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Sculpting Skin

Posted by goregt On March - 18 - 2007

Creating Skin With Polymer Clay

Adding the right details to a sculpture can take an average work of art and turn it into a masterpiece. I have seen a lot work-in-progress sculptures that I thought were OK at best turn into amazing looking works of art once the details were added. Now I am not advocating that one should only focus on details versus the fundamentals in sculpting, it is still important that you understand the anatomy and symmetry of your subject that you are sculpting. A detailed well crafted sculpture will still present itself better then a well detailed poorly sculpted work of art any day.

Creating the illusion of skin is probably my most favorite type of detailing. Although this technique takes a lot of practice to master, when done right it really adds a whole new level to sculpting. Whether you are sculpting a human, lizard or an alien, adding skin textures can really bring your artwork to life.

Skin detail example

I recently created a sculpture of an alien bounty hunter which we will use as an example in this article. Although this sculpture is of a fantasy creature, we can still use the same principles and techniques for creating skin on any sculpture, no matter what your subject matter is. The first step is to get all our tools in order.*click on the image to see a larger view

Tools and Materials Needed:

  1. Homemade detailing tool (will cover this in a second)
  2. Paint brush
  3. 91% Rubbing Alcohol
  4. Polymer Clay (using Super Sculpey mixed with Fimo in this example)

The homemade tool that I use is inexpensive and probably the easiest tool you will ever make. My tool is simply made up of floral wire and you can pick it up at your local craft store or Wal-Mart. If you are having a hard time finding it just ask someone that works at the store for some assistance. When you purchase floral wire it usually comes in a package with several long wires. Take out one of the wires and cut it to where it is 3 to 4 inches in length. Fold the wire in half to form a horseshoe and then you are done.
The key to creating the skin detail is to map out the directions in which your lines will flow. In our example, lets assume that I am creating a skin detail on the chest of my creature. Create horizontal lines in the clay by dragging your tool from left to right (or which ever direction you are most comfortable with). Now make sure that the lines are not straight, you will want to weave them in and out in your pattern. Repeat this step several times crossing lines over each other. Once that is complete then go back and add crosshatching vertical lines. Smooth out the clay with rubbing alcohol.

To help you get a visual idea what I am talking about, I will take a lump of polymer clay (Super Sculpey mixed with Fimo) and carve my skin details into it. Click on the images to see a larger view of the picture.

Handmade carving tool next to a lump of polymer clay.
Drawing horizontal lines in my clay. Make sure that the lines very in depth and cross over each other. After the horizontal lines are drawn, create a cross hatch of vertical lines across the top of them
Smooth out the clay with 91% rubbing alcohol.
Finished results (note: you may want to go over the horizontal lines again if you did not get them deep enough the first time)
An example of what this technique looked like when I was working on the bounty hunter.

Tip: Cover the area with Saran Wrap prior to scratching out the lines in clay. This will help keep your clay from tearing when you draw your lines (tip not used in the examples above).
That’s it, now go out an practice. This technique does take a little time to master but it is a great way to create an amazing effect on your artwork.

4 Responses to “Sculpting Skin”

  1. Darin says:

    Does adding rubbing alcohol ruin the clay so you cant reuse it?

  2. Darin says:

    Also, does a bent in half stapple work?

  3. goregt says:

    Rubbing alcohol doesn’t ruin the clay but can make it a bit tacky for awhile. I’ve reused clays multiple times (until I was ready to bake) without any issues.

  4. goregt says:

    Any sharp object will work (staples, needle, stiff wire). These days I use a sculpting tool that comes to a very sharp point.

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About Me

Nothing special, just a self-taught sculptor having fun with my art and showing all of you the tips and tricks I use to create my own artwork



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