Garbage Gods Part 2
(So it’s been about a year and a half. Wouldn’t say I’m a photographer but perhaps there’s been an improvement.)
At the end of the first Garbage Gods post, I had talked briefly about selling and possibly starting a shop and this has finally been done. It would be nice to help support myself through this process though it is probably presumptuous. Regardless, it’s important to share things learned about the process of twist tie figurine making over the years.
For years, finishing a pen illustration seemed like night and day from what I’d end up with after building a toy. Sometimes features in a design would carry over but they were largely separate beasts. You see, for years I’ve had an odd yearning when drawing to hatch constantly with the pen, but never ever crosshatch. It was a preference of zones or shapes of singular directions pushing along the page. Occasionally I’d fill pages of just abstract patches of hatches. The repeating banding on wires possibly fed into this idea, but the prior reason was wanting to make concepts with as few lines as possible and you’d better get all those lines out of your hand someplace else. There’s further enjoyment finding larger patterns in compositions, looking at areas abstracted and falling into arrangements. These larger repetitions occur in a character drawing, yet not so much with individual figurines, only groups. Looking back at the elements, illustrations were at best poor translations of figurines, the reverse being improvisations. There’s little pre-planning in either and it is a concern if that’s detrimental towards the result.
With figurines, I look at model kits as the main comparison, which further made me feel my work more simple. I guess to their strength or crutch, those who know that craft start enormous, clay and computer, only to shape and shave it down. I’ve made maquettes, however traditional sculpture was never a focus as it probably should have been. What always bothered me about these was that they were never intended to be played with. As a kid, when I tried with my brother’s Battletech mechs, he wasn’t too happy about that. Just put in a corner or under glass or hanging someplace. Funny how all these years I managed to skip the stage that even toys undergo; instead of going from big to small, I went in reverse or even small to smaller.
At least something shared with each is the need for sound structure, assuming common metals used for any wire work. For an easier flexing structure, smaller gauge or less thickness is needed. All wire can only take so many bends before snapping and general posing will inevitably cause a limb to break. I’ve had seemingly sturdy, slightly thick gauge ties that strip their casing with a couple bends, others snap with similar effort, yet some seem to defy the odds. There’s no estimate for how many bends can be done before a tie is held on the casing alone as not all ties are made the same. The only constant is when the metal has failed, a light tug will snap the part right off. When that part is a single wire armature with much bulk wound around, it’s a big pain to repair.
There are twining methods that can help the armature, having many figurines in good shape for well over a decade continuing. I’ve noticed the best foundation of an approximately 3 inch tall figurine is to use 2 or 3 wires together working as the center bones instead of a lone wire. These ties are coiled together slightly, almost in a loose braid. This will maintain much of the flexibility while improving the durability of the part. It’s also helpful to offset the links of these individual wires to spots other than where you plan to have joints in the structure, intertwining at least once for each bone. Every figurine I’ve done in this way has yet to fail except at stressed single-wire spots, such as a one needed for a hand impression to hold something (which goes the same for earliest figurines, having single wire bones, all have jury-rig, limp, or lost arms.). Care to the length of each piece used must also be taken; too short of a wire and you risk eventually pulling too hard on it towards the end of the weaving and shaping process, breaking it. Even if a detachable or limp part is intended, it’s best not to rely on a failed wire as it’s much harder to fix. Link two individual wires together with a simple loop from the start. This makes for a more loose joint, and with something like a skeleton, is an appropriate to link for where you’re going to flex. Broken wire is okay, but only if you’re prepared to replace it with another (broken?) one.
Single-wire parts can be inevitable though. Objects an inch or smaller can be difficult to work with a multi-tie base, to the point where the armature is the surface of the figure. Wider ties are better for larger scales and when you start working to around a foot or more, extra wires should be braided to reinforce the structure. Going even larger can cause other problems; most ties are strips about an eight of an inch by three and a half inches and just above a card stock thick. Staying small scale is what makes the improvisation hopefully believable. As the scope is increased, rounded, smooth, organic elements and concepts may look more awkward. That doesn’t mean intricate weaving of small wires cannot contribute to a far larger work: they should just be used in a different way.
While you gain durability bulking up the bones, too much coiling and you’ll lose enough space for the outfit, which is a careful game of weaving around the structure and packing in. Making it too loose or thick can represent baggy outfits. However the wires may also become part of the problem when they are inevitably bent harshly, becoming difficult to bring back to a desired form. Simple fabric with an underlying wire can work with the design sidestepping this issue. Generally these drapes won’t see too much folding like a joint so a single wire is best as it’s the least space. Using wires to weave a simple dress or cape tends to pull focus from the figure, becomes harder to believably pose, and is generally bulky, but can add needed balance to make a figure freestanding in an easier way.
Pipe cleaner is a decent middle ground choice for thick mantles and garbs. It’s cheap, sturdy, and I feel stays more true to the idea of these figurines than small cloth, though it doesn’t always look better. However, please keep the name in mind: it’s exceptional at collecting dust and will need to be brushed off regularly. It should also go without saying, don’t leave figurines in strong sunlight constantly, and don’t get them wet. Even plastic ties (Really, when I was a kid I took some to the bath once. It’s how I learned about rust.)
There are many online distributors of wires in not as many colors, in spools or pre-cut to the desired lengths. However when it’s just a hobby for years, it’s hard to justify purchasing in large bulk which is often the only choice (God help you if you have to call for a quote.). A large amount and variety of wires can be accumulated over the years from jobs, bread, trash bags, and product packaging.
Even the cleanest looking ones can have issues. While the colored ties here have so far been pretty excellent, the white ones like to peel easily. Generally white are usually the cheapest quality of plastic tie. What you find individually on bread bags are pretty sturdy regardless of color.
Metallic foil ties (the shiny ones, almost always silver or gold look, like on the first figure from the set last year) are usually clear plastic ties with foil pressed, though sometimes they lack the plastic layer. They tend to be the biggest crapshoot. Though growing up they were usually strong, lately the material falls off with the slightest glance. They can unravel with minimal bending and trying to crimp an edge or twist a portion just exacerbates the problem. Yet some I’ve acquired a month back feel more promising. Use them carefully.
Paper can bring an interesting texture to a figurine but should be used sparingly as the material tends to make the tie stiff. They’re hard to weave, easy to peel, and separate sooner than typical plastic ones. When on the visible parts of a figurine, bending will highlight the pulp fibers torn apart, giving it a flaky or dusty look which isn’t always desired. Depending on how the paper was painted, fibers may show a different color. Something only encountered recently; the dyes can bleed onto the surrounding materials.
With the above figurine, my fingers were stained red by the end of making it and so were the white ties. Don’t interpret this as saying all paper is bad, it can be a great for learning to work with the media, but get a use for each kind of tie before going into a large project with it, though that rings true for any bulk set of wires.
(The green paper ties from the same manufacturer have caused no trouble at all, by the way.)
While Paper will always fade and fail quicker than plastic, it can bring a nice luster to half plastic ties which tend to otherwise be slightly transparent. The “on a gang” perforated pull-apart strips you see packed with regular trash bags are almost always the sturdiest and they’re what I prefer to work with in general. They also usually have printing about choking hazards which can be a annoying sometimes. The trick is to keep the paper side out of sight. At worst, words might show through a thin structure and will look like silly rune letters or mojibake.
For bulking and outfits, a long tie is best so long as it isn’t too long. The conclusion after many years and thousands of different ties is that the ideal length for a smallish figurine is a wire between 4 and 6 inches. This gives you plenty of room to make tight areas to embed other ties, while maintaining slack later in the weaving if needed. When nearing the end of a longer tie, uncoil it slightly to feed a new tie under it. Once it is re-twined and tightened, that tip can now be covered by the new tie, sufficiently hiding the tip. If done right, the filler will hold plenty tight and stay flexible without much stress, sort of like a weak finger trap.
This also means that you don’t usually need to crimp or twist the ends of ties together in a weave like daisy chains. Short ties are actually harder to work with because they only allow for a couple loops around a space which isn’t quite enough for a secure weave. Linking a couple together with tight twists tend to expose the wire upon the strip ends, which is usually bad and can cause pricking if not directed into the structure. All of this can do unnecessary damage to the strips on the weave. Simple chains do still have use if careful, like impressions of buckling.
It’s probably not a great idea to use one continuous tie for a smallish figure, at least not until one is comfortable with the media. Many strong packing ties I’ve scavenged from a previous receiving job are about a meter long. Did I mention the importance of wearing protective eyewear (because you really should wear protective eyewear!) Either you have to snip away the excess of the strip or if you’re really determined, find a way to weave the entire meter of wire into the piece in an interesting way which may as well become it’s own maze. This will certainly damage or crease the wire, constantly pulling through tight spaces. The loose end will disrespect your face like a disturbed cobra, perhaps rightfully so because you’re knotting her tail up. It’s possible to make it work but an interesting design is easier by using a variety of ties.
Scissors aren’t always needed to divide a tie. A useful, rough method after choosing the point of separation is to crimp the wire as hard as possible and bend the slack outward, inward, clockwise, and counterclockwise repeatedly. Again, each tie can only take so many bends and this is a good time to determine if the wire is appropriate for the weave. The gauge of the wire is important, but if it’s a very cheaply produced wire, not much will save your figure should you use it as anything but bulk.
One of the most important things is to know when to hide the tips and when not to worry, not too dissimilar to that antiquated rule about hiding your mistakes. With these kinds of figures, the filler to the outer layer probably shouldn’t have exposed tips unless it’s in a way that is uniform to the impression or embellishment of a design. If it’s just a hanging piece of coiling, like a loose thread on a shirt, it will catch attention breaking the idea if not catching something else. Again don’t make a prickly figurine.
Here’s an example of a loose ties facing inwards as silly faulding under the chestplate.. Here, it maintained the concept enough and curved into the trunk that I felt trying to crimp the ends would make it bulky, and risk peeling or raveling the smooth ties. Adding another tie to fill in the plates would just be too large. However the loose tie can be bent out of place easier than a fastened one, also ruining the illusion.
Now, please pardon me as nearly every subject is the same color. If it wasn’t iterated enough last year, white and yellow are the most common hues. Up until a month ago, I’ve only ever seen a single pink and a couple brown ties. Yellow was basically the safest tone to start making hair pieces with. Back in childhood, whenever hair was a separate color, I’d have trouble hiding the tie, let alone weaving it secure. Suddenly everyone would have baggy headband things (larger than they do now.)
Hair and the head are the most nerve-wracking parts of making a figurine. Both are best worked into the armature ideally supporting each other. Completing the head early is risky if you’re not careful building the body, however as I tend to do heads small and overworked, it’s easy to snap the face or neck at any point of the process. Few things make me as sad as ruining the head of a nearly finished figurine. They stay small, often disproportionately so, because I never found a satisfactory way to represent a human face with wires in a larger scale of figure, short of mixing another media. That felt just as awkward.
So these figures stay within a general small range, which causes a problem for a suggestion brought up last time; stop motion animation. I don’t feel it’s possible on this scale unless done in a severely limited way. It’s too small to capture a scene properly unless the actual scale of the figures is addressed as such in relation to everything else. Then, attempting to animate movements within millimeters on such a light, non-stiff object requires more patience than I have (and I’ve been making the dang things since as far as I can remember!) The ties can be used in a larger scale figure, but the wires can still deform with as much force as applied to soft clay, and even then more appropriate armature would certainly be needed.
There is a reason this one is kneeling. The one made last year had a tail and swords for support, while this is more top-heavy. The standing shots were individual miracles as it might as well be a rubber chicken. Still needs work.
For any direct animation it may be more trouble than it’s worth, but that isn’t to say these are worthless for any visual work. Others have brought up the similarities and design assistance toward lower resolution sprites and I agree these could be helpful guides. These will never have the detail of a currant 3d character model or a proper maquette, but it is nice to have a reasonably durable and posable “sprite” to work with or hold in your hand.
Ultimately I’d like to make some particular videogames and only recently have given thought to using them to aid in planning visual composition. As I said up top, the relationship between the media was only just realized; the next step is to figure out how to get the two to communicate with each other.
Finally, while obvious that the concepts presented aren’t too unique, neither is the media. One of the things that made me most happy after posting Garbage Gods last year were the comments from people who talked about doing similar things and parents who let their kids do as I did. When calling a manufacturing company to ask product questions, they mentioned how school children made toy soldiers with their twist ties. I had wondered up until recently if others used them in the same way. Clearly it’s happened, seems it isn’t shared. I hope this information can help encourage folks to share their work.