Introduction: How to Sculpt a Coral Reef Mermaid Crown

About: I am a Hobbyist, Maker and Designer and love to spend my free time getting creative and building new things!

In this Instructable I am going to show you some of the different skills and techniques I used to sculpt this Mermaid Crown.


The materials in this project are quite commonly available and should be easy to find online or at your local hobby store. If you want to purchase the specific products I used I have provided the amazon links.

The only other tools you may need are a cutting mat to work on, a craft knife to cut the clay and if you want to paint the final piece, brushes and acrylic paints.

Step 1: Introduction to Polymer Clay

For this project I thought the best material to use would be polymer clay. This material allows you to achieve a high degree of detail in your sculpts, and then bake your projects to harden them and increase durability.

Another great feature of polymer clay, is you can bake pieces of the clay multiple times so they hold their form and are easier to work with, and then continue your sculpt around them. This allows you to create some unique and complicated sculpts without worrying about ruining the parts you have already made, almost as if you can save your progress as checkpoints along the way.

Step 2: Planning Your Design

A great thing about sculpting is that you can continue changing your design based on how things develop as you work on your project, you can easily just start sculpting and see what direction the project takes you.

However, I find it helpful to plan out my design or at least form a rough outline so I can visualise how I am going to tackle my projects. A great way to find inspiration is to look on websites like Pinterest and take a look at what other people have created.

Once you have an idea of what styles you like, you can then take different aspects and draw out some sketches until you are happy with how it looks.

Step 3: Sizing Your Crown

To make sure the crown you sculpt will end up fitting correctly, it is important to get a size reference by measuring the circumference of the head of the person you are making the crown to fit. You can do this by cutting a thin strip of paper and then using a pencil to mark where it overlaps.

Using this as a reference, roll out some clay to form a rough crown/ circlet shape. I found the best way to ensure the fit is to now bake this oval shaped piece of clay, and while it is still warm and malleable from the oven, place it on your model’s head to ensure it fits correctly, and allow it to cool and hold this shape.

Step 4: Designing and Decorating Your Own Crown

I am going to show you the techniques I used to make 3 different types of shells, as well as a star fish. I am not sure what specific shells these are most similar but I think they are quite iconic seashell shapes.

The real creativity comes in when you make different sizes of shells, and the way in which you put them together. This will be unique to your chosen design of crown, as will the number of shells required to meet your head size and the pattern you want to make.

I am making this Instructable to try and pass on some techniques I have discovered and encourage your creativity to see what you can come up with, not to encourage direct copying.

Step 5: Making a Spiral/ Snail Shell

To start this shell, begin by softening some clay in your hand, and rolling it into a small ball. If you would like to make a group of these shells around the same size, now is the best time to portion out several balls with roughly the same amount of clay.

The next step is to roll the ball out into a cylinder, and then taper one end of the cylinder to form a long thin cone. Take the small end of the cone and start to curl it onto itself, until you have a spiral shaped shell.

Using a ball stylus, create the shape of the opening of the shell. This is where you can then choose to embellish your shell in any way you choose, either by pressing some lines in, making it maybe resemble more of an ammonite look, or add things like dots or spikes. For my design I wanted to keep the shells quite plain so opted to not decorate these shells.

Step 6: Making a Conical Shell

This shell is very similar in technique to the previous one. The first steps are the same, until making the spiral. To make the cone shaped shell, make the spiral tighter and as you rotate the shell, make sure you are laying the clay on the underside of the forming spiral to give it the cone shape.

I found that forming the spiral like this made it look a bit like a horn, rather than specifically a shell. To make it look a bit less horn like, I the rolled the spiral against the mat to make the edges less rounded. Then using the same ball stylus, form the shell opening, and if you want to mimic the style of shell I created, I then pinched the end of the shell to form a pointed shell opening.

Step 7: Making a Clam/Scallop Shell

When making this shell, there were two ways I found worked well. They both start with forming the clay into a ball, and using your fingers to flatten it into a disc of clay. Then pinch one side of the disc to make it slightly tear drop shaped.

If you happen to have a seashell on hand, the easiest way to form the ridges of the shell is to press the clay against the shell to take an impression of the pattern on its surface.

If you do not have a shell, you can use your ball stylus tool to form lines on the surface of the shell to mimic the pattern that naturally forms on Clam/ Scallop shells.

You can then use a craft knife to tidy up the shape of your shell until you are happy with the way that it looks.

Step 8: Making a Starfish

This is probably the most complicated thing to build in this project so it takes a little bit more time than the other shells.

Start by rolling out a thick cylinder of clay, and cut it into 5 even sections, I did this using the measurements on my cutting mat, but you could also easily use a ruler, or do it by eye. It doesn't need to be perfect, as nature rarely is perfect, so a bit of asymmetry makes it look more realistic.

Take these 5 new cylinders, and taper one end to form 5 cones. now arrange these cones, with the thinner side facing out, and use your fingers to gently press the clay together and form the star shape.

Now roll out a very thin cylinder, and cut it into small pieces, you will need 20 small balls of clay (4 per point of the star fish) and one larger ball of clay (for the centre). Then using a ball stylus slightly smaller than the balls of clay you've made, press through the ball of clay into the starfish to form the pattern shown.

Then, using the smallest ball stylus of the set, start to gently stipple the surface of the starfish, giving it an organic texture.

Step 9: Bake Your Shells

To make it more easy to handle, I recommend baking the individual shells you have made. If you have not made enough shells to cover the full circumference of the crown you can always make more to add on.

I prepared a large number of shells and still needed to make more so don't be afraid to adapt as your design develops.

I recommend getting everything you can ready now so you can then just plow ahead and start assembling everything together.

Step 10: Start Assembling Your Crown

To stick the cone shaped shells to the circlet, I used a small ball of clay, and then pressed the pieces together firmly.

If you have any Fimo liquid decorating gel: I would recommend putting a bit on every time you are joining the clay together without properly forming it, Particularly if the clay you are joining is pre-baked.

However, I did not have any Fimo gel on hand, so made sure to use ample pressure and scratch us the surfaces I was joining so they had more grip and this worked out fine for me. If you have any issues, it is very easy to use a bit of super glue to secure the connections and ensure the strength of your crown.

Once I had stuck the foundation of my shell crown together I baked it once again to save my progress.

Step 11: Add Further Decorations and Embellishments

This is the part where you can go wild and decorate the crown to your own personal tastes. I stuck on a combination of the shells I showed how to make previously (sorry I got really excited that the crown was coming together and forgot to take a photo at this stage).

Once those had been affixed, I started to make it look more aquatic by filling any empty space with some coral/ barnacle looking shapes.

To make these shapes, I rolled out several cylinders of clay and lined them up so each cut I made would portion several sections of clay. Each of these sections, I then rolled into a ball, and using a medium sized ball stylus pressed into the gaps towards the base of the crown (this takes quite a long time but the pay off is definitely worth it!).

You can then use this time to also add any other embellishments and further decorations to make your crown even more personal (I may have made a little crab friend).

Step 12: Bake Your Crown One Final Time

Once your sculpt is done, it will still be slightly delicate until you bake it and solidify it all in its final shape so be careful.

When you take the crown out of the oven, be careful not to move it too much, as the polymer clay is still malleable and the fragile detail pieces you have added can fall off if the underlying shape is deformed.

Step 13: Paint!

The final step, once your crown is cool and solid, is to paint it!

This paint process is also totally up to your personal preference. For the aesthetic of crown I had designed, I wanted to make it a whimsical and almost cartoon mermaid colour scheme. So I chose to paint in a variety of pastel tones that reminded me of coral and sea life.

Step 14: Enjoy Your Work!

Your crown is finished! You can use the skills you have learned to make sea themed jewelry, or bring new life to your possessions with a new aquatic flair.

Some advice I would give from my experience making this project is be careful how much clay you are using, or maybe use something like aluminium foil as a base/ armature, as the clay can end up being a bit heavy if you are planning to wear your crown long term for a costume or cosplay purpose. You may also be able to avoid this by using some sort of air dry clay instead, although that may result in a less detailed and more fragile final product.

I hope this Instructable helps inspire you to go out and make something too!

Sculpting Challenge

Second Prize in the
Sculpting Challenge