The "nose" is the epoxy putty part that I used to thermoform the clear part at the beginning of the project. I hope to use it if I ever finish this project!
01/04/18- For over a week now, the Beru Seijin head sculpt has been
in front of me to the side of my monitor, speared on a Sharpie like a
headhunter's trophy, taunting me. Polymer clay, unlike epoxy putty, exerts
little pressure to work fast. Until it's baked, anything can be fixed
or tweaked with little effort... and there's always something to tweak.
When I'm in the mood, I can spend hours tweaking stuff until I get bored
or the spirit of OCD wears off... and know that I could spend many more
hours on it. So how do you decide when it's time to bake it? It's the
perfect stoner's hobby when you're not doing it as a job with a deadline
and there's no one to crack the whip!
What Me Worry? I believe that the most efficient (least
time-wasting) way to approach sculpting something like this is to
concentrate on the general shaping and then concentrate on the details.
Well, duh!!! That's an obvious point: When you start with
a lump of clay, you can't do it any other way! However, I
think it's natural to want to continue onto detailing and finishing
too soon, treating it as one continuous process. Taking a long break
gives you a fresh view of your work, and you may notice bad stuff
that you didn't notice before.
Working on details is like tunnel vision: You focus on one part
to the exclusion of the whole. That's the wrong time to step back
and notice that something fundimental is wrong; you're supposed
to do that before moving onto the details. Fixing a fundimental
flaw usually means wiping out detailing work you've done, and that's
a hard pill to swallow.
Short-cut fixes to the detailing can sometimes make a fundimental
general proportioning error (too long, too squat, etc.) look less
noticeable, but are often unsatisfactory; you'll always see that
something's wrong. It can make the situation worse because you've
invested even more time, making it even harder to accept going back
to square one.
Yeah, it's a cheesy bit of advice, but it's an old sculpting tip
that I need to keep reminding myself of: Take your time, don't try
to do it all at once. Come back after your eye/brain has had a chance
to reset so you can assess your work from a new perspective.
Another bit of advice is to expect very fine cat hairs in the
clay if you've got cats. Ours love to jump in my lap while I'm working.
I only notice those tiny hairs when I'm sculpting with magnification,
and some can be maddeningly difficult to grab with tweezers.
Damn, it's crooked! Or is it just the lighting? Naw,
Actually, it's not very important because I'm only interested
in getting a good casting of front (because of the lighting gimmick).
Besides, .I only have a vague idea what the sides and back should
look like because I don't have any clear photos of them. These
are based on mentally stitched-together interpretations of a few
off-angle shots and shots that provided only a few indistinct
shadow and light clues. The odds of me seeing an actual Beru Seijin
are mighty slim.
Sculpting With Magnification: Magnification can be helpful
when sculpting whether you've got good or bad eyesight, but it does
have some major downsides: Magnification reduces your field of view
(how much of the "big picture" you see) and the depth
of focus (reduces the range that things are in focus; things in
front of and behind are out-of-focus). When I had good eyesight,
I never thought to use magnification because I didn't need it. When
I got my Optivisor (head-mounted magnifier), I thought it was helpful
and began using it more and more often.
These days, I can't sculpt without the Optivisor, and I finally
got battery-powered LED lighting that's mounted around the
lens-- very helpful! I also installed an Opti-Loupe that can be
swiveled in front to give even more magnification.
Having lousy eyesight does make it harder to sculpt. During the
early general shaping phase, I frequently need to look back and
forth between the clay and the reference (usually my monitor); the
magnification and lighting make it harder to switch quickly, unless
everything's adjusted just right: To peer under or over the
magnifiers without shining light on the monitor. It's much easier
and faster if you can do both with natural good eyesight.
Once I'm sculpting details or working on the finish, there's less
switching between the two views. My Optivisor is fitted with the
mid-range magnification lens (5?) because if the magnification is
any lower, I can't see sufficient details and if its too high, the
depth of field is too shallow. The Opti-Loupe boosts the magnification--
which is sometimes helpful, but makes it even harder to judge depth
and see the surrounding area, so I'm more likely to accidently nick
surrounding clay with my sculpting tool.
When To Bake It: 01/14/17-
I believe that the best time to bake it is when you realize that
you need to move on, if you ever intend to finish the project. Baking
it is fast and easy, but to me it feels like a milestone, to be
delayed as long as possible. After it's baked, you can still add
new clay, remove clay, and make modifications-- it's just a little
harder to do some modifications. Baking it may actually make it
easier to do some modifications because you can handle the sculpture
without distorting sections that don't need additional modifications.
I think the only caveat about baking is to make sure to let it cool
slowly, to avoid cracks from thermal shock.
Misadventures With Molding & Casting (How not to...):
I use polymer clay only when I intend to make a resin casting; in
my opinion, clay's too heavy and easy to damage as a final form
material. Resin can be slush cast in the mold which makes a thin,
lightweight shell. That's perfect: I want to fit LEDs on the inside/back
of the shell to diffuse the light.
Personally, I don't like molding and casting, mainly because I'm
not very good at it! Because of this, I usually do simple 1-piece
molds with mold putty. It's a two-part putty that's kneaded (thoroughly)
and pressed onto the sculpture. It has a very short working time
and because it's a putty, air trapped between the sculpture and
the material can't escape and will create voids in the mold. This
is something that I concentrate on when pressing the mold; detail
areas that are harder to fix (like eyes), should receive priority.
It's quick and easy, but castings often have have flaws that need
to be fixed: I use it to get in the general ballpark and always
assume that the casting is going to need a lot of cleanup and resculpting,
usually with epoxy putty.
This time, I decided to try a low viscosity mold compound. Ideally,
this would reduce the amount of cleanup and resculpting. The sculpture
had details that I would prefer not to resculpt, but more importantly,
it was a larger piece that had a lot of recessed areas that would
be likely to trap air. It would be hard to concentrate on avoiding
that with mold putty, given its short working time.
Low viscosity mold compound is a two-part thick liquid that's
mixed (thorougly) and poured over the clay master. Ideally, the
parts that are likely to trap air face upwards so air bubbles rise
from the sculpture's surface and don't create voids that will fill
Typically, molding an object like a head would be done as a two-piece
mold in a container with a removeable bottom; the front half is
bedded in clay with registration holes (to later align the two parts
of the mold) and the silicone poured. The container is flipped over,
the (former) bottom removed to remove the bedding clay and reveal
the cured silicone. The cured silicone is coated with a barrier
(to prevent the new silicone from bonding with it) and the back
half is poured. Ideally, when you're done you have two halves of
a mold that mate perfectly.
I remembered one very important detail too late: Don't use plasticine
with sulphur because it inhibits curing of silicon mold compound!
Sure enough, anywhere the compound contacted the plasticine was
a gummy, gooey mess. I didn't have enough molding compound to try
again, so I abandoned the plan, cleaned up the clay master and did
simple press molds with two-part mold putty.
Yuck. Gooey uncured silicone rubber. The
Sharpie outline on the yellow mold putty came from tracing it
onto the polyclay master so I could figure out how much of the
backside to mold (plus a margin of overlap). As you can see, the
backside mold has a major problem!
I'm too impatient even to do two-part putty molding properly:
I just had to demold and slush cast the front side first
because I was curious. Miraculously, it came out well with no horrible
voids to clean up on the casting. The back half of the head didn't
come out nearly as well; I got an important phone call while I was
making the mold, so the putty cured before I was finished. Not a
big deal; I didn't have as much effort invested in sculpting the
back of the head, so I didn't mind major reconstruction with epoxy
The problem with molding and slush-casting the two parts separately
is that there's no parting line, per se. Even assuming that the
second mold was made with some consideration of where the first
mold's edge was, the castings are not going to mate together cleanly,
with overlap, ragged edges and thin resin at the edges. These have
to be cleaned up so the halves mate (approximately) and can be repaired
with epoxy when the halves are joined. It's definitely more work
and doesn't produce a casting that's entirely accurate to the sculpture...
but that's the "ball-parked" kind of brute force simplicity
that I'm used to. I sculpt. I have faith that I can fix stuff like
The front came out better than I expected. The back's a disaster, but it's cheaper to Dremel and resculpt
than to make a new mold.
Looking forward, the plan is to cleanup the front to test/install
the LEDs, join the two halves, clean up the join, reconstruct the
back, clean up the front, install the neck sleeve. Eventually, I'll
get around to making the weird backpack thingie for the electronics.
Finally... 01/15/18- Calling this "an approximation of Beru Seijin" may seem
like a cop-out, but it's honest. I don't have good enough reference
pics for anything but an approximation; Even if you do have good
reference photos, it takes a lot of skill to do an accurate replica.
Being an approximation made it easier to accept things that I
knew didn't look right, but would have been hard to fix without
starting over: My figure's not pudgy enough and doesn't have the
same pattern of scaley skin as the actual Beru Seijin suit. The
neck lights are too big. For no good reason, I slightly changed
the pattern that surrounds its "face". That's okay, it's
Being an approximation, I had the freedom to deviate from
the suit design by engraving a honeycomb pattern in the resin in
front of the eye LEDs. This made the lighting look a little more
interesting, plus I thought it reinforced the insect motif.
Similarly, I needed to do something about the back of the head
that had a screwed-up casting. I only had a vague idea of what the
actual suit's looked like, so I used the opportunity to engrave
something in the style of the insect-like "backpack".
On the home stretch of the head and I still haven't figured out
how to replicate the look of the transparent parts in front of the
lighted parts-- from pics, they look like they refract light sort
of like fractured glass, not milky and not simply transparent. That's
a shame, but not a deal-killer. It's hard enough settling on a simple
transparent treatment: I considered clear acrylic coatings, clear
casting resin, clear caulk, and ended up approximating the look
with two-part epoxy (not epoxy putty). It's glossy when cured,
forms a thick transparent coating, is viscous enough to spread yet
stay put over complex curves (only moderately self-leveling with
its cure time, but enough to release air bubbles), and cures in
about 5 minutes, which is about as much patience as I have for the
slush casting technique that I'd use to "herd" it. The
scary part is that it's a one-shot process; epoxy is meant to be
strong and permanent, so you can't easily remove it and start over
again. Hopefully, it won't yellow (too much).
After painting and soldering a few wires, it was finally
ready to test!
Lighting test: The translucent resin diffuses
the LED's light very nicely, but balancing their brightness was
a challenge. The resin was thicker at the eyes, so the LED's (pin
9) lighting is more diffuse and not as bright (That's the main
reason why I did the eye's honeycomb pattern). Other balancing
was done through altering the sketch.
Video Light Test: I revised the Arduino sketch (previous
article) to slow down the loop and greatly reduce the maximum brightness
of the neck LEDs (pin 11)-- they're diffused by thin styrene domes.
I also greatly lowered their fadeamount since their max brightness
was so low, which slowed down their cycle.