A ceramic sculpture of mine called 'English Garden'
Want a closer look? - Click photo then click on the 'enlarge' icon
Clay Sculpting takes on a certain appeal when worked to a high finish. What I am personally aiming for in a highly detailed piece is to get an almost photo-realistic result.
People often can't make the connection between a lump of clay and the finely detailed finished sculpture.
The two things seem so far removed it seems impossible.
That's not the way I see it.
For me it's all about being prepared to not be in a rush for a result. To be determined not to be beaten. Hard work, solid techniques and dutiful application are required. The gift is nothing without the work, so they say.
This page shows the techniques needed to finish a ceramic sculpture to a high degree of detail.
The prep is about ensuring the composition is finished in everything apart from the fine detailing (refer to the various other tutorials on this site to find out more about the earlier stages of a clay sculpt).
Finely worked detailing is a time consuming business. The last thing you want to do, is to have to do it more than once.
Embark on the fine detailing only if you are REALLY sure of the basic composition (btw, this is much easier said than done; as I know to my great cost!).
The three photos below show the following:-
The Queen after applied detailing
Once the composition is finalised, and there are not going to be any more adjustments to the pose or structure of the piece, now is the time for finishing details to be applied.
The first job is to smooth away the tool marks and roughness with a sponge.
With a sponge and a large bowl of water, working steadily and carefully from top to toe remove tool marks and unevenness with a small sponge
Points to remember:-
Types of sponge to use
No special sponge is required - I have used natural sponges bought from art shops and old bathroom sponges.
The only requirement is that the sponge does not disintegrate and leave bits on the clay.
In potter's shops they sell different types of smoothing sponges on sticks. These work well, and are good if you can get hold of them, but be wary of pressing too hard and the stick knocking back your ceramic sculpture.
There are three different stiffnesses of brushes I use for smoothing. I can't say exactly where to source these brushes as I have always 'acquired' them from the various ceramic factories I work with.
My advice is to experiment with different brushes until you find what works for you.
Quill handled sable brushes used for ceramic smoothing
I have seen these quill-handled brushes sold in
art shops as 'watercolour brushes'. They are described as "Red Sable
Quill Brushes". My guess is they are the same as I use for ceramic sculpture.
After brushing to a fine polish, the piece is then ready for the application of all the very fine details.
'Pressing' into the clay, is a time honoured method of putting detail onto a sculpture.
One of the most early forms of ceramic sculpture decoration, it was used by the Jomon people of Japan over 10,000 years ago.
Used properly, the pressing technique can be very sophisticated. I use this technique a great deal and have developed it over quite a few years to produce some useful results. I am known for this technique in the Potteries. They call it "Pete's Mam's doilie technique".
Here are some tips and techniques for pressing:-
More conventional for finishing on bone china figurines is a 'laying on' technique called sprig moulding or sprigging.
On the photo above, some of the detailing is done by pressing, some is by sprigging (laying on).
From top to bottom of the photo, here are the methods
Much of the detailing of the Queen figure (shown in full on the top half of the page) was done by a process called 'sprigging' or 'sprig moulding'.
Sprigging for ceramic sculpture is achieved by the following process:-
This is a similar to technique used to produce the relief details as seen on Wedgwood's Jasperware.
Of course, sprig moulding for ceramic sculpture is most useful where there is a repeating pattern which has to be very precise and you don't want to have to model individually 20 times.
Where a pattern is a one-off you need not make a sprig mould, just apply the original to the sculpture.
The example of the boy and girl figural piece below was entirely done by sprigging, rather than any pressing.
Click photo for gallery view (then click the 'enlarge' icon)
Hair can be created using a combination of wet, slushy clay - clay allowed to soak in water overnight in a separate container.
In the morning, the slush gets mixed around a but but not totally blended (see photo below).
The clay is then applied to the sculpt and allowed to dry, then worked with the wrong end of a cocktail stick.
The secret is to allow the edge of the cocktail stick to form the grooves of the hair
The three stages of sculpting hair that I often use - especially for long and expressive hair.
Detailing takes so such time and effort, no one wants to have to apply it more than once. So I never begin any detailing on my ceramic sculptures until the composition of a piece is well and truly established.
The first stage of detailing is to smooth the piece all over to a fine flawless polish. This is done by a combination of tooling, sponging and brushing. Care must be taken not to sponge away any detailed contouring.
Once smooth, the details are then applied by two main methods.
Sprigging is one method, pressing is another.
The secret is first to know the secrets - as shown on this page - then to apply them slowly and carefully. A 'no rush' mind-set is a good place to be when doing creative work, especially detailed ceramic sculpture.
I'll give anyone who wants it a free personal sculpting coaching session - just contact me to arrange a time