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Sculpting the St. Petersburg Collection

by Thor O. Johnson

The history of The AeroArt St. Petersburg Collection® figures would be incomplete without a brief examination of the actual process of how these miniature works of art are created.

Each of these exceptional figures begins as a block of modeling clay. When next your travels take you to an art or hobby supply store, go to where the sculpting materials are presented and pick up a block of “Premo!” or a carton of “Milliput” and consider that in the hands of Andrey Bleskin or Nikolai Kaftyrev this anonymous piece of material becomes Louis XIV, Alexander the Great, Sultan Saladin, or Julius Caesar.

There are many different brands and types of modeling materials used by our artists; however, most popular are the epoxy/plastic clays. These clays, once mixed, require heating for the sculpted figure to harden and stabilize the image crafted by the artist. The hard plastic figure and all of its attendant parts (heads, arms, legs, capes, etc.) will need to be captured in a mold to replicate the sculpting in metal.

Molds are made from a form containing a rubber-like material, into which the sculpting is placed to capture its shape and all details for subsequent duplication. New molds are periodically made from the original plastic sculpting in order to ensure crisp, clean reproduction of the original concept. As a generalization, we achieve perhaps 45 to 50 mounted figures from a mold, and 90 to 100 standing figures before the old molds are discarded and new ones made.

Illustrations on these pages give witness to the production process. The King Arthur plastic sculpting has no separate pieces to be added (no extended arms or flowing capes). The metal figure of Arthur is fresh from the mold and ready for polishing and priming. All figures must be carefully cleaned, sometimes polished, carefully assembled as necessary, and then primed. Priming prior to painting is vital. King Arthur painted with sword installed is shown. Weapons and flags are the last items to be added to the figure. When included, flags are usually made from sheet copper, cleaned and primed prior to painting. All of the painting is original—no decals.

Returning to the modeling process, we include an illustration of one-half of a horse mold. Molds for larger pieces like these usually have two sides, left and right. Figures in action poses such as horsemen at full gallop often have two or three legs off the base. In these positions, the horses have pins or steel rods installed into the leg or legs that connect directly with the base. The pins reinforce the figure to ensure stability, proper weight bearing, and prevention of collapse or leaning.

Our miniatures are made of white metal, an alloy of mostly tin and lead. The more tin used, the stronger the figure. The more lead used, the more detailed the figure. Thus, the mixture of these two metals, tin and lead, will vary depending on the physical nature of the sculpting being molded. A highly detailed Renaissance tournament knight will undoubtedly have a greater lead mixture than, say, a Civil War private on guard duty.

The final group of pictures in this Sculpting and Production section provides a step-by-step visual record by master sculptor Nikolai Kaftyrev as he creates #3329 Samurai Warrior for The AeroArt St. Petersburg Collection®.


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