figurative sculpture

Figure Sculpture Process: What is a Mold?

Molds are used for many of our everyday household objects- the door knob, the plastic tabletop, your cup, your vacuum cleaner... evidence of the power of replication exists all around you!

There are so many different types and purposes of molds, and this post is going to explain some of the variety and how they are used in fine art.

What is a Mold For?
A mold is used to produce an exact replica of an object.

This could be to translate it into a new material with special properties- you could cast an object in rubber for flexibility, or concrete for durability. It also allows you to make multiples of an object. In sculpture, this is known as an edition.

Basic moldmaking at work is evidenced in the household ice cube tray. This simple mold gives us the ability to take a material, shape it, and make multiples. The objects that are created are called casts. This same principle is applied in fine art when making editions of sculptures.

How are Molds Made?

Making a mold is often a labour intensive, highly skilled process. An object will be covered in a liquid rubber which cures into a flexible material that takes a perfect impression of the object. (The rubber I use looks like liquid marshmellow. Mmmm.)

A fully round object will need seams to divide the rubber into pieces so that it can be removed. (this is the tricky bit!) The rubber is too flexible to hold its shape on its own, so a rigid shell called a mothermold  is applied: this is commonly plaster or fibreglass.

(Fun fact: Molds can also be made entirely out of plaster, however they need many more pieces as the plaster is completely rigid and cannot flex around the curves of the object.)

Common Materials:

Rubber (silicon or urethane)
Plastipaste (mixable plastic product)

Should I learn to Make Molds?

If you want to make replicas of things, the answer is Yes. If you are a sculptor, then the answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Here's why:
1) it will save you time and money to make your own molds
2) it will allow you to experiment with new materials
3) it will allow you to make replicas of your work (for sale, for family, for yourself, etc)
4) it is FUN!

Even if you decide moldmaking is not for you and prefer to hire a professional, having an understanding of the process will still result in a better end product:

1) it will allow you to communicate with your moldmaker with greater clarity and understanding
2) you will be able to create your sculptures in a way that makes molding easier, more efficient, more cost effective, and the finished casts more resilient.

(If you live in Victora, BC and want to learn about moldmaking- visit my  workshops page here and scroll  down for workshop opportunities)

Types of Rubber Molds:

When first learning about molds, there is alot of new terminology. You will discover that the terms are actually pretty straightforward once you learn their meaning. There are 3 common types of molds:

One- Piece: used for relief objects. No seam is needed to release the sculpture.
Split-Gloveused for simple objects in the round that need a seam only on one side. (imagine a jacket!)
Two-piece (or more!): used for simple or complex objects in the round that require the seam to completely divide the rubber into two (or more) pieces to release the object.

Methods of Application:
Block Mold
Brush Up Mold

These two common methods describe how the rubber is applied. One is poured, the other is brushed on in layers.

You combine these terms to describe the type of mold, for example: One Piece Block Mold or a Two Piece Brush Up Mold.

To learn more about these types of molds, keep reading Figure Sculpture Process: Types of Molds 

Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 3- Torso, Head and Shoulders

This is post 3 documenting a work in progress. (Read Post 1: Figure Armature)

Second session sculpting the figure from the model. (or, putting some meat on those bones)

At the beginning of a new session, I always want to double check what I did the previous session to make sure that I am not going off in some crazy direction. ( it happens!)

Right at the start is when both the sculptor and model are the freshest, so I try to utilize this time to evaluate the most important elements: proportions and gesture.  (more on proportions next post)

Here is partway through the session- the head here is giant! Head proprotion was one of the items on my list to establish today.


I do actually make a list sometimes to help keep me on track (also...I love lists!) Today mine was really just a quick scrawl on a scrap of paper: 

-establish head proportions
-standing leg > confirm placement
-raised arm > back of head transition
**mark out anatomy for reference 

And Timers!

I have a timer and keep track in 5-10 min increments: both to give the model a break (holding your arm up is challenging!) and to keep myself on task.

I switch views constantly and try to work only a couple of mins on any one area. This requires self-discipline. The BEEP BEEP often makes me jump, but I think of each alarm as the mental equivalent of giving myself a slap on the face. It stops me from focusing on detail, which is absolutely essential. 

Now I will rant about the death trap of detail too soon:

There is simply no point whatsoever in focusing on creating the perfect bellybutton when one has not finished establishing correct proportions!

In fact, it can be quite destructive to the process as you may begin to love what you have created (ie: that very bellybutton) so much that you stop questioning it... this often leads to denial of obvious inaccuracies. (trust me, I am unfortunately speaking from experience...)

It is the yogic equivalent of savasna without doing the asana sequence.
Or planing a door when you havent built the frame of the house.
Or salting an empty plate.

You get it. Anyways, I try not to do it. It's hard. That's why I like my mental slap.

Here's the end of the model session:

I usually work for a couple hours after the model has left and all the info is still fresh in my mind.

I try to be careful not to get carried away and destroy the observations I have left on the sculpture from referencing the model (marks and drawings on the clay= symbols of great significance).

Example- torso from observing model, and torso after working on it without model:

Here is where I finished up at the end of the day. I threw on some hair to play with (needs work!!) and described the face a bit more. I actually started to put an eye and get fiddly with it... so I ripped it out!

Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 2- Setting the Pose

This is post 2 documenting a work in progress. (Read Post 1: Figure Armature)

This is the first session back with the model and the new armature. It had been about 2 months since we made the maquette, so everything was fresh and exciting. THIS PART IS THE BEST EVER.

Step One: Posing the Armature
Once we had remembered the pose and got the model comfortable (haha...)  I set to work on the most critical first step: Establishing the pose in the wire, before adding any clay at all. None!!

Step Two: Construction Blocks
Okay, now I can add some clay. However, I dont just lump it on willy nilly dreamily assuring myself it will all work out in the end.... I focus instead on the all-important Construction Of The Gesture.

Basically, I use simplified shapes to represent the skeleton, and adjust those shapes until they have the right flow and movement.  Sounds easy, right?!

I usually use a box and egg to represent the main skeletal masses of the pelvis and ribcage. This allows me to orient these critical masses in space, and establishes the movement of the gesture right from the beginning.

This is the most important step to creating life in your figure.

Often I see students leaping ahead to the excitement of shaping all those exciting curves and fleshy forms... but this will only result in frustration as the foundations of the pose were never established.

Here's why geometric is better:

Geometric forms (box and egg) allow me to find individual planes/directions for each unit, and angle them correctly from each other to find tension, the pull of gravity, etc.

Come again?  Basically each shape has a front, 2 sides and a back. Yes? Yes.

Now I can isolate each shape and twist or tilt them to match what I see on the skeleton of the model. For a twist, the straight-on front of the box (hips) would be offset from the straight-on front of the egg (ribs). I can just grab the two forms and twist them away from each other.

More important stuff!!

It is also highly recommended to establish the harmony between top and bottom of the figure by running a vertical plumbline from the pit of the neck to the ankle. Balancing this correctly ensures your sculpture does not feel like an invisible hand is tipping it over to one side.

Wait, so there's a person standing there all this time?


During this stage of establishing the gesture of the pose it is also really important to work creatively with your model. Because its exhausting to hold your body in one position (go ahead... try it..) you have to communicate when it is important for her to really really be in a midstep position (push that hip out!!) or when she can relax her weight over both feet.

I call this pushing the pose to its fullest expression. 

This is part of the joy of working with models- you can develop the piece with their input and energy,  and they give you different elements to work with each session. It is a true journey.

I do my best to cherish my models so they come back!! Good models are worth their weight in gold.

Want to learn how to sculpt? Check out Melanie's upcoming sculpting classes in Victoria BC here

Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 1- Figure Armature

New sculpture piece in the works!
This will be a female figure sculpture in a standing pose, sculpted from a live nude model and using an internal armature with water based clay. I will be documenting the progress of the piece as it progress here on my blog.

What's an Armature??

Arma-whaaa? Well, armature is a fancy word to describe the setup used to support the clay while you are sculpting. In this case, its a basically a wire stick person, attached to an L-shaped metal pipe to support the weight of the clay.

This style allows me great flexibility- I can bend the metal to adjust the position of the figure at any point during the sculpting process. However, it also means that I will need to make a rubber mold of this figure to create a finished product (you cannot preserve the clay with the wire inside it). More on that later!

You can buy pre-made armatures at sculpture supply stores (online) but I find making your own is often more cost-effective and with greater options/quality control. Most of the materials can be found at your hardware/construction stores, with the exception of armature wire.

This is an example of a 24' figure armature with an L-shaped support from plumbing supplies.

Materials List: 

-plywood base (sized to fit your piece, this one is 16" square)
-wood runners under plywood base (creates room for you to grasp the board to carry it)
-plumbing supplies: floor flange, nipple (long pipe) elbow joint and t connector
- 1/4" aluminum armature wire (I like Tiranti from London as a supplier)
- small gauge aluminium wire to wrap (for the clay to grab onto)
- screws (to secure flange to board)
- figure template (not pictured)

(Note: It is important that the template you use to bend your wire figure is in correct proportion. I use a template that follows the Richer canon of human proportion.)


For this piece, I had already done some studies during the previous month. Sometimes I come up with the pose through working with the individual model, but this time I had a visual of what I was looking for. Usually the ideas begin with some very rough sketches.

I then spent one 2 hour session working with my model to create a small maquette (small scale quick-study sculpture) with the model of the pose I had in mind, using a mini-armature just like the one above. This maquette allows me to study the pose and decide if I will commit to it. It also can inform what will be needed when creating the final armature.

You will notice here that I am playing with adding some abstract elements to the figure, which still need to be explored and resolved. This will develop on the final piece.

Keep Reading: Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 2: Setting the Pose

Want to learn how to sculpt? Check out Melanie's upcoming sculpting classes in Victoria BC here