top of page

Deconstructing the Construction:

And so, you ask, "How do you do this?"

The good news about sculpting with clay as opposed to a harder material like wood or stone is that you can start from the inside and work your way out [Constructing] and if you make a mistake, it's easy peasy to correct and redo because of the softness and easy adherence of clay. One of the biggest things I like about working with clay is that it doesn't give me trigger finger like chipping away at stone did [Deconstructing] which required surgery to correct, by the way. The evening that I chipped away at stone, [deconstructing] I had a hard time even holding a glass of tea. I've never tried to sculpt with stone again but I'll always tip my hat to Michaelangelo. I can't even imagine sculpting the David in marble, although aside from being way more talented than I could ever imagine, practically, he was also quite a bit younger than I am when he sculpted the David, with muscles that were probably quite in shape. My guess is that he probably put down several glasses of whatever he wanted to consume without even batting an eye on evenings after finishing his work.

But back to the topic at hand, pun intended...if we start from the beginning, I'll try to deconstruct the construction process and explain how clay sculptures evolve.

If sculpting a life size or even three-quarter life size piece, it's best to have a metal armature underneath. That gives the piece strength to remain upright and keeps it from becoming too heavy. Clay (and Plastilina which is what was used in this sculpture) is heavy, and sculptures can collapse fairly easily if not given some internal structure. The sculpture you see below was built during a workshop I attended in Chattanooga, at Townsend Atelier, last month, taught by David Simon. A metal flange was screwed into a wooden board which held the armature and clay upright. Then a metal pipe was screwed into the flange and opposing wires were arched at 180 degree angles and held to the pipe by clamps with screws. The metal wires were then filled with aluminum foil to take up space so that less clay had to be used.

In the process of filling the armature with aluminum foil. Can you see the nail sticking out of the clay? More about that later. 

Then comes the measuring. Some sculptors sculpt from imagination, some by eye and some by measuring. David is a measurer, and for the most realistic sculpting, in my humble opinion, that makes all of the difference.

With the model's permission, David began to measure various points on the model's face with a caliper and with her permission, I began to take some photos. There are certain landmarks that help give a 3D perspective, somewhat like a GPS figures out a location (North and South superimposed by East and West). The more precise the measurement, the more realistic the foundation on which to sculpt.

When sculpting a life size figure, once you have the measurements by using a caliber, you're good to go, but for a three-quarter size figure, which is what I did, a proportional dividing tool helps the artist quickly make accurate measurement changes without having to do math. David had a number of different sized calipers, some large enough to measure a head and some small enough to measure the width of one eye.

A medium sized caliper. David had a variety of sizes of calipers.

A proportional divider. This enables an artist to transpose a wider width or length to a proportionally smaller width or length.
After measuring certain points on the face, David recorded the length of his measurements straight from his caliper and transposed those marks on a tape placed onto the board. He then took the proportional divider, and placed the larger ends of the divider on the marks. This aligned the smaller ends of the divider to 3/4 of the size of the larger end, as it was set. He did this with each measurement and marked a new tape with the 3/4 sizes. 

Once the measurements are secure, you're good to go.

It's time to add nails to the clay filled armature, specifically at the identified points that have been measured. The nails measure the distance you need to fill-in. Brilliant, I must say.

You can see the tape on my board with marks for the measurements of the 3/4 portrait.

So now it's about filling in and using the eye.

In retrospect here, I can see that I did not have the sculpture stand turned in the correct position that I should have.

David explaining finishing techniques on a student's work.

The end of the workshop. 

I had to come home and go crazy making braids and smoothing the finish. My last photo showed me that I need to redo the eyelids that I changed at the end, but my sculpture is now in my studio on the Clay Lady Campus, so I'll have to wait until I go there to make a change. Until then, here is the almost completed work:

No. More. least for now.

58 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page