We all want our polymer clay models to resemble a smooth designer art toy cast in vinyl or resin. The problem is, it takes a lot of work to get rid of the bumps, nicks, finger prints, indentations, uneven surfaces and bits of clay stuck to the outside. The bigger problem is, solving one of the above issues can actually cause of some of the others. So, you end up working against yourself. Rest assured, super smooth results are possible. Here are some tips to get ultra smooth Sculpey models.
Your Under-structure is Bumpy as a Country Road
Many sculptors build up their armature using wire and aluminum foil. The wire and, more notably, the foil need to have some texture to them in order for the clay to adhere well. A tangled mess of a aluminum foil will cause your first layer of clay to be a bumpy mess with bits of foil sticking out.
Solution: Take some time to reduce huge bumps in your aluminum foil using a small hammer. Lightly tap your tin foil under structure so that it doesn’t have huge crevasses. Also keep in mind, the bumpier your armature the more clay or filler patches you will need to get truly smooth results
Your Smoothing To Early
To get smooth results you need to follow somewhat of a stepped process. If you start smoothing areas of your model to early you’ll find they just get messed up later or you need more clay to properly smooth which messes up your proportions causing you re-sculpt other areas.
Solution: Get your model to a sketch phase where it’s patchy but the form in there. Then refine the form, not for smoothness but for evenness. Don’t be afraid to fill in dents with small patches of clay. Add clay strips to address severely uneven areas and don’t worry about the seams of clay. When the form of your model is what you want and there aren’t areas of uneven clay you can start an initial smoothing pass. Then refine, add detail and do another smoothing pass.
When to Bake?
You’ll come to a point where you have an area of your model that is ready to be smoothed to final but it keeps getting nicked, dented or picking up spare bits of clay. This is common when you need to add detail, clothing or accessories and want the underlying part of the model to be set. The trick is knowing how often to bake parts of your model and in what order.
Solution: There may be a max number of times you can bake Sculpey but I don’t know what that number is. On larger figures, I tend to bake the model or parts 4-6 times. I also try and bake from the inside out with consistent thicknesses of fresh clay baked at each iteration. Major body parts get baked, then the head with hair, then clothing, small accessories. Each model tends to have different baking needs, so I try to plan out a baking plan early into the production.
You’re Only using Your Hands
Fingers and thumbs are great and with a lot of patience can get wickedly smooth results. But, there are other ways to get smooth results.
Solution: I have a variety of silicon objects that I lightly roll over parts of a model to get toy store smooth results. Small rolling pins, egg shaped objects and bits of flat silicon that I can roll or press on various parts of the objects to take a rough and messy piece of Sculpey to super smooth is a few seconds.
Note: Rolling objects with hard edges, like a rolling pin, can leave lines in your model. There is a balance between too hard and too soft when it comes to silicon smoothing elements. The smaller or more detailed the area that needs to be smoothed is, the harder it with be to avoid tool dents and lines. Silicon tipped tools and spoon shaped dental tools work well, but also can leave marks. There is nothing better than your hands and a lot of patience.
You’re Not Using Clay Softeners
Your model is done. You carry to the oven and place it inside with a fresh set of fingerprints all over it’s surface. Those fingerprints are now going to be apart of your model forever.
Solution: You can use Scupley clay softners and other smoothing agents like mineral spirits to remove fingerprints and get a slightly finer level of smooth to your model. Apply the softeners with a brush or your hand. Don’t use to much, a little goes a long way.
Your Smoothing at the Wrong Temperature
Clay performs drastically different at different temperatures. If your clay is too cold it will be hard to smush it into s smooth surface. Conversely, if your clay is too warm, you will drag too much clay and cause unevenness or ridge seems to form.
Solution: Find the point that your clay smooths best and don’t work past it. Put your model down after it warms up to much and pick up your smoothing efforts after a half hour or so.
To Sand or Not to Sand
Should you sand you Sculpey model after baking it?
Solution: Out of the oven, Sculpey readily accepts paint from brush or spray. If you’ve put a bunch of time and effort into smoothing by hand and with tool you probably wont need to smooth your baked model with sand paper. That said, if there are nicks or you want to add a level of texture to your model Sculpey can be sanded. If I am planning on casting Sculpey model into plastic then you may want to go over your model with increasingly fine grit sandpaper in order to ensure a level of polish worthy of committing a mold to.