Archive for the ‘Sculpting in clay, tutorials’ category


November 13, 2008

You can’t have any successes unless you can accept failure. ~George Cukor
Just when I thought things were going well, sales were picking up for the holidays, had many custom orders, I was actually ahead of schedule…..
Having a bad day. It happens to use all. Sometimes things just go wrong, it just sees to happen a lot recently. I think that the computer on my kiln reverted to the last program I used, which was a quick , fast gold firing, instead of the very slow bisque firing I usually do. I expected the kiln to fire around 100 degrees in an hour, I returned to check on it in and hour and a half and it was over 700 degrees, with this result.I am trying desperately to stay upbeat. I stayed up late last night night working on the orders that broke. Many of them did, some, miraculously survived. I lost around 3-4 days of work in this small disaster. Life goes on. I just have less time than I thought. After all tomorrow is another day….

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ~Thomas Edison


Making Chocolate Labs

November 5, 2008

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.  ~Scott Adams

No, not real chocolate, but brown colored Labrador retrievers.I thought I would show how I work on some ornaments. I usually spend ine day a week mixing up clay and making clay colors. Some colors are more difficult to make and to use. Mixing up black and brown are difficult due to the amount and type of stains used in the clay body. Brown is difficult due to the fact that it is hard to remove the stain from your hands, which gets on all of the other colors I use.picture-334

You can see the brown stain all over the finders as I sculpt. I have towels and water handy at al times and have to change the sculpting cloth as soon as I am done with the color.

After I have made a couple I add on the color details.picture-336 As you can see, my fingers were not clean enough when adding the angel wings, just touching the brown before adding the white transfers the stain. So I start over and remove the wing and replace it.


My idea of an assembly line!


I usually only make a few at a time, and I try to make them all different, otherwise, I would go insane! These little dogs must dry a couple of weeks, then go in the kiln to be bisque fired, clear glazed,then re -fired to porcelain temperatures of 2400 degrees! Thats for looking at how I make these little critters.

Manatee finished

October 3, 2008

I really like how he came out, here are a couple of pictures

Please see sculpting in clay, manatee in progress for previous photos

manatee sculpt in progress

September 30, 2008

Another way to sculpt a large figurine without slicing it in half and hollowing it out is to use an armature. But, because I am not making castings with molds, my armature has to burn out in the kiln firing, otherwise the sculpture will crack through the armature. So, This time, I actually made a newspaper sculpt of a manatees’ form. The newspaper will totally burn out in the first firing of the clay body. You can see in the picture, that I rolled out the clay flat first with an ordinary rolling pin.

I then wrap the porcelain around the armature, making sire no area is larger than 1/3′ inch thick. I sart making the shapes, adding his flippers.

The details are added, using many photos of manatees for refernce.

yes, that is a black cat sitting behind the sculpt.

I have added air holes on his underside so he won’t blow up in the kiln, now he sits and dries out, waiting to be fired.

Sculpting In Clay

September 6, 2008

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.

Sculpting Angel Ornaments

August 6, 2008

Today, I am sculpting Angels, mostly because I realized I have none left and I have some photos to shoot of them, and I don’t have any… hmmm what to do? Oh yeah, make some…

First, I get out a lump of porcelain clay, work it a bit to remove air bubbles and then roll it out with my roller.

The clay is cut with a small knife into a rectangle for the skirt. I then fold and gather the top edge around its self into a circle.

Sleeves for arms are made from cone shapes, and attached to the body with wet clay slip.

Then a circle of clay and another cone are added fto the top of the dress and neck. Wings are then shaped.

Wings are attached to the back of the body,

Then I get out the flesh colored clay and make feet, hands and a head. The feet are attached under the skirt…

Then the head is shaped… eye holes are made… eyeballs!

Tiny aren’t they?

highlights placed into eyes

I mixed some brown and yellow clay together to make a light brunette hair

There now, isn’t she cute?, but she still needs details….

small roses are made from pink clay. Green leaves are added to the dress….

I decided she needed a little dove friend….

Now she is done being sculpted, she waits for about 2 weeks to throughly dry out, and is bisque fired in a kiln, hand glazed then re-fired to 2246 degrees, to a fine porcelain china. 14k gold will be applied to her halo.

Watch for upcoming photos


Ok, today the pieces that are in the kiln were glazed, including this little Angel.

First I open the kiln cautiously, in case of any explosions, It looks like a perfect bisque firing.

Ok, then I unload the kiln, while inspecting each piece for faults, cracks, then dip them in hot wax. If you don’t do this, when putting on the glaze, it makes it much harder to get the glaze off of the bottom of your piece. (If you ever have noticed on any porcelain piece you may own that anything that touches the kiln shelf must not have any glaze on it, and you can’t stilt porcelain, so the bottom rim of your porcelain china will not have any glaze on it.)



The work is then dipped into the clear glaze…

dipping into glaze bucket

dipping into glaze bucket

Then they dry out on paper,

the wax is wiped clean and the work is placed back into the kiln to be fired to 2600 degrees.The firing will take about 12 hours, then the kiln must be completely cool before opening or hairline cracks will appear on the work. So sometime tomorrow I open the kiln an see what I get.




Ok, the work is ready to have the gold applied, and this is how I do it. First of all the second glaze firing is done. The peices are unloaded and inspected for faults.

Here is our little angel again, after glazing, before gold, the gold is painted on, it is real gold in a liquid form that burns out in the next firing. Its called an overglaze, because it is put on top of existing glaze, which makes it shiny, and then fired again on.

The work also gets another overglaze, called mother of pearl which I add to the wings of angels and I also add it to my fantasy figurines, such as the mane and tail of the unicorn. It produces a lovely iridescent color.

As you can see from the photos, I try to do a lot of pieces at the same time, to conserve on my electric usage of the kiln. I also am very detail oriented, I enjoy adding all sorts of details to my work, from making sure the back of my designs are made just as good as the front, I add feet under the dresses, the back of wings and roses are mother of pearled.

The work is placed back in the kiln and low fired to 1156 degrees Fahrenheit.This firing takes only around 5 hours. After the kiln has cooled I get to see what I have made.

My Angel

Sculpting in Porcelain, lets make a Unicorn

July 3, 2008

So, you want to sculpt?

I can’t always tell you what to do right, but I am very good at learning what not to do.I have had explosions, meltings, kiln malfunctions, and clay failure, and that is just in the past six months. Although I have been sculpting since 1992 in porcelain, the past few months have been a challenge on my ego as well as on my purse.
Why a Unicorn? ok, there are fun. You can make them anyway you want, as far as your imagination will take you. No one can tell you you made it wrong because other than resembling a horse, they have a horn. The rest is up to you to define and create.
Starting with a bag of porcelain clay…..
Ok, get out your notebooks here, Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating raw materials, generally including clay in the form of kaolin, in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 °C (2,192 °F) and 1,400 °C (2,552 °F). The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain arise mainly from the formation of glass and the mineral mullite within the fired body at these high temperatures . (
Got it? step one complete, -got clay.
Now, let’s sculpt.
First shape the body and add some legs, I make the legs by rolling out cylinders, then shaping the forms. Use water, as porcelain will start to crack as it dries out. When attaching legs and other parts, use a wet clay slip (really runny wet clay), it will act like a glue to keep your legs, arms etc attached.
After adding the front legs, add the back

Shape a head, attach it to the neck, obviously, unless you enjoy some sort of weird modern art.
With a reverse side of a small paint brush,, poke 2 small holes for eye sockets. I rolled two small balls of blue porcelain and inserted them in the holes.
At this point, I add a small piece of black porcelain for pupils then a white dot for a highlight.
I then swirled 2 small cylinders together to make a horn, and added ears. Remember at this point, the clay is kept soft, and changes can be made to the particular pose you may want.Is he looking at you? Behind you at the faerie, floating over your shoulder? What ever he may be looking at or thinking, think of this when adding the eye lids, too heavy, he may look sleepy, nap time. Too high, he is just surprised.
I use a small extruder for the next step, adding the mane and tail, this part is fun, you can make the hair as long, thick,this or curly as you want. There are different sizes of the dies inserted into the mini extruder, for the look you want. Squirt it out, have fun. Don’t forget to add water to the neck area where applying this, or it won’t stay attached as it dries out. A hairless horsie!

All of a sudden you have a creature looking at you, can he breathe? have you created nostrils, how about a mouth?

Here I decorated him, I guess he is now a she, with some pink flowers and green leaves, still needs a little something, so I add a bird for her to talk to.

Now the hard part, waiting she goes into the kiln after thoughly drying out, if she is wet, KAAABOOMMMMM!

Shrapnel everywhere in kiln. Pieces destroyed, a big mess to clean up, so we wait and let her dry out, usually about 2 weeks.

Here she is , sitting in kiln with the others.

Updates coming soon, watch for bisque firing, next, the glazing, then golding……..