Friday, March 09, 2012

"How Do You DO This?!"

People have asked me quite often how I do certain things to achieve the results that I do. I figured it was a good opportunity to do a post about my process to shed some light on those who both are interested in my skills or who wish to try their own projects.

Now, this isn't going to be a complete how-to on how I do everything it is what I do (tutorials may come later for specific techniques) but this is just a general and semi-quick overview on how *I* work. Every artist has their own styles, tools, materiels, and motivations they use. And as they should! Not everyone's way is perfect for everyone. One must learn and discover what they feel most comfortable with. I've never trusted myself with an airbrush and I just plain don't like oils. And yet others in the hobby are positively *goddesses* with them. It just depends on what is best for the individual and their own trial and errors as they learn to master it.
For this post, I'll use an example piece to follow. In this case, I'll be using the Breyer Bluegrass Bandit mold (BGB, more specifically, Elvis's Bear).
Usually my process starts with looking at a model and trying to figure out what I *could* do with it. Some artists say the "horse speaks to them." I study it, holding it while watching TV, sitting it on my computer desk, looking over the muscles and lines, seeing what it could be (relatively) easy to turn into. Other times, I have an idea and I try to find a model that best suits to the idea. It all just depends on each situation.
Once I have my idea, it's time to look for a reference picture. Even if you have a specific idea in mind and can see clearly what you want, it's best to have a reference photo to help "back up" your idea in case anyone questions the model later (and usually, there will be).
In my case, I saw BGB as a Standarbred Pacer. Keep in mind this was NOT my intention when I first picked him up. Actually, I was staring at him to determine if I could use him to make into a trail mule for a commission. But like most ideas I get, something totally random just popped out at me! Thankfully, I had LOTS of photos from my trip to The Red Mile, a well known racetrack in downtown Lexington that hosts mostly harness racing meets.
Now that I have my reference photo for the pose, I got to work. I usually start by heating, bending and cutting with the help of a heat gun. In my case, I like the temperature and precision of my embossing tool, something you usually see in the scrapboook section at Arts & Crafts stores. I have, in the past, use a paint stripper found in most hardware stores (with 500 degrees Farenheit and 1000 degrees Farenheit settings) but have since found it heats up the plastic too quickly and causes it to scorch and bubble.
He looks a tad mad, doesn't he?

Sometimes things need to be reshaped and sanded. For that I use my trusty Dremel. I used to use a battery powered one, but even with multiple batteries and switching them out, I lost power often, sometimes as often as within 2 minutes of starting work! So investing in a good, plug-in model is my reccomendation so one can enjoy hours of destruction and fun!
After making all the moves and reshaping, there's nothing left to do but start building back up! For this I use my preferred artists's epoxy, Magic Sculpt. I have used Magic Sculpt for years since I first started back in 2001. I like it for it's nice smooth grain-free texture, clay-like workability. It binds to almost anything, blends like a dream, and smooths with just water.

As a two-part epoxy, it begins to cure chemically as soon as the two parts meet. Thankfully, it has a nice work time, getting progressively firmer with every hour. I can usually work with it well for up to 2-3 hours, taking advantage of it's firmness to add in some detail that would normally cut through it too harshly when it was more wet. It gets to be hard enough to handle within about 6 hours, hard enough to start some carving and sanding in 12 hours, and ready for anything in 18-24 (I like to give it a full 24 hours before I do anything major because before that point, it is still is fairly "soft" even though it's hard).
After sculpting muscles and reshaping and sanding with the Dremel and 340 grit sandpaper, I may do a few more stages of "epoxy runs" or whatever else I may catch. Then I primer and prep for paint.
I am not known for my painting skills, but I do try my best to do my models justice. My usual plan of attack is to do think, watered down layers of Liquitex Acrylic paint. Acrylic is great to use as it has little or no odor, thins with straight water, and drys quickly. I try to gently rub/paint each layer on and I seal with Testor's Dullcote between wach layer so as to not accidently scrape away the previous layer, and to also give the next layer some tooth. My base layer is much, much lighter than my goal color for the model, and I do this for a reason...
Once I am done with the base layer, I then use Earth Pigments and/or chalk pastels to do all my shading. Jaime Baker ( is a great teacher for this medium and I heartily encourage anyone who wants to know more to seek out her books, DVDs and tutorial CDs. Essentially, I put on the color like one would apply make-up: dusting and rubbing in the color .
This is also a layer stage, sealing with Testor's Dullcote between every layer so that the color can keep on gripping and building up. You will need another set of brushes, several in the same size, so that you don't mix colors. Also, it's impossible to clean Earth Pigments and pastels from brushes, and they will be destroyed fairly often, so feel free to use cheaper brushes.
For detailing, it's back to handpainted acrylics. Eyes, hooves and on occasion mane detail (especially for chestnuts). Seal with Testor's Dullcote and gloss the eyes and hooves with normal clear gloss nailpolish (you may need a smaller liner brush for small eyes) and boom, done!

Whew! It's a long process from start to end, it can take anywhere from a month to a year. But the results can be very rewarding.

The only thing left is selling your creation. Being able to distance yourself from your work is the first step, and it can be hard at times. There are several ways to sell. One can use eBay, Model Horse Sales Pages, Model Horse Exchange, Yahoo Groups, or create lotteries, offers, silent auctions, etc. from your Facebook Page or Website. My preferred method is to use Model Horse Sales Pages and do an auction-style Offers system, setting an end date for offers. I find this is most fair, reaches a wide audience, avoid eBay (which some buyers and sellers alike hate), and makes it easier for me to offer time payment plans.

Thank you for reading and I hope this was helpful to anyone curious about customizing!


Anonymous said...

Dumb question, but do you move the plastic after you heat it with your hands, or some other tool? Do you wear gloves? How hot is the plastic?

Cindy said...

Yes, after the plastic is heated with a heat source (in my case, the embossing tool, which is just like a hot hair dryer) and then I carely move it with my hands and fingers. It is VERY hot, and I end up doing kind of a "hot potato dance", not leaving my fingers on the plastic for longer than a second or two or else they feel scorched. Gloves may be advisable but I feel I don't have enough control with them on. Taping fingers is also an option. I have yet to actually burn myself on the plastic itself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering my question =)

Anonymous said...

Another question from an admirer of your work =)

Do you make cuts on your stablemates when you move their heads, legs, necks,etc? They look relatively unscathed.

Cindy said...

I do make cuts sometimes, if it's more than a couple degrees or if it's closer to the body itself, but then when I bend them, I'm basically closing the cut like a door. Then it's a matter of filling the crack left behind.

I try to not do too many cuts and never completely cut a leg off unless absolutely necessary. It's better for the strength of the model's structure overall and makes less work for me later.