Sculpting a 3-Headed Dragon using Polymer Clay

This is a polymer clay project, a visual demonstration! Here you will find photo's for each part of this process, followed by a time lapse video demonstration [watch in 1080P!!] This is one of several sculpting demonstrations for you to check out!!

Part 1: Making the dragon's armature

  Here are the basic materials you will need to get started. I used 14 Gauge galvanized wire for the main structure, and 20 Gauge galvanized wire to tie it all together. You will also need foil and some masking tape, but that comes later. A good pair of wire cutters are needed to cut galvanized wire (not shown), you can also use copper, or regular armature wire. But I feel galvanized is the most structurally stable. You can find all this at Wal*Mart pretty cheap!

  One thing to consider when making a dragon armature is that the hind legs of most animals are usually longer then the front legs. So I made the front legs 4" in length (not counting feet) Each main bone being 2" long, totaling 4" in length. The hind legs are 5" in length, each main bone being 2½" each. Thus having a longer length for the hind legs..  If you have trouble tying  two wires together you can hold them both with some pliers. This will free up a hand allowing you to wrap them more easily.
  I recommend you getting all the wires tied together and secure before attempting to work on the posture/pose. And to get clean bends with less "roundedness", use 2 pliers to hold the wire at the point where you want the bend to be. Take your time when doing this part... For many the armature is either the hardest or most hated part in the sculpting process, but its a necessary one!

   In the video below you can see me make this armature in time lapse, giving you a basic idea on what went into making this. I would like to note that I added wings to this after the video was made, but I was sure to include that in the second video. (I tried to record as much as possible when doing this project!) 

Part 2, Adding the wings and bulking out the armature using foil and tape.

  After the wire part is done, next comes the bulking part. I use aluminum foil as a bulking agent, its relativity cheap and easy to work with!  It is important to bulk out the armature with foil to:
1. Save clay
2. Reduce complications from baking clay too thick. What happens is the thick part is usually not baked enough, OR, if you do bake it enough the thinner part (like the wings) will be over baked, resulting it possible burning or browning..

  But first, before we get started...
I added wings!!!

  It was advised by one of my viewers at YouTube that  I should add the wings to the armature before I begin sculpting because its a nightmare trying to add them later. Since I haven't started the bulking part I took the advice to avoid possible struggle. This is after all my first full figure sculpture!  We can learn a LOT from each other!!
  One thing  easily overlooked is the wing size.. Don't make the mistake of giving your dragon "tiny wings"  Dragons are MASSIVE creatures and the wings should be equally so... If anything, you can always cut them back later on if needed. But its much more difficult to make them longer!

  For BEST results, pre-wrinkle the foil first! It acts as a better bulking agent AND saves you foil, which saves you money. To maintain a good  crafting flow, prepare yourself plenty of foil before beginning this step. I only used a few feet in the photo to the right. The tape is to protect the clay from the foil and it sticks better to tape anyways. Also, the seams of the foil can work apart during the sculpting part. Another reason I add tape.. Have you ever messed up and had to take a sculpture apart? You will have a bunch of tiny foil pieces in your clay, its a mess!
   I often get asked if its safe to put tape in the oven, and the answer is YES! As long as you don't exceed the 275º temperature it will be fine, also, the tape should be completely covered with some clay before baking.

Here is a time lapse video of me making the wings and  bulking out the armature. It really helps to visually see something like this done. Also, I know this only has one head, I later modified it to have 3 heads as a  suggestion from a viewer in the previous video!  You'll see that later.

Part 3, Starting Clay (covering the armature)

  I start my claying process with Sculpey Original (white color) as a base coat using the thickest setting of the pasta machine. This really helps take out some of the unevenness of the foil and tape. Don't worry about getting it too perfect at this stage.  Also, I'm doing the legs later on so they don't become damaged from all the sculpting I'm doing. And the wings will be done in part seven so they don't block the view from the camcorder.
   It costs only half of what Super Sculpey does (flesh color)  so its cheaper to use it where you can. Also, you can do a entire sculpture using only Sculpey Original! It costs about $5 a lb.  And you can buy it at most Wal-Mart locations in the craft section, how convenient!!
  Some cons to using Sculpey Original is its white, which is kinda hard to see, both with your eyes and when taking pictures and filming. But it comes in a terracotta color if it too much a problem. Another downside is it can become overly conditioned if mess with too much (soft, even sticky). But I have created beautiful work using Sculpey Original, so its definitely doable!
  Next comes the Super Sculpey! This part is optional if you are looking to cut costs, but I highly recommend giving Super Sculpey at least one try...  On the Plus side you don't have to bake your work, so you can take it apart and reuse it for practice. Once you feel you have something you want to keep then you can bake and paint it!  This clay has a totally different feel to it, and its a lot easier to see. It doesn't become overly conditioned as easy as the Sculpey Original does either.
  I basically do exactly the same thing I did with the Sculpey Original, giving it a coat using the full thickness of the pasta machine. This time around you can get it more smoother, correcting some of the unevenness that was left behind from the Sculpey Original.  Take not at this point there are no details at all. The only purpose of this part is to create a foundation which to apply you details on (such as scales and wrinkles)
  * If your not using this Super Sculpey, just add a second coat of Sculpey Original.

  In this time-lapse video you will see me add both Sculpey Original and Super Sculpey. My focus is on the main body, I'll do the legs and wings later on. I take on these project in small steps as to not become overwhelmed with everything. I also work using "sheets" of clay cut with clean edges. This makes the coating process much easier and uniform.

Part 4, basic defining.

  Now that the main body is coated I can start adding basic muscles and thickening up the areas that need it most. Since the wings are in the same position the muscles should have a similar look to them. But if your aiming for a different look you can alter anything as you see fit. To make each piece of the muscles match roll out a snake and cut equal pieces from that. You can then shape those pieces however you want, but its best working with measured amounts of clay. Keep in mind most of this will be cover in scales or other details later on.. Also, you may want to add even more details
  In the earlier videos you could see a rather large gap between the hind legs, I got it looking  a lot better by adding quite  a bit of muscle there.  I'd have to say, each stage in sculpting will allow a small margin of error for the other stages to correct. This is why you shouldn't worry too much about any one particular part of the sculpt. As long as you don't go too excessively thick with the clay, or thin for that matter, you can make it right later on.  Having said that I actually added even more clay to the underbelly later on not agreeing with the size of the ribcage.  The key is to work in small steps, and before you know it you'll have you very own dragon!
In this video you will see the steps I took in getting the basic definition done for this dragon. Keep in mind there's more to be done with this, so try not to be over critical with your work. If possible used equal, measured amounts of clay to keep things symmetrical. Get your pieces of clay on first before trying to tool them together, this way if you don't like the look you can just pull them of with minimal damaged to the previous layering you did.

Part 5, modified for 3 heads!

It was a comment suggestion I got in the last video that it would be cool if this dragon had 3 heads.. And I totally agreed and accepted the challenge!  But first before I could get started I had to cut away the clay, tape, and foil to expose the wire armature so I could add 2 new wires. I chose not to cut down so low on the neck and it gave it a unique look where one large neck split int 3 smaller necks.  After getting it prepared  for the new wire I followed the same methods I used for the original single neck. Not sure if the thinner wire outside the tape was necessary, but I added it anyway, if anything to add structural integrity.
  Its pretty cool!   I have to admit, its at this stage in this project that things got more exciting and tedious at the same time!  But at the end of the day it was well worth it, and I would do the same thing again if I had to.
   Sticking to the rule of using equal, measured amounts of clay I  padded out the heads to give them the basic definition I wanted. The eyes you see are made of polymer clay (Kato brand, black)  I precooked them for a few minutes with a hairdryer to keep them firm. This way they wont get messed up when I tool the surround clay around the eyes.  I show the whole process in the video below!  I later return to these 3 heads to give them more details in part 8.

Part 6, Adding scales to the dragon!

  In this photo you can see a test area I did with a new scale design. The scales on the left are the old  scales I used in the past, and the scale on the left are the new ones! You can see the tool I made using a paperclip and wooden handle. You can see how I make these custom tools here. I use them to cut each scale from a sheet of polymer clay, sounds difficult but trust me its not!! 
  This particular style of sculpting is pretty cool because you get to add "finished" detail as you go. It will also drastically change the look of the sculpture and you will start seeing the kind of results your looking for.  In the following video I explain how I cut them out and how I install them.
NOTE:  I left the area between the wings unscaled because I needed to finished the wings first. I basically followed the flow of all the other scales like you see me do in the video below.

Part 7, doing the dragons wings.

Depending on the size and position of the wings, a steel screen may not be necessary. I've seen others do them without it, but I like the structural integrity of it.  And since the wings are in a outward position the clay could sag when in the oven. Polymer clay gets extremely soft and brittle during, and after the baking process. Only after a few hours of cooling does it reach its full strength! 
  To do this I placed a piece of steel screen on top of the wing armature and traced it with a sharpie. Then I cut it out leaving extra space on the outer edge so I could fold it over along the armature wire.
  Once its all cut out I fold the extra screen over the outer edge of the armature and stapled using regular office staples.  Then I used some silver beading wire and a needle to sew the screen to each "finger bone" of the wing. Also along the main arm part just before the finger bones. This allowed me to work the clay in the area of the fingers a little easier. And when it was all done it actually looked like it had bones in the wing, awesome!  Then I rolled out full sheets of Super Sculpey (half thickness) and worked them on both sides of the wing. Later I added another layer (second to the smallest setting [#2]) to both sides to take out the roughness.

Part 8, Face details for the dragon heads.

  To do the nose of the dragon I rolled out a snake, sliced it at a angle, then put the cut ends together to form a "V"  Then I used a rounded tool to compress the inner and outer edges to the dragons snout. This is a good shortcut to getting this done, and I like working with familiar shapes when sculpting because its easier for me.
  I also did some eyebrows for each eye using some left over scales.  I show the whloe process in the video below.

Part 9, Chest plates and feet.

  Doing the chest plates is not very complicated at all... I start off by mapping out where the plates are to be. As a guide I tried to draw a line across the chest and neck areas every second row of scales for a consistent look. But some minor adjustments had to be made here and there. The important part is making sure it looks good as a overall design, and sometimes mathematical formulas just wont work.
  The tool you see here is a spatula tool, bought at Hobby-Lobby. I use it to compress the top area of each scale to create contrast and definition of each plate, the bottom plate just above it is left alone. This is a simple approach to adding details on the chest! Pretty easy to do as well.

  For the feet it can seem a little tricky.. hopefully this will help a little.  I start by making basic shapes: The front pad, and 3 cones. I also made 4 sets of these shapes so I can get both feet to match better. For this dragon the back feet look a little different having a clay in the heel. And the front also get an additional opposable thumb. But since all 4 feet have 3 claws I made sets for them all. These quick and easy feet can be added to the rest of the foot no problem. 

   Once you have all the pieces made up, attach the 3 cones to the front pad. Then cover that with a layer of clay to cover the seems. This will also give you the cuticles look  [NOTE: this method does not yield finished results to the bottom of the feet, these feet will be placed on top of a slab of clay to hide the bottoms (shown in photo) the pad will also help protect the claws from braking off] 

  You can see all this in time lapse in the video below.


Part 10, Painting.

  Painting, for me, is by far my weakest point in sculpting. Just being honest.  But I'm not alone on this either, I've heard several other artists mention the same thing. But just because I'm weak in one particular area does not have to mean defeat!  First step is to pick a kind of paint, and for me I like acrylics, using  fine nylon brushes (#1-4 round) and (#1-6 flat) 
  So you might be asking yourself, "How can I paint better if I know very little about hand painting?" For me the answer came from the classic "2-tone" technique.  I like it because if done right, you can really play off the natural design of your sculpture. All this means is to consider areas that will include a complementary, yet contrasting second color to go. 
  On this 3 headed dragon these 2 colors are Metallic Blue Pearl, and Metallic Amethyst. Both being cold colors and having  the metallic shimmer in it adds to the fantasy look! These 2 colors are also a bit reflective, so sometimes I can see blue reflected into the purple surfaces.. In all honestly, it looks amazing. But consider the skill level of this paint job.....  no blending, air-brushing*, layering or foe-painting...  Just a simple 2-tone that really did justice!
* Air brushing can achieve unbelievable results and is my long term goal. I have the compressor but need to purchase a new gun.. not sure when I can get it, but super excited to give it a go.
 The time lapse video below will give you a idea how I do my hand painting. It's only a single coat of paing in the video, for the finished product I used 3 coats, then sealed it using Shellac.


3 headed dragon, FINAL REVEAL below!!


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