Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Making a circlet using a wireframe and Sculpey clay.

Hello everyone. This is my first tutorial. I wanted to make a metal-looking circlet, but I do not know how to make things out of real metal. So, I went with the next best thing -- a circlet made out of clay that looks like metal. Please read each step entirely before starting. I wrote a lot basically to answer any questions you may have, but it's really not THAT complicated. :)

Here is the circlet next to the 'model' I used. (A piece of White Mage armor from Final Fantasy XIV.) You will notice that I neglected to add the dangling pieces -- simply because I didn't want to. If your circlet has dangles, feel free to add them using extra wire and clay beads/pieces.

What you will need:

(Note: I function under the assumption that you aren't master sculptor. I'm not. So, everything I list here should be easily found in a combination of a craft store and a home.)

-- 20 gauge wire (I used silver-plated)
-- Needle-nose pliers to bend the wire into shape
-- Wire-cutter (many needle-nose pliers come with the ability to cut wires)
-- Sculpey clay (that hardens in the oven) in as much quantity and colors as you need
-- Something to smooth the clay out once you are done molding it (I used the front end of a plastic chop stick)
-- An oven
-- Anywhere between 2-3 hours (I took my time with this, but that doesn't mean you will take just as long)

Optional (if needed for your project):

-- Something to draw intricate designs on (a toothpick, screwdriver with a small head, unbent paperclip, etc)
-- Paint or ink to add different colors to indents if you would like.
-- A paintbrush or makeup brush to dust off little bits of clay before it bakes.
-- Water-based acrylic paint to paint the finished product if you desire.


Step one: Buying your supplies. Do you need to make something in a color that you can't find? No problem! When warmed up by your hands, Sculpey clay is easily blendable. Buy as many colors as you need. Keep in mind that some colors are sparkly while others aren't. (Silver, for example, is sparkly. Grey isn't.) For my project, I bought silver and black. I mixed it together at about a 2 to 1 ratio (not exact) to get a dark silvery grey.

Look how sparkly my hands are! Glitter truly is the herpes of the craft world.

Step two: Starting with the frame. The reason you want a wire frame is because it keeps it sturdier while you are 'building' the circlet. It also makes it easier to see what you are doing.

To start, cut a piece of wire to be the base of your circlet. I could tell you an exact amount, but it is much easier to unravel some wire, wrap it around the model's head, and then cut it leaving several inches on either side for leeway. Remember the golden rule that you can always trim, but you can't replace. After you are done cutting a liberal amount of wire, wrap it around the model's head and twist the end of it in the back of the head to form a temporary circlet frame.

Keep in mind how the model will wear the circlet. Will his or her hair be up or down? Will they be wearing a wig? Will the circlet be hidden beneath the hair or over it? In general, circlets are worn so that they sit right above the point where the head begins curve to meet the neck. Do NOT trim the wire at this point. The clay will make the circlet thicker, which means the circlet will be too tight if you trim it now.

Step Three: Create your finished wireframe. While the frame is still on the model's head, look at the image you would like to work with and mark the major areas. In my circlet, there was one main center piece and two major 'jutting' pieces on either side with smaller accents around. I marked the distance with a marker. If the marker won't work, use a small piece of tape (for now) or simply measure it with a ruler.

The wireframe does not have to look pretty. You will be covering it in clay so no one will see the monstrosity beneath anyway. You'd be surprised how many beautiful pieces of artwork had very ugly wireframes beneath! However, you will want to make sure there are no pieces that stick out when you are done or it will look ugly and/or poke the poor model in the head all day!  Work with one major shape at a time. In total, I made eight 'attachments' to the main frame. Use your needle-nose pliers to bend the wire into the shape you want each piece to be. For more curvy parts, use your hands. Experiment and have fun. Then, attach each piece by wrapping the end of the shape over the frame a few times, twisting it into place. Trim the wire of each shape after you have twisted it a few times and squeeze the wire so that it is pushed as close to the main frame as possible. This ensures that it won't poke out from the clay. Avoid any ends sticking TOWARD the model's head. As you are adding more shapes, you may find that they 'slide'. Anchor each shape to each other if need be.

As you are making the wireframe, periodically put it on the model's head to see if the proportions are correct. This is just to double-check yourself. A lot of the time, it may look right in your hand, but appear too big/small when actually on the head. After you are done adding all of the basic shapes, place it on the model's head again exactly where you'll want it to rest. Then, bend the wire pieces so they conform to the forehead. They are prone to 'jut out' if not bent. This is because the forehead is curved, not flat. Get it to fit as well as you'd like, then move on to the next step. Please note that if you would like to add more wire to 'secure' the entire frame, now is the time to do it. Cut a wire that is slightly longer than the length of the current frame and twist it around the frame from one end to the other. You'll want to do this if your circlet is especially heavy, mostly just for security and peace of mind. The 20 gauge wire is very strong if tied on well.

Step Four: Prepare your clay. If you are mixing multiple colors, you will want to do that now. If you are mixing a lighter and a darker color, start with the majority of the lighter color and slowly add more dark. The reason is because it is easier to make something darker than lighter. Clay warms up very easily in your hands for easy blending.

I find that foil is the best table-top to use when mixing clay. The clay won't stick to it. You can also use the foil as a lining for a baking sheet when you put the clay in the oven. That way, you won't get clay on something that is used for food. By mixing silver and black, I was able to make a dark silvery grey. Note: flash was off so the silver is actually lighter than seen here. You can blend colors as well as you'd like. I left some inconsistencies for a more 'realistic' looking blend of color.

Step Five: Apply the clay to your circlet. When you start this step, you'll want to ignore texture at first. The most important thing is to get the clay on so that it completely covers the wireframe. That's it. You do not want ANY pieces sticking out. Cover the circlet with just enough clay so that you can't see the wire anymore. When covering the ends of the circlet, ONLY go as far as you need to before the hair begins to cover it. If your model is wearing a wig, have him or her try on the wig when deciding how far to go with the clay. A model with a middle part will need less coverage on the sides than a model with a side part, for example. You will NOT want to go all the way around the head with the clay because it is meant to conform to the head and clay gets rock-hard. If you try to go all the way around the head with it, you won't be able to get it on/off the model's head once it's dry.

When your basic frame is covered, have the model try on the circlet again. Untwist the end so that it is easier to slip on. Make sure the basic pieces that you bent back are still in place. Also make sure that the curve on each side of the design conforms to the model's head. Again, once it dries, you CANNOT move it. Make sure it is perfect now.

Now it is time to add the details. To build up ridges, make little 'snakes' with your hands by rolling small bits of clay. Then, cut it as short as you need and push it onto the area you want. Use the edge of your fingers to smooth out the edges until the ridge is blended with the main frame. To get a more pointed look, pinch the ridge so it points up more. Ladies (and men) with long fingernails: they will be the bane of this project for you. I recommend cutting them or using the side of your fingers at this point. It's very annoying when you're trying to work in small details and your fingernail keeps pushing into the design you just worked so hard on... Luckily, if you're stubborn, like me, you can smooth all of this out later!

Once the raised texture is correct, smooth out the design. I used the end of a chopstick for this, but you can do anything you'd like. Once the design is completely smooth, feel free to add smaller details in. A toothpick or screwdriver with a tiny head is great for this. You can also use the wrong end of paintbrush or an unbent paper clip -- anything you have handy. "Scraping" out areas of clay this way will create little tiny dots of clay that cling to the rest of the model and make it look unclean. To clean this up, gently brush them away with a paintbrush or makeup brush. If you'd like to fill the indented space with ink or paint, you can do that before or after it bakes. I once added ink to the inside of indents on a clay coin, making it look very authentic.

Step Six: Preparing for baking. Use the directions on the package, prepare your oven. I usually use convection bake since the heat spreads evenly. This is your VERY LAST CHANCE to check how the circlet fits before you bake it, so make sure it bends correctly on the head. Check the way the pieces bend both vertically and horizontally (I sound like a broken record...). The idea is to make it look as form-fitted as possible. Place your circlet on some aluminum foil and put it on a baking sheet that's large enough to accommodate it. Give it a last look-over to make sure everything looks correct before popping it in the oven.

Here is how my circlet looked after baking

Step Seven: Bake your circlet. The directions on the package say to bake it for a certain amount of time depending on how 'thick' the clay is. Because your circlet isn't uniformly thick, you'll want to keep an eye on it, starting with the lowest amount. You do NOT want to overcook your clay. I once overbaked a batch of clay penguins and they came out looking burnt and so, so sad. For this project, I usually start with 15 minutes and work my way up from there. When the bell rings, take it out and examine it. I usually scrape my fingernail against the back side (where observers wouldn't see) and see if the clay scrapes. If it does, it needs a bit more time. Pop it back in the oven. For this circlet, 20 minutes total did the trick (so 5 more minutes).

Step 8: Finish. Try it on and take some awesome pictures. Well, not until you wait for it to cool down first! Here is a picture of the finished thing on my head. Please note: this is my own hair and I part my hair on the side. For the costume I am making, I will be wearing a wig with a middle part so you WILL NOT see the wire/edges of the circlet.

If you'd like to paint your project after it is done baking, you totally can. It is recommended that you use water-based acrylic paint (again, you can find this in a craft store). Since you can't be sure how the paint will change the look of your clay, I suggest baking a 'test' piece before actually painting your finished circlet. Paint the test piece and see if you like it before painting the whole thing.

I should not have had a side-part when I took this picture. It looks crooked but I swear it's not. >:(

Now that you feel awesome about your handiwork, finish it up for wear. I'll be wearing a wig so I really don't care how the end of the circlet looks. I will just twist the ends together so it stays put before putting the wig on. For a more processional look, you can create a loop and hook so that it clips together. Others may choose to hide it beneath their hair completely. It's up to you.