Sculpting Horses in 15mm
By Neldoreth
June 16th, 2009

Sculpting horses, or any other animals besides humans, is a topic that I have found precious little information on. Thanks to the likes of Ebob Miniatures, I did get some pictures of horse armatures, which helped me a lot, but there were not complete articles. So, I was inspired to chronicle my own attempts at horses through this article in the hopes that myself and others could learn something from it.

The other thing that I should point out is that most articles are written by the very same people that need them: beginners. This article is no exception. I have sculpted about 20 of these 15mm figs. That's nothing compared to most professional sculpters who have sculpted thousands of 15mm figs. That being said, this article assumes that you've used greenstuff before, and that you know how to shape it and smooth it, and that you know what tools you like to use. Keep that in mind when you read this article!

The first step is to create the armature for the main body of the horse. It's not exactly easy, but the quality of your sculpt will rely on how well this is done. I typically grab another horse I've sculpted and bend the wire into the general shape of the horses body. What if you don't have a previous sculpt to work from? You can either use another company's miniature horse also, but if you don't want to then you can get a picture of the horse you want and print it off (or display it on your computer screen) at the right size and use that as a guide.

Once you get the general schape correct (tail, lower back, middle dip, upper back, neck, head) you can shape it into the general position you want it in. Since horses are bigger than people, you will have room to make changes with the putty application phase, so your armature doesn't have to be perfect. At this point you must also identify where to place the horse's leg armature wires: the hind legs should be in the middle of the lower back, and the front legs should be at the base of the neck.

To put the legs armature wires on to the body armature wire, place a long piece of wire on top of the body armature wire about where the legs should attach. Grip it in place with some needle nose pliers, and then with your fingers, twist the wire around once. If the loop slides a little, that's cool. You can make sure it's in the correct position and then add a little superglue to hold it. Beware the super glue though, don't use too much because it will burn in the casting process.

The armature is pretty much done at this point. However, we have to position the horse's legs, preferably before we put the armature into the cork (or whatever you like to base your armature on). Once again, use your previous sculpt, someone else's sculpt, or a printed picture of a horse to bend the leg joints in just the correct position. For the legs, the perfectly shaped armature is more important since the thin legs allow less putty to correct them.

Now we are ready to start adding putty to the figure once the armature is in place on the cork or whatever your preferred method of basing your armatures on happens to be. At this point, take time to make sure the height of the horse, the leg lengths and the leg/head/tail positions are as they should be; once the putty goes on, it will be tough to change.

Add putty to fill out the armature. Since this is a 15mm figure, we will be putting far less putty onto the armature than we would if it were a 28mm figure. As a consequence I find that it is always a good idea to take time to smooth this first layer in case some of it will show through on the final sculpt. If you don't smooth it and some of it shows through later, you may have to scrape the figure! For those who don't know, scraping is a method of smoothing cured putty where you draw the edge of a blade over the rough area of the figure repeatedly until it is smooth. Scraping is a lot more difficult than smoothing soft putty in the first place.

For the first steps, I put down the muscles in the hind and front legs. These will be used to define the shape of the horse's body, so try to take care to get them into a good shape before we add the final layer. Also at this point I like to finish the tail because it's the easiest part of sculpting the horse :)

The next layer of putty should allow you to finish off the horse's body completely. I added more putty to the head and neck in preparation for adding the final layer there as well. I also added some detail to the hind legs. Inevitably, you will add more putty to the body when the legs are sculpted.

Adding the neck is fairly straight forward. The key is simply to get it to the correct diameter and size; there isn't a lot of detail in the neck. The head is a little more tricky, but basically it comes in three parts: the nostrils, the mouth, and the cheeks. If you get those shapes right, you will have a pretty good horses head.

That's really it... My experiment in sculpting horses. I'm not entirely unhappy with the result, but I have a long way to go before I'm half decent... In any case, here they are after casting, assembly, and painting.