Introduction: Ceramic Sculpture for the Absolute Beginner: Tools

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.
Basic tools and materials needed to get started in ceramic sculpture.

Step 1: Basics for Shaping Clay

In order to shape the clay and add details, you will need a few basic tools.

These need not be professional grade but they should be of good enough quality to get the job done well.

A needle on a stick or a purchased tool of similar design is good for fine lines and details.

A small and medium spatula will allow for moving, shaping and pushing the clay.

You can purchase a cuticle tool from a drugstore that will often have a good shape for this.

If you have tools for shaping wood, it is easy to make your own spatula.

Above I show some made from wood and also a couple made from the steel rod that was recovered from a discarded printer. The steel was shaped on a belt sander.

Small spatulas can also be made from small steel rod or from the pick that comes with a nut cracker.

It is not necessary to make your own tools, but it might be wise to keep your costs low until you have made quite a few sculptures.

Professional tools can be expensive and you may buy a lot of things you don't use.

My favorite tools relate to the way I work. The tools I made from steel rod are specific to a task, such as the folds in clothing. The small cuticle scalpel is perfect for certain details.

Most expensive does not necessarily mean best for your style of shaping clay.

Step 2: Cheap Tool Sets

If you opt for an inexpensive set of sculpting tools you may need to work with them a bit.

They are sometimes rough on the edges. Smoothing and shaping a bit with fine sandpaper can improve the tool.

Sometimes a little more aggressive smoothing or maybe a little shaping is needed.

Step 3: The Loop or Wire Tool

The larger one is for smoothing over large areas and has serrated teeth. I show one made from a small saw blade.

The smallest ones are for removing clay as you work the details.

My favorite ones are the small ones I make myself. I prefer the thin guitar wire for these.

You can make your own by using the largest and smallest guitar string. Simply shape and glue in a stick for a handle.

Tools for sculpting can be purchased at ceramic supply places, craft stores, and on line at sculpture supply places.

Step 4: Tools You Can Add As You Go

A stylus or small ball tool is useful for making a round depression in the clay.

Small sets of them are available online for a reasonable price.

You can make your own from a straight pen with the small plastic head. A larger one can be made from a game piece glued to a stick. I show a picture of a home made version beside a purchased one, for comparison.

A wire brush is good for hair or fur affects. If you like that approach.

Straws are great for making holes in the clay and can be used to support clay until it sets up.

Calipers are great for transferring measurements from a drawing or reference piece. If you work more intuitively they will become a rarely used tool.

A wire or string between two sticks can cut off larger pieces of clay.

The hardware store sells small wooden balls that can be attached to a dowel. You can insert this into a hollow form and push outward. An inexpensive but handy tool to have if you work with this type of form.

Step 5: Accessories

A base to set the work on.

A turn table or lazy susan is nice but not really needed.

Artist brushes for smoothing and brushing on water. A spray bottle can be handy for adding moisture to the work if it is needed.

Plastic bags for keeping the clay moist between sculpting sessions.

And, of course, a small work space. A folding table might do the job for now.

To summarize:
You need a few tools but you can begin with very little, and add to them as you gain experience.