How to Make a Wax Figure

Written by madeline masters
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How to Make a Wax Figure
Wax figure museums can be found around the world. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Wax figures can be eerie, because they are so lifelike. The great challenge in making wax figures is capturing the true likeness of an individual. The actual work involved in making wax figures is reasonably simple, however. It involves creating moulds, pouring the wax, sculpting it as necessary and adding the final touches. You can make your own wax figures with these instructions and enough time, resources and artistic skill.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Clay
  • Carving tools
  • Clear acrylic paint or petroleum jelly
  • Mold-making material (such as plaster)
  • Wax
  • Glass eyes
  • Airbrush
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Faux hair or a wig
  • Hair application pick (if using individual hair strands)
  • Clothing
  • Accessories

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Instructions

    Create the Head

  1. 1

    Measure the subject's head. Take note of the head's circumference, the distance between the eyes, the length of the nose, the width of the mouth, and so on. You will use these measurements when creating your clay model. If you are working from a photograph, you will have to scale up your measurements from the photo size to real-life proportions.

  2. 2

    Sculpt the subject's head in clay. Be as accurate as possible because onlookers will check the face first for accuracy in your figure-making skills.

  3. 3

    Create a mould from the clay head. You can make your own mould with liquid plaster.

  4. 4

    Once the mould is complete, pour melted wax into the mould. Allow the wax to harden in the mould, then remove it.

  5. 5

    Carve out any seams in the wax from the mould, and carve in fine details of the face. Adding subtle nuances to the face, such as wrinkles, moles or bumps, will make your figure more lifelike. After the fine carving, the head is now ready to be joined with the body.

    How to Make a Wax Figure
    The head is where real craftsmanship shines in wax figure making. (John Chillingworth/Valueline/Getty Images)

    Create the Body

  1. 1

    Create moulds of the subject's body parts, the arms, legs and torso, with liquid plaster. It is easiest to make the moulds from the actual person, otherwise you will have to sculpt the body parts from clay. Make sure the subject is in the correct position for the display when you create the moulds. Create separate moulds for the major body parts, and assemble them later.

  2. 2

    Fill the moulds with melted wax. When the wax is hardened, remove the pieces from the moulds. Carve out any seams or imperfections in the wax. Add fine details to the body, especially the hands, as was done for the head.

    How to Make a Wax Figure
    A well-made mould will pick up the finest of details. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Using a small torch, melt the wax at the figure's joints so that the limbs and head can be attached to the torso. Hold the two pieces together until the wax cools, then go over the outside of the seal with the torch to cover any seams in the wax. Shape the wax gently with your fingers to smooth out the seams.

    Dress and Add Details

  1. 1

    Carve out shallow impressions in the eye sockets of the head, and add in the glass eyes. Cover the eyes with aluminium foil, then use the torch on the lowest setting to gently soften the wax around the eye so you can reshape the lids around the glass eyeballs.

  2. 2

    Leaving the glass eyes covered, apply skin tone to your figure using an airbrush. You can also use spray paint, but you won't be able to add fine detail in the same way. Paint the details of the face, such as the lips and cheek colour, by hand. Remove the aluminium foil from the eyes when all painting is complete.

  3. 3

    Apply false hair to the figure. You can find false eyelashes in beauty supply stores, and false eyebrows in costume shops. The hair can either be applied strand by strand with a pick tool, or you can apply and shape a wig to suit your figure.

  4. 4

    Dress your figure in clothes appropriate to the subject. For example, if your subject is a cowboy, put him in a Western-style shirt, jeans and boots with spurs. If your subject is a sorceress, dress her in a long shroud with talisman medallions, rings and a staff in her hand. Velcro closures on clothing makes dressing the figure easier.

  5. 5

    Place your figure on a stand and take a look at it. Decide what else can you add or change to make the figure more lifelike. After making any final adjustments to your figure's appearance, it is ready for display.

Tips and warnings

  • Use oil paints to create the fine details on the face for a more lifelike appearance.
  • Wax shrinks when it hardens, so create your figure moulds 2 per cent larger than real life for the most accurate portrayal.
  • To ensure your clay will separate easily from the plaster mould, apply a layer of clear acrylic paint or petroleum jelly to the mould before pouring the plaster.
  • Be careful when working with liquid plaster as it will harden wherever it falls, and can be difficult to clean up or remove after it has dried.

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