Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture: Crying Ballerina

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.

This is a description of the techniques I used to create the figurine.

Step 1: Getting Started

I thought of doing a sculpture of a crying ballerina.

So I searched for Some images to use as a guide and decided on a size that seemed about right. Strictly speaking, for a sculpture this size, it would not be necessary to use an armature, but I find it helpful in getting the figure in the right position and with reasonably correct proportions.

I used straw to make the armature. The straws will collapse as the ceramic clay shrinks on drying and not crack the clay. For the body I bent three and wrapped in paper. It took a bit of playing with it to get the bend in the back just right.

Next I hot glued the body support to the base and added clay. Extra clay was added at the bottom for a base and it will become the Tutu. The clay needs support until it stiffens up, and a couple of straws against the head served this purpose.

I then added straws for the legs and arms. The head could then rest on the straw legs while a little support to the body kept things in place.

That finished the first sculpting session, and I placed it under a plastic bag until I could get back to it. It set for more than 2 days so I did mist the figure with a fine spray of water from a spray bottle.

Step 2: Legs, Body, Head and Hands

I used the straws as an armature and formed the legs around them. I removed the arm straws to make it easier to do this shaping. I took my time getting the legs and feet to look right.

As I shaped the legs I also worked on the body to make the figure come together as a whole, ... well, except for a couple of arms.

Next I shaped the head to its final size and fashioned hands so that the head and body would be supported by the knees. Although the clay is smooth with no detail, the size, position, and angles of everything is what I was looking for at thi stage. I find it helpful to get the shape first and then build the detail on this framework.

I worked on making the texture for the tutu. I painted thinned clay slurry over a fine mesh tutu type stuff, let it partly dry, then pulled of the mesh, leaving the texture.

Step 3: Adding Arms and Beginning the Details

Once I was happy with the tutu I made the arms.

I rolled out some clay to make them. I didn't use the straws I had in place earlier. No need for straws now.

Once I have the arms in place the figure becomes whole and I can get an impression of the final look. I like to work on different areas and have no real plan of attack for details.

First I did the basic shape of the shoes, then I worked on the hair a bit. Then I left the hair for later and positioned where the ears would go.

Step 4: Arms, Tutu, and Wings

After finishing the arms and elbows, I added a little more tutu around the elbows, and textured it I had before.

I went over everything, finishing it completely before finally adding the wings.

One of the last steps was to define her outfit as a thin ridge for the straps and cloth edge.

Two pieces of clay were shaped to match and attached to her back.

Feathers were shaped in the clay. And a strip of thin clay was added, to represent how the wings are fastened to the costume.

Step 5: Dry and Bisque Fire

The figure was set aid to dry and then then bisque fired.

The clay used here was low fire paper clay. I was bisque fired to cone 06. I have a ramp soak temperature controller attached to a small kiln. The temperature is raised more slowly for my sculptures than would be the case in a potters kiln.

If someone else is firing your work, you should dry it in a toaster oven or other oven to completely remove moisture. That way you won't open the kiln to find your effort shattered in a hundred pieces.

Step 6: Glazing

With the arms closing in this figure, it was tempting to make it completely white. But I wanted the skin tone and hair colour to be part of this image.

It was tricky getting the inside of the arms and I had to scrape off the skin colour from the dress.

The entire figure except for her skin and hair was coated with a commercial underglaze from Duncan called really white. For the tutu I thinned the glaze with water so the texture would not be hidden and just to give this material a little different look.

The skin tone is called winter flesh and I ordered it online from Laguna.

The hair is dark briarwood underglaze from Duncan. Highlights are ginger brown.

The tutu was coated with a matt clear coat - purple stuff.

The remainder of the figure was coated with a gloss clear coat - the green stuff.

I made a video of glazing this figurine if you care to watch.

It was bisque fired to cone 04. There is no need to dry the figure in an oven. This time the temperature on the kiln is raised more quickly and there is no danger of it exploding in the kiln. Although there is always the possibility of a crack or other defect whenever a piece is fired.

Step 7: Glaze Firing

Fired to cone 04.

A problem with the glaze!?

Chips and flakes flew off the figure as it cooled down in the kiln.

This failure has prompted me to change my firing method. I will bisque fire to a higher temperature and glaze fire to cone 06 to avoid it happening again.

I will attempt to repair the figurine by grinding off the glaze where it has flaked, then applying new glaze, and refiring.

I will use a rotary tool and diamond bits for grinding off the old glaze.

Step 8: Finished Piece

The attempt at repairing the glaze with w third firing was a failure.

I was thinking of tossing her in the garbage, but I liked the look of the figurine ... so ...

I got out my rotary tool and diamond bits, cleaned up the chipped and cracked glaze and finished her with acrylic paints. It is a little disappointing that she has flaws, but maybe it fits, in one sense.

This is the first time I have encountered glaze chipping off. I am hoping that firing to a higher bisque temperature will cure the problem.

Thank you for reading this. Hope you find the methods shown here to be interesting and perhaps even useful.