This page consists of a clay sculpture tutorial which will look at a range of tools and techniques available to the modeler. These are not the be-all-and-end-all of techniques, just the ones that have worked for me over the years. Every person is different and must seek to find their own individual way.
Hopefully some of the tips in this tutorial will give some insights and help you find the right path for you.
The explanations are right here on this page below.
Each of the many tools I use are explained in turn.
I have separated the various techniques into a list which applies at least to my particular method of ceramic clay modelling. I think some of them may apply to other types of clay sculpting too.
A List of Different Sculpting Techniques
Adding & blending
Cutting & repositioning
Scraping & shaping
Fine detailing (e.g. face, hair, fabric
sprigging, hands & feet)
This clay Sculpture tutorial works differently from the 'Online Sculpture Lesson' which takes you through a piece from start to finish (go back to the main 'How To Sculpt' page to access).
How this Tutorial Works
Some tools are used for several techniques - i.e. they multi-task. So here I will outline a mini-tutorial for each tool, specifying which techniques it handles.
Remember, this clay sculpture tutorial is all about GOOD SCULPTING MADE EASIER.
Tool By Tool - Here We Go
The first four tools to talk about are the tools in my basic starter set. They each have two very useful heads - making 8 tools altogether.
They are the:-
The Basic Ceramic Sculpture Applicator Tool
The small cutter tool
The Ribbon Cutter Clay Tool
The Scraper Clay Tool
The above 4 tools are the ones which will get your starting clay sculpture to a reasonable level.
If you need to go there, come back to this place in the text
So, moving on from the basic tools and techniques, if you wish to go to more advanced levels suitable for professional modelling, you may require the types of tools and techniques listed below in the rest of this clay sculpture tutorial.
Different artist have different methods and tools to take them to the next level. The tools and methods below are my system of clay modelling. They are not the only way, but they might help to give you an insight - if you need it.
Forged Steel Clay Sculpture Tools
For me, M&G's forged steel tools take over after the roughing out and shaping phase has been completed.
This is phase 2 (which some artists do not get to - as they are creating more free and spontaneous sculptures), where the sculpt starts to get a bit more refinement (but no intricate detailing just yet!).
With this phase you are really working the composition of the piece until you gradually reveal what is n your mind's eye (or your visual references).
This is where slightly more refined and/or sharper tools are needed - hence the forged steel tools for me as my preferred method.
As I say this is my clay sculpture tutorial, other people, I know, have other methods.
The steel tools I favour are made in UK.
Contact me if you want any of the following forged steel tools and you are difficulty sourcing them locally. I may have a few in stock, or be able to tell you where to get them.
Made in the UK (true Sheffield Steel), are hard to come by, but there is nothing else to compare with them on the market.
The firm is small and quirky and also makes beautiful handmade hunting knives and pen knives with bone handles - works of art each one handmade - but I digress from this clay sculpture tutorial!
These English forged steel tools are expensive (can be up to £10 GBP each) because they are hand made in the UK in small quantities, rather than mass produced abroad. However, if I couldn't get these tools I'd be stuck because they are not replicated anywhere.
I tested some 'copy-cat' tools made in Pakistan and much cheaper, but they just don't do the same job (at least for my type of work).
I have put a contact form lower down on this page so you can talk to me about getting hold of these tools if you want to.
By the way, the UK firm offer a big selection of forged steel tools, but I list and stock only those which I find useful for my style of ceramic sculpture and clay sculpture tutorial.
Claw Scraper (serrated edge)
This curve edge serrated edge scraper is my number one tool for general shaping in clay sculpture development, finishing and refining of any piece I do (after the first roughing our phase is complete). Please remember that everyone is different, but these are my clay sculpture tutorial, so you an insight to my methods!
A nimble cutter, the curved serrated edge also serves to shape flowing, even, curved planes. Although it's steel versus clay, I wear this tool out every couple of years. I'd be lost without it.
techniques used for - scraping, shaping, cutting, smoothing
Round Edge Serrated Scraper
This round edge serrated scraper gets to the parts the curve edge can't.
Apart from that, similar in use to the claw scraper apart from the fact its not so nimble used as a cutter.
techniques used for - scraping, shaping, smoothing
Mixed Use Tool
This mixed use tool has mixed use. First its a good applicator tool for applying small pellets of clay to specific areas.
Second, sometimes you have to shape and model precise edges - say the edges of clothing.
Finally (its the main use for this tool) I use it to sculpt hands and feet, by 'rounding off' the planes of the fingers & toes. I would refer to this tool in this clay sculpture tutorial as my "hand making tool", but it has other uses too.
techniques used for - adding, cutting, hands, fingers, toes
Small Spatular Tool
This tool has a very useful fine spatula end which comes off at a slight angle to help with access into difficult areas, such as, underneath the chin, or applying and pressing a tiny amount of clay to shape a cheekbone.
The other end is not one I use, so I can't tell you what it could be used for in this clay sculpture tutorial.
Obviously, other tools mentioned above can do the job of applying smallish amounts of clay, but when you are doing small intricate areas, you need this tool, or one very like it.
Tools like this are all about making difficult things just that bit easier.
techniques used for - adding & blending (rolling)
These are not from the forged steel collection - they are just standard dental tools.
I use two different dentist tools. They are very specific and absolutely vital to the fine detailing, particularly on faces. If you like my faces, these are the tools which make the art possible.
One has rounded ends (small and smaller), the other has flat ends at different angles.
1. Both ends round. One smaller. Used for facial detail especially eyebrows, mouth, nostrils etc. Don't just use the end, use the side and corner .
2. Both ends flat. One on edge, one flat. Used for applying tiny amounts of clay especially for face and hands etc. Also very useful as a small accurate cutter.
techniques used for - fine detailing, adding, cutting, scraping, shaping, smoothing, blending. All on small areas.
Now for a selection of other tools very useful in clay sculpture techniques which I will explain individually below
A scalpel is used for slicing off thin layers of clay where the pressure of a clumsier tool may break off an arm or other unsupported area (remember, in this clay sculpting tutorial I am showing you how to sculpt in ceramic clay without using any armatures). Also good in small hard to access areas.
techniques used for - cutting fine slices off thin areas which do not have an internal armature and are therefore delicate to work on (eg. a slender arm away from any support). Also for slicing through small areas in order to move them slightly or work on them off-sculpt.
Potters knives can be found in any potters store and is an essential bit if kit for a ceramic sculpture.
It enables you to do all the things you do with a scalpel (see above), but gives more freedom because it allows you to do it on a larger scale than a scalpel. I love this bit of kit - and use it mainly for correcting and adjusting.
techniques used for - like the smaller scalpel above, it can cut fine slices off thin areas which do not have an internal armature and are therefore delicate to work on (eg. a slender arm away from any support). Also for slicing through larger areas in order to move them slightly or work on them off-sculpt (eg. repositioning an arm), or cutting through the waist to tilt the upper body slightly, or cutting in order to hollow for firing.
I find an invaluable tool I use all the time is the clay extruder. Clay is hard to roll into small strings as it tends to dry out too much. However, clay is easy to extrude in small strings and neat flat lengths. Also I use the larger shaped holes to sculpt musical instruments like harps and tambourines.
techniques used for - adding, making thin bits of clay for decoration and finishing. A must have tool for finessing.
"A man who does not make his own tools does not make his own art." Michelangelo
This tool is made from a length of dowelling and part of a hacksaw blade.
One end is flattened (not too fat & not too thin) then rounded off and used for applying and blending clay. This is my most used applicator tool in this second phase of the sculpt.
The serrated end is used mainly for gentle fine tuning of facial contours. It's hard to explain every important application in this clay sculpture tutorial, but I always find a female face needs gently caressing with this end of this tool.
There are three types of brushes I have found useful over the years. Each has a specific use.
Medium stiffness. Used for wetting sculpt before adding fresh clay. Also, you use this brush for smoothing clay with water to the first stage of a neat finish. Note: Not all sculpts need to be smoothed, some you want to show tool marks and a rougher finish. You can also use this brush as a modeling tool to manipulate fresh clay (painting on).
Large Ceramic Smoother Brush. This is a specialist flat ferrule brush for smoothing to a final glossy finish. The wet bristles leave no brush mark on the clay, but still have enough resistance to remove a layer. Ask at your local pottery supplier or contact me for more information.
Small Smoother brush (cut-quill shank). This is a specialist brush for smoothing small areas of flesh tone on the face of ceramic figurine sculpts.
So, above I list pretty much all of the tools I use and for which techniques I use them.
I haven't really kept anything back, I don't think.
Having reviewed the page, there is just one thing I have failed to mention in this clay sculpture tutorial, and that is when starting a sculpt in the early stages, I like to use quite soft (therefore moist) clay.
This let's the composition flow nicely without the clay being too much hard physical work to push around and work.
Then as the clay hardens a bit, I can then start to work on the detail.
I keep on emphasising these are my own and other modellers doing exactly the same job as me would likely be different in their approach and their favourite tools.