Sculpt a Human Head




About: I'm a maker with a penchant for art and a love of sculpting the unsettling. I also appreciate the history of deep craft traditions and would be a good part of any post apocalypse survival team.

I've been doing sculpture most of my life, but just returned to figurative work making some heads from polymer clay. I'm clearly no expert, but this is just some basics to get you started in the right direction.

Also, I just took an tutorial from that really helped refine my techniques and process. I can't even hold a candle to the master level stuff they have going on there. 

EDIT: Just a note. Yup, it's supposed to be creepy.  A teeth baring head on a pole doesn't have much wiggle room around creepy.

Step 1: Basic Proportions

If you've ever tried to draw or sculpt humans, you know proportions are key. Here are some of the bare bones if you've forgotten from art class.

1. The eyes are in the middle of the head. For real, the forehead and hair are the full top half. Fold a face in half and the eyes are right there on the crease.
2. If you fold that same face in quarters, the fold above the eyes is the hair line and the fold below is the bottom of the nose. 
3. So now that you're all into folding faces, fold it into thirds lengthwise. The eyes are in the middle of the two lines. The mouth stretches the middle third.
4. If you have two eyes (which most of us do), an imaginary third eye of the same size should fit between them.
5. Ears line up with the middle of the eye and the bottom of the nose.
6. In profile, the brow and chin line up, and the ears are in the middle of the head.

So this is a jumping off point. Each face is different in one way or another, but if you start here, people won't immediately say "dude, that isn't right."

AND this is just for drawing. When you get into the 3D world of sculpture there are a million other things that come into play as the head turns.

Also, you know, check out a mirror. You've got one. Take a look.

Step 2: Skull

First sculpt a skull as though it were wrapped in panty hose. This will ensure you get most of the head looking right. To get the basics of the human skull, check out this model to get nice images of the skull in all it's shapely glory. You can use the arrows to scroll through the individual images.

Step 3: Block Out Features

Now that you have the bones about right, carve out the eye sockets. Remember - middle of the head. Don't go to high. Then, using little bits of clay build up the nose, upper and lower mouth, brow, and cheeks. Keep this at a very rough level. It's easy to get sucked into detail but try to hold back. Let your eyes fall out of focus if you need to. Just keep some distance on it.

NOTE: Do not even think about putting on ears or eye balls yet. The ears come last, otherwise you end up squishing them over and over while you mess with the rest of the face.

Step 4: Adding Muscle and Flab

Now you get to start having some fun thinking about the shape of person you're making. If you're making a crazy character, you can start to throw those proportions out the window and exaggerate certain face shapes like the mouth, nose or cheeks. If you're aiming for something a bit more realistic, start to fill in the gaps with little bits of clay that mimic the muscles and pads in the face like the connection of the nose to the cheek. Start to look in the mirror to get images of the complex curves.

If you're having trouble understanding the shapes, as I do, think about each section as something you're more familiar touching. Such as, the cheek is a triangle with the roundness of a mango; the nose above the nostril is a tarp to the cheek; between the eyebrow and  eyelid is a cashew...

Remember, your not doing details yet, just shapes, so try to keep yourself from digging into wrinkles or line work. It's the shapes and how they come together that sell the artwork in the end.

Step 5: Teeth, Eyes and Ears

Teeth: Take a a little worm of off-white clay and put it in the mouth. Make some indentations of where the individual teeth separate and detail this out. After you close the mouth again, you won't have much of a chance to rework the teeth without disturbing the rest of the lips.

Eyeballs: Make some round bits of off-white clay that are equal in size. I made about six to be sure I'd get two close enough to the same. Then, if you're using polymer clay, bake them before putting them into the sockets. Now, using small bits of clay, create the upper and lower lid.

Ears: Now that everything is close to finished, attach the ears. I'm terrible at ears. Use references.

Step 6: Fine Detailing

Now that your head is together, go ahead and put in those details you've been itching for. The crows feet, wrinkles, the expression and fine tuning the shapes.

THE END: And there you go. Brand new head. Now give it an amazing paint job and start in on the next one. You can only get better from here.

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    19 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    That really is awesome. I have been wanting to sculpt, but haven't dome it. This was very informative, and I am encouraged to give it a try. Thanks!

    Anthony Marhello

    4 years ago

    That is AWESOME!!!!! Ps Check out my account i made a tv:)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent 'ible! I've always envied those people such as you who have artistic talent. You make it look so easy. I've read several books on wood carving, and your tips on how to position the various parts of the face were much more concise, logical and easy to follow. I am going to copy that part of your 'ible, and put the 'ible in my 'favorites' list in my computer. Thank you for such a valuable resource!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Beautiful work and great instructions!

    Regarding the final look: If a male, long-haired white or salt and pepper eyebrows would enhance the aged appearance. Not all eyebrow hairs would be long, only a couple.The ear lobes would be longer on an elder, but I see in the last photograph that the ears were improved. Also, I'd add a couple of liver-spots, unless it's female, because "she" would wear some cover-up makeup.

    I enjoyed seeing your process of your additive sculpting method.

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent instructable …
    But, personally, I find the result very eerie …
    Maybe this is due to the fact that you start from the bones up … This makes it more a forensic work than sculpture : ie. art that renders expressions. One could not do that when sculpting (ie. carving) a stone such as marble : you have to work on how the model looks at first. That is on what you see.
    Again this is a persona feeling. I do not want to criticize how others appreciate your work. I just want to add a different perspective.
    And anyway, I did appreciate the simplicity and clarity of your instructions !… 

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the comment. I actually intended an eerie result. It's not the process of an additive sculpture (as opposed to the subtractive types you mention) but a combination of the paint, expression and proportions. Starting with the bone structure is an easy way to make sure you keep the eyes, cheeks and jaw in the right place as you move clay around. You are right though, I did exaggerate the initial sculpt into a skull to get the point across.


    5 years ago on Introduction



    5 years ago on Introduction

    I found your descriptions very clear and precise. Very interesting from an artistic perspective. Thank you for taking the time to present this.


    5 years ago

    Very we'll done! I agree with some of the others in that it looks creepy. Maybe for Halloween? You make it look so easy, I think that's what they call talent :) thank you for posting.


    God that is awesome!!! you could do that as a job on police investigations


    Reply 5 years ago

    Oh, yeah. Totally creepy, but that's kinda the point. Maybe should have mentioned that. Thanks!