Introduction: How to Make a Dog's Head

About: My hope is to inspire and move others with my art while exploring and nourishing my spirit through creativity.

If you are familiar with basic hand building techniques for ceramics then this is the right step-by-step guide for you.

You will need low fire clay (I used a mix of stoneware and porcelain called Phoenix). You will also need carving tools, molding tools, water, a sponge, brushes and foam.

Some things I like to highlight is that building a sculpture in ceramics is very much an exercise in "seeing". Seeing with your hands, feeling the clay under your fingers and feeling the subtle differences of texture, shape and size. But also, seeing with your eyes and having multiple reference pictures of your subject and translating those to the clay.

Much of what follows is the process of this "seeing" exercise in action.

Step 1: Setting Up the Head

  • Take enough clay to form a cube that is about 2" x 2".
  • Insert a Dowel down the center and all the way through the other side.
  • With your hands work 1/4" of the cube down to form a neck.
  • Remove the dowel and use fingers to pinch the opposite side of the neck into a partial sphere.
  • Decide which side is going to be the front and make a vertical line to mark the center of the face. Set to the side and keep covered to keep clay moist.
  • Take a 1" x 1/2" rectangle and shape into a cone. This is going to be the nose and mouth of your fox. Draw a line right in the middle from the tip of the nose to the base.
  • Place in front of the face and find the right placement using the lines as a guide. Remove and set to the side. Then, cut out a small hole on the face right where the cone will be placed and attach the cone using the score/attach technique. Smooth all joint lines and shape the cone to look like the nose and mouth area of a dog.

Step 2: The Eyes

  • Place the head on foam facing up. Calculate the positioning on the eyes which are about half way from the bottom close to the base of the snout. Press down with your thumbs. Apply equal pressure to create the eye sockets.
  • Make two spheres the size of two small grapes. Attach them to the eye sockets. Roll out about 2" of clay to make a coil and attach each coil to the top and bottom of the eyes to form the eye lids. Smooth and blend the clay to make the lids uniform.
  • Cut out two strips of Clay about 1/4" x 3/4" long. Attach each strip right above the eye lid to form the brow. Please look at the pictures above to see it better illustrated.
  • Work clay and shape it to give expression to the eye.
  • Add the brow to the other side and work to make them as symmetrical as possible.
  • Cut two small squares about 1/2" each.
  • Add the clay to the inner part of the eye lids in the space between the nose and the eye to have a more pronounced brow area. (This is part of the exercise of seeing. If you have a reference picture, you begin to make adjustments based on what you see).
  • Smooth and blend.

Step 3: The Nose and Mouth

  • It's time to make the snout more dimensional. Clay is added to each side to achieve this purpose.
  • It's time to identify the nose and mouth. Draw lines where the upper lip meet the nose, and where the lower lip meets the upper lip.
  • I noticed that the snout was to narrow and pointy so added more clay to give it more dimension.
  • Add a small amount of clay for the nose. Begin to define the lips and mouth.
  • With a carving tool, mark the shape of the mouth and blend and smooth the area until. Notice the moist towel to keep the clay from drying out.
  • Look at your piece from above, below and all sides. Try to make each side symmetrical.
  • Add the nostrils.

Step 4: Closing the Head

  • Make a thick 1” round x 4” coil and flatten a little.
  • Score and scratch the top of the head until is very moist.
  • Attach the coil all around the top of the head and work clay until the top of the head is closed off. Use a flat wooden spoon to tap the head into shape. Rotate the head as you do this and look at it from all angles to make it even and symmetrical.

Step 5: The Ears

  • Using your reference picture locate where the ears go. In my case, the ears started right above the center of the eyeball and from the front and from the side they lined up with the beginning of the jaw line. The ears also sit on top by the middle of the cranium, not too forward or to far back. The ear is about half of the face in length. Grab enough clay and shape it into a dog’s ear. Score and attach to head. Smooth all seam lines.
  • As a finishing touch, roll out a 1” thick by 4-5” strip of clay and attach it around the neck. This gives the head a nice base and you could decorate it further to make it look like a collar.

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