"Beginner's Guide to Sculpting Characters in Clay" sculptor Alexander Caine Ray tells us how he fell in love with sculpting, talks about his favorite projects, and gives a few tips on starting out...
3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
My name is Alexander. I live in Houston, Texas with my wife and two children and work as a freelance sculptor. I sculpt in traditional mediums like clay and wax and specialize in 1:6 scale portraiture for 12” figures, but I also love to design and sculpt my own action figures, statues, and Halloween masks, or really anything that involves working with my hands to create something.
This is a 1:6 scale portrait of Josh Holloway, sculpted in wax. It was meant to reflect the look of his character from the television show "LOST”
3dt: What inspired you to get into sculpting? Who are your favorite artists, both 3D and 2D?
During my early twenties I attended college to pursue a degree in studio art with a focus on painting. While I was there I took a ceramics class in which I was required to sculpt on a semi daily basis, which I had never done before. I felt really comfortable with sculpture, and it was a thrill to have this three dimensional object that I could hold and engage with. Around this same time I discovered the world of 1:6 scale figures and began training myself to sculpt likenesses in that scale, and I've been doing it ever since.
There are so many artists I could name, but I really enjoy the work of modern sculptors like Trevor Grove, Andy Bergholtz, Chris Vierra, Mike Hill, Nick Marra and Tim Bruckner. And people like Rick Baker and Steve Wang who're known for special effects but are absolutely phenomenal sculptors and painters. I also love the work of renaissance and baroque artists like Michelangelo and Bernini.
As far as 2D artists are concerned, I really like the painters from the Baroque period like Caravaggio, as well as modern artists like Drew Struzan and comic book artists Ryan Sook and Ryan Ottley.
This 1:6 scale portrait of the joker was an homage to the art of Brian Bolland and his take on the character
3dt: Tell us about your creations and the type of work you love to make.
A lot of the work I do is in 1:6 scale. For instance, if I'm sculpting a portrait of a human, it will be about 2 inches tall so that it will be in scale for a 12” figure. It's a fun challenge to try and create as much realism as possible in such a small scale. Nostalgia also drives a lot of what I do. I grew up with a love of sci-fi, horror and monster movies from the 1980s, so I spend a lot of my personal time sculpting miniature portraits and masks of characters from those films.
Another passion of mine is action figures from the 1980s and 1990s, more nostalgic stuff I grew up with. I've made several original character designs that I then sculpted, molded, and cast in several pieces to create functioning 6” action figures. I'm hoping to find time to create blister card packaging for them that reflects the 80s and 90s toy aesthetic.
1:6 scale portrait of Chevy Chase I sculpted as a gift for my mom who is a big fan of him. It was sculpted in Wax
3dt: What has been your favorite project to work on?
If I had to choose, I would say my favorite project so far has been a 1:6 scale portrait of Kurt Russell from the film The Hateful 8
That I sculpted for Asmus Toys. I'm a huge fan of Kurt Russell and the films he's starred in, and it was a great thrill to sculpt his likeness for an official figure.
I also created a life-sized bust of Jack Nicholson as The Joker, which I feel is some of the best technical sculpting I've done to date.
1:6 scale portrait of Frodo Baggins from the "Lord of the Rings” films, sculpted in wax. This portrait was used for a licensed figure from Asmus Toys
3dt: What tools and techniques do you use to achieve your creations? What advantages does working in wax have over clay?
I use a lot of different tools when I'm sculpting, but I regularly rely on my rakes and loop tools made from guitar strings, my scalpel blade hobby knife and my needle tool. I think if I had to, I could sculpt almost anything with those alone, but its nice to have a wide variety of tools at your disposal in cases where it would save time or achieve a very specific effect or texture that would be hard to create by any other means.
Wax has its advantage in that it's a material that you can hold in your hand and sculpt without the fear of damaging it. It can also hold an incredible amount of detail and extend out in ways on its own that in clay would require an armature. But there are certainly drawbacks like the work time. It's a slow material to work with because you're not able to add and remove material as fast as you could most clays. That's why I typically start a project in clay, get all the forms fleshed out and try to achieve a decent likeness, and then I'll create a waste mold and then cast the sculpture in wax to finish it. For finishing miniature portraits I wouldn't trade it for anything. I can't tell you how many projects I've worked on in clay in the past and accidentally dropped them in the final stages, destroying hours of work.
1:6 scale portrait of Kurt Russell from the film "The Hateful 8,” sculpted in wax. This portrait was also created for Asmus toys
3dt: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start modelling and sculpture?
My advice would be to work hard and try to sculpt as much as you can every day. I think more than anything else it's just about putting the time in, and if sculpture is something you're passionate about, it really won't feel like work at all. I usually sculpt an average of ten hours a day, but as they say: time flies when you're having fun!
I would also suggest using a lot of reference, and learn as much as you can about the anatomy of humans, animals, insects, etc. It's fun to create a sculpture from your imagination alone, but having an inventory of knowledge and direct reference in front of you will greatly improve your work even if it's something that isn't strictly realistic.
Another big piece of advice would be to never be afraid to change something or completely start over if you need to. Sometimes you'll work on a project and get to a point where you feel you're finished but then realize there's a mistake. Always be willing to tear down the sculpture and work from scratch if that's what's necessary.
Finally, use a mirror while you're working to check the symmetry of your sculpture. It's incredibly revealing to have the reversed perspective to highlight mistakes.
This is a 1:6 scale portrait of Jack Nicholson from the Film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Sculpted in Wax
3dt: What are your artistic ambitions?
My ambitions are really just to get better from day to day, to achieve better likenesses and create more dynamic, interesting sculpture that can hold peoples attention and inspire them.
I would also love to contribute to more projects that allow my work to be seen and experienced by more and more people around the world, but at the end of the day, if I lived on a deserted island I would still be sculpting and working hard to improve because it fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.
1:4 scale batman bust. I created this bust for fun; it was sculpted in Monster clay
3dt: What is your dream project?
That's a tough one. I'm not sure I have any one specific dream project, though I'm a huge fan of the 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
movie. I would really enjoy creating 1:6 scale versions of all those characters.
There are also a lot of illustrators that I would love to collaborate with to bring their designs into sculptural form. People like Ryan Ottley who I mentioned before create these amazing monster designs that are just begging to become a sculpture.
Going back to my interest in horror movies, I would also love to create sculptures of all the human and monster characters from one of my favorite films of all time, John Carpenter's The Thing
Another 1:6 scale sculpture, this time of Thrash metal band Megadeth's mascot, Vic Rattlehead. Head was sculpted in wax, with metal chains added
3dt: What new skills would you like to learn in the future?
I would really love to learn how to 3d model sculpture digitally. I will never abandon traditional means of sculpture, but with the improvements and advancements in technology and its increasing availability and affordability, it's becoming something I would definitely be interested in trying my hand at. I'd also be interested to see how I can use both means of sculpting together to enhance my work.
This is a recent 1:6 scale portrait of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. It was sculpted in Super Sculpey, and I plan to cast it in a soft silicone material and punch hair into the scalp
3dt: What can we expect to see from you next?
I'm hoping to create more life-sized busts of historical people, and characters from film and television. I'm becoming more competent with materials like silicone, so I'm going to do my best to create some very realistic likenesses that really make the viewer feel like the character is alive.
I also have some latex Halloween masks that I created for Trick or Treat Studios that are becoming available now. Aside from that, expect to see a lot more miniature portraits and keep a look out for those original, retro styled action figures I'm working on.
1:1 scale bust of Jack Nicholson as the Joker from the 1989 "Batman” Film. Sculpted in Chavant NSP
Get inspiration from Alexander Caine Ray's portfolio
Follow Alexander's "Space Cadet” project step-by-step in Beginner's Guide to Sculpting Characters in Clay
Bone up on your 3D anatomy skills with 3dtotal's Anatomical Collection