Saturday, October 30, 2010

Building My Bird Sculptures

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the delay in posting. Just been staying busy with the kiddo and clay and daily life. Hubby is back in town and that is pretty exciting! We've just been hanging out, spending time together since his return on Friday evening.

The other morning, a Twitter follower sent me a question that was perfect timing. He wanted to know if I took pictures of each stage that the sculptures went through during creation. It was a timely question because I had just taken some photos of a piece as I was working on. I don't always take photos (sometimes I forget!) but I had just snapped a couple of the current piece.

There are many ways to work in clay, and the way I tend to work on an armature and build the piece solid. I work quickly in the building stage, just trying to get a rough form and get the clay on the armature so that it can began to dry. When I first start a sculpture, the clay is so wet and not strong at all, but as it dries, it becomes stronger.

My armatures mostly consist of 1/2" or 3/8" metal pipe from the plumbing section of Lowe's and I attach that to a plywood board. I wrap the pipe in stretch wrap so the clay won't stick and then I start. I take large hunks of clay and smash it onto the armature, making sure to really compress the clay as I squeeze onto the armature. I keep going as far as I can until the clay begins to sag or bend or do weird things. Then I let it rest, maybe overnight, maybe two days, depending on how humid it is in the studio. After that, I begin to refine the shape, but not adding too many details at this point.

Then comes the crazy point. You've got the sculpture mostly built, it's looking pretty good, you are liking the form, and now you have to cut it off the armature! So I take my fettling knife and start slicing. The idea is to cut through until you hit the pipe in the middle and then remove a portion of the sculpture. This is what I have done in this first photo. I cut down the back of the this sculpture, because there was less detail that I'd have to repair after hollowing it out. It really depends on the piece where I decide to cut. A little tip about clay: it's pretty hard to fire something solid, and I generally want a hollow piece with walls about 3/8" thick. Some people go really thin, others go thick, but the idea here is to get all the air pockets out of the clay walls.. The sculpture can explode in the kiln if there are air pockets or moisture.... and boy, is that fun, let me tell you!! And that's what all those small holes are for - to help with drying, and to expose any air pockets.

The next photo shows the piece back on the armature, and it's been all hollowed out. I leave in those "braces" in the interior of the piece, as I will be mounting the sculpture on a metal rod after firing. Those braces serve as guidelines for the rod and help to prevent the piece from loosely banging around on the rod after firing.

After hollowing it out, I re-attach the remaining piece(s) and reform the sculpture. Now I can begin to add in details and bring the piece to completion. I love sharing these crazy stages with you guys. I once did this in front of a friend who was visiting, and she gasped when she saw me scalp the head on my sculpture. :)

So thank you, Twitter follower, for your timely question and for getting me back on my blog!

Hope you guys enjoyed seeing a bit of the process!



  1. I am a little bit speechless. All I can think of to say is that you are brilliant. Thank you so much for this glimpse into your work. It fascinates me! Makes me love and appreciate your work even more!

  2. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE seeing behind the scene in these stages. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing this is so fascinating!

  4. There's so much work behind the scenes. Thanks for sharing. I just went to the Getty and was fascinated by the wax pouring process for a metal sculpture. I had no idea the amount of work that must be done for a sculpture. I appreciate your art even more.

  5. I've never done anything big in clay. This is amazing. Since last year I am trying to schedule a class with a "BIG" Sculptures Ceramist. I want to make one of my cats with a 5' height. This post helped me a lot. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Oh my goodness, Kelly! What a fantastic, informative post ~~ I had NO IDEA all of the steps and details involved, and just assumed the pieces were solid ~~ duh. What skill and talent this art requires of you! WOW, I'm in awe, even more so now, knowing some of the work that is required to begin each piece ... and realizing it can all become a disaster in the kiln if you miss an air bubble. You have extreme talent, lady! Can't wait to see this piece completed, especially now that I know more about what it takes to create it. Happy Creating!

  7. that is so interesting! all the possibilities you opened up to me... I have a lot to learn, have only been into clay for 3 years now, so this is super crazy for me as well.

    you must have a huge kiln then to fire the statue as is - or do you fire it in pieces?

    please do show more!

  8. Wow, that's amazing! It must take a lot of courage to cut into your piece like that! Thanks for sharing and looking forward to seeing more!

  9. i love getting to see the process. i didn't even know what an armature (which i may have spelled incorrectly...) was so this is a good lesson! :)

  10. Soooo interesting, soooooo fantastic! I love seeing and reading about the creative process. Thanks! Wishing you lots of inspiration in the future too.

  11. so amazing to see your work in such detailed stages-it just "ups" the INCREDIBLE factor!

  12. I love seeing other artists processes! Love!