Tag Archives: Sculpey

Dinosaur dabblings…

Over Christmas I had the urge to do something creative, but a little less demanding. Back in February 2014 I wrote about a small sculpture I’d created of Allosaurus fragilis, a Jurassic Theropod dinosaur. Frankly this had been lurking in a box ever since I made it, so I decided it was high time to get it out, dust it off, give it a decent paint job and finish it.

I tackle painting a sculpture like this with some of the same sensibilities reserved for making a traditional painting on canvas. The tools and paints may differ, but there are parallels, with careful control of hue and tone used to suggest texture, form and distance. However, I have to say I find this sort of task easier than painting because in some ways it feels a little like 3D colouring-in with clearly defined areas to tackle, the mouth, teeth, hands etc.

I’d spent a lot of time trying to ensure the sculpt was as accurate as I could achieve, and I also wanted to make sure my colour scheme was plausible. Allosaurus was a hunter, and as a rule of thumb standing out from your surroundings really isn’t helpful when stalking prey. So I decided on a muted palette with soft stripes and a counter change of lightish undersides and darker upper body to break up the dinosaur’s profile against the tree line. I originally intended to go quite light and sandy for the main colourway, but it evolved into what became a pleasant dusty, warm green.

Allosaurus left profile dinosaurAllosaurus right profile dinosaur

I used Tamiya liquid acrylic paints in an Iwata Eclipse airbrush for the bulk of the work. Detail was added over the top using Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics and tiny brushes; my poor eyes! This dinosaur is at 1/30th scale, less than 12” from snout to tail, and in common with other small models or sculpts I started by applying a dark purple pre-shading layer over the primer. This informed both the position of the stripes, and helped to define shadowed areas under its limbs. This pre-shading is needed because the effect of ‘real’ light on something so small simply doesn’t always give a convincing ‘weight’ and presence.

Colour too has to be modified. When you view a 12” sculpt of a dinosaur from three or four feet away, it’s the equivalent of looking at the real thing at a considerable distance. At full size the atmosphere between the viewer and subject reduces contrast and makes things appear lighter and bluer. To replicate this in miniature the colours I used were deliberately lightened and toned down to achieve a more convincing reconstruction.

Allosaurus front dinosaur

Dinosaurs, and all manner of prehistoric life, have been a constant passion of mine since I was a very wee person, and now as I plod merrily out of middle age, my interest still shows no signs of dwindling. While I’ll be getting back to painting with a new commission very soon, don’t be surprised if I start work on yet another dinosaur sculpture. Watch this space…


Refreshed and buzzing

Hello everyone. I’ve recently returned refreshed from a brilliant two week holiday in East Devon. The weather was phenomenal, sunny and dry with only one day being washed out. And we watched Bottlenose Dolphins for a whole 20 minutes as they swam in the looking- glass sea!! Sorry, just had to get that out now because, well, because… DOLPHINS! YAY!!

It’s been over six months now since my dad died, and given how I’ve been feeling I’d reined back any artistic expectations for the holiday. My life approach at the moment is to take each day as it comes. If I feel like painting or drawing I will, if I don’t, then I won’t. The muse will come back when it’s ready, and judging by this holiday that’s not going to be long.

Guerrilla pochade box

To keep things simple I just took my 6” by 8” Guerrilla pochade box with a few basic acrylics and my trusty Saunders Waterford watercolour sketchbook and Herring compact palette. I surprised myself by how soon into the holiday I actually wanted to paint – I was positively itching on some days. By the end of the fortnight I’d knocked out four acrylics and a few watercolour sketches. Doesn’t sound like much, but believe me this has been a big step forward.

Carole painting
Carole painting on Monmouth beach

I’m most pleased with a couple of the watercolour sketches. My wife Carole was painting fossils on Monmouth beach in Lyme Regis in Dorset. The light around her head was wonderful, and I worked quickly to establish her in as few brushstrokes as possible. I think the sense of strong sunlight really comes through don’t you?

View toward Charmouth
View toward Charmouth

My second is a view from Lyme over the bay towards Charmouth, an iconic spot for wonderful Jurassic fossils. I’ve not got the tonal depth quite right to big up the sunlight falling on the cliffs, but it’s sparked a desire to work this into a larger piece. Fortunately I bought a bunch of panoramic canvases while I was in Sidmouth. My thought is to work it completely in oils or alykds. It’s been a while, but I do miss using them and want to start the switch back, at least for some paintings.

So, rather unexpectedly, I seem to have come back with my head full of ideas and with a generally creative buzz. All manner of projects and fancies are popping into my head, and not all are painting related. There’s the painting above of course, but I also rather fancy having a crack at making a moody painting of The Batman. I’m sure some people might raise an eyebrow or two – surely not a ‘proper’ subject for a painter? ‘Tish’ and ‘Phooey’ I say to that – in the nicest possible way of course. It’s the scope for creating a dark brooding atmosphere by playing with the light that attracts – so many levels of black; besides he’s such an iconic character.

I also fancy breaking out the Sculpey this winter to reconstruct another dinosaur, possibly a Scelidosaurus. I sculpted an Allosaurus fragilis a few years ago, something else which I’m determined to paint and finish it in the next month or two. Scelidosaurus is very much a ‘British’ dinosaur with many of its remains being found at Charmouth –now there’s a happy coincidence J

But above all these I’ve just accepted a commission! It’s going to be in alkyds, it will be big at 40″ by 30″ and will feature an Italian Spinone called Jo-Jo – a gorgeous, slobbery hairball of a dog; she’s so lovely.

My immediate issue with all this returning enthusiasm is limited time. I know I can only do so much, and I’ve been putting off clearing my dad’s house for sale, a huge, emotionally draining job. It contains the sole remaining physical traces of the lives of my dad, my mum, nan and grandad. Everything I throw away, recycle or sell dismantles a little more of the fabric of their lives, fraying their memory. It’s truly heart rending.

So, watch keep watching this space, ‘Follow’ me on Twitter or ‘Like’ my Facebook page. Progress may be sporadic, but bear with me.

Feat of clay: blocking in Hulk vs Spider-Man

Grey Super Sculpey
Grey Super Sculpey

So, with the armature complete on my Hulk vs Spider-Man, it was time to start squidging on the clay. I decided to use grey Super Sculpey Firm, a polymer clay which stays soft until permanently set in a low temperature oven. My Allosaurus was sculpted in regular ‘pink’ Super Sculpey. But I found that it was really too soft. The warmth from my fingers rendered it so soft after working it for a while it was impossible to get any decent detail.

If anyone fancies playing around with polymer clays do be aware that they’re not without health warnings, even though they are marketed heavily at kids. The plasticisers they contain, phthalates, have been linked to an increased risk of some forms of cancer following prolonged exposure. Play carefully.

Sculpting tools
Sculpting tools

If anyone’s interested here are most of the tools I use, many from Tiranti sculpting supplies. Of these the ‘spoon’ next to the brush is my weapon of choice for most of the sculpting.  But frankly, if pressed, I use pretty much anything which looks useful.

In these early stages I planned to simply bulk out both figures equally, but I started with the Hulk to get the weight in there. Blocking in all the big areas roughly and getting their proportions right from the start should pay dividends later – good foundations. I knew those life classes in the eighties would pay off one day.

Hulk and Spider-Man block 1
Hulk and Spider-Man block 1

Sadly, my enthusiastic start suffered a few knocks. I immediately found an unforeseen problem. The clay really didn’t stick very well to Milliput epoxy putty. But after a bit of persistence I got it to work.

Hulk and Spider-Man block 2
Hulk and Spider-Man block 2

Another problem emerged with support for the hands. I’d deliberately left any structure off until I could see exactly where the wrist and fingers would need to end up. Unfortunately not a bright move. I had to do a fair bit of bodging to attach some thin wire onto the forearms with epoxy. Next time I’ll weave the arms out of five strands of finer wire from the get-go so I can branch the fingers wherever needed.

Hulk and Spider-Man block 4
Hulk and Spider-Man block 4
Hulk and Spider-Man block 3
Hulk and Spider-Man block 3

It was when I got onto blocking out Spider-man I knew I was in real trouble. The key position of the Hulk’s hand gripping Spidey’s ankle just wasn’t right.  The Milliput core wouldn’t accommodate the correct position, it was well in the way. So out came the Dremel and I hacked back the armature with predictable results…

And so it was, inevitably, that something snapped and Spidey fell off. Bugger.

The ties that bind: making the armature for Hulk vs Spider-Man

It’s been one of the hottest weeks I can remember for a long time.  My reaction to the sweltering humidity has been to come home, drink and go to sleep. I did try painting but my studio is so sand-meltingly hot it’s truly unbearable. So, in the absence of my usual painty type stuff, here’s another retrospective continuing the creation of my long running Hulk vs Spider-Man sculpt.

After I made the wee maquette you saw in my last post I gathered my materials keen to get busy with the clay. But first, the pose needed a serious armature – a skeleton to stop it being all limp and floppy… (now, now; I can hear you making up your own jokes in the cheap seats…)

A quick sketch established both the scale of the Hulk and Spider-man and the positions of their major joints. This would be my guide when making the armature.

I used three gauges of annealed aluminium wire, the same type used for stop motion animation figures. This accommodating wire has the advantage that it’s had all of the ‘boing’ extracted. You bends it and it stays where you put it with no annoying spring.

Hulk vs Spider-Man wire armature
Hulk vs Spider-Man wire armature

Each figure had an armature made directly from the scale sketch you can see in the background. The two armatures were wedded to each other at the Hulk’s right hand and Spider-Bloke’s ankle and then bent to roughly the right pose using my little maquette as a guide.

This sculpture will have a lot of weight suspended away from the main centre of gravity so I wanted a hefty base with the figures firmly attached. I laminated two layers of MDF into a rough block, drilled two holes and bolted the Hulk’s feet to it using captive nuts epoxied into the Hulk’s feet – that’ll learn ‘im! The base will only be cut to size and shape once the whole sculpt is complete.

Feeling quite chuffed with myself I showed it to my sculptor chum Andy Bill. Now, he’s an extremely knowledgeable fella and when I asked his opinion on the finished armature he was very clear that he didn’t think it would hold. I don’t think he actually giggled, but maybe he should’ve.

Front of the strengthened armature
Front of the strengthened armature
Rear of the strengthened armature
Rear of the strengthened armature

So I strengthened it by covering it in a layer of Milliput epoxy resin (that’s the green stuff). This both locked it in position and made it really robust; or so I thought…

Hulk and Spiderman sculpture – taking it to the wire

Thought I’d have a change of pace from blogging about my paintings today.  Instead, while I try to chase down and arrest my flagging mojo, I thought I’d continue my occasional post series about the sculpture I’ve been working on as a long term project. Be warned, if you don’t like superheroes turn away now, there may be tights ahead…

Whenever I mention I rather like comic books I tend to get one of two reactions.  There’s either a shrug of indifference followed by a rapid change of subject, or a look usually reserved for someone who admits to working as a strangler on a bunny farm…

The reality is, without the lure of Marvel comic books, I probably wouldn’t be painting now. In the late sixties and into the seventies their colourful capers captured my imagination as I tried to draw my own adventures. I have moved on of course, but like it or not the lure of my youth remains.

Which brings me back to the sculpture; no surprise then that when choosing a Marvel hero to sculpt it had to be a classic with sixties pedigree.

I bought my first comic books back in 1966 or 67 – X-men and Thor. Thor featured the Stone Men of Saturn if I remember right, and the X-men, well not so sure, but I do remember a dynamic first splash panel with the team reporting to Professor X in a coffee house. But neither set the juices going for this project.

I’d set myself a couple of pre-conditions for my figure. It had to be both interesting to sculpt and it had to be dynamic rather than a standard ‘hero posing’ stance.

After a lot of mulling over, and even rejecting my all-time favourite Spider-Bloke, I plumped for… the Hulk.

Once I’d made that decision I started thinking about what I wanted out of the figure. So many artists have made their own interpretation of the Hulk through the years I wanted to narrow down just what I was after.

I like the vaguely chubby big-brawler of Jack Kirby’s original, but I’m not keen on the really ripped look of some later interpretations which also found its way into the second Hulk film. My vision would lie somewhere in between.

Now I needed something dynamic for him to do. Leaping? Smashing? Raging to the skies? Meh, all a bit solo. No, a bit of a brawl sounded like much more fun. So, without even trying it seemed I’d actually committed myself to making two figures. Step up Spidey, I knew I couldn’t leave you out!

As an added bonus striking hues of emerald, red and blue would make a Hulk and Spiderman a colourful sculpture, as well as a powerful combination.

I’m dead impatient – I like to jump in and get ideas sorted double quick. So rather than spend time laboriously sketching I grabbed some scrap wire and a wad of Super Sculpey polymer clay and started to play with ideas on a diddy scale (about 2” tall).

And this is what I came up with – “Hulk hurl bugman!”


Hulk vs Spiderman macquette
Hulk vs Spiderman macquette


Yes it may look as rough as a dogs doodah, just blobs really, but I hope you can see where I wanted it to go. This would be my guide and to be honest sorting out this rough was comparatively easy. The hard work was just beginning – translating my idea into a reality which would work.

But that’s for the next instalment…