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How to Sculpt Miniatures: An Interview with Bobby Jackson

If you have any familiarity at all with miniatures, then it’s likely that you have seen Bobby Jackson’s work. Bobby is a veteran in the sculpting business, having done work for companies such as Cool Mini or Not and a large number of sculpts for Reaper‘s hugely popular Bones Kickstarter. I was THRILLED he agreed to an interview, as you’ll see below.

bobby jackson miniaturesClave Jones: Bobby, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. I mentioned spazzing out and I wasn’t entirely joking about that. When we first emailed, I had a Reaper Anirion Wood Elf Wizard stilling unpainted on my desk in front of me. He is to be my next project, but I’m a complete newbie painter, so I’ve been procrastinating on it a little bit. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited, staring at your work right in front of me.

I’ve been around miniatures all my life, but ever since I’ve dabbled in painting I’ve gained an appreciation for the craftsmanship of miniatures. I think where I was just too boneheaded before, I’m now thinking about and really appreciating the techniques, but ultimately I don’t know the details of how they are made.

It feels to me like it must be a wizard who makes these tiny little works of art! So I’m wondering, what tools and materials do you use? What’s your workflow like? What do you use as inspiration? Are you a wizard?

Bobby Jackson: Interesting question because the answer has recently changed. Until the past couple of years I only used the media traditional to the trade when sculpting my figures, epoxy putty (the ubiquitous “greenstuff“) or a polymer clay like FIMO. Now I have almost entirely switched over to digital sculpting and instead of mailing a little epoxy or clay sculpture to my client I will mail a little 3D print that I get from a printing service.

When I was sculpting in traditional materials I used tools that I made myself by grinding the shapes I wanted out of wire stock. Store bought tools are almost always too large and making your own allows you to get precisely the shape you desire.

The digital tool that I am using now is a program called ZBrush. It has a difficult interface but once you manage to get used to that, then it is much like sculpting in any other medium. [1]  Digital clay has it’s foibles just like traditional media bit if you can sculpt in traditional media then you can sculpt digitally. I would say that learning ZBrush was easier than learning the dreaded “greenstuff.”

For inspiration I lurk on deviantART and Pinterest a bit. Most clients send concept art for the figures I sculpt for them. This exposes me to some really fun stuff as you might imagine. Is this the part where I make a Muggle joke?

bobby jackson miniaturesClave Jones: You say you aren’t a wizard, but I’m sticking to the idea that you are a wizard alchemist. Sure, it’s digital alchemy, but you are taking something with no form and turning it into something else entirely beautiful, so it’s alchemy all the same! It’s quite a gift you have.

You mentioned clients. I’m assuming fantasy work is the most common for reasons of market demand, and you are certainly well known for your wizards, rangers, and armored fighters, but you’ve also done a wide variety of work that isn’t fantasy. If market demand wasn’t an issue and you had your druthers, what are some of the genres, settings, or licenses you have either loved sculpting or would love to sculpt?

Bobby Jackson: Fantasy and Sci-Fi are certainly the genres where the money is (such as it is) and I love sculpting in those themes, but I do wish I could do some historical stuff every so often. I enjoy the 19th century Colonial period as a era to draw subject matter from. Unfortunately there is just not a market there that would be sufficient to keep my wife in the manner to which she has become accustomed (that was a joke in case she reads this).

bobby jackson miniaturesI did do 50 or 60 little 19th Century New York gang figures several years ago. I sculpted a ton of them. Shirt Tail Gang, Dead Rabbits, river pirates, both metropolitan and municipal coppers were all done. That was great fun. I had read the book “Gangs of New York” and got very enthused. They are true 28mm figures and are rather old now, but they are still available through the Virtual Armchair General. Never made me any money to speak of.

To illustrate my affinity for the era, I own every single one of Mark Copplestone’s Darkest Africa line, both Foundry stuff and his own line. That’s over 1000 figures. Perhaps madness would be a better description than affinity? I would also enjoy doing some Prehistoric stuff. I sculpted some little cavemen for Reaper a few years ago and they just did not sell. I thought they were really cool but apparently they sold about 7 of them and they were summarily cancelled. I still get teased about that. I’ll sculpt some more someday, just to please myself.

bobby jackson miniaturesClave Jones: I love that you sculpt some things just because you love the genre or subject. What I think is great about being a nerd is a willingness to go all in and absolutely love the things you love. What else do you love right now? This isn’t Bobby Jackson the sculptor, this is whatever else you want to share that you are geeking out on and want others to know about.

Bobby Jackson: I am such a typical nerdy nerd that I fear that I’m a nerd cliche’ (with a few caveats, Original Series over Next Gen, for example). Name a nerdy past time and odds are that I enjoy it. Currently I’m rereading my old Moebius comics anthologies and am playing a bit of Darkfall Unholy Wars online when I have time. I also just got involved in a D&D 5e campaign.

Mostly I sculpt though. Sculpting is very time consuming.

Clave Jones: Can you share a couple pieces that you’ve done lately that you are proud of and maybe give a few words of story behind them?

bobby jackson miniatures christmas knightBobby Jackson: I really enjoyed doing the Christmas Knight and Christmas Eve figures. Jess Rich did a marvelous job painting them too. Unfortunately there is not much of a story behind them. There rarely is much of one. I usually get a piece of concept art and my job is to reproduce the 2D idea in 3D. These two were conceived in the brilliant mind of Izzy Collier, the main Reaper concept artist.

Clave Jones: What are you working on now that folks can look forward to?

Bobby Jackson: As much as I’d love to tease folks with things that may be coming down the pike, I have to leave that sort of thing to the marketing efforts of the clients I’m working for. [2] To speak generally, I am working on some stuff that is destined for production in polystyrene. This is unusual for me as most of my work is usually released in resin or pewter.


[1] This is a point where Bobby was being extremely humble. He is known for being one of the absolute best at digital sculpting and was recognized as a Hall of Famer.

[2] This is another place where Bobby is being humble. He actually has his own line of premiere figures through Cool Mini or Not.


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