For many, sculpting is a mystery. How do you take a formless lump of putty and transform it into the characters and creations we see and paint. In the north of the UK one sculptor, Barrie Watkins (@anphiarus) has honed his craft and has been producing some incredible updates to classic sculpts we all know and love!
We caught up with Barrie to talk about his journey into the world of miniatures, his sculpting and some of his processes that he uses to create these incredible pieces!
How did you get started into the world of miniatures?
My very first experience of miniatures was when I was about 10 years old, looking through a bits-box of lead and being mesmerised by all these little metal soldiers. At that time there was no way I could afford to get into the hobby, so it wasn’t until I was at school and in my late teens that I touched base with the hobby again. In my art class I was allowed to draw anything I liked and an old White Dwarf was all the inspiration I needed.
About a year after that a GW store opened up close to me and the love for the hobby was confirmed from that point onwards.
How did you get started in sculpting?
Sculpting was something I stumbled across out of necessity at first, when models were mostly cast in metal I used it a lot to fill all the holes or fix miscasts. From that point on it was the odd arm change or head swap that called for a patch up.
The main change came when I returned from another hobby hiatus (about a 4 year break this time) and had no setup for painting. I still had all my stuff so I looked about and grabbed some Green Stuff and an old plastic terminator, over the course of a month or so I made an inquisitor in terminator armour.
Are you self taught or did you study sculpting/art?
As far as sculpting is concerned I am self taught, I studied art up to A level (Advanced Higher in Scotland).
HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON A DESIGN TO TAKE FORWARD?
Quite simply the project has to excite me at the time. Just like all hobby projects you do your best when you’re enjoying it, it doesn’t feel like a hobby when you’re slogging your way through a model.
Do you sketch your designs first or do you develop them as you go?
As of yet I’ve not sketched out any concepts etc for the models I’ve done. Most of the time I like/try to update existing models so all the guesswork is kind of taken out of it.
The models I have done that aren’t updates so to speak I’ve very much just felt my way through them and went with the rule of cool. I’d like to try full sculpts at one point and I would very much need to sketch them out beforehand.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for your designs?
For the vast majority, it’s from GW’s artists. I’m a big fan of Mark Gibbons and his work for GW in the 90’s. As I said before, I love “updating” older sculpts at the moment so I take a lot of cues from the original models.
Is there a particular style of modelling you prefer to others?
The honest answer is I’ve only ever really tried stuff in the GW style of things, I’m pretty comfortable learning this style at the moment but I wouldn’t rule anything out for the future.
Art by Mark Gibbons
You predominantly use Green Stuff, do you prefer this over other sculpt mediums?
My experience is very limited when it comes to different mediums if I’m honest with you. I’ve got somewhat comfortable with Green Stuff as it stands, I mix in some Milliput for larger areas that I need to work on but that’s the extent of my experimentation at the moment.
I consider myself at the early stages of sculpting so I most definitely wouldn’t rule out Magisculpt and the likes in future.
Green Stuff can be notoriously difficult to work with due to its stickiness, how do you work around this?
The truthful answer is I don’t do too much about it to be honest, other than the odd dip of the tool in water or lick I work with it as is. I usually only use small bits of Green Stuff at a time. I know a fair few people like to keep their tools and Green Stuff wet or use Vaseline/Hand Cream to keep things moving easier.
The only thing I would suggest would be to lightly file your sculpting tools to take the shine off of it, you’ll find it sticks a bit less if you do this. Also, leave your Green Stuff to sit on the model for a minute after you apply it, that stickiness can come in handy in some situations and leaving it to sit means it’ll bond to the model better if left.
What sculpting tools do you have at hand?
I have a variety of dentist tools and clay shapers at hand but I only really use 3 or 4 of them at most for my conversions.
Is 28mm your favourite scale to sculpt in but do you also sculpt in larger scales?
28mm is my favourite right now but mainly because I have very little experience in any other scale at the moment. I’m keen to try others though so don’t be surprised if some pop up as future projects.
With commissions, do you work with the client to realise the design or do you have creative licence to decide for them after they have had a discussion with them?
For the vast majority of my commissions the client has had a very clear idea of what they want when they approach me. If it is based on artwork I talk to the client about realising the image and the compromises that may need to be made when changing a 2D image into 3D.
Communication is incredibly important to me when doing a commission piece, so I continue to work with the client throughout the whole process.
Do you have a place you always start sculpting from? i.e. starting with the pose?
I do, I tend to start on the legs and torso for all of my models. It’s important to get the weight of a model right and that’s generally done in the hip area, making sure there’s no balance issues. A specific base can dictate the pose but the model has to be believable in that setting so I’d have to say that’s what I focus on at the start of any model.
Do you ever get so far with a sculpt and decide it is not right and have to start again?
At the beginning of messing about with Green Stuff I did, yes. I’d get too locked up in the little details I’d got right and almost kid myself that the larger issues weren’t that bad. These days I’ve got a much better grip of things and do the basic things right before I tackle the juicy details. Making these mistakes is very much part of the learning process though and I’ve learned much more from my failures than my successes.
How long do you work on a model at a time? Do you work on multiple models or just one at a time?
This can vary quite a bit to be honest, be it down to complexity or me making some mistakes along the way. My most complex project was the Constantin Valdor conversion, I’d say he took me about 70+ hours, Gabriel Seth was about half that.
I really only do one model at a time as I like to stay focused, bouncing between projects probably wouldn’t turn out too well for me if I’m honest.
If you had to guess a figure, how long would you say it takes you from the initial concept to complete sculpt
As I mentioned before Valdor was about 70 hours of cleaning, chopping, building, sculpting, not to mention alterations etc. I’d like to say I usually have a good few days speaking to the client about the job in hand before and afterwards, just to make sure all is good before the model is sent. All in all I think I spend at least 50 hours on conversion on average but it’s hard to put a number on it to be very honest.
Your latest commission of the Primaris scale Gabriel Seth is awesome. It fits the characters of Gabriel so well! did you take any inspiration from Games workshop art?
Thank you man, Seth is a model I’m really happy with. There were 2 specific pieces of art that I used as a reference throughout the build/sculpt. Other than that I referred back to the original sculpt by GW quite a bit.
You have used the base of the new Ragnar, did you specifically choose this with an idea in mind? Did the base choice create any unforeseen issues?
The Ragnar model was actually chosen by the client, his initial idea was to keep the overall model and add the detailing on top of it, the movement was most definitely the big draw for a Seth conversion.
After a couple of conversations we agreed that getting him as close to the original model as we could would be the right way to go, the main thing that would have to change was to give him that famous two handed swing pose.
When working on a model I much prefer them not to be on a base as I can access all areas of the model much easier. Fortunately the legs required little work and the bits that I did need to work on weren’t attached to them.
THE DUAL HANDED CHAINSWORD IS MASSIVE!! YOU SAY THE ORIGINAL DIDN’T MAKE THE GRADE, WHY WAS THIS?
The first reason was quite simply the cast quality, it was made from finecast and I think most of us can attest that it’s anything but finely cast. The second and most important reason is it was just not big enough for the Seth upgrade.
I much prefer to use only GW parts on any of my commissions but the chainsword from Conversion World was an absolutely perfect base, the double teeth look it has is just savage looking.
What has been your favourite sculpt or one you have learned the most in creating?
That’s a tough question, I like parts of each of the models I’ve made and feel like I’ve learned new things on each one. For learning the most amount of new things I’d have to say the Constantin Valdor, I really pushed myself on the cleanliness of the finish and the face was something that was very much a spur of the moment thing.
As far as my favourite sculpt I would have to say it’s the Arch Regent I did recently. Whether it was a case of it was something different than a marine I don’t know, all I know is that it came together pretty well and really quite quickly, which must mean I enjoyed it.
All that being said, I owe a lot to that Pedro Kantor sculpt I did for the SN team, Pardo showed a lot of faith in me when I was a lot less experienced.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for people who want to learn miniature sculpting?
The first thing I’d say is start small and simple, I started off doing purity seals, boils and ribbing, that was all I could do for the first 3-4 months. Doing these simpler bits like this gets you used to the way the medium of your choice works and how it changes throughout the curing process. After you feel a bit more comfortable you can tackle the more complex jobs but try not to do everything all at once.
Split the complex jobs down into simpler parts and when you’ve done them, leave it to cure before starting the next bit. Far too many times I’ve tried to do too much too fast and ruined everything I’ve worked on.
Finally I’d say just get stuck in and practice as much as you can. If you can pick up some clay shapers and dentist tools that’ll help out a lot but it’s not something you’ll need at the very start.
What’s next in your sculpting future?
In the short term I have a few exciting collaborations planned with some very talented artists. I hope to be able to update a few classic sculpts for clients and myself.
In the long term I just hope to continue to improve and push myself, if I can get to a point where I can do full sculpts then I’ll be a happy man to be honest.
Thank you to Barrie for taking the time to speak to us, your work is phenomenal and we cannot wait to see the creations you come up with next! We will be keeping an eye out for the new collaborations!
If you are not following him on Instagram you should be, head over there now and see what he’s up to! – Instagram