The Making of a Man (in 1/20 Scale)

Working with my Japanese boat models, after the tenth or twelfth model, I’ve felt that there’s now something missing. I enjoy modeling traditional Japanese boats, but up to now, there hasn’t been much context. So, I started experimenting with making cargo, which is a relatively easy, if not somewhat tedious, task. But, I’ve always felt that the cargo was just one step towards giving the models a better sense of what they were and how they were used. What the boats really needed were one or more figures, to give them a sense sense of scale, and a sense of the place and time when they were in their heyday.

Kawasaki: The Rokugō Ferry, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

Mitsuke: The Tenryū River, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

Now, I’ve been trying to make figures in various scales. So far, the most successful have been some figures that I made in roughly 1/50 scale. But, for Japanese boats, the boats themselves would be either very small models or they would have to represent fairly large boats. What I really want to be able to do is to make figures in 1/20 scale, which seems to be good for the smaller Japanese boats. At this scale, I can make a small-scene diorama that isn’t too large to display. But figures at this scale have to be fairly detailed or they may detract from the model and the scene.

For the past year or so, I’ve been experimenting with using clay and putty to make figures. I’ve followed some other modelers and studied techniques for figure making. But, at some point, I realized that I needed a better guide. So, I manage to find a couple 3D printed kits on, for articulated figures. You just supply the wire and assemble the 3D printed parts of a 1/20-scale figure. The figures produced by this particular designer are the best I’ve found, but the heads are a little bit alienesque . Still, they were the best i could find, so this was my starting point.

This, at least, gave me a starting point. Paying attention to how this was made, i used polymer clay to create separate parts for my own articulated figure. My was very crude in comparison. But, really, I only needed a figure in the right pose and scale. I figured I then build on to the figure to make it look more natural.

It took me a while to develop technques, and there were a lot of dead ends and restarts. And while the basic frame looked very crude, it seemed to improve as I went. Below, you can see one of my earlier attempts, sans head or hands.

Then, finally, I had a figure that was very rough, but I hoped my techniques would improve over time. Below, you can see the 3D printed figure in the pose that I wanted, and my much cruder all polymer clay figure on the right.

I was actually hoping I could just use the 3D printed figure, but the techniques I felt most comfortable involved making features using polymer clay, which has to be baked in an oven. I didn’t feel that the 3D printed figure would be do too well in an oven, so I had to learn to make my own.

Onto the basic figure, I used polymer clay to form the clothes and headband, called a hachimaki. I also had to make sure the figure would hold a pole. For this, I used a brass rod and adjusted his features until the rod would, more or less, stay in position, so once glued it shouldn’t pop out very easily.

The figure is painted with acrylic gesso at this point and, as you can see, my sculpting skills have much to be desired. Note that around the lower legs, I wrapped a piece of paper to represent leggings or kyahan. Also, it’s hard to tell at this point, but he’s supposed to be mostly naked below the waist, wearing only a kind of loin cloth called fundoshi. On his feet, he’ll be wearing tied sandles called waraji. Hopefully, after painting, the figure will look more normal.

We’re now getting to a place where I’m a lot more comfortable. I used to love painting miniature figures, mostly D&D figures, but also some sci-fi figures as well – only, there were in a much more miniature scale. At 1/20 scale, I think this is really entering the realm of dolls. In any case, as you can see, he doesn’t look as rough, now that he’s getting some paint.

There’s still a ways to go. But, as you can see, he’s still going to be a bit crude. Still, I think he’ll do okay. And, as a first attempt, I’m pretty happy with him. I’ll add some fine line for the ties for his sandles and add ties for his leggings, which should give him a little detail. I’m also considering hanging a towel over his shoulder or around his neck. His kimono and belt (obi) aren’t very fancy here. And while he is a poor boatman. If he’s working in old Edo, he probably earns a decent living pushing his boat around the city’s canals, delivering goods needed by the merchants…



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