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Sculpting Tools for Puppet Sculpting

A Box of Wood and Steel Sculpting Tools wit Jar of Paper Towels with Oil

Tools are the single most important part for sculpting your clay characters. And guess what the magical, most widely used, best tool there is for sculpting? Your fingers of course.

Your fingers can squish, smooth, pinch, flatten, and poke clay better then any tool. Good metal, plastic, and wooden tools are important as well. These kinds of tools are used in places where detail is too small for fingers to get into or for sharp clean edges.

One tool that you wouldn't think of for sculpting oil based clay is the paintbrush, in combination with a small plastic container. Veteran clay animator (from Will Vinton Productions) named John Ashlee taught me this trick one day when I went to visit his studio. Back then he would take a plastic film can, stuff a wadded up paper towel in it, and pour mineral oil over the paper towel until it is was fully absorbed.

You keep pouring, until the paper is saturated enough to where you can take your finger and rub the paper towel with your finger tip, and get a nice thin coating of oil on it. Then in the future you can just dip your finger in it, and use your slightly oily finger to smooth out your sculptures. You also use the soft but firm bristled paint brush to get onto fine detailed areas using the same process.

The reason this works is because oil is an ingredient in oil based clay. The oil melts the surface ever so slightly, sort of like how wax becomes smooth when heated by a flame.

For polymer clay puppet makers, try a little rubbing alcohol instead of oil. You'll find your fingers and tools glide over the surface and leaves a nicer finish.

If you're sculpting a puppet using Monster Clay or Roma, some people swear by lighter fluid as a smoothing agent. It is flammable and smelly, so care must be taken if you use this smoothing method. You use the fluid in the same way as the oil and rubbing alcohol methods above.


Marc Spess Sculpts his Ruble Clay Stop Motion Puppet

Of course there are plenty of sculpting tools you can find online with a quick google or Amazon search.


- Wooden tools are very nice to use and can be sanded, filed and shaped smooth. The more smooth these tools are the better they will behave when sculpting. Small scratches, uneven or sharp edges will grip the clay as you slide the tool over the clay.

- Stainless dental tools are excellent, especially the spoon shaped wax spatulas. These types of stainless tools can also be sanded smooth to a mirror finish. Again, the smoother the better!

- Wire loop tools are also helpful as you can scoop out details, such as the cavity in ears, noses, eyes and mouths. It's a good idea to have a variety of these tools in different sizes so you can get into large and small places.

- Silicone tools are one of the later sculpting tool inventions. Usually they look like a paint brush with a colored rubber tip. They are great to experiment with when getting into wrinkles and sculpted hair texture.

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