A Polymer clay step-by-step tutorial
This is an old post from my other page about sculpting, which is getting cancelled. If you plan to make money using Etsy, but never found any easy thing to start with, feel free to read the article. It is in a very different style than the rest of the articles on this site, but you still might enjoy it. ( If you want something more basic, try this article)
It all started with an Instagram post.
Last week I saw a post from the wonderful x.mmio, a digital artist from Germany, who specialises in the cutest and most colourful paintings possible. (Please go to his link and show him some love.) And suddenly I knew. I knew I had to make a step-by-step sculpting tutorial about a whale that travelled to space. The post was the popular Draw This In Your Style challenge of this picture:
Yes, the challenge was about drawing, but then, what is life without breaking some meaningless rules? (This line serves only for comedic effect. I am a law-abiding citizen, I swear, please don’t quote me.)
Anyway, without further ado, here’s how I did it. The pictures might be bit low quality as they were taken from the stream as I was sculpting it live on my twitch channel (currently non-active).
What tools and materials should we use?
Let’s have some affiliate links, shall we?
At first, I was wondering if I should use coloured polymer clay for this one. Fimo usually has a great variety of colours that would make this piece really stand out, but I decided against it. Mostly for the sheer fact, I did not have a purple colour at the time. So, I went with my old and trusty Super Sculpey Original, with the decision to paint the piece later with acrylics. Any you have should suffice. Here are some random ones I found on Amazon, but there isn’t any conceivable difference. When it comes to the tools, you pretty much don’t really need any. One tool I rarely used was a silicone rubber shaper from this kit for blending, but you can use a pencil or the end of the brush handle. Either way, the best tools, after all, are your hands.
Now that I decided on the things to use, I started with a simple ball.
To do so, I just grabbed a random amount of clay and rolled it between my hands until a ball was made. With this, I got the general shape for the head. To achieve the perfect whale shape, I did the good old grab and pull move™.
After that, a tear shape was made. Pressing on its end, I created the tail of the whale. At least the first steps of it.
Of course with this type of a tail, it would be very hard for our whale to steer – or whatever they use the two fins at the end of their tail for – so we need to pull on the ends and shape it correctly. There isn’t really any correct way to do this. Just experiment, have fun with it. Here I used my tool to give it a sharp edge, but a toothpick, or anything round and thin will do the trick, like a pencil or pen.
And finally, the world could now tell, yes, yes, he is making a whale.
The next logical step is to add the fins to the poor whale. You can do so by getting a small piece of clay and playing with its shape until it resembles the fin. This honestly took me several tries, since the fin was too big for the body. I solved it in the end by just removing about 20% of it every time and then reshaping it until it fit.
Then I attached it to the top fin and used my tool (again, use a pencil or the end of a brush if you need to) to blend in the edges.
Repeat the steps for both side fins. Just remember if you don’t know where to place them exactly, use the reference picture above.
But wait! There’s more.
And you’re done. Yes. That’s pretty much it when it comes to the base shape. Easy, wasn’t it? If it wasn’t, then don’t worry. It took me several tries until I got the shape of the head right. Once I even had to destroy the entire thing and start again. Sometimes you need to start again to achieve something greater. You could now bake the whale and paint it and be done with it, but not here. No. Here, we make space whales a reality. And our space whale is letting out a plume of the happiest smoke you’ve ever seen. So that’s exactly what we are doing now.
Take a small piece of wire, about the 3/4 of the whale’s length and bend it about 70° somewhere before its midpoint. Then, insert the wire into the whale’s head, where the blowhole would be located. Be gentle. (There are many jokes I could make hare, but I decided not to.) This is what we will use as our first-ever skeleton on this site (or armature to sound more professional). Yes, and the first armature we’ll be using, is for a cloud that usually does not have a skeleton. At least as far as I know. That would be scary. So, here we go.
Now that you shaped the wire in a way that’s resembling the cloud’s direction, pull it out and put some clay over it. Try to sculpt it with your fingers so it resembles a puffy cloud. Make sure you put enough clay so the wire is not visible.
Once you have the cloud or smoke attached, make sure you shape the base of it so it looks more like it’s coming out of the blowhole. Meaning, it should be thinner at the base as the smoke expands after.
Now, officially, the base is done. This is where the step-by-step sculpting part ends. Try to make sure you didn’t leave too many fingerprints on it. (Unless you don’t mind.) You can now grab that entire beautiful thing you created and chug it into an oven. Don’t forget the baking paper. Don’t use tin foil, it will leave a silvery surface where it touches your clay. Look at the box of your clay for baking instructions. My “Sculpey Original” bakes for 30 minutes at 160°C. According to Google, that would be 320°F. Also, never bake the clay with food at the same time. I know how tempting it might be to make a cookie or two but these might be little toxic.
Now that the baking has finished, let your creation cool a bit. Also, don’t forget to air out your oven for at least 10 minutes. When it’s ready, it’s time to finally start painting it. Now it’s up to you what paints you’ll choose. Me, personally, I’ve always used acrylics. I just found out they work, but I’ve heard you can use any paints you want. I am actually planning to make an experiment using different paints like oils or even watercolours later so, expect results. For now, let’s use simple acrylic paints.
What’s life without a bit of colour.
Mix your paints so you get your shade of purple. Remember the whale is yours. It doesn’t have to be completely the same as the reference. It’s probably best to start with white paint rather than purple because it’s easier to paint over a white splatter, rather than a dark one. I… should’ve figured this sooner. So yeah, I painted the purple first. If you can still see the clay colour under it, don’t worry, this is just the first layer.
Next, I let the purple to dry for 10 minutes and I painted the white parts. Here I encountered the problem I was talking about. The purple was hard to paint over with white, but after the fourth layer, I managed.
After the paint dries a bit, just paint over it again so the clay under it and most fingerprints are gone. Now I decided to paint the stars. As you can see, the whale has an entire galaxy. You can paint a million stars if you want, but I just did a few random ones with a toothpick and white paint.
The next step I did was bringing a little bit of a smile into the world… I just took some black paint and painted the smiling face on the whale and the cloud per reference. It’s… it’s easier than I make it sound.
The last step now was to paint the blush. To get the pink paint, I simply took my red and added a lot of white. Actually, more than I needed. What I’m trying to say, I wasted way too much paint on this.
And the whale is done. You did it! It was easy like one, two, three. I think that’s an expression people use. If you feel like doing an extra step, you can put on a varnish, but WARNING! Depending on what you’ll pick, it can make the whale too glossy, which ended up being my problem. Look for matte varnishes if you can. If you like glossy things, then “Klarlack Gloss Clear Varnish” is what I used here.
And finally, when the varnish dried, we are here. The finish line. You did it! Your sculpture is done! If this is the first article you read and followed here than congratulations, you are now an official polymer clay sculptor. You can get only better from now on. Soon you’ll be able to sculpt space… anything!
And you’re done!
Now you can put your first creation on shops like Etsy or even Facebook Marketplace. You can even bake a chain into it to have the whale as a small charm on your keychain. Get creative. People love creative ideas!
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