How to Sculpt a Head Out of Clay




About: Lover of hackers, knitters, cupcake bakers, shennanigans, sci-fi/fantasy, board games, coding and men in drag. Find me blogging at Catch me on Twitter too! @zazenergy

I decided to embark on making a clay head, so naturally, I chose Lionel Richie (circa 1984) as my model. For the uninitiated, Richie's video for the 1984 blockbuster hit, "Hello", features his clay head molded by a blind art student, Laura.

I am not blind, but I do wear glasses and love Lionel Richie. Perhaps most importantly, my name is also Laura. As you can well imagine, given all these similarities, I felt a psychic connection with the Laura in the video and wanted to make this tribute to Mr Richie.

If you've never molded a clay head, don't worry. I am going to give you all the secret tips and tricks to doing this and GUARANTEE you will have a well formed head when you are done with this Instructable.

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Step 1: Gather Your Materials

I did an incredible amount of research in order to figure out how to sculpt Lionel. You can read more about that HERE.

Point is this: if you don't know how to sculpt, you need to build off of a base. In my case I decided to build my head off of a foam head. This can most commonly be found in your local neighborhood hair weave emporium.

In addition to your clay head, you'll need air drying clay, a sponge, assorted clay sculpting tools (typically sold in packs at a art or pottery store), a protected surface to work on and a bowl of water.

Finally, I chose to buy a small sculpting wheel to mount Lionel on so that I could easily swivel his head around. This is entirely optional, but it made it easier to sculpt around his head.

Parts List in detail:

Foam head  ~ $10
Air drying clay  roughly 8 pounds ~$25
Clay sculpting tools ~ $10
Sculpting wheel ~ $10

Step 2: Mold the Clay Onto the Foam Head

Mold your clay onto the foam head to cover it entirely. I recommend taking a chunk of clay, rolling it into a snake like figure, and then placing it on the foam head. This will help you to more evenly distribute clay so it's not lumpy.

You'll need to continue wetting the clay gingerly to help you mold.

At this stage, make sure to cover the head with a good layer of clay. If it's too thin, it will crack and your sculpture will go from art to looking like something out of Thriller.

Once you're done covering the head, we can begin to add the facial characteristics.

Step 3: Adding Facial Character to Your Sculpture

Here's where the art comes in. Have a photo in front of you of your subject. Refer to the photo often as you add pieces of clay to the sculpture. Mold as you see fit.

There's a trick to adding clay on top of clay: when adding clay on top of clay, you need to have them bind.

1) Score the underside of the new piece of clay. 
2) Score the area you will be adding the clay. 
3) Take a small amount of clay water and rub it into the scored areas. 
4) Attach the two pieces.

Step 4: Adding Hair

For Lionel, I really had to figure out the challenge of sculpting a jerry curl.  Fortunately, it's actually really easy!

Take pieces of clay that you've formed into "snakes" and line them up on his head (remember you'll want to use the trick I mentioned in the last step about scoring).

Attach the strips to his head and then simply pinch them between your fingers. It's just that easy.

Step 5: Allow Your Sculpture to Dry

Once you're done, you'll need to let your sculpture dry. This generally takes two days. If you notice your sculpture cracking, simply wet the affected area, and add more clay.

Step 6: Share Your Sculpture With a Loved One

I decided to give Lionel to my work wife, angelabchua.

I simply placed it on her desk for her to enjoy. This was her reaction to finding it:

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    12 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    hahahha! its single handedly the most amazing, beautiful and terrifying thing I have ever seen. It haunts me, but in that good way.

    Regretsy! here we come!


    Question 5 months ago

    My daugter was trying to make a bust out of a styrofoam wig head, but it completely cracked everywhere. Is she using the wrong clay? It is AMACO air dry clay from hobby lobby... or is it her tefhnique. She's tried it twice with the same effect... the first time thicker, and the second time thinner. Or is it her method? The clay shrinks... wig head doesn't, so ... cracks... any ideas?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Did you make this on the "Night Shift"? I couldn't resist! Great Instructable! Lionel is one of my favorite singers. Thanks for sharing!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    So, I was just wondering. Did you make this piece quickly or did it take you...All Night Long!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    This Instructable is Hilarious! Good eye for sculpting and I'm glad to see the video was able to be of assistance!

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes! Thanks SHIFT! for your amazing video!

    We couldn't have done it without you.