Tag Archives: action figure customizing

The gothest action figure custom ever.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017Even though I don’t know much about this Nico Minoru character, I had to snap up the adorbs babybat action figure of her!

Hasbro did an incredible job with her, as they have with so many female Marvel Legends figures in the last few years. She’s so goth!

But…I felt she could be MORE goth.

I started this project as a proof of concept for the absurdly male-dominated world of action figure collectors and customizers.

I wanted to demonstrate that there are fantastic customizing resources available in lady-land. Like nail art decals, nail art stripes, nail art “dotters”, flocking, etc.

These materials are cheap, widely available and already scaled tiny as fuck. They’re perfect for action figure customs.

So I began with using nail art decals to enhance Nico’s gothic lace.

I LOVE nail art decals because they remind me of Letratype and LetraSet! Old school! The tiny packets of decals are so cheap, you can get a hundred sheets on eBay for a euro.

I masked the areas I didn’t plan to decorate off, with a cut up rubber glove and tape. Then I sprayed the figure with my clear primer for plastic.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes wipOnce she was dry, I added glitter piping to her corset, more lace to her shirt, lace thigh-highs over her stripey stockings, and so on.

And that was great! Though very subtle.

Then I realized I could use the same miniature making materials I used for my Snow Queen and other mini projects, such as my Horribella Dolls.

Like tiny eyelash picot trim and wired ribbon and elastic ruffle tape.

And all my tiny little rhinestones and crystals and stars and moons! And my little tiny top hats!!!!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017I just went bananas. I decided to dress Nico full-on San Francisco Goth, Circa 2005.

She would be an homage to all the amazing goth-girls I’ve known, all the beautiful and amazing muses I had the privilege to draw and paint in the Bay Area goth scene for ten years.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Six more hours of ferociously focused detail work and one enormous mess later, there she was!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

She reminds me of the ur-goth image all little girls of my generation imprinted on, Sara Crewe in her outgrown mourning dress.

That Classic Victorian ragamuffin look commingled with circus and harlequin style in the early years of the new century, in the Bay.

My muses wore stripes and bustles and tiny top hats, and so did I. We all looked fucking great!

That look was replaced by the great wave of Steampunk starting in 2007. I loved the Steampunk just as much, so it was alright!

Look how amazing she looks on the Sorcerers’ Porch of my Action Figure Dollhouse.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes porch with Magic Watch

Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.

Oh, action figure customizers and Instagram toy photography bros who find this page by googling, I pity you. They’re dolls, dude. Accept it.

A poseable toy figure of a human with cloth clothing is a doll.

As is often the case, what appears to be a simple doll-making project has a deep cultural wound behind it.

Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.

They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).

Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.

Mezco Harley Quinn figure pre orderI was on their Instagram hassling them for months before she was announced, asking, “What the hell, dudes?”

Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.

And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.

That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.

As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.

Mezco Wonder Woman 1 12Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.

Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.Rachel Ketchum and Bradley Jankowitz 1974

See my mini projects that use similar techniques here:

Early Horribella dolls

Action figure customizing, June 2016

Berlin Horribellas: Mark V, Sept 2016, Mark IV, July 2016

and my Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom, October 2016.

A very old 12″ Living Dead Doll converted to a horrifying spider monster woman, October 2016.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer, December 2016.

1:12 scale gilt insect carriage and harness, June 2017.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada, February 2017.

1/12th scale Snow Queen/Jadis of Narnia, May 2017.

Using epoxy clay, November 2015.

 

June Bricolage Roundup- Crafts, crowns, and action figure customizing.

Bricolage projects by Suzanne Forbes June 2016Here are some of the things I worked on this month.

hand beaded flies Suzanne Forbes 2016First, I finished the second Uplift Fly.

I gave this one ombré wings and I could not be more pleased with how it came out. It is some hella jolie laide hanging in our hallway. hand beaded ombre wing fly Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

 

 

That bit of nonsense out of the way, I moved on to more nonsense. Note D’s childhood friend Dailee below- everyone visits Berlin!

I made Leaf Crowns!crystal leaf crown by Suzanne Forbes 2016

crown with ribbonsI got the materials to make these a couple of years ago. I don’t know why I wanted to make leaf crowns crystal_leaf_crownso much.

I guess I figure people can wear them when we finally have a Summer Solstice dinner party that uses all my leaf majolica, like maybe next year.leaf crowns by Suzanne Forbes 2016

The crystal leaf crown is made of floral-wired plastic leaf beads and opalescent and iridescent Czech beads, padded with the last of my vintage green velvet from Aimee’s grandma’s garage fabric hoard.

Action figures come in a variety of scales, from 3.75″ to 8″.

action figure customizationThe classic Star Wars figures, for example, are 3.75″. Lots of really nice figures are in the 5″ and 7″ scale, which is EXTREMELY frustrating for me. Sometimes they finally make a character I’ve wanted a figure of for years- but it’s just not quite in scale with my dollhouse.

However, a creative solution can often be found, using action figure customizing techniques.

doll hospitalThe amazing Sin City figure of Rosario Dawson was part of a set given to me as a gift by my friend Devon. I love Rosario Dawson, so I really wanted to get her into my dollhouse.

Using my mini-hacksaw, I reduced her height in the two spots that usually work best, neck and ankles. Then I sculpted new soles for her shoes to balance her and on-trend spat-style half-boots to reinforce the cut-down ankles. Now she can join the party!

The 5″ scale T-800 figure was a gift from a beloved friend-muse-patron. I could have bought a McFarlane or Movie Maniacs endoskeleton and scaled it down, but this one is special ’cause it’s from a loved one. So I extended the torso, knees, ankles and hip joints. I also lengthened the calcaneus bones to make the feet more stable and in scale. In the picture you can see how the rebuilt hip joint is drilled out for the new pegs.

alice repairThe Alice figure from the ’00s movie was beautiful, but I didn’t like the way she was posed. Her arms folded behind her back looked disempowered to me.alicebox

So I removed them and reposed them. In this picture you can see I’m building up the new sleeves in layers.

I like to use thin layers to do fine detail in epoxy clay. Then I just had to paint the sleeves and she was done!

bug hipThe motion-sensitive talking giant terror grasshopper is from Bug’s Life, a Pixar movie made just for me ENTIRELY ABOUT INSECTS that came out in the late ’90s. It didn’t prove as enduringly popular as movies about toys or animals, for some reason.

The thin plastic mounting of the screw that attaches its right leg had broken, so I repaired it by packing the hollow hip joint with epoxy clay and resetting the screw in that. When my husband saw it on the worktable he said, “WHAT the hell is THAT?!” In my perfect world, everything I own, touch or build would inspire that reaction.

Frame for Daria’s moth drawing!

moth by Daria Rhein frame by Suzanne Forbes June 2016As I mentioned in the art collab post, I traded Daria an embroidery moth for the original of this beautiful scary drawing. I wanted to make a frame that really honored how much I love the drawing. I used a 69-cent clip frame for the glass; I cut channels out of some strip wood (using my dollhouse trim miter cutter) and hot-glued them to the back of the laser cut frame.

frame in progress

 

 

 

 

Then (after spray-painting the frame with Dupli-Color Platinum) I placed the artwork over the glass, put a piece of heavy watercolor paper behind it to protect it from any acidity or anarchival agents in the backing board, and clipped the frame back together. The frame fit neatly in the channels and I could hot-glue it in place without any danger of touching the artwork.

BTW, Dupli-Color Platinum Spray-paint is my new boyfriend. It is SICK.moth by Daria Rhein frame by Suzanne Forbes June 2016

I hate weakness and entropy, and I was concerned about the structural strength of the delicate top piece, so I added a reinforcing channel of picture wire. I also used both hot glue and UHU universal glue, so that there’s a backup if one fails.

Then it was time to decorate! I’d had the Art Nouveau woman’s face since I was fourteen or fifteen, knocking around in little boxes on my dresser. I love hand-applying Swarovski crystals, like the jet ones here. It’s the most bang for your meticulous-obsessive handwork buck ever.

Lamp conversion!

lamp in salonI got this lampshade at the Anthropologie in Kansas City in like 2002. I was there with my second husband for a daguerreotype event. I carried it home on the plane, pretending it was my hat. Of course I enhanced it with lots of bead trim.Anu and Stephan Suzanne Forbes 2005

It appears in so many of my paintings; I couldn’t bear to leave it behind. But European lamps not only have different plugs and (sometimes) bulb fixtures, they have a different way of attaching lampshades.

lamp topUS lampshades use a finial and harp system attached to the lamp base, whereas here the lamps have a bracket that attaches to the bulb housing. So I bought a European floor lamp with shade, stripped the fabric and wire hoops off the shade, bent the bracket to size and attached the lampshade to it using ribbon scaffolding and lots of hot glue. I spraypainted the lamp base itself Sapphire Blue with Duplicolor.lamp bracket

I had saved a tutorial on how to do this conversion on my “Moving to Berlin” pinboard before we ever left, but of course when it came to it I never referred to it, I just figured out a way to do it.

My first husband once saw me constructing a sphere for a topiary out of styrofoam rings and scraps. He asked why I didn’t figure out how to do it with math rather than eyeballing everything and sort of jamming it together til it worked. I said, because then I would have to stop and do something that wasn’t actually doing it before I could do it. I’m like a shark in so many ways.

Remember this guy?

goat foot candleholder WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016I find sculpting the hairy fur tufts of the goat’s ankle for this goat-foot candleholder to be very tedious, so I’ve been working on it very slowly, whenever I have a bit of usable epoxy clay left over from some other project.

At this rate it should be ready for painting and gold-leafing around 2018.

Black and white bug shadowboxes!

newsprint moth shadowbox Suzanne Forbes 2016I sculpted these moths out of cold porcelain and collaged them with newsprint. I made a small edition of them as gifts for my Patrons, with a few extra for this project.

black white jewelled moth shadowboxes Suzanne Forbes 2016Both these boxes are lined with leftover fabric from my wedding dress. Monique Motil, the amazing artist who made my dress and accepts only the most creative costume commissions, is always thoughtful about returning every unused scrap.

The black and white bug brooch box is the sibling of the ones in the salon- it is the only one not made to coordinate with the salon color palette.black and white bug shadowboxes by Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that’s it for this month, other than some random framing and hanging projects.

Update: I forgot this bug-covered lampshade. You can see it in its undecorated state on last month’s bricolage roundup.bug lampshade SUzanne Forbes 2016
bug lampshade SUzanne Forbes 2016 2

Learning to sculpt.

Sculpture Suzanne Forbes 2015I had sculpting classes in art school; I submitted to them ungraciously.

I considered sculpting an unnecessary detour, an obstacle to my mission of learning to draw as well as possible, as fast as possible, as soon as possible. I wasn’t comfortable with the visceral, touchy-feely quality of sculpting either; as a young artist I was rigid and frightened of anything where my success or failure couldn’t be quickly quantified.

I was especially frightened by anything abstract. In one class we used blocks of soapstone and chiseling tools, and I watched in awe as a classmate confidently set into her piece. “How do you know where to carve?” I asked her. “I just look at the natural rock, and let it tell me what forms want to emerge.” I found that terrifying. I did not want to hear about anything “emerging”. I wanted to draw the X-Men.

I wasted those opportunities, but luckily, sometimes both ars and vita are longa.

I got interested in sculpting in 2000 or so, after making a lot of fancy cakes with gold-leafed marzipan dragons and fondant-and-royal icing Fabergé eggs. I was “retired” as an artist at the time, not drawing or painting, just compulsively making things.

I was reading about customizing action figures on these clunky yahoo forums, and I heard about epoxy clay. Epoxy clay sounded great: a strong self-hardening clay that would adhere to nearly anything and hold fine detail with no shrinkage, and you could buy it at TAP in El Cerrito. I bought some, but then I got so consumed with my dollhouse build I left it in the craft cabinet for a long time.

At some point I started making things (link NSFW) for my dollhouse in polymer clay.

Polymer clay has a slightly, faintly greasy feel in the hand which I can tolerate, but don’t love, and it has other flaws. You have to bake it, and if you want to incorporate things that would melt in the oven in your sculpt, you’re screwed. The cured clay isn’t a neutral surface- you can paint it with acrylics, but only some varnishes, adhesives and primers adhere to it.

So eventually I did try the epoxy clay. It’s a two-part putty that you knead together- equal size balls of resin and hardener- which firms up gradually over an hour or so. It’s hard to the touch in a day and fully cured in a week or two. It comes in various basic colors; I started with the “natural” or grey. I found it okay to the touch, and I loved the self-hardening property, but there was a granular quality to the handling and finish I disliked. I gave my stash of it to the sculptor Aimee Baldwin, who uses it on the beaks and feet of her incredible “vegan taxidermy” birds, and moved on to other projects.

Art, like life, is made of second chances, even when it doesn’t feel that way.*

There’s always another opportunity to fall in love. And since I am a materials geek as an artist much more than a tools or techniques geek, I kept reading about resins, adhesives and clays. When I started my really just fully insane Narnia Jadis-and-her-sleigh aka Snow Queen project in 2013, I realized epoxy clay was the perfect thing to join together disparate materials. (below, first preview ever published of the reindeer and sledge!)Snow Queen miniature reindeer and sledge Suzanne Forbes 2014

The sledge is made of 3 plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, pvc ornament sleigh pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheet, crazy glue and balsa wood, all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. (And painted with Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, another rabbit hole of materials I went down!) It’s decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake decals meant for nail art.

The reindeer is made of a cellulose acetate reindeer from the ’50s, legs sawed off and replaced with new sculpts, and head, body and neck heavily re-sculpted. This kind of Frankensteining is a classic action figure customizing technique; the materials and techniques for creating the miniature harness come from the model horse customizing community, and the handling of the mohair mane from the dollmaking world. I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling to their phones, aka “decoden”, to get a clear dome over its eyes and a gloss of mucus in its nostrils. The flocking on its ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

During this process I learned the secret of working with epoxy clay: water.

Epoxy clay is exactly like natural clay in the sense that it’s water soluble; water instantly smooths and softens it. As long as you keep a cup of water (clearly labelled DO NOT DRINK) next to your work surface, all those issues with the granularity of the material disappear. The clay smoothes and holds detail exquisitely. It sticks to itself and to pretty much anything else.

Suddenly, I was in love with sculpting. It’s all about the right material.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015So this summer I decided to make some freehand original epoxy clay sculpts. The goat-foot candlestick is something I’m making not because I wanted to make it, but because I want to have it. It’s built on an armature of tinfoil and a glass caper jar, plus some wood rings.

The figure of Diana will be a horned, armored bust, holding a bow, attached to an iron candlestick (which I got at TK Maxx); she is built on an armature of wire and tinfoil. The idea is her horns will cast shadows as the candle flame flickers.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015I was wrong, in college. Sculpting is priceless to the draughtsman.

Just working on the Diana figure for a few months I’ve learned so, so much about representing the figure. So much about planes and mass and the way the figure occupies space.

Speaking of mass, the self-adhesion properties of epoxy clay come in handy as I just keep packing muscle mass onto her shoulders. Because that’s what I love to see in women. (With the [still unfinished, beautiful and evil] Snow Queen, I used a tiny fairy figure as her base, and I kept adding booty to her booty.) Seriously, I wrote a paper in college about the differences between the classically sculpted face and modern beauty standards, and yet making this piece has given me far more understanding.

The other thing about sculpting that’s wonderful for me is that it’s SLOW. For a person who draws and paints as fast as I do, making work that takes deep patience is wonderfully relaxing. There’s something heavenly about just taking my time.

Epoxy clay, though delicious to work with, also has drawbacks.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015It’s very, very expensive to get over here, so I use tinfoil to create as much of the bulk of the sculpt as possible. You can also sub in polymer clay for some parts of your sculpt- people on the internet say it’s perfectly safe to bake cured epoxy clay, so of course I did. But I didn’t like the contrast of the materials.

When the plumbers came to fix our sink they used epoxy clay to seal the tiles back in; I should have asked them where they get it, but they don’t speak a word of English and insist on asking their Siri to tell me everything, which drives me nuts.

And it has potential as an allergen, possibly one with a lifetime body burden tipping point.

I had that experience with black hair dye- happily gothing it for years, then one day I left it on too long, and then every time I tried from then it got worse. I gave up on black hair the day I had to pull my car over because lymph fluid was dripping from my broken scalp into my eyes. Oy, what an idiot. Not doing that again. If I start to have a reaction to epoxy clay I’ll give it up.

Meanwhile, I find doing the mixing together of the two elements with gloves on seems to reduce its adhesion to my hands while actually sculpting. Some people use barrier creams to protect their hands. I use silicon sculpting tools, because if you use metal they just become lumps of epoxy clay! During the process of these two pieces I switched from “natural” clay to “White”, which is actually still grey.

I found the white clay to be much finer textured, better for holding fine detail and not faintly translucent the way the natural clay is. You can see traces of the natural clay around Diana’s nose. With the Snow Queen, I periodically sprayed her with Krylon Fusion to get an allover finish; this let me check the symmetry and shape of the sculpt more easily, and the clay just stuck right on over it. But this is the Land of No Krylon. I may paint her with white artist’s acrylic instead, before I do more work on her. I want to get some Rio Rondo teeny tiny carbide files, too, to drill out her nostrils.

I like Apoxie Sculpt white better than Magic-Sculpt, which was the first epoxy clay I tried, although I like the Magic-Sculpt better than the natural Apoxie. Magic-Sculpt has no greasy feel at all, which I appreciate; the white Apoxie has much less than the natural. They have metallic epoxy clay now too, which I crave but can’t get on Amazon.de. YMMV; there’s miles of debate on these materials out there. I love materials research, so I read a LOT of it, but ultimately the magic of epoxy clay, like natural clay, is that to know it you have to use it.

Sculpting with a material that hardens involves time, and handling, and learning the sweet spots in the hardening process for each technique.

Like baking bread, you just have to practise sculpting- so that’s what I’m doing. It may be a year before these pieces are done; I have time.

“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.”

*quote from a beloved friend/muse/patron