In order to sculpt faces in clay a sculptor needs to be prepared to do a bit of ground work and preparation. In my view, it is the single most difficult thing of all in clay sculpture. For a start, a human face is one of the most complex geometrical shapes you will ever see.
When you are pushing around bits of clay, tiny fractions of a millimeter can make a difference between the face of a beautiful bonny bouncing baby and Winston Churchill.
On this page I give you a list of things to prepare, and then a practical method of how to sculpt a face for you to try.
But first some fundamentals.
If you are going for portraiture likeness of a real person, in technical terms, there are only fractional differences in the geometry of the faces of two people who look completely different.
For example, Kate Middleton and her sister, Pippa.
Kate and Pippa look very alike - with good reason, the geometry of their faces is very similar. But our eyes possesses the highly tuned skill of instant facial recognition.
We know instantly they look like completely different individuals, but how do we tell our piece of clay what the differences are?
Thereby hangs one of the biggest dilemmas of sculpture. Finely tuned visual recognition evolved over 3 million years, versus a sticky lump of mud from the ground.
We need to even the odds in our favour in order to sculpt faces.
If you look closely, you will see the two big points of difference to the sculptor's eye are the nose and the eyebrows.
So that is what we tell our piece of clay.
However, before we get to the fine tuning of the eyebrows and nose stage that stage, we obviously need to...
There are many time lapse videos on you tube of very able sculptors doing their thing - very useful in their own way.
This tutorial on how to sculpt faces is not one of those - for a reason.
I have a problem with those type of tutorials because they miss out the main player in this whole game - the principles of what a sculptor's mind has to do in order to do something as difficult as sculpting a face.
Those guys make it look easy. They are time-lapsing away the hours/days of the mental process - the fine adjustment and sweat and toil it takes to tell the clay what to do.
I am interested in what it takes for YOU (not someone else) to sculpt a real looking face that not only looks vaguely human, but also looks vaguely like the person it is supposed to look like.
If we do this prep right, and then use my simplified practical facial sculpting method, perhaps it will be doable.
The list applies whether you are sculpting to a large or small scale.
My own speciality is to sculpt small realistic portraits of ladies faces (see photo below) - the faces are less than an inch high.
However, I do the occasional portrait bust like the one shown at the top of the page which is about 15" high.
Here's the 'how to sculpt faces' prep list:-
click on photo to enlarge it
Immersing yourself in the accurate geometry of faces can be quite fun rather than hard work, but I try not to let it be a substitute for actually starting the piece.
Here's a method that can help a face sculpture get off to a good start.
In this how to sculpt faces article, I have tried to give people with the 'clay bug' a systematic, practical method where they can realistically attempt to model a portrait in clay, even if they are beginners.
I hope you are able to give it a go. The main point to take on board is, your eye is so highly evolved as an intuitive observation device that the clumsiness of clay is no match whatsoever.
This mismatch being the essence of the difficulty, an artist needs every available technical aid in order to redress this imbalance.
Once you have accepted this anomaly and decided to go with it, you will find things roll into place much more easily.
What I am trying to say is ....
Because clay is essentially non-co-operative mud, we need tease it into place bit-by-bit and measure, adjust, measure adjust and so on.