Ahead of his work­shop at Pic­to­plasma 2017, Matt Jones re­veals how to de­velop char­ac­ter con­cepts us­ing clay

Computer Arts - - Contents -

In the first of a two-part tu­to­rial, Matt Jones re­veals how to de­velop your char­ac­ter con­cepts

THE BA­SICS OF MAK­ING ART TOYS If you don’t know what an art toy is, or you have never seen one, there’s prob­a­bly a good rea­son. It’s quite a niche in­dus­try, but filled with some of the nicest peo­ple and most tal­ented artists in the world. About 10 years ago ev­ery man and his dog was talk­ing about it; nowa­days it’s quite a steady in­dus­try, but one that’s grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity ev­ery day.

Art toys are pre­dom­i­nately made by artists who have a de­sire to see their char­ac­ters come to life in glo­ri­ous 3D. In many ways, it’s an ex­ten­sion of their char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

These toys are found at comic con­ven­tions world­wide, and are of­ten hand­made in low vol­ume runs (as low as 50 or 100 pieces), which can po­ten­tially make them much sought-af­ter and valu­able. The fig­ures are nor­mally around 8-15 inches, and many artists start small so they can man­u­fac­ture on a low bud­get, ei­ther by hand resin cast­ing us­ing sil­i­cone tools, or in vinyl plas­tic us­ing ro­to­cast or in­jec­tion mould­ing meth­ods (typ­i­cally done at a fac­tory in China) for larger quan­ti­ties. This two-part work­shop will fo­cus on resin and sil­i­cone cast­ing.

Be­fore you start mak­ing your own resin art toys, you need to un­der­stand that there are two main meth­ods of pro­duc­tion. The first is the ba­sic method of sil­i­cone tool­ing, which uses just one block of sil­i­cone to make sim­ple ob­jects and char­ac­ters. This method is what we will fo­cus on here, be­cause it’s the pre­ferred cast­ing method for begin­ners.

Split tool­ing is the more ad­vanced tech­nique, de­signed to give you greater con­trol over your split lines on each cast while al­low­ing you to pro­duce more com­plex ob­jects.

“Some things just aren’t suit­able for resin cast­ing. The longer and thin­ner the shapes, the harder it will ul­ti­mately be to get resin into these parts”


In the first part of this work­shop, I’ll fo­cus on hav­ing a solid idea and pro­duc­ing 2D ‘turn­arounds’ (see image 06). Once you have these, you can start to ex­per­i­ment in 3D us­ing plas­ticine, and then gear up to pro­duc­ing a model us­ing Su­per Sculpey clay.

You’ll need some pa­per, pens, a ruler, a com­puter and printer, and some Su­per Sculpey clay and plas­ticine. I’d also rec­om­mended you buy your­self a small set of mod­el­ling tools.

Be­fore you make any­thing, though, you need to have a good idea of what you want to make. Your idea can be some­thing new you cre­ate just for this project, or some­thing that you’ve been draw­ing for years and want to see fi­nally brought to life in 3D.

Sketch out a few ideas and choose a char­ac­ter that isn’t too com­pli­cated. Some things just aren’t suit­able for resin cast­ing, such as thin forms like hairs or very long spikes.

The longer and thin­ner the shapes, the harder it will ul­ti­mately be to get resin into these parts and ac­tu­ally pull the resin cast from the mould. Also, the thin­ner a de­sign el­e­ment, the longer it will take the resin to harden.


Turn­around draw­ings are a set of draw­ings that show six pro­jected views of a char­ac­ter: the front, left side, right side, back side, and if re­quired, the top and bot­tom too. Ideally, it’s best to draw this up in Il­lus­tra­tor, be­cause you can make ad­just­ments and scale it as you see nec­es­sary. You can also use the draw­ings to see what colour you’d like and how your model will look over­all in the fi­nal de­sign.

The best way to build up an­other view is to use one draw­ing to cre­ate an­other. Draw the front first and then use this draw­ing to build up the other views. Add guide­lines taken from the front view (see image 07) to help you work out where to draw the es­sen­tial de­tails; this will help you es­tab­lish things like where the top of the head fin­ishes, where the arms fin­ish, and so on.

Once you have your turn­around draw­ing, print it out for ref­er­ence at the cor­rect work­ing scale. To keep it clean, I’d rec­om­mend put­ting a layer of clear sticky tape over it, pro­vid­ing a thin pro­tec­tive layer; you can then work on top of these guides di­rectly while us­ing the clay. It’s a great way of mak­ing one guide last a long time, and makes model-mak­ing eas­ier and quicker.


Now build a rough 3D model of your char­ac­ter us­ing plas­ticine clay. Don’t be pre­cious about how much you use; this is a fun, ex­per­i­men­tal stage and takes a while to master.

Build lots of mod­els and try out dif­fer­ent colours. I nor­mally use my whole hand: the palm for rolling soft shapes like balls, the fingers for rolling out sausage shapes, and fin­ger­tips for the fine de­tails. I find I do a lot of fin­ger­tip pat­ting down to get re­ally smooth shapes like domes and to re­duce the vis­i­bil­ity of my own fin­ger­prints. If you need a cir­cle shape in the de­sign, try us­ing a pen lid or the cap of a bot­tle. Look around you to see what other ob­jects make in­ter­est­ing im­pres­sions; plas­ticine clay takes de­tails re­ally well.

It’s worth tak­ing a mo­ment at this point to re­fine your de­sign, and you will prob­a­bly need to re­tune your turn­around draw­ings from what you have learnt us­ing clay.

Once you’re com­fort­able with clay, get out some Su­per Sculpey. Make sure you knead it well, and have a play to cre­ate your model. Su­per Sculpey can be baked so it goes hard, and you can also sand it and do all sorts of stuff with it.

Next is­sue, we will be us­ing Su­per Sculpey to make a master, so in the mean­time, please read the in­struc­tions on the box you bought and get ready to make a master model in part two.

If you are in­ter­ested in fur­ther­ing your knowl­edge and fancy get­ting down and dirty with this fun process, check out the web­site and buy a copy of the Plastik Surgery Hand­book to get mak­ing.

Creating your own toy mod­els is a great way to ex­pand your char­ac­ter de­sign skills.

Be­fore you make any­thing phys­i­cal, you need to start sketch­ing out ideas for what to cre­ate.

Turn­around draw­ings show six pro­jected views of a char­ac­ter. Ideally, it’s best to draw them in Il­lus­tra­tor.

Adding guide­lines from the char­ac­ter’s front view helps you to draw the side view in the right pro­por­tions.

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