How to model clay animals

Written by leslie rose
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How to model clay animals
Experiment with different clay animals. (Getty Creative)

Making clay animals is great fun, and it's an easy project for people of all ages and abilities. The more you know about sculpture and working with your hands, the more detailed you can get and the more advanced your animal can be, but even small children can make animals from clay. Most important to remember when making an animal from clay is to break the animal down into smaller pieces, and to take each step one at a time. This will reduce frustration and give a clear direction as you make your creation.

Things you need

  • Clay of your choice (modelling clay, sculpting clay--red or white)
  • Sculpting tools (needle tool, rib, wood modelling tool, sponge)
  • Jar of water (if using sculpting clay)

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  1. 1

    Determine what animal you are making and, if necessary, locate an image of that animal to model after.

  2. 2

    Most clay animals will be best assembled in pieces. Start with the body. From the clay you have to work with, tear off a chunk and mould it into the shape of the animal's body. Keep the shape loose and flexible at this point--don't worry too much about making it look exactly like the animal just yet.

  3. 3

    Tear off four smaller pieces of clay and form the limbs. Again, keep the structure loose and don't worry just yet about making them look perfect. If you are using sculpting clay, score the arms and legs on the end where they will connect to the body, and score the body where the arms and legs will be attached.

    Attach the limbs and smooth down the seams with your thumb or a sponge, or a combination of the two.

  4. 4

    Tear off a piece for the head and neck. Score the neck where it will attach to the body, and score the body where it will attach to the neck. Mold the two together with a dab of water and smooth down the seams.

  5. 5

    If you are using sculpting clay, hollow out the animal's body so that it is no more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick; otherwise, it will explode in the kiln when fired. Depending on your animal's shape, hollow the animal out from the bottom, leaving a large hole, or cut the body in half and gut it from the inside. Reattach the two halves by scoring each side and then smoothing down the seams. Any air bubbles in your clay will also cause it to explode in the kiln, so use your needle tool to make a very small hole leading to the body's hollow middle.

  6. 6

    Add details to the animal's body. Form the eyes, nose, mouth, and teeth. Give texture to its fur or muscles to its body with your fingers or sculpting tools or run a comb over the body to simulate hair or fur marks. For small animals, use a needle tool or a similar object to create texture. For larger animals, use wider and blunter objects like wood modelling tools, texture blades and ribs. Try not to form one part too perfectly before the other parts are formed.

  7. 7

    If you are trying to make your animal look realistic, flick your eyes back and forth between the animal in the photo and the clay animal you've created. Look for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Is the shape of the body distorted or out of proportion? Are the muscles accurately placed?

  8. 8

    Stand the animal up on its feet and balance it until you are sure it is stable. Make adjustments to the legs as necessary. You may need to widen the feet, hooves or claws, or thicken the legs slightly in order to make the animal stand.

  9. 9

    If you intend to fire your animal in a kiln, set it to the side and allow it to dry completely. If there is moisture in your clay when it is fired, it will explode in the kiln.

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