Friday, September 23, 2011

~ Sculptures from SkulpTools Studio ~

My Own Little Piece of Mark Twain History

 A little background on Why I Sculpted Mark Twain…
Many years back, I was drawn to the writing of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who grew up near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri. In those days, about the most exciting thing to happen for a young boy on a given day was the arrival of the river’s big steam boats to the town docks. Every boy in town dreamt of becoming a river boat pilot, one of the highest earning and most prestigious careers of that time. While other boys dreamed, Sam Clemens acted! 

Young Sam hitched a ride on a steamboat and was later befriended by a highly regarded river boat pilot, who taught him to read the ever-changing ebbs and flows of the mighty Mississippi. Soon Sam mastered the impossible task of knowing the river like the back of his hand – literally! This greatly enriched his life experience and eventually contributed much to Mark Twain’s volume “Life on the Mississippi”.
   I would have to say, at least at this point in my life, it’s one of my favorite books, and perhaps a very close second to Twain’s entertaining, “Roughing It”. I’m attracted to how these semi-autobiographical stories capture very closely, in his own unique rich and humorous style, what every day life was like in those days in and around the Big River and out in the Wild West, where Twain later traveled with his brother. What I read gave me a better idea of what it must have been like to be living in a typical small town back then. His writing style makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, as if you’re right there, clearly seeing each colorful detail just as Twain is living it. He gives an idea how now-familiar small towns grew into major metropolitan cities.
 I found I was quickly captivated by his writing style, with its historical accounts mixed with amusing anecdotes and downright laughable situations. I LOVE his sense of humor and the way he conveys a situation, often mixed with a large dose of truth-stretching, but in a very charming and captivating way. He’s got an interesting way of down-playing his own view of himself, while writing with an author’s hubris. I was intrigued and wanted to get a better idea of his character and personality by reading more of his work and about his life story. 

Having only sculpted colorful critter-cartoon-character like pieces up to that point, I thought a colorful, mustachioed character like him would be fun to sculpt - or maybe at least to practice on - as my very first attempt at sculpting a real human figure in polymer clay. And so I began to “doodle” in clay, to make a six-inch tall bust of Twain, just for fun. I figured I would put it away in the back of a shelf, to look back on and laugh at later on.

I downloaded lots of photos of Twain and was even lucky enough to find some profile shots – which makes sculpting facial proportions much easier. Over the three or four months I toiled over this piece, I just felt I had to keep at it because I knew I could get a closer likeness. ARGHH! I worked a re-worked every one of his features so many times that I think I’m now more familiar with Mark Twain’s nose than even his own mother! [With apologies to Mrs. Clemens!] 

It seems like in every one of the photos of him he looks like a serious and “author-like” character. But rather than those textbook expressions, I wanted to try to capture how Twain might look if he was slightly amused; as if he was thinking of a funny story he was about to tell. I really wanted to capture a hint of “Grandpa Twain”, with a twinkle in his eye. Even with the aid of the photos, I had to use my imagination to create his smile lines and eye creases.

And as I progressed, somewhere in the process, I concluded that maybe it wasn’t just a practice piece after all. Yup, this one’s a keeper!
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For those interested in the more technical side of this piece… I made it entirely in natural colors of polymer clay, even his clothing, rather than all one color clay. I wanted the realism, and also to take on the challenge of series-baking the different layers and colors of clay. This included fashioning separate realistic looking eyes with materials at hand, which I made out of pearl-style beads. His suit is of Granitex clay and his face is of Super Sculpey, which darkened a lot while curing, and made him come out of the oven looking a little too “tanned”, even for a rugged outdoors-man like Twain! The inner core is armature wire, foil and Sculpey Ultralight clay, set onto a sturdy nail. Not real impressed with this use of the fragile Ultralight, but it was a good test, I guess.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


 The V-Back Quarter Moon Sculpting Tool

This entry begins a series of featured SkulpTools

The Creation of  V-Back Quarter Moon Tool

I try to make my tool names describe - in few words, what they look like or what they do. This one has a funny name, but it seemed more descriptive than calling it “The Nifty Neato Tool”.

I first made this tool to help me very quickly create grooves and creases - without leaving tool marks - when I sculpt faces. The areas around mouth, nose and ears are particularly tricky to find a tool well suited for. I would get frustrated when my too sharp/rounded or too wide/skinny tools just didn’t give the right effect and left lots of tool marks I had to smooth over. This tool saved me a lot of time and trouble, there.

The tool is made with a low sloped back to it, as well as a gentle curve from ‘heel to toe’. The curve reaches around curves and contours of your work and quickly smooths away tool marks as it goes. The tapered, smooth tip gets into narrow spots other tools cannot. I make it in three sizes from apx. 1/16” up to 1/8”wide.

Variations on this Tool

Normally a single tip tool, the V-Back Quarter Moon Tool can also be special ordered with a round-footed smoothing burnisher on the other end.
[The dual tip version in the narrow size and the single tip medium size are currently available in my Etsy shop – see link below.]
I also have a Deep Spoon version of this tool, which is a little wider, much deeper or thicker and a bit more blunted or rounded.

What Goes into A SkulpTool 
With all of the tools I make, I use only quality materials and the same care and craftsmanship as when I’m sculpting. Tool tips are made of fine materials like stainless steel and polished to a high gloss finish so that your modeling medium of choice will not stick to it. 
The cushioned handle is ergo-comfy to hold and much easier to grip and control than a stick handle or a skinny metal dentist’s tool that’s better suited to probe cavities than to sculpt with!

Other Uses for this Tool

Not into sculpting faces? 
Then how 'bout:
~ Nice swirls and grooves in projects like jewelry and beads, ceramics and dozens of other types of work
~ Create motifs and patterns in your work. Just insert just the tip into their clay to create interesting triangular patterns or lines. 

It’s a really fun tool to experiment with.

Please feel free to give suggestions for new tools or adjustments to my existing ones.  I always welcome input for tools suitable for sculpting artists of all types.

This and many other SkulpTools are available from my Etsy Shop HERE

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Today I are a blogger! Wow! Who da thunk it?

As my profile states, I've been a polymer clay sculptor since 2002 and I love creating a variety of things in this material, from practical objects to whimsical characters. Many have found, as I have, that tt's extremely versatile and very user friendly for all ages. You can fashion it into anything from a tool handle to an earring, a statuette, a decorative box, a wall hanging, to well,... you get the idea.

It comes in a huge array of colors and is great for creating endless patterns, textures and motifs. And in the world of art media, polymer clay is relatively young and truly an exciting and emerging material to work in.

The more I sculpted, the more frustrated I became with sculpting tools that were available. Being the child of creative and resourceful parents, I began making things from found objects at an early age. So when necessity demanded, I put on my thinking cap to find ways to make new sculpting tools or adapt existing ones to create the effects and textures I needed in my clay piece. The biggest need I had at that time was for a tiny tool that would be very precise for creating fine details.

And so, I began to begin to commence to start putzing!.....

I glued and hammered and shaped some tips just the way I needed and VOILA! My very first sculpting tool was born! I call it my "fave tool" because it really is. And I still use it a lot, just as it is! Even after seven years of constant use it still works great! I liked it so well I made several more in other sizes.

And now, many, many tools and re-makes later, I have developed a line of around 24 different hard and soft tip style sculpting tools, which I've named SkulpTools. Among all that I make, my fave' tool still stands out as a popular classic. And it still comes in five sizes.

I've looked all over the internet and local stores at sculpting tools available far and wide and have found they fall into one of several groups:
Too skinny and slick
Too big and bulky
Too sharp or dull
Shaped all wrong for what's needed


I soon found that I'm not the only one who felt like this about manufactured sculpting tools. But few folks had the time, tools or desire to work out their ideas.
I was encouraged to make more of my sculpting tools and sell them online and locally. So just in July of this year I brought a few of my tools to the local polymer clay guild meeting to see how they liked them. Their enthusiasm blew me away! This is a great group of gals and a couple of guys, who LOVE working in polymer clay as much as I do. These gracious folks gladly offered to be my tool-testers and give me their invaluable direct feedback on my designs, as well as contribute to new tool designs. I set up shop online with, a venue for handmade and vintage goods. Check out SkulpTools on Etsy.

Since that first tool I made, a whole series of new designs have emerged. They are all designed to be strong, durable, very comfortable to hold and control, and clay won't stick to the highly polished tips. And they're actually quite attractive too, if I may say so. SkulpTools have really comfortable ergo-shaped handles that are easy to grip and control. The tip's edges are honed to be thin enough to get into [or create] small crevices, yet they're still blunt, so they won't cut too deeply or make ragged tool marks. Tip shapes vary from smooth-angular to rounded, depending on the tool.

Do you ever wish you had a tool that would perform a certain way for you, 
but you can't find one like what you need?

Well now you have an option! YOU TOO CAN BE A TOOL DESIGNER! 
Contact me with a sketch, photo or written description of your ideal tool and If I decide your idea is workable and that others may like it too, I'll not only send you one of them free, I'll name the tool after you! It's kinda like having your own tool maker!

I also do made-to-order special request tools for just a bit more than my regular rates. You can custom order via SkulpTools shop on Etsy or drop me a line via email.

Now, if what you describe resembles something that's already being made, I will do my best to point you to where you can buy it. No sense reinventing the ol' wheel or taking away from another tool maker's good work, now is there?

So, there's my very first blog entry, ever. Eh, maybe not real impressive, but now you know a little more about SkulpTools than you did before!

More tools news coming soon!