How to Sculpt Clay
Sculpting clay is a great way to engage your creative side! Clay can be sculpted into decorative or functional pieces. It can be messy, so make sure to cover your work surface and wear old clothes. Sculpt the clay using basic hand techniques and add decorative patterns using simple household items.
Preparing and Selecting Materials
Choose polymer, oven bake, or air dry clay if you don’t have a kiln.These clays don’t require a kiln to bake them, meaning they are an ideal way to start learning about sculpting clay at home. These clays work well for creating small sculptures, ornaments and pinch pots.
- If you are looking for a bright colored clay, polymer will be your best option.
- Air dry clay is a good option for all ages as it requires no use of heat.
- These 3 varieties of clay have a similar appearance to kiln-baked clay once they are dry.
Select standard clay if you want to glaze and fire your sculpture.Glazing can be a tricky process but produces a unique and beautiful finish. If you plan to glaze your sculpted clay you will need to use standard clay. This requires the use of a kiln.
- Contact a local pottery or university ceramic department to rent some space in a kiln.
- Standard clay can come in a variety of natural shades. Choose one which most suits the style of your sculpture.
Cover your work surface with newspaper.Working with clay can be messy so you will need to protect your workspace. Spread newspaper over your workspace so that the whole surface is covered.
- If you are sculpting clay with young children, consider working outside or over a wipeable floor.
Wear old clothes.Clay can sink into the fibers of clothes and is hard to get out. It is likely that you will get clay on your clothes while sculpting so wear something that you don’t mind getting dirty.
- If you have long hair, tie it back into a bun or a ponytail
Decide what you would like to sculpt.If it is your first time sculpting clay, a smaller object will be an easier choice. Small boxes, pots, or animal ornaments are all easy and fun options. If you are confident sculpting clay, consider more complex options such as human or animal figurines, or a larger decorative pot.
- Draw inspiration from objects and nature around you. Take pictures of things you might like to try sculpting.
Practicing Sculpting Techniques
Knead the clay using your palms.Place the clay on a hard surface that is covered with newspaper. Knead the clay to make it more pliable and to remove any air bubbles.Use a knife to cut your clay in half and then place one half on top of the other. Press the 2 pieces of clay together using the palms of your hands. Once again cut the clay in half and repeat the process of pushing the halves together.
- Repeat this process until all the clay has an even texture and there are no air bubbles. This can take up to 50 kneads.
- Try to use your palms instead of your fingertips when pushing the clay down.
Try the pinch method for an easy first project.This ancient and popular method of sculpting clay is achieved by pinching it with your fingers. Use your fingers to pinch or push sections of the clay to create your desired shapes. Pinch pots can be used to help create different structures, such as heads, cars or animal bodies. Try shaping a simple bowl using the pinch method:
- Take a fist-sized piece of clay and roll into a ball.
- Place the ball down on your hard surface and push it down slightly so that it has a flat bottom and can stand by itself.
- Gently push your thumb into the middle of the bowl to create a small dent. Don’t press any further than your first knuckle. This hole makes the opening of the bowl.
- Place your thumb inside the bowl and your index finger outside the bowl. Pinch them together and pull them up to create the sides of the bowl.
- Keep pinching and pulling the bowl until you are happy with its shape and size.
Roll lumps of clay to create coils.Break the clay into lumps of the same size. Choose a lump size that is appropriate for the size of the item you are hoping to sculpt. Roll each lump on the table into a ball. Slightly press down on each ball and roll it back and forth using the palms of your hands. Roll the coil in different spots until it is an even width.
- Stop rolling once the coils are your desired width and length.
- If you are wanting to make a vessel from your coils, note that a longer coil will make a wider structure and a shorter coil will create a narrower structure.
- Coils are useful for creating many sculptures and details such as caterpillars, eyebrows or patterns.
Stack clay coils to create a vessel.This method is good for forming the body of objects such as pots, vases or figurines. The length of your coils will determine the width of your creation. Use this method to help you sculpt your coils into your desired shape:
- Pinch the ends of each coil together and shape the coil into the shape you want. For example, if you want a heart-shaped vase you would shape each coil into a heart shape and pinch the ends together.
- Place the coils on top of each other to form a stack.
- Put gentle pressure on the top of the coil stack to help the coils join together. Gently press on the side of the structure to smooth out the walls.
- If you’re stack isn’t stable, start again and use thicker coils.
Roll and trim clay into slabs.Flat slabs of clay can be fused together to make different objects, such as a box or a house. Cut your flat shapes into different shapes to create unique objects
- Roll a lump of clay using a rolling pin, until the whole slab is an even height.
- Cut the slab into your desired shapes using a knife. When making a cube, cut the slab into 6 squares of the same size. Place a ruler over the clay to help you make slabs that are the same size.
- Make small cuts along the edges of the slabs to roughen them up. This will help the slabs join together.
- Place the rough edges of your slabs together. Gently push the edges of the slabs together with your hands to help them fuse. Repeat this process until all of the squares are joined together to make a cube.
Creating and Decorating Your Sculpture
Join your shapes together.Rough the edges of your individual coils, slabs or pinch pots, by making small cuts (using a knife) along the sides that you will be attaching to other pieces of clay. Gently push the rough edges of different objects into each other to fuse them together.
- For example, fuse a coil onto the side of a pinch pot to add decoration. Be creative and express your personal style in your creations.
- If you are using standard clay, sprinkle a few drops of water onto the rough edges before pressing them together.
Use textured objects to create patterns in the clay.Clay can be sculpted with just your hands, but using tools can create fun and different patterns. Try scraping the prongs of a fork across the clay, this will create a 3 pronged pattern. Press the bottom of a teaspoon onto the clay surface to create small surface dents. Or use the tip of a knife to carve out patterns, such as noughts and crosses or waves, into the surface of the clay.
- Experiment and be creative with using different household objects to create patterns.
Consider pressing decorations, such as glitter or rocks, into the clay.The moldable surface of clay means you can easily place small objects onto its surface. If you are using kiln or oven bake clay you will need to make sure that the objects can withstand high heat. Small rocks are a safe option for all types of clay. Simply push the small rocks into the clay until they are secure.
- Glitter is a fun and sparkly option for polymer and air-dry clay. Sprinkle the glitter over the sculpture and lightly push it into the surface of the clay.
Paint your sculpture after it has dried.The type of clay you are using will depend on how long it takes to try. Follow the instructions on the packet to dry the clay. Once the clay is completely dry, consider adding details or patterns to the sculpture with paint. If you are painting small patterns, use a small brush. If you are wanting to paint the entire sculpture, use a larger brush.
- If you are using oven-dry clay, wait for your sculpture to cool before you try to paint it.
- Be creative with your patterns. Try polka dots, flowers or zig-zags.
- Cover the table with newspaper before painting.
- Leave the paint to dry for 24 hours before moving the sculpture.
Improve yourself by watching videos or attending a pottery class.If you're enjoying working with clay and want to extend your skills, consider attending a local pottery class. Many schools or community centers offer night classes for all ability levels. There is also an abundance of online videos that can help you improve.
- Try searching YouTube for "Clay sculpting techniques".
Video: sculpting a head in clay part 1 FULL VIDEO
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