Tuesday, 5 March 2013

079 - How to Bake a Cactus

Yes, you read the title correctly...

I've been experimenting with Fimo sculpting this week, with the aim of building something for my Watcher to stand on. I've seen a few people in the past use the lamp post from the Wyrd Victorian base accessories, with their Watcher perched on the very top, and I always thought it made a nice characterful base for the model, if a little precarious and top-heavy.

Wanting something more in keeping with the desert-y themed bases I've already used on the rest of my Guild, I figured that a cactus would be just right, and set about trying to find manufacturers of plastic or resin cacti. The first thing you realise when searching for companies that sell plastic or resin 28mm cacti is: pickings are very slim indeed.

Pegasus Hobbies do a decent range of small and medium sized cacti. Although the plastic is poor quality (it feels like the same kind of plastic they make those cheap christmas-cracker prizes out of), I find with a lick of paint they are fine for sticking onto bases as decoration. Definitely not large enough to stand a Watcher on top of though. Another site (which I can't now find a link to) sold groups of resin cacti that from the pictures looked poorly detailed, and which also came with a resin "area terrain" piece for them to stand on, bumping the price above what I wanted to pay. I finally found what might have been an ideal cactus on an aquarium website and ordered one, only to be told that it was no longer in production.

There was nothing for it but to buy something squidgy and have a go and making my own. I've never really sculpted anything beyond filling gaps and touching up conversions, so to make something from scratch was a bit daunting.

I built an armature out of a few paperclips twisted together, wrapped it in Fimo Soft, and scored lines into the putty from top to bottom to give it some texture. One difficulty I found straight away was that it's difficult to keep the lines defined, because when you turn the cactus over to texture the opposite side, your fingers would be smoothing out the texture you already applied! If anyone has any tips for not smudging your own sculpting while handling Fimo I'd happily receive them!

Duly sculpted, the cactus went in the oven to harden. 20 minutes later, finding a funny smell in the air throughout my house, I rushed back to the kitchen to find it filled with noxious gas, with the cracked, blackened and charred remnants of my cactus sitting on the baking tray.

It turns out there's these things called..... "Farenheit", which as far as I can tell are just numbers they put on packaging right next to the Celsius temperature, purely to confuse people. It further turns out that baking Fimo at 230ºC, rather than 110ºC (230ºF!) has the unfortunate side effect of rendering your oven completely useless for food preparation for at least 7 days (unless you happen to enjoy chips that taste like burned plastic...)

Back to the drawing board. For my second attempt, I Iad the bright idea that, in order to prevent me from smudging my own texture lines, I would finish the basic shape and then bake it for just a couple of minutes to firm it up slightly before texturing it, then finishing off the bake afterwards. Turns out this doesn't work - even after only 3 minutes in the oven (at the correct temperature!), the Fimo becomes crumbly and unsuitable for scoring lines in. I scraped a few chunks off the second version before giving it up and going back to the start for a third time. We live and learn.

And it was, as they say, third time lucky. I took extra care with the texturing, baked at the correct temperature, and ended up with a nice little spot for my Watcher to perch and survey the battlefield. I just need to get some paint on him ready for a tournament at the weekend, as I'll be giving my Guild their first competitive outing, and I know he'll be worth his weight in gold in those objective-based strategies!