Making a 1:6 scale ‘working’ fireplace

The cosy library set featured in the previous post included a fully ‘working’ fireplace. Any ‘flames’ needed were to be added in post-production using CGI so I didn’t have to worry about those. But my brief was to make the physical prop work .. that is ‘light up’ .. to an extent, at least incorporating a suggestion of glowing embers. At the time of making it was not yet clear whether the ‘coals and logs’ part would be seen in different states i.e. from fully stocked to nearly spent, so my thinking was that this part needed to be made as a separate and interchangeable shell .. a translucent one .. independent from the source of light. In any case, I didn’t want to mess with integrated electrics since they’re almost always a bit cursed, in my experience. So I decided to make the fireplace setup open at the back so that it could be lit from behind as simply as possible. Below is the only photo I managed at the time of the fire lit up, a quick test in daylight before the surfaces were fully painted and accessorized ..

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, working fireplace effect, painting unfinished

I designed the ‘coals and logs’ unit to sit within an ornamented grate which hid its edges and also masked spillage from the light source behind. This meant that it would be easy and quick to substitute different stages of the fire modelled on the same base-shape.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, Sculpey modelling of fireplace

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, Sculpey modelling of fireplace

I chose to make the base shape in Kapa-line foam, probably because this was easiest .. but Super Sculpey doesn’t readily stick to much, especially foam, and to have any control over the modelling a firm base layer is essential. So I started by massaging small portions of Sculpey to become almost paste-like and working them into the surface. Once this was covered the resistant, wax-like qualities of Sculpey could be fully exploited .. I much prefer to model by pushing/impressing, kneading and displacing, hardly ever cutting or scooping out, and a whole variety of weird impression tools will often do much of the job for me. I had a bag of strange, impossibly hard and oversized ‘croutons’ I’d found in a Chinese supermarket and I didn’t have to do much with these to create an interesting textural starting point. When it came to the ‘logs’ or chunks of coal I used a custom impression tool I’d made for tree-bark .. Sculpey modelled and baked over an old scalpel handle .. using it in a partly random way, just to create some spontaneous interest.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, Sculpey modelling of fireplace

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, Sculpey modelling of fireplace

But the whole looked dull, deliberate and lifeless, until I attacked the surface with brushes! The most successful was the black plastic one, like a large and sinister toothbrush, which accompanies wire brushes usually in packs of three .. I’d never found a good use for these plastic ones before, and none other since really! Once the Sculpey work was finished I made a standard mould from it comprising a silicone ‘skin’ part supported by a plaster jacket. This is common practice, even though it takes a little longer to complete than just pouring a block of silicone, because it cuts the amount of silicone rubber used to easily under a quarter.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, Sculpey model and silicone mould

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, casting clear resin fireplace

I had two options for casting the hollow, translucent shell .. using either clear epoxy or polyester resin. But epoxy resin can only be made thixotropic (converted from a liquid to a spreadable gel or paste) by adding a filler powder such as fumed silica. Dependant on the amount of powder needed, the epoxy resin could lose much of its transparency, whereas clear polyester resin can be thickened using a specially thickened  gelcoat  additive which is almost as clear. I needed to mix the clear polyester, gelcoat and shared catalyst together first before tipping the mixture into the mould. I had to wait about 15mins before the mix firmed up enough to be ‘shaped’ into a relatively even shell, using a chopstick as a spatula, but the window closed fairly quickly after that.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, casting clear resin fireplace

I’ve said ‘clear polyester’ but in actual fact it was the ‘general purpose’ or GP polyester resin from Tiranti, not the ‘Clear Casting’. I’ve always used Tiranti polyesters (whether general purpose, ‘multi purpose’, ‘clear casting’, gelcoat or thixotropic paste) partly because I’ve never had any major problems with any of them. They’ve also lasted far longer than any others I’ve bought .. for example, I used the same can of GP polyester on-and-off for over five years! Tiranti’s GP cures a warm grey/beige which can be seen from the following photos, but this was fine for my purpose, and the cloudiness (compared to Clear Casting) was also something which I’d hoped would diffuse the light for a better effect.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, resin and Palight fireplace unit unpainted

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, resin and Palight fireplace unit unpainted

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, resin and Palight fireplace parts unpainted

I removed the cured polyester shell from the mould the next day, and designed/made the ‘stool grate’ (that’s the proper term) around it using Palight foamed PVC. The photo below shows this primed in Humbrol matt black enamel (not yet given its metallic gilding), set up against the fireback and the hole cut to let the light through. There were restrictions to the depth that the fireplace unit could be, and I could have solved this with much more blackening or shading around the stool grate .. a shame, but there was no time left. What did work nicely were the strips of vinyl wallpaper I used to suggest the fireback stonework, washed and sponged with acrylic. 

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, painted fireplace parts

David Neat, prop and set making for stop-motion animation, working fireplace effect

To give the rich ember colour when lit, I had thought of coating the underside of the polyester shell with red/orange/yellow glass paints (i.e. Marabu GlasART or Pebeo Vitrail) which I know work very well. But it the end I felt it would be more adaptable if the colour came from the light source, or through gels fixed behind the cut hole. Since I’d spent some time on the modelling (especially on getting the texture interesting) the painting was fairly simple .. an overall skim in black first with a large ragged brush, followed by less of a skim in mid-grey and then even less in light grey. Again I used Humbrol enamel for this, just to be sure the paintwork stayed on the polyester surface if the piece was going to be handled.

David Neat, props and set making for stop-motion animation, fire effect

I used a thicker Palight for the fire surround and mantel shelf below, and the small ‘designs’ were cut/carved using the thinnest .. 1mm. Palight of whichever thickness can be carved and sanded with surprising ease .. it’s a lot like carving a soft wood, but without having to cope with grain direction, and the exposed ‘grain’ hardly looks any different to the rest. Here in the UK it’s available in white up to 10mm thickness from Bay Plastics at  though from 2mm onwards it’s actually ‘Palfoam’, which is an even softer variant.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, fireplace carving in Palight foamed PVC

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, painted fireplace surround

For creating a controllable ‘speckle’ with a slight sheen to it I base-coated first in a lighter tone then mixed darker acrylic with some acrylic retarder gel, to stipple it over. This allows a decent amount of working time in which to even out the effect and it makes the paint into more of a glaze. Most of the tube acrylic paint companies offer their own brand, though one will work with another, however the ‘gel’ type has become less common. Now it’s usually a thickish, glycerine-like liquid but it should work in the same way.

David Neat, props for stop-motion animation, fireplace setup nearing completion

Thanks again to Astrid Baerndal for the only photo I have of the fireplace installation properly assembled, under natural light with no atmosphere unfortunately, in the hurry to ship the whole model off. The large fish were modelled in Super Sculpey over Styrofoam base-shapes; hollow-cast in polyurethane resin; basecoated in Humbrol matt black enamel, then ‘dusted’ with Treasure Silver Wax Gilt finish like much of the rest. More about the making of the fish can be found about a third of the way down my general article Modelling and shaping, one of the group Making realistic models which is first on the menu in the Methods section.

Small props for stop-motion animation

Back in 2011 I was making settings and props for stop-motion animation, and one particular scene I’d been asked to work on involved the eating of an apple down to its core. The film called for a kind of poetic realism .. I mean that its world was ‘ours’ to an extent, the puppets were recognisably human though stylised, furniture and props needed to be fairly accurate and believable, even though the action was often dreamlike. This was one of those moments in dream when reality is tugged a little more into focus, so although a loose approximation of an apple getting smaller in bite-shaped chunks could have sufficed I wanted to make the moment properly convincing.

So I modelled the whole apple first in Super Sculpey .. in two sizes because one would be needed for close-ups and the smaller for scene shots. I made silicone moulds from these, and then enough casts for about ten successive bites of the apple. My intention was to carve away each bite in the sequence, so I cast in thin Fast Cast polyurethane resin mixed with a third of Fillite (a light ash filler) which would make the material nicely carvable especially if using a Dremel.

I guess I knew from the beginning, or at least pretty soon after, that I would have to manually copy the ‘bites’ on each successive one down the sequence, but I didn’t want to make more than one mould for each apple size. I made the stalks individually out of white styrene rod, slightly carved and sanded (and the ends ‘crunched’ with something heavy). I used Vallejo acrylics to build up a nice glowing red in layers, and kept the surface detailing to a minimum since each stage would have to be exactly copied.

I made a very simple mould for both using my usual Lukasil 429 (from, a silicone rubber I’ve been using for years which has always been easy and reliable). For small and basic shapes such as these it was enough to tack them with a little more Sculpey to a baseboard, build a containment wall around them and pour silicone as a one-piece block around them. Once cured the silicone needs only to be lightly split with a scalpel to take the prototypes out and make the casts. This is what I often call a split-block mould. This is the easiest form of 3D casting, each cast needing just a little bit of clean-up work around the pouring hole.

Advice on making props etc. for stop-motion animation

This was an example of a special prop serving a visual sequence which had been properly thought through. In this case the way the prop would be used was very clear. This is not always so, partly because room has to be left for on-site decisions during animation and partly because it’s rarely possible to think of everything anyway, especially if props are commissioned at an early stage, long before animation begins.

In this situation it’s always good practice to allow for possible changes, and include these contingencies straight away at the making stage as long as they don’t lengthen the making time too much. One very good move, where there’s a choice, is to pick materials which are relatively easy to alter. Foamed PVC for example is very easy to cut and can be re-glued instantly using superglue. Another prudent habit is to keep parts which ‘may’ have to move separate until the last. As an example, even if something like a school-desk isn’t likely to be opened (according to the script .. and there should always be a script!)  it may be wise to keep the desk-top separate, and give the underside and the desk interior the same colour treatment as the rest just in case. On the other hand I would never go to the trouble of making working hinges for this kind of ‘what if’ because it’s often easier to animate a movable part like that just with a concoction of Blu Tack and bent wire.

If you’re asked to make props or furniture for someone else’s stop-motion animation you can only work as efficiently as the information you’re given .. or, more truthfully .. the information you’ve had the sense to ask for! I’ve never worked on anything where I didn’t have to tease out important facts by asking a lot of searching questions. You will of course want the principle design directives first .. the scale or dimensions, and the full visual appearance of each article. Then, just as importantly, you will need to know details of how each is used if at all, or whether they are just background dressing. These are the main questions, but there are many others that one may not think to ask at first, so here are just some of them.

If a prop is going to be used in the action, do we see the puppet holding it? If so, how easily can the puppet do this? For example, does the prop need to be specially light? Do holes need to be drilled in the prop to attach fixing wires, or if something like Blu Tack or ‘sticky wax’ needs to be used is the paintwork suitably resistant? In the case of pieces of furniture, do they need to be secured to the baseboard (partly to keep their position, but especially if sat in or leant against)? If so, legs usually need to be fitted with strong wires or bolts at the bottom.

Has the question of ‘relative size’ been properly considered when deciding upon the scale of a prop? To put it simply, just like dolls or cartoon characters puppets often have larger heads and hands in relation to their bodies and their overall height. If, for example, a retro style desk telephone is needed and this is scaled faithfully according to overall puppet height, it may look reasonable enough in the background but if ‘used’ the speaker/receiver part may look ridiculously small against the puppet’s hand or ear! The solution might have to be that two differently scaled versions are made, or just one slightly larger speaker/receiver part.

If you’re proud of your own work, if you’ve taken good photos and want to publicize what you can do, will anyone object if you do this before the film itself has become public? It’s important as a courtesy to reach an agreement, even if it’s not something dealt with in your contract .. or even if there isn’t a contract! You should consider the fact that an independent stop-motion film may be many years in the making and this is a long time, either to not be able to promote your own work or to feel a bit secretive or guilty when you do. Often this can be resolved, as I’ve done in this article, just by not mentioning the film by name.




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


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

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)'

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 homescreen

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


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



Anatomy For Sculptors

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

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.


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


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

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