When I was a little kid, I played with action figures. A lot. And no, they aren’t called “dolls”. As with so many other things I loved, I really wanted to make my own versions. These took several different forms, from G.I Joes customized with a wood burner (which as you would expect, looked more like burn victims than any sort of professional, salable product) to figures made from scratch with hot wax, complete with moveable limbs. The wax ones fell apart and turned out to be just another failed attempt. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered what I had been doing wrong, and the process of making molds followed by casting with resin. But today I’d like to go over my favorite way to create figurines: polymer clay. As with most chemical compounds, it was discovered by accident and not seen as anything useful until a kid got their hands on it and was able to make something cool. You can basically think of it as a product similar to traditional clay, but with the ability to fully bake it in your oven at home without the need for a kiln.
The first decision you’ll need to make is what type of polymer clay to use. The main difference as far as I’m concerned is how malleable it is. I like Sculpey and Super Sculpey a lot, but it’s just so hard to model with. The amount of force needed to kneed it is enough to tire me out before I’ve even started the project. As of this point, I’m recommending Fimo because it’s just easier to work with.
Step 1: creating an armature
Some people go to extremes when creating an armature and craft an entire skeleton with wire. I’d personally suggest only using wire for the thinnest parts of the model such as outstretched fingers. For the bulk of my armature I’ll be using aluminum foil. If you’re short on foil, you can stuff it with newspaper and just use the foil on top to hold the shape.
Step 2: Polymer clay time
After your armature is complete, it’s time to start covering it with your polymer clay of choice. Don’t worry too much about detail at this point, just get a thin layer of clay all over your armature, making sure there are no cracks in it. You’ll want approximately a thickness of approximately 1 centimeter of clay in all areas.
Step 3: Adding detail
This is where the fun really begins and your model goes from some blob like creation to something cool. Your dental tool will come in handy adding tiny details like eyes and nostrils. If it serves your model, make sure to keep everything smoothed out after making changes. One great thing about polymer clay is that you can leave it for a long time without having to worry about hardening, so don’t worry about it if you need to take a break. Just keep working on it until you’re happy.
Step 4: Baking
The time and temperature you’ll want to bake at will depend on which type of polymer clay you selected to work with, be sure to follow the instructions. Keep in mind that any surface you set your model on will probably flatten out during the baking process, so make sure if it’s a humanoid it’s standing up. I’ve created a flying character with wings before and ended up baking while it was suspended with wire from an oven rack, so do what you have to.
All that’s left to do if you so desire, is to paint it. Be sure to use only acrylic paints! Happy modeling!