Portraits in Clay

I’ve been able to capture likenesses from a very young age.  Anyone removing the wallpaper from my childhood home will find the walls populated by my friends and neighbours. When Dr Patrick Oates, tutor at my life drawing class, told me I drew like a sculptor and suggested I gave 3D a try, I finally found an outlet for my talent.

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Ken:  crank mounted on stainless steel (life size)

My lovely first ‘victim’ was Ken. He was 90 at the time, so couldn’t sit for me in the studio.  This taught me that one cannot work from photographs alone, as they are distorted by perspective. Visits to see Ken in the flesh were required to make necessary tweaks.

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Jean: stoneware, tea, sun hat (life size)

I needed a sitter, so my mum ‘volunteered’. I found working from life was much easier. A lesson learned about clay this time, though. The recycled clay that made up most of the sculpture ran out,  necessitating the use of a commercial stonewear.  The two clays had slightly different textures and differential drying times, which caused issues with distortion and cracking.  I know I used vinegar as an flocculant to help remedy the problems and had to remove some of the new clay (hence her odd shoulders). As a result, the finish is not as I’d have liked, but at least it didn’t crack apart in the firing.

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Val: stoneware (life size)

I worked continuously on Val, rather than doing 2 hours a week over 5-6 weeks, which made a huge difference to the quality of the finish.  I tried out traditional eyes, with the light accent and smooth skin.  Despite a Fine Art preference for Epstein-like lumpiness, I like ‘smooth’.

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Lydia and Harry: Lydia, stoneware (2/3 size)

Apologies for the poor quality photos of the works in progress.  When completed, I made a silicone mould of Lydia, cast her in plaster and mounted her on a polished wooden cube.

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Lydia and Harry: Harry, stoneware (2/3 size)

I tried a new eye technique for Lydia and Harry.  They had relatively flat faces, which gave them prominant eyes.  I’m not sure I like it, but their parents were thrilled – I guess that’s all that matters when sculpting someone’s beloved child.  Harry was moulded in Vinamold, cast in plaster and similarly mounted on polished wooden cube.

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I’ve tried a number of casting materials, plaster and resins, but I’m not a fan.  Above are a variety I made at a St Martins Summer School on mouldmaking and casting (I ‘borrowed’ the face from a painting in the NPG).  I far prefer the quality of ceramics for portraiture.

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