Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture: 12 Inch Figure, Wood Armature

About: Liked to draw and paint when I was growing up. Switched to carving and sculpture in my twenties. Work in wood, stone / marble, plaster, and ceramic clay.

The sculpture in this demo is called "The Snarl". It shows a fisherman on a wharf, holding a tangle of lobster trap lines ( locally called a snarl ) with a none-too-happy expression on his face. Buoys and a "folk art" seagull complete the scene.

Small figures can be made solid but larger ones should be hollow to reduce the risk of moisture being trapped in the clay and exploding in the kiln.

There are several ways to accomplish the hollow figure.

This instructable is on a method I like to use.

The sculpt is based on a figure that would be 12 inches tall if he were standing erect.

Step 1: The Wood Armature

I begin with a wood armature.

I work out the size of each successive body part for the height I would like to have. The proportions are usually based on my own measurements. Small dowels or sticks can then be cut and glued together with hot glue or any other type of glue.

I strengthen the joints with masking tape.

So ... the shin bone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone connects to the hip bone ... and so on.

And I have a stick man.

Step 2: Support for the Stick Man

The figure needs to be supported and the support removed after the clay has dried enough to support its own weight.

I accomplish this by ...

1) cut the head off a wood or drywall screw

2) drill a hole in the end of a dowel or piece of wood

3) embed the screw into the dowel and fix it there with epoxy glue

This stick with a a screw on the end can be screwed into a small hole that is drilled in the torso of the stick man.

The other end of the wood dowel can be attached to an upright frame for supporting the figure.

Step 3: Paper Man

Wrap the wood in paper and use masking tape to fill out the figure a bit.

The paper and masking tape covering will allow the clay to shrink as it dries - without cracking.

A little extra padding is needed on the shoulders to allow for torso shrinkage and only a little at the wrists and ankles to allow for the smaller size of these body parts.

The materials in this armature are wood, paper, tape and glue. All will burn away as the work is fired, but there will be a smell of smoke and a kiln vent should be used during firing.

Step 4: Clay Man With Support

The clay can now be added to the paper man to make the figure. It will surprise you how heavy the figure becomes once the clay is added. A little extra support may be needed in the form of bracing which can be hot glued in place.

In this case the figure is standing on a wharf but the wood frame and armature are supporting his weight.

Step 5:

After a few days of working on the figure the clay will set up, or harden enough to support its own weight.

The wood support can be removed and you can finish the details of the piece.

I like to have extra support for a standing figure in a scene like this. I think it reduces the risk of the finished ceramic being easily broken. In this work that support comes from the tangle of lines.

Step 6:

Once the sculpting is complete allow the figure to dry completely.

In this case I will apply the coloured glazes and complete the work in a single firing.

It is more common to bisque fire and glaze in a second step.

It is easier to paint the pieces when they have been bisque fired first, but single firing saves a step when you get on to applying colour to the raw clay. I usually thin the glazes to accomplish this.

Colours are from underglazes and the finish is a mix of matt, semi gloss, and gloss.

Step 7: "The Snarl"

The finished piece.