Introduction: Ceramic Sculpt: Nesting Plover

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.

Constructing a nest, eggs, and Piping Plover using the principle of letting the clay turn leather hard so it can support the weight of the next addition.

Step 1: The Base

These little birds make their nest by simply creating a shallow depression in the sand.

I used a low firing, white sculpture clay for this piece ( contains grog ).

I rolled out a slab of clay a little more than 1/2 inches thick, which, was cut to a rough circular shape. Then it was formed to be somewhat like 1/2 of a sliced bagel with the toasted side down. Of course there is no hole in the middle. This will be the base for the carving.

Next I painted the clay with of thinned light grey underglaze to give a colour similar to our local sand. Spattering with a tooth brush in black and brown added to the sand look.

To make the stones look more realistic I mixed underglaze colours with the sculpture clay. These were formed into little balls and stuck to the sand while everything was moist.

The base was set aside at this point to allow it to set up a bit, and it was time to call it a day anyway. I placed the sculture in a plastic bag and misted it with water before leaving it overnight.

Step 2: The Eggs

The eggs are next. I like to form them hollow for less weight and less risk of exploding in the kiln.

I form hollow eggs by simply making a small ball, using tissue or paper and masking tape. Then a strip of clay is rolled out to about 1/4 inch thickness. A canvas or heavy felt cloth and a couple of sticks work well for this. You can also make yourself a small slab roller by fixing the cloth and sticks to a plywood base.

The clay is wrapped around the paper ball and formed to an egg shape. The eggs are pressed firmly into the nest. Since both are still moist they bod easily. If the nest were a little dry, I would add some white vinegar to a little clay and use this as a glue.

Before adding the eggs to the nest I painted with thinned grey - brown underglaze and added some speckles.

The piece was set aside for several hours to allow the clay to firm up. This is similar to slab building in pottery and you can find a lot of information on that method online.

Step 3: The Bird

I make the bird hollow by making a paper and masking tape shape and adding a layer of clay.

The nest has set overnight and the cly is firm enough to support the weight of the bird,

Feathers were textured a little more heavily than I expect them to look in the finished sculpt, as painting with ceramic glazes will mask some of the detail. Legs were left until last so I could get at the belly feathers.

The bird was painted with several layers of underglaze colours. No overglaze was used as I wanted a matt or flat finish for a more natural look.

Step 4: Fired and Finished

I signed the bottom and added some felt stick-on pieces after firing, to finish the work.

Piping Plovers are fascinating little birds that flit along the beach in our area; southern Nova Scotia. They are cute when sitting on the nest as they seem to straddle it. They are considered endangered but have been greatly helped by the local birding society and volunteers.