Recently I have been really busy making and there was no time for blog writing. So today I finally got to write how I make my sheep sculptures:
First I start by making two similar sized pinch pots (weighing out the clay will help). It is important not to overwork the pots in order to avoid cracks – aim for an even wall thickness and leave the rims chunky and level. The rims on both pots are then scored and slipped before pushing them gently together. The next step is really important and can be tedious: blend the clay from both rims. The aim is to get a proper seal and to make the line disappear. The resulting vacuum will make for a very strong sphere If it’s well made, the joint will have disappeared and an egg-like piece will emerge.
I set the ‘egg’ aside and start working on the legs. They are best made from one coil of clay. Decide on the length of the leg and then measure the remaining legs by laying the cut leg against the remainder of the coil and repeat cutting the same length. These legs can be shaped so that they taper – set them aside (on a plaster bat) so that they can stiffen up a little (this is important because all the weight of the sheep’s body will have to be supported by these legs).
Next I shape the head. Most of the body parts start with a round piece of clay, which is then made pointier if necessary. Create the ears, tap on the table to increase the surface area where the ears join the head (this will make scoring and slipping easier). Attach the ears to the head and the head to the sphere. By now the legs should be firm enough to attach to the body. Scoring and slipping both the legs as well as the spots where they join the body should give proper adhesion. You need to blend in all these components with a wooden modeling tool; a stiff paintbrush can also come in handy. Add a tail and manipulate the head – I like my sheep to “talk/listen to each other”, so I alternate the angle of their heads and ears.
Finally it’s time to give them their woolly coats. Either scratch circular lines into the still soft clay with a potter’s knife or add ‘wool’ by pressing a small amount of clay through a garlic press. Needless to say this garlic press is now only used in the studio! The resulting strands of clay need to be attached with lots of slip in order to avoid the sheep going bald. Since the sheep’s body was made by joining two hollow forms, there is a vacuum with air inside. If this air is not allowed to escape (by putting in a small hole), the piece will explode during the bisque firing. Dry the sheep slowly to prevent stress cracks.
After sufficient drying the sheep will be bisque fired and then glazed white, the odd one will be black. They are happy on their own but ideally like company and will be the best behaved sheep you have ever set eyes on!