How to Make a Clay Portrait Sculpture

Skip the kiln with this creative take on figurative sculpting.


Materials and Tools:

16-gauge galvanized utility wire
wire cutters
aluminum foil
paper tape
polymer clay (flesh and other colors)
translucent liquid clay
acrylic paints
heat-set oil paints
clay shaper tool
knitting needle
baby powder
vegetable oil
rubbing alcohol
razor blade
nail buffer
photograph of subject to be sculpted
corsage pins
duct tape
wood base
pasta maker (optional)
heat gun (optional)


1. Shape a 5-by-7-inch sheet of foil into an egg that's slightly smaller than the size of the head to be sculpted. Cover the foil with paper tape.

2. Cover the head's armature with a thin layer of clay.

3. Press eye sockets into the head.

4. Insert a skewer into the bottom of the head to serve as a handle.

5. Paint corsage pins for the eyes: a dot of black, a smaller dot of eye color and an even smaller dot of black on that.

6. Insert the painted pins into the eye sockets.

7. Press additional clay onto the face and sculpt it into rough forms for the eyelids, nose, lips, cheeks and ears.

8. Bake the face at 250 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

9. Refine the features to make the sculpture more realistic. Add more clay to certain areas or carve out clay to enhance the facial features. Bake again at 250 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

10. Polish the face with a nail buffer, and then paint the face.

11. Cut two 28-inch pieces of utility wire. Bend each piece of wire in half and twist them all the way from the bend to the end so you're left with two 14-inch pieces of wire.

12. On each piece of wire, measure and mark 8½ centimeters, 2½ inches and 1½ centimeter, and bend the wire at each mark.

13. Duct-tape the two wires together to create a "spine."

14. Cut another piece of wire to 8 inches, bend in half and twist.

15. Duct-tape the wire along the spine to create the neck.

16. Cut the ends of the armature skeleton so they're even.

17. Cut foil into 1-inch strips and wrap the armature to define the muscles.

18. Wrap foil with paper tape to help the clay stick to the armature. Position the armature to match the pose in the photo you're using.

19. Sculpt and bake shoes. Attach the shoes and the head to the armature.

20. Cover the entire armature with clay.

21. Sculpt the arms, attach them to the armature and bake the entire sculpture.

22. Now that the sculpture is stiff and solid, cut out clothes from a thin sheet of clay and attach them to the body. Bake again, for 30 minutes at 250 degrees.

23. Accent the sculpture with heat-set oil paint, adding a bit of color to the face and adding details to the clothing.

24. Bake the entire sculpture at 250 degrees for 10 minutes.

25. Drill holes into the base and attach the sculpture.

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