This 'how to sculpt' page is continued from Sculpting Tips - Part 1. It covers the subject of how to 'manage' your clay. This is particularly important with regard to water based ceramic modeling clays.
Your clay is your fundamental raw material, more so than your tools, so know it well.
Ceramic sculpting clay in particular needs to be kept at just the right consistency as you sculpt, so that it's not too wet and not too dried out.
Preparation - Soften Oil Based Clays Before Using them
Oil based clays like plasteline also need careful management, but for different reason.
It has to be made softer by gentle heating in order to be made more easily workable.
More on how to sculpt like this further down the page.
Just a quick aside about correct working position or posture before we start.
Working Posture is A Vital Part of Your Sculpt Management
When working with clay on small to medium sized pieces, like I do all day, every day, it is important you have correct posture. Many people, even experienced artists, get this wrong.
Working for hours at a time you will need to be seated comfortably, otherwise suffer from health problems later.
You will need two turntables, one higher and one lower, and interchange them depending on whether you are working on the upper or lower parts of the sculpture.
Your eyes need to be more or less level with the area of the sculpt you are working on so there is neither stooping nor reaching up.
Your work will benefit from improved posture as it allows for patient, comfortable build up so that the important thing
- YOUR PASSION -
can flow freely.
Never underestimate passion in this whole equation. Without it you are doomed. So ask yourself "Do I care enough".
This section contains 3 main sections explained on the lower part of this page:
Ceramic Clay Management
Polymer Clay Management
1. Ceramic Clay
There are two most important 'how to sculpt' tips when figuring out how to sculpt with traditional clay, one is knowing how to manage the clay so that is remains at the right working consistency and the other is knowing how to dry it and fire it without mishaps. You can find more information on the latter in the pottery clay section .
There is also a separate section on different types of earth or pottery clays (click to go to a special page explaining about the best earth clays for sculpting) .
To keep the clay in good condition, you will first need a sprayer. The clay comes out of the bag soft and pliable ('plastic') - too soft to work with apart from to rough out your basic form. So at first you will be looking to harden the clay off somewhat.
Once the clay is at the right working consistency (resists tool pressure, but is still moist), spray little and often to keep it right.
Your piece shouldn't dry out too much, neither should it be too wet.
place your work on a damp bat made of plaster of paris (holds moisture)
. If you want to get hold of one of these, the quickest way is to make
one yourself. It easy, just get some plaster of paris powder from your local store.
When not working on the piece, cover with a plastic bag. Preferably see-through to allow you to see which bits you don't want to knock off!
Don't let too much air circulate unless you are trying to dry the clay out a bit.
The idea of the plaster bat is to keep a slightly moist
environment circulating under the plastic bag while you are not working
on the piece.
If leaving for more than a few days place your work in a 'damp cabinet' (a cool, moist, air-sealed place) that has a plater base or bat which can be kept slightly damp.
Working in the UK, I find if the cabinet is too dark then black mildew sets is and this can ruin a sculpt as it smell bad and is nasty stuff.
If there is more light, the mildew doesn't like it so much. Instead, after a while, you get a green type of bloom appearing on parts of the sculpt.
This fungus seems not to be too malicious and simply brushes off with water, and takes quite a while to reappear on a piece if it's being regularly worked.
Still, the best thing is to not put a sculpt to the side for too long. Just get on and finish it.
I'm not sure what fungal issues there are in the US as I have not spent much time sculpting there - only a month or two.
That's not the only negative about ceramic sculpting.
Imagine you have spent weeks perfecting a sculpt. Imagine how horrified you would be if your precious piece of work cracked up during drying, then warped or even exploded in the kiln.
Warping/Exploding Artwork OR Cracks While Drying
Do not hurry the drying process! (That's the best 'how to sculpt' advice I can give - as it applies to all stages of sculpture). This topic is discussed fully on the pottery clay page - but, in a nutshell, dry the piece out very slowly.
The best pottery clays for sculpting contain a high ball clay content - quite bad for cracking while drying and warping in the kiln.
It is imperative, therefore, to have an even thickness - which requires hollowing (see the hollowing section).
Your piece must be no thicker than one inch anywhere (preferably half an inch).
Also remember how important it is not to fire the piece until it is totally dry and follow the slow drying instructions on the pottery clay page.
If you have read, and re-read the above tips, and have taken notice of the other pages on this site, you will know how to sculpt with earth / pottery clays.
Buying ceramic modeling clay is best to do by going shopping to your local pottery store. This is due to the weight issue for posting. However, you can buy it online - not from eBay (at least not when I have looked). Amazon usually stock some very good Amaco clays, for example - see this link...
2. Plastiline/Oil-Based Clay Management
Oil based clay doesn't dry out but needs managing just the same. I used it for years professionally, but now I only use it now and again (see Rose Arbour pic below).
However, at one time it was all I ever used and it is the popular choice of film studios and fantasy artists, as well as some fine artists.
Plastiline is very hard compared with ceramic clay and the main management of this sculpting clay is the softening. You can microwave it or put it on the stove, or keep some in your pockets. I went through a 5 year period when I was mainly using plastiline for my commercial commissions. Mostly, I always had pocket-fulls of the stuff!
I revisited both plasteline and Sculpey when I experimented with the Rose Arbour for the arch of the scupt.
I didn't know how to build that arch in ceramic clay. So I reverted back to the internal armature for the first time in many years.
I covered the armature with sculpy, then baked it for a bit of firmness. Then I built the roses on top of that with plasteline.
The brand I found best was Chavant (that's essentially when I learned how to sculpt).
What I found the most effective method was to buy soft and hard in the same color - then mix together for varying consistencies.
I also mixed the soft with sculpey (see polymer clays below) if I needed extra soft & smooth clay.
Remember, the ceramic clay I mainly use for my sculptures has all these properties of soft-to-hard in one. No mixing needed, just take it out of the bag and go!
That's why I try not to use plasteline or polymers anymore if I can help it. But, there is no right or wrong and it's each to his or her own.
Use these tips to begin with, then ...... experiment!
Plastiline (from Amazon)
Current eBay auctions:-
Polymer Clay Management
Obviously the bonus for Sculpey and Fimo is that they oven harden. Sculpey is too soft for most of my sculpting requirements.
Again, I defer to the
expert in polymer clay, Katherine Dewey. (see her fantastic Dragonfly scupt on the right. Wow!)
Blogger and graphic designer KNY (aka Kenn) also loves to free-style with polymer. I see them as 3-d doodles as he doesn't know where he's going with them before he starts. See... this is a good example of just DOING IT.
Something we could all get better at.
Using Super Sculpey is a popular method with doll artists. For a doll or a portrait bust, you can put a thin skin over an armature, bake and then add more soft.
I used to use this method for dolls heads until I realized ceramic clay would do a better job for me and was cheaper. Remember, though that I was not having to finish the original sculpt - it was being cast for production.
I find Sculpey hard to get properly smooth and a bit too 'giving'. You can use the sculpey solvent or lighter fluid, or a mixture of the two to smooth. Personally, I find ceramic clay is easier to work with in many ways. I know how to sculpt with both methods, and unless I was doing minute pin-point sculptural detailing, I would work with pottery clay.
Each person learns how to sculpt in a slightly different way, using variations on the same basic principles.
Fimo is great for small work and if you mix small amounts with Sculpey, you get any color sculpey you want. Experiment!
Polymer is very expensive pound for pound (dollar for dollar) compared with ceramic clay - but more convenient to decorate and you don't have to go through the bother of firing.
This is a great method while learning how to sculpt or when utilizing your creative juices.
Many superb professional sculptors swear by Sculpy and/or Fimo. Especially so in the fantasy and comic book genre.
For me personally, I don't use polymer clays that much, except for the occasional rose arbour prop.
Polymer Clays (from Amazon)
Current eBay auctions:-
I hope this 'how to sculpt' page has given you a well rounded introduction to the different types of modeling clay and how to manage them.
Above all, get to know your raw materials and your choices! Happy clay modeling!
Clay Supplies Online
As I said preciously, the weight of water based ceramic clay makes postage a bit more expensive - however, it is much cheaper than polymer and oil-based clays pound for pound.
I have done some hunting around online for you and it is still possible to order all the different types of clay online, if you don't happen to have a convenient pottery supplier near to hand.
So if you need to know where to go to get supplies online here are some ideas:
Ceramic clays (goes to my page on ceramic modeling clay)
Polymer Clays (goes to Amazon)
Plastiline (goes to Amazon)
Other Hard To Find Online Sculpting Supplies (goes to Amazon)
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