Introduction: How to Sculpt Tiny Dinos

About: I am a full time Speech Language Pathologist that loves DIY on the side! My wife and two children provide me with lots of fun ideas and projects to continuously work on. I love 3D/3D printing, Origami, and Pai…

I am a true fan of dinosaurs and absolutely love dinosaur toys. However, sometimes they aren't as accurate as I would like them to be, specifically at a smaller scale. You can go to the store and buy hundreds of small and tiny dino toys for pretty cheap; the quality just won't be the greatest. The toy companies are trying to make money so they provide quantity instead of quality. My goal, in the future, is to sell tiny dinosaurs toys that are a lot more accurate to what paleontologists have found and give the small scale much more detail overall.

That is a far into the future goal I have, but I had to start somewhere. This tutorial will demonstrate the tools I used and the variety of methods used to make tiny armatures, clay details, and fun tiny dinosaur models.

The three dinosaurs you will see in this Instructable are Tyrannosaurus Rex, Apatosaurus, and Parasaurolophus.


The supplies you will need are:

  • a sculpting medium
  • sculpting tools
  • very small wire
  • a creative vision

In the next step I will go into more specifics on these.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

All of the tools and materials used to make these tiny dinosaurs will be given here.

Tools (with links to where to purchase them if you want to):

- Sculpting Mediums: I used Super Sculpey Medium, but you could use epoxy clay, another type of polymer clay, or even play dough.

to buy:

- Sculpting Tools: in this instructable I used both metal sculpting tools (they look like dental tools) and silicone rubber tipped tools. There are also plastic and wooden tools you can buy. Back to the "creative vision" aspect, you can use anything to sculpt. Use your imagination and use playing cards, spoons and forks, and even pen caps to get the details you like. In one of my photos you can see a custom made tool with silicone and a needle to make a very good needle tool for tiny details. Sculpting tools also include: Xacto knives, rollers for flattening clay, and most importantly your own fingers.

Never underestimate the extreme dexterity and detailing you can get on a sculpture with just your fingers, even at a small scale.

to purchase you own:

- Metal wire and tape: high gauge wires like 28 and 26 are best for making tiny armatures but, as you will see, masking tape can be rolled and used to make a support for adding clay to. A disclosure about that technique will be given later.

- Any and all reference material: I don't know about you, but I sometimes overlook using a picture or reference image to help in getting things just right. I have no clue why I do that, but don't be like me. Use EVERYTHING you can to get your details and proportions right. Again, the internet is invaluable for this kind of help.

- Other: this can include anything hobby related such as glues, tapes, other cutting instruments such as scissors and pliers, and even baking soda. The latter will be explained later.

Remember to do your own research and browse the internet. There are many fun and comprehensive kits that you can buy for very inexpensive prices and they include a lot of tools and accessories.

***Please note that these are not the only things you have to use to do this. As stated previously a creative vision is necessary and coming up with your own tools and trying out different materials to see what works best for you is always worth practicing and experimenting with.

Step 2: Making a Tiny Armature

The base and foundation for a good sculpture is the armature. If your armature fails in any way then the sculpture will as well, either right away or later as it deteriorates.

The best material for making sure the armature will last is of course metal wire. The smaller the wire, the weaker it will be, but that is what you want for making a tiny armature. Just be careful and after you have added your sculpting medium it should be fine.

The following are the three ways I have tried to make armatures:

1. Metal wire with rolled masking tape- This method works well for building up the armature slowly so you have a good handle on how it develops as you build it. As seen in the pictures, I was able to make the pieces separately and then put them together. The only thing to watch out for using this method is to make sure your sculpting medium is thick enough that it won't crack. Mine was a little too thin and cracked because the tape flexed too much when squeezing the piece. If I hadn't used Super Sulpey and had instead used an epoxy clay I wouldn't have had that issue.

2. Metal wire with hot glue- firstly, hot glue is NO GOOD with polymer clay. Due to the nature of having to bake the clay the hot glue melts. If you use a tiny bit you may be okay but I wouldn't risk it. It didn't ruin my armature but gave me a lot more work to do that was unnecessary. However, if you are using a different sculpting medium hot glue could be a good option.

3. Metal wire with super glue and baking soda- The best method I have found is using metal wire and a mixture of super glue and baking soda. A fun experiment to show kids is that when you add super glue to baking soda it becomes as hard as a rock. This is great for getting metal to stick to metal so you can build your armature nice and sturdy.

As well as using these methods, simply using your sculpting medium and shoving the wire inside can work as well. I have also seen people using wood blocks for their armatures as well as threaded steel. These are for larger works and not as much for tiny armatures, but they are good to know.

Step 3: Adding Layers

In almost all aspects and factors of life we see layers. Layers in the rock, layers in keeping your self warm in the cold, and layers in food to get good flavors mixed together. The same is true for sculpting; after you have the armature ready it's time to put some layers of your sculpting medium to build up the piece.

The first layers are for adding some more strength to the piece and the following layers are for muscles, "bulking out" the sculpture, and finally adding skin or a final layer that will be detailed.

It is important to use layers and not just lump everything together. By adding layers you can see a difference between the aspects that capture the attention of the viewer. If it is just one lump then the details will be lost.

This one piece of the entire sculpture could be an instructable all on its own, but that is where I will leave it for now.

Step 4: Adding Detail

One of the most exciting parts of making a tiny sculpture is the time when you finally get to add the details that will bring it to life.

After you have made an armature, built it out, and refined the layers it is time to add some fine detail. This can be done with the sculpting tools and with clay and rubber stamps.

Again, using your resources and images available, try to copy what you see and put that into the sculpting medium. I really like to use stamps to get a good looking texture on my piece.

This is the main area where that "creative vision" really comes into play. Use your own creativity to add the details you think fit best.

This aspect also applies to what we will be talking about next in adding heads, feet, and accessories to your sculpture.

Step 5: Finishing the Tiny Sculpture

Now that you have realized your sculptures potential and how you want to end with the details, it is time to add a very eye catching head.

The head and feet/hands of a sculpture are probably most important because they give character to the piece, as well as allow the viewer to find a point of reference.

When sculpting in a tiny mode this is probably the most difficult part. Getting all the small and sometimes minute details accurate is painstaking. But after you get what you are looking for it is so worthwhile.

As you can see from above, I made another apatosaurus because I felt my first one was too cartoony. I wanted to caution others to not be afraid of starting over. You are most likely not going to be the most impressive sculptor right away and that's okay.

Taking the time to practice and work on getting tiny details right over and over is what will make you better at the craft.

I hope you have learned something from this today and that you have fun making your own tiny sculptures of whatever your fun and creative brain can come up with.

Happy Sculpting

***I would love to see other's creations so please feel free to send them to me if you follow this instructable.

Tiny Speed Challenge

Participated in the
Tiny Speed Challenge