Tag Archives: epoxy clay

Snow Queen/White Witch OOAK Doll with sledge and reindeer, finished!

Snow Queen Jadis with carriage and reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I finally finished her!

I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her.

I’d been wanting to make a doll like this since the early 90s in St. Paul. At a fancy shop in Summit Hill I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass.

The delicacy, the precision, the tiny, tiny crystals- there was something about it that moved me deeply.

I had no idea you could get such tiny materials. The thought of handling such tiny things was exhilarating to me. I imagined I could make tiny dolls of characters I loved. I could make a tiny world.

Snow Queen OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I was still waiting to start my dollhouse then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.

Snow Queen by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I didn’t want to open the door to even more collecting and supply hoarding madness, I didn’t dare try such things myself, but I bought some porcelain doll parts and kept them.

I held my love for the teacup fairy in my heart, held the space for those tiny crystals dotting her bodice in my mind, setting the image gently in my mental room for miniature art.

Every time I moved, I packed my craft materials. My porcelain doll heads and limbs, my ever-growing collection of wired ribbon and metallic organza and silver cord and microbeads and glitter, travelled from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Glenview to West O to Oakland.

In Berkeley in 2000 I began building my dollhouse at last and collecting 1/12th scale action figures.

Miniature sex toys by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

I met Monique Motil, dollmaker extraordinaire. I started sculpting little things with polymer clay for the dollhouse and reading about action figure customizing techniques.

I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and started making dolls.

I started my Snow Queen project in 2013.

I had been home to New York for holidays with my husband’s family and I had just seen snow for the first time in fifteen years. On a magical Christmas Eve we went to church in Freehold, New Jersey and when we came out delicate flakes were falling.

The night before In the city I’d stood at the rail of the skating rink in Bryant Park; a tween wiped out and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.Snow Queen in carriage with reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017

I fell in love with the cold again, the way the stars get lean in a winter sky and the way everything is so sharp.

I remembered the way I loved the cold in WInter’s Tale, the way it muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of April snow at the treatment center in St. Paul.

iridescent microbeads from MorezmoreIn the dark California January I drove to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and Beverlys and bought bags full of 90% off Christmas decor. Icicles and glitter snow and white fur and pale iridescent sequins.

I ordered Swarovski crystals in colors like Silver Shadow, Moonlight and Opal. I discovered the amazing doll supplier MorezMore. I ordered nail decals of flocked snowflakes from China and Ball-jointed Doll clothing buckles from Taiwan. I bought pearlescent microbeads and fusible fairy films.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.

tiniest-swarovski-crystalsI made the sledge first. The sledge is made of three different plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, some pvc holiday ornament pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheeting, crazy glue and balsa wood.

It’s all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. The shafts are the bow pieces of dollar sunglasses!

I got so many materials in the basement of Ace Hardware in Berkeley, in the huge model and railroad hobby section. I’d lean on the counter and talk techniques with the guys there for hours.

I primed the sledge with Krylon Primer for Plastics. You can read about my adventures with priming mixed plastics here and here. Then I spray-painted it with four shades of Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, one of the most fascinating rabbit holes of materials I went down.

I spent a lot of time on model car boards, reading about how to avoid the dread “orange peel effect” and how to clear coat.

Our back steps were my spray room, and the California drought of those years was a huge asset, I gotta admit.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI used crazy glue and Zap-A-Gap to bond the styrene, plastic and balsa elements.

I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling, aka “decoden”, to their phones, to attach a lot of the sledge decor.

The sledge is decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, laboriously applied while watching all seven (at the time) seasons of Supernatural (twice!) and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake nail art decals. And upholstered with silver velvet, button-tufted using pretty antique silver scrapbook art brads and quilt batting over cardstock. I glued the velvet to the cardstock with my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, which is my absolute favorite for small textile work.

As any burner or steampunk can tell you, assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives.

tiny-buckles-from-RIo-Rondo

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’m allergic to mohair, like wool, it turns out.)

I also used the 3D Crystal to get a clear dome over his eyes and a gloss of mucus in his nostrils. The flocking on his ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeer-headshot-cu

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeerThe tiny silver leather strips for the harness came mostly from a handbag making supply company in Los Angeles; I found it on etsy. I bought many different silver cords and strings at a passementarie shop in the New York Garment district during my second trip back East for the holidays. And for four years I saved every single piece of silver stuff I got, from silver elastic on dress tags to silver pvc on packaging.

Then I had to make a Snow Queen figure!

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI was totally ok with customizing an existing figure; my many hundred hours on action figure boards has made me very comfortable with the idea of remixing sculpture.

I would never, ever, ever copy another artist’s drawing or painting- or even their style- or use elements of someone else’s drawing or photograph in one of my drawings or paintings. I just don’t do that.

But sculpture is play to me, something I do for pleasure. I like the idea that assemblage art incorporates existing elements. And dollmakers commonly use finished porcelains from well-known sculptor to paint and dress. It’s a medium where collaboration is normal.

So ultimately I decided to use the top of a commercial resin mermaid and the legs of a resin fairy to build my Snow Queen.

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI sawed and sanded as needed, then fit the two halves together, and then I used epoxy clay to bulk out her body. Because I love muscle on women’s shoulders, and a big butt, aesthetically! I left her ribcage and waist slim because they would have layers of tiny fabric corseting on them.

And she needed boobs too, sculpted to fit in a square Elizabethan type bodice. Then I had to completely resculpt her face, to give her the strength and archness she needed.

And I needed to bulk up her thighs and sculpt boots on her feet. And lengthen her fingers. And sand off and resculpt her ears. I think she was resculpted, primed and sanded about ten times altogether. Her final finish was partly achieved with Mr. Surfacer priming medium, which i learned about from Daria’s dollmaking. She is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!

By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.

project-kit-Snow-Queen-OOAK-Suzanne-ForbesI got the project box I brought over in the shipping container out, intending to paint and dress her.

But I got nervous about working on the project suddenly and instead I used up some of the extra materials in the project box making Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer. Which came out great! And I used the fusible fairy film and it was super cool!

Then I made a whole bunch of other dolls!  And sculptures! And mixed media stuff! And a mantis doll! Was my poor Snow Queen doll ever gonna get finished?

faceup-Snow-Queen-OOAK-by-Suzanne-Forbes-2017Yes, she was. Because even though it was now April, and she was no longer seasonal, I had just finished my leafy green beaded Swamp Thing corset (reveal soon!), the second to last of the projects I brought from Oakland.

I really wanted to knock out the last unfinished thing and get rid of the last “project box”. So I can start all my new Berlin projects!

With that thought in mind, I nerved myself up and just went for it. I used nail art brushes I bought for 1€ to paint her face because I didn’t want to buy expensive tiny brushes. I’d never painted anything tiny before and didn’t know if I’d like it. But it went great! And I love her snotty smug 80s made-up face! She looks like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and Mia Sara in Legend, right?

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesWigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so many tiny corsets now it’s NBD. And then she was, done, suddenly, after four years. In the green and glowing Spring, but so what? There will always be another Winter. She will look beautiful in the dark winter nights.

I’ve learned to trust the process with making art; I finish most things when it’s time for them to be finished.

What I’m saying here is, it’s okay to have a long game as an artist. In fact, the long game is pretty much the only game in town for most of us.

 

Learning to sculpt: an articulated mantis sculpture cause I just love bugs.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017I started this mantis sculpture the summer before last.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017I don’t stress about when things get done; the project queue has no hierarchy.

So I went back to this pretty girl when I started to feel sculpty, a couple months ago. I used some epoxy clay to strengthen her limbs and smooth awkward areas.

The internet says it is perfectly safe to rebake polymer clay sculptures that have epoxy clay added to their armatures, and lots of sculptors use a mix of epoxy clay and polymer clay for strength. But I wouldn’t be like me and do it in your home oven. I am an unreliable guide on the subject of chemicals; after all, I put liquid LSD in my eyes when I was 14.

Here you can see Sally (which is the mantis gal’s name) with greyish-white epoxy clay added all over her and areas of plain and green Translucent FIMO still showing.

bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017I had been disappointed and frustrated by the performance of the colored FIMO transparent clays when first baking Sally.

There were a lot of “plaques” and cracking. Probably because I carelessly globbed the clay over the armature without making sure there were no air gaps, and didn’t have an oven thermometer yet, and didn’t let the oven preheat for a solid hour first.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017 Forgiveness not Permission is my making mode, and I figured try it first, see what happens.

So when I returned to Sally, I first thought I’d just cover her with epoxy clay and paint her and call it a day. But I found I still liked the transparency of her limbs and didn’t want to give up the bright greens of the clay after all. So I painted the epoxy clay areas shades of green to match and did another pass with a mix of colored translucent clays, adding some of my wonderful new Sculpey Premo Opal Accent Clay.

2016 Patron gifts by Suzanne ForbesThe Sculpey Opal clay is a new product and I ordered some from the US last Fall (I almost lost my mind waiting for it to come, checking the mail every day). I used it for the first time to make this piece and my 2016 Cake Level Patron gifts, here to the right.

It performs so amazingly well. It is very soft, and blends and smears beautifully, and it makes almost watercolor effects over other colors.

It is quite translucent, so it can be mixed with translucent colors to add opal glitter and soften and improve them. I mixed it with some dark green and some lavender for Sally, covered some of her epoxy clay areas and did an initial bake at the temp recommended for the Sculpey Opal clay. The results were amazing.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017No plaques, beautiful translucency, just great. So I continued to add a little more volume and opalescence here and there, mixing with both solid colors and FIMO translucent colors. I kept rebaking, for thirty minutes each time, until I was satisfied with both Sally’s shape and her opalescence.

I put her Siam colored Swarovski crystal eyes on before the second to last bake. Once the circles of clay that held them in were baked I used Sculpey Bake and Bond to smooth the eye sockets nicely onto her skull.

I use my fingertip to smear the Bake and Bond; probably unwise. But it’s so goopy and hard to use!

I reinforced a crack in her abdomen with Bake and Bond.

The air trapped in the tinfoil I used to provide bulk with less weight had expanded during baking and caused a crack. I also added balls of clay to the top of her head to hold her antennae, poking the wire in to make a hole but leaving the wires out til later because they hit the roof of the oven! Then I did the last bake, and there she was. Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017

I am really pleased with her, honestly.

Learning to sculpt: an ongoing relationship with epoxy clay.

Sculpted goat foot candleholder by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2017I finally finished this terrifying goat foot candlestick!

WIP goat foot candleholder sculpted by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2016I started it in 2015, at our first apartment in Berlin.

I had seen something similar on some luxury housewares or design website, and I was like, I can make that! Plus, it’ll be great sculpting practice!

It’s built on a tall narrow glass caper jar, the lid of the caper jar, tin foil and wooden rings from the craft store.

It was months before our stuff arrived in the shipping container, so I used what was around!

Once I had built the base, I had to cover it with fur.

Each row of fur tufts has to harden before the next one can be sculpted (unless you want to be really careful, and I never manage to be careful enough; I always wind up squishing what I just laboriously sculpted).  So each time I worked on a project that used epoxy clay, I would save a little bit at the end to add a row of fur tufts. There are roughly fourteen rows, so that’s a lot of projects!

Once I added the last row of fur last night, I started a new project.

bug bricolage art by Suzanne Forbes 2017 WIPI bought this rococo mirror* made of some weightless extruded foam plastic during my art supply mission on Saturday.

used a glue gun to quickly affix the bugs and flowers and fill in any space between them and the frame. Then I did a first pass with epoxy clay.

I used it to reinforce the attachment of little legs (it’s very strong) and sculpt new curlicues to incorporate the bug shapes.

When we get a warm sunny day I’ll hit the whole thing with white primer for plastic (which I finally found here, in the excellent DupliColor brand) so I have a uniform surface and can add detail better. Then add paint and Swarovski crystals!WIP bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017

Done with that, I hauled out all my other sculpture projects from 2015 and started finishing them up!

Diana bust WIP sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017Diana bust WIP sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017One of the wonderful things about epoxy clay is that you can apply it directly over practically anything, including baked polymer clay, like the mantis.

You can read about the start of the mantis here, and you can read in great detail about my experience beginning to sculpt and learning to use epoxy clay here.

It’s so much easier to work on the hair of my Diana bust now that I’ve had all this experience making fur!

I’ll keep you guys posted on the process of all these projects, unless I get derailed by some new obsession and they go back in the queue!

goat foot candlestick by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2017 WIPWhile I was painting the goat foot with many layers of metallic paints, I mixed up too much blackened gold-umber-bronze.

When the only tool you have is a brush full of bronze paint, everything looks like it needs to be painted bronze. I changed the zombie hand I resculpted at Halloween from glitter black to bronze and FINALLY dry-brushed highlights onto the ram’s horn mirror I bought for our hallway before we left the US. Always be finishing!

*You can see the reflection of one of Daria’s drawings in the mirror, from one of our earliest art trades.

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