The inspiration for this project came from the charming but rudimentary metal animals that can be bought as souvenirs when you’re on holiday
Adapting the shapes to clay isn’t difficult because of the malleable nature of the material, and the animal shapes themselves are very simplified, so you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of anatomy to make something pleasing to look at. In fact, the quirkier the animals, the more charming they tend to be
About paper clay:
Paper clay is an amazing material to work with because it has the ability to stick to itself whether thick or thin, wet or dry. It’s possible to make slabbed vessels from completely dry sheets of paper clay – by simply cutting them to the required dimensions, the sheets can be fitted together easily after dipping the edges in paper clay slip, which acts as a glue for an instant fix. In the same way, you can build onto a form that is bone dry – when coiling, pinching or modelling – you simply re-wet the edges then continue to build.
Paper clay can be used for all hand-building methods but without the limitations that many clays impose by their nature and composition. In this project, we use the clay to build animals from a single template shape. You can use the templates provided to make a pig or antelope, or make your own following the given instructions – almost any animal can be made in this way as long as you think the shape of the animal out carefully in advance.
You can make your own paper clay or buy it ready-made from your clay supplier – available in earthenware and stoneware clay types, smooth and grogged – it’s worth buying a bag first, to find out if you like working with it, before embarking on making your own.
You will need:
Sheet foam to make the template (you could use card but the foam will last longer for repeat making)
Paper clay – a grogged clay is good if you want to Raku fire the animal
Thin wooden dowelling – 5mm max, cut to 4 x 15cm lengths – long enough to support from the spine to the foot of the animal with at least 1cm spare
Cotton wool – for packing the body of the animal
Props (kiln props, bricks, wooden blocks) to support the animal as you work
Begin by making the template – you have to imagine what your chosen animal would look like if flattened with its legs splayed out at either side. You must make allowances for the legs to be rolled around the dowelling when working out the proportions, and allow a section to fold on the underside for the belly of the animal and possibly the neck (depending on the animal). If using the given templates all these measurements have been worked out, but if making your own animal try to imagine all the areas where you might need extra clay to close the shape and build this into the splayed design – all must be accommodated in the one template, except for the added details like ears, etc.
The easiest way of doing this is to draw the shape on a folded sheet of paper or card, as shown, so that the spine of the animal aligns with the fold in the card.
Cut the shape out with the paper still folded so that when opened it forms the whole animal, then cut away the belly flap from one side.
Transfer the outline to the sheet of foam and cut it out.
Roll a 5mm thick slab of paper clay on a sheet of plastic. It should be large enough to fit the template comfortably, with some spare.
Carefully cut out the shape – the paper or fibre in the clay often makes it slightly more difficult to cut cleanly but don’t worry, this won’t affect the finished item.
Reserve any offcuts of slab for use later.
Cut a small length of card about 5cm wide to fit inside the body to support the leg dowels as you work on the rest of the body. Make sure the card fits inside the boundaries of the body, leaving enough spare clay around it to make the joins. This detail is important to prevent the leg dowels from pushing through the body clay later.
Place a length of dowel centrally on each leg as shown so that they rest on the card at spine level. Using a toothbrush and a little water, score the first leg edges and roll the clay around the dowel – securing the clay firmly when the two edges meet.
The clay won’t close all the way to the belly, but this doesn’t matter – just join the edges until they won’t close any more without distorting the shape of the body.
Form the remaining three legs in the same way – leaving all the dowels in place when finished.
Support the head with wodges of cotton wool if the clay starts to tear.
Very carefully lift the animal on the plastic sheet with the leg dowels still in place, then holding the form upside down in one hand, carefully stuff the body with cotton wool. This will belly-out the shape and help retain that shape as you finish construction. The cotton wool will burn away, along with the card, during firing.
Don’t worry about the head at this stage.
Stuff the body until you can just close the belly flap over.
Still holding the body in your hand, carefully apply a little slip to the edge of the belly flap then close it over the cotton wool and fix it to the opposite side. Smooth the join over with a kidney until seamless.
Turn the animal over and lay it on its back, supported on each side with kiln props or similar. Now start work to close the rear of the animal using the toothbrush and water to score the edges before joining them.
Smooth over the join with a kidney for a seamless finish.
You can now turn the animal upright, and it will sit on its legs comfortably with the dowelling still in place.
Score and wet the joins that form the top of the head, then join the two edges together neatly, making sure the seal is good.
Turn the animal upside down again then pack the head with cotton wool to give it some shape, then seal the underside edges in the same way as the rest of the body.
You can leave the body and head cavities open like this if you want to, as they are in the metal animals, or close them up with triangular sections of slab cut from the reserved spare clay.
Make sure to blend the clay in well until it looks seamless. You can use a finger or wooden modelling tool, as shown, to do this.
Turn the animal upright again and sit it on its dowel legs. Roll two tiny balls of clay to form the eyes – fix them either side of the head with a little water then impress them with the end of a wooden tool, or even a pencil, to give some character.
Pinch two ears to a pleasing shape and fix these in place in the same way – use the end of a rounded modelling tool to form an indentation in each ear as a final detail.
Finally, roll a short, thin coil, pointed at one end, for the tail and wind it around a piece of dowel to form a curl. This will be very vulnerable when handling and great care should be taken to ensure it’s fixed in place securely. It may help to fix the tail in place when it’s completely dry so that it holds its shape. Remember, this is possible with paper clay!
When the animal is leather hard, carefully remove the leg dowels.
Add any extra details like nostrils before allowing the form to dry out completely before bisque firing.
The finished pig.
Make other animals following the same method.
When bisque fired, decorate the body by roughly painting a base layer of underglaze all over the surface.
Paint on some randomly shaped spots in a contrasting colour before dipping in transparent glaze. Fire to a temperature suitable for your clay.
This project first appeared in issue 6. To buy the magazine, click here