Go Figure: Combining Simple Handbuilding Techniques to Make Figurative Sculptures

In today’s post ceramic artist Dee Schaad presents a project that combines two simple handbuilding techniques – pinching and soft slab building – to make figurative sculptures. He came up with this project to demonstrate that both basic techniques could be used to construct an object that was more appealing than one built with either technique alone.


This worked well for students who had some clay experience and weren’t too jazzed about making another basic pinch pot. And it was great way to teach the techniques to the newbies too. Dee also shares a clay body recipe that works well with this technique. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



Roll a slab at least 1/2-inch thick from well-wedged clay using a slab roller or rolling pin. Wrap the clay around a section of PVC pipe (or any other tubular object). Place paper between the clay and the armature so the clay will not stick to it. Score and slip the clay surfaces to achieve a strong joint when you press them together.
After the joint is stable, tip the cylinder up to a vertical position using a ware board to support the base. Use a wooden paddle to compress the joint securely and aid in beginning the smoothing process. Remove the armature tube, then take out the newspaper, as soon as the clay can stand alone.
Cut and remove wedges of clay to begin tapering the torso. Pinch the cut edges together with slip.
Using a wooden tool, knit the ends of the slab together for a secure bond.


For more interesting handbuilding techniques, download your free copy of Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery.

Working from the inside, push with your hand to shape the torso as needed.
Shape the outside as well by pushing in and adding clay as needed. Close the top of the torso for shoulders and add in extra clay as needed.
Form the arms around a paper-covered dowel rod, roll and pat them smooth. Shape the arm further by pulling with water-similar to pulling a handle, then allow the piece to dry to the same consistency as the torso. Form the head from two pinch pots. Add detail later. Allow the head to dry to the same water content as the other sections.
When all the major parts are of a similar moisture content, assemble using the usual score and slip procedures. Provide openings between all parts. When everything is assembled, add details and refine the form. I like to use a Surform file to shape and smooth the surface. Punch small holes through any thick areas to the hollow interior. This aids drying and firing.
More detail provides a more interesting final result. Hands, fingernails, eyes, eyelashes are all important. Detail is more important than accuracy of representation. When the sculpture is finished, dry thoroughly. When dry, the entire figure is brushed with underglaze colors for the bisque firing. Cone 04 is the recommended temperature, but you may push it a bit for richer colors.

After bisque firing, repair any cracks. Touch up the original underglazes and then spatter paint with a variety of underglaze colors to soften the surface and refire to cone 03 (figure 19). After the second firing, I apply non-fired products to achieve a metallic effect for earrings and other jewelry.

Terra Cotta Clay Body Recipe
Cone 04
Raw Material Amount
Cedar Heights Redart 50.0 lbs
Talc 15.0 lbs
Fireclay 15.0 lbs
Ball Clay 10.0 lbs
Barium Carbonate 0.5 lbs
Sand 10.0 lbs
Grog (medium) 15.0 lbs
Total 115.5 lbs
Bentonite or Macaloid 2-4 lbs



  • EVSEN E.

    thank u 🙂 best way to follow

  • Lisse S.

    just what I was looking for. Brilliant way to make a statue with slabs. THANKS

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