Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture: Tree Bark

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.

Create a tree bark base for nature sculpts.
Use a 'lean against' support for the open bark structure.

Tree bark can act as a base for mushrooms, frogs, flowers, etc. The bark not only provides a base but allows the sculpture to have some height. These could serve as ornaments for gardens, window boxes or patio displays. They need to be taken inside in winter.

Step 1:

Roll out a slab of clay. Say ¼  inch thick or so. I am using low fire white clay in this example.

Form a semi circle that is standing.
In order to keep it standing upright, lean it against something. I used a coffee cup.
Shape an interesting old bark shape.

In this case I am planning to place a butterfly on the bark so I made a depression near the top for that purpose. To add interest I made a hole where a branch once existed.

Once you are happy with a shape, smooth the base with a paint brush and water.

The coffee cup gets to multitask, in this demo.

Step 2:

In this case I am trying to give the impression of pine bark … more or less.

I draw a couple of straight lines from top to bottom. Between them I sketch in jagged marks that go at angles or in a rough V shape. A small knot hole adds to the affect.

Continue in this manner all the way around the outside of the bark. Relax and don't try to be too perfect. This is meant to be more like a sketch than a finished drawing.

Leave the inside of the bark smooth.

Usually I would keep the bark moist while I shaped whatever I plan to place on it.

You can keep the clay bark moist by misting with water and placing it in a plastic bag. A frame of some kind might be needed to keep the bag off the sculpt.

Step 3:

In this example the bark will have a dry butterfly added, so I let the bark dry as well.

This picture of the bark on its side shows how the bottom is thicker to help support the structure. The bottom edges will be trimmed and made smooth.

Handle carefully. Dried clay sculptures are very fragile and easily broken.
If you do break one, it can be 'glued back together using paperclay 'glue'.
Instructions for making that are in the butterfly instructable.

Step 4:

The tree bark after underglaze has been applied..

Refer to the butterfly instructable if you would like to see the step by step.

Step 5:

Of course, it doesn't have to be a butterfly. You could add a cluster of mushrooms or tree fungus, or other things, to add interest.

You can also make much taller and larger pieces of bark. Lean it against a taller object or, better yet, make a frame using a hot glue gun and dowels or chop sticks. The bark leans against the frame until it dries.

Using a buff clay or red clay can give a nice affect for this type of bark. It need not be coated or painted at all, or you can just add a little underglaze colour to the surface texture.

The bark can be a base for all kinds of nature things, and can add a little height to your sculpture.