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SHOP TALK: Magic Sculpt with Valency and Kathie!

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on Kathie and Valency’s Magic Sculpt workshop at Stranger Factory last Sunday(with special guest star Brandt). It’s always a pleasure watching skilled craftsmen work, and it was extremely educational and fun to get a chance to pick the brains of talented sculptors.

Here are some of my notes from the event! It’s a bit light on images, but where possible, I’ve included some images from workshop participants and my own post-workshop experiments to illustrate methods.

What is Magic Sculpt?
Magic Sculpt is a two part epoxy resin. Unlike air dry clays, Magic Sculpt cures due to a chemical reaction between the clay and hardener to produce an extremely strong final product. One of its nicest qualities is that it smooths out with water – I think it actually behaves a lot like working with porcelain clay.

Because Magic Sculpt, unlike Sculpey, does not require any heating in an oven to cure, it is often used for customizing toys.


(some really nice textures sculpted by Subterrane artist Carisa Swenson on a custom toy at the workshop – picture from Carisa’s twitter feed, @gfstudio)

Armatures

Magic Sculpt is expensive(and sometimes mushy), and you’ll likely want to use an armature. Armatures can be made from a lot of things – a partial list of suggestions from the workshop: wood, aluminium foil, foam balls, dried gourds, blank toys, wire.

Some artists, like Chris Ryniak, make incredibly detailed and amazing armatures that look a lot like the finished sculpture.


(above image from Chris’ Instagram – @chrisryniak)

Chris is a sculpting wizard, though! Most of the rest of us, who are a bit more impatient, start from fairly basic shapes. I usually start from foil jellybeans, foam or wood spheres, and awkward blobs.

Tools

Tools for working with Magic Sculpt are the same as sculpting tools for any other clay-ish material, and everyone has their favourites. For instance, Valency makes many of her own tools, which include needles and round pin heads with handles, and texture stamps out of Sculpey.

Local ABQ artist John Sumrow also brought out a variety of rocks, which he uses for textures as diverse as bread and ground cover. The below image is a skull doughnut(Skulloughnut? Skullnought?) sculpted by John at the workshop – you can see the “bread” texture, and how nicely it contrasts with the smoothness of Magic Sculpt!


(image from John’s Instagram @sumrow)

My favourite tools are these stylus tipped silicone tools from Studio by Sculpey, but they have been discontinued. I’ve been replacing them with wooden equivalents by Kemper. However, Valency – who knows these things because she is a classy lady – found that “nail art dotting tools” are essentially the same thing, cost a lot less, and come in a larger variety of (small) sizes.

(When working with Magic Sculpt – wash your tools immediately after. Otherwise, they will look like this.)

Working with Magic Sculpt

Step 1. Make armature.
Step 2. Mix Magic Sculpt(please wear gloves).
Step 3. Build the rest of the sculpture.

Alright – it’s a bit more involved. The best way to mix Magic Sculpt, according to their manufacturers, is…tediously. Did I say that? I meant – by hand. The resin and hardener/catalyst is mixed at a 1:1 ratio, although just eying it will work; no scales are necessary. A pasta maker can be used, at your own risk(and the pasta maker’s), and certainly not if you intend to make pasta with it ever again.

Kathie and Valency both tend to cover their armatures with thin sheets of Magic Sculpt, similar to “covering a cake with a layer of fondant.” If you make fairly detailed armatures, this is a pretty fast way to cover your sculpt, although you will have to add more of the clay to build any features up. Brandt, however, demonstrated using balls of Magic Sculpt over an armature, which provides better control over creating shapes and forms. Since Magic Sculpt does not require heating in an oven or kiln to dry, air bubbles are not a problem!

Immediately after mixing, Magic Sculpt can be too soft to work with, but will harden up over the next hour. It becomes less workable in the second hour, although it can still be carved into. In our 15 person workshop, it looked like everyone had a personal preference for clay consistency, so experimentation is key! Heat speeds up the curing process, and cold slows it down.

And that’s all from my notebook for the day! I’ve been using Magic Sculpt for over a year myself, but I still learned a lot in the workshop and can’t wait to experiment more. If you have any questions or additional Magic Sculpt advice, please drop me an email(shingkhor at gmail) or PM on the Circus Posterus forums(sawdustbear), and I’ll answer or post them in an upcoming blog post.

You can also check out the manufacturer Magic Sculpt FAQs, which are quite comprehensive, if a bit rambling, so it may take some digging to get the answer you want.

Stay tuned for Part 2 : The Magic Sculpt Experiments, where I run Magic Sculpt and some of its friends(polymer clay, paper clay, etc.) through a semi-rigorous battery of strength tests and other miscellaneous experiments.

3 comments
  1. Actually a question. Have you used duct tape on your armature with magic sculpt? Does it adhere?
    Thanks!

    • Shing said:

      Magic Sculpt will adhere to duct tape, but I’d generally recommend against using anything with weird adhesives since it’s hard to figure out how things will break down over time.

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