Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sculpting 202: Layering

Hello fearless readers! The last few weeks I've been finding myself returning to the part of the hobby I enjoy almost as much as playing: Sculpting. Today we're going to look at the concept of Layering.

Layering is comprised of two key concepts:
1. You don't have to do every little detail in a single go.
I consider this THE biggest tip anyone can receive when getting into Sculpting. For any sculpt more complex than a simple fill or small detail, you should build up the piece in small sections or layers. Then allow each stage to fully cure overnight before working on another. (This can be cut to about 2 hours if you use a cooker.)
Why do things in stages? Because there's few things as frustrating as getting a sculpt just right, starting on something else and accidentally obliterating or marring the first sculpt. By allowing each stage to fully solidify, you don't have to worry about an errant thumb squishing your prior work. To quote my grandfather, "If you can't take the time to do it right the first time, how do you have time to do it twice?"
So once you've finished a layer, set the piece off to the side and work on something else until the work is cured. This is a large part of why I typically have 3-6 different sculpting projects on my desk at the same time. As a bonus, doing it in layers also means you're (probably) not staring at the same fig for hours and hours!

2. It is much easier to make the outer layer look "right" when you are building onto a correctly shaped underlayer.
In the same way that armature becomes the miniature's skeleton, the underlayer is their flesh. These layers don't have to be perfectly detailed and 100% anatomically correct. After all, you're just going to be covering it up. But it is good to have the general shape and size of the muscles and flesh defined. This will greatly assist you in keeping the miniature's overall proportions and mass correct. It also makes it much easier to gauge the correct shaping for covering layer(s). This is particularly critical for clothing, but also applies to armour, jewelry, decorations and even bare flesh.
For a great example of layering and underlayers, I again recommend checking out Klaus' Ogyrn. It's an excellent example of generally defining the basic musculature and bulk before adding the final layers of clothing and armour.
Another good example is Colonel Corbane's recent Sergeant Harker conversion. For the shirt, he's used the original bare-chested sculpt for his underlayer. The cloak is also built up in several layers to achieve the correct shape and look.

To show you how a project breaks down for me, I've dusted off my photo library from when I'd first planned this article 8 months or so ago. This part of the project was specifically done to show the concept of layering in stages. Originally I meant to just put a pickelhaube helmet on an Assault on Black Reach Ork, but my muse struck and it developed into a little bit more...

Here's what the ugly little blighter looked like to start. This was just after I'd modified his neck for the "Simple Fills" article. Note that I've stuck a length of pin into his skull to act as a basic armature and mounting point for the eventual helmet spike.Then I added my first layer of Green Stuff. I took care to get the right thickness for the dome of the helmet and smoothed the layer, but didn't bother making the edges all neat and proper.On the next application I cleaned up the edges and added the basic temple guards. There's a few tool marks here as I knew I'd be adding some more layers later. I could just as easily left them as he's just an Ork... they're not exactly known for their studious maintenance protocols.It was about this point that I realized he really needed an iron gob! So the next layer spent some time on that. Note that I only did the right side on this step; the left was added in a later step. I also added a small line of putty around the front of the helmet to start defining the brim. It didn't seem like this helmet should be "pretty", so I made sure there were some dents and scratches on the final brim.It looks like I skipped a session or two between this picture and the last. Those saw the sculpting of the left side of the gob, defining of the brim, and the addition of a rivet hinge for the gob. This shot was right after rolling out the putty for creating the helmet's crest.Once the crest was sculpted and cured, I finished him off with a spike stolen from somewhere. I think it was a Fantasy skeleton's spearhead or something...
Anyways, that's it for today. Hopefully you've gleaned something useful and/or inspiring! Cheers!

***Starter image borrowed from this site on CSS tables and randomly found via Google. As usual, it will be removed on request. The rest of the pics are mine.***

Off-topic note: Due to life, distractions and other whatnot, I promised this article "next week"... something like 8 months ago. :-p I find much more enjoyment from blogging when I write about what's on my mind at the time rather than trying to force an article. I hope you guys don't mind, but the quality seems much better when my muse is present.


  1. You really are very talented with the green stuff. Just like your eldar bikes, this model looks outstanding.
    I wish you played tyranids, just to see what you would do with models like the Tervigon and the Tyannofex.

  2. Heh. I've actually be scouring the net and enjoying the Tervigon conversions I've been seeing. The one that's most gone "Yeah, that." is this one. I also saw a neat one using amber egg sacs at Adepticon.

    But though tempting, Nids are one of those items I would only do for a friend or commission. I'm not letting myself even consider a new army until I've got a lot more of my other four armies finished.

    Cheers and thanks for the comment!

  3. Getting things actually finished is overrated! ;)

    I'm storing these away [mentally] for when I get around to doing some sculpting - but I'm no closer than 8 months ago, so I'm happy for you to take your time! :D

  4. Hey thanks for the tutorial! I've been trying to hack my way in the sculpting part of the hobby and haven't been able to do much more than gap filling and blisters. Next time I try my hand at something more complex I'll be coming back to this and reviewing again!

  5. @TKE: Heh. I think my oldest dead draft now is only 4 months old. I get back around to them eventually...

    @D'nyarak: Glad it could be of use! I have a few more around that might be of help too. It took me a long time to try something more than simple fills and repairs, but I'm happy I did.

  6. Thanks for the step by step. Nice to see you describe it as sculpting is only now advancing past filling in holes etc.

  7. Your sculpt-fu is getting stronger! If I get stuck or frustrated figuring out how to do the shemaghs on my IG conversions I might have to look suitably pitiful or figure out a bribe for some assistance ;)

  8. @MoM: Your shemaghs seem to have turned out pretty decent. But if you ever need assistance, you're on the short-short list.