It seems like most of the emails I get these days are from people wanting to get answers to some basic (and not so basic) questions, so I thought for this blog post, I'd do a simple FAQ. I've compiled a small list of the most frequently asked questions (So that's what FAQ means... Just kidding). If you guys still have more questions that you would like me to try to answer, post them in the comments section and I'll get to them as soon as I can. But for now, here are the FAQ's.
Q: What type of clay should I use to start sculpting?
A: This question comes up most often, but luckily it’s a fairly easy one to answer. The type of clay you need depends of the type of project you’re working on. For larger or even medium sized projects that can be finished quickly, you can use water based clays like WED. You’ll need to keep your project wrapped up when not working on it, and keep it moist. Water based clays dry fairly quickly, but don’t give a permanent end result, unless you fire the clay (but that’s a whole other topic of discussion). Typically, water based clays are used to sculpt what will become latex masks, as it molds easily with plaster. They are also used for quick sketches and rough sculpts. You can use silicone rubbers after spraying a sealant over the surface. Water based clays are not self supporting and so will need a sturdy armature.
If you’re working in smaller scales or you need an extended working time (or you just don’t like the mess that dry clay dust leaves behind), you can use oil based clays. They typically come in two types – Sulfur and Non-Sulfur based. The sulfur based clays (like Roma Plastilina and Professional Plastiline) are typically softer and smoother. They don’t have the stickiness that some Non-Sulfur Based (NSP’s) clays have. However, there is a draw back. You need to take greater precautions when molding using silicone rubber, as the sulfur will prevent a proper cure. For beginners, I would suggest sticking to NSPs like Chavant NSP, and La Beaux Touche, or Klean Klay. Oil based clays will not harden over time, so you’ll need to make a mold of your sculpture if you want to keep a copy.
Finally there’s polymer clays like Super Sculpey. Polymer clays are a good middle ground between water based and oil based clays. Polymer clays won’t dry out like water based clays, but they can be baked and made permanent using a standard household oven. They can also have more clay added to them after they’ve been baked, making it a great way to lock in certain details without the fear of messing them up. Because of the price of polymer clays, they’re typically best suited for smaller projects (things that would fit in your oven). However, you can use aluminum foil to bulk out the core of the sculpture and thereby decreasing the overall weight and amount of clay you use.
Q: What type of wax do you use?
A: The wax I use for most of my work is Silwax-C (a grey version that’s no longer available – you can still get it in red). It’s a hard carving wax that is best used when poured into a mold and then finished detailed. I have used casteline, but never really liked it. I’ve also picked up some Willow Product waxes and so far I like Fuse and Zen as sculpting waxes (waxes that can be sculpted like clay when warm and carved and detailed when cool). Their color is a bit light for me, but that can be easily adjusted with one or two black crayons.
Q: What type of tools should I have?
A: When it comes to tools, everybody has their favorites. There are, however, a few basics you want to have. A selection of small loops and rakes is a must. You’ll also want to have some simple spoon and knife shaped tools. As you begin, you’ll find that you will rely on certain tools more than others. I have a huge selection of tools that I’ve gathered over the last 15 years, but I typically rely on only about 5 or 6 tools for any given sculpt. I also have larger scale tools for bigger sculpts. You can find tools at Hobby Stores, Art stores, hardware stores and many other places on-line. You should also look into making your own tools. Most of the tools that I’ve come to depend on are tools that I’ve made to fit specific needs.
Q: How much should I charge for a commission?
A: The issue of price is a tough one. Varying skill levels and personal needs create a wide price swing among freelancers. The best idea is to figure out what you want to earn as an hourly wage, then figure out how long your project will take, add in your materials cost and that will determine what you should charge. It’s also important not to undersell yourself. Lowering your base price will not only hurt you in the long run, but it also hurts other sculptors. I know it’s hard… Trust me. You don’t want to lose out on work, but if you undersell yourself, it’ll be hard to raise your rates later and other freelance sculptors will have a hard time competing with such low prices. In the end, good sculptors are out of work, the market is flooded with low quality work and everybody is hurting because of it. I wish I could give you solid numbers, but like I said, skill levels vary as greatly as the prices people charge.
Q: How long does it take to sculpt one of your pieces?
A: The amount of time it takes usually depends on the complexity of the piece and the materials I use. Portraits (1:6 scale) will typically take about 8-12 hours over the course of 2-3 days. Full figures usually take about 2-4 weeks, depending on complexity. If I’m not molding or casting the pieces, then I can finish a sculpt in a matter of hours or just a couple days (depending on it’s size). The 1:4 scale busts you’ll find in my store are typically finished in about 2-4 days.
Q: How do I break into this industry?
A: This is one of my favorite questions, as it always seems like it’s being asked of the wrong person. I’m still trying to break into this industry and I’ve only managed to get one professional toy sculpting job and a handful of private commissions. I wish I knew the answers… I’d certainly be far more successful at this. But sadly, I don’t know, so I’ll refer you to the 3 part post on Breaking into the industry that I did earlier this year. It features some great advice from Troy McDevitt and Walter O’Neal. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3