Dec 30, 2008

Sculpting Miniatures for D&D with Polymer Clay

Sculpting MiniaturesWould you like to add a custom miniature to your wargaming army or role-playing game? This article will show you how to sculpt your own dungeons and dragons miniatures using a polymer modeling clay like sculpey or fimo.

Sculpting Tools

We're going to make a basic fantasy monster, so we won't need the more advanced miniature sculpting tools - we're going to use a regular X-acto Knife and our hands to do our sculpting. We'll also need some regular paperclips to make our wire armature with. You might also find it useful to have a pair of small crafting pliars. To finish our miniature we'll use some paints, flock, and sealer.

Which Monster to Sculpt?

The illustrations of old school RPG monsters are fun, so we'll find something in the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual to sculpt. For our first miniature sculpting project we're going to pick a relatively easy creature - an Earth Elemental. The roughly shaped, rock-like appearance of this monster makes it well suited to being sculpted in polymer clay! It's also much easier to make larger creatures than small ones, and even if you end up with a larger-than-expected figure, it won't look too out of place if you're using it in a game alongside 25mm or 28mm figures.

Earth Elemental

Wire Armature

The armature is like the skeleton of your miniature and will help it hold it's shape. Using your hands, or some small crafting pliars, bend a paperclip into a rough body and legs. It doesn't need to be too precise since the polymer clay will cover it all up, and we're making a fairly chunky figure. If you were working on a smaller, more detailed figure, you would want to make sure to spend more time on this step so that all your proportions were right. We only need the legs and body for now.

Wire Armature

Sculpting with Polymer Clay

Once you've finished the first half of your armature, start adding your polymer clay. Both Sculpey and Fimo need a little bit of work to soften them up so that you can work with them, so kneed the clay in your hands until it's ready to work with. Next add small pieces of clay bit-by-bit to your armature until you have the rough torso and legs in place. Don't try adding too much clay at once - it's easier to build up your figure in layers. You can use your fingers to smooth the bits of clay together.

sculpting with polymer clay

The next step is to build the second half of your armature with another paperclip. This will be the skeleton for the arms, shoulders, and head of your model. For the earth elemental and it's massive fists, you may want to include some extra support for the hands. Try and think about the pose you'd like your figure to have. For our earth elemental we want one fist raised, ready to smash down on some happless adventurer.

Wire Armature

Since our polymer clay is quite soft we can push the second armature down into the torso of our model and then continue to add small pieces of clay to build up our figure. You may find it easier to leave off the feet and head while you are working on the early stages of your miniature so that you can use the wire to hold your mini without squishing any of your sculpting work. We're still focused on the basic shape of the figure so we're still working more with our hands than the X-acto knife.

Sculpting a D&D Mini

For our Earth Elemental we want a very heavy figure, so we'll add a fair amount of mass to our initial polymer clay figure. Once things start to look more or less as we'd like you can use the rounded end of the X-acto knife as well as the blade and the pointed tip to start sculpting in some more detail. The detail of the muscles, eyes and mouth were all modeled using the X-acto knife. (If you haven't done much sculpture of figure drawing, a book on anatomy for illustrators is a great investment to help with your modeling!)

Polymer Clay Miniature

The miniature still looks very smooth and not "Elemental" enough, so we're going to add a rocky texture to finish him off. We'll do this by pressing small beads of clay into the figure. This creates the apperance of rocky hide.

Polymer Clay Earth Elemental

Basing your Miniature

If you want to create a base for your miniature, you can use an old plastic pill bottle to roll the polymer clay flat and then use the open top like a cookie-cutter to cut out a circular shape.

Polyer Clay Base

Baking your Miniature

Finally, it's time to bake our polymer clay in the oven. Make sure you follow the directions on whatever brand of clay (sculpey, fimo, etc) you're using and make sure you don't overbake your miniature! It's better to take it out, check it, and put it back in the oven if it needs more cooking time.

Curing the Clay

Once finished curing in the oven, the polymer clay will be hardened and hold it's shape. It's now time to paint our new minature.

Painting Your Polymer Clay D&D Mini


I used some cheap craft paints, but I think the next time I'll invest in some higher quality model paints as the craft paints didn't go on as thick and smoothly as I would have liked. I also wasn't as happy with the darkness of the brown that I mixed up.

Painting D&D Miniature

Flocking and Sealing Your Miniature

Once the figure is painted, you can add some flocking to the base. I used some Games Workshop flock and it did a really nice job. I've also heard good things about the Scenic Woodlands flock as well. Since it's an Earth Elemental you might want to sprinkle some flock onto the wet paint of the head and shoulders of your minature to give him a from-the-earth look.

The next step is a couple of light coats of a clear matte sealant. While I wasn't thrilled with my choice of paints, I think the Armory sealer I used worked very well!

Spray Sealant

Your New Earth Elemental Miniature

At last, our new polymer clay Dungeons and Dragons miniature is finished. Here is our new mini, ready for a wargame, RPG, or diorama!

Earth Elemental

This was a pretty basic scuplting project for our first D&D miniature. Once you get used to the way the clay works (I find Sculpey is a bit stickier than Fimo, which I like) you can move onto other monster modeling projects. I'm going to invest in some new paints, and make another miniature very soon.

Custom D&D Miniature