Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture, Beginner: Meditating Frog

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 body of this simple puppet frog is to demonstrate how to use the paper armature to create a hollow body shape.

The same process can be used for any animal where you want the body, neck and / or head to be hollow.

A simplified puppet type shape can be a good way to step up to an animals body shape, without requiring the exact proportions of a more realistic animal sculpture.

And they make cute decor for different types of projects - candle holders, incense burners, bird feeders or baths, kids jewelry boxes, and so on. 

If you are new to sculpting clay, it would really pay to make a few of these simplified body shapes in different themes that you dream up our self.

Take them through to completion and you will learn a lot about three dimensional planning, shaping and actually forming the clay in such a way that it does not explode or crack or crumble in the kiln.

You will also learn a lot about how the finished object differs from the dry clay and what direction you might like to go in for finishing.

Step 1:

Crumple up some paper or, as in this paper, use shredded paper.

Create a simple oblong shape using scotch tape or masking tape.

Roll out some clay to about 1/4 inch thick or so and wrap it around the paper.
Press firmly and smooth any joint areas to make a good joint.

In this case the paper forms both the body and head.
But for now, shape the clay to give a general body shape and check it for size.
If your body is too big or small, remove the clay, redo the paper, and try again.

Once you have used this method a few times you will get good at estimating the size.

Step 2:

Once you are happy with the size, use your fingers to press the clay and define the body and head.
Hips, waist, chest / shoulder area, and the head all need to be defined to some extent.

In this case I also added a bit of a back bone by squeezing the clay between my fingers.

Then set it on a base and make some skinny, puppet type, legs.
Attach them to the body and to the base.

Where the knee joints take such a sharp bed, make sure you press and shape that joint so it does not have cracks or loosely joined clay. Don't be afraid to add a little clay here and there where the legs join the body or where you think it needs it. Just press and firmly smooth it on.

Smooth things over with a soft bristle brush and water once you are satisfied with the look of things.

Step 3:

Make some arms in the same manner as the legs.

Attach them to the body and add some clay to build up the shoulder joint.

I bent the ends of the frogs flippers to suggest a meditation pose.
You could also have the hands resting on the knees with the palms upward and ends bent in.

Add a little extra clay to the front of the head to make mouth and nose area.
Press firmly and smooth it out.

Smooth things over with a brush and water.

Step 4:

Roll a couple of small balls to make eyes and stick them on.

Get out the needle tool.

Draw a couple of lines across the eyes to indicate the closed meditating concept.

Shape the mouth.

Push the needle right into the paper when creating the nostrils. This will create an opening for the steam to escape during firing. I have used this method several times with no such opening, and I have had no problem. But ... I raise my kiln temperature very slowly in the early steam producing steps. It is a good precautionary step when it fits the sculpture.

A little smoothing with brush and water and the sculpting part is complete.

Set aside to dry.

Step 5:

Paint the frog with underglaze colours.

I chose a simple, all one colour green approach.

Coat with clear glaze and it is ready for firing.

Notes on the base:

The base needs to be fairly thick, or it will crack during firing.

A flat base like the one in this photo, is very difficult to dry properly before firing.
Once it is dry enough, it should be set on wire mesh shelf,  so air gets under the bottom of the leaf, or whatever.
Drying on an oven rack will allow water to escape the underside as well. Firing on supports allows moisture to escape the clay during the lower temperatures and avoids the base flying apart during the increase in temperature.

The simple flat base is not always simple, but the above steps should avoid any problems. 

Step 6:

Fired to cone 06.

High gloss finish.