What’s the difference between oil-based NSP clay by Chavant and water-based WED clay by Laguna?

In the sculpting and modeling world, clay falls in to two main categories; water based clays and oil-based clays. Because they’re both clays, you might be thinking they should do about the same thing but they are actually two totally different beasts and cater to two very different working styles.

The first thing you’ll notice when handling these two types of clay is consistency, or firmness. Water based clay is extremely soft and easily workable in your hands. This can be really advantages when working on larger works where you will need to build up greater quantities of clay. Working with a water-based clay can make it much faster and easier to realize a larger form. Oil based clay, on the other hand, is significantly firmer. Even the softest oil based clays can be difficult to manipulate at room temperature, which is great if you’re working on a smaller piece with a fair amount of fine detail, but can become a hindrance when working on a life or monumental scale.

Price is another area where these two clays differ. Water based clay, like Laguna’s WED clay (EM-217) will cost around $30 for a 50 lb. case. A similar quantity of oil based clay, like our 40 lb. case of Chavant’s NSP (Non Sulphurated Plasteline), can cost as much as $170. To put that into perspective, WED clay cost about $0.60 per pound of clay, compared to NSP, which costs a staggering $4.24 per pound. That’s a huge distinction in water based clay’s favor, but that’s where water based clays’ advantage ends.

Water based clays require a fair bit of maintenance. The clay will dry out and crack in just a few hours if it’s not kept moist, and once it’s dry it cannot be reused. While sculpting, you’ll need to regularly spray the clay with water to keep it from drying out. When the clay is not exposed to the air it has to be securely wrapped in plastic to prevent drying. In addition to the issues with keeping the clay moist, water based clays are also prone to developing mold. This is especially true during the hot summer months, and can make working with this type of clay difficult for people with severe allergies.

Oil based clays, on the other hand, can be reused almost limitlessly. The clay’s firmer consistency holds fine detail exceptionally well and because evaporation isn’t a concern, the clay is much lower maintenance. Oil based clays won’t develop mold, and can be left exposed to the elements for months at a time without drying or cracking.

If you’ve still got questions about how these clays stack up, let us know in the comments. If you’re interested in getting your hands on some clay samples, you can pick them up at afasupplies.com, completely free of charge.

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How to Safely Get Your Sculptures to American Fine Arts Foundry

One of the hottest topics of conversation for our two businesses – American Fine Arts Foundry and AFA Supplies, is the question of how to best ship a finished sculpture to the foundry for mold-making. There are several ways this can be successfully done depending on a number of factors including composition, size, distance, and sculpting medium. There is no one way to ship a clay or wax positive, as every sculpture is different, but here are some basic guidelines you can follow.

To address this question we need to break down the sculpting medium into two categories – soft surface and hard surface. If it’s a soft material, such as an oil based clay from Chavant, Monster, or J-Mac, then the problem needs to be approached by preventing the clay from being mashed by another material. This is best done by screwing the armature base board to the bottom of a hard sided crate. Mounted securely, the clay will not touch the sides of the crate and can be easily transported by car. During the hot summer months, be sure that the clay is not exposed to heat that can cause the clay to deform or slump inside the crate. You’d be surprised how quickly sunlight coming in a car window can destroy your hard work. Firmer clays and hi-melt clays are better choices when transportation is an issue for you. A modification to this technique is to cut a large piece of plywood that will fit in the back of your vehicle, then screw the armature base board to the plywood. If done properly, the large size of the plywood should distribute the stresses and prevent the sculpture from tipping over while going around corners. Just be sure to wedge the plywood securely so it doesn’t slide around.

If you have a hard-surface sculpting medium such as foundry or pattern wax, from companies like J-Mac or Westech, then you have a simpler task. Pattern wax typically melts at a higher temperature than clay and is less sensitive to being mashed by another material. While you need to be concerned with the heat, extreme cold is actually the larger issue. Wax gets very brittle as it approaches freezing temperature and if the wax gets cold enough it can shatter with very little impact. If the wax happens to break into a couple of pieces, we can usually repair it with little difficulty and get it ready for production. To get a wax positive of your sculpt, you can pull a wax hard copy from your mold and then ship the copy to the foundry for production. Alternately, you can ship an original sculpture carved in wax. A good mold maker can then make the master mold from the wax once received. To ship the wax we find it is best to wrap it in bubble wrap, place it in an oversized carton, and surround it with packing peanuts. You can provide an extra level of protection by using two boxes and pack one inside the other surrounded on all six sides with packing material. Of course if you have an original made of wood or another durable material, you just need to bubble wrap it and ship it in an appropriate box or crate.

If you decide to ship your sculpt, here are some tips to help you get your sculpt to the foundry safely:

  • Ship wax rather than clay whenever possible.
  • Check the weather prior to shipping and be sure to avoid shipping if extreme cold or extreme heat is forecast in the coming days.
  • Use an overnight delivery service
  • Use an oversize box that leaves at least 4-6 inches of extra space between the sculpture and the box.
  • Consider sculpting in a clay that can be baked hard before shipping. (for fine art sculpting, these clays may not have the sculpting properties you need.)
  • Save yourself some money and make the mold yourself, then ship us the mold.
  • If you are really concerned about the heat, firmly affix a packet of dry ice inside the crate to help keep the clay or wax cool.
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An Introduction to Artist Armatures

For beginning sculptors, the concept of the armature is a novel one. Armatures make up the foundational sub frame beneath the sculpting medium of an additive sculpture. They serve to help support the weight of the sculpting medium that is being used, and contain critical proportional information about the work.

Armature creation begins with a character drawing to establish scale and to function as a blueprint for the armature and later the sculpt itself. The character drawing can aid in determining where the natural pivot points should be as well as in establishing anatomically correct positioning and proportions throughout the armature design.


Armature creation begins with a character drawing to establish scale and to function as a blueprint for the armature and later the sculpt itself.

The armature itself roughly consists of the skeletal structure of the figure. The complexity and completeness of the skeletal structure can vary as suits the needs of the artist, so long as it aptly supports the weight of the clay being used and is able to retain it’s shape. One of the more common techniques in armature creation is to wrap aluminum armature wire of varying thickness around one another to form the anatomical outline of the desired figure. Once the desired shape is accomplished, the armature can be mounted directly to the wood base it will be sculpted on as well as to a back iron that will allow for more dynamic positioning.


The armature can be mounted directly to the wood base it will be sculpted on as well as to a back iron that will allow for more dynamic positioning.

Ideally, armatures should be made of sturdy materials and can be securely mounted to prevent them from moving or shifting undesirably. Like the foundation of a house, the armature needs to be able to take a fair bit of abuse while retaining the flexibility and mobility necessary to adjust the posture and positioning of the sculpt throughout the creative process.

Many sculptors prefer to build their own armatures from scratch, and for those looking to get started on this approach there is a great instructional DVD on the subject hosted by sculptor and character/creature designer John Brown. For those interested in a ready made alternative, both Sculpture House and TruForm Armatures offer a selection of figurative, bust and equine armatures to suit many of your sculpting needs. You can pick up these, along with the rest of our offering of premium artist clays, waxes and tools at afasupplies.com.

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The Importance of Pricing for Your Market Level

Pricing artwork for sale is one of the most emotional and confusing issues artists face. Some sculptors wish to sculpt fewer works or release smaller editions, while others may be very prolific or wish to release very large editions. Though both of these approaches are valid, at the end of the day you have to price for the market you participate in. In business, which includes the art industry, customers expect to find certain categories of products at certain venues, or market levels. A simple analogy for this idea is that you don’t expect to find the same merchandise at both Target and Nordstrom’s. A shirt from either venue may be similar in function –but while Target is offering modest styling at discounted pricing, Nordstrom’s is adding something intangible to the equation through the designs, brands, environment and authority they offer you. These two name brand stores have invested heavily in creating unique experiences that are designed to bring certain value to certain types of customers. In the art industry, that value is affected by authenticity which is referred to as provenance, an attribute that are generally implied by the venue or market. For instance you wouldn’t expect to find a Michelangelo at an outdoor art and wine festival because that environment doesn’t traditionally convey the “priceless historically significant art” message. While there are artists who have managed to participate successfully in multiple markets and at multiple price points, these scenarios are the exception and not the rule. A focused, aligned pricing strategy is much more predictable.


Brett Barney is CEO of American Fine Arts Foundry, Inc., an innovator for more than 40 years in patinas and finishes for fine art bronze and a Fine Art Appraiser
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The Importance of Proper Market Placement

What does a collector look for when they consider purchasing a work of art? For art that is selling at a premium, it needs to be established as significant, relevant, well executed, in demand, of high critical acclaim, have a demonstrable price track record, and is therefore valuable. If a potential buyer of artwork likes the work and perceives it at a certain value, then there is a chance they may buy it. If they don’t understand the value then they usually won’t. This relates to the old adage that states, “perception dictates reality”. It is incumbent on you, the artist, to define a strategy that aligns the market level (gallery, show, festival, auction, event) with the perceived value (price) you choose for your artwork. For example if a million dollar work of art is placed in a poster gallery, most of us will underestimate the value because of the misalignment between the market and the perceived value of the artwork. This misalignment creates doubt because you just don’t expect to find a Poussin at a poster gallery, and the authenticity is questioned.


If a million dollar work of art is placed in a poster gallery, most of us will underestimate the value because of the misalignment between the market and the perceived value of the artwork.

I am reminded of a social experiment that was conducted by a guy with a one ounce gold coin who asked passersby if they would buy it from him at a discount so he could buy a cup of coffee. The value of the coin at the time was over $1,600 but no one believed that it was real. There was no trust because the authenticity could not be demonstrated. He started asking $100 for it and ended up finally getting a taker for under $20. To the right buyer in the right outlet, the gold coin would have commanded its real value or close to it. The same is true for a Poussin represented by a prestigious gallery. What this experiment actually measured was risk. To the buyer at under $20 it was worth the risk that it was a fake because he could absorb the loss and not look foolish.

If your plan is to participate in the higher levels of the art market, then you must have a strategy. By aligning all the necessary underpinnings of value, you minimize doubt and that just may result in a higher priced sale. If you still need help in aligning your artwork with the appropriate market level and pricing, give us a call.


Brett Barney is CEO of American Fine Arts Foundry, Inc., an innovator for more than 40 years in patinas and finishes for fine art bronze and a Fine Art Appraiser.
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The Importance of a Cohesive Collection

As an art foundry owner and industry insider I attend many art events every year. These shows span the spectrum from elite “invitation only” shows to street fairs. Admittedly I don’t find many fine art sculptors at the street fairs, but I do meet some. Because I am there on business, I attend these events with a strategy. For example if attending a large convention hall type of show, I first look at the map of the venue and choose a route. Then on my first pass I move quickly down the aisle, scanning as I pass. I am looking to be hit by an impression that captures my senses. I’m looking to get an impression of the artist’s work – a style, color palette, subject, etc. Going through these shows I feel bad as I surge past artists hoping to get my attention, but I also don’t want to waste their time when they could be engaging with an actual potential customer.

After my initial pass I take the time to more selectively go through the booths that caught my eye. I know that many artists are multidimensional in their artistic endeavors, but that is generally a difficult story to relate to collectors. Last week I attended a street fair and found a mix of arts and crafts. Of the several artists whom had works that could be classified as fine art, one of them caused me to write this blog. She had a large triple booth full of original paintings, which were so tightly hung on the walls that there was almost no wall visible. Her works were an assortment of landscapes, dogs, cats, giraffes, zebras, elk, children, flowers, and more. The style of each painting was unique and the framing for each was complimentary to the artwork. I felt really bad for her as person after person glanced at her booth and walked on by. She is obviously talented and can paint in a myriad of styles.

Patrons can’t quickly process this booth and make a judgment that they want to stop and look more closely.

The problem was that the patrons weren’t able to quickly process her booth and make a judgment that they wanted to stop and look more closely. People walking down a path are like paddlers in a canoe on a river. They have a momentum as they flow down the stream of foot traffic and unless something causes them to pause, they just pass on by. I see this at almost every show and it is unfortunate because the artist just can’t decide which pieces to bring in the hopes that they show the one piece that will connect with that one buyer.

A successful strategy is to view your booth as a gallery and curate it with purpose. Create a theme you think the audience may respond to and build your presentation around it. Your theme can be style, subject matter, color, or anything really. Then ask yourself does each piece you have chosen to show actually meet the requirements of your theme. If it doesn’t, then edit it out and put it aside. When you are done take a few from the discard pile and bring them with you. Have them available out of sight so if you have a collector who is looking for something in particular you can pull it out from the back and hopefully close a sale. Keeping your collection tight and cohesive is a strategy that will lead you to higher sales.

If you are not getting the paddlers to stop by your booth, and need help to figure out why, give us a call.

Brett Barney is CEO of American Fine Arts Foundry, Inc., an innovator for more than 40 years in patinas and finishes for fine art bronze and a Fine Art Appraiser
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Does patina really affect the impact of your fine art bronze?

“What patina do you think will look best on this piece?” 

It’s one of the most common questions we encounter from our clientele at the foundry as we’re rounding out the metal finishing work on a project. Often the sculptor’s focus is on form, line and texture, and this tends to hold true even when the finished piece is intended to be a fine art bronze. While we are happy to share our opinion on patina and finish selection, that decision should ultimately come from the artist and should ideally be included as part of the conceptualization of the project.

There are a wide array of different patinas, and some may pair better with your work than others. For instance, some sculpts with a traditional subject matter or classical style will generally lend themselves to the more traditional hot patinas. Conversely, more contemporary sculptures may benefit from polychrome finishes, be they multilayered patinas, dyes, waxes or pigments. Expanding your knowledge about the potential finish options can give you a greatly diversified palette to choose from. A more versed understanding of both the foundry process and patina application can enable you to sculpt with a specific patina in mind for each element or section of your completed composition. A real asset for those looking to diversify and intensify their work in this way is Patrick Kipper’s Patinas for Silicon Bronze. This book is laden with patina options, as well as a foundationary background on patination that can prove vital to your decision making at virtually any point in the creative process.

dvhnrMonochrome bronze is essentially a blank canvas, and can be paired with various finishes to complete your artistic statement. We recommend photographing your final sculpt and experimenting with the varied tonal qualities that can be expressed through the manipulation of different patina schemes, either by painting printouts of your work or using a powerful editing tool like Adobe’s Photoshop, if you have it at your disposal.

Take the time to explore the options that are available to you with your foundry. Their experience can help your finished sculpture make a much stronger impact on the pedestal, whether at the gallery or in a collector’s home. Though patination is the final step in the bronzing process, it shouldn’t be your final thought. By experimenting with transparency, shading, polishing, and application techniques you can help bring more emotion to the piece. Apt planning for how your completed cast will look can amplify both it’s impact and resonance with your audience, helping your vision to stand out and reach people on a deeper level.

      For all of your favorite artist clays, from Chavant to J-Mac, Van Aken to Monster Clay, don’t forget to visit our sculpting supplies storefront, www.afasupplies.com.
  Image is of Da Vinci’s Horse and Rider. To find out more about this piece, check out leonardodavincihorseandrider.com
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How to take professional looking photos of your sculpture on a budget: part III

The last step toward capturing professional looking photos of your sculpture on a budget is lighting.  In photography, light is everything.  It’s why you see photographers pacing up and down the coast line, camera in hand, patiently waiting for the sun to meet the horizon, or why photographers wake up at the crack of dawn to get that perfect landscape shot.

Without getting into the physics of it all, light has different qualities at different times of the day.  Since you’ll be shooting inside, this doesn’t so much concern you, but it’s something you should be cognizant of just the same–especially if the place where you’re shooting has lots of natural light.

Ideally, in a studio setting, you don’t want any natural light.  That’s why you see professional studio photographers in rooms without windows.  But you’re not a studio photographer, and so more than likely you’ll be taking these photos in your home, which, I’m willing to wager, has more than a few windows.

So, first thing’s first: find a room with the least amount of natural light that still affords you enough room to maneuver. Next, prepare to break out your pocketbook again.

For the purpose of taking professional looking photos, your household lamps just aren’t going to do it.  Chances are either the temperature of the light is going to be off, or they’re just not going to provide enough light.  What you’ll need is a pseudo-professional lighting setup.  I say pseudo because the real deal would cost you thousands of dollars. What you’re sacrificing in portability, however, (the pros want to be able to break down their kit in minutes) you’re gaining in price.

While there are numerous lighting kits out there, we’ve had great success with the one we found on Amazon.  It’s kind of flimsy, sure, but the quality of the light is top notch and it’s proven more than adequate for producing professional looking photos.

Lighting Setup

Lighting Setup

After you’ve made your purchase it’s pretty straightforward from there.  Plenty of tutorials exist for the positioning of your lights, but trust me, as someone who’s watched them all, it’s just plain common sense.

For a simple, well lit photo, you want to position your lights on either side of the subject at anywhere from a 30-45 angle, facing back at the subject.  In other words, the lights should be out in front of the subject a bit; not just on either side.

For more dramatic shots, try lighting the subject from a downward or upward angle.  Do note that this will create harsher shadows, but for some shots this is ok.

Lastly, don’t forget to experiment.  We’ve gotten some of our best photos by just saying, “I wonder what’ll happen if we do it this way.”

For all of your favorite artist clays, from Chavant to J-Mac, Van Aken to Monster Clay, don’t forget to visit our sculpting supplies storefront, www.afasupplies.com.

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How to take professional looking photos of your sculpture on a budget: part II

3. Take more creative shots. Remember when I said “more on that later”?  Well here we are.  Now that you have a better camera capable of producing higher quality images with more creative control, and a sharp, fast lens that can create shallow depth of field, it’s time to put them to use.

One of the hallmarks of professional looking photography is shallow depth of field.  See the image below for reference.

Sculpture Shallow Depth of Field

Shallow Depth of Field

Image Credit: Ari Takes Pictures

Notice how the subject (in this case, the elephant) stands in contrast to the blurred background.  That blurred background is called “bokeh” and it’s the result of shallow depth of field.  This is an effect that iPhones and point and shoots simply cannot produce (not effectively, at least) and is used to great effect to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject, rendering all else into an inconsequential blur.

To produce this effect position the subject (your sculpture) as far as reasonably possible from the background you’re shooting against.

Next, set your camera to Aperture Priority (consult your manual as every manufacturer is different) and open the aperture as wide as it will go.  Doing so will produce the “blurriest” bokeh (i.e. background blur).  Do note, however, that many lenses are slightly soft wide open, meaning that if you want a super sharp subject with a reasonably blurred background, you may want to stop down the aperture (make it smaller).  It’s a bit of a balance, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

4. Obey the rule of thirds…mostly.  Nothing screams amateur like a subject placed in the center of the frame.  It’s boring, hackneyed, and doesn’t take into account our natural predilection for all things phi.

Don’t do it.

Instead, imagine your viewfinder is broken down into a grid of nine equally sized boxes (most newer cameras actually have this feature built in).  Place your subject either in the left column or right, taking special note of the power points (the four points in the center of the frame).  An example of their use can be seen in the photo below.

Rule of Thirds Power Points

Rule of Thirds: Power Points

Image Credit: At Home With My Kiddos

Notice how the child’s face and torso align almost perfectly with the leftmost power points. This is where your viewer will naturally focus first.  What’s more, English readers overwhelmingly view left power points before right, as that’s the direction they read.  When framing your compositions, keep this in mind.

The rule of thirds isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s one you should try to follow as often as possible.  Center framing, more often than not, is just plain boring.  There will be times, however, when a subject simply looks better in the center of the frame, and that’s when you’ll just have to use your gut.

For all of your favorite artist clays, from Chavant to J-Mac, Van Aken to Monster Clay, don’t forget to visit our sculpting supplies storefront, www.afasupplies.com.

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How to take professional looking photos of your sculpture on a budget: part I

Ever wonder how some of those professional sculptors get such brilliant shots of their work?  It’s crazy, right?  Their images are sharp, colorful, well lit, and seem to fill the frame perfectly.  But how are they doing it?

Here’s part one of our three part write up on how to take professional looking photos of your sculpture on a budget:


1.  Invest in a better camera.  Yes, it will cost a little money up front, but it will pay dividends in the future.  Your iPhone and even your little point and shoot camera probably take reasonably sharp photos, but because of limitations in their design they’re simply not built to capture the types of images you need to really set your work apart. More on this later.  For now, look at investing in an inexpensive DSLR like Canon’s T2i or Nikon’s D3100 — both can be found on Amazon for less than $500.

Nikon D3100

Nikon D3100

Canon T2i

Canon T2i







These cameras, in addition to taking higher resolution photos than typical point and shoots, allow for more control over the creative process.  There’s a learning curve, so don’t be intimidated, but we’re talking weeks, not months, and some of you will probably be taking brilliant photos right out of the box.

2.  Get a better lens.  Unfortunately, kit lenses (the ones that normally come bundled with the camera) are usually good at many things and great at none.  One area they all tend to struggle in, however, is speed.

Quick camera lesson:

To understand the importance of speed you must first understand the concept of aperture.  In laymen’s terms the aperture is the hole (formed by a bladed iris) through which light travels to reach the sensor.  The wider the aperture, the more light hits the sensor.  Consequently, the smaller the aperture, the less light hits the sensor.

Slow lenses, like kits lenses, are thus ill suited for indoor photography (where you’ll likely be taking photos of your sculpture), as they struggle to capture light from indoor situations.  What you need, therefore, is a fast lens, and for that there’s really no better bang for your buck than Canon’s $100 50mm 1.8 II.


Nikon also makes a $100 50mm 1.8 lens, though by all accounts the Canon lens produces more pleasing bokeh.  

Canon 50mm 1.8 II

Canon 50mm 1.8 II

With Canon’s 50mm 1.8 II you get a fast lens, with decent glass, at a great price.  And best of all, you’ll be able to produce professional looking photos with pleasing bokeh.  We’ll get into how in the second part of our write up, coming soon.

For all of your favorite artist clays, from Chavant to J-Mac, Van Aken to Monster Clay, don’t forget to visit our sculpting supplies storefront, www.afasupplies.com.

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