Sunday 17 November 2013

Sculpting Clay "Mini-Review"

While progress continues slowly on my Mephiston model (green stuff takes a while to set, and I have learnt the hard way not to attempt too much at once due to clumsy-finger-syndrome), I am looking at other ways to sculpt from 'scratch'. A recent dinner outing yielded an amusing statement where a restaurant owner was proud of it's "scratch kitchen" (where every menu item was made on premises), and I hope to soon be the proud owner of a "scratch model", where instead of kit-bashing or converting, the whole model is made from putty.

Fimo is an old favourite of mine, having been used by an old family friend to make amazingly coloured toys and decorations which I remember vividly from my childhood. Unfortunately I haven't had the same luck in reproducing intricate details and have instead used it for basing material and other failed experiments. It is quite resistant to precise sculpting, but is less brittle once baked, making it ideal for toys models requiring a little more resistance to clumsy handling.

Sculpey (I have no idea what III refers to) is another product easily available at many hobby and craft stores, and as a competitor to Fimo I never really knew the difference until I tried it myself. It is a lot 'softer', and retains details very precisely to the point where a small slip of the hand can cause big headaches to re-sculpt. It also bakes firmer and more brittle, requiring a firm armature to retain strength.

This massive lump of clay was a recent discovery of mine, and out of stock at my local craft store for as long as I can remember. A side trip to pick up Christmas craft supplies led to a rather expensive addition to the day's shopping trip. While the other two are designed for 'casual' sculpting (art classes and the like, though many of my favourite sculpters still swear by Fimo or Sculpey), Super Sculpey is ideal for both detail work and strength once baked. This particular product retails nearly four times the others at packet face value, but the amount of putty supplied (which unlike some two part modelling clay I have encountered) will not set or change state until baked. This is also a double bonus as I tend to waste a lot of green stuff when mixing together too much!

Top-Bottom: Fimo, Super Sculpey, Sculpey

So, on to the comparison test. As you can see from the photo above, Fimo (top) tends to hold a its original shape, in this case no matter how I worked the wing design into it the form sprung back to the "squished ball" shape. Pushing in to one edge caused the other half to swell, then the two halves evened when pressure was released. Contrast this with the Sculpey (bottom), whose shape retained all strokes of the tool, even those that were not desirable! Pushing more firmly just yielded deeper recesses, and unlike the Fimo I could push through all the way to the table if I wasn't careful. The Super Sculpey lived up to its name, providing great levels of detail while not melting away from the tool and requiring re-sculpting of other less deep details.

After baking (the Fimo taking longer than the other two), application of a file and drill showed the difference in the three clays. Whilst the Fimo (top) retained nearly all detail after aggressive filing, and required firm drilling force, the Sculpey (bottom) crumbled away as the drill bit broke through the piece, and filling quickly removed the details. The Super Sculpey (centre) provided a good balance between the two, and was able to be filed easily without crumbling as the drill bit was worked through the piece.

To give a better understanding of the comparative brittle nature of the Sculpey (bottom), here we can see the Fimo (top) bending rather than breaking, and after the two wings tips have touched the form bends back to nearly flat again. The Sculpey (bottom) crumbled easily, small flecks of baked clay just visible where the two halves separated. Once again the 'winner' is Super Sculpey (centre) which resisted mild force and broke neatly in two at the narrowest point. I would assume from this test that larger sections could be easily re-glued should the need arise.

So where does this leave us? My own brief testing of these products finds the Super Sculpey to be ideal for the scale model or war gaming enthusiast, but personal preference may dictate that finer detail (Sculpey) or more robust final product (Fimo) is desirable, so each to their own. Do these products spell the end of "Green Stuff"and similar two-part products? No, for two reasons. Firstly it is nearly impossible to convert or make add-on parts for existing plastic models using baking clay as the model would melt (believe me, I've tried it!). Secondly, due to the nature of these clays an armature is required to give the basic form and provide strength for the final model. How will I be going about making these? With wire and two part modelling putty (which hopefully doesn't pose any dangerous-chemical related problems being baked under the clay, but no need to sniff the oven eh?).

What I am mainly hoping to gain from the use of Super Sculpey is time. Whereas Green Stuff requires a lot of pre-planning and preparation of one or more small projects (or parts of) to be attempted before it 'cures', baking clay can be worked on over a number of evenings before being set hard in the oven. I have thrown a lot of near-finished models in the scrap heap because I have forgotten to add a detail here or there (sometimes even the wrong number of fingers!), all of which can be easily rechecked or re-worked with un-baked Super Sculpey without wasting time or modelling clay in the process. Here's hoping anyway!

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