Figure Sculpting in Clay with Melisa Cadell

Sculpting the human figure can be an intimidating endeavor, but after watching Melisa Cadell’s video Figure Sculpting in Clay, your fears will be dispelled. In this installment of the Ceramic Arts Daily Presents Video Series, Melisa Cadell shares her straightforward and accessible techniques for ...(Scroll for more.)

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…sculpting the human form. In addition to demonstrating how to create figures with attention to anatomical detail, Melisa also addresses how to infuse the figure with emotional and gestural qualities that help breathe life into the work.

Feeling that they are often overlooked, yet crucial to creating believable figures, Melisa starts out with her uncomplicated approach to the hands and feet. Then it’s onto the ever-important head and Melisa explains how understanding the anatomy and complexities of the head is crucial to conveying a message to the viewer. Finally, she brings it all together by sculpting an entire figure from head to toe. This thorough and insightful presentation will help you not only to sculpt convincing human figures, but also to create depth and character within your work.

The gesture of the hand

Melisa starts off with a simple 1:1 study of the hand using a model she always has at hand (pun intended): her own hand. Preferring not to add appendages whenever possible, Melisa traces the outline of her hand onto a slab of clay so that the fingers are part of the original form (cutting down on fingers cracking off!). As she begins to sculpt, smooth, and shape, the hand quickly transforms from a flat, glovelike piece of clay to a believable hand. Referring to photos and anatomical sketches, she explains that capturing the bone and tendon structure is crucial in making your hands believable.

The foot revealed

When sculpting a human figure, the foot is critical to the balance and intention of the piece. Whether the piece is walking, sitting, jumping, etc., artists need to make sure their feet can carry the weight of what’s above them. Melisa addresses both how to make a lifelike foot and how to make it work as a foundation for the larger form. Again she starts with a block of clay and traces her foot, cutting away the excess clay to reveal a rough foot form. Then she slices toes into it so they don’t have to be attached, and carefully sculpts each angle and plane of the foot. For convenience during the filming, Melisa uses a cast foot as a reference, but explains that using your own foot can help you capture the nuances of this important part of the figure.

Facing up to the head

The eyes are said to reveal the soul so it is important to understand the anatomy and complexities of the head to help convey your message to the viewer. Again Melisa uses a model that is always available – her own head reflected in a mirror – which helps build understanding of how a face can change profoundly when the muscles move. After laying out the basic landmarks of the head using calipers to translate measurements from her own head, she works on the individual structures of the ears, eyes, nose and mouth.

Head to toe (and everything in between)

Beginning with two different ways to approach the torso, Melisa moves on to creating a full figure. She explains how paying special attention to to the back, which is often neglected, can help add both credibility and emotion to the form. Working from coils and small diameter cylinders, she then forms the arms and legs. These appendages present special challenges that sometimes rely on the help of armatures and supports, and Melisa discusses several options for these. Once the form is assembled, she covers changing its position to create gesture and add to the emotional content of the sculpture.

Get a head start!

One of the most challenging aspects of figure sculpting is having the patience to allow the clay to rest when necessary and to keep the various parts at relatively equal moisture levels. Throughout the video, Melisa shares tips she has learned after many years of working with the human form. These tips will give you a head start of sorts, which will help you avoid the common problems and achieve success more quickly.

Bonus Materials

This video features two bonus videos on working small scale with the hands and feet, and a candid interview with Melisa about her work.

About the Artist

Melisa Cadell is a studio artist and educator who lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her family. Cadell holds a BFA from the University of North Texas and an MFA from East Tennessee State University. In addition to teaching workshops around the United States, Cadell currently teaches clay and mixed media sculpture at Appalachian State University and East Tennessee State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally and featured in publications such as American Style magazine, Ceramics: Art & Perception and 500 Figures in Clay (Lark Books, 2004). For more information, please visit www.melisacadell.com.

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