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Get a Grip
A Sculpting/Conversion Tutorial
by John Long

This little SBS will involve resculpting hands. It's geared toward the figure converter and the builder of plastic kits. Many times we want to have a figure grip something when doing a conversion. We have all also built plastic figures from the box. Many of the DML (and others) kits are very nicely detailed and are nearly as high of quality as some resin kits. One shortcoming is the hands. They rarely grip the weapons and equipment the way they should. In this project, I'll show how I approach this dilemma.

In Step I (the wet work), I'll show how I prep the hand for conversion. Also, I'll apply the putty and work in the finger details. In Step II (the dry work), I'll demonstrate how to refine the detail of the hand using carving techniques.

Step I

Here's a picture of the kit piece we will modify (Photo 1). As you can see, the hand does not grip the weapon in a convincing manner. This will diminish the final effect that we are after. The techniques used can be used in conversion work as well.

Next, we look at some of the tools used (Photo 2). Top is a set of wire-cutters. Next is a scalpel. Below that is a flat rubber tipped tool. Next is a cone shaped rubber tipped tool. Below that is a wooden swab with both ends sanded into useful shapes and coated with super glue. A quick word about the wooden tool; I have six of these that I made in the manner that Bill Horan described in regard to cocktail sticks. I cut the cotton tip off and shaped both ends. These tools have evolved over time to perform different tasks.

Now we see the hand with the fingers removed (Photo 3). I cut them loose using the wire cutters. I also removed the thumb, although that is not strictly necessary. I usually take care to cut the fingers and leave a bit of the detail on the hand that will leave clues where the fingers will be.

Next, we have the weapon glued into place using CA superglue (Photo 4). It is placed well into the palm and close to the web of the hand. I use Magic Sculp for this type of work. Use equal balls of resin and hardener (Photo 5). This is a good way to ensure that you have the same amount. If one ball is very much smaller than the other you can get some funky results when hardening. You will want to have clean hands when mixing your putty. Dirt introduced to the mix will also create difficulties in proper curing.

Remove a blob of putty from your mixture (Photo 6). Something a bit larger than the area that we are reworking. This will be placed on the weapon and feathered into the hand.

Here we have the putty applied (Photo 7). It has also been trimmed to the same width as the donor hand, using the scalpel or X-Acto knife. Hopefully you can also see that the length of the fingers have been trimmed to shape. Care has been taken to cut the "mitten" to demonstrate the differing lengths of what will become the fingers. In the next photo (Photo 8), we see the fingers layed out by pressing downward lightly into the "mitten" using the sharp edge of the scalpel blade.

Photo 9 shows one of the most important parts that will make our hand look like it has individual fingers and not a collection of sausages. V shapes are cut at the end of the fingers, taking care to remove half of each V from the end of each finger. A portion of the V to be removed can be seen between the index and middle finger. The other V shapes have been cut loose and removed.

The final picture (Photo 10) in this series shows the end of the "wet work". The joints have been layed out and the web portion of the fingers have been refined a bit using the pointed end of the wooden tool.

In Step II, we'll add the thumb and do the "dry work" of sanding and scraping to further detail the fingers. The fingers as they are would be sufficient for most projects. If the character you're creating is a single figure or a central focus figure in a larger diorama, you are probably going to want to refine the features a bit.

Question: After you have shaped the fingers, do you smooth them out at all, like with a damp brush? If so, while the putty is still wet, or do you wait until the putty is dry?

Answer: In this scale it's really not necessary. When the "mitten" is applied and before it's trimmed, you will smooth it as you apply and feather it into the back of the donor hand.

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