How to Make Clay Figures & Sculptures

By Lynda Lampert

Things Needed

  • Clay
  • Reference photos
  • Armature wire
  • Aluminum foil
  • Sculpting tool set
  • Calipers
  • Cotton swabs
Make clay figures with sculpting tools.

Sculpting clay figures is a rewarding hobby. It takes time to mold something from just some wire, aluminum foil and soft clay. Getting the proportions just right and wrangling the clay into the right position can be challenging. However, clay can be forgiving, and it will endure your many attempts to make something decent from it. It just takes time and patience. Use your fingers and become immersed in the medium to have the great feeling of holding something you have created.

Decide on the type of clay you will be using to create your sculpture. Polymer clay is very popular and can be baked at home in an oven. Professionals use it to make art for sale or to transfer their art into into other mediums, such as bronze.

Find reference pictures for the figure you wish to sculpt. If you are trying to sculpt a person, look for photographs of people in the pose that you want to sculpt them in. Use a photocopier to increase the size of the photo until it is the same size as your figure. This will help with the proportions. If the figure you wish to create is imaginary, find pictures of things that are similar to get an idea of how muscle, skin and bone would look for the creature.

Create an armature or a wire skeleton for your sculpture. You can use wire coat hangers or floral wire, as long as the wire is strong. Art supply stores sell aluminum armature wire for this step. As you create the skeleton, pay close attention to the dimensions and proportions of your figure. Use your reference pictures and calipers to guide you to the proper length of limbs and torso. Leave pegs somewhere on your figure to provide a place to mount the sculpture in an upright position.

Add bulk to your armature with aluminum foil. This keeps the sculpture light and cuts down on the amount of clay that is used. For instance, if you are sculpting a person, use aluminum foil to create bulk in the chest and abdomen. Add some bulk to the legs and arms as well. Pack the aluminum foil tightly around the armature.

Place thin layers of clay onto the armature in the places where muscles would be. Start working the clay into the basic body shapes that you want your figure to have. Use the clay to make the rough shapes of the final product. Use your reference photos to guide you. Push and smooth the clay into the shapes that you see in the reference pictures. Use sculpting tools from an art supply store to work the clay into shape.

Smooth the rough shapes of the clay by using your fingers and cotton swabs dipped in water. Add fine details with smaller pieces of clay. Check proportions against the reference photos by using calipers.

Bake the clay or follow the manufacturer's instructions for finishing the clay once the sculpture is complete.

Tip

Look at your sculpture from multiple angles. Use your calipers throughout the process to maintain proportions.

Warning

Don't bake your sculpture until you are sure it is ready.

About the Author

Lynda Lampert began writing professionally in 2000 with the publishing of her romance novel, "My Lady Elizabeth." Her work has also appeared in the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review." Lampert obtained an associate's degree in nursing from Mercyhurst College Northeast.