The puffin is such comical and endearing bird and makes a great subject to replicate in clay because of its interesting shape and colouring
You will need:
Stoneware or earthenware
Liquid underglaze colours – black, red, blue, yellow, orange. Velvets are good because they don’t need to be glazed
Glaze – transparent and/or black & white – to fit clay type
Glaze – of choice to cover the rock base
Plastic sheet, rolling pin, roller guides (5mm thick max)
Look for a good image of a puffin – one with close detail and colour that you can refer to as you make the bird.
Form two equal amounts of well-prepared clay into smooth balls that will fit comfortably into the palm of your hand. Weigh the clay for each ball so that when pinched, they will be the same size. Note, the actual amount will depend on what you feel capable of pinching – 150g would be about right. These will form the body.
Form a third ball of clay, about half the size of the previous two, to make the head.
Holding the first ball in your hand, press your thumb down through the centre of the clay until you can feel some pressure in the palm.
Use your fingers and crooked thumb to pinch out the shape from the bottom of the ball first. Work in small close pinching movements, rotating the clay in the palm of your hand in a rhythmic action, to even-out the marks made as you thin the wall.
The crooked position of the thumb helps prevent the rim from opening out too quickly. Keeping the rim quite thick and as closed as possible at the early stage of pinching allows you to maintain control and prevent the wall from flaring out and becoming misshapen. It also stops the rim tearing or cracking.
Change the position of your hands periodically so that the fingers are inside and thumb outside, then pinch the wall upward and outward in stages. Work the whole form to one even thickness first, then again, a little thinner and so on.
When you’re happy with the shape of the form, begin to refine the rim – working in small, even pinches to thin it to your requirements between finger and thumb.
Pinch the second half of the body to a conical shape, working the clay down from a narrower end to the opening, as shown.
Periodically check the size of the opening of the second section against that of the first. Continue to pinch the shape until the two openings match, and the sections fit together perfectly.
Firm each of the two halves up with a hairdryer until the shapes will hold, but there is still some flexibility in the clay.
Score the rims of both halves with a serrated kidney and apply some slip.
Fit the sections together, holding them in place for a few seconds to ensure the surfaces bond.
Roll a thin coil of soft clay and reinforce the join, blending the clay over the seam onto the body on each side of the coil, using a finger or thumb to begin with.
Work over the entire surface of the form with a rib or kidney to remove lumps, bumps and excess clay as required, until smooth.
Again, firm the form up using a hairdryer. Reinforcing the join will have moistened the clay, so firm it back until it can hold its shape but still retain some malleability.
Refine the shape further by paddling the surface with a wooden spatula. This is something you can do at regular intervals to improve shape.
The form should look like a large egg when finished.
Make a hole at one end of the body, then manipulate the clay outward at the conical end, between fingers and thumb, to form the rudimentary beginnings of the tail feathers.
Refer to your puffin image as you work, to ensure the shaping is correct.
Rest the body on a foam bed, then pinch out the head as you did for the first body section.
Sit the head on the body at the angle you prefer and mark the position with a pin.
Score the rim of the head and the corresponding position on the body, then slip the respective areas.
Fit the head in place, smoothing the clay down onto the body with a finger to hold it in place.
Reinforce the join with a coil of soft clay, then blend it in with a suitable wooden tool.
Neaten around the reinforcement with a small kidney until the surface is smooth and free from lumps.
Referring to your puffin image, make the beak from a small, solid amount of clay.
Form the shape roughly to begin with, just to get the right shape, then cut it down to the correct size to fit your particular bird.
Refine the surface with a kidney.
When you’re happy with the size and shape of the beak, place it on the head of the bird and mark the position with a pin.
Score the joining end of the beak and corresponding position on the head.
Slip both areas then fix the beak in place.
Reinforce around the beak with a coil of soft clay and blend it in with a finger or suitable tool.
Score the outline of the feather markings on the head that delineate the white from the black. The outline, in many ways, is a mirror image of the beak.
Mark the position for the eye with a pin.
Make a slight groove from the marked eye position to the point of the white feather area towards the back of the head. Use a suitable wooden or plastic tool for this, or the edge of a small block of wood.
Make the eye by forming a tiny amount of clay into a thin teardrop shape. Roll another tiny ball of clay, flatten it a little then attach it to the teardrop with a dab of slip.
Use a suitable tool to impress a round eye into the ball – an old pen top works well.
Mark the position for the eye on the head with a pin, then score, slip and fix it securely in place.
Work around the eye with a wooden tool to neaten the edges.
Repeat from step 23 to complete the other side of the head.
Begin to draw in the line detail of the beak with a pin, replicating either those in your image or the ones shown here.
To finish the head, form a tiny ball of clay into a bean shape and fix it in place on the side of the head, with a dab of slip, at the point where the beak would open, as shown.
Repeat on the other side of the head.
Roll a slab of clay on a plastic sheet using roller guides no thicker than 5mm.
Cut out a wing to fit the proportions of your bird. You can do this freehand or make a paper template to cut around.
If you have cut the first wing freehand, use it as a template to cut the second. Otherwise, cut two wings from the paper template.
Soften the edges of each wing by running your fingers over them to round the clay off a little.
From the remaining slab, cut out a short extension for the tail feathers in the shape shown – again, the size must fit your bird.
Score the position for the tail on the top of the body and the underside of the tail itself. Fit the tail in place with slip.
Rest the bird on a foam block, then blend the clay from the body onto the tail on the underside. ALTERNATIVELY, reinforce the whole of the tail join with a coil of soft clay and blend in until the join is no longer visible.
Place the first wing on the side of the body and mark the position with a pin.
Score the positon for the wing on the body, and the underside of the wing itself.
Slip both scored areas.
Fit the wing in place then paddle over the surface with a wooden spatula to force out any trapped air and ensure it’s properly secured.
Blend the wing onto the body over the back and partially on the underside. It should look as though it could open for the bird to fly.
Repeat the process to apply the second wing.
Pinch out a largish ball of clay to form the rock the bird will sit on. Make the wall much thicker than you did when pinching the body because it needs to hold the weight of the bird. You can pinch this really quite roughly – it is, after all, a rock!
Sit the rock on a board and manipulate the clay to a pleasing rock shape, using a kidney.
Once you’re happy with the shape of your rock, sit the bird on the surface to find its best position – mark it with a pin.
Score the marked area on the rock and the underside of the bird.
Slip the scored areas, then fix the bird in place.
Reinforce around the join with a coil of soft clay and blend in with a wooden tool.
Roll a short coil of clay to a suitable thickness to make the legs.
Cut two lengths of the coil and butt them up to the body at the correct angle and position to assess the right length.
Cut the legs to size, then remove them again.
Pinch out two thin discs of clay and cut them to a webbed foot shape. Keep them in proportion to your bird but bear in mind that puffins have big feet!
Use the first foot as a template for the second.
Roll a tool like the edge of a ruler or similar, around each of the bird’s legs to give the characteristic texture detail.
Score and slip the positions for the first leg and foot on the body of the bird and the rock.
Fix the leg onto the body and blend the lower end onto the foot before fixing it down onto the rock.
Roll three, very thin, short coils and fix them onto the foot with a dab of slip, in the positions shown.
Each coil should extend over the edge of the foot into a toe (or claw)!
Very carefully, blend the coils onto the foot at each side so that they remain raised but are properly fixed down and look like an integral part of the anatomy.
Texture the surface of the foot with the end of a wooden tool.
Neaten around all joins to check that they are secure.
Fix the second leg and foot in place in the same way.
Score feather detailing into the wings as required, using a pin. You should be able to get rough outlines of feathers from your puffin image.
Make a hole either side of the head in the position shown, where it won’t be noticeable.
Make another hole in the body, somewhere out of sight.
Allow the finished puffin to dry out VERY SLOWLY before bisque firing.
Colour the detail of your bird using liquid underglaze colours. Beak: reds, dark blue and yellow. Eyes: black and red. Legs and feet: bright orange with black claws.
The body can either be coloured using black and white underglaze which is then covered in a transparent glaze, OR with black and white glaze.
Cover the rock in a glaze of choice – matt or semi-matt versions look good.
The project first appeared in issue 33
To see more projects, click here