A mess, or progress?
One of the first iterations of the DIY Sculpting Kit
Creating Miniezshops first DIY Sculpting Kits took about two years of on and off development. From ideation to the first market ready DIY Sculpting Kit there were eight different iterations and many hurdles to overcome. This blog post covers the reasoning for making the DIY Kit, the process behind each iteration and how I hope to develop the kits in the future.
Why make a DIY Sculpting Kit?
The first question one may ask is why create a DIY Sculpting Kit? The answer is this: I wanted to share the love of sculpting with others, in a way that builds confidence and creates a fun group bonding activity.
Alright, that’s a nice idea, but how does one decide what goes into a DIY Kit? Well, a DIY Sculpting Kit needs clay of course, and some tools, some instructions and that might’ve made a nice little kit. However, the thought of silicone molds kept popping in my head.
Starting to prototype:
It’s important to note that silicone molds need a sculpture for the original casting or pouring of silicone. Once the silicone cures that sculpture can be replicated with that silicone mold. Creating and perfecting those sculptures is where my approximately two year journey of eight iterations began.
Attempt number one & two:
This was a fairly simple test of concept. Since it’s liquid, silicone needs a container to be cast into. So I placed two of my previously made sculptures into a shallow Tupperware and a metal canning lid. (It’s fun to note that those sculptures were two elephants, my favorite animal.) The sculptures were also intended as magnets so they had a flat back to rest against the bottom of the containers. Using leftover silicone from a college project I cast the mold. Once the silicone had cured, I pulled it out of the containers. What was revealed was a perfect imprint of the elephants in the cured silicone. I then tried the same with a few more sculptures and had the same results.
This was very exciting and could have been good enough to put in the DIY Sculpting Kits. However, that would limit the creativity of the people using the DIY Kits. That’s because if the mold was one full object, one would be limited to one color and would need to paint the clay afterwards if they wanted variety. For me part of the fun of sculpting is mixing and matching the colors. It’s fun to choose the color of each individual feature of a sculpture.
My solution for this was to create sculptures and dismember them so that each of the pieces could be re-made individually.
Iteration number three:
Ok, but what sculptures would people want to replicate? In the future I hope to have a variety of different kits, from people, to plants etc., but I love sculpting animals so that’s what I started with. The thing is, there are a lot of neat animals. I’d decided to include three animals in each kit. In my journal you will find about thirty different ideas for animal sets, so narrowing it down was difficult. I started with five different sets, fifteen animals. The original sets were: 1) a dog, a cat and a bear 2) a pig a cow & a sheep 3) a rabbit, a goat and a goose 4) a giraffe, a rhino & a flamingo 5) a lion, an elephant & a monkey. The animals in each set shared a body but the features were separate. That was a lot of sculpting.
Another consideration was the containers to pour the silicone into. I wanted the silicone molds to look crisp and professional. Originally I thought melamine boards would be good for holding the silicone. That’s because the face of melamine is so smooth yet it’s easy to cut and brad nail so I could create a specifically measured custom container box. Realizing that the silicone might seep through the corners of the box I tried caulking the interior corners of the boxes, which proved extremely difficult.
Figuring out how to lay out the individual animal pieces within each box was challenging as well. I dry fitted the pieces, removed them all and then put them back in with super glue, often using tweezers. When setting new pieces in the box I had to be very careful not to move another piece before the glue dried. Otherwise the glue would smear and show up on the face of the cured mold.
The following section of this blog post details the problems and improvements of each iteration.
The problems with iteration three:
Once I’d waited the time specified in the silicone instructions I thought the silicone was cured. So I removed the silicone from the containers. The edges had to be cut with an x-acto knife and pried so I was worried the silicone would rip. It didn’t but many of the sculpted pieces popped out with the silicone and the silicone was still gooey.
How I tried to improve this in iteration four:
Iteration three was simply retrying iteration two. I got better super glue, gave the silicone a longer cure time, and more thoroughly mixed silicone before pouring.
Problems with iteration four:
Once the cured silicone was pulled out the container I examined the indents more closely. I wanted crisp shapes that made it obvious which piece of the animal that indent was for. The problem was that all the edges of the indents on the silicone were messy. Also, when clay was put in the cured silicone mold indents, I was unable to get it out because the openings were too small. This meant that the silicone had poured nearly all the way around the original sculptures but in uneven ways.
How I tried to improve this in iteration five:
The original sculptures needed to be flat against the bottom of the container to prevent this issue. So I set about sculpting entire new sets & making sure they were glued to the container as flat as possible.
Problems with iteration five:
This did not solve the problem. The silicone still flowed around the edges of the original sculptures, making the casts unrecognizable.
How I tried to improve this in iteration six:
Frustrated, but determined I set about another version of sculptures to pour the silicone over. Rolling out a flat piece of clay, as large as the interior of the container boxes. I attached all the sculpted pieces to the flat piece of clay with a smoothing tool. Hoping that the edges of each outline in the cured silicone mold would be clean and recognizable.
Problems with iteration six:
Smoothing around all the pieces I frequently bumped into the other pieces nearby. The flat backing piece of clay also wasn't exactly the size of the container. Though I tried to use caulk to smooth the interior corners, I couldn't entirely because the sculpted pieces were too close to the walls of the container. This created gaps that still showed noticeable lines on the front face. Also pulling the cured molds out of the melamine was starting to become a real hassle in general and I began to fear that I would rip the molds when removing them from the containers.
How I tried to improve this in iteration seven:
So, the DIY Sculpting Kit idea sat dormant for quite some time. I was discouraged until I found our old box of legos from my parents attic. Those seemed like a perfect way to contain the liquid silicone when casting the mold. Once the silicone was cured I could just take the legos apart to reveal the cured silicone!
At this time I decided to separate all the animals. This meant sculpting entire new sets of animals but still using the clay backing idea from iteration six. Previously all the animal pieces had been on one large silicone block. Separating the animals could make it so that multiple people could be using the animals at the same time. Someone could also make the animal features while another made the body and appendages. This switch made the process of using the DIY Kits more of a group activity!
Problems with iteration seven:
Iteration Seven was almost perfect. The backing for the sculptures fit perfectly into the Legos. I also had found ways to make the pieces even more smoothly attached to the backing so that the reveal lines were extra crisp and clear. The problem was that I had two made the containers two Lego blocks tall. When poured, the silicone leached through the lines between the two blocks. This made the cured silicone blocks have slender wing-like pieces of silicone around the edges which were a hassle to try and cut off.
How I tried to improve this in iteration eight:
It was a simple fix. I took masking tape and taped around the inside of the container wall so that the cured edges were smooth.
All in all there were:
Eight pours of silicone
Three different containers
Five series of sculptures, each with at least nine different dismembered animals.
After those eight iterations there were several other tasks to complete before the DIY Sculpting Kits were ready for market, including:
Finding the right size box, Uline had many options including a box made out of recyclable material.
Finding the right size bag for the silicone was difficult. I’ve still to find a bag that fits perfectly as most bags the size of the molds in this kit are made for cards or cookies. The silicone molds are considerably thicker so for now, I have just some larger size bags. The bags are from clearbags.com and are industrially compostable.
Sourcing the clay colors and tools to include took a minute. Currently it’s Sculpey clay bought from a retailer but hopefully in the future the DIY Kits will have enough traction that I can the clay at wholesale pricing.
Creating the instructions took some time. The tasks included narrowing down the steps, figuring out which paper fold to use, illustrating all the steps, writing the copy simply, and making sure the print quality was acceptable. For small pamphlets most printing companies have minimum order quantities of 250 so for now, I’m printing the instructions on my home printer.
Designing and printing the packaging was a similar process as designing the instructions. However, I first had to create the animals using the silicone molds, take photos and then design the packaging with those photos. I am currently printing the packing on my home printer with Avery printable sticky paper.
Creating the QR code sticker. I made a page on my website to get the QR code and designed the simple sticker to be printed with Sticker Mule.
The QR code’s purpose was to go to an instructional video so I had to shoot and edit that as well as some additional informative and fun videos.
The current production rate for the DIY Sculpting Kits is one basic set, one safari set & one farm set every 24 hours as it takes time for the silicone to cure. If the DIY Kits get some traction I will sculpt more originally sculptures to have several sets of the same style curing at the same time.
Eventually my goal is to find a way to 3d scan the sculptures, render them in some sort of program and 3d print the scans with a high quality material. That way I don't have to sculpt many more iterations to increase the number of DIY Kits made. This would be awesome because I could create more DIY Sculpting Kits more quickly to share the love of sculpting with more people.
Thanks for reading how I made Miniezshops first DIY Sculpting Kits! If you have any questions let me know in the comments below.
You can watch how I made the DIY Sculpting Kits here:
You can purchase your own kit here:
Share your DIY Kit creations with the #miniezshop
Thanks for reading, hugs - Elizabeth (miniezshop)