How to Make a Clay Head Sculpture

Updated April 17, 2017

Learning to make a clay head sculpture can be a great way to build interesting three-dimensional portraits of friends and family. If you have never made a clay head sculpture before, achieving the finished product may seem daunting. However, by learning a few tips and tricks on how to create proper perspective in the face, making a clay head sculpture will be less difficult than you may think.

Create sketches of the person you want to sculpt to use as a reference. Draw an inverted egg shape to start sketching the face. Sketch a cross so that the two lines intersect in the centre of the oval. A common mistake of perspective for new artists is assuming the eyes are higher on the face than they should be. Use the vertical centre line to place the centre of the eyes. Separate the eyes with the width of another eye, like a third eye between them. Sketch vertical lines from the inside corner of each eye to properly place the outside edges of the nose. Sketch new horizontal lines to break the oval into thirds and draw the mouth a third of the way up the face from the chin.

Start building the clay head using clay coils. The head will need to be hollow for firing or it will explode in the kiln. Coil a tube for the neck and then increase the coil by approximately four inches for the chin. Smooth the coils to create a flat surface once you have a hollow head shape. Sprinkle the clay with water if it begins to crack due to dryness. Water-based clay has to be kept moist during sculpting. Create hollows to represent the eye sockets by pressing gently in the middle of the face with your thumbs, leaving an eye length between the hollows.

Roll an eyeball-sized sphere and cut it in half. Score the flat back of the half spheres with your clay tool and press a half sphere into each eye socket. Refer to your sketch to consider the placement of the eyelids. Cut four flat strips of clay and lay them over the eye spheres for the upper and lower lids on each eye. Use a needle tool to create a hollow for the pupil and radiating lines for the iris. Build a nose bridge by creating a wedge shape. Attach the top of the bridge slant between the eyes. Roll two spheres and attach them on either side of the bridge to represent the flair of nostrils. Check your sketch to compare the size and shape of the nose.

Shape the mouth by rolling two tubes and shaping them into lips. Attach the clay lips so the outer edge of the lips line up with the edge of the nostrils and the inside corners of the eyes. Use thin strips of clay to represent the gentle slope that leads up to the edge of the lips. Press a round clay tool into the v-shape above the upper lip to create the small hollow above the lip. Add hair to your sculpture by building the shape of the entire mass of hair and then texturing it with an old toothbrush. Let your sculpture dry completely before firing.


If you decide to treat your sculpture with glaze, you will need to wait until the head is fired and then refire it after glazing.

Things You'll Need

  • Sketch paper
  • Pencil
  • Clay
  • Clay tools
  • Kiln
  • Glaze (optional)
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About the Author

Melissa Hopkins began writing for the Southern Illinois University newspaper in 2000, where she won several awards. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Hopkins moved to San Diego, where she worked as a stringer for various publications with the Pomerado Newspaper Group.