Sculpting a 1/32 Figure in Polymer Clay from Scratch

Neil Merryweather

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Some years ago my brother started investigating our Grandfather’s war record. Thomas Merryweather served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during World War One and he was present at the Somme, amongst other events. His unit, 100 Siege Battery, was equipped with the 6 inch 26 cwt Howitzer. He had already served 14 years from a boy in the Royal Navy as a gunner when he joined up at the age of 32. He died before we were born so we never knew him. As some may have guessed his picture is my avatar.TH0115~1.JPG
This is 299 Siege Battery RGA in 1918- what a motley bunch they are!

My brother Dave is a professional prop-maker for the movies (he made the C3PO outfit for The Force Awakens, among many other impressive things) and he decided to create a CAD model of the howitzer with a view to 3D printing one at 1/32 scale for each of us three brothers. I pointed out that there was already one in 1/35 scale (by Resicast, I think) but he wanted to do it anyway, so 1/32 scale it is. He asked me to sculpt some crew figures, naturally including our Grandad.

Well this idea has been bouncing around for a couple of years and Dave took his time building the CAD model, so I took my time getting started on the figures, although I did the research right away, because I do like that kind of thing.

The 6” Howitzer officially had a crew of 10, but in practice this was often reduced to 6 or7.

crew.jpg
We don’t know for sure but we believe our grandfather was no 3, on the sights. I have a composition in mind, loosely based on this picture
mev-10679424.jpg
No 3 is on the left.

I decided to sculpt the figures from scratch with the original intention that we might market them. But since exploring that with my AFS bust I’ve gone right off that idea. There is just a faint hope that some manufacturer might be interested in them (I have discussed it with one, but then COVID happened, so who knows?), so I will not use any commercially available parts in order to avoid copyright issues, and as we want 3 sets I will optimise them for moulding anyway.

Since Dave hadn’t finished the gun itself I started on a stand-alone figure as a means of ‘getting my eye in’. I always find it takes a couple of goes to get properly into the groove and I am using a new material – Bees Putty, so I expect I will need a bit of a learning curve.

I am starting with no 8, carrying a shell, based on this picture. They are all going to be scruffy oiks….
No 8.jpg
It’s not intended to be definitive, everyone has their own way of doing things- and it’s an experiment for me anyway, but hopefully anyone who is interested in starting to sculpt will be able to pick up some useful tips.

It’s probably going to be another epic
 
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wotan

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Neil

What a great project. If I were you I would seriously consider 1/24th scale since I think this does justice to these sort of artillery pieces and it would make your sculpting job a little easier. Anyway I plan to follow this one for sure.

John
 

Neil Merryweather

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:thumb2: A really intriguing project Neil, I shall follow this with interest. Your grandfather seems to have been something of a character!
Steve
Cheers Steve
Yes he was quite the boy!
We thought at first that he had served aboard HMS Victory, but it turns out that's just the name for Portsmouth Naval Base at the time. But he did train in HMS Boscawen(previously HMS Minotaur) ,a ship very much like HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Royal Navy Museum, (which is brilliant, by the way).
He went AWOL from the Navy when his first wife was unfaithful and actually has R (for RUN ,meaning deserted) against his name in his service record. He served about 16months in jankers for it!
I wonder if that's why he joined the army, to get away from her...he didn't leave till 1924
He didn't get with my grandmother til after the war.

Jim & John, - glad to have you aboard!
 

papa 695

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Sounds a very interesting and poignant build Neil. I will follow this one too.
 

The Smythe Meister

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Gotta agree with the guys Neil,this is a cracking idea.
I loved reading the bit of back story re your Grandad ,it`s a proper tale about a proper character indeed,lovely stuff:cool:,
I shall be looking forward to each update along the way:thumb2:,
Andy
 

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Cheers Steve
Yes he was quite the boy!
We thought at first that he had served aboard HMS Victory, but it turns out that's just the name for Portsmouth Naval Base at the time. But he did train in HMS Boscawen(previously HMS Minotaur) ,a ship very much like HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Royal Navy Museum, (which is brilliant, by the way).
He went AWOL from the Navy when his first wife was unfaithful and actually has R (for RUN ,meaning deserted) against his name in his service record. He served about 16months in jankers for it!
I wonder if that's why he joined the army, to get away from her...he didn't leave till 1924
He didn't get with my grandmother til after the war.

Jim & John, - glad to have you aboard!
Neil,
I also have a Naval family background as all males on my father's line were either RN or RM, a whole gamut of Branches including Police and Regulators, GDs, Gunners and (my elder brother) an Ops Room Supervisor Down South. I broke with tradition deliberately! Have lived in Pompey, Plymouth, Rochester, Gosport and Havant - high Navy Blue presence!. I agree with you that the museum is excellent - have you gone to the Dark Side and visited the RM Museum? Well worth it if you're ever down that way!
Steve
 

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Must admit that this sounds very interesting (my family weren't/aren't military - great grandfather was one of those who retrieved the horses after a cavalry charge from no-mans land & one great uncle who was brought back from France by his father as he was under age, another who was wounded and captured by the Turks at Gallipoli - for WW2 all were of the 'wrong' age to serve - too old or too young (or in 'reserved occupations'))
 

Airborne01

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Must admit that this sounds very interesting (my family weren't/aren't military - great grandfather was one of those who retrieved the horses after a cavalry charge from no-mans land & one great uncle who was brought back from France by his father as he was under age, another who was wounded and captured by the Turks at Gallipoli - for WW2 all were of the 'wrong' age to serve - too old or too young (or in 'reserved occupations'))
Fortune is sometimes a kind mistress Gerry!
 

GerryW

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Fortune is sometimes a kind mistress Gerry!
True - as opposed to my wife who had 2 uncles caught in Burma by the Japanese (one who was kept alive by a Japanese soldier getting him a fresh egg every day - I can only imagine what would've happened to that soldier if he'd have been caught smuggling that egg!)
 

The Smythe Meister

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Must admit that this sounds very interesting (my family weren't/aren't military - great grandfather was one of those who retrieved the horses after a cavalry charge from no-mans land & one great uncle who was brought back from France by his father as he was under age, another who was wounded and captured by the Turks at Gallipoli - for WW2 all were of the 'wrong' age to serve - too old or too young (or in 'reserved occupations'))
The Reserved occupations were also crucial, and fought the war too..... just in different ways.
ALL did their important roles under incredibly difficult conditions..... ARPs,Police,Firemen,Factory workers,Shipyard workers..... the list is huge mate,as i`m sure you know,and we should all thank the heavens for them standing up to the plate :thumb2: ,
You should be equally as proud of them,which i`m sure you are.
Andy.
 

Neil Merryweather

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Thanks for all the interest chaps.
This is our pose
No 8.jpg
The first thing we need when sculpting a figure is an armature to support the putty. I make mine from twisted copper wire. If you just use a single strand of wire the putty doesn’t necessarily stay in place and often slides around the wire. The twist gives a key and helps the putty to stay put where I want it. I always have at least one wire going through the foot into the base. The dip between the shoulders is just to make it easier to drill a hole for the head armature wire.
IMG_20200612_145100418_HDR.jpg
The wire goes through the base plate into a handle. My handle of choice is a pin vice, but other people use a bottle top or a cork. It just needs to be something you can hold comfortably for a long time. You don’t always need a base plate, although I have one for this figure. And you need to be able to put it down without damaging the sculpt- I have a rack that I 3D printed.
The armature looks very rough and ready but it’s actually more precise than it appears. Like any foundation, if you get it wrong you store up trouble for yourself later on.
For a start it defines the size of the figure which is important for us from a scale point of view. It also defines the proportions and the position. You can define the size by comparing with a commercial figure. Use pliers to create sharp bends at the knees, hips and elbows – we don’t want rubbery looking arms & legs. I have used 3D printed boots here because I hate sculpting them. You can always use boots from a spare figure if you want to cheat this bit -as long as you don’t plan to sell it as your own original work (the same goes for heads and hands). I haven’t added arms to the armature because they are going to be separate for moulding. I usually leave them off anyway because they can get in the way of sculpting the torso.

Once these things are set it’s then vital to set it solid so it doesn’t move around mid-sculpt. I use a thin layer of Milliput, pressed into all the crevices of the wire, which goes rock hard. I am not yet sculpting any anatomy, this is just to fix the wire in position. It’s especially vital that it is fixed solid at the feet because this will be the point of most stress when you are modelling.
IMG_20200613_094414717_HDR.jpg
I will carve some of the Milliput away when it is set, so I don’t have any unwanted lumps and bumps interfering with the anatomy.
Now, about those 3D printed feet….
All this was done when I thought I would be using Milliput as normal, which I just leave to cure naturally. But Bees Putty is a polymer clay like Fimo or Sculpy and needs to be cooked in a domestic oven at 140 degrees. I was worried that the resin boots would melt, or smell bad, so rather than risk it I ended up sculpting the boots anyway. I may well revisit them, we’ll see.
thanks for looking
Neil
 
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