Tero Lindfors   Kuvanveistovinkit
Sculpting tips and information

Comments, questions, additions?

Answers to some questions I've been asked,
shared here for the benefit of others.
If there's something to correct or add, please do.

I myself use mainly clay, carve a little wood,
but questions and additions of any kind on the
subject are welcome. If I'm not able to answer,
maybe some later visitor is.

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I have never done a sculpture before. I just need to know what kind of supplies to buy and the easiest clay to work with due to the fact that it may take me several hours.. Can you help??/

    Basic supplies: (don't know if all of these these are the correct terms, being translated)

  • a sena (? -a piece of flexible steel plate for cutting),

  • garrotte / wire for cutting chunks off the main piece of clay,

  • plastic bags for possible storage,

  • cloth to wet and wrap around the piece when storing or working with it for longer than an hour (so it won't harden),

  • spike for cutting, making holes, puncturing air pockets/bubbles (important if you plan to burn your work - expanding hot air will explode breaking the piece),

  • loop iron(s) for carving,

  • a few modeling sticks for detail (wood/metal sticks with shaped ends), especially for smaller pieces,

  • sponge to clean off glazing or colour if needed, in some techniques to wet the piece, but I don't think you should do that,

  • pieces of board for hitting the clay into shape, sometimes handy,

  • a spoon and a container with a lid for slip (the same clay, with some water added, until it's sticky, not running, not too solid. easy to make from crushed dried clay and water), to be used when attaching pieces of clay to one another (scratch both surfaces, add slip, rub together until you feel they're stuck (a few seconds), mold the clay of one piece over the seam, into the other)

  • a large piece of plastic to cover the table if it requires protection,

  • piece(s) of (square) board (slighty porous and uneven so the clay won't stick to it, wood's good) on which to work - you can move the board with the work on it, no sense risking the work by carrying / lifting it while wet / unburned,

  • sandpaper, possibly, for use on the dried / pre-burned (greenware?) piece (the fine dust is hazardous to your heath if inhaled, take that into account),

  • rolling pin for making clay plates (attach with slip),

  • some newspaper paper, for stuffing cavities for support if needed (use nothing inflexible for this - clay shrinks - if the support doesn't, the piece breaks),

    -that's about it.

    The clay:

  • Easiest would be raku or some other clay mixed with grains of burned clay - stays in shape better. Fine / porcelain clays are softer, bend more easily under their own weight, and shink more - you should avoid these, you need skill and patience to work with them.

  • Remember, don't let the piece dry too much - keep the parts you aren't working with wrapped. Slightly dried it will hold shape better and carry more weight, but is harder to mold. For a head, start with a big enough lump, cut and carve the approximately right shape and continue from there. When the outside's finished, let it dry a bit, then carve it hollow from underneath. The thickness should be about the same all around, because of the shrinkage and drying speeds. You might not get to all corners with your loop iron from underneath, so you might need to cut a piece loose from somewhere, carve through it, and replace the piece (with slip, if pieces aren't attached with slip and/or molded well together, they might come loose). Then leave to completely dry (you might need to put a few layers of paper, cloth or some sand under the piece - which will shrink, while the shelf, table or board won't) - drying might take from a day to weeks, depending on size and thickness. Then burn - first to a lower temperature, if painting with ceramic colors, glazing or polishing with sand paper - then to the temperature printed on the clay packet.
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Hi.I am a biginning sculpture . i would like to know if you can help me writting back telling me what can i do to prevent air left in the pieace so it wont explode in the bisque and how thick the glaze should be on the piese.

    For starters:
  • When making bigger lumps of left over pieces of clay, either carefully mould the pieces together, leaving no air between, or make the lump and then slam / throw it down on a piece of board or other surface, repeatedly, and with enough force to make the lump flatten somewhat and force the bubbles out. Continue until the clay is one consistent piece.

  • When making clay plates, make sure the surface you're working on is a little porous and uneven, so air won't get trapped under, and the clay doesn't stick to it. Use a rolling pin and watch for bubbles. When you see one, puncture it with a spike, press the air out, and roll it smooth.

  • When you're done making the piece, having used slip to carefully attach pieces, you can make holes in the clay with the spike from underneath (almost all the way to the surface, watch for the point of the spike), or if you can't get to every place from there, from the surface (all the way through to the hollow inside) and then mould some clay over the hole on the surface. Just make sure the holes are open in one end. You can make complex structures, but always leave a way out for any empty air pockets left inside. Making holes will minimize the risk of any air-bubble-caused damage, and actually make the structure stronger. For example, look at the tiger and waitress pictures on my homepage.


  • Depending on the effect you want, and the glaze you're using (high / low temperature, crackle...).

  • For smooth glaze, use a mixture the consistency between milk and light cream, either dipping the piece in (clean off any parts that would come to contact with the oven (bottom)), pouring some mixture in the piece and turning it around and pouring it out, or spraying it on with a fixative-sprayer (two steel tubes with a hinge between; open, put one end in a cup holding the glaze solution, blow to the other tube, aiming at the piece) until the surface is opaque with the glaze.

  • Thicker glazing is more likely to crack while cooling, leaving a web of hairline fractures. You could use it as an effect. If that's what youre really after, use a crackle glaze, it always cracks. You can rub color in the cracks afterward to make them stand out.

  • And make sure you use the right temperature glaze for the clay. If you try to use high temperature glaze with a low burning clay, you end up with unmelted glaze, or melted clay...

  • Raku glazes are meant to be used with raku clay and raku kilns/ovens only. They are colored glazes, ordinary and crackle, that can change color in unexpected ways in the process, and can be applied in thicker layers.
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What's the best approach for creating a 12" sculpture of a human? Meaning, solid verses armature of wood/wire.

    Depends on the material and form...

    Paper or papier mache:

  • Mould or frame of any appropriate material, wire mesh for example. Remember that paper, too, will shrink when drying, and the frame can show through, wet paper / mache being as soft as it is, so the mesh / frame might have to be dense and smooth.

    Plastic materials:

  • Standing up, you could use a stick / spike / sturdy wire core, but don't leave it in after you're done if you're using clay or some other shrinking material. If the material is relatively hard, it won't need anything. Sitting, crouching etc. figures probably won't need anything either, you can just make a solid sculpture. If it's a shrinking material, carve out the insides when you're finished (you don't need to do this if there are no very thick parts), making sure the thickness is about the same everywhere (different thicknesses - differences in drying and shrinking speeds can lead to cracking). And even if it isn't a shrinking material, you can reuse it.

    Hard materials:

  • These, obviously, will be solid, requiring only a spike for attaching it somewhere, possibly. And that can be added later.
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Do you have a studio to teach ceramic sculpture?

  • No, I wish I had a studio to work in. I go to class to work. I might do some at home, but not that much. It's from fall to spring, 2 & a half hours once a week, for a few years now.

    I´m goin to live in Colorado Springs on August and I would like to continious learning that.

  • Well, if I did have a teaching studio, it'd be on the wrong continent for you...
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Is it possible to make ceramic beads that can be strung together as a necklace? How is it done?

  • Yes, it's possible. I can give you some advice, and you could try asking in alt.sculpture newsgroup.

  • If you're not planning to glaze the beads, there's no problem. Make the beads any shape you like (using fingers, sticks, spikes etc.). Don't make any parts too thin. If you are going to use glaze, it's a little trickier, since the glazed surface shouldn't be in contact with anything. In this case, don't apply glaze / wipe it off around the hole (for the string / wire / chain), and fire the bead(s) suspended with a length of resistance wire (you can probably get some from a hardware store). Steel wire won't do, it doesn't stand as high temperatures. Afterwards, just slide the beads off the wire.
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Do you know anything about a sculture called "foul play" depicting hercules and antaeus wrestling?

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I am trying to find formulas for low fired(cone 4-6) porcelain slip and a clear glaze to use over it. I've spent time working w/ stoneware & high fire clays but now working in my garage and not on a campus &I need different low fire formulas. Do you use already made/mixed clay or do you prepare your own ? If you can't help me w/ this do you know someone who can? Thank you for your time and thought in this matter. I really like the body of work on your page,it's very fine work and I wish you prosperity and good spirit.

  • I buy my clay, and have so far only worked with stoneware. Don't take just my word for it, but I'd imagine that buying suitable fine clay (porcelain clays are the fines and smoothest) and thinning it enough to make it runny (for casting), or buying it dried and powdered (since I'm not too familiar with the English terms, I assume this is what you mean by formula, don't think you mix it with anything but water) and mix it with enough water. As for the glazes, I don't think there's any point in mixing them yourself, unless you use huge quantities or want to experiment with colours. Just buy the right sort for the temperature. If you do want to mix everything yourself, try asking the supplier for suitable formulas.
    Slip-casting and making porcelain in general is difficult, or so I'm told, and you really should have someone help you or give you good instructions. Porcelain won't support much weight in the kiln, that includes it's own weight, the structures can bend under their own weight. Porcelain will also shrink considerably, up to 20 percent, and risks of structural tensions and faults causing cracks is much greater than with stoneware.
    I'll add some links to this page later that might be helpful, so if you still need help, check back in a day or two.

  • I've sent this to alt.sculpture newsgroup.

    ADDITION from Andrew Werby, thanks!

  • Casting slip, besides water and clay, contains a "deflocculant" such as sodium silicate or soda ash, or both. This allows the water to liquefy more clay, which has less water to lose before solidifying.But aside from that,all your advice seemed good to me.
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I need to drill a hole in a ceramic vase to make a lamp. What is the best way to do this without cracking the vase?

  • Ceramics and other stoneware, glass and similar: use a diamond drill. Make sure that the vase will hold still while drilling. You might want / need to put the other side against something (wood, for example) to prevent the material from giving in when pressing the drill into it. Use a big enough drill or drill a circle (or whatever shape) of holes. Grind / sand the sides or edges smooth. Explain your need when getting a drill and ask for advice using it. If you have them, you can use suitable power tools. If you know a mason or someone else working with hard materials, you could try asking them.
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I am a beginner and i want to make a face or body which tools and supply do i need and which part in your web side i need to interested in.

  • You've found the right page, check out the Supplies and clay for beginners answer. For a face or body, if you're not making them very small, your most important tools are your fingers, with a modeling stick for details, and a working surface. Don't let the clay dry too much while molding it. It's probably easiest to make it solid, then carve it hollow with a loop iron after the surface has dried a little - just make sure the thickness is about the same in all places. If your piece is small and the thickness doesn't vary terribly much in connected parts, you can leave it solid. Buy any clay you like, not porcelain or other very fine clays, though. Consider / ask about the clay's color and graininess, and decide what you like. Or use something else, like plastoline or wax, depending on how hard you want it to be. Working with clay you also need access to a kiln. Some clay-like substances you can bake in an ordinary oven, but they won't be as hard.
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I have just started working with clay i have been handbuilding question is what can i put between the mold and clay so that the clay doesnt stick to it. I have a couple of plastic pieces that i would like to lay my slab over but from past experience if there nothing between the clay and what i am using it well you get the picture

  • Try cloth. Use an old, worn-out t-shirt or something. You'll have to smooth out the surface afterwards (if you don't like the effect), but it doesn't stick like plastic. Never any direct contact with plastic... Old pantyhoses have also been used with success.
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How can I mould metal?

  • I'm not very knowledgeable on this, so the readers who are, please fill in the blanks. First: what kind of metal? Soft, hard, meltingpoint? Engraving tools, hammers, saws, pliers and files, possibly heating equipment. If you work long on metal, or mold it more than a little, you should heat it every once in a while, which will reduce tension and prevent it becoming brittle. Beat out / bend the shape - possibly cut and/or saw the preliminary form first. Weld when neccessary. Details from suppliers, hardware stores or other metalworkers. Good luck!
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I recently sculpted a head in clay and the nose and mustache and lips came off and left a smooth surface underneath. What would cause this?

  • You probably did not scratch the surfaces or use slip (sticky-wet clay - works like glue) when attaching the pieces. Even then, it's not enough just to slap some slip and the other piece on - you have to rub the pieces together until you feel the slip hold true. And mold the seam smooth / closed. The pieces attached could have been too dry, too. If you did not attach those, but molded them of the same lump, the clay was probably too dry, and caused cracking. Exessive molding can cause tension in the material also, in dryish clay - like a piece of wire breaks when you bend it back and forth (letting the clay rest and absorb some moisture helps). The smooth surface suggests insufficient scratching and rubbing the pieces together - in such a case, the slip only acts as insulation, and will not hold when it dries. It's for making easier the molding together of the pieces, it doesn't hold by itself.
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recently seen at an show was a terra cotta colored clay that wasn't kept wrapped and party was told, didn't harden until fired. Are you aware of such a clay and if so, what is it called?

  • It was probably one of the crafts / hobby clays, meant for home use. They are not natural clays, but mixtures that harden in the low temperatures of a home oven. I can't recall any brand name at the moment, don't have or use them myself. They're fine for decorative items, but won't harden as much or be as durable as real clay, properly fired at a high temperature.
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What is the proper method for firing terra cotta pottery?

I am an Art Ed and Fibers major at Massachusetts College of Art.I currently designing a lesson plan for middle school children on coil pottery to be linked to african jenne-jeeno pottery. I am not experienced in ceramics other than simple hand building. Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated.

  • There are different ways, in a fire or a kiln of some type. Lower temperature than stoneware clays, is the important thing (see the package / ask the dealer). The clay must of course be dry before firing (a few days for smaller work, a couple of weeks or more for larger).
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i'm curious if there is a type of clay that will harden and be as durable as a fired piece without the use of a kiln? i realize that people made pottery for thousands of years before the invention of the kiln, so there must be a way. Can you give me any information?

  • No, don't think there is. There might not have been a modern type kiln, but there was fire. Some clays harden at a lower temperature and can be fired in open fire. They still won't be and weren't as hard as kiln-fired stoneware.
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I'm able to produce pleasant pieces of art, but am unable to fire them up so tey remain unfinished. Is there a way I'd be able to bake them in my house? At what temperature? For how long? Please help.

  • For normal clays, no. Home ovens do not reach sufficient temperatures. There are clay-like masses meant for baking in home ovens, but they won't be as hard as real clays. Or masses in varying degrees of hardness, that are not baked, and won't harden more. But then, it might not be neccessary for a decorative item to be rock hard.
        Clay ovens / kilns are heated slowly to the appropriate temperature for the clay used, possibly at a preliminary baking temperature first, for hardening enough for painting and glazing, and then to the higher temperature for final hardening (500 - 1200 C / 900 - 2200 F). The kiln is allowed to slowly cool after reaching the set baking temperature, the whole process taking a couple of days.
        Some clays are baked in gas heated kilns, then possibly smoked, then cooled in water or allowed to cool in the kiln, this takes some hours. Kiln / oven can be built (stacked) from fire bricks (outdoors, of course). In this method, long tongs, gloves, possibly other long metal tools are need for handling the hot pieces. The pieces should reach temperature high enough to make them glow red and glazing to melt. Be careful. Don't place kiln on concrete etc., it might heat up and explode or break in the same manner as a sculpture that has air or excess moisture.
        Finally, some low temperature fired clays can be baked in fire on on embers, but, again, won't be as hard as high temperature fired.

    Decide what you need and want, and ask at the shop for suitable clay / material.

    Also, you can try to find a shop or school nearby that would let you use their kiln for a fee or for free.

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What clays CAN you harden in an oven?

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I would like to sculpt a large figure in clay and have a 23\" oval kiln. The figure is larger than that. How would I connect the pieces after they have been fired?

  • Mm, I haven't a definite last-word answer for that, but some options would be just plain stacking. Glue or cement. Jointing, but can be difficult. Tenons, to be added later to holes made before firing. And combinations of these. For a snug fit, you'd need to possibly sand the contact and outer surfaces. It helps if you can hide seams with, say, a sculpted cloth draping the figure, extending a little over the break in it (the figure). Or a separate roof on a cottage with end pieces. Or with surface texturing.
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For a high firing clay - cone 8-10; I went to a local pottery shop and found that my selection of glazes was very limited and came in powder form and are toxic. Could this be the store or is that true for the industry? I would like to sculpt with high firing clay so that I can use them outside. Please advise me on this. Thank you.

  • The liquid underglazes (BOTZ) I bought last are up to cone 8-9, and cone 10 isn't too much hotter. With a bit of googling I found another brand (Spectrum). There are non-toxic liquid glazes (suitable for schools and children's hobbies even), for use in the range cone 8-10. Here's a few links, you can also try making your own searches using engines and directories. A larger pottery dedicated store should have a decent selection. It could be that they cater more for the professional or serious enthusiast who like to mix their own.


    Using pottery outside is a bit more problematic; first, are you willing to risk accidents an vandalism? And, depending on climate where you live and the shape, thickness and water tightness of the piece, cracks caused by freezing and expanding water can be a problem.

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