Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture: Oxen, Ox Haul

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 work has a folk art type feel to it ... I think.

It can be a challenge to sculpt a four legged animal attached to a base. Clay shrinks as it dries and when it is being fired. It is easy to have one, or more, of the legs develop cracks during this process.

There are different ways to avoid this happening.

One method is to avoid this design all together, and create animals that do not have a base of any kind.

Another approach is to create the animal and the base separately, and glue the figure to the base after both have been fired. 

I like to do it all as a single sculpture. I'll show that here. I would use a similar approach if I were making a mountain goat scene, or a deer standing, horse and rider, etc..

Whichever method you prefer, it really pays to make a few simple things and fire them to a finished work. You will gain experience on how to solve this type of problem, before spending many hours on that special sculpture and placing it in the kiln.

In this work I am using a paper armature for an animals body, to create a hollow form.
The paper body is suspended from a framework so I can work under the belly. It is probably more normal to suspend it on a lump of clay.

Low firing buff clay with grog, was used, and it was made into paper clay by addition of cellulose fibers.
The grog and the paper fibers will help reduce the risk of the legs cracking or breaking as it can withstand the temperature changes and drying steps a little better.

I think it is very important in this case, that the oxen and the base are made from the same clay. That way they shrink at the same rate. I also cover the work in plastic when I am not working on it, and dry the piece quite slowly.

Sculpture clay is a white firing raku clay made by Tuckers. I imagine other companies make something similar. I think it would also work well for this type of sculpture. I have not tried it.

Step 1:

First I created a simple body shape using crumpled paper and masking tape. This will allow me to create a hollow form for the ox.

I used dowels and hot melt glue to create a frame for holding the oxen in place. The body could have been held in place in many ways but this worked well for me.  The frame also supported a plastic bag when I wanted to leave the work for a while.

Keeping reference pictures handy, I cover the paper form and begin shaping the basic body design.

I remove the steady rest for the head and rough it in. The legs are roughly shaped and positioned as well.

Step 2:

As the figure is worked on, time passes and the clay sets up a little. Eventually it becomes firm enough to support itself in place without help from the frame.

I repeat the same steps for the second ox.

Step 3:

I kept the oxen moist by misting water on them and covering with a plastic bag.

The base is made with cardboard support under it so it will not sag from the weight.
( You can see an example of this in the tree stump instructable. )
One difference here is that I also added cross sections of clay support to make a stronger structure.

The oxen were placed on the base and joined to it with clay slurry.

The yoke is red and I made it from white firing clay so it would come out brighter. It could have simply been painted with white underglaze and then coloured with red underglaze, but I had the white firing paperclay on hand.

Once everything is fit together I added a few more details to head and face and smoothed the bodies a little.

Step 4:

A few more details and it was time to extend the base to add the weight sled. It was joined to the first part with a slurry of clay. I should mention that the base is fairly thick. About 3/8 inches or more. The total length here is about 20 inches.

The wood going back from the yoke to the sled needed to support itself so it was made separately from paper glue, allowed to dry, then attached with a clay slurry. One advantage of paper glue is the ability to join dry pieces and get a decent bond. A slurry made by thinning paper glue with vinegar will add to the strength of this joint.

The box weights are a hollow structure.

Step 5:

Final shaping and details are added.

The name tag is placed. A folk art type approach seemed ok for this work.

The oxen were painted with undercoat colours an coated with satin clear coat.
The base was given a very thin coat of clear mat glaze, as was the wood and leather.
The yolk was painted with red underglaze and coated with high gloss clear coat.
All were purchased commercial glazes.

Step 6:

Single fired to cone 06.

I think it is risky to fire a work like this a second time. It increases the risk of a crack developing in one of the legs.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Good luck in your own creations.