Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture: Butterfly

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.

First, look up some images. You will need reference photos to make the type of butterfly you like.

I settled on a yellow one for this example. Partly because it did not require any detailed pattern on the wing.

If this approach seems too hard, you can use a cookie cutter to cut out a butterfly shape. Make a much simpler butterfly, but add interest by having a patterned wing, such as a monarch or something.

I work on wax paper for these small things.

Butterfly wings look like one on each side but there are actually two per side. Roll out some clay to a very thin layer. Draw the bottom and top section of each wing. Cut them out with a needle tool. Trace a copy on the clay and make a second pair. Arrange them to be opposite each other.

Step 1:

Wet the joint and press together to make the final wing shape.

Smooth the surface and edges with a paint brush and water.

Step 2:

You may need to redefine the wing separation with a needle tool to keep it obvious.

Roll out a small cone shape for a body and join it to the wings with clay slurry. Use a brush to smooth over the joint.

Form the eyes.

Next use a tool to press grooves outward along the wings. The ridges of these shallow grooves are meant to look like the ribs of the wing.

I decided to try for antennae in this sculpt. That will make it very fragile and may detract more than add to the affect, but it might be fun.

Step 3:

After you are satisfied with the butterfly, gently press the wings up from the underside. Then set it between two objects that will keep the wings in a raised position until it dries.

The base will be a piece of tree bark. You can refer to that instructable if you like.

Step 4:

Just to make the painting easier, I applied the underglaze colour to the butterfly and bark before joining them.

I used a thinned rust brown coat on the bark followed by a dry brush of dark brown on the outside of the bark. There will be small bits of white clay usually show through when painting a highly textured surface like tree bark. One way to avoid this is to use several very thin coats of the base colour. A better method is to use brown or red firing clay for the bark, if you have it available.

For the butterfly I used yellow, orange and butternut.

Scrape away the under body of the butterfly and the bark where they will join. Wet the clay, add paperclay 'glue', and press the butterfly in place.

The legs broke off when I was handling the butterfly. It would have been better to wait until I had the butterfly in place before adding them. Which I ended up doing.

Paperclay 'glue'
shred some toilet paper in a blender
strain it and make a small ball
make a ball of clay so that the paper ball is about 1/3 the size of the clay ball
add vinegar and mix together, add more vinegar until the mix is a soft, butter consistency
keep in a small, air tight container

Step 5:

Coat with clear glaze if you want shine. Leave the underglaze for mat. Lightly brush small amounts of clear gloss to give a little sparkle to the bark. Try it different ways to see what you like.

In this case I put gloss on the butterfly and just a touch on the high areas of the outside of the bark. I left the inside with no clear glaze covering to give a flat or mat finish.

Dry and fire. Use longer times on the lower temperatures in the kiln, as mentioned before, or toaster-oven dry first. Perhaps 15 – 20 min at 200F and 30 min at 225F. The butterfly is thin and would not have trouble in a normal firing, but the bark has thick areas.

Step 6:

The finished butterfly.

The yellow looks very bright but it is much less intense in real like.
Shortcomings of a camera phone picture.

Good luck with your own efforts.