My boyfriend is probably the only reason I don’t work 16 hours a day. Balancing contracting work, edits on my upcoming publication, Devil’s Fire, reworking The Aeronauts, writing and refining a query–it’s been a bit of a top load lately. Luckily I have that guy around telling me to get off my ass and take a break already. “Go play a video game for a while,” he insists–frequently. “Or watch a movie with me.”
One thing I don’t do enough of anymore is art. I used to illustrate children’s books and make miniature sculpey statuettes, but haven’t had much time for hobbies with writing becoming my full-time gig.
I forgot how much art recharges my batteries, or I would have done a project like this one sooner.
A few weeks back, while hanging with my super-cool college friend and budding entrepreneur Amber Case (@caseorganic), we decided on a whim to buy these cute vinyl toys (called Munny) by Boulder company Kidrobot. I guess not so much of a surprise, considering my obsession with tiny, cute things.
The concept of the Munny is a brilliant one. Sure, it’s a somewhat creepy-looking blank, white, vinyl critter that bears a striking resemblance to a hippo/dog/dinosaur (depending on your angle). But it’s also a blank slate: something you can cut, sculpt, and customize however you please. And some folks have done some really cool stuff with it.
So, feeling inspired, Amber and I set out to customize our Munny toys–and I took the opportunity to channel my somewhat-forgotten artistic side and take a relaxing break from writing.
As it turns out, firing up your juices in one creative realm can help jumpstart your creativity in the other realms, too!
Step 1: Base clay layer
We had no clue what we were doing, to be completely and totally honest. You can customize Munnys with nearly any kind of medium, from marker to paint to modeling clay. So Amber shows up with a bag full of sculpey, a good complement to my similar massive box of sculpey, and we just start rolling out sheets of clay to slap on there. Little did we know that Sculpey III and Premo! Sculpey are not generally the preferred methods of customization. Also, you are apparently supposed to bind the clay to the vinyl with some kind of special process. Whatever. Next time.
Amber was modding her Munny to look like Girafarig, and by the time she had to leave, he was looking pretty good. She had to put an aluminum foil prosthesis on his rear end for the tail–very creative!
Step 2: Adding Colors and Features
I’m a teensy bit obsessive about my nails, as it is a fun, easy, and relatively cheap way to A) stop myself from abusing my cuticles or chewing my fingers and B) to have a creative outlet. I got the idea for Ralph’s patterning from a polkadot nail set I did for my birthday last week.
At this point, I was working late into the night and sculpting while Gossip Girl played in the background. The best relaxation of my life.
Next, I gave him ridges along the sides of his face like a Pachycephalosaurus, to add a little character and give him some interesting textures. He needed eyes, obviously, so I finally got around to adding some. I wrapped him up in a plastic bag and put him away for the night, so no stray dust or cat hair would stick to the exposed surface.
Step 3: Refining Details and Character
Next I gave Ralph some crinkled lower eyelids, to give him the beginnings of a grin. Lower eyelids are often underestimated by new artists, when, in fact, they are one of the most important features on the human face. You can tell someone is smiling without seeing their mouth by the lower eyelid.
But a lot was still missing. His face was too plain. His expression felt incomplete. So I gave him some enthusiastic eyebrows and the biggest, dumbest grin I could muster. I wanted Ralph to be the toy on my shelf that makes me smile.
After the eyebrows and dimpled cheeks were finished, I moved on to the next step:
Step 4: Agonizingly Long Hours of Smoothing and Detailing
With the help of my trusty rubber smoothing tool, a bottle of 99% concentrated alcohol, a paper towel and a paint brush, I went over the entire surface of Ralph’s body looking for imperfections. I smoothed out wrinkles and dimples with the rubber tool, then used the alcohol to brush off the top layer of clay and any fingerprints, lint, or hairs that might have snuck in during the sculpting process. I even added some cute little fangs to give him that true dinosaur look.
I was pretty happy with the final result.
Step 5: Baking
I stuck Ralph into the oven at 200′ F (lower than the normal recommended baking temperature for Sculpey to prevent the vinyl inside him from melting) and cooked him in 10-minute intervals. I didn’t check on him soon enough, though, and a big bubble developed on his back. (Remember what I said about all that special prep work you’re supposed to do when putting Sculpey on top of vinyl? Yeah. This is why.)
I cooked for a total of 35 minutes and now he is solid as a rock, but still light and easy to pick up thanks to the vinyl skeleton. Here we are, happy together at last.
UPDATE: My totally awesome friend Olive drew this fan art of Ralph’s girlfriend, “Carmen.”