Clay Sculpting For Beginners
Some of the basic methods for beginners of starting and casting a clay sculpture. There are a host of methods and techniques that one needs to be aware of in sculpture.
What do you need to begin your sculpture with? Firstly, the most common element used for sculptural work is ordinary clay. Try to obtain clay with a high degree of plasticity and “ grog”. Sculptural clay may be obtained form almost any crafts shop. Or you may like to begin with an alternative material such as plasticine that is not as messy as clay and has some advantages over the traditional medium. You will also need some basic tools. These are usually wire and wooden shaping tools, but this is not essential as ordinary spoons and knives can do the job as well. Experiment with different household utensils on the clay to see which suits you best. You will also need a board, a bag of Plaster of Paris and some strong boards and bricks- all easily obtainable at the local hardware store.
Setting Up. Making a sculpture requires a certain technical consistency. By this I mean a clear method. Firstly, place your clay on the board and manipulate the clay with your hands into the basic shape. This stage is important as you should get a “feel” for your medium by playing with it We will use the human head as our example in this article, although you might consider anything else as your first model. Be very careful at this stage to select a simple three-dimensional object as your model. The casting techniques described later can be difficult if you have a very complex model.
Once you have sculpted your head (It need not be “perfect” as the aim here is to learn the procedures of sculpting) you should build a clay wall around the finished sculpture leaving about an inch or two of space between the sculpture and the wall. The wall should also be about a half-an-inch higher than the sculpture. An easy method of building a clay wall is to make use of a roller-pin to smooth the clay into layers of about a quarter inch thick.
Once your clay wall is complete check for any openings at the sides or bottom of the wall. This wall must be watertight!! The reason for this will soon become clear. Now for the interesting part. Take a clean empty bucket or similar container and fill it to about a quarter of its volume. Open a bag of Plaster of Paris and slowly drop the plaster through your fingers into the water. This should be a slow process, as the plaster needs to be at the right consistency for the final casting. Once the plaster starts to form small mounds on top of the water you have reached the right mix between the plaster and the water. Gently put your hand into the water and seek out any clumps of plaster in the water and dissolve them with your fingers. The next stage is to slowly pour the plaster over your head. Now you will see why the clay walls need to be firm and solid. Leave the plaster to set. This will take about 2-3 hours and you should not move the sculpture during this time.
Once the plaster is hard, remove the clay wall and with a very sharp knife cut the plaster mould in half. (Please note that there is a more complex process of casting which involves casting each side of the three- dimensional figure separately, but for learning purposes this method should suffice.)
Now you should have two halves of the mould. In the cast is a perfect inverted replica of your sculpted head.
The final casting process is to fill the cast with some strong material. There are a host of materials that are used for the final product ranging form bronze to fiberglass. You may however use ordinary cement that will give you a durable finished sculpture. Once again there are a number of methods that can be used. The simplest method is to tie the two halves of the mould together with wire or rubber tubing and then to invert the mould. Pour your cement or mixture of cement and sand into the mould and leave to set for at least a day.
Once the cement has set you must open the mould by talking of the wire or rubber restraints and removing the plaster. This is easier said than done. If you are very lucky the mould should come off quickly. But usually one has to remove the plaster with a hammer and chisel, being very careful not to damage the cement sculpture beneath. Once you have your sculpture out of the mould, then you can use paint as a final finish. Of course, within the traditions of sculpture this is only the beginning. There are a host of other techniques. But if you successfully cast your first sculptural the rest should follow easily and with enthusiasm.