How to Build Model Mountains Using Clay

Written by rod kuster
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How to Build Model Mountains Using Clay
You can create realistic-looking mountains with clay. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Models built from clay can be spectacular in their level of detail. Car companies use clay models to develop and examine their designs. Moist clay will adapt any form or texture to which it is applied. It can be used to make both intricate and simple designs. Moist clay is extremely malleable which is why it is a preferred material to form objects. Paper clay is mixed with cellulose fibre, which makes it more stable when making large pieces as it resists cracking during the drying and firing processes.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Paper clay
  • Cardboard
  • Masking tape
  • Rolling pin
  • Rocks
  • Pottery knife
  • Needle tool
  • Water

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  1. 1

    Cut cardboard pieces into shapes that will allow you to build the basic shape of the mountain model. Roughly create the peaks and valleys as close as you can to the final dimensions you have planned. Use masking tape to connect the pieces of cardboard and to stabilise the modules. Check that the entire mock-up is one single piece to prevent it from coming apart as you are adding clay. Place the completed cardboard model on a table where you can sculpt.

  2. 2

    Unpack the clay and knead it like dough on a sturdy table to give it a uniform consistency. Form the pieces about the size of a small bun to roll out the slabs you will need to cover the cardboard mock-up. Roll out slabs of clay to a thickness of approximately 1 inch. Use equal-sized pieces of wood on each side of the clay to achieve a consistent thickness when rolling it out. Place the clay slabs on flat boards.

  3. 3

    Use rocks to create texture on your slabs of clay. Press the rock surface gently into the clay. Use only enough pressure to transfer the texture. Vary the rocks you use to prevent recognisable patterns from emerging. Take the slabs in sections and place on the cardboard. Gently mould the clay evenly against the sides, tops and between the peaks. Attach clay wherever the cardboard is showing through and use a rock to blend the textures. Continue until the entire mock-up has been clad in clay. Blend in all the connections and seams to make the entire sculpture look uniform.

  4. 4

    Add detail using more rocks for texture. Cut lines and crevices into the sides to simulate real mountainside features until you can see the model come alive. Place some dried pieces of slab clay into a bowl. Use a rock to crush the clay into small pieces. Create a variety of sizes of crushed clay pieces. Mix a slurry using dry clay and water that will be the glue that connects any further additions. Select an area and apply the slurry to the model. Sprinkle the crushed clay onto the wet surface. Use this method wherever you want to create the illusion of a rockfall or a rocky mountain surface.

Tips and warnings

  • Be careful when removing the cardboard to avoid cracking the sculpture.

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