Who doesn’t love a penguin? They are the perfect animals to make for raku firing because of the simplicity of shape and colouring, and only a minimal glaze application is required – they couldn’t be simpler!
This version uses clay and glazes suitable for raku firing, but you can make them with your usual clay and use underglazes to decorate them
You will need:
A grogged white clay – T-material or clay manufacturers’ equivalent is perfect, or try raku clay or a specialist clay like the Ashraf Hannah body (available from Valentine Clays and other suppliers)
Wooden tools for modelling
Transparent raku glaze
Black brush-on underglaze
Begin by weighing two equally-sized balls of clay – the weight is your choice and depends on the size of penguin you want to make, but also how much you can successfully pinch – trial and error will dictate what you can manage.
Holding the first ball in the palm of one hand, push the thumb of the other hand down into the centre of the clay until you can feel the pressure from it in your palm.
Carefully start to pinch out the wall between your fingers and thumb – work in small even pinches around the clay beginning at the base because this will be harder to reach as the size increases.
To avoid the shape flaring outward at the rim, maintain an inward pinch with your thumb as you reach this point.
When you’ve finished pinching, firm the clay up with a hair dryer until it holds its shape comfortably.
Pinch the second ball by pressing into the clay with the second finger of your other hand then pinching the shape down from the tip to establish a cone. Pinch out the rest of the wall as for the first half.
Check the size of the opening regularly against the first half and continue to pinch until they’re equal.
Score and slip the rims of each half in one go using an old toothbrush and water. The action of the brush creates the slip naturally.
Join the sections together, holding them in place for a few seconds to ensure the bond is good.
Reinforce the join with a coil of soft clay – blend it in well with a finger or suitable tool.
Smooth over the reinforced join with a kidney, removing excess clay as necessary.
Firm the clay up again with a hairdryer until the shape holds without distorting or making finger marks as you handle it.
Make a hole in one end of the shape with a pin then paddle the surface with a wooden spatula to create a flattened side for the front (or belly) and a rounded back.
When happy with the basic shape of the body, plug the hole up again and smooth it over to prevent further air loss and possible collapse.
Sit the body on the work surface and tap it gently several times to establish a balanced sitting position.
Pinch a third, smaller ball of clay to make the head.
When fully formed, pinch one side of the wall together to form a rudimentary beak.
Sit the head on the body to establish the correct size and position.
Cut the head to size if you think it’s too large, otherwise mark the chosen position with a pin.
Score and slip the marked position on the body and the rim of the head with the toothbrush and water.
Fit the head onto the body making sure the seal is good, with no air gaps.
Blend the head onto the body with a modelling tool. You can reinforce the join with a coil of soft clay if required.
Using either your fingers or a wooden modelling tool, carefully create the features of the head by carving carefully into the clay. It’s important not to break through the head wall, so take care.
You will find it helpful to have a picture of a penguin to refer to when modelling the details of the bird – even if you then stylise the shape as shown here, the generic character of the bird will be captured
Make the eyes by impressing a tool like this pen top into the clay either side of the beak.
Pinch out a small ball of clay to form a thin slab. Smooth over the slab with a scraper to even the clay section and compact the clay.
Draw a wing into the surface with a pin.
Cut out the shape with a sharp knife then use it as a template to cut the second wing.
Gently pinch around the edges of each wing to soften and round them off.
Place the wings on the penguin and mark the position with a pin.
Score and slip the marked positions and the undersides of the wings, again, using the toothbrush and water.
Fix the wings in position carefully, pressing them down gently but firmly to avoid trapping air underneath them.
Blend the clay at the top of the wing onto the body with a finger.
Neaten up by removing excess slip around the wing with a wooden tool.
Form two very small balls of clay for the feet then flatten them slightly with a finger.
Cut three toes into each foot with a knife or wooden tool as shown by making two incisions.
Very carefully, pinch each toe to refine the shape – this is a bit fiddly, so take care!
Sit the body on the feet to establish the correct position and mark with a pin.
Score and slip the marked positions with the toothbrush and water, then fix the feet in place.
Blend the feet onto the base of the bird with your finger or wooden tool then smooth over with a kidney to neaten up.
Check the penguin sits in a balanced way when finished.
Make two nostril holes just above and each side of the beak – this is a natural place to make the holes that are important for the release of air when firing, because the head space is separate from the body.
Make a final hole in the underside of the body.
Allow the penguin to dry slowly before firing to a low bisque of 960ºC.
Make a few more penguins in different poses to fill up the raku kiln when firing.
Delineate the area to be glazed at the front of your penguins using a pencil above and below the wings. The sides of the wings themselves form a natural marker to glaze to.
Paint in the eyes of the birds with black underglaze. Penguins do have black eyes so if you want them to be shiny after firing they must be blacked out first, otherwise they will fire white when glaze is applied.
If you don’t want the eyes to be shiny, don’t under-glaze or glaze – the raku process will blacken the head naturally when the penguin is put into wood shavings after firing.
Paint the delineated areas at the front of the penguins with transparent glaze using a soft brush for even application.
Glaze over the under-glazed eyes.
Take care to avoid dribbling glaze over unwanted areas like the feet if possible. If the glaze does run, allow it to dry, then carefully brush it away with a stiffish brush – WEAR A DUST MASK TO DO THIS.
Three little penguins waiting to be fired – note they have been made in differing poses.
Raku fired penguins – see firing process here
This project first appeared in issue 16
See more projects here