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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sculpting with Model Magic

The new Fright Radio is coming out soon here and on iTunes.  Below you'll find the transcript of my segment on sculpting with Model Magic clay.

Good evening.  I’m Mr. Chicken, and you’re entering my Hall of Illusions.  This time we’re going to talk about how to get the best results out of one of the cheapest and easiest to find sculpting mediums out there—Crayola Model Magic.

As I mentioned in the last episode, the big advantage of air dry clays for is that your sculpture is your final product.  You don’t need to mold and cast to get a usable prop.

I used model magic for the heads of most of the characters in my haunt.  Here’s what I found worked best for me.  I’d pick something to use as an armature.  A skull or modified foam wighead work well.  To modify a wighead for use as an armature, cut off the nose and lips, and carve down the sides of the head a bit so you won’t be forced to follow the proportions of those things.  Wrap the armature in aluminum foil before sculpting—more on that later.

Then you just want to tear off pieces of clay, form them into approximately the right shape for the facial feature you’re working on, and apply it to the form.  You want to work in this way, rather than trying to mush around large pieces, because the model magic has a strange elastic quality that makes it difficult to reshape, so try to get your forms as close as you  can when you first lay them down.  A blob for the nose, blobs for the cheeks and chin, you get the idea.  Water will help smooth and blend between these blobs, as will very thin pieces of clay from time to time.  Plastic balls cut in half make good eyes.

When you’re ready for details like wrinkles, take your tool and wet it first so it will glide over the clay and not stick to it.  Unlike more professional clays, the model magic doesn’t like to be refined gradually.  It’s more about picking a shape and sticking with it.  This means that you’ll often end up with a face that doesn’t quite match your original plan, but that’s part of the fun.

If you need to walk away from your sculpture for the day, just spritz it with a little water and put a plastic bag over it.

In my experience, air dry clays will crack if one side dries out faster than the other. The Crayola air dry clays (Model Magic, and pretty much any air dry clay out there, as far as I know) are water based. The water needs to evaporate from the clay in order for it to harden. Now, as the water evaporates, the clay loses mass and shrinks. However, if something (such as the armature you’re sculpting on, be it a skull, foam head, or wad of newspaper) prevents the water from escaping evenly, one side (the face) will dry faster than the other (the inside). This means that the outside is shrinking faster than the inside, so it cracks.

When I make heads in air dry clay, I cover my armature (either a skull or foam wig head) in aluminum foil so that as soon as the face is dry to the touch, I can remove it from the armature, peel off the foil, and allow the sculpture to dry thoroughly.  I do this by slicing the sculpture from ear to ear with an xacto blade, and pulling the two halves apart. 

Shortly thereafter, I give the whole thing a coat of latex-based paint, just in case, to hold the surface together should any cracking be tempted to ensue.  You need a base coat anyway.  I like to paint the rest in washes and drybrushing with cheap acrylic paints.
To attach it to a body, I shoot a bit of great stuff in the head...just enough to grab the PVC that makes up the neck.

That’s what’s worked for me in the past.  If you have any questions, suggestions, or tips of your own to share, let me know at chickenhaunt [at] gmail.com.


  1. Will a foam egg work instead of a foam wig head? Since it already has those feature "pre-removed"?

    1. Sounds like a great idea! You can really use anything at all as an armature.

  2. How do I get it to stay on plastic? I've sanded the plastic til it's rough, but it just falls right off... :/

    1. That's definitely not its strong suit. Go for something like Apoxie sculpt if that's what you need.