Samantha DarknessFree Mars webcomic miniature, completed August 2012
Like Hannah Valerus before her, this model comes from the universe of Free Mars. Samantha Darkness (her “professional name”) is one of the three main characters of the webcomic: a former gang member, part-time stripper, aspiring drummer, and - most central to the comic’s plot - an accidental revolutionary icon.
With an entire graphic novel’s worth of NRG art to reference, it wasn’t difficult to refine the details of the sculpt. My choice was to show a fair amount of skin above the waist to better display her tattoos, though this is still a bit more modest than several of her in-story outfits. I also chose to sculpt a combative rather than musical version of Sam, arming her with a Free-Martian firearm rather than her holo-drum kit. I enjoy the musical underpinning of the comic a great deal, but I proved unable to overcome my tabletop wargaming preferences.
I had originally planned this to be my first clay-sculpted model (as opposed to epoxy putty), and started it after taking a class from renowned Australian painter and sculptor Sebastian Archer. The biggest difference between sculpting with putty and sculpting with clay is that clay doesn’t cure on its own; you have to bake it to set its final form. This means you can have effectively unlimited working time. It also means you can have unlimited time to mess it up, especially if you’re unwary or clumsy (which I am). I often recommend that hobbyists new to using putty work in stages. Once you’re happy with a stage, put it aside so the putty can cure and eliminate the chance of messing it up. The more experienced you are, the fewer stages you’ll need, but I usually err on the side of caution.
That said, the possibility of unlimited working time appealed to me, and I resolved to give it a try. Sebastian’s class was very informative and I think it prepared me well for the attempt, but unfortunately, I seem to have glossed over an important bit of information.
The very basic steps are –
1. Build a wire armature (or use a pre-cast one)
2. Add a thin layer of green putty to the entire armature (because clay won’t stick to metal).
3. Add a thin layer of clay to the green putty (while the putty is still sticky, because clay won’t stick to cured putty either).
Sebastian gave us wire armatures that he had made for the class and we began with step two and proceeded immediately to step three. During class I had a little trouble with my foundational putty not having cured yet and thus not providing a sufficiently sturdy understructure for my clay. Sebastian told me to let the putty cure a bit next time and it wouldn’t be a problem.
So when the time came to start sculpting Sam, I built my wire armature and put a thin layer of green stuff over it to give the clay a foundation. Remembering my issue in class, I let the putty cure before adding any clay. Mistake. Evidently I wasn’t listening when Sebastian told us the green putty is used to connect the clay to the wire and thus the first layer of clay goes over the putty before the putty cures (clay will stick to itself, so you just need to connect the first layer of clay to the armature with putty).
I was confused when I realized the clay wouldn’t stick to cured putty any better than it sticks to metal (ie: not at all). I emailed Sebastian about it and after he finished a bit of good-natured ribbing he told me I had three options: make a new armature, scrape the putty off the armature I had, or try a mix of putty and clay. I decided to try the third choice.
I used a mix of approximately 50% clay (SuperSculpey Firm) with 50% gray putty (Kraftmark ProCreate) and it seemed to do the trick - the mix stuck to my cured-putty armature. This mix proved to be a very useful compromise between the two media. The clay greatly extended the cure time of the putty (to roughly two hours by my estimation), but the putty still cured, removing the need to bake the clay. The extra working time made many stages of this project much easier than a pure-putty sculpt. I still plan to try a full-clay sculpt, but my paranoia and clumsiness (I dropped this sculpt to the floor no less than three times while working) made the eventual curing of the hybrid material a welcome safety net.
As with my first Free Mars sculpt, the last photo of the gallery is a painted version by Jennifer Haley of a pre-production resin casting. The decision to commission Ms. Haley for this task came partly from the fact that I’d already painted a conversion of this miniature for another project, and partly from a desire to focus on the next sculpt; though it would be disingenuous to say I didn’t really want to see someone of Jen’s caliber paint Sam’s tattoos. I won’t outright say she put my version to shame, but I think you’ll agree she did a fantastic job.
Both resin and metal castings of this model are available in the Full Borer Store.