What is a good first sculpting project?

Here’s my totally biased opinion on what is a good first sculpting project for beginners.

Table of Contents

When you’re reading this, you probably saw some really cool sculptures on the internet. A fantasy monster, a cute chibi, an elaborate anime figure… If you are anything like me, you want to start on all of these at once! But what is a good first project to start sculpting? Is it good to just throw yourself into that big fantasy dragon?

Start out with writing down a list of ideas or collecting references if you are going for fan art.

Try to gauge your skills, experience and interests

Looking at what to start out with, you may want to look at those things:

  • Do I know how to tackle the project?
  • Is there a good reference of my project?
  • Do I already have some experience with sculpting? And how does that experience look like?
  • How big do I want my sculpture to be?
  • What surface will my project have?
  • How patient am I?

Let’s tackle those one by one.

Do I know how to tackle the project?

Did you already look up and research about sculpting? Did you read or watch videos? Do you have a vague idea to tackle your project? Do you know how to keep proportions, make an armature, have an idea where to pre-bake? Visualize your ideas and see if you have an idea to tackle them. You should at least know how to start out and give your sculpture a solid base. If you don’t have any idea how to achieve that, put the project aside for now.

Do I have a good reference?

It is a lot easier to start a project if you have a proportional image reference. It will help you to keep your the proportions of your sculpture while you are working. No matter if it is self drawn or a screenshot from some media. Do you have the skill to visualize your project? For example draw it in a side and front view? If not, you might want to put it aside if you have more experience. Experience will make it easier to sculpt from your thoughts instead of a reference.
Video games can make great references here. These days, a lot of games feature “photo-mode” in some form. In photo-mode you can compose and take screenshots, which helps a lot with reference and proportions.

What is a good first sculpting project? Reference picture from the front (taken with gpose in final fantasy 14)

Videogames can often easily give you reference pictures from all sides

Reference picture from the side(taken with gpose in final fantasy 14)

Pictures taken with gpose in Final Fantasy 14

Reference picture from the back (taken with gpose in final fantasy 14)

Do I have experience in Sculpting?

Any experience is experience, but clay can behave very differently from each other. However, if you already worked a lot with ceramic clay, you will find sculpting easier than if you don’t have any experience at all. The theme or topic of the project does matter, though. Do you want to make a human, and you already sculpted human body parts? Great! Did you only sculpt flower pots so far? That is a very different experience. See if something of your experience matches one of your potential projects. Maybe there’s something similar?

How big do you want your sculpture to be?

There are many sizes of sculptures you can go for! Most people are aiming for the typical put-them-on-your-shelf sized sculptures, but maybe you are interested in miniatures? Or you want to make something huge? Stop a moment and think of the size you want to go for. A bigger size is always easier if you want to go for many details. But it can be a hassle to bake your sculpture, if you want to make it with polymer clay. That means: huge sculptures are better made from ceramic clay. Otherwise, you will have to take them apart. Make sure you can bake the ceramic clay in one though, check with your baking/burning service. Miniatures will require you to do very small details and are a lot harder to make than bigger sculptures. Without sculpting experience this can get frustrating.
A good first sculpting project is better a bit bigger: A 20cm figure of Xianglin from Genshin Impact compared to a miniature sculpture of about 1,5cm height

Shelf size projects are usually more suited for beginners

A miniature compared to the size of a shelf sized figure

Miniatures require very small details and are rather difficult to make (Cast of a handsculpted miniature by Mallius – InstagramTwitch)

What surface does your project have?

Also look into the theme of your projects: for example structured Items are often initially a bit easier to sculpt. They don’t require that much smoothing, and it’s not apparent if something is a bit uneven. Whereas artificial sci-fi surfaces and shapes are a lot harder to make. If you are going for fan art, and you have a very detailed reference: it is harder to keep the proportions right than a less detailed reference. That is because you have to think of more details on a surface and how big they are or how much space they take.
Sculpture with a structured surface (Chocobo from Final Fantasy 14): usually a bit easier first sculpting project than a smooth figure

Structured surfaces that do not have repeating patterns are easier to sculpt

Sculpture with a smooth surface (poppy from animal crossing new horizons): harder to achieve for a first sculpting project

Smooth surfaces show flaws and are harder to sculpt

Are you patient?

This may seem like a dumb question at first. But if you know that you aren’t a very patient person, starting out on something rather detailed can be frustrating. Considering you probably don’t have much experience things will go slowly in the start. Slower than with experience. If you’re an impatient person (like me), don’t put the strain of many details on you.

Now, what is a good first project to start sculpting? An overview of easy and hard things to sculpt

To learn what is a good first project to start sculpting let’s take a look at easy and hard things to sculpt.
Obviously this is my personal experience that again and some things might be easier for me than for you and the other way round. I’m also talking about shelf-size here. Everything is more complex when it’s small and gets easier when it’s big. At least to a certain point. Maintaining proportions can be tricky if the sculpture gets huge.

Easy things to sculpt

  • Blobb-like creatures
  • Structures that do not have to be super defined (fur, feathers)
  • Not too detailed small animals (Mice, Hamsters and such)
  • Things that have a decent amount of volume
  • Figures that are standing steady on two or four feet
  • Limbs that are not interacting with each other (Arms or hands)
  • Chibi/anime Faces
  • Folds and creases (in clothing)
  • Stone

Difficult things to sculpt

  • Realistic humans in shelf size
  • Human hands
  • Thin things, thin, flowy fabric
  • Dynamic poses
  • Armatures that aren’t connected much to the base
  • Small details
  • Hair (especially floaty hair)
  • Interacting limbs and figures
  • Things with very small armature (miniatures)
  • Artificial, very geometric shapes and surfaces

Now all these are guides and, again, you might have a certain knack for something I don’t. Just try to think about the points above when tackling your first project. The most important part is that you are having fun trying. Even if the project might be a bit too difficult, as long as you’re not getting frustrated, it’s great! You can always come back to it a year or two later to see how much you have improved. This can be incredibly satisfying.

Love for your project is important

I am personally not a big fan of sculpting things you don’t like, just “to get better”. I saw someone suggest you sculpt different things like animals, cars, architecture… Yes, this is helpful when you want to pursue a career in this or an artistic field. However, if you just sculpt for fun or want to try yourself, and you’re super into Pokémon, sculpt Pokémon. It is probably more frustrating to work yourself through things you don’t like, than making 3 Pokémon until you get where you want to be.

Comparison of my first sculpting project and the same made a year later. Two Lalafells with wearing the white moonfire faire top, white harem pants, the white moogle mask and the Yokai Event Scholar book.

My first sculpture revisited after a year of sculpting. The idea of having my own character of FFXIV turned into a figure got me into sculpting in the first place.

So, did you decide for your first project? You can read about my clay recommendations for beginners here.

Not sure where to start with tools and materials? Hier is my Overview to sculpting.