Fiddling with Bertram

Blimey. Five months since the last post… I’ve not died, I’ve just not finished any projects off in that time. This is a bit rubbish but I have been busy, honest. In fact I’ve finished the Goddess recently and also reached a halfway stage on the project I’ve asked you all here to talk about. A few months ago I was approached by Bertram Fiddle, leading Victorian Explorator, to immortalise his noble manservant Gavin as part of a Kickstarter project to fund his next adventure game (I’m not sure about how a Victorian explorator was able to get in touch with me over the vast gulf of time that separates us but I’m sure it involved brass tubes, cogs and some steam).

Armed with a number of images of Gavin, I was able to quickly sculpt a passing semblance of the chap in a short space of time. And by short, I mean a few weekends where I binge watched all of Gotham and several series of Stargate SG-1 (thank you netflix) and he is one of the quickest sculptures I’ve done recently.

Gavin started off as a bit of wire slathered in Milliput to work out the rough hight, then I broke that apart after realising he had two legs not one (proper facepalm moment when I notice his legs have a gap between them). Lots of wire, milliput, brass tube, Super sculpey firm, wood, pins, primer paint and more super sculpey firm later, voila. A body. The hands and gun got built independently as I wanted to cast them separately from the main body. When cast he will be assembled, painted by hand and then mounted on a wooden base befitting such a noble servant.

There are more pictures of the build process on Google https://goo.gl/photos/TL21w7ZD3vu1fpT49

This is now in a holding pattern above Kickstarter, I told Bertram that I’d only start moulding under two conditions, firstly that there was at least one crazy person who backed the pledge level to get a Gavin, and that the Kickstarter itself was funded. Within about an hour of it launching, SOMEONE PLEDGED A GAVIN! (no, it wasn’t me trying to but them all up).

Its only been a few hours after launching but its already reached over £2,000 and I’m now thinking I have to order a lot of Oomoo…

Go check the Kickstarter project (have i posted that link enough yet) and I’ll write up my notes on the Goddess in the next few days, but I’ll just mention that as well as these two projects I’ve also been working on my Judge Dredd helmet and also another dragon sculpture. I’ll pop up some pics of those but if you want to keep up with anything I’m up to at the moment, its worth finding me on the Castings of Cthulhu Facebook as I’ve been posting more updates on there, including some finished painted Cthulhu Wars figures and some work in progress shots of various things scattered around the dungeon as I’m working on them.

Right, I’m off to hit refresh loads of times on the Kickstarter project page and start to sweat about how much work this is going to be when I come to mould, cast and paint a possible 20 figures…

Casting Cthulhu

I’ve been asked a few times over the last couple of weeks how I actually mould and cast my statues. So rather than do a project update blog, I’m going to talk a little about how I cast my statues using (appropriately enough) a brass Cthulhu that I cast last weekend.

Before I actually start yammering, I’m going to do another quick link to my Facebook page Castings of Cthulhu and remind you that I’ll be posting updates and random stuff on there on a more regular basis. I’ll be using the blog for posting finished projects and bigger updates.

Ok, shameless self promotion done, lets move on…

When I first cast something many years ago in art college, I used plaster which was messy and not very good for details and then moved onto Vinamold at uni. Vinamold is a rubbery material you heat up and smells vaguely of chicken soup (as I remember) and is reusable so it has some good points if you like chicken soup. Skipping on 15+ years takes us to the point where I hadn’t cast anything in ages but wanted to start casting my Cthulhu. After a wander around the local craft shop I left with a big bottle of latex and a small bottle of latex thickener. This was for the very first Cthulhu mould and I spent a couple of weeks layering latex over the original.

The first few castings where pretty disastrous as I attempted to figure out what the hell I was doing, to the point of dumping £30 worth of bronze powder into the mould with a load of resin and it going horribly wrong. It was a bit of a downer but I’ve slowly managed to refine my technique over the last few years. Not to say everything comes out perfect, but every casting helps me figure out new things and I get it right more often than not now.

lots_o_moulds

From left to right we have the first mould in latex, the second mould also in latex, the third mould in Dragon Skin and the fourth (and current mould) in erm… Dragon skin as well. I think. Probably. Pretty sure it is anyway. There is one missing between two and three which was from a private commission for a Cthulhu in a green stone effect. I tried to use a material with stone in it which pretty much thrashed the mould but I think it was a cockup on my part more than the materials used. I think I miss calculated the ratio of resin to stone and it ended up a slightly crumbly Cthulhu. I just binned the mould in the end as the inside was shredded.

This is the insides of the Cthulhu latex mould.

rubber_mould cthulhu

Cthulhu Dragon skin mould.

dragon_skin cthulhu

and the other one which is probably Dragon Skin. I’m 99% sure its Dragon Skin… well… 95%.

coloured_mould cthulhu

The original latex moulds are still in pretty good shape. The first one has a couple of rips starting to appear as one downside with latex is how little it stretches. Don’t get me wrong, its rubber, it bends and flexes but when you’re trying to peel a skin tight rubber mould from a statue of a great old one, you want something that has a little give in it. A few times I came close to just cutting the moulds and being done with as my fingers would be hurting and I’d be sweating trying to get it off the damn casting. So I did some reading and ended up getting some of Dragon Skin FX-Pro from Bentley. This stuff is wonderful and I now swear by it for my one piece jacket moulds (I’m mainly using Oomoo for my two part moulds and thats also by Smooth-On).

The whitish clear mould was made in a weekend and I made the mistake of not using any pigment in the material which meant it was hard to see where I had applied it, hence why the fourth mould is coloured. Its much easier to see where its been layered on. Dragon skin is applied in layers, like latex, but where latex takes a day or so to dry (the ammonia evaporating) this stuff can be layered up in 45-60 minutes before its fully set. Meaning most moulds can be made in a day and dragon skin stretches like you wouldn’t believe. You can pull it 200%+ of the original item so demoulding is much easier.

So once the mould is done, its time to fill it with something. I’ll just backtrack a small amount and add something about mother moulds. Smallish items can be cast as they are in the mould but bigger items need a mother mould around the main mould to hold its shape. Mother moulds are rigid outer shells that support that floppy inner mould as when you fill the mould, it will sag and bend unless it has something to hold it in place. I’m currently using Plastipaste for most of my mother moulds (it’s by Smooth-On, spotting a pattern yet?) and comes out looking a bit like expanding spray foam only rock hard.

OK, so we have our mould and its snuggled up inside the mother mould, its time to fill it with something. Well, not just yet. Spraying the inside of the mould with some form of release spray is useful at this point.

cups_and_release

I’m not going to point out what make my current spray release is, suffice to say that I get it from Bentley Materials where I get my moulding materials from.

A light spray inside the mould and inside the moulding cups. Yup, it helps to recycle the measuring cups when the resin has set as you can pop the waste resin out and save it for later. While its not vital to have a release spray for moulds, it does help to save on wear and tear.

OK, now we can fill it with something. This is Easy Flow clear…

easy_flo_clear

…and this is brass powder in the Easy Flow Clear.

brass_in_resin

Depending on the casting, I put a specific amount of part A in one cup and the same amount of part B in another cup and then mix the same volume of metal into each cup, mix them up in the cup and then mix the two cups together. Odins, Freyjas and Thors all use the same volumes while Cthulhu takes a much larger amount. Easy Flow sets fast so after mixing together its time to pour it into the mould and roll that thing around to make sure every part of it is coated. I have experimented with just dusting the insides of moulds with metal powder and then pouring the resin in but I’ve never had satisfactory results to be honest.

So now we have a thin layer of Easy Flow and metal powder glooping around coating the insides and after about five minutes the Easy Flow is set enough to leave to fully cure.

brass_in_mould

We now have to fill the void. Remember that mould release we sprayed into the cups? Once the Easy Flow has set we can pull the bit thats set at the bottom out and drop it into the gap along with any other materials we have to hand to help back fill the hole.

This is Polycraft 7450 that I get from mbfg.co.uk and is a nice cheap back fill resin that I mix with black dye and either Aluminium Trihydrate or Fillite to help bulk out the resin. When I first started to cast these I was using Marine grade fibreglass resin as I could get it cheaply, but the stench meant I had to do them outside and also they got really really hot when curing. The volume of resin poured into the hollow Cthulhu meant there was often jets of steam coming off them and the rubber got really dark from heating up. Even filling in stages didn’t help a lot so I quickly shifted onto stuff with no smell (everything I use these days is pretty much odourless) and doesn’t get too warm.

back_fill

Backfilling helps to keep the production cost down as well as the weight for shipping. If I was to fill with either solid resin or anything else then the shipping costs would go through the roof. Anything over 2kg is a shocking price to send signed for overseas from the UK, so in the interest of actually being able to stock Cthulhu at a price that people would be willing to pay for shipping, I try to keep the weight down.

side_by_side

Demoulded the castings look quite dull, so it’s time to hit them up with some metal polish and fine grade wire wool. The outer layer of the casting has a layer of resin which needs to be removed. I use firegrate polish on my casting to help age them and brush them all over with the stuff before buffing with wire wool then buffing with a cloth and the difference is noticeable. Firegrate polish has a high percentage of graphite in which helps to darken down the casting and also sinks into the deeper recesses of the casting giving it an appearance of aged metal. You can mix raw graphite powder into the metal powder at the casting stage but it has to be worked out carefully or else you end up with a very dark finish.

Once the polishing is done I base the Cthulhu with felt to save them from scuffing whatever surface they end up on. One early customer ordered one for his garden so I skipped the felt on that one.

basing_cthulhu

So thats pretty much it. It’s a very broad overview with warts and all and isn’t intended to be an in-depth guide, but if anyone has questions then please ask away in the comments below or on Facebook and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Paint your dragon

Base
Base
Milliput and wire work
Milliput and wire work
Wire mesh wings
Wire mesh wings
Blocking out the body
Blocking out the body
The head and horns
The head and horns
Baked Dragon
Baked Dragon
Primed Dragon
Primed and ready to be painted
Before I start on the writeup on this dragon sculpture project, I’d like to take a moment to shamelessly promote my Facebook page Castings of Cthulhu. Yes, it has the same name as my Etsy page. in some misguided attempt at branding. I’ll mainly be using the blog for the big meaty project writeups while the facebook page will be for updates, photos of work in progress and general whats going on. Thats if I remember to keep updating it.

Now, back to our regular programme.

This was a commission for someone who wanted it as a birthday present, so after a few chats about the requirements I had a rough idea of what the dragon had to look like. I began with a chunk of quartz and glued a blob of milliput to it. I had done something similar with the horned god and found the weight of the rocky base to be useful in keeping the piece in place and also as something to hold while working on it.

The armature was built up with wire and more milliput then sculpey was layered up over it, pretty much how all my other sculptures have been done. The wings had an under layer of car body wire mesh to build the shape. The bottom of the quartz was a bit too rounded off so I applied a few blobs of milliput and stamped them with a couple of rocks to give them a more natural finish. I also glued the quartz to a piece of plastic card to give it a flat base, this softened a bit in the oven when it was baked but stayed flat enough. Mental note, remember to check for plastic before baking next time.

Part of the way through I was getting a bit annoyed with the tail and how it joined onto the body. Originally it curled around the rock more but it was bent at an almost 90 angle at the base of the body and look stupid, so I dug down to the armature and bent it into a more gentle angle. It helped to give the body a bit more movement and looks much better.

I’ve been trying out some new tools I got for Christmas which are really nice to use, they’ve got rounded ends of different sizes and they really helped with getting the wrinkles, folds and other shapes smoothed out and formed.

Some time later, the whole thing went in the oven on a nice low heat for a couple of hours. I’ve been trying to do them for longer and lower which is resulting in less cracking and a nice hard finish.

Painting was a bit of a tricky one. I’m a bit of a sloppy painter so it took a few goes to get it tidy but the requirement was a green dragon/finish/skin/scale tone. Plenty of Games Workshop paint and ink died to get the final colours right.

There are more pictures of the project in my google gallery

This project was a bit of a first as I’ve never sculpted a dragon before but then theres a lot of things I’ve never sculpted before… a zombie… a fish… the cast of Fame…

feeding on the gammy carcass of life since 1793

Get more updates on my facebook page Castings of Cthulhu