5 Tips for Making Polymer Clay Action Figure Prototypes
So, you’re new to polymer clay sculpture and are ready to attempt your first action figure prototype. No worries, I got you covered! Here are five important and helpful tips to keep in mind while creating your first action figure prototype out of polymer clay. Have fun!
Your first attempt at polymer clay sculpture – action figure prototype design
Congratulations are in order! You’re about to embark on a fun adventure that knows no bounds. Welcome to the wonderful world of polymer clay creations and action figure prototype design! Let’s get started.
My first polymer clay action figure prototype
These days, I can complete an action figure prototype in a day or two. That wasn’t always the case. My first creation was Gulik Horridus of the Troglodytaum. He took nearly a week to complete and his different colors of clay began to smear from all the times I went back to fix him. It was over and over. While it wasn’t easy, I learned a lot from it and never gave up. I even had to redo the hands because I didn’t leave enough craft wire outside his sleeves. You may completely mess up your first one. That’s okay.
Don’t get frustrated and take the rest of the day/night off. Startup with it again when you’re ready. The good thing about polymer clay sculpture is that you can easily edit most mistakes. Out of all the sculptures I made since 2015, only one or two of them went a direction that I just couldn’t salvage.
1. Be well rested
It’s important to be well rested and full of positive energy when you work with polymer clay. You’ll need a clear, fresh mind so make sure you’ve rested well and you’re not hungry. You want to focus your complete attention to the task that lay ahead of you. Some people listen to music or have the television on while working. If this works for you and it doesn’t interfere with your work, then go for it. I prefer not having such external stimuli while I’m working on a project. Some of the detailing is tricky and if it’s the first time you’ve ever attempted this, most of everything is tricky. Just be focused and relaxed before you begin.
I’ve completed over fifty projects since I started and I still follow a specific routine. I choose to make the craft wire skeleton and wrap it in tinfoil the day before I get started with the clay. This is because of the same suggestion I just gave you. The simple fact is that I don’t want to be tired before adding the clay. Creating the skeleton takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes. Wrapping it correctly in tinfoil takes another ten minutes. After I’ve completed this, I’m not feeling up to working with clay. Instead, I put the skeleton away for the night and do something else.
There’s another advantage to waiting until the next day. It gives me enough time to make my plan in my head. I start thinking of which direction I want to go once I have the skeleton complete. While I find that taking one night off before adding the clay is beneficial, taking more than one holds the opposite effect. If I wait two or more days to start adding clay to the skeleton, I find myself forgetting where I’m going with it. The project begins to become intimidating so don’t overthink it either. Get your skeleton exactly where you want it and plow into it the next day.
2. Think balance and posture!
Most likely, you’re going to want your figure to stand on its own two feet without having to lean it up against something. Think balance and proper posture the entire time of sculpture. In some situations, your figure might be top-heavy while you’re working on it. That’s okay, in fact, it’s what I (at least) consider normal. Also, don’t sacrifice the detail of the face because of the posture. You’ll have time to go back to it before it goes in the oven. At that time you can build up the feet again if you feel your figure is tipping one way or the other. I stand the figure up and rest it between two ceramic coffee mugs before placing it in the oven. It is at this time when I add final tweaks and try to correct any mistakes or missteps.
Allow your figure to cool down for at least an hour after it comes out of the oven. I usually wait for two or more. This gives the figure time to strengthen properly and I often find that a top-heavy figure before going into the oven results in one that readily stands on its own two feet after cooling down for a few hours. If you’re still concerned about your figures balance, you can add an extra prop such as a weapon, staff, or walking stick that goes down to the floor. This is an inconspicuous way of guaranteeing that your figure will stand. Adding a tail also works for this purpose. Again, there are plenty of tricks and ways around such matters. Just remember, if you want to use a prop to help balance your figure, plan it into the design of the skeleton.
3. Don’t overcook (or under-cook) your new action figure prototype
Here’s where a lot of people make mistakes and most of them come from over thinking the process. Baking a polymer clay sculpture is a simple task. Take a cookie sheet lined in tinfoil. No need to spray the foil with anything, it won’t stick. Prop the figure up between two ceramic coffee mugs and properly balance the figure. Carefully place the cookie sheet into the oven using mitts to avoid burns. Bake the figurine exactly as the product label calls for. Most call for fifteen minutes per quarter-inch of clay thickness. Again, refer to the specific instructions on your product label because baking time and temperature may vary depending on what brand you have. Don’t allow children to work the stove and supervise them during the entire sculpting process.
4. Never rebake any polymer clay creation after it’s been painted or glazed
Another good thing about polymer clay sculpture is that if you make a mistake, you can fix and rebake it. I’ve had to do this a few times, especially when balance became an issue. Just make sure that if you decide to paint or glaze your figure, you’re completely satisfied with the result. I once had a major issue with one of my creations whose name is Fiendish Cornelius the Gibling. This was one I probably should have let go and start the entire project over again. Instead of throwing in the towel, I kept going back to him, rebaking him on three separate occasions. His balance was off and the clay smeared horribly. Opposite of what you’re probably thinking, this wasn’t due to the baking process. The smearing of clay colors occurred from working the clay with my hands for too long. Know that some brands of polymer clay are of less quality than others. Know also that all polymer clay is not created equal.
5. Remember to have fun and don’t rush
Perhaps the most important tip I can give you is to remember to have fun. This isn’t me being superficial, it’s for a very important reason. If you’re not enjoying yourself and you find yourself frustrated, the quality of your polymer clay action figure prototype will also suffer. Sculptures do their best work when they’re, “in the zone”, not allowing external issues to get to them. Don’t rush. If you rush a project along, it won’t come out as good as it should. This goes back to my first tip to a certain extent. The better your mood is, the better focus you’ll have. You need focus. Attention to detail is everything in polymer clay sculpture. Remember, this figure you create might be around for a long time to come. There’s no shame in stopping and returning to it the following day. I would, however, not recommend waiting more than a day before returning to a project for two reasons. One, you may lose your original vision and two, if you wait several days the clay starts drying out and cracks result. Such issues usually don’t arise if you jump on it again the following day.
Take your time and do a good job. These are the keys to making a solid action figure prototype. I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years and I can point out several of them in my own prototypes. After some times passes by, I find it much easier to judge my work from a more critical standpoint because I’m no longer emotionally attached to it. At this point, one can decide whether having another go at it is necessary or not. Sometimes I can’t get back to my original frame of mind when trying to redesign a figure. This is why the five tips I gave you are so important. You don’t want to look at any of your figures and feel regret.