Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Bruce Hirst of Hirst Arts

Miniatures. Some gamers love them and some hate them, and there are those who use them, and those that don't, and I'm sure there's every permutation in between those extremes. However, if you do use them then the next logical step would be the use of terrain. To me it just adds a whole new level of excitement and flavor to any game.

Whether you scratch build your own, use what comes with some of the boxed rule sets, or order from one of the many companies that manufacture terrain, then you need to check out Hirst Arts.

Hirst Arts, ( Hirst Fantasy Architecture, Inc.) is owned and operated Bruce Hirst, and his wife, Joanne Hirst. They produce a very large line of durable silicon molds that you can use to cast your own building blocks and scenery detail, to make everything from castles, dungeons, starships, well... you have many options to choose from. Choices for about every genre of gaming!

The web site has many "how to' articles, complete with photographs, and numerous plans for those unsure of how or even what to make. After browsing through the website for about the millionth time, I get a real sense of community. That's another of the things I like about Hirst Arts, it's a small, independently owned business. I consider their web site to be a real asset to the gaming and hobbyist community.

Over the past few days I've had the opportunity to interview Bruce via email.

I read on your Biography Page, on the Hirst Arts web page, that you got into making terrain, because you wanted a way to display your painted miniatures. Have you ever done any gaming?

I've done quite a bit of gaming but I'm especially fond of board games. For me there was nothing quite as fun as opening a brand new board game, taking off the shrink wrap and looking at all the pieces. I have fond memories of games like "mouse trap", "don't break the ice" and other odd games with lots of plastic parts to them.

Bruce Hirst

To this day I still enjoy making molds that can be used with board games. Some of the latest examples are walls for the "Wiz Wars" game and I'm currently finishing up board pieces that can be used with the game "Space Hulk".

How long was it before you decided to market the molds? And why did you decide to market the molds?

I originally created molds for myself. I never imagined they would be popular enough to start a business with. The reason I created the first molds was that no one offered what I wanted. I could see buildings and game settings in my head but knew the only way they would become a reality is if I made them myself.

That's also the reason I added mold making instructions on my web site so others could make their own custom molds. If I don't have what a customer wants, they might as well take a stab at making it themselves. That's the whole idea behind this creative hobby.

Most people would have thought just to sell the individual pieces? Is it more of a cost saving measure, trying to avoid shipping costs? I imagine that shipping a lot of plaster pieces can get expensive.

For me it's more cost effective to sell molds than to sell the finished pieces. I also try to put myself in the customers place and ask myself "what would I want if I were building terrain from scratch?". I would prefer to have the mold so I could cast as much as I wanted.

The detailing on your terrain is very good. Your bio mentions a background in art. Did you take sculpture in college?

Way back in high school they offered a few "crafts" class which most people thought was a waste of time. You know, macramé, batik, copper enameling, candle carving, rug making and a lot of other things like that. It's hard to believe how much I actually use all of these types of skills in this hobby.

The only real art class I had in college was pottery - and I was good at it too. My degree was in printing but I also had a strong interest in drafting and machine tool courses. I could always see things clearly in 3 dimensions. Drafting helps you to put the ideas on paper and machine tool helps you create items from raw materials.

Making building blocks is a lot like machine tool work. Adding designs, arches and textures is a challenge but it's also fun. My stumbling block lies in sculpting people and animals. I have to work really hard at them and I'm still not very good. It always comes down to seeing what you want clearly in your mind before you start.

Do you ever sell at gaming conventions? Or are you strictly mail order?

We attend Gencon in Indianapolis every year. So far that's the only convention we go to because of the enormous amount of time it takes. The rest of the time we only sell directly to customer via our online shopping

I had a few questions, but after reviewing your web site those were answered, especially by the Legal Statement. However, to clarify for the reader, if a person buys your molds and decides to sell the pieces, as long as they don't make over $1,000 a year, a license isn't necessary? And of course as long as they credit Hirst Arts with the design?

Yes, that is correct. I wanted to offer a way for hobbyists to sell their unused buildings without a hassle but still protect the copyright on the blocks I sculpted. Keep in mind that there are stipulations here. The pieces
must be fully painted and assembled, the person cannot have a store front or advertise to do custom building for others. Those types of activities are reserved for my licensees who paid for the right to make money using the molds.

Also, the legal statement mentioned that it was okay for someone who bought a mold, can make another mold from those pieces, as long as it was for their own personal use? But in the previous paragraph it mentioned unauthorized duplication was prohibited. A little confusing, but I find most legal statements and licensing confusing. Can we clear that up without you having to contact your lawyer?

You have to be careful when answering any legal statement so that you don't undo anything by a casual phrase. Unauthorized duplication is a blanket statement. It means no one can duplicate the pieces I sculpt unless I give them permission - and I do give people permission for their own personal use.

I really like that you have plenty of 'How to Articles' on your web site.  Have you ever considered compiling them in a PDF format so people can print them out? Perhaps even sell them. I would imagine having a book to reference would be easier than running back and forth from the computer.

The PDF format is a real hassle. The web page changes so often that updating that format along with the usual web page is too much work for the rare chance that someone needs the pages in that form. You can still print out the web page directly but it's not quite as neat as a PDF format.

Besides, some people have trouble opening the few PDF files I have on my "printed plans page" even though they open fine for most people. When you combine different operating systems with various versions of Adobe Acrobat you end up with occasional problems. As far as publishing a book,
this hobby is so small that publishing a book would be a financial disaster.

How many years have you been running Hirst Arts?

We have been running this business for the last nine years.

On average, how long do your molds last?

As long as you use materials that mix with water such as plaster or dental stone, I have not had one wear out in over 9 years so far.

Also, can the molds be used to cast resin, or are they only for plaster? What's your recommendation?

You can use resin but that will deteriorate the molds over time. Also resin is much more expensive than plaster, especially when you consider the sheer volume of material needed to make a large tabletop building.

What would you say to someone who says they're not even creative enough to know what to do with your molds?

I have project plans for those who do not know what they want to build or are not creative when it comes to stacking blocks. But once you start building, it's a lot like building with Legos. There are folks who don't know what to build with Legos either but most people don't have trouble with basic building blocks.

What mold or molds would you recommend as a starting point for someone who wants to make their own terrain?

I usually suggest trying one mold to see how you like casting and building first. For above ground castle buildings, I suggest mold #50 the wizard's tower because it has a lot of basic blocks plus a few decorative items. For above ground random stone buildings, I suggest mold #70 the fieldstone wall mold for the same reasons.

Any quick advice for the novice terrain builder/mold maker?

Keep in mind that this is a craft type hobby where you use your hands a lot. If you absolutely hate doing things like painting miniatures, gluing model car kits or cooking (which involves measuring and stirring), then this may not be the hobby for you.

But if you don't mind simple craft projects, the molds offer you a way to make some nice looking gaming terrain any way you want. The web site has very good step-by-step instructions on how to build everything you see on our site. I have plans for several models on the site but most people just
use their own designs after building their first project.

Thanks Bruce!

I don't own any of the molds myself, but just looking at all the photos of the various structures people have built, and most of them are impressive, One day soon hope to own a few of the molds, and begin building the scale model fantasy city I've always imagined. I wonder how many blocks that's going to take?

Here's a photograph of a great example of what you can do with Hirst Arts products...

Model by Todd Goss.

Check out the Orcsdrift website for many more great examples of the Dungeon of Doom, and other models.

DISCLAIMER: I've put a link on the sidebar to Hirst's Arts. It is not an
advertisement in that I receive no compensation for it being there, in any
way, shape, or form. It is there as a service to those gamers/hobbyists who
don't know about Hirst Arts.


  1. I own 10 molds. I think there are another 10 that I want. Once you start building stuff, you start wanting to create your own custom pieces, and I have already made six custom molds.

    Thanks for posting the interview!

  2. You're welcome. It was actually one of your posts that helped inspire me to conduct the interview! I had been thinking about it, and after seeing one of the pieces you constructed, I knew I needed to find out if he would agree to an interview. I discovered no one else had interviewed him before, and he agreed. I'm really happy with the interview.