How to make a sculpture
People often ask how to make a sculpture.
I make all my sculptures first in clay because it's easy to use and the process allows for constant alteration - great for me, since I rarely know what the sculpture will be like before I start.
I can rapidly add and subtract clay from a piece when necessary. When the sculpture is finished I dry it out and fire it, but that's just how I make a sculpture. It isn't essential, as a mould for casting can be taken from wet clay just as well. Once cast, all of the details of the surface of the ceramic sculpture are reproduced in the bronze.
This is how the clay arrives. It's great if the bag is intact and the clay is still soft and malleable. It must be kept damp or it will be unworkable and crack. As soon as I begin work it has to stay mostly covered to prevent drying out.
As soon as the clay comes out of the bag it needs to be rolled and
pummelled to make it fresh, elastic and workable. I do this simply by giving each hand-sized wodge a good squeeze, then I make a pile and wonder how to make a sculpture with these wodges.
From the wodges I tend to make very simple sausages and form them into a doll shape - very simply. Here, the torso and legs have begun and I need to decide where to put the arms. This is fun! They could go anywhere... anything could go anywhere!
Now the clay must be left to dry a little so that it has a bit more strength. Any part can still easily be moved because there is no armature (a metal frame used inside the clay, which is how to make a sculpture stronger) to get in the way. As soon as it has firmed up, I'll be able to decide what to do next and whether any big changes are needed.
Now the limbs are roughly attached in an approximate position. The clay is very soft and needs to settle and toughen up before more work can be done.
I am feeling ok about where the various parts are. Drawing a line along the centre of the figure is how to make a sculpture feel balanced. I can wait till later to decide what the small forms like hands, face and breasts should be doing.
I reposition the sausages a bit and fill out the forms with more clay. The head needs repositioning and I do this by adding and taking away rather than pushing. The centre line helps me position the arms correctly.
The shapes read quite well and the limbs have the right amount of weight. The head is resting on the arm, which in turn is resting on the foot. The whole thing needs pulling together though, and only when I've done this will I know if the sculpture is ok or not.
I add the hair and experiment with it. Eventually I settle on a line which nearly follows the arm movement. The serrations on the hair need to be crisp to make a contrast. Now the other forms need to be honed to make them as round as I want them to be and I need to work carefully on the small forms until they are finished.
The larger forms are set off now by the smaller, detailed ones. I added the breasts last - like a punctuation mark. The face is hard to get right. I don't want it to look either pretty or ugly, I just want it to be there. I check that the surface doesn't clash with the form and then allow the sculpture to dry out - slowly - before it is fired. And that's how to make a sculpture in ceramic!
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This website © Vanessa Pooley, Sculptor