It has been a while since my last ‘Sculpting table’. I was planning something smaller for this article, but two weeks ago I got to work on a quick (ish) commission for my local Skorne player and it seemed good material for a wider range of conversions: scaly skin/armor patterns.
The commission was to beef up a full unit of Cataphract catrati with cloaks (since the owner doesn’t like the fiddly spikes of the original models). Not to leave the cloaks empty we decided to add raw scaly hides from powerful beasts the individual warriors slayed during the armies desert crossing (let say it is a prerequisite to join this elite veteran unit…). Since we might do a similar conversion on the Arcuarii and/or Incendiarii we also decided to leave furry hides for the harpoon throwers and theme the trophies of this unit on scaly/more armored ‘beasts’.
I made an effort to split up the process in comprehensive (I hope) steps and ‘recipes’, so don’t be afraid to try some of these out (you can practice on a piece of plastic card if you don’t want to risk models until you get the hang of it…). I should point out that this type of conversion (cloaks and scaly skin) were my very first experiments in green stuffing more than 15 years ago and helped me build up confidence and tool control, so it might help you as well;)
Tools of the trade
Many of the patterns presented below rely on the shape and size of the sculpting tool you are using, so I guess I should first explain in some more detail what I use for my sculpting… I do own a full 20 piece set of metal sculpting tools, a few silicon tipped color/clay shapers and an assorted bunch of improvised tools, but I still use most the base GW sculpting tool I got when I first started.
However if you want small and specific details that you can consistently reproduce in a pattern you need to make your own ‘ghetto’ custom tools. I carved mine all out of the remaining frames of GW plastic kits. These are basically miniaturized sculpting tools you make to imprint specific shapes in the modeling putty.
The custom tools I used for these conversions are the following:
Making the cloaks
Another ‘custom tool’ is what I call the Green stuff press. It is basically just two squares of thick smooth plastic card, one of which has a 1mm raised border on all 4 edges to make evenly thick sheets of putty (I mentioned it in the MoW coats article).
You just have to lubricate the surface of the ‘GS press’, so that the putty doesn’t stick to it, initially flatten it with your thumb and then sandwich it between the 2 squares of plastic card. That will give you a round shaped sheet of green stuff that you can cut in the shape you need for your cloak/coat/banner using the ‘knife tip’ from your metal sculpting tool. Once you’re happy with the shape very carefully lift the sheet up without ripping or stretching it and attach it to your model with some super glue (preferably use gel glue since it is easier to control) and while it is still fresh, use the butts and shafts of some old paint brushes to give it a wavy flowing shape and let it cure completely.
In this specific case I then added another layer of putty to even out the step between the cloak and the shoulder pads, since our hides will partially cover that area. Once this base is hard you can start working on the actual beast skins…
For me this is the most basic scaly pattern to make, while giving a nice result:
I wanted the different hides to still have some common elements to tie them together, therefore they all have scales in the middle section and a band of tattered leathery skin around, so before I started working on the scaly pattern, I used the ‘spoon tip’ of my metal sculpting tool to flatten the outer edges of the hide.
Now you can start pressing your pattern in the raised middle section. For this you can either use a specifically made ‘angler’ (option B in the sketch below) or the back end of a ‘splitter’ custom tool (option A in the sketch). The main trick is to start pressing in the rows of scales from top to bottom, since that helps keep the scales consistent.
Once the scaly midsection was all done I randomly ripped up the edge of the leathery skin and added holes and indents as detail and left it to cure. Finally I added some ‘straps’ of leather hanging from the top of the hide and pressed in some ‘rivets’ to represent the points where the skin was nailed to the shoulder pads (this is another detail that all the hides will have in common).
Square edged scales
This is a pattern most commonly used for armor (see Iron fang officer’s armored skirts), but in this case I used it as some big reptilian’s hide:
Like we did before we first flatten the outer edges and then start texturizing our midsection.
First you use the flat side of your tool’s knife tip or a piece of plastic card to press in horizontal steps in the putty. Then you make vertical indents in a regular succession using a ‘strait splitter’ custom tool and tuck in the edge of each line with a ‘splitter’ (as shown in step 3 of the sketch below). I should point out that when you press lines in fresh green stuff the putty will get displaced and usually bulge out, so if you want your scales flat you will have to go back and flatten the scales with a ‘square flatter’ between each step in the sketch (that goes for all the patterns described in the article). Once you are happy with the scales, again tarnish the leathery skin around and let it cure.
Since on this hide I was going for a Gator-like beast I tried to give it a spine like the Blackhide wrestler’s. I first split the tube of fresh putty in horizontal sections with the knife tip of the metal tool and then pressed 2 vertical lines along the length to get 3 columns of spines and spent almost an hour gently poking each individual spike from all 4 sides to give them a roughly pyramidal shape and let them harden. Finally I added the overlapping leather on top and the rivets, like for our other hides.
The next hide is just a slight variation of this pattern. As you can see in the pictures I just angled the rows not to be horizontal and sculpted some different bone armor plaques along the spine of the beast, but the process to make the pattern was basically the same as we discussed just above.
Round edged scales
This type of scales is probably more common among aquatic animals (assorted reptilians and fishes), so it could be thematically appropriate for seafaring models like pirates, but there is no need to be bound by real world logic…
This is basically another variation of the square edged pattern, where you just invert the order of the previous ‘recipe’ steps 2 and 3. Again you first make your steps with the knife tip of the metal sculpting tool and then use the splitter to ‘tuck in’ the edge of each row at regular intervals (here you press a bit deeper than before, since you want to create semi circles as the edge of your scales) and finally use a strait splitter to press in the vertical lines between the individual scales.
Leathery skin details and bone spikes down the hide’s spine as before, to finish it up.
This pattern is a combination of some of the previous patterns and could be used for scale armors like the square edged scales (I used it to beef up the ‘barding’ on Lug for my Gun carriage conversion).
As you can see in the sketch below, you first press in the saw-like edge with a ‘square flatter’ or a wider ‘angler’ and then use a ‘splitter’ or ‘strait splitter’ to press in the lines between the scales, making elongated hexagons.
Again finished up by adding the same tattered leather and bone armor plates down the spine of the hide.
Irregular scales (Troll skin)
This pattern can be used for a variety of beasts (both trolls and some gators), but can also work well on bases as a worn out country road with round cobbles.
Being an irregular pattern, you can start wherever you want, but I generally start by making a few larger scales in the middle of the patch and add smaller scales going outwards. You make the individual scales by pressing with the tip of a narrow square flatter perpendicularly to the surface you are working on, bit by bit. Don’t bury your tool in the putty and drag it around in circles like a knife, because that will cause rips and ripples in the edge of your scales; you have to be patient.
Ok, that should more or less cover everything for this conversion. I finally got my hands on another colossal and there is a third one coming for me with the next delivery at our LFGS, so my next few Sculpting tables will be about putting some of my colossal ideas into practice.
As usual if you have any questions or suggestions, leave a comment below. Cheers!