Figure Making Can Be Fun - Articles

Figure Making Can Be Fun?!? Series


This is the second in a series of figure making articles. The series focus will be on the steps necessary to make a cast head for a professional size ventriloquist figure. This will be followed through from the basic measurements (proportions), to sculpting, to making the mold, mother mold, and finally casting the head. This particular article will deal with the sculpting of the head in clay.

   The first step is to make an armature to support the clay sculpture. This can be a head stick with a stryro foam ball, wadded up news paper, etc. I personally like to lathe a piece of wood for the neck, so that the ball part of the neck comes out perfectly, and not have to try to sculpt it in clay. This will make a very nice 'ball and socket' neck joint on the finished head. The welded metal frame certainly is not necessary. I just prefer not having the armature shift on me while I sculpt. I also have more clay than good sense! (grin)

Armature for clay

   Start adding clay to the armature. Pack it tightly around whatever type of amature you have selected. 'Klean Klay' was used for this project, but is no longer available. My current favorite clay is 'Monster Clay'. Funny name, great product! My second choice would be 'Chavant' Soft NSP (the Medium grade is a pretty stiff to work with). Click on the links below for the 'Monster Clay' or 'Chavant' web site. Contact them for a distributor in your area.

Adding Clay to Armature

   Since I have actual measurements that I am working from, I try to establish where the bottom of the chin will be and how far it sticks out from the neck, early on. I use eye models connected to a wood or plastic tray to keep them the right distance apart. The eye models will also make the eye sockets the right size when the mold and subsequent casting are done.

Eye and mouth area established in clay

Chavant Clay web site

   Add more clay. Do rough features first. Many sculptors use clay 'rakes', in a criss-cross pattern, to help establish the 'planes' of the main forms. The rake helps larger peaks or valleys to stand out, and can even things out with the rake. Rotate the head to see it from all angles. Do not do fine detailing too early. Make sure there are no large changes in general shape of the sculpture. Then and only then, should you start on the detail work and smoothing.

Rough clay sculpt

    Using firmer clay makes smoothing easier. One trick to aid smoothing softer clay, is to put the sculpture in a refrigerator for awhile (if it will fit in there!). This will make the clay firmer. You can take small pieces of sandpaper and lightly draw it against the surface of the clay to help the smaller peaks and valleys to show up in the clay, indicating where more smoothing may be required. Start with course sandpaper and work on down to finer sandpaper. Make sure you have good lighting and rotate the sculpt often.

More detail to clay sculpt

    Final smoothing is best done with a combination of the fingers, sandpaper and/or cotton 'T'-shirt with isopropyl alchohol (some like to use mineral oil or a small amount of Vaseline). Hard to reach areas can be done with wood and wire loop modeling tools that are made for sculpting. You can purchase these at most arts and crafts stores. Sometimes objects found around the house or shop can work well too.

Clay sculpt of head complete

   After you have made a nice sculpt of the head, the next step is to make a mold. The next article will show how a nice mold of the head can be made. The finished mold will only be as good as the model or sculpture that you make. So take your time and make a good quality model. It will show in your finished figure! Click on 'Mold Making' or 'Next Article' button below to go to the next part in the series.

Figure Making Articles...

Head Proportions
Sculpting a dummy's head
Molding a dummy's head


Mother Mold 1
Mother Mold 2
Casting a dummy's head
Mother Mold
Part 1
Mother Mold
Part 2



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