You have to be a certain age to remember this, but these leaping deer were inspired by Hilda Ogden’s ducks!
You will need:
Clay for modelling
Casting slip – clay type of choice (porcelain used here)
Before you begin:
You can choose any animal to make these wall decorations. We have chosen deer for their festive connotations, but it could be geese or turkeys – etc. Or an animal not associated with the festive season at all. Flamingoes, anyone?
Begin by drawing out your deer in three sizes – stag, doe and fawn.
Keep the outline simple and draw them to the size you want them to be.
You can download the templates used here, at claycraft.co.uk/templates
Trace the outlines of the deer and transfer the first one to your non-absorbent board.
Work over the traced line in marker pen so that you can see it more clearly.
Begin to fill in the outline and build up the shape with soft clay to model the deer.
Think about the anatomy of the creature as you do this, and try to include some suggestion of muscle and bone structure.
Once the basic shape of the deer is formed, carefully work around the detail with a wooden tool, to refine the shape and eliminate any possible undercuts.
Carefully model the detail of the eye using a suitable wooden tool.
Build a thick slab cottle, at least 2cm higher than the highest point of the model and allowing a minimum 3cm space all the way around.
You can make a cottle from a wooden frame if you prefer, but whichever you choose, seal around the edge with a coil of soft clay to prevent the plaster from escaping.
Estimate the amount of plaster to water mix you will need to fill the frame, working to the ratio of 1 pint to 1 ½lb of plaster, then weigh and measure each.
Gently sprinkle the plaster into the water, taking care not to create too much dust.
Line a small bowl with newspaper and have it close by as you gently mix the plaster with your hand. (WARNING Wear a glove to mix if you’re allergic to plaster).
As you mix the plaster, bubbles will rise to the surface, scoop these up in your hand and deposit them in the bowl.
When the plaster begins to go off (thicken), pour it over the model to fill the frame to just below, or level with, the rim.
Shiver the surface of the plaster with your hand (wiggle your hand) to raise any trapped air bubbles.
Wait for the plaster to set. You’ll know when this has happened because the mixture goes through a chemical process as it solidifies, causing it to heat up. When this has happened, and it has cooled again, the mould will be ready.
Remove the cottle from around the mould and save the clay for future plasterwork, in a clearly marked bag.
Surform away the sharp edges of the mould and deposit the shavings in the paper-lined bowl.
Turn the mould upright and surform the upper edges in the same way.
Now clear up everything relating to plaster and clean the work surface to ensure there are no bits left around to contaminate your clay later. Dispose of the plaster in the paper in the bin.
Remove the model from the mould but avoid digging anything sharp into clay as you do this, because it might scratch the plaster surface beneath and spoil it.
Clean out the mould with a damp cloth to remove all traces of the modelling clay.
Make the remaining two moulds in the same way.
Allow the moulds to dry out thoroughly somewhere warm like an airing cupboard. If you dry them on top of the kiln, make sure they are elevated from the surface on kiln props or similar, to avoid them cracking.
When the moulds have dried out, prepare your casting slip by stirring thoroughly to a single pouring cream consistency.
Strain the slip through a kitchen sieve, into a large jug.
Fill the first mould with the slip, making sure it flows right up to the edges of the fine detail.
Fill the remaining moulds with slip in the same way, then time the casting as appropriate for your clay type – see guidance below.
CLAY TYPE FIRING RANGE CASTING TIME
White & red earthenware 1000 – 1150ºC 20 – 30 min
Stoneware 1160 – 1290ºC 45 – 60 min
Semi-porcelain or high-firing white e/w 1100 – 1260ºC 20 – 30 min
Porcelain 1260 – 1300ºC 5 – 10 min
Pour the slip out of the mould, back into the bucket, after the appropriate time.
Stand the mould on its side in a bowl until it has finished draining.
VERY carefully remove the excess slip from the plaster where it was poured out, and around the edge of the deer if the clay is slightly higher than the mould.
Use a metal rib of the type shown.
If you have thickened slip lining your bucket, scrape a small amount out and work it between your fingers to firm it to a normal clay consistency. It must remain pliable.
Alternately, if you do not have any such clay lining the slip bucket, pour a little slip onto a plaster batt and quickly knead it to the consistency shown – you’ll have to work quickly because the plaster will take up the water from the slip very quickly.
Roll a small amount of the clay into a ball in the palm of your hand.
Using a pin or serrated kidney, score an area inside the body of the deer in the position from which you want it to hang.
Slightly water down a small amount of casting slip and apply a dab to the scored area inside the body.
Press the small ball of clay onto the slipped area.
Using the end of a length of dowel or something similar, press this into the clay to make a hook hole. This will be used to hang the deer from a nail on the wall.
Blend the sides of the ball onto the body carefully, using your thumbs. You can wet them with the thinned slip if it helps.
Turn the deer out of the mould onto a board and neaten around the edges with a sharp knife to remove any burrs or other untidy bits.
Complete the remaining deer in the same way.
Allow the deer to dry until firm enough to the touch that they won’t mark or distort, then wipe over the surface of each with a damp sponge to remove any surface marks.
When completely dry, fire to your clay’s optimal temperature.
The deer in this project were made from porcelain with no intention of any surface decoration; therefore they were fired directly up to their top temperature from dry, observing a normal bisque ramp rate for the first part of the firing.
You could decorate yours with slip before bisque-firing, or with underglaze and/or glaze post-bisque – the choice is yours.
This project first appeared in issue 44
For more projects, click here