Over the years, I've been asked many questions on how I make my ponies through many different outlets (notes, comments, in person, etc). And through that time, I've been collating those questions in hopes of one day making an FAQ/tutorial with pictures and demos for anyone interested in sculpting. However since then, I haven't gotten around to finishing all the questions nor editing them nor polishing them. Frankly, I don't think I ever will. So instead, I'm opting to publish them somewhat raw. Most of them are copypasta's of questions I've answered in some form, others I've gone back and actually polished them to be more coherent. You'll notice some duplicates with slightly different information, the context may be missing, or that some of the questions are left unanswered or half answered but that is how it appears in the document. Also, the names of the questioners have been removed. Either way, this is only a fraction of the questions I've collated so far, and depending on how this is received or how useful it is, I'll opt to post more in the future (some include some long held secrets like how I do eyes, colored clay techniques, etc) So be sure to let me know if you enjoyed this or not.
Please let me know if there are any errors (grammatical or otherwise) in the writing in the comments, I'll be sure to address them when I can.
What type of clay do you use?
First off, I use a mixture of Sculpey III/Premo (effectively the same thing) and Cernit([link]). Since I don't paint my sculptures, I use the colored clay from Sculpey III mixed with Cernit in a ~50:50 ratio. Sculpey III/Premo is great because there are over 40+ colors to use. If the color I need doesn't exist, I can simply mix 2 or 3 colors together to make it. However the problem with Sculpey III is that it is extremely soft when baked and thus very fragile. This is a huge problem when I need to send ponies in the mail because they're apt to break. But that is why I mix it with Cernit. Cernit is used because it is a polymer clay that hardens stronger than Super Sculpey but is translucent so as to not disturb the color when mixed with Sculpey III. This allows of a solid sculpture to be baked and thus able to post in the mail with little worry.
Super Sculpey is an excellent alternative (which I see you use) if you like to paint your sculptures (unlike me). I, however, use a mixture of Super Sculpey and Sculpey Firm. Mixing both in a ~50:50 ratio will give more rigidity to the clay allowing for greater detail and 'posing' when sculpting. Where as the softness of Super Sculpey would not allow for as much stiffness. If I weren't already using the Sculpey III/Cernit method, I'd probably be using this instead.
How to wire a pony?
As for your first question about wire, the answer is abit more complicated as it honestly depends on what I'm building.
If sculpture is something very simple which will be supported when baked, I will use the latter method of using small bits of wire to connect each leg/arm/head etc as it is much faster than building a full on wire 'skeleton'. However I will always include a 'spine' . The 'spine' is about what you think it is. Its a thick, sturdy length of wire (normally I use 16 Gauge aluminum wire) that runs from the head thru the neck, all the way to about halfway in the tail. This is used to support the head which is the heaviest part of the sculpt. Otherwise it might sag or, worse, come loose when baked thus giving a much different expression than I was intending.
In this [fav.me/d4qo8ty] picture, for example, all the foals were made using this method, however, being more complicated, Rainbow dash has a full body wire 'skeleton' which I'll describe next.
For Rainbow dash, I built a full body wire skeleton which connects all the major parts together including a wire that connects her to Tank. This is done by simply twisting lengthy wire around the 'spine' for each major part (legs, arms, wings ((if they're unfurled))). I make sure its tight so as to minimize movement when sculpting. (I wish I had an example picture of this to show but I don't, sorry)
Also finding the sturdiest wire possible is key to getting difficult poses down. In general regarding gauge wires, the lower the number,, the thicker and sturdier the wire is. However different brands will carry the same gauge wire but be much more malleable or 'softer' than other brands. Unfortunately finding out which works better is simply trial and error. When I first started, I used some 16 Ga beadcraft wire I found at Walmart. I still use it as it is one of the strongest wire I've found despite going thru several brands.
Unlike what most tutorials will say about building armature wire skeletons, I don't build the wire skeleton first. I actually sculpt the body and head in the pose I want first sans details (eyes, ears, hair, tail, etc.) This gives me a real world sense of how long the skeleton needs to be when I build it next. Upon finishing the skeleton, I will then incorporate it into the body and head.
How to make your Ponies silky smooth?
Anyway, to answer your question, I assume you're using polymer clay (Sculpey, Fimo and the like). Just one hour before I bake the sculpt, I put on gloves and use 91% Isopropanol (or Isopropyl alcohol). I use Q-tips or my finger (depending on the area) and lightly wipe the entire surface of the sculpt. If necessary, I will then wipe the surface again w/ a VERY clean paper towel or a baby wipe. Let dry for a couple mins, then rinse and repeat till clean. Its an arduous task, as I've tried rushing it before but it never turns out as clean. So its well worth it to take your time.
Isopropanol can be found at CVS or any local pharmacy, probably under the First-Aid section. Because it evaporates so readily, its also good for cleaning computer/smart phone screens Just dont over do it.
Hope this helps!
Protip: Be sure to NEVER INHALE the alcohol fumes and remain in a WELL VENTILATED area. The alcohol is much more highly concentrated than in a beer or hard liquor (except for maybe the likes of Everclear XD) and a large whiff -will- have you passing out. Keep it at arm's length from you, only pulling closer when necessary.
How to make your ponies look as large as life? (Photography)
One of the hardest things to do when taking photos of my sculptures is to get down. Truthfully, the hardest part is to get down at eye level of whatever it is the subject you are taking, i.e. Ponies. By getting at eye level, you give your pony a sense of scale, making it larger than it actually seems in real life. This can be applied to any object. Try photographing your pony from underneath, pointing the camera toward the sky. Another angle (and most common angle) is to shoot your pony from above, which would make your pony seem smaller since we (the viewer) are looking down on the pony. I usually try to avoid this angle as the pony is small already. However the angle is not without its uses. Certainly if you want to see a pony cowering or retracting physically, this would be the way to go.
How to make your pony ‘fit’ IRL? (Photography)
Well one of the most important things to think of is scale when making ponies fit. I always try to have objects around the pony I photograph that are of similar scale to it so that she doesn’t seem too small. Things like small bits of grass or tiny flowers/weeds can go a long way in terms of making your pony seem to belong in the environment. This goes for indoor shots as well as outdoor with stuff like small blankets, books, etc. The more objects you can get to fit to your pony’s scale the better. Its really all about keeping an eye out for tiny things.
Do you use any tools for working with your clay? Also for blending colors? Also for finer details?
Oh boy, this…is a long list and in fact, I don’t think I can possibly list every single tool I use since many of them are one use/situational. But I’ll be listing my most used tools, which greatly helped me to get consistency in my sculpting
Xacto Knife w/ #11 blade (most common)
$2 Box cutter w/ 4” detachable blade
Wood Scapel/ Wood poker
$20 set of sculpting tools (I only use about 4-5 tools from the set but I use them so much)
Wire Loop tools
Toaster Oven (I personally use)
Iso-propanol (or Iso-propyl alcohol/ rubbing alcohol)
Glues (Super Glue, Gorrilla Glue, 3m Super strength adhesive)
Sculpey Bake and Bond glue
Set of Acrylic brushes
Set of heavy body acrylic paints
How do you usually create the eyes?
What types of clay brands you’ve tried and what kinds of blends you’ve experimented with?
Do you use anything inside for structural support?
Do you suggest half baking or full baking (then return to add finer details)?
Any type of gloves used/preferred (maybe oils on skin would affect the clay in an undesired manner)?
Sculpting Ponies: Getting the shape down
So one of the major issues most starting sculptors face is getting the shape of the pony down right. Now I can’t give you exact measurements for which to follow since I am not that exact myself but I can give you guidelines and a method to determining the shape of a pony.
What clay do you use for the body? Or do you mix brands? The ponies are so cute! Also, what temperature do you cook them at? I've heard that some people cook it lower than what the packaging says. Lastly, how do you tell when its completely cooked? I had sculpey premo and I made a necklace of it. I could bend it! I didn't know if it was because it wasn't done or too thin.
I use a combination of polymer clay brands~ mostly Sculpey III/Premo and Cernit (which can be found online). And I have no qualms about mixing brands as they would all work with each other, for the most part (testing should be done before any real sculpting)
I cook them at a temp of 265 F for about 18-20 mins, give or take. Which is about the recommended cook time/temp. But depending on how thin or bulky my sculpture is I'll increase or decrease the time by up to 5 mins.
I've read of others cooking at a lower temp for a longer time (as low as 225oF) in order to minimize burning/charring of the sculpture.
With my experience I'd say that would work, especially if you have hot spots in your oven that tend to heat up above the designated temperature but I've never done it myself so I wouldn't be 100% sure.There are also many other ways to prevent charring that I won’t go into right now, since that wasn’t the question.
Lastly, You'll know a sculpture is done when you've done it for the alloted time and temperature. Unfortunately there's no superficial way to determine if a sculpture is done. However all sculptures will come out extremely hot and pliable when they come out until they cool down (about 20-25 mins) This is a very crucial period, as any wrong movements can cause the sculpture to crack, which down the road will lead to a probably break. So be very careful, and always have a preset "staging area" that you know won't have the possibility of anyone touching/moving your sculpture.
Also, just in case that didn't pertain to your bending question, many brands of polymer clay can be bendable when made very thin long after they've cooled. (I'm talking up to 5mm or so thin) This however should be avoided with most brands of polymer clay as this will weaken and probably break the clay. If you can, make these segments thicker or reinforce them with wiring or something.