Fiberglass Armor Construction: Sculpt the Model
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Sculpting the Model

Chest with markups. Note the pointy bits of plasteline in the circles and on the chest. As plasteline covers these areas the markup is no longer readable, but the "nipples" continue to stick out and provide reference points.

Once the base is complete you can start the sculpting process. For this part of the work I used my second bathroom since it was usually much colder outside and cold plasteline is harder to work with.

You will probably want to pick up some tools for working with the plasteline. Most all tools designed for clay should work fine, plus some plateline specific items. Here is what I used:

  • An old Pyrex cooking bowl that I could microwave the plasteline in. I started with a scrap piece of pine board that I would melt a 2 lb. block on, but people started complaining about the smell of microwaved pine. Apparently it is not a popular scent. So one suggested sacrificing a pot to the project. Since I wanted to microwave it I needed something that was not metal. Hence the Pyrex. It worked really well. One of the nice things about Pyrex is that it absorbs a lot of heat and slowly dissipates it. So even after taking the plasteline block out of the microwave it would continue to melt for a few minutes. The drawback is that it was very hot and I burned myself quite a few times. If I were to do it again I would probably get a hotplate and leave the plasteline in a pot on that at a low heat.
  • My knife. I have this old knife in the kitchen that had no sharp edges and no serrations on it. In fact it was perfectly smooth. Not indents at all. This became my favorite tool, by far. I used it to spatula the hot plasteline on the base and do a lot of the shaping and smoothing work.
  • I found a clay scraping tool at one of the stores which I found to be very handy. It has a triangular loop with the flat working end being sharp on one side and serrated on the other. I never used the serrated side, but I did find the other side to be very helpful to scraping off large amounts of plasteline and for smoothing everything out. A very handy tool.
  • I also bought a selection of smaller clay modeling tools.  A few loops of different shapes and a few shaped flat tools. You can find these at a lot of art stores.
  • While I am on the subject of tools I should mention that if you are working inside it would be a good idea to place a dropcloth on the floor and the table you are working on to keep the plasteline from getting everywhere. I used some of the plastic covering that I had for the workbench in the garage for the floor of the bathroom and the counter top. Although it did not catch everything it was still very helpful.
  • Be sure to get a brand of plasteline that does not have sulpher in it. Apparently the sulpher in some versions retards the curing process of a lot of the rubbers, which is not a good thing. From my experience if it does not say it is sulpher free then assume there is sulpher in it. It seems to be a big selling point so if a product has this feature they are going to advertise it on the cover. I suggest using a medium hardness plasteline. If it is too soft or too hard it will be difficult to work with. Medium worked well for me. If I had to choose otherwise I would err on the harder side. If it is too soft it will make the final stages a pain as the slightest mark or touch will mark the model. Something harder gives you more room to be clumsy.
Chest plate model on its way to completion. Note the "nipple" still sticking out of the center circle.

After first spending way too much time trying to slowly build up the leg models with multiple layers of plasteline, and carefully building up the detail I came up with a faster solution to get things done. After all, I had a deadline and no desire to spend forever sculpting each piece.

First, imagine the piece you are making. If necessary make some patterns for it and mark up the base with a permanent marker. Take your time with this. If a piece has to be symmetric on both sides really put effort into marking that out and making a pattern to work with. I made patterns when needed on my computer in Adobe Illustrator and printed them out, and other times I used a tape measure and a permanent marker directly on the base. I cannot emphasize this enough. Having a layout or patterns and marks on the base will make things much easier, especially if you are trying to make two sides symmetrical.

Second, start melting plasteline. I found that the almost free flowing liquid state is the best to work with at this stage. In other words, really soft. Be careful! The stuff is hot and when it gets on your skin it burns. Since it is thick and sticky it does not just shake off. I got a few bad burns (blisters and all) from plasteline dripping on me and then sticking as I tried to shake it off. Take the plasteline and start plastering it on the base. Your goal here is to build up a mound of plasteline in the general shape, but larger, of the piece so that you can then carve out the design.

Third, once you have the big mound of plasteline in the general shape you need start shaving and cutting away at it. What you are doing here is removing plasteline to create the shape you want. Think of this as carving away to get he shape, versus the alternate method of building up to get the shape. I found this method to be faster, if the other works better for you, use that.

Fourth, now that you have the basic shape down. Take a break. Walk away from the piece for a few hours. Since you have been staring at it for a while you might not see mistakes you made. Is everything the right height? Is it symmetrical? Is something off? Did an assumption about how it would look not work out? Take a break then come back and ask these questions. If you have someone else around ask them to look at it with fresh eyes. They will probably see errors that you miss. I know my friends pointed out a bunch of places that were not right. Without them the pieces would not have looked as good as they did.

Fifth, now that you have the shape you want you can focus on detail. Did you cut to far? Fill that in with some plasteline. Do you need a really intricate shape or filigree? Use the small tools to do that. Fine tune the piece until you are happy with the result.

The shoulder as a mound of plateline ready to be carved down, and as the final design ready to be sealed in the next step.

Sixth, now that the piece is in the shape you want you will want to smooth out any rough areas. Are there bits of plasteline sticking out? Are there ridges or marks from the tools in the piece that you need to remove? You can use your thumbs to smooth things out. If the plasteline is not too firm or cold the heat from your thumbs should make it warm enough to allow you to smooth and polish it. If you used tools you will notice it looks more shiny after running your thumbs over it a few times.

At this stage there is a decision to make. You can spend a bunch of time perfecting every little nook and cranny of the piece in plasteline. The more time you spend here the less you will have to spend touching up the piece once it is cast. If you are planning to make a lot of duplicates of the piece then it is well worth your time to get everything perfect at this stage. On the other hand, you may find that as you begin to tweak it you get to a point of diminished returns. Every time you touch the piece to fix one thing you may end up making another mistake or mark. Plasteline is soft and thus is affected every time you touch it. If you are only making one or two piece from this it may be easier to finish those pieces when you take them from the mold. This is the route I took. Every time I touched the piece after I got it to a certain level I would create a new problem. So I got it as close as I could in a reasonable amount of time and then I stopped touching it. It was hard to limit the perfectionist in me, but it saved a lot of time. Of course some of that time had to be put into sanding the final pieces. Your call.

The legs in different working orientations and levels of completion. Note the "nipples" in the vertical orientation indicating the center of the knee.

Last step, now that everything is done the piece should be looking like you want. Is it? Take another break and check again. This will be your last chance to fix anything that cannot be touched up with sandpaper and a Dremel. And remember, once you pull the piece from the mold it is much easier to sand something down or grind something away with the Dremel than it is to build something up. So err on the side of more if you have to.