As you know I dabbled in converting and sculpting for a few years now, but I never took the plunge and sculpted my very own miniature from scratch. It all starts with a good idea or concept. In my case: an anthropomorphic toad, ready to crush its enemies, see them driven before it and hear the lamentations of their tadpoles. If you have the skills to make a sketch or concept art you can fixate your vision and refer to it later. The same goes for existing artwork on the interwebs. Search around and get inspired, but come up with something original. If you sculpt something based on an animal you should obviously look at some reference pictures. The cane toad Rhinella marina seemed like a good match, as it is large, poisonous and wondrously gnarly.
Wind in the Willows
There are plenty of anthropomorphic toad or frog miniatures available. However, they are either sculpted in a comicesque style or wear full clothing or armour. I wanted something a bit more naturalistic and distinct from ‘toads playing humans’ or ‘toads vs garden gnomes’. So I decided to make the toad warrior bipedal, but a bit smaller in stature compared to a human. I kept the head proportionate to the body to avoid a cute ‘bobble head’ look. Instead of armour or loin cloth I wanted a heavily textured skin. Toads excrete an antibiotic and moisturizing substance through their warts. Accordingly clothing would be impractical for such a creature. I decided to still add weapons made of natural materials. While some toads are poisonous, I think this would not be enough offensive capability in a fight.
The wire armature
When you decided on the direction, it is time to fashion a wire armature. You can use any thin and pliable wire. I use 1mm coated and uncoated wire from the gardening/construction section and 0.6 and 0.8mm brass wire. The brass wire is just soft enough to easily twist, but strong enough to keep its final shape. In addition I bought some brass tubes with an inner diameter of 0.6/0.9mm and an outer diameter of 1.0 /1.3mm respectively. Accordingly both wires will fit in the tubes. This will come in handy for pole arms, but also to attach details/extend the original armature.
The coated gardening wire is fine for starters with great adhesion. However, if you think about spin casting in vulcanized molds (and don’t want to make masters using resin first) this wire might cause problems as the coating will not withstand high temperatures. Same goes for super glue to attach details or to fixate the wire. High temperatures cause it to release a noxious gas that might rupture the sculpt (or worse harm the mold maker)
Adding basic volumes and shapes
The idea is now to add the basic volumes and shapes to this armature. I used three wires, twisted them in the middle and thus had pieces for arms, legs, head, torso and a piece between the legs for a tail. As is the case with any sculpting endeavor: Only work on one section/detail at a time. I started with a blob for the body and the head and smoothed it out. Ridges and more bulk on the front and arms followed.
My Greenstuff ratio for this was either 70:30 yellow to blue, or a mix of 75% Greenstuff (same ratio) and 25% Milliput. As Greenstuff is expensive using pure Milliput or a mixture to bulk out the body is a good idea. You can also smooth the mixture with water before it cures and sand it after curing. In addition it is much harder than Greenstuff alone. So a nice base to work from. Some sculptors work exclusively with such a mixture, but I still have to master it and reverted back to Greenstuff.
Trial and error – finicky head detail
The head was extremely fiddly, as the miniature only measures 20mm from feet to top of the head. Again, work in stages. First the eye balls, then the ridges on the eyes. Then the characteristic nose ridges. Finally the poison glands behind the ears and – naturally – the warty skin texture. If you don’t like something don’t be afraid to cut it off and try again. For example, I did so with the skin sack on the chin.
Given toads are not equipped to mimic human expressions I tried my best to make him look tough and grumpy, without going down the road of overtly anthropomorphic features.
The warty skin texture was achieved with an old applicator needle from a bottle of super glue. You could also use a hypodermic needle. I also added some metal micro beads and poppy seeds to the back. The latter is obviously a no go for pressure casting, but gave a good texture. Initially I added warts to the belly, but decided against it in the final version. Instead I went for an uneven, but smoother texture with singular warts.
The weapon of choice
To add variety I envisioned two weapon choices for the toad warrior. Accordingly hands and weapons would need to be sculpted and cast separately. If you like a challenge, sculpt everything as one piece and remove the hands or arms later with a jewelers saw.
The weapons of choice were a Tewhatewha (a Maori club with a head that resembles an axe) and a rare two-handed version of an Aztec Macuahuitl (a wooden club with embedded obsidian shards). Both are still unfinished, but they are getting there.
For the Tewhatewha a thin piece of wire was covered in Milliput and sanded smooth. The decoration on the head and feathers were then added with greenstuff.
I have eight more bufos in the pipeline, but I feel it will take me most of 2021 to finish them all. I will definitely focus on some more dynamic poses, a good example is my Tree Frog Monk. The plan is to get them cast (maybe with the help of a Kickstarter) and sell them to interested Fantasy enthusiasts. A Kickstarter would be good to figure out if there is demand, as I don’t want to sit on hundreds of casts. I’ll keep you updated on the progress. In any case, Greenstuff, Milliput or both, no matter, always wield your brush with honour.