Beginners Guide to Clay Modelling and Clay Sculptures

Clay is a finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals with possible traces of quartz (SiO2), metal oxides (Al2O3 , MgO etc.) and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure. Clays are plastic due to particle size and geometry as well as water content, and become hard, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Depending on the soil’s content in which it is found, clay can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red.

What is Clay Modelling?

Clays exhibit plasticity when mixed with water in certain proportions. However, when dry, clay becomes firm and when fired in a kiln, permanent physical and chemical changes occur. These changes convert the clay into a ceramic material. Because of these properties, clay is used for making pottery, both utilitarian and decorative, and construction products, such as bricks, wall and floor tiles. Different types of clay, when used with different minerals and firing conditions, are used to produce earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Modelling clay is any of a group of malleable substances used in building and sculpting. The material compositions and production processes vary considerably.

Clay Sculptures

Clay sculptures have been a popular art form since pre-historic times. The popularity of this art form was historically due to the availability of the materials used to create them. Today this art form is used as a fine art, a therapy art and as a learning art.

To create clay sculptures you first need the right tools and materials. First of all you will need the right type of clay. Sculpting clay, also referred to as potter’s clay, has been cleaned of impurities and it has a fairly homogenous consistency. Potter’s clay comes in a variety of volumes from 5 pound blocks to 100 pound blocks.

After you have bought your potter’s clay you will next need shaping and cutting tools. You can use just about anything for a shaping tool. Some common items used for shaping clay include knives, forks and texture tools. You will also want to get a wire for cutting the clay. In order to stabilize your clay sculpture you will need a kiln to fire your sculpture. These high temperature ovens come in a variety of sizes from small table top models to extra large corner units. The final items that you will need are glazes.

After you have all of the supplies and materials needed for your clay sculptures you will be ready to start. The first step is to figure out what you want to sculpt. You may want to sketch out your ideas so that you have a visual reference to refer to when working with the clay.

Next you will want to use your wire to cut off a piece of clay to work with. To start with the clay will be hard to manipulate, however, as you work with the clay it will soften and become more pliable. Work your clay into the shape that you want using your hands, fingers and shaping tools. Common shaping techniques for clay include rolling, balling and pinching.

After you complete your sculpture you will want to fire it in the kiln and allow it to cool. You can then glaze the item and re-fire it. This will cure the glaze and finish your sculpture.

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