Saturday, 30 May 2015

Battle Wizards: now with ovaries

Nothing says 'victory' like subliminally stripy trousers.

Not having a wizard in a Warhammer army is a lot like going commando. You can do it, but it just doesn’t feel quite right. That said, I didn’t want another robed man shuffling about at the back of my battle line. Historical precedent justifies the sausage fest that is the state soldiery, but by Jove, there’s no such precedent for wizards! Here was a good opportunity to get a lady in the army.

The only problem was the lack of a suitable model in the Empire and Brettonian ranges. I’d have to make one, and whilst I have built a model entirely from wire and green stuff in the past, I still find the prospect a little daunting, so when the plastic Dark Elf Sorceress was released, I didn’t see an angry pixie. I saw an armature.

Here she is, Blu-tacked together.

I make no claim to being a Mighty Putty Master of Mightyness, so the advice in this post is largely directed at the first-time and intermediate sculptor; sadly I have as much chance of surprising a veteran sculptor as a woman does of attaining a bishop’s mitre. Oooooh, ecclesiastical buuuuuuuurn! ...fear my sass, Church of England. Wait, do C of E bishops actually wear mitres? Whatever, moving on. If you'd like to start making Green Stuff your bitch, hit the jump.

Sitting comfortably? Good. Onwards! We’ll kick off with the big picture. Here’s the order in which I tend to do any given sculpting project:

1. Prepare the armature.
2. Plan the sculpt.
3. Git yo sculpt on!

Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, but I wanted to emphasise the importance of preparation and planning. You don’t want to drive yourself into an artistic cul-de-sac. With that in mind, let’s expand upon ze three stages...

If you’re using another model (as opposed to a proper armature), the first job is to remove any unwanted details. In my case, this involved the removal of any Elven details, or any details that wouldn’t suit the character I had in mind (like her massive Siouxie Sioux hair).

The cleaned-up armature. With a funny-shaped head.

At this stage, I hadn’t decided exactly what I was going to do with the staff, so I didn’t prematurely hack it up.

One of my first thoughts on the original sculpt was, "how does
that dagger stay in place? Magic?"

2. PLAN.
It’s rare that just diving in will yield great results. There are different segments to planning, which I shall summarise thusly:

- Think about the character you’re creating. What vibe do you want them to give off? What is their personality and background? How might that be reflected in their outfit or equipment?

 - Get some reference material. For example, I had a rummage around the interwebs for items of clothing appropriate to the style and period, ploughing through endless photos and paintings of bodices until stumbling upon saberist’s bodice.

- Think about the order in which you’ll sculpt different bits of the model. Many sculptors like to work from the inside out, not least of which because leaving the extremities of the model ‘till last makes it less likely that you’ll fingersquish any semi-cured Green Stuff at the wrong moment. The other consideration here is access; you’ll note that I left the staff arm unattached at first; this was because sticking the other arm on would make it very hard to get at the trousers, hair, and right hip, so I left it off until I was ready to sculpt the right arm.

Evidence of planning: it's hard to see, but there are two pins
drilled into the head to stop the putty being able to squidge
off to one side while sculpting the hair.

Ok, this is the most involved step, so let’s start with the basics.

Things you need: sculpting tool(s), sculpting putty, lubricant. And the ability not to giggle every time someone says lubricant.

Which putty?
There are other sculpting putties out there; I’ve heard ProCreate is good, although I’ve not used it myself. Why they decided to call it procreate, particularly when you’ll need to use lubricant with it, is beyond me. I can only assume they’re not as childish as I am.

There’s also Milliput, and although I find it prohibitively chalky, it does have less shape memory than Green Stuff. It is actually possible to mix it with Green Stuff, which gives you a sortof best-of-both-worlds result re: shape memory.

Brown Stuff, I’m told, is great for doing weapons, as it can be sharpened after curing. In my case, I’d be doing a lot of organic textures – fabric and hair – so Green Stuff served my purpose well.

Sculpting tool(s)
I use a GW sculpting tool, and it does most of the work; a pin is also handy for making belt holes, or particularly thin lines. Fundamentally, almost anything in the room around you can be pressed into service; at one point when sculpting Amelia, I ended up using the smooth curve of the ostrich feather on a State Trooper’s hat to get a particular shape in the fabric. Seriously, use any hard object if it’s the right shape, but honestly, the sculpting tool really will do most of the work.

Unfortunately, in recent years GW have taken to selling sculpting tools with very broad-edged ‘blades’ as opposed to something sharper. This renders them almost entirely useless. You should be able to find something very, very similar but less blunt by having a look around the interwebs.

Lubricant (hur hur okshutupCharlieit’snotfunny)
Many folks hold with water as a good thing to use when trying to prevent Green Stuff sticking to your tool. I don’t. It gets in the way. Ex-GW sculptor Chris Fitzpatrick used to wipe his tool on his greasy forehead, and hilariously, this does actually work, but only if you have a greasy forehead. Personally, I usually let a lil’ drop of olive oil soak into a sheet of kitchen towel, and wipe the tool across that. You don’t want too much oil on the blade – just enough to help it to slide over the putty.

Mixing the putty
For those of you that haven't mixed Green Stuff before: just cut off a little strip of putty from the strip using the sculpting tool, slice out a few millimetres in the middle where the blue and yellow bits meet (as it can be semi-cured/hardened already), and squish the rest together with your fingers until you get an even green colour.

People talk about differing mixes of blue/yellow to create harder/softer putty with different degrees of shape memory, but most of the time, you’ll be fine if you just have a roughly even mix (erring on the side of having slightly more yellow than blue). If you find the putty is sticking to your fingers when you’re squidging it together, put a tiny amount of oil on your fingertips (as mentioned in the paragraph on lubricant). Make sure, for the love of god, that you have a completely even green colour before you put it anywhere near the model.

Smush the putty onto the model
The first thing you need to do is get the putty to adhere to the model’s surface; doing anything else to it before you’ve got it to stick would be a horrible waste of your time. Just stretch and prod the putty until it’s covering the right bit of the model, push it firmly against the model with the flat of the tool’s blade, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble (unless you over-lubed earlier, in which case it’ll just fall off and make you sad. Also, please never quote this bracket out of context.)

Form a basic shape
The first thing you need to do is to get the putty into a smooth, crease-free rendition of the vague shape you’re aiming for. Once you start sculpting intricate details, it’ll be really hard to get rid of any creases from overlapping lumps of putty.

The trick to getting said smooth surface is to polish the putty with the flat of the tool’s blade (or the lil’ round bit on the other end if it’s tough to get to). Curves can be formed using any of the round parts of the tool. In fact, don’t think of the sculpting tool as a blade with a handle, think of it as a Swiss Army Knife made of shapes you can push into putty.

Start creating texture
Despite the sculpting tool looking like a knife, you won’t use it like one. The only job of the “blade’s” edge is to provide you with a way of making long, thin indentations. Most of the time, you’ll want to form shapes using the flat of the blade, or to make dents by pressing the tool in with the blade at a 45 or 90-degree angle. You’ll also want to use the back (blunt) edge almost as much as the front edge.

At regular intervals, look at the reference material you dug up earlier, or get people to model for you. I regularly asked Jeff to extend his left arm, so that I could observe how the fabric of his jumper bunched and creased when the arm was held out to the side.

It would be pointless and counter-productive for me to attempt a long and in-depth description of every individual movement one can make with the sculpting tool; a video would be helpful, but at this precise moment in time I lack the technology. One day, perhaps. For now, I’ll share a few hints and tips on sculpting different kinds of objects.

Hair: A common error with hair – even on professional sculpts – is to give the hair too little volume. With that in mind, most of the time you’ll want to make the basic shape and then draw lines into it with the blade. For free-standing sections, make the shape and press in the lines up against the rest of the model, or a piece of lubricated plasticard/whatever, before then bending the putty into its freestanding position. Do this with freshly mixed putty, or you’ll be struggling with the putty’s shape memory.

Fabric: When sculpting folds or creases, less is often more. Making too many indentations results in a scrappy surface texture, so be sparing and decisive. Also think about the fabric you’re sculpting. A thin fabric will have sharper folds than a heavy one.

The ribbon tying the dagger to the belt fell off at one point, hence
its absence in the photo of the "finished" sculpt. Thankfully I found
it amongst the detritus of my workstation before I finished the
paint job.

Wood: If you’re trying to sculpt wood grain, you can end up with grain that looks too rounded. So, whereas we’ve talked about making a basic, smooth shape and then drawing lines into it to make hair, there’s a further stage with wood: once you’ve put the lines in, you need to gently re-flatten the surface by polishing it with the flat of the blade, but not so much as to completely remove the grain you sculpted.

Armour/metal/weapons: Surfaces with sharp edges can be tough when using Green Stuff. Personally, I find it’s important to work fast and to try to get a sharper edge before shape memory kicks in. Once you’ve got the rough shape, polish/buff the surface as described above, pressing the flat of the blade up against the two surfaces leading to the edge so as to sharpen it. Even more than with fabric, getting a smooth surface early on is important; the flat areas will show up any inconsistencies like a muthahubbard.

Chainmail: This is surprisingly easy, but laborious to explain; bear with me. Why’s it easy? Because you won’t have to rush like you do with things like armour, as you’re going to bork the surface so hard that shape memory won’t be an issue. First, sculpt the chainmail like plain, smooth cloth. Keep folds to a minimum – chainmail is heavy stuff, so it’s only going to fold if there’s something there to hold up the weight! Once you’ve got a nice, smooth surface, get a pin out and press a series of holes in a vertical line down from the top to the bottom of the mail, with the pin at a 45 degree angle to the surface. When you get to the bottom, change the angle of your pin by 90 degrees, so that rather than pointing down the mail, you’re pointing up, and start poking a line of holes right next to the line you just produced. Go up and down, up and down, until you’ve gone across the whole of the surface, and hey presto! Chainmail. Why up and down? Because a big field of regularly-spaced dots without directional bias won’t usually look like the rings are linked to each other.

The finished sculpt.

Work in small, bite-size chunks
There’s nothing worse than sculpting an amazing cloak, moving on to the hair, and accidentally poking/squishing/borking your lovingly-sculpted fabric. Once you’ve done a bit you’re happy with, it might be a good idea to put it down and leave it to cure.

Practise, practise, practise
Like drawing, painting, martial arts, and pretty much everything else ever, practise. There is no substitute. Don’t be hard on yourself when you screw things up, because you are going to screw things up. Screwing something up is actually a good thing, because it means you just learned something, and are now far more likely to remember it.

Be over-ambitious
This might sound like a bad idea, because you’re setting yourself up for a fall - like trying to paint a detailed freehand banner when you’re still struggling with getting stick-men right - but if you try to do something way beyond your current skill level, your skills will improve. That said, don’t be stupid and ruin some expensive components by covering them in poorly-rendered putty. Maybe try doing something over-ambitious on a model that doesn’t matter; that way, failure costs you nothing but time.

Mine's less nekkid! ...image of Sorceress shamelessly stolen
from GW's website. No copyright infringement is intended.

...and there we have it, folks! I hope that’s been helpful; it’s quite difficult to squish ten years of putty poking into a few thousand words. Was anything unclear? Is there something you’d like me to explain in more detail? Has this been helpful?



  1. Now that I know she's a dark elf under her clothes, shes even more alluring.

    I can't believe I said that.

    Beautiful work, Charlie.

    1. Hahaha oi! I didn't sculpt all that clothing so you could re-objectivise her! :P

      Anyway, thanks :)

  2. Any chance we could get a bit of an explanation on "shape memory"? It comes up quite a few times, but I've only got a fairly hazy idea of what it is!

  3. Shape memopry is the tendency of a substance to return to a previous shape. Think of rubber vs. plasticene. Rubber will snap back to a former shape when moved while plasticene will happily occupy a new shape.

    As green stuff dries it's shape memory increases long before it cures. This can be very, very useful but it means you have to time your projects carefully.

    1. Thanks Jeff! Couldn't've put it better myself.

  4. She looks absolutely fantastic. I wouldn't have been able to place the original model without you pointing it out, absolutely great!

    1. Thanks Andy, it's nice to know the model's origins aren't too obvious :)