Starting with Sculpture

I never saw myself engaging with clay as an art medium. How could I, when the mere thought of clay conjured images of it stuck under my fingernails? The mess involved in working with earthy clay always discouraged me.

One day, however, this outlook changed.

While browsing through Pinterest, I came across Hamish Mackie, an animal sculptor from the UK. His work has featured in public and private collections all across the globe. (See Hamish Mackie’s work here )

One look at his work, and I was blown away.

He sculpts moving animals and casts them in bronze. The textured approach gives his work an ethereal, aesthetic look. 

“You should be able to look wildlife sculpture in the eye and see life.”

Hamish Mackie

Something about his style struck a chord in me. It inspired me to try sculpting.  

At the time, I had zero knowledge of how a sculpture is made. So, I surfed the internet for information, learning as much as possible. 

I learnt that there were different types of clay, each with unique properties that determine its consistency, hardening capacity, and price. This abolished the stereotype of all clay as earthy, potter’s clay.

I also learnt about armatures, the internal frame that holds the model’s shape. Most sculptures are supported by an armature (see it here)

I took Hamish’s sculpture ‘Tiger Drinking 2016’ (see it here) as inspiration. I wanted to sculpt a tiger. 

 I chose to use oil-based clay. It ensured the sculpture wouldn’t dry out, giving me adequate time to work. While it was expensive, it was easier to use.

I used a malleable metal wire to form the armature. It was bent into the simplified shapes that were in the sculpture. I secured this to an MDF board (a base for the model) with duct tape. You can understand the process here

Due to the high price of oil clay, I used the ‘bulking agent method’. In this technique, the volume of the sculpture was made with cheap material, with a layer of clay on the exterior. Watch how it’s done here

For this, I used aluminium foil. I wrapped it around the metal armature until the model was big enough to add a layer of clay.

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And now for the most enjoyable step; sculpting with clay. I applied small clay pieces to the model—one at a time, building layer by layer. 

I built up the body and limbs simultaneously, referring to photographs to get the anatomy correct. 

Sculpture after the first layer of clay
After the first layer of clay

After getting the primary shapes, I started using tools for refining. Instead of buying professional tools, I improvised with knives, binder clips, and safety pins.

Then came the delicate nuances of the face and paws, along with the touch-ups. 

I decided against casting my sculpture in any material. Casting requires specialised equipment, something not at my disposal right now.

Finished tiger sculpture
Front view

Art is both a physical and mental pursuit. As you progress, your vision tunnels, with only your piece in focus. You go into autopilot.

Once in the groove, I found it hard to stop working. It is the nature of sculpture; there is always one blemish left to fix. However, there is an elegance in slight imperfection, the kind I wish for in my art.

After 3 months of work, I finally finished my first sculpture. I still have a great deal to improve. Excited for the sculptures to come!

“A sculpture should have its own power. I want the viewer to feel an emotional response.

Hamish Mackie

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

4 thoughts on “Starting with Sculpture

  1. “ How could I, when the mere thought of clay conjured images of it stuck under my fingernails?” I don’t think this feeling could be described better. Kept aside the amazing writing, the sculpture is beautiful, you’re so talented!!


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