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Sculpting with Wax vs Polymer Clay

Posted by goregt On July - 31 - 2008

Stop the press, isn’t this site suppose to be about polymer clay sculpting, after all the name of the site is Polymer Clay Fan! Yes you have read the title to this post correctly, I’ve started playing with wax lately and although I’m still wet behind the ears I thought why not put together a little post to compare the two mediums. I’m sure a few diehard polymer clay artists may snub their nose at this post but I recommend reading through the entire article before jumping to a conclusion. This isn’t an article about discrediting wax or even polymer clay, it is just my observation of the positives and negatives the two different mediums have to offer.

Before I begin, if I had to make one disclaimer I would like to state that these are only my first impressions of wax and over time my opinions may change. Not all waxes are created equal and the wax that I chose to use for my little experiment is called FUSE. I’ll do a write-up on FUSE in another post but the key reason why I chose this wax over others is that when heated it creates a consistency like dough. This way you can quickly mold a rough shape and start working on refining the sculpture from there.

Key benefits for using wax

1. No armature is needed – A lot of people don’t mind building armatures so if you are one of these individuals then for you this really isn’t a benefit for using wax, for me it is the KEY ADVANTAGE for using wax. I really hate working with armatures so this was one of the main reasons why I decided to give wax a try.
2. Sculpture can easily be cut up into pieces for molding (really only an advantage for those wanting to replicate their work). I don’t intend to mislead anyone here, you can cut baked polymer clay sculptures into separate pieces for molding as well, and it’s just so much easier with wax.
3. When cooled wax is very hard – When wax is in the hard state it is very hard and you do not have to worry about accident tally adding your fingerprints or smudging the details on a piece when handling it. With the polymer clays, baking and/or partial-baking are required to avoid messing up the details (either that or you have to avoid touching the finished areas at all cost). When I sculpt smaller pieces, like faces, I like to hold the sculpture in my hand while working, the disadvantage of polymer clays, like Super Sculpey, is that the clay has a soft and sponge like feel to it which makes it very easy to mess up the details. Dropping a piece or accidentally grabbing the wrong section of the sculpture can quickly undue hours of hard work in the blink of an eye.
4. Wax can be reused – one the mold has been created you can melt the sculpture down and reuse the wax for another piece. In the long run this could help offset some of the cost of creating a mold.
5. Smells good – My FUSE smells like baby powder and honey when heated, now how awesome is that ;-)

Key disadvantages with wax

1. Not ideal for one-of-a-kind sculptures- unlike polymer clay you simply can’t just bake wax to create a permanent sculpture (doing so will actually cause adverse effects). A mold is will be required if you are looking at creating a permanent sculptures. If you are looking at casting a small run then a mold would be needed with any medium that you choose but for a one-of-a-kind piece it really isn’t the ideal sculpting medium.
2. Requires heat for sculpting – you either have to keep running back and forth to the microwave or come up with some other source of heat to soften the wax (hair dryer works well). Polymer clay only requires a little kneading and it is ready to go (much easier to work with in this manner).
3. You better have metal tools – I use metal tools anyways when I sculpt so not a biggie for me but if you use plastic tools you may want to invest in a set of dental tools before sculpting with wax. As stated earlier wax is very hard when cooled and will put a strain on any tool that you use.

In conclusion both wax and polymer clays have their advantages and disadvantages and I personally think most people would benefit from learning both mediums. It is easy to get comfortable with one medium or even one sculpting style; however I believe you really start to grow when you push yourself. Whether you are sculpting something you have never sculpted before or sculpting with a different medium, the person that wins in the end is you. With sculpting I always try to challenge myself with each new piece and for most the projects that I start there is always a little voice in the back of my head wondering if I will be able to “pull it off”. When I purchased my wax I really had no clue on what to do. I ended up reading information here and there on the web on the different techniques for sculpting with wax but in the end I learned what I know now from just trial and error. I’m still just an infant in my knowledge of this material but with that said I’m confident I can put out the same level of quality of art as I do with polymer clay. I also believe that the next time I sculpt with polymer clay my experience with wax will help me become a better sculptor in that medium as well.

There are no permanent plans to trade in my Super Sculpey for wax but I do plan to use wax in more of my future pieces. I do still have a love hate relationship with my Super Sculpey (love the clay and hate the armatures) and look forward to adding some of the new skills I’ve acquired with wax sculpting to my next polymer piece. In the end it really is sculpting that I love and the material used is just a means to end. So for all you die hard polymer clay artist out there, put down your shields, try something new and over time watch the quality of your polymer clay art benefit from it in the end.

10 Responses to “Sculpting with Wax vs Polymer Clay”

  1. This is the first time I’ve received an e-mail from website polymerclayfan.com.

    Thanks
    Sharon

  2. Lorri says:

    I just wanted to say that your seahorse sculpture even in it’s unfinished state is absolutely outstanding and breathtaking!

  3. Firstly I would just like to say I am in awe of your art -it’s awesome the detail you add to each piece. I have just been reading your article on wax compared to clay, I am new to all this and just wanted to ask do you sculpt the wax like clay or is it carved? Is it soft like clay to work with?
    I am really interested in seeing your progress making a mould, have you ever made moulds from your polymer clay projects?
    Keep up the amazing work!

  4. chuck hubler says:

    Hello,
    Thought your sea horse a very nice peice.so what type of wax are you useing?I have done testing for polyclay before but never heard any thing back from them after that 1 test.I run a small shop called Oregon Beads Plus More.Was trying to get there products in my store but they are so much expence to get them started it would have drained me out.any sugestions?

  5. james says:

    im looking at you web sit i like what i see. i just whated to
    say i thank it cool that you are open minded to other way for sculpting you got your head on strate!

  6. Sharon says:

    Gerld, I am happy you are trying this also. I have been thinking about it for a few weeks, but have not had any time I could do it. I thINK the appearance of the clay would definitely be very soft and different – maybe not – who knows? Maybe much sifter aooearabce, It would be interestering in the different effects and media youcould work with it.

    I have several of those different ideas floating aound inth right side of my brain. Have you done more owith it and how did it come out if you did. I appreciate you letting me know. Thanks, Sharon

  7. Alf says:

    I’ve tried wax but haven’t become friends with it. Lately I’ve started using chavant clay for larger scale sculptures (have started participating in a puppeteers workshop). It’s basically a finer quality modelling clay much in use with Hollywood special effects makers for instance. So it never hardens and has many of the advantages with wax. But it’s strictly for sculptures that are meant to be cast, not a problem though when the aim is for electrically controlled puppets since they are to be cast in polyestermaterials anyway :-). I must say I’m a novice in the polymerbusiness to having worked mostly in epoxyputties. But epoxies are clearly to expensive for larger scale work.

  8. Greg says:

    Thanx alot for this. I am using castilene and am guessing that it is considered a wax since i have to heat it to work with it. I like it alot but I am trying to create a toy right now for a class project. I am assuming polymer clay is used to do this.

  9. Greg says:

    what about plastic i want to create a plastic toy aka “garage kit” like the artists do on playasia.com with those toys. what kind of material is that.

  10. goregt says:

    You could do a one of a kind with polymer clay or make a mold of your wax sculpture and make resin cast.

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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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