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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

Clay Portrait Sculpture Process - Father

Last year I began a portrait study of my father. Below are some images showing the progress. This was one of my favorite pieces I've worked on lately. 

Here it is blocking in the main shapes and proportions. It's important that it is already beginning to develop the likeness here, otherwise it never will. I try to keep shapes simple and angular at this stage.

Here the forms are getting fleshed out and more fully described. Now the weight and curve of forms start to come into the composition.

Here is the clay version nearly complete. I use a water-based paperclay that is grey when moist, and fires to a bright white color.

For this piece I decided to make a rubber mold so that I could make multiples. I wanted to be able to keep one for my personal collection!

Here is the first layer of silicon rubber (pink!) with the beginning of a card shim to divide the two halves. Actually the shim is made from Barbie cards.. and in the shape of a tiara! I'm not sure my dad would approve ;)

Here is a finished cast. I used Hydrostone, which is a gypsum product. It mixes similarly to plaster, but is MUCH more durable. I will also make another cast with a variation of patina color, to a darker tone.

This piece is headed to the Sidney Fine Art Show this October.

Drawing For Sculpture progress

I am absolutely loving teaching the Drawing For Sculpture course! It has been a lovely group and we have covered alot in a short time.

First we began with copying the Bargue drawing exercise to learn about some of the concepts of "seeing".

Step one of copying the Bargue
This Bargue plate has a great breakdown of the 'seeing process'

Then we moved on to drawing from life - using a lifecast portrait as the reference. Here we practiced applying those concepts we learnt in Bargue, only this time we had to make our own translation from 3D to 2D.

We drew from 3 of the main views we utilize in sculpting- the front, side and below viewpoints. The focus was on the contour line, not toning/shading, because that is what reveals the most relevant information for sculpting.

Day 3 - Front & below view, focus on contour line

Then we put all this information together and began to "draw" in space with clay using the same approach. Here we combine the different sets of information from the different viewpoints to place the shapes accurately in space (no easy task!)

First we establish the profile/ depths 
Beginning to fill out the widths

There is one more class to go where we will work more on describing the forms, and incorporate all the information from the below view!

Drawing is the foundational skill to any representational art, and the correlations between it and sculpting are many. It is an excellent way to practice new ways of seeing and hone your skills.