I decided to do a clay sculpture, to experiment with building an armature and then adding clay on top to create more intricate shapes than I have ever made before. The design was influenced by :
– the columns and ‘fan vaults’ I had seen in cathedral architecture, with peaks and troughs.
– Ink sketches I did in my big sketchbook last week of simplified leaves of canopies which I wanted to represent in marking the clay with little dents.
These two influences create the design of my first attempt at combining trees and architecture into these shapes.

Building the armature

I used wire, masking tape and tin foil to build a supporting structure that the clay would be put onto. The wire was a little thin, but still did the job.
The tin foil wrapped around the wire is there because clay doesn’t adhere to clay at all, using tinfoil bulks thickens the lines and I can do some initial shaping (creating rough curved shapes) but also the rough texture of the crumpled tinfoil is a good base for the clay to stick to.
I used a donut shape of tinfoil to support the structure. In retrospect this tinfoil support wasn’t symmetrical and so the symmetry of the finished experiment suffered, that is definitely something to bear in mind in the future.

Working with the clay

I then began to build up the clay on top of the armature. Building the rough shape first and then using a selection of tools and my hands, keeping the clay wet and malleable. This was SO ENJOYABLE. Sculpture is so tactile and absorbing and way less frustrating than wire! Hmm.

I then added the in-between sections of the four main columns in the sculpture. I should have made the armature for these bits at the start before adding any clay! But alas. I just made my job a little bit tricker. So I added the sections, and completed this side of the sculpture.

Before painted white
Finished sculpture

I’m happy with the outcome of this sculpture as it is, for my first clay sculpture in a fair while! I have only done this side of the sculpture, and that is all I can do until the clay dries. I do want to work on the other side though, at least on the bits you can see from the side.
This shape is designed to be turned upside down and be the inside of the structure that can only be seen by standing inside and looking up. So the outside roof which I haven’t worked on would be just as important. I can’t decide whether I want to work on the outside on a new sculpture and leave this one, or finish this one as much as possible… I’ll think on it.

What works well

Having gaps in the ‘roof’ / sculpture. This would allow the sky / canopy to be seen through it.

Concentric shapes – having a point in the centre of the shape that everything points towards. Even in a flat photograph there is a suggestion that the shape recedes backwards in the centre.

The symmetry – okay so the shape isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but you can see the design was intended to be. For example having random shapes on one side but not the other would definitely not be as effective, the feeling of a grand shape wouldn’t come across and it would feel more whimsical instead.

Details! Having all the lines in the centre meet up and make sense. Having ridges separating parts of the sculpture, defining them. Refining the shapes makes a difference.

What doesn’t work

The shape isn’t exactly symmetrical because some legs of the shape are longer and wider than others! This has two causes:
– the wire was quite thin so would easily bend out of shape as I was shaping the clay
– the donut shaped base made of tinfoil I used to rest the sculpture on wasn’t even on all sides, so the sculpture was pushed out of symmetry whenever it rested on the base.

The dotty indents. They don’t look bad, however I think the shape could look better with shapes that are more uniform and geometrically ordered.

Conclusions, thoughts, moving forward

How much tree inspiration do these shapes have to have? The small indents in the clay are inspired by looking up at a woodland canopy of leaves, but aren’t these shapes supposed to be inspired by the architecture of the trees and of the cathedrals, not of the textures and decoration inspired by trees. Using the indents reflecting trees takes inspiration from something that is important to my painting outside – the movement, texture, sound, light of the leaves, not the solid structure I paint on top.

Saying that, I still want to see what this shape in a painting. So next, before I move onto another sculpture I want to paint this one. See how the shapes transfer into lines on a drawing/ painting. This will allow me to discover how I could improve my sculpture for the betterment of the paintings.

What do I rest this shape on to present it? Wooden supports cut to shape and glued to a base? You could just having the sculpture resting on the wood so you would be able to see both sides of the shape. A smaller base that’s less ugly that the shape could be lifted up from?

I want to try another sculpture with more geometric folds and angles, like the one I sketched for the Kunz drawings. That should be fun – maybe wire vs clay one.
Also I want to add legs!!

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