Introduction: Custom RPG Minis
Hello there! First I'd like to start off by saying that this is my first instructable and any and all comments would be appreciated!
Are you a budding adventurer or an established one that can't find a mini that represents your character? Are you a DM looking for the perfect mini to represent that incredible boss monster you just came up with? Not a problem! Follow this guide and you'll be on your way to bringing your characters/monsters to life at a tiny scale!
I'm not a professional sculptor and I have no art training so this guide is written from experience and practice so there are probably better ways of doing many of the things I do in the guide, feel free to suggest them!
Step 1: Materials
There are many materials you can use to make miniatures, the most famous is the notoriously expensive "Green Stuff". I opt for the much less expensive sculpey which has many more uses than Green Stuff, but unfortunately makes a slightly more brittle mini so you'll need to be careful with them when you're using them. Anyways... on to the list!
-An Idea: This can be in the form of a written description by a player, your imagination, a drawing, etc.
-Super Sculpey: I use a combination of regular (beige) super sculpey and the firm (grey) variety. They'll each cost you about 20 bucks at a hobby shop so if you're on a very tight budget you may just want to use one of them. Each kind has its pros and cons. The regular kind is extremely soft and sticky when compared to its firm counterpart which can be great when making parts of a mini that are thin or added on later such as cloth, pouches, etc. On the other hand, it also has the problem that it is much more difficult to smoothe out at small scales. The grey kind is great because it's much more rigid while you're sculpting and can make sharp and smoothe edges with ease. Unfortunately it doesn't stick very well to the rest of your clay. Sometimes I even opt to mix the two clays together for an intermediate consistency, which may give you the best of both worlds in some cases or the issues of both depending on what you're making. On a side-note, You can make a lot of minis with a single block of super sculpey. I have yet to go through half a block and I've made nearly a dozen.
-Wire for armature: I use two different kinds of wire for minis that I simply happened to have on hand when I started making them. The first is a thick (1mm diameter) steel wire and the second is extremely easy to find "twist tie" wire. Every household has twist ties lying around, if you remove the plastic (or sometimes paper) layer around them, you have a handy and bendy wire!
-Pliers: Even if you're only using twist tie wire, two pairs of needlenose pliers make it much easier to bend the wire as you want it. Fingers are often too big for small bends for arms and legs.
-Sculpting tools: Because you'll be making something extremely small, regular sculpting tools aren't always the most functional. I've been told that dentistry tools are pretty useful, but I opted to make my own tool at a fraction of the cost. All you need is wood branch, a needle, a flattened out paper clip and some epoxy and tadaa! You have an excellent tool.
-An oven: I use a toaster oven to conserve energy. All it needs to do is go to 130 Celcius (275F) and be at least a few inches tall.
-Acrylic paint: The paint needs to be acrylic if you're painting super sculpey. Oil based paints will seep into the clay and make it even more brittle or even make it dissolve. Because I like to have a variety of colours I mainly use the primary colours and black and white and mix them to whatever colour I need at the time. I also have a few other paints on hand such as silver because it would be impossible to mix that.
-Small paintbrushes: You can buy a tiny paintbrush for a couple of dollars at most art stores. I bought a few different kinds to find out which kinds I prefer, So far the cheapest nylon brush I could find is the best for me.
-A flat, well-lit workspace: I use my desk and a fluorescent light. If you have an incandescent lightbulb, keep it far away from the clay. Because this project can take a lot of time, the lightbulb's heat can make your creation melt and sag so a fluorescent bulb (or if you're fancy an LED bulb) that generates little heat is optimal for use with polymer clay.
-Magnifying Glasses: I have tried a couple of different ways to magnify the minis as I make them. First I tried making an articulated stand for a dollar store magnifying glass, it's somewhat useful, but It'd need many more articulations to be perfect. Next I tried a magnifying headset. It's also somewhat useful, but kind of uncomfortable. These items can be useful for you to detect imperfections that are difficult to see with the naked eye.
-Time, patience and practice: I've made about 10-12 minis so far using the methods I'm about to describe and I feel that I learn something new with each one. They can be extremely time consuming to make at times or extremely fast to make depending on your level of inspiration, concentration and skill. My first mini took about 13 hours to make, but I am now able to make them in under 6 hours. My advice is to take your time and stop if you get frustrated. Skill takes practice to develop. I feel that I'm getting better at making minis, but that doesn't stop me from producing something sub-par every now and then.
(Optional) Sandpaper: More on this in step 6.
Step 2: Making a Base
The first thing I do when I make a mini is make a base. The typical D&D mini has a base 1inch in diameter. Larger monsters have a base that is a multiple of that such that it fits on a grid with 1x1inch squares.
1. Pick up a piece of sculpey: The firm variety is the best for bases because it's easy to smoothe out after you've scratched it during the sculpting phases.
2. Work it until it's softer and then roll it out to a couple of milimeters in thickness,
3. Use something that's 1 inch in diameter as a guide for the size. I used to use a Canadian 25 cent coin, but now I use pill box with a hole in the base.
4. Cut off the excess clay and smoothe out the edges: Flipping it over before smoothing is often helpful.
Step 3: Make the Armature
1. I usually begin this step by cutting a piece of the thicker wire to a reasonable size for a 3cm tall mini (a little more than 5cm long). More is better than less because you can cut off the excess
2. Use the two pliers to bend the wire to the desired shape of half the body. What I mean by this is, bend the wire such that you get a leg, the torso and an arm out of it. This is the most important part of the mini because it acts as the main skeleton. The thinner wire can then be attached to the thicker wire to make the other arm, leg and weapon if need be.
3. Strip a twist tie: Scrape it a bit with the pliers and it should remove the plastic or paper that's immediately above the wire, you should then be able to grab the wire and rip it out of the rest.
4. Twist the wire into the desired shape using pliers. You may want to wrap it around the torso a few times to secure it.
5. Pose the armature.
You'll notice that I didn't make anything for the head. I usually just make the head out of regular super sculpey so it binds without a problem and doesn't really need the armature to be secured.
Step 4: Start Sculpting!
Here's where you start to get creative! It's time to sculpt!
1. Start by putting some sculpey at the joints and torso to secure the wire in place. Regular super sculpey works best here, but you can do it with the firm one as well.
2. Move on to coating the rest of the wire with as thin or thick of a layer of clay as necessary for your mini.
3. Start shaping the clay with your tools: Flatten it with the flat side of the tool and smoothe it with the needle. You can also work in details using the sharper edges.
4. Add clothing, armor, etc. I tend to do this by working the armor and clothing in my hands and then slowly working the edges into the rest of the clay using the flat edge of the tool. This works best when combining two pieces that are made of regular sculpey or one of each. Firm sculpey is much more difficult and you cand use regular sculpey as a binding agent between them and over the edges since you'll be painting it after anyways you don't really have to worry about the difference in material or colour, once they're baked and painted, it'll should be pretty seamless.
5. Make one last check before baking that the wire is all at least under a bit of clay. It can often still be seen through regular sculpey because of its slight transparency and you can still cover the wire with paint, but it's best to keep it as centered as possible in the clay.
Step 5: Bake and Wait!
Preheat your oven to 130C or 275F and put the mini in the oven on a plate for 15 minutes. Make sure it's not a plastic or metal plate because it'll either melt, catch fire or transmit too much heat to the clay. Once this is done, set the plate out to cool. Another 15 minutes should be ample time.
Sometimes my clay gets a bit burnt in the oven due to the fact that I use a small toaster oven. A bit of browning doesn't seem to be anything to worry about, but keep an eye out if you're putting a bigger mini in a smaller oven.
Step 6: Sanding! (Optional)
Sometimes I feel that a bit of sanding is required once the mini is out of the oven. I use #400 metal sanding paper to do it. It works especially well for regular super sculpey because it's hard to smoothe it out before baking and hard to see the imperfections before baking.
Sanding can leave little bits of dry sculpy or dust on your mini, so it's a good idea to brush it off once you're done.
Step 7: Painting!
I'm no pro at painting so I don't really have many tips for this section, but here they are anyways:
1. Base coats can be useful: If your mini is going to be mostly lighter coloured, I strongly suggest to do a base coat of white, especially if you sculpted it mostly out of grey sculpey. This will allow you to put less coats of paint and make forgotten areas look more acceptable. If your mini is mostly darker colours, you can paint it black for the same effect.
2. I usually start by painting the base black. This isn't necessary if you want to make a more elaborate base, but it helps me figure out the edges of the sculpture and the base while painting. By the end there are all kinds of colours splashed on the base which are then easy to cover up with a final coat of black.
3. if you notice holes in your sculpture due to bubbles bursting during baking or something (this rarely happens, but I've seen it before), you can fill the hole with the paint. Since it dries up leaving a rubber film, it'll often even out imperfections if you put globs of paint on them.
4. Many details you sculpted can be made clearer and more obvious by using paint properly. In the mini I was making in the pictures, I felt that the loincloth wasn't obvious enough and could lead to confusion. Lining it with a red border made it much more obvious and delimited it nicely. Similarly, adding silver buttons to the many pouches on the mini makes them stick out.
Step 8: Make More!
If you enjoyed making your mini, make more! I've made some for all the other members of my D&D group including their new characters after they died and alternate versions of my character who was recently zombified and a flaming sphere. Here are a few with the hopes that they inspire some of you!