Introduction: Making a Doll's Head With Cold Porcelain

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A few weeks ago I started learning how to model a doll head with cold porcelain*. Then life got in the way as usual. I finally got a chance to get back to it again a couple of days ago. I have never tried to do anything like this before and I am happy with my progress so far, though I still have a lot left to learn.

To make this doll head, you will need:

A styrofoam ball
A ball of cold porcelain the same size as the styrofoam
A ball tool and a cutting tool
Acrylic paints and varnish

*Cold porcelain is an air dry clay you can make at home yourself. It is very similar to polymer clays that you bake in the oven, but a lot less expensive. To see how to make it, you can check out my Instructable here:

Or this Instructable:

Or any of a number of other tutorials on the internet. There are lots of variations and I recommend looking at a few to find the one you like best, and experimenting with your own.

Step 1: Wrapping the Styrofoam Ball

*Before you start, reserve a little clay for making the ears later. It is very hard to match the colour if you have to use a different batch.

The first step is to wrap the clay around the styrofoam ball. This is necessary because a ball this size would not dry properly if it was solid. It is also a little more tricky than it sounds.

You need to be sure that the clay is tight against the ball, with no air trapped underneath that could lead to cracks later.

Start with a ball of cold porcelain the same size or just a bit larger than your styrofoam ball, as pictured.

Applying a small amount of glue to the ball, just enough to make it a little sticky, can be helpful for beginners, especially if the clay is a bit dry, as mine was.

Begin by pressing the ball into the clay, as shown in picture #3. Then gradually work the clay up around the ball, pressing it against the palm of your hand and turning as you go, until the ball is almost completely covered.

When you get to the top of the ball, pinch the clay in from the sides, as shown in pictures #5 and 6, ensuring good contact with the styrofoam. Apply a little more glue around the inside edge if needed.

Roll the ball between your hands to form it into an egg shape, as seen in the last photo.

Step 2: Forming the Neck

After rolling the ball into an egg shape, find the edge of the styrofoam ball and make an indentation. This is where the back of the head will be.

Next, use a cutting tool, such as a plastic knife, to make an indentation in the clay where it extends past the styrofoam. You want it to be a little off centre, so that you have one larger piece and a smaller one. Shape the smaller piece into the neck.

Step 3: Forming the Face (Part One)

Once you have the neck, use your fingers to carefully push up and round out the rest of the clay. Use your cutting tool to mark off sections for the cheeks, nose, mouth and chin.

Use your thumbs to round out the cheeks. Pinch and shape the nose and chin, and make a slight indentation above the cheeks where the eyes will be.

Use your cutting tool to open up the mouth.

Step 4: Forming the Face (Part Two)

Now use a small ball tool (or whatever you have handy) to shape the mouth area.

Roll it along the lower lip to make an indentation that separates it from the chin, and curve it upwards (if you want your face to be smiling).

Push in at the corners to make little dimples.

Finally, use the tool to open up the nostrils and mark the indentation in the top lip.

Keep shaping it until you get the look you want, but don't take too long. Cold porcelain will begin to harden fairly quickly once exposed to air and working it too much will lead to cracking. Mine was a little dry to begin with, plus I kept stopping to take photos, and you can clearly see in the photos that I had some small cracks and rough spots as a result.

Step 5: Trouble Shooting

Here you can see I have what looks like a very large crack. It happened on both cheeks and is the result of pushing the clay up the wrong way when I started forming the face. I was in too much of a hurry and sort of folded it up instead of gently shaping it. My clay was also too dry to begin with which didn't help.

To correct it, I wet the whole area with a small amount of water and rolled my large ball tool back and forth across it, applying light pressure, to try to fuse the clay together better. I then went over the surface again with the ball tool, using short strokes in the opposite direction of the way the crack went, to smooth it out.

Only time will tell if this worked or not.

Step 6: Adding the Ears

Now it's time to add the ears.

Take the bit of clay you reserved at the beginning and roll it into two equal sized balls in the palm of your hand.

Put the balls on a flat surface and roll them out into cones.

Flatten the cones to make a tear drop shape.

Apply a very small amount of water, just a dab, to the side of the head to be sure the ear will stick. Position the ear so that the top of it is even with eye area. The lobe should be even with the mouth.

Using the large ball tool, push down on the front of the ear at an angle to make a slight indentation and curve it a little. Then use the small ball tool to mark a little indent in the middle of the ear, if desired, for a more natural shape.

You can stop at this stage or go on to add more detail if you like. Since I made my ears way too big, I decided to make them pointy and turn my doll into an elf. I also shaped the inside of the ear a little more, as you can see in the last photo.

Step 7: Let It Dry

You need to give your creation at least 24-48 hours to dry. How long it will take depends on the size, thickness, weather conditions and condition of the cold porcelain to begin with. Wet clay will take longer to dry, and very humid weather will slow things down.

I set mine on some Kleenex in a small foil pan, just for safe keeping. It will dry just as well on a table or wherever. I wouldn't recommend putting it on a rack because it will leave marks on it. Also, if your clay happens to be a bit sticky, it would be best to put something like waxed paper under it. Remember that cold porcelain is mostly glue so it will stick to surfaces.

And don't forget to turn it over at least once so that the other side can dry.

Step 8: Two Days Later

So, I left my head for two days and then came back to see what I would find. (Kinda sounds like a line from a song. Or, in my case, an average start to the week.)

After drying, you can correct any imperfections that you might have. This is one of the advantages of working with cold porcelain. It is very easy to fix, even after it has hardened, so you really can't go wrong. (Knock wood)

The large cracks I had in the cheeks are now barely perceptible, so my solution seems to have worked.

I have a bit of a rough spot under the chin and the ears need a little work, which you can't really see in the picture since it's out of focus (sorry about that).

There are two ways to fix small blemishes like these: by sanding/filing, or wetting and smoothing.

I have found that an emery board, the kind you buy in a big package at the dollar store, works very well for sanding. The metal file I have, strangely, is not as good. Which could be because it's older than I am. However, because of it's pointed tip, it is useful for getting into tight spaces, as I did here with the ears.

For the area around the mouth, I used a cotton swab dipped in water to dissolve the surface of the clay and smooth it out. Be careful not to get it too wet because it will dissolve very easily.

I also put a tiny drop of water on each ear and went in with my ball tool to get the inside smoothed out a bit more.

If you have used water to make repairs, just let it sit for a little while to dry out again before moving on to the next step.

Step 9: Adding the Details

Now it's time to bring our little elf to life by adding some facial features with acrylic paint.

I struggled more with this step than I want to admit. I am going to blame it on the cheap dollar store paints rather than a lack of talent.

For the eyes, I painted on the dark blue iris first, then added the black pupil. I then added light blue highlights to the iris and finally the white highlights. Which all sounds very easy, but it proved to be harder than I expected and I actually had to start over a couple of times.

Since I was having so much trouble with the first part, painting the pupils and iris, I decided I had better pencil in the the rest instead of going freehand. It is possible to draw on cold porcelain with a pencil and erase it just like you would on paper.

I then turned to the trusty old Sharpie to fill in the lines without risking making a mess of them.

Last of all, I filled in the white. Remarkably, I managed this without messing the whole thing up.

I tried to get a realistic blush on the cheeks by using a cotton swab to apply various shades of pink. It did not work. Again, I am blaming the cheap dollar store paints.

Fortunately, since I decided to make my doll an elf, round rosy cheeks work well enough.

Finally, I painted the lips a reddish pink just to make them stand out more.

Step 10: Trouble Shooting #2

As I mentioned in the last step, I had some difficulty with painting the eyes. Which gives me the opportunity to talk about how to fix painting mishaps. (See, everything happens for a reason.)

It is actually very easy to remove paint from cold porcelain while it is still fresh. All it takes is a little water and a cotton swab or paper towel. Work from the outside in to avoid smearing the paint everywhere, be gentle, and be careful how much water you use. You are actually dissolving the cold porcelain itself so you don't want to remove too much. Also, if you get it too wet you will have to wait for it to dry again.

Alternatively, you can scrape it off gently with a toothpick or skewer, as shown in picture #3.

I did smear the paint as I was removing it, which you can see a little bit in the last picture. Using a clean cotton swab and a little water, working in a circular motion, I was able to give Elfie a facial and clear it all up. (And again later, after I forgot that I had some paint on my fingers and once again ended up with black streaks all over the place.)

Step 11: Adding Hair

After the paint had set and everything had dried up nicely again, I decided it was time to give Elfie some hair.

Starting with a little ball of yellow clay, I pinched and pulled it into a flat round piece.

Then I draped this piece over the head and used my little texturizing tool to make a cut in front of each ear, separating out a section for the bangs and tucking the rest back behind the ear.

I then divided the clay draped over the back of the head down the middle, creating two separate sections to form pigtails.....

And that's where it all fell apart. Literally.

Step 12: Bad Hair Day (Trouble Shooting #3)

The pictures tell the story. Simply put, my cold porcelain dried out too fast and I wasn't able to keep up with it. I have been working with this batch for a few weeks and probably left this piece sitting out too long at some point.

My original plan here was to divide the clay at the back and form it into two simple pigtails by just twisting it up.

When things started to go south, I decided to just remove the pigtail pieces and reshape the back. You can see what happened in the second set of pictures.

At this point I was forced to admit defeat.

I had also managed to get the yellow clay stuck to my fingers, and then transfer it from there to the face. So once again I had to get out the cotton swabs and water. Fortunately, once completely dried, the acrylic paint does not come off so easily, or else I would have been repainting the eyes again.

Step 13: Makeover

So, now I get to show you how to fix the hair. This really is all coming together perfectly. (Depending on how you define perfect.)

I removed most of the clay, rehydrated it and left it wrapped in plastic for a little bit. I was able to use water to smooth what was left and cover the bald spot.

After the clay had softened enough to be usable, I began adding hair extensions.

I started with bangs, filling them out a little and adding a bit more texture and wave. I added a little bit more around the ears and shaped it a little more nicely.

I could have stopped here, but I decided to go back to my idea of giving her pigtails. I rolled out a little clay log, attached it to the rest of the hair, and blended it in. Now that my clay was properly hydrated, it stuck in place easily with no need to add any more water or glue. Finally, I added some green hair bands to complete the look and give it a bit more strength.

They are a little shorter than I would have liked but I decided this was best for now to make sure they don't get broken off. I can always add on to them later.

Step 14: Are We Done Yet?

The final step in making anything with cold porcelain is always to seal it really, really well with something to protect it. As you can see, it is very susceptible to moisture. Several coats of varnish are usually recommended. A lot of tutorials I have seen recommend using an acrylic spray varnish, such as Krylon. I haven't actually tried this yet. I might use it on Elfie to see how it works, but I'm not ready to seal her up just yet. She is still a work in progress. For now, I just brushed a little of my glossy varnish over the eyes to make them sparkle (and protect them so I don't end up having to paint them again).

So, now you know how to make a doll's head with cold porcelain (and how not to make one). Thanks for reading and please leave your comments, questions and suggestions below.

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