"Ceramic Sculpture Query- sculpting fabric folds

by Caroline Page

Ceramic Sculpture - Folds Technique<br>'Little Flower Girl' by Peter Holland<br>for Royal Worcester

Ceramic Sculpture - Folds Technique
'Little Flower Girl' by Peter Holland
for Royal Worcester

"Ceramic Sculpture Query - sculpting fabric folds:- Hi Peter, I have been sculpting for about ten years and like you, love it. I especially enjoy sculpting faces but want to expand my knowledge by trying to sculpt fabric folds, for some reason I find this quite difficult. I would appreciate your help.

with much thanks,

Caroline Page (Aus)


Hi Caroline

You are right in that fabric folds are very difficult technically.

Faces are very hard - possibly the hardest thing of all within ceramic sculpture - but appeal to me because you need to nurture them along gently gently, and eventually they begin to look like you want them to look. I am just finishing a sculpt of Kate & William for the Royal Wedding which was made more difficult because the sculpture is naive or folk art genre. So it has to look like them but remain a simplified presentation.

Folds seem to me to a far more brutal physical thing to portray.

I think the method I am going to tell you how to do folds will apply to all mediums, but I will be talking specifically about sculpting in ceramic clay which hardens off as is dries a bit.

I am going to take the above sculpt of my daughter (which became 'Little Flower Girl' for Royal Worcester), and talk through the stages I went through to achieve that naturalistic effect.

First I roughed it out not using any references at all - just trying to imagine what the folds would be doing.

It looked really bad.

I was, at this point, desperate to see what the real life folds would actually look like.

So then I got Bethan to dress up in the costume for me and pose.

Immediately I went "So that's it!". A light bulb moment.

I quickly went to work laying down thin sausages of clay - with no finesse at all just to remind me
of the dynamics of what real cloth does that when pulled in that way.

This moment is a kind of release - a putting out of misery moment. Can you guess physics and natural forces? NO!

This moment is what my friend and fellow sculptor Adam calls 'seeing'. People have to learn to 'see' all over again. It is the acute the observation of what things have a tendency to do (big toes tend to go upwards, other toes tend to go downwards, thumbs hinge like a door opening and closing, necks are never vertical, fabric does 'X' when pulled in place 'B' etc etc).

Of course, the Chinese have a name for this 'seeing energy' they call it 'Ting Ying' which translates as 'Listening Skills'.

(By the way, look out for Adam's new training DVD's, launching on this site sometime soon).

Learn to develop 'Ting Ying'. It is a learned behaviour which you get better at with practice. My wife says "Hey, why don't you put more of your listening skills my way?"

SO once I laid down the sausages, I left them to harden. Kids can never pose for very long, so I have no hesitation in taking photos of the folds as a reminder. I am not precious about this at all..... but I do prefer always to see the real life fabric if humanly possible.

I then left the sausages of clay to dry, confident in the knowledge that although the sculpt was not looking very good at that point to the casual observer (or me), once I let the sausages harden off a bit - and then filled in around them with softer newer clay, they would be my 'fence posts' to build around.

Now look at the picture and have a guess where the fence post sausages were. Yup! It's obvious now isn't it?

Go ahead and do your own fence post sausages!

Peter Holland (sculptor and web publisher)

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