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.


How to make a sculpture

Bag of clay

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.


Wodges of clay

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.


How to make a sculpture

The sculpture begins

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!


The arms are in place

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.


Back - the arms and legs are on

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.


Filling and rounding the larger forms

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.


Back - filling out

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.


Back - the forms are coming on

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.


Back - final details

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.


It's 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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Home - How To Make A Sculpture - Vanessa Pooley

Places to see my work... THOMPSONS MARYLEBONE 


See my work here with other gallery artists.

25th September - 12th October 2014

Thompson’s Gallery

15 New Cavendish Street

London, W1G 9UB


Find my work here on the stand of Fine Art Consultancy. And if you get there please say ‘Hi’ to Kathryn from me!

 25-29 September 

The Tunnel

269 11th Ave,

New York, USA

MY very Occasional OPEN STUDIO - at my HOME in NORWICH

25&6th October. Email me for an invite if you don't get one soon....


See my work at this art fair showing with Fine Art Consultancy.

19 - 23rd November  

F1 Pit Building

19-23rd November 2014

My sculptures will be on show at the British Art Fair with Fine Art Consultancy 

The 20/21 BRITISH ART FAIR is the only fair to specialise in Modern and Post-War art but also features work up to the present day

10 – 14 September 2014 Royal College of Art London, Kensington Gore, SW7 2EU

5 – 30 July, 2014 BIRCHAM GALLERY, Holt, Norfolk.

Trevor Price, Vanessa Pooley, Peter Layton › Holt Festival Exhibition. Paintings and Prints by Trevor Price (Vice-President Royal Society of Painter Printmakers), Bronze Sculpture by Vanessa Pooley (Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors), Handblown Glass by Peter Layton (London Glassblowing).

12th June for 3 weeks, 2014 THOMPSONS GALLERY, SUMMER EXHIBITION, Gallery Artists. Aldeburgh, Suffolk


Showing a new tiny bird-like figure, 'Pooley Bird', made especially for this open exhibition.

 New bronzes can be seen at -Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong | 21 - 23 March 2014 

At the Hong Kong Convention Centre, Wan Chai

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And later at - Affordable Art Fair Singapore | 23 - 25 May 2014 

At the F1 Pit Building, Marina Bay. 

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