TUTORIAL: Make a custom Funko Pop vinyl figurine

First off: my boyfriend and I had our first anniversary recently! There I was, three days before I was due to drive to Spokane for our visit and I was facing the classic conundrum of not knowing what to get him. Generally he's fairly easy to shop for (there's always an abundance of merchandise to interest those with nerdy inclinations), but I wanted this present to be extra special.

I decided to browse Barnes and Noble to get ideas. There were many things that I knew he might enjoy but they could be anytime-gifts.I had almost settled for something when I noticed among the Pop vinyl figures there were blank models, prepped for painting.

Chances are you’ve seen Funko’s line of Pop vinyl figurines at most stores that sell gifts or geek merchandise. They take the form of almost any tv, game, or movie character you can think of, and even some athletes. Their signature cute, big-head style and 6-inch height makes them perfect for collecting and displaying. However, if you can’t find the character you want, you have the option of buying a blank DIY doll and starting from scratch. 

I knew my boyfriend had a small collection of his favorite characters already so it would be perfect to give him one made just for him. Last Christmas I put together a shadowbox display of an NES Zapper and controller for him to hang in his apartment so I thought this would be the chance to one-up it. It’s just like your mom always told you: the best gifts aren’t the ones you spent a lot of money on; they’re the ones you made yourself. (Though I’m sure your mom wouldn’t have minded a nice wine instead of another bouquet of weeds from the lawn every once in a while.)

TOOLS:

  • Funko DIY Pop!: Male Vinyl Figure
  • White Pearl Paperclay
  • Clay modeling tools
  • Fine 220 grit Sandpaper
  • Brushes
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Desk fan

(For glasses):

  • Thin wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Small Pliers
  • Papier Mache (flour and water and a pinch of salt)
  • Paper strips

I lay down a brown paper grocery bag I cut open to protect my desk and set up all my supplies. The Pop figurines come pre-primed so you don’t need to start with a layer of primer paint- however, you’ll need to use a couple layers of your paints anyway so the white doesn’t show through. Right out of the box they look like this:

  (image from funko.com)

(image from funko.com)

The first thing I needed to do was make him more boyfriend-y. I had to give him hair, and some clothing, which I decided would be his favorite hoody.

I chose Pearl Paperclay instead of the standard Sculpey that’s popular in the custom modeling community. After doing some research on Pop dolls I learned that the plastic is susceptible to melting at high heat and possibly releasing toxic gases, and Sculpey requires that the clay be baked in the oven to cure it. Paperclay is air-hardening, but doesn’t act so fast that it dries up under your fingers. It also accepts paint well. I didn’t really have any problems with it, besides the hair popping off at one point after it dried. That was easily fixed by applying some glue stick to the head and sealing it on with the paint.

I don’t have any progress shots of the sculpting, but here is how he looked after I got it all shaped. I used plastic clay modeling tools that can be found at most craft stores (or the craft aisle at some supermarkets) to smooth down bumpy parts of the clay and sharpen up the edges. Just play with it!

After I was done sculpting I let it dry completely. This could take several hours depending on how much clay you used, so I let it sit overnight to be safe. If you want to try and speed it up, you could blow it with a hair dryer set on low heat, just be sure to keep a distance of at least a foot.

When the clay was completely dry, I sanded the edges with fine grit sandpaper (220 grit). This smoothed down any spiky edges and stray crumbs that I didn’t want on the figure.

Here’s the experimental part: I tried to make tiny glasses with wire and papier-mâché. It wasn’t totally successful, so here’s where you can take this tutorial with a grain of salt, if you’re making a prop of any kind. Basically I got some thin metal wire and twisted it into the shape of glasses with pliers, then trimmed the arms of the glasses to a length that would reach a little past the doll’s ears. I was going to cover it with black electrical tape but it ended up too sticky… So I thought, hey, why not papier-mâché!

We at SNOWCOYOTE insist on operating under a certain level of class- only the best souvenir Alaska shot glasses here.

Papier-mâché, you’ll remember from kindergarten, is just flour and water mixed together, with a dash of salt thrown in to help prevent mold, supposedly. Dip small strips of your paper in it, slide them between your fingers to wring out extra liquid, and sculpt the paper where you want it. It had mixed results here; the wire was hard to bend completely flat and the paper didn’t always wrap as smoothly as I wanted. When it dried I painted it black and stuck a little clay on the ends of the arms so it didn’t scratch the doll, then when they dried, I painted those black too.

Photo Op:

My workspace has NO HONOR.

Painting time! I mixed my paints as I was about to use each of them, so they didn’t dry out before I could get to them. Each layer of paint will need some time to dry on the doll so account for that time. Usually just 10-15 minutes in front of a desk fan, rotating as needed. 

I used M. Graham and Co. acrylic paints leftover from a painting class I took in college. They last a good number of years if they’re kept sealed! This skin color I got by mixing Titanium white with Cadmium yellow and a bit of Cadmium red.

I went ahead and painted over everything on the head: hair, eyes, etc. I even got some on the hood. Totally fine. The paint helps to seal the clay on and will be painted over anyway. The order in which I usually paint anything is bottom layer to top. His skin is under his clothes so it works better to paint his clothes overlapping it rather than painting the clothes first and very carefully painting skin next to it. Of course, if you have a very steady hand then feel free to go about it however you please!

After his skin had a few coats I painted his face and his hair, with a brief stop in front of the fan in between each layer.

BOOM! Puberty.

My weirdo with a beardo.

From there on, it’s the same process. Mix your colors and paint a few coats until it’s no longer streaky or see-through. Go back and touch up places wherever you might need it.

The final product! Now’s when you could, optionally, add a coat of a sealant or modge podge to help protect the paint and make it shine a bit. I didn’t have time since I was about to leave town to visit Boyfriend but it probably would have been worth it to have done. Acrylic paint can stick to things when pressed against a surface for a while and this did happen when I put the doll back in the box. Maybe later I will touch it up.

Here he is with the glasses. A little doofy! I might redo those later too.

He didn’t fit in the box super well but it was good enough! I cut off the top piece of plastic so the lid would close.

The boyfriend really liked it! I’m planning to make one of myself in the future to keep it company on the shelf. Here’s where it is currently chilling. Looks like he fits right in.

We're all nerdy here.

Now it’s your turn! If you don’t want to start from scratch, lots of people will even buy an existing character model and modify it. The results are always very creative! I've also wondered if there's a market for selling custom dolls for characters that don't exist officially as a Pop figure. If any of you try it out, report back with your findings! 

After your masterpiece is complete, post a pic on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and tag it #SNOWCOYOTE. We’ll share it and the world will know how cool it is to have a custom Pop figure of their own!