The master for every figurine is first painstakingly sculpted out of wax. I like to use carving wax because it holds excellent detail, builds up nice and can be melted fast. I use a process of building up the wax with a hot tool and then sculpting out the design. The wax is good for building up and allows the sculpture to have a bit of flexibility without breaking when carved. Even still, you must be careful and only apply delicate pressure because the wax is very soft. The thing I love about wax is the great detail that can be achieved. Below is a basic "rough-in" master sculpture of a figurine. This has a few hours of sculpting time but the real time is in the details.
Some sculptors use the hard Sculpey clay or a two part epoxy called “green stuff” to sculpt miniatures. These are fine and serve a purpose. For me, using wax is perfect because the wax builds real nice, hardens almost instantly, and the finished master can be cast into metal using Lost Wax Casting if you wanted. When the wax is warm, there are a few seconds that it can be shaped like clay. This is a technique that requires some time to master.
This is the hot tool I use to sculpt the wax. The tool has settings to control the temperature but I like the foot control. This way I can use both hands and have complete control over the temperature using my foot. That is the real trick, controlling the temperature. The tool I use is made by Kerr and is called an Ultra-Waxer.
I use a red wax like this to sculpt with. I also blend my own waxes that have different properties and colors. This allows me to see areas of the sculpture better and maybe use a harder wax on the faces where I need more detail or a softer wax for a frame.
My tools are basically the same carving tools used in the jewelry market. I have taken them and filed each one to fit my needs but a basic set like this will work great. I always mount the master on a stick when working it so I never touch it as this can cause detail loss. There are also products that smooth the wax but just a simple can of lighter fluid works great.
A master sculpture can take anywhere from 50 to 200 hours to sculpt depending on the complexity. Once finished I make a mold. That will be covered in the next segment on molding. I purchase a lot of my supplies at www.riogrande.com if your looking to give it a try.