliput.. just could be easier to get hold of on the ‘high street’. It has different properties though, as one can guess from the smell which is more like regular epoxy glue than Milliput. For a start it’s much softer and stickier when first mixed (so much so that using one’s fingers becomes rather difficult) and there’s a graininess that doesn’t really disappear. The only other possible advantage (depending on what you use it for) is that it sets up much quicker than Milliput; in my test it was a bit too firm to model with after 15 minutes and had reached almost complete hardness after 2 hours. When fully cured it was also very strong. It may be ideal as a gap-filling glue or repair medium, but not so good for modelling.

'Do It Right' putty

The mixed test piece above was gently flattened and pulled out in the same way as the Milliput tests but the graininess and fissuring are apparent here.

Heating Milliput

June 22 2014

The Milliput website (address in the main text above) mentions that the curing of Milliput can be accelerated with heat but goes no further in explaining how much heat or how much quicker this can be. I recently did my own test .. mixing up a little standard (yellow-grey) Milliput and quickly modelling a basic head, torso and arms on a very small (1:25) figure armature of twisted garden wire (see Modelling and shaping in the Making realistic models series in the Methods section). I used brand new Milliput, which was particularly soft. For a heat source I used a Wagner brand ‘Heat Tool 400’ which is a hand-sized heat gun, not so available in the UK anymore but a similar type can be found in Hobbycraft. This type has only one heat setting and will deliver a temperature of up to 400 degrees C, but this represents the local temperature reached if it is focused on a spot for a length of time, and it is normal to keep the heat gun and/or the victim moving, when baking Super Sculpey for example, because otherwise it will quickly burn!

I held the heat gun at a careful distance of c.20cm from the figure parts and moved it back and forth while also rotating the figure slowly. I estimated that it had been about 15-20mins since the Milliput had been mixed. I noticed after about 10secs that the Milliput surface was starting to ‘bubble’ very slightly and appeared to expand a little, but when I took the heat gun away the bubbles disappeared. From that point I was very careful, heating very slowly and I noticed that gradually I could move the heat gun closer without the surface blistering. I gave it around 5mins heat gun treatment all over, then left it to cool down. On cooling the figure was rock-hard, just as if left to cure normally and carving with the scalpel showed no weaknesses in the surface.

The hardened Milliput showed no signs of the earlier blistering. Gentle, more gradual heating may have solved this; or starting with a lower temperature then building up. It may also be prevented if the material is allowed to cure a little more first i.e. 30mins after mixing rather than 20, or older Milliput may even react better .. I’m guessing now, it’s something I intend to test so if you want to try this method it would be worth doing the same first.

July 2 2014

http://www.magicsculp.co.uk

From what I’ve recently read Magic Sculp may be well worth trying! It sounds identical to Milliput in all respects .. working/hardening time, water-solubility, toughness when cured, effect of heat etc. .. but with better price options. For example, when ordering from the UK website, a 200g packet will cost £8.40 inc. VAT and standard 3-4 day delivery is also free. This is more expensive than the best shop price (Tiranti) for the standard grade but cheaper than the other white or coloured types. Magic Sculp is available in natural/grey, white, flesh colour or black .. all the same grade. The natural/grey is perhaps a comfort for those who may be slightly sickened by the ‘yellow/grey’ weirdness of standard Milliput. But the advantages over Milliput may increase if one needs larger amounts. For example 1.6kg will cost £34.99 including VAT and delivery, giving a price of £2.47 per weight of a Milliput pack, for a product which is, according to others .. finer, softer and in colours!

Magic Sculp like Milliput, is a UK product. I rang the manufacturer and I was told that the reason why there’s a ‘Magic Sculp’ here and a ‘Magic Sculpt’ in the US .. with a ‘t’ added, if you didn’t spot it! .. is that the US firm copied the UK product and the agreement was reached that ‘Magic Sculpt’ would only be sold in the US. I was also told that Magic Sculp is softer to work with than Milliput because it contains less clay filler. As I’ve said, I haven’t worked with it yet, though I certainly intend to .. so you’ll have to judge for yourself how it compares. If there’s anything you think I should know, I’d be happy to hear it!

Update to ‘modelling wax’ info page

At the moment I’m working on a number of new posts, after quite a long time not being able to write because of teaching, and these will include .. methods of hollow casting in enclosed moulds i.e. not needing a pouring hole; basic working with Jesmonite; making a ‘strengthened’ silicone rubber mould i.e. not needing a supporting jacket .. all these are coming soon! But for the moment I’ve updated my modelling wax info page in the Materials section, because using the soft ‘Terracotta’ modelling wax for mould setup proved so successful during a recent Modelling, mouldmaking and casting course that I wanted to note it there, and include it as a post here! My additions to the modelling wax page also include the results of some tests I made on how to dissolve i.e. clean up modelling wax, and I’ve updated current prices etc., but here is a transcript of the part dealing with mouldmaking preparation:

Tiranti’s ‘Terracotta Wax’ is by far the best option I’ve found so far for mouldmaking setup .. i.e. either for embedding a prototype form half-way to create the first part of the mould, or for building temporary containment walls.

In the first place the wax is ready to use without too much ‘conditioning’ between the fingers .. it becomes very soft almost immediately. In the past I used standard plasticine (the Newplast type, in the long cellophaned packets) by default, and although this generally worked well enough it took a while to make soft enough to work with comfortably. Also, when it stuck to prototypes it was very stubborn, taking a lot of time and effort to remove it completely. Often (though not always) when silicone rubber was cured against it, residues of plasticine would remain like a crust on the cured silicone surface and again, although this could be removed it could take a lot of time and effort.

In a recent run of our Modelling, mouldmaking and casting course we gave all of the students ‘Terracotta Wax’ for embedding or setting up and on dismantling the first mould halves (in order to start the next) the wax came free like a dream and hardly any time was needed for cleaning up! I recommended a particular method though, which I want to illustrate here using photos of a similar setup I made yesterday.

setting up for mould jacket_1

The example above is, in this case, not the initial prototype form as you can see .. this has already been covered with silicone rubber and the setup here is for making the plaster or Jesmonite jacketing (also often called mother mould) to support the silicone part .. but this will still serve as illustration. The object first needs to be just securely rested on a baseboard in a sausage-ring of wax (note .. the baseboard must be large enough to accommodate all subsequent stages i.e. if this were the initial prototype the baseboard must be large enough for the silicone layer and then, later, making the harder jacket parts. Generally, for medium-size forms like this, 5-6cm space around should be enough). It is important that the object is just resting securely in the wax i.e. there is no need to press the wax forcibly into the object’s surface at this stage, just make sure that the object cannot move around.

setting up for mould jacket_2

This ring is then built up, as above, keeping the contact between object and wax to a minimum. Below, when the ’embedding line’ is reached, i.e. the line around the object which is meant to serve as a smooth barrier or containment wall, the topmost wax can be pressed and smoothed against the object’s surface. It only needs just a few mm of contact, as long as this layer is properly supported by the wax built up underneath. I’ve found that modelling wax, at least this particular one, can be smoothed much more readily with clean metal tools, tending to drag a little against the wooden ones. The most important factor at this stage is a ‘watertight’ seal between the wax wall and the object’s surface. This kind of barrier or containment wall just needs to be as smooth as shown i.e. certainly not perfectly!

As with the baseboard, a little forward-thinking is needed. The wax platform needs to be wide enough all-round for whatever will be applied to it i.e. in the case of starting with the initial prototype, both the silicone layer and then the subsequent mould jacket. But, unlike the baseboard, at least the platform can be extended later if need be.

setting up for mould jacket_3

Below, I have pressed natch marks in the wax around the form using a ball-headed modelling tool (these can often be found in modelling tool packs for cake decoration). These natch marks should not be too deep! Whatever material is going on top will reproduce these marks (and transfer corresponding ones to the other side of the mould when made) and they are simply there to locate the finished mould halves together properly. I’ve found that the modelling wax sticks much less to tools than plasticine, though about the same as Super Sculpey.

setting up for mould jacket_4

The final task in this setup is making a small vertical containment wall around the natch marks. For medium-size forms around 1cm distance from the object is sufficient. In this case building a wall was necessary because I was planning to start the mould jacket by pouring Jesmonite over the form.

‘Terracotta Wax’ sticks very readily to itself, much more so than either plasticine or especially Super Sculpey, partly perhaps because of its extreme softness! It was only necessary to press this wax strip lightly onto the platform to establish a proper seal. I’ve found the most effective wall is made by flattening a rolled strip of wax first (by pressing and turning over a few times) and then trimming the edges to a flat right-angle with a scalpel.

On the whole no release coatings are needed with this wax. It releases well from a variety of materials even if rough or porous, as long as it’s not deliberately worked into the surfaces. Most importantly silicone rubber will cure and detach cleanly from it. I have found that if Jesmonite is poured onto it and the mix is ‘polymer rich’ i.e. towards 2:1 powder to polymer liquid (the standard recommended for economy is 3:1), the wax can adhere to the cured Jesmonite in some places. But if this happens the wax is very easy to scrape off.

setting up for mould jacket_5

setting up for mould jacket_6

‘Model-making Basics’ – modelling and shaping

This is the third of five outline accounts dealing with what I consider to be the five defining areas of model-making work; main construction, fine construction, modelling/shaping, creating surfaces and painting. I’ve written these overviews in preparation for teaching sessions at RADA ( Royal Academy of Dramatic Art ) in London. So they’re tuned towards the specialities of theatre design model work, but most of the points will be relevant in general terms to model work in other disciplines. I’ve started with the general ‘themes’ or requirements of the subject .. in other words the ‘ways of thinking’ behind the practical work .. and this is followed by a selection of ‘ways of doing’ giving more specific and practical guidance on the materials and methods used.

As I see it, ‘modelling and shaping’ encompasses the making of any element in the model that cannot be achieved by methods of construction. That is, if a form or part of a form cannot be achieved by cutting sheets or strips of bought material and assembling the pieces, it means that it has to be either shaped or modelled. So for example this would include model figures and trees; forms of relief decoration which are more than just cut outs; the making of specialized forms such as globes, domes, bowls, niches; soft furniture such as armchairs, sofas .. I’m sure you get the idea! Some of these things can be bought, including figures or trees, but usually the likelihood that these are ‘just the thing’ is slim. It’s very easy to persuade oneself that it’s a good move if it will save hours or even days of time, so one should guard against ‘cheating’ oneself by compromising on what one really wants. Nevertheless it is worth knowing what the options are for a number of difficult forms, such as transparent globes or domes for example, because believe me unless you are a highly experienced maker there’s no easy way of making such things oneself. 1:25 scale figures can be bought and are often used, but again I’ve seen too many examples of their careless use in theatre design models to want to recommend this solution.

It’s expecting rather a lot of a theatre designer to be a good sculptor too, especially a good sculptor of miniatures! .. and modelling is traditionally the province of the sculptor. For this reason ways have to be found of keeping within one’s ‘comfort zone’ in terms of knowledge and skills. You can’t know and be able to do everything! There’s no such thing as ‘cheating’ here (except in the case of cheating yourself, as above). What counts is that you’ve done what you can to make the model look as you want it to look, and it conveys your design intentions, regardless of the means you’ve employed. Most ‘serious’ sculptors have tricks which they don’t like admitting to for whatever reason and a number of those are included here. But any method of getting the job done which you imagine a serious sculptor may frown on .. is most probably worth doing!

GENERAL APPROACH

The difference between ‘modelling’ and ‘shaping’

The main thing is .. ‘organic’ shapes with little geometric regularity such as human figures or trees are more easily modelled, whereas more streamlined forms such as domes or niches are more easily achieved by controlled shaping. Modelling is generally additive, usually starting with a support then adding an amount of soft material, then adding more, etc. .. modelling is ‘pushing a soft material around’ until it’s where you want it to be. Shaping, at least the kind I do with the materials I’ve chosen, is generally subtractive .. the form usually starting as a block which then has successive parts taken away from it until the intended form is all that’s left. One major consequence of this difference is that modelling can usually be back-tracked if a mistake is made whereas shaping usually cannot. If too much modelling material is added or if it ends up in the wrong place it can be removed or moved, whereas if too much is taken away when shaping wood or foam it can’t be put back. For this reason modelling feels more free, there’s room for improvisation and chance, and there’s room for taking risks and making mistakes because these can be smoothed away if they don’t work. In fact modelling has to progress in this manner. Shaping on the other hand needs a different ‘mindset’ .. it needs to be more anticipated and must be quite tightly planned, leaving little room for chance or experiment.

Choices of modelling material

Of all the materials for modelling available now, natural clay remains the most reliable and versatile, in addition to being the cheapest by far. In its fresh state it is one of the softest, smoothest, and can be made more ‘liquid’ very easily, so it can be almost ‘smeared’ on when fresh, and successive layers fuse with each other readily. As it loses water it firms up, allowing more detailed modelling, and even fine carving at the so-called ‘leather hard’ stage. But as it dries it also shrinks and cracks, small forms are very fragile when dry if left un-fired, and larger forms are heavy .. so unfortunately it’s not suitable for model-making. But a number of different modelling materials have been developed which either remain in a soft, workable state for much longer or harden by themselves.These have a range of different properties, but they can basically be grouped into three categories (though some overlap more than one). Incidentally, I’m just going to say ‘clay’ from now on in place of ‘modelling material’ as a general term.

There are the plasticine clays which remain soft and workable almost indefinitely, even after long exposure to the air. Most of them cannot be made hard and durable. Their basis is usually an oil or wax (at least something other than water) and a filler, such as finely powdered natural clay or talc. Examples modelling wax, plasticine, Chavant, plastilene, etc. Polymer clays such as Super Sculpey can be hardened and more properly belong to the third group, but if they’re not baked they will remain workable for as long, at least as long as plasticine. In my experience modelling wax is the leader of this group .. at room temp firm but softens quickly, does not stick to fingers, can be smoothed with hot tools. Many waxes can be melted to a liquid state in order to be poured into a shape (only some ‘plasticines’ can, such as the American Van Arken brand). Here in the UK the ‘Newplast’ type of plasticine in long blocks is probably the easiest clay to obtain, and relatively cheap at an average of £1.80 for 500g. It is easy to model with, although when very soft I find it too sticky .. it gunges up finger-tips and is not ideal when impressing with texturing tools etc. Importantly though, plasticine will accept coats of Pva wood glue, which toughen the surface and allow it to be painted. Pva wood glue contracts a great deal as it dries so there is usually no danger of losing detail in the modelling, even after more than one coat.

Modelling waxes

Modelling waxes, plasticines and polymer clays all come in different hardnesses .. at least, certain brands do. Above are two types of modelling wax, the brown one very soft like natural clay and the white one much firmer. For more on working with these see Modelling wax in the Materials /- modelling section.

There is a significant, but subtle, difference between modelling waxes and plasticines in terms of their surface behaviour when being modelled, which some may find fairly crucial but others may not. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but on the whole modelling waxes have less elasticity meaning for example that if you impress a cocktail stick against the surface you will get an exact groove with quite hard edges. If you do the same with plasticine (and particularly Super Sculpey, which is even more elastic) you will also get an exact groove but the edges will be more rounded because the material there has been pulled down a bit. In other words, plasticines and polymer clays are a little more rubbery, and this can save time if you’re going for smoothness. But on the other hand it means that these materials have a significant ‘push-back’, a little resistance to being pushed around, which can make very fine and sharp detail a bit more difficult. Generally the softer modelling waxes are similar to natural clay in having really no ‘push-back’ at all.

To get back to the three basic types of clay .. the second category is the air-drying materials which all share having water, in the place of oil, as a carrier and these will harden as the water evaporates. Since some of their content is lost in this way they will shrink .. and some of them will shrink and crack badly!  Examples  natural clay, Paperclay, Newclay, Claydium, Das, etc. Many have a fibrous texture which helps in holding them together but often makes fine detail difficult. Some are light, some are quite heavy. Pricewise they are very good; after natural clay some are the cheapest clays around! I usually only use the air-drying, pulp-based clays if I want to built up a rough core modelling shape easily and cheaply, but only if I’m not bothered about cracking or the time it will then take to dry.

The final category includes those clays which will set or ‘cure’ as the result of a chemical reaction, brought about either by two reactive parts being mixed together or by heating. Examples Milliput (2-part epoxy putty), Green Stuff, polymer clays. My firm preferences from this group are two, Super Sculpey and Milliput. They are very different materials to model with and I use them for very different purposes.

Super Sculpey (that’s the full brand name for this type unfortunately, not just me being enthusiastic!) is almost as soft and ‘pushable’ to model with as a soft modelling wax and just as non-sticky ‘finger friendly’. It doesn’t stick to itself as readily as soft modelling wax or natural clay but it will with just a little extra coaxing. I prefer it for modelling medium-sized forms which need a combination of surface detail and smoothness .. a puppet head with sculpted hair for example .. because I find smooth contours much easier to achieve with it than wax, but at the same time very detailed textures can be achieved by imprinting with texturing tools. Super Sculpey can be easily modelled up in layers, heated in between. More on this is included later when discussing model figures. The only characteristic of Super Sculpey that I don’t like is it’s very slight translucency which sometimes makes it difficult to judge surface detail. There is more on Sculpey in the summary page I’ve included in the Materials /- modelling section. Below is an example of a small fish form I had to make in Sculpey which needed to be baked and fitted into a curve, so I had to rig up a curved cardboard support for modelling it on. Small forms don’t take so long to bake so in this case the cardboard survived the hot-air gun.

modelling a stylised fish in Sculpey

Milliput’s main distinction is it’s hardness once fully cured, much harder than a polymer clay. I use it for small or delicate forms which I really want to last .. small, because Milliput is more expensive than Super Sculpey. It is much more difficult to model freely with, having far too much ‘push-back’. The two component parts of Milliput need to be mixed together in equal amounts and the window for modelling before Milliput becomes too hard is 1 – 1.5 hours. For more information on Milliput, there is quite a long entry in the alphabetical Lexicon.

Just for the heck of it, out of interest and for those of you who are really price-conscious here is a comparison I put together earlier this year. I have taken prices from the sculptor’s shop Tiranti in London, which I know are fairly average or ‘reasonable’ .. not the cheapest but certainly not the highest! I have compared the price per kilo even if the materials are not normally packaged in this amount and where there is a price range it reflects the cheaper price for larger amounts:

Natural clay £0.47-£1.27 per kg £11.88 per 25kg, £6.37 per 5kg

Newclay £1.19-£1.96 per kg £15.08 per 12.6kg, £8.83 per 4.5kg

Newplast £3.56 per kg £1.78 per 500g 10% off 20

Claydium £3.94 per kg £1.97 per 500g.

Plastilin (Flints) £5.10 per kg

Modelling wax Terracotta Wax or Scopas White Modelling Wax £9.29-£12.72 per kg £46.45 per 5kg, £6.36 per 500g

Chavant £10.45 per kg £9.48 per 907g

Milliput Standard £20.10 per kg £2.28 per 113.4g

Super Sculpey £20.64 per kg £9.37 per 454g

Milliput Fine White £44.62 per kg £5.06 per 113.4g

Green Stuff £156.33-£240.50 per kg £4.81 per 20g, £9.38 per 90cm

The principle of ‘controlled limitation’

This is not an ‘official’ phrase but one I have assembled myself to help me to think about it. It is a principle behind all successful making but applies particularly to modelling and shaping. It makes me think of ‘damage limitation’ and conjures up a film scene of soldiers building a strong barrier around a bomb to contain the blast. Perhaps ‘containment’ would express it just as well.

I remember always being very impressed, and equally relieved, hearing about the ways sculptors make their lives easier! For example making a block of wood firstly into a rough profile shape of the whole head, to define the limits .. or rather to remove what one was certain one didn’t want first .. before going further. Working in the other direction (i.e. building up rather than removing), I was impressed when I saw the method of sticking long nails into an emerging clay head to set the positions of key points on the eventual surface.

But put sculptors aside for the moment .. without doubt, craftspeople are better at coming up with ingenious ways of making their lives easier! The photo below illustrates a delightful technique called sledging which is still known to some traditional plasterers, used to create profile shapes particularly for wall cornices. After some basic volume has been roughed in using coarse plaster, a layer of finer plaster is shaped by dragging a cut metal profile along it which collects and removes the excess.

sledging a shape

Another example for a more complex form is provided by the schoolmaster/model-maker Thomas Bayley in his truly precious book The Craft of Model Making, last published in the 1970s. Here he shows how to tackle interior alcoves and domes by first making a positive shape from which a shell cast can be taken. He recommends making the main shape of the positive by means of, what he terms, ‘running with a template’.

Thomas Bayley 'The Craft of Model Making'

These methods may offer a manageable solution if one has time and patience, but they are by no means simple to achieve, even the first example! One does also need quite a bit of skill and practise. I include them here because they are more important as examples of the type of thinking that one should do .. thinking in terms of templates which control the material and limit the ‘damage’, but also ‘thinking in negative’ which there will be more about later.

These methods of control all apply to making larger-scale forms and are designed for precision .. whether of line, smoothness or detail. When it comes to modelling on a smaller scale a lot less precision is needed .. one can often get away with good ‘suggestion’ rather than realistic depiction. This, together with the fact that things like weight and structural integrity are not such issues at a smaller scale, means that the solutions for modelling forms or creating shapes can be more free and varied, that is .. not tied to conventional sculptural methods.

For example below I am modelling a figure directly onto a drawing, without using an armature. The idea with this is that the complete front half is modelled, the material is then hardened, after which the back half can be continued directly onto it. The big advantage here is that the drawing imposes clear limits i.e. it is almost impossible not to get the general proportions and shape of the figure right if one keeps to the drawing.

modelling on a template _1

I’m using Super Sculpey here, a flesh-coloured polymer clay which, as I’ve said, is one of the softest and most malleable. It hardens with heat, which means that the usual way is to bake it in a normal oven (130 degrees centigrade, c.15 mins for each 6mm of thickness used), but it can also be hardened quite well using a hot-air gun, which is better for the task here. One needs to be careful though, when heating the figure up, that the paper template doesn’t start buckling too much with the heat. Normally I’d suggest having the paper glued down to a board, but it’s better if the paper is not because then it’s easier to peel away from the baked first half without damaging it.

The disadvantage of this method of ‘modelling flat on a template’ is that obviously it works better for forms which keep mainly to one plane, as with this figure ‘standing to attention’. It helps a lot to have copies of the drawing close to the modelling, as below, and it’s pretty essential to work out a clear side-view to be able to check the thickness being built up. As I mentioned, a conventional sculptor would not work this way, arguing that one can’t get the same sense of the overall three-dimensionality and poise of the figure while working. But for the purposes of suggesting figures in a model, whether they’re there as characters in the drama or features of the architecture, I think the benefits of being able to keep to a template outweigh the shortcomings.

modelling on a template_2

I’m not suggesting that all model figure work can be done this way. Normally a sculptor builds up a modelled figure on an armature, which is a skeletal support for the figure usually out of wire, and it makes sense to do that even at this small scale. Getting the armature right is more than half of the task, at least in terms of importance. A good armature is not only there for structural support, it should also be as far as possible a guide as to where to put the clay .. it should impose some control. The small figure armatures below are ones I’ve featured in my book, but I describe a quicker method later when we look more closely at figures. The ones below are made of soldered brass and they include double thicknesses of brass on the legs and arms but broken at the joints so that these can be bent at the correct points. They also include flat plates (in brass shim) representing torso and pelvis, which although not strictly necessary for support, are invaluable for keeping the sense of the shape of torso and pelvis while modelling.

small figure armatures

Below is a fuller sequence of photos which illustrate the use of ‘controls’ when shaping soft foam and the usefulness sometimes of having a harder ‘core’ shape to model on. For this task I had to make a 1:6 scale model of an ornamented fireplace, including two large fish sculptures either side. This was for a film still in production, so unfortunately copyright prevents me from showing the completed fish forms until the film comes out, but I can show enough to illustrate the modelling process. Because the fish needed to be symmetrical I decided to make the same basis shape for both out of styrofoam, cutting a template shape first out of Pvc for one and using it flipped over for the other. Below, I have secured the template shape to a block of styrofoam using double-sided tape, which holds it firmly while shaping but which can be easily detached afterwards.

fish base form_1

Knives and wood rasping tools can be used to get close to the edge of the template shape ..

fish base form_2

.. but I prefer to use a sanding block and more ‘control’ to reach the line. I’ve made a round sanding block from a cut piece of thick cardboard tube (the kind used for rolls of carpet or upholstery fabric) with 60-grit coarse sandpaper attached.

fish base form_3

The sides of the sanding block are at a right-angle, so if both the form and the sander are kept against the work surface while sanding, at least the basis blocks for each shape will come out the same.

fish base form_4

I then sanded (or rasped) these freehand, but both at the same time .. i.e. a little off one, then the same off the other .. until I reached the right shape below. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo in between the two here in this case, but the best next step would be to shape down the top surface on each block first before doing anything else, because this slope can be easily compared. After mostly using a coarse wood-file, I finished off the form below using a small piece of coarse sandpaper. I’ve begun to press the first layer of clay (in this case I’m using Super Sculpey) onto the styrofoam. Because Sculpey really doesn’t want to stick to styrofoam, it was important to work it in thinly at first to ensure a stable coating before adding more.

fish base form_5

Below, I have built up a good, even layer ready for the modelling of the surface details. Making a block styrofoam core-shape like this has a number of advantages .. it means that the modelled shape has a more controlled basis as I’ve said, just like the wire armatures; it gives a firm basis for pushing against, particularly if surface details are achieved by pressing or imprinting, without the fear of pushing the overall form out of shape; it economises on modelling material (some, like Sculpey or Milliput, are expensive compared to natural clay); and it reduces weight, without making the form itself much weaker.

fish base form_6

A note of caution though! .. I modelled these fish in Super Sculpey and didn’t need to harden them because I was making moulds and casts from these prototypes. Heating a very thin layer of Super Sculpey on styrofoam (using a hot-air gun) can distort the styrofoam shape if it gets too hot. If you’re using this method for a one-off where you need a permanently hard surface a thicker Sculpey layer (i.e. c. 5-6mm) would most probably be ok, because the styrofoam would be partially insulated. Otherwise you have to use Milliput or another self-hardening clay.

In the section ‘Making curved shapes in styrofoam’ later on I demonstrate another method of controlling a shape using specially shaped sanders. These are not things one can buy but they can be easily made. I found that only a thin strip of sandpaper was necessary to sand styrofoam (or the polyurethane foam from Kapa-line foamboard you will see later). If this strip is supported on a shape it means that the area of foam sanded will gradually take that shape and this will work for convex as well as concave shapes.

sanding shapers for foam

Developing the ‘scanner eye’

Some people are good at looking at a subject, whether it’s standing before them or recorded in a photo, then looking at the copy they’re making and recognizing how the two differ .. i.e. what exactly needs to be added to or subtracted from their copy and where. Usually it’s something they’ve acquired and developed through a lot of practise at looking at things, so it’s a skill that theatre designers in particular should have already and be particularly disposed to developing. It’s a fundamental of being able to model a likeness! I believe that simply improving your ability to look at and compare things objectively is the most important step towards acquiring skill in sculpting. For example, next time you’re on a train compare the shapes of the heads you see around you. Try to estimate how big people’s foreheads are in relation to their heads as a whole. Are hands bigger than faces, is the length of a nose roughly the same as the distance from it to the bottom of the face, is the space between the eyes the same as the length of an eye? These are simple things to try, you can devise your own questions, and this type of conscious looking won’t fail to improve your abilities if you practise it whenever you have a spare moment.

‘Thinking in negative’ or approaching the form as a void to be filled

Up to now I haven’t included the methods of mouldmaking and casting within this series because they’re more specialised, a whole other subject in itself, and I’ve already written a general summary of it Beginner’s Basics – Mouldmaking and casting explained which can be found under Methods /- Mouldmaking and casting. But I’m including this brief example here because it illustrates a different approach to making a form. It is a method of form-making which goes back a long way and is now an integral part of our technology. I’m sure most people are aware of the principles of it, but almost exclusively in the context of ‘making many copies of something’, which somehow prevents the recognition of it as a solution to making single forms.

The challenge of making a model of a bath is a very good example of what I’m talking about! Most often we only need one, and we know that ideally it should be as thin as possible, so our thinking is automatically channelled in the direction of trying to construct the shape in a thin but bendable material. This would be fine if the curves and slopes of the shape were that simple. If however we think of the essential shape as a solid one first, so that we start with a three-dimensional form template in other words, a lot more is achievable.

making a bath shape

These two photos are enough to illustrate the method. I’ve made the ‘prototype’ bath shape using the foam from Kapa-line foamboard (which I’ll say more about later) but styrofoam would also have done. For the fish shape previously I used one shape template to guide the sanding block, whereas this needs two to establish the limits of the top and bottom of the shape. These just need to be fixed in the right positions either side of a rough block of foam and the excess foam is then sanded away down to the edges of both templates. Finding the right positions for the templates, either side of a block, is not that simple though! The best way is to fix the larger template to the foam first and sand down to that using a right-angled sanding block (just like the fish). This will give a much clearer indication of where the smaller template should be positioned on the other side. The sanding can then be completed.

making bath shape in foam

I coated the foam shape with polyfilla and sanded it smooth, then made a plaster mould from it. In this case I made the hollow bath shape using a fairly simple process known as absorption casting. The principle behind this is that the plaster mould will absorb water from a liquid material filling it, meaning that the material gradually forms a tougher skin next to the plaster. The remaining still-liquid material can be poured out of the mould leaving a thin shell which is left to dry. This contracts a little as it does so it can be taken out easily. It’s the method used, on an industrial scale, for casting crockery using clay slip. I’ve used a special form of liquid papier-mache called Liquache which is not so available in the UK (but I’ve included one source in my Suppliers list). An alternative would be to use the more familiar method .. the beloved ‘balloon pasting’ one .. of papering the inside of the mould with small pieces of newspaper and glue. The mould surface would need to be Vaselined first though. In actual fact, if the thin shell is built up this way there’s no need to make the negative mould at all .. it could be built up on the prototype form, as long as it’s strong enough.

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE

Making model figures

Let’s just assume for the moment that making three-dimensional scale figures to inhabit a three-dimensional scale model is a good thing, before arguing the pros and cons of having to do them! The first thing that’s needed is information. We need to know what the human figure looks like and, just as importantly, what it looks like at 1:25 scale. When I’m modelling in 1:25 scale I work from visual cue sheets such as these ones. For these I’ve taking the trouble, not only to find the clearest, most authentic looking and most general models for the proportions and details of the human figure but I’ve also adjusted them all in size to fit the 1:25 scale. It doesn’t mean that every bit of visual reference I have needs to be in scale as long as I’ve got this basis.

female figure reference sheet

For these I’ve looked at various sources .. anatomy books for artists, figure reference websites, medical books .. but the visual references I’ve found most helpful have come from reliable digital artists such as www.selwy.com One can usually tell at a glance whether the artist really understands figures, and the neutral grey or brown surface of a digital sculpt is much easier to read than even the best real-figure photos.

male figure reference sheet

Before one can begin modelling though, an armature is needed. As explained above the armature supports the material but it should also serve as a modelling guide. In my post from March 2013 Modelling small-scale figures I provide a step-by-step account of making the simple armature out of twisted garden wire below.

1:25 scale twisted wire armature

The template which is useful as a size guide during the process is also included in the post. The twisted surface of the wire has an added usefulness in that it gives more ‘tooth’ for the clay to attach itself to.

making wire armature

In my opinion it’s much easier to model a figure at this scale when it’s ‘spreadeagle’ i.e. laid out flat like a five-pointed star, keeping the joint areas free almost until the last. This way it’s easier to portion out and balance body and limb masses, getting a symmetry first. Super Sculpey lends itself in particular to this because very small amounts can be applied first of all just to put some mass on the skeleton, and these can be quickly fixed with the hot-air gun before putting another layer on top. It doesn’t matter how many times the same portion of figure is subjected to the hot-air gun for successive layers as long as it’s not too close (i.e. not nearer than about 5cm) or dwelling too long on one point. Either the figure or the heat gun needs to be kept moving .. but slowly, not agitated.

building up the form

Milliput is the next best alternative material to use, and some might prefer it. I’ve used it on part of the figure above right and for the whole of the middle stage below. Milliput is a 2-part epoxy putty, and the parts need to be mixed in equal amounts before use. After thorough mixing one has between 1-1.5 hours to work with it before it becomes too tough to model. An advantage over Sculpey is that it’s much stronger, especially when making very slender forms and it’s much stickier. But for this reason I don’t like it as much as it sticks to the fingers and makes detail modelling sometimes difficult. It has much more ‘push back’ than Sculpey, especially so after just half an hour. It also makes the process of building up in stages quite a lengthy one because a few hours are needed before it’s safe to model the next layer.

stages of modelling

Modelling tools

For modelling figures at this scale the question of tools is hardly important .. in fact I often just use a cocktail stick and a Starbucks coffee stirrer! Basically it’s enough just to have something finely pointed and something flattish.

modelling in Sculpey

But if you find that you are doing a fair amount in the way of modelling, and larger things, here is a selection of the most useful bought tools. The four on the left are standard ones for clay modelling and one can get them in plastic or wood. In the centre are two made from walnut strip wood and to the right of these is an embossing tool. This is useful because it has two rounded points of different gauge. The metal dental modelling tool to the right of it is an example of a range of fine-modelling tools one can pick up quite cheaply (even in £shops sometimes). To make modelling easier it can be quite important to have at least one of the ‘loop’ tools shown next to it. These make it possible to remove material rather than just displacing it.

modelling tools selection

But just as much can be achieved using tools which are not meant for modelling, especially when it comes to surfacing effects. Below is the fire part for the fireplace mentioned earlier, modelled in Super Sculpey. A plastic bristle brush and a hogshair painting brush were perfect for giving the burnt wood and coals a suitable surface texture.

texturing Sculpey

Other useful texturing tools can be made either from natural forms such as this portion of nectarine stone or modelled and baked in Sculpey itself. The form to the right, which was designed to imprint a tree-bark pattern was modelled on a cutting-knife blade so that it could be fitted into the handle.

special texturing tools

Soft furniture

Rather than modelling the form of an armchair or a sofa out of clay .. this is possible, especially for broken down old things which are any shape except ‘streamlined’,  but they can end up rather heavy .. I use soft sheet foam to make them. Take this old leather Chesterfield as an example of perhaps the most ambitious, alongside something simpler. Kapa-line foamboard has a polyurethane foam inside which is quite dense and fine compared to the polystyrene foam in regular foamboard and the covering paper can be quite easily peeled away without damaging the foam surface. The foam can therefore be used as a versatile sheet material in its own right.

soft funiture using sheet foam

peeling paper from Kapa-line foamboard

Unfortunately I don’t have ‘making of’ photos for these ones, but the process is simply one of cutting the constituent pieces (seat, back and arm shapes) as flat foam cut-out shapes first, then shaping parts of them either before or after they’re all put together. To give a better idea here is the drawing I use as a scale guide for making the small armchair

armchair drawing

Both pieces of furniture were made entirely out of foam except for the legs. Apart from the advantage that Kapa-line foam sands easily and smoothly, it bonds very well with superglue and because of its porous surface accepts any type of paint very well .. including even ink or watercolour! If painted with these or very thin acrylic the surface will look matt, even velvety, with a slight tooth to it like upholstery fabric. But it’s easy to make it sheen, as I’ve done with the leather Chesterfield, by giving it more than one basecoat of acrylic and finishing off with some liquid shoe polish.

styrene chairs

Here again are the chairs made from styrene strip plastic from the previous article on  Fine construction. The chair cushions are Kapa-line foam and I’ve incised very slight lines with a pencil.

styrene chairs painted

Below are foam cut-outs glued to Pvc furniture pieces ready to be sanded down into more rounded upholstery shapes (it’s easier to sand them after they’re fixed down).

using foam for upholstery

For the characteristic ‘quilting’ effect on the Chesterfield, more properly referred to as buttoning I think, I just marked out the pattern before gluing the pieces together and made the indentations by pressing in the corner of a small metal ruler. For the larger- scale pieces below I marked out the pattern, carved into it partly with a scalpel and rounded with a sanding board.

chair cushion buttoning_1

chair cushion buttoning_2

If the surface is coated with thinned Pva glue tissue paper or even soft kitchen roll can be laid on top and pushed into the pattern for more of a fabric effect.

chair cushion buttoning_3

Making curved shapes in styrofoam

I normally use the most common blue form of styrofoam which comes in sheets 2.5cm thick (although thicker sheets can also be found). There are also other types of styrofoam, differentiated by colour. The pink one here is finer and the green one is coarser.

types of styrofoam

I’ve chosen one of the simplest examples first to underline the basic principle of using template cut-outs to control the shaping of the foam. This is just a little step up from the previous example of the fish shape, and it’s much the same as the example of the bath shape, but I think it will help to make the more involved example of the ‘dome’ shape which follows a little clearer.

This sequence is taken from another article Shaping styrofoam in the Methods section. In it I describe the making of simple ‘half-column’ shapes as part of a composite structure, and below is one of the end results.

finished half-column

The first step in making this was to cut a piece of Pvc representing the base dimensions of the half-column (I use Pvc out of habit but cardboard can also be used as long as it’s more resilient than the styrofoam when it’s sanded). I’ve fixed the base templates firmly to the foam with double-sided tape, but they can be easily detached. Next I sanded down to the template using the right-angle sanding block shown above.

small blocks

After this I attached a Pvc semicircle either end, again with double-sided tape. Most of the part that needs to go can be sliced down with a knife if one’s careful, but then it’s straightforward using the sanding block to sand down to the curve, provided it’s longer than the piece itself so that it’s ‘stopped’ by the two semicircles.

setup for sanding curved surface

The principle behind making a regular dome in foam is similar in that it involves setting up template shapes, but this time they remain inside the form rather than attached temporarily outside. The method is suitable for any number of form variations. The faint lines of the plastic inserts are just about noticeable under the surface of the finished dome below.

dome shape

The following photo sequence shows a form with a slight variation on the regular dome shape but will serve to illustrate. The first step is to cut the Pvc shapes which will provide the ‘control edges’ or limits of the form. As I’ve said, these parts will stay within the form.

making a dome shape_1

This particular shape needed to be more ‘pill’ like i.e. a little longer than a sphere, so I had to make a flat section in the middle first, shown below. For this I used some layers of Kapa-line foam sandwiched between the two plastic templates (made in much the same way as the bath shape earlier on except that the two template shapes are the same).

centrepiece of dome shape

Each quadrant of the form is then built up in layers of styrofoam, fixed down with double-sided tape.

making a dome shape_3

I’d advise building in layers rather than a thicker block because a Pvc template can be included on the top of each layer, to further control the shaping as shown below. Here I’ve started to remove the excess with a coarse wood file, judging by eye. But I made a

making a dome shape_4

couple of curved sanders (shown in the last photo), to the same curve as the principle semicircle, in order to sand the foam down to the template ‘stops’ smoothly. As I said at the beginning, shaping certainly needs to be thought about beforehand and thoroughly planned. The thinking may be involved but the doing of it is relatively easy, and once

making a dome shape_5

one’s practised a little it opens up many form-making possibilities.

making a dome shape_6

Perfect ‘bowl’ or concave shapes are much easier, again making use of the fact that a thin strip of coarse sandpaper suffices to sand through styrofoam. The photo below is also taken from the article Shaping styrofoam in the Methods section, and shows the shape near completion. I first inscribed the size of the circle needed as a guide while sanding. I made the sanding tool to the same diameter, with a c.6mm strip of coarse black sandpaper attached. When the tool is pressed against the foam and revolved it will make a rough depression at first but this will get smoother as it continues. For more on this and how to make a round-topped alcove shape as an extension of this method see the article mentioned.

sanding a smooth concave

Liquid modelling

Again this is my term of convenience for the technique of ‘piping’ a liquid material onto a surface, as one might do when decorating a cake, to create the effect of relief decoration without the effort that more conventional modelling or carving would involve.

relief decoration

Here I am using a relief medium I have prepared myself .. Polycell ‘Fine Surface’ Polyfilla .. with a little water added to make it just a little more liquid. It should be mixed as-and-when needed because the consistency is perfect for piping evenly when fresh but after a while (i.e. after a few days) it starts to become a little lumpy.

relief decoration_2

The main trick is getting it into a suitable, squeezable, small plastic bottle with a fine nozzle. It isn’t difficult to find these. The one above was from a £shop and contained glitter-glue and so were the pen-like ones below. I’ve had to mix the polyfilla thoroughly with a little water first in a small container, then fill a plastic syringe and use this to transfer it into the bottles. If not applied too thickly the polyfilla takes 1-2 hours on average to dry. I prefer using this polyfilla mix because it shrinks the least of the various materials I’ve tried. It also dries the quickest and if deeper relief is needed a second layer can be applied, as I’ve done with the portion of picture frame in the top photo.

mixing up polyfilla

Idenden Brush-coat, which is a texturing compound commonly used in the theatre here, also works very well. An advantage of this is that it can be used as it comes without dilution and will consequently keep its consistency much longer. But unless you have access to a friendly scenic workshop, Idenden will be expensive because it only comes in 10litre buckets.

Other possibilities are offered by various fabric relief paints or glass-painting relief outliner shown below. The Pebeo ‘Touch’ relief paints are more like a liquid plastic, so one can ‘draw’ with them very evenly, and there are various colours including good metallic such as gold or pewter. It is a little disappointing that they shrink quite significantly, so they don’t manage something like the picture frame, but are perfect for the suggestion of a relief surface. The Pebeo ‘Cerne Relief’ glass-painting outliner is a thicker medium and the small tube comes with a much finer nozzle, so very detailed effects are possible.

relief modelling media

Working with wire mesh

I usually categorise my use of metal mesh as a method of shaping .. if not modelling even, because it’s also ‘pushing a soft material around’ in a way. I work mainly with ‘welded wire mesh’ which is welded firmly at each intersection, so that different forms can be produced according to where the mesh is snipped and how the free pieces are bent. It’s ideal for small tree forms, for example.

wire mesh trees

snipping wire mesh

I’m sure many other structures can be made in this way .. but that’s something for another day ..

Lexicon of materials and methods

I’m always finding out new bits of information on materials and what can be done with them, but usually I have a problem deciding where to put these notes so that I can rely on easily finding them again! So, needing a handy alphabetical notebook, I’ve turned the former vocabularly into a lexicon .. which basically means the same thing but sounds ‘BIGGER’!

Whereas the vocabulary confined itself mainly to explaining the meaning of terms the lexicon provides more, and for me it’s a handy place to update essential knowledge on a variety of things without involving the ‘song and dance’ of a structured post. In my experience so far, having ‘knowledge of making’ arranged according to principle materials, and those in alphabetical order, makes things much easier to find .. at least it does for me! Entries will usually start with the basic definition, but then include anything I feel it is important to know in practice. Since I will, no doubt, have to constantly refer to it myself it won’t be left unattended so it’s guaranteed to grow!

Here, for example, is an entry I’ve just updated on Milliput which represents what I hope the whole of the lexicon will eventually become:

Milliput is a 2-part, very hard-setting epoxy modelling putty, available in two fineness grades and a few different colours. It is most suitable for small, delicate work. ‘Standard’ Milliput is a light yellow/grey colour when mixed while the extra-fine grade is white. When equal amounts of both parts are thoroughly blended together (until the colour is uniform) the putty begins to harden. It remains easy to model for around 40mins, then slowly hardens (but see below). It will stick annoyingly to fingers, but can be smoothed or even thinned with water. Vaseline on the fingers is effective in helping fine smoothing (methylated spirits can also be used).  It will stick well to most surfaces in it’s soft state and even serves well as a gap-filling ‘cement’ especially if it’s used straight after blending when it’s still sticky. It is often used in the restoration of antiques and art objects because of it’s high adherence and strength when cured. When hard (after 3-4 hours) it is very durable but can be easily sanded and tooled (i.e. sawn, drilled), even carved with a scalpel. There is no noticeable shrinkage. According to the manufacturer it has a shelf life of c. 2yrs if stored cool, dry, sealed in polythene bags provided.. but see notes below. Obtainable most good art or hobby shops, Tiranti, 4D Price (2013) c.£2.28-£5.06 (Tiranti) per 113g packet dependant on type (ranging from standard to fine grade and colours e.g. terracotta, black).

At the time of writing (7/2013) I have not found any other epoxy putty to compare with it.. Apparently the setting time can be speeded to just a few minutes by applying heat (Tiranti website). Best method of mixing; portion equal amounts and press these together, then roll this into a long ‘string’, gather up and twist together then roll long string again .. repeat etc. After 3-4 hrs hardening, it needs same amount of time to fully cure. Heat resistant up to 130C. Can be coloured by blending in powder pigment (or even oil paint, or spirit-based colourants) while mixing. Different Milliput versions are intermixable but also resin or hardener parts between them (as long as one knows which is which) are also interchangeable. The ‘hardener’ is usually the darker of the two and will develop a resinous crust over time. If used as a press-casting material, ‘talc or a light oil can be used as a releasing agent according to the Milliput website. Another tip from this website is that, if you have to interrupt work during modelling, it will keep in its uncured state for up to 36hrs if put in the freezer.

www.milliput.com
www.mbfgfiles.co.uk/docs/milliput_tech.pdf

How to model with Milliput Use should be made of the fact that Milliput will change in consistency as it cures i.e. for the first 30mins rough build-up when at it’s softest, after which fine detail especially imprinting and smoothing are easier once its getting firm. Carving can be done after c. 2-3 hrs when almost set, then sanding/filing after 3-4hrs.

Accelerating hardening 7/2013 ‘Tips’ found (not yet verified) include: baking in oven (max 50C) for 30mins. Since cured Milliput is heat-resistant up to 130C successive adding/baking is possible.

How long will Milliput remain usable? I recently made a test of some Milliput I’ve had for at least 10 years. In fact, I was going to throw it away because it had become rock-hard and the darker ‘hardener’ part (as I assume it to be) had developed a tough, resinous skin. I was surprised though that after managing to chop off two equal pieces and starting to squeeze them between the fingers they became softer and eventually soft enough to start mixing together. For this first test I left the tough skin on, believing that it might still blend, but it remained as small hard granules.

mixing Milliput

Above, my usual method of mixing Milliput is first to combine the two parts roughly and then start rolling the mass into a long thin string, which I then divide, twist the strands together and then repeat a few times until the colour is even. The hard fragments of skin remained so I tried chopping and pressing the mixture on a tile in case that got rid of them.

mixing Milliput_2

It didn’t much, so I stopped blending (it had taken altogether about 20 minutes) and left the piece to harden, below. The consistency was not good (compared to fresh Milliput), ok perhaps for rough work but rather fibrous and prone to fissuring when stretched.

10 year old Milliput

I did another test but this time peeling off the crust from the darker Milliput stick, just using what remained. This mixed very smoothly, a little harder than new Milliput but still a good, smooth consistency, below. I needed 10 minutes to mix it thoroughly.

crust removed before mixing

I’ve never properly timed the setting of Milliput up to now and I’m glad I did with these tests because I’ve generally been telling people that they have about an hour to model with it. In fact it’s much longer .. if one can make use of the changes to model differently (and later carve) as it toughens. I made a further control test using new Milliput in addition to the two above.

10 year old Milliput with ‘skin’ included After 1 hour firmer but still could be kneeded and modelled; less sticky, and ideal in this state for impressing with tools; little rubbery ‘springback’ as yet i.e. marks made with tools stay as made. After 2 hours no longer easily kneeded or modelled, but still very flexible; still easily cut-able with a knife; still good for impressing though slight ‘springback’ i.e. marks made with tools fill in a little; easier to smooth the surface without distorting the form.

10 year old Milliput with ‘skin’ discarded After 1 hour same as above After 2 hours same as above, though a little firmer and impressions spring back more

Both After 3 hours still cut-able with a knife; still bendable, but no longer mouldable; can be squeezed but springs back like rubber and impressions do not hold; very good for carving. After 4.5 hours like tire rubber; ideal state for carving

New Milliput thorough blending took 10 minutes. After 1 hour still very soft, a little firmer, a little less sticky. After 2 hours still mouldable and very flexible; cut-able with a knife; still takes impressions well with minimal springback, but fissures occur when trying to ‘smear’. After 3 hours no longer mouldable; still flexible and cut-able but impressions do not hold.

7/2013 the nationwide £shop chain ’99p Stores’ now stock a form of mixable epoxy putty from the ‘Do It Right’ brand. This is packaged in small, pre-portioned pellets which one just has to blend together. Each pellet is c. 4g and there are 8 to a pack so this doesn’t work out any cheaper than standard Milliput.. just could be easier to get hold of. It has different properties though, as one can guess from the smell which is more like regular epoxy glue than Milliput. For a start it’s much softer and stickier when first mixed (so much so that using one’s fingers becomes rather difficult) and there’s a graininess that doesn’t really disappear. Part of the reason for this is that, although it may be helpful that the two parts are already dosed, with one wrapped around the other, where they touch a hard layer develops because this has already started to set!   The only other possible advantage (depending on what you use it for) is that it sets up much quicker than Milliput; in my test it was a bit too firm to model with after 15 minutes and had reached almost complete hardness after 2 hours. When fully cured it was also very strong. It may be ideal as a gap-filling glue or repair medium, but not so good for modelling.

'Do It Right' putty

The mixed test piece above was gently flattened and pulled out in the same way as the Milliput tests but the graininess and fissuring are apparent here.