Recently I had put together a little article that outlines some of the key differences between sculpting with wax and polymer clays (http://www.polymerclayfan.com/sculpting-with-wax-vs-polymer-clay.htm). In hindsight, the review was more of a comparison between sculpting with Super Sculpey and a relatively new wax called FUSE. I think it is important to point out that not all polymer clays are created equal and the same case could be made for wax. As of the writing of this article, FUSE is the only wax I have ever tried so the chances are that my opinions regarding sculpting with wax could drastically change from one wax product to another.
I have wanted to experiment with wax for a few years now and the main reason why I never took the plunge is because I have read repeated cases that wax can be a real challenge to master. From my limited understanding of the medium, most waxes are very hard at room temperature and require some form of heat to be able to manipulate the material for sculpting. It was also my understanding that sculpting with wax is a very time consuming process.
For me, at this stage in my life, sculpting is really just a hobby. On a personal level I see it more as a passion but in reality most of the hours in my day are invested in a full time job and my family. However, that being said, I’m a firm believer that every time you challenge yourself with your art, you build the skills to become a better artist. The problem I always had was that I could never find enough motivation for me to justify the time investment that it would take for me learn how to sculpt with wax. I finally took the plunge with wax because I have reached a stage where I am tired of always working with armatures. Some people really enjoy the armature building steps of sculpting but unfortunately I am not one of them, to me it is more of a chore than a pleasure. What I enjoy is the process where I am manipulating the clay to bring the ideas in my head into fruition.
During my research on which wax I should try I had stumbled upon a few post about a new product which a lot of people were calling the “holy grail” for wax. The new wax is called FUSE and has quickly gained a reputation as being one of those waxes that helps merge the worlds between the polymer clay and wax artist. I had nothing to lose, except time, and figured why not give this new “holy grail” a try. I really cannot honestly compare FUSE with other waxes because it is the only wax that I have tried to date. However, I can give a good comparison to every other type of clay that I have used (WED, water based, polymer clay, etc) and I can honestly say that it is a magnificent medium to work with. That being said, for me it was a new medium and did take quite a bit of time to master. Before we dive into the details of using FUSE, I would like to answer a few of the basic questions that were running around in my head when I was first trying out this new product.
- Is there a learning curve for this material? Yes. The good news is that the sculpting knowledge I gained from sculpting with polymer clay has helped me shorten the learning curve of sculpting with wax. However, one of the challenges is that you have to learn to do things differently with wax. For example, smoothing out wax is quite a bit different then smoothing out Super Sculpey but the underlining principles I learned from sculpey has helped with learning how to smooth out wax.
- Is it more time consuming to sculpt with FUSE than polymer clays such as Super Sculpey? With my current experience level – yes. However, I have found that my sculpting speed is drastically increasing the more familiar I become with the material.
Requirements for Sculpting With Wax (FUSE)
FUSE is no different than any other wax in that heat is still a necessary ingredient and is especially important in the early stages of the sculpting process (blocking out the sculpture). I have been able to heat up small pieces of FUSE by rolling the wax between my fingers, having the heat from my hands soften the smaller pieces of wax, but overall an external heat source is really a requirement when blocking out large areas of the sculpture. Once you get to the finer detailing, you can then switch to more of a carving sculpting method.
Key Properties That I Have Noticed With FUSE
The biggest difference that I have noticed so far with wax is that it is a much harder medium than any of the polymer clays I have tried. The hardness of wax is great when working on fine details but does present itself as a challenge early on when building out the rough shapes. I use both addititive and subtractive techniques when I sculpt so a very large portion of my sculpting time, regardless of the medium, is used to build and bulk out the different areas of the sculpture. As already stated, you have to heat wax to be able to work with it and in doing so here are some of the key things that I have noticed:
- When heated FUSE kind of feels like bread dough (only a lot hotter) and smells like a mixture of honey and baby powder.
- The “bread dough” consistency is more ideal when blocking out the sculpture, it is soft and can easily be manipulated into rough shapes. However, when building out the more detailed areas I prefer to keep the wax at a more solid state then the “bread dough” consistency. For the smaller areas I usually just heat the wax to a point where it is still a little hard but my fingers are able to easily manipulate the shape of the wax.
- The baby powder/honey smell is just and extra plus
Main Tools That I Use With FUSE
Microwave – The microwave really is a great source for heating large amounts of the wax (used more early on in the bulking out stage). The wax cools relatively quickly so I have found that the microwave really isn’t practical when building out the smaller and more defined areas of the sculpture.
Hair Dryer – I prefer the heat gun but mine died and I use my wife’s hair dryer when she is not looking :-). I have found that a hairdryer works perfectly when bulking out smaller areas. The key is to heat a small section of wax and from there apply it to the sculpture. Using heat is pretty easy to do but you have to be careful not to burn yourself (been there, done that).
Wax smoothing tools – Smoothing out wax is more of a challenge then the process that I use to smooth out Super Sculpey. Outlined below are a few techniques that seem to be working so far (I use all three techniques in the order shown below):
- Loop tools – loop tools are mandatory in my opinion when using FUSE and the smaller loop tools help to achieve a smoother finish in the wax.
- Odorless Mineral Spirits – this is the 99% alcohol substitute for wax. The mineral spirits will dissolve a thin layer of wax from the sculpture in a similar manner as alcohol smooth’s out polymer clays. I recommend that you have smoothed the sculpture down to the best of your abilities using other methods (loop tools, wet cloth) before using the mineral spirits.
- Wet cloth – works well on larger areas but not ideal for the smaller hard to reach areas on a sculpture
In conclusion I am pretty happy with the overall results of my first experience with wax. FUSE helped me shorten the learning curve from being almost an exclusive polymer clay sculptor to learning how to become a wax sculptor. There is still a lot for me to learn out there but from my initial experience if you are wanting to get your feet wet with wax then I highly recommend giving FUSE a try.
You can learn more about FUSE and purchase it from http://willowproducts.com/