Sculpting In Clay

Today I am going to show how I sculpt a larger work than in my previous posts. I have only shown up to now how to sculpt smaller works that don’t need hollowing out due to their small size, when working with a larger piece of clay, the work need to be sculptured differently.

I have decided today to make a river otter. I found some really cool pieces of driftwood that I would like to use in my sculpts, and for some reason, an otter seemed like the best fit for a piece of wood I have.

I use several a good reference books depicting muscle/bone structures of my subject is invaluable for creating a good sculpture.

First lump of clay

First lump of clay

Do not start on details here, you just want general form until the entire sculpture is laid out.

rough shape of otter

rough shape of otter

fitting shape

fitting shape

At this point , I just want a rough shape of how I want Mr. Otter to look and fit on his peice of driftwood. Next, the hard part, after he has firmed up a bit, about 15 minutes depending on the clay body and how wet you work, the work need to be sliced in half.

cutting in half

cutting in half

Hollowing out the center

Hollowing out the center

The sculpture need to be hollowed out to a point where there is no more than 1/2 ” thick of clay at any point. More than that will lead to cracking and blowing out of clay walls.The piece is scored which involves roughing up the clay surfaces which will be joined back together and adding a clay slip (really runny clay).

Scoring the clay

Scoring the clay

Then you put the two pieces back together by adding clay and slip as needed to the joints.

Once the entire sculpture is laid out, start on the main muscle masses of the sculpture. Do not finish any sections too soon, you will most likely have to change things as you go. For example – The head was too rounded and the back leg stretched out wrong.

Note – if the clay begins to dry out while your are sculpting, use a spray bottle to mist the clay and keep it pliable. Do not overspray the clay or it will sag. When the sculpture will not be worked on for a length of time (10 or more minutes) it is advisable to cover it with a plastic bag so it will not dry out.

This picture shows most of the facial details in tact. There are still areas of the sculpture that need to be modified, always consult your reference material when in doubt. A great help to me is working on a turntable so can easily view my sculpt from any angle.

I add and remove clay until until the otter comes to life for me, I know when it is time to add finishing details, when it just looks and feels right, by adding and subtracting clay from here and there.

The lumps of clay beneath the sculpture is used as a support until the work dries enough to support itself. Once the sculpture is completed and before it is allowed to dry out, you need to punch some holes through the sculpture to make sure there are no air pockets.

The colors a

Using the needle tool, punch holes in the thicker areas of your sculpture, making sure to reach the newspaper underneath. Do this on large muscle masses and anywhere else that the clay feels thick. You cannot be too cautious on this step, it is better to create too many holes than not enough. Even one tiny air pocket can damage are destroy your sculpture. Be sure to cover all punch holes and then wrap the sculpture in a plastic bag to dry VERY slowly. The worst mistake that people make is rushing the drying time, for a piece this size i will wait at least a month before it gets fired, if fired too soon, the work will break and it won’t survive the firing. It should be dry when it no longer feels cool to the touch.

If you can see the slight changes in the clay color body, lighter under the chin and stomach, I use different colored clay bodies in my work, each color is worked into the clay body, not painted on after firing. The colors are achieved by using a technique called color inclusions, which mix chemical stains directly into the clay body. He has a blackish brown upper body and lighter cream color underneath. The clay won’t show the true colors until the work has been fired and I use a clear glaze to seal and finish the work.

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