An Elf Is Born 2 – The Sculpting Process

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I’m happy to say that after a few dozens of hours of work , the sculpting and baking of the elf is finally complete. If you’re curious about this process, please read on. It is a bit lengthy but I’m sure you’ll be intrigued. And if you simply anxious to see the results, just scan this post and view the images. Continues from Part 1 – Preparing the Clay

polymer clay elf side of face

Sculpting The Face

I start every magical sculpture by working on the face, since I find the face the most difficult and tedious part of the sculpt, it lets me gauge how the rest of the sculpt will turn out. If the face turns our bad, I simply walk away for the day and perhaps start again later.

Since I don’t follow a real pattern for the face, it kinda designs itself. I have the basic idea of the face I’m looking for. I sculpt the features one at a time and wait for the magical creature to look back at me. Once the face is complete, I use its size and features as a guide for the rest of the creature.

polymer clay elf mapping the face

This is perhaps my inexperienced approach to sculpting and I do hope to get better as I continue to hone my craft. My guidelines for this face are simply to make it approximately 1 inch tall. I’m looking for somewhat a young sexy, feminine look, but I haven’t yet confirmed the overall look of her features.

I started by covering the wire armature with a small ball of foil slightly smaller than the face itself. This allows me to add the clay features of the face without making it too big. At the same time, the foil helps me prevent layering the clay too thick and risking not having it bake all the way through. A partially baked sculpture may crack and crumble down the line and I don’t want that to happen.

Once the foil armature is in place, I add thin layer of clay, smooth and blend it in to form a basic egg shape. I make the front of the face flat and draw on the eyes, nose and mouth so I have an idea where I am going to sculpt the features.

polymer clay elf eyesFor the eyeballs, I baked a small white ball and cut it in half, giving me a rounded front but at the same time allowing me to fit it nicely onto the core. I positioned the eyes in place and then started adding out features for the nose and the mouth. Again, I’m not yet very good at this so I’m just showing you the pictures of my progress. As I get better, I do intend to show you detail tutorials of step by step facial sculpture.

polymer clay elf face 3polymer clay elf eyes in facepolymer clay elf face 4

With the eyes, nose and mouth in place, I started adding details like eyebrows and cheeks, and just pushing and pulling the clay as much as required until it started to resemble a face. I held off on the ears at first, because the ears will be fragile and I didn’t want them to break while working on the torso armature.

polymer clay elf face 5polymer clay elf forheadpolymer clay elf face 2

The Torso Armature

polymer clay elf torso armatureWith my anatomical sculpting skills ‘under construction’ I chose to costume the elf with Christmas colored lingerie and a jacket. This allows me to skip the careful sculpting of any features that will be covered, and instead focus on the basics that will be seen.

I added a thick wad of crumbled foil to the wire for the torso armature. I squished and prodded till I had a general desired shape. With the torso armature complete I added the ears and wow, there is an elf looking back at me.

To sculpt the Torso, I added well conditioned clay to completely cover the wire and then started shaping the basic features. Since the front of the body is visible, I put time into sculpting the have the chest, rib and belly area. I added clay to form the neck and spent a few hours adding the details with the tiny, very thin needle, and the ink-well of the pen which I uses a rolling pen. The torso alone took me about a full day to complete. 

polymer clay christmas elf torso polymer clay christmas elf torso 2

After a full day of sculpting, I tend to get lazy and so I try not to bake a sculpture on the same day that I sculpted. Instead, I put it aside, return to it another day and check for any flaws and errors that I want to fix before putting in on the oven. While a baked sculpture can still be corrected, it is much easier when you’re working on a raw clay. I poked 2 holes at the bottom of the torso so that I’ll be able to attach the legs later and then set the sculpture to bake.

The First Bake

As I mentioned raw clay is very fragile and easily destroyed. Since this project will be handled a lot as I continue adding features, I’m chose to do ‘series baking’ where I sculpt an important feature, bake it, and then start adding additional features to the baked clay. This allows me to cure that first sculpt without ruining it as I add more and more fresh clay. I baked the torso on a bed of paper towels in a Deni Tabletop Convection Oven (<-amazon referral link).

polymer clay christmas elf baking polymer clay baked christmas elf torso

I use 2 thermometers to keep an eye on the temperature and I kept checking the oven every few minutes to ensure that the sculpture didn’t scorch in the process.

The Undergarments

A sexy elf, requires sexy undergarments. I chose red, green and white to go with the Christmas theme since is a Christmas Elf. The coat will hide the back of the Elf so I only focused on sculpting the front. I sculpted the bra and panties with a red Premo Accents clay. The embedded glitter adds an awesome festive look. At first I attempted to trim the underwear in green but this made her look like she was wearing a strawberry, (BF said watermelon) so I changed the green to a green and white candy stripe trim. One thing I learned from past sculpting, if I don’t like something, I better fix it NOW despite the extra time so that I don’t hate it later on when I can no longer change it.

polymer clay christmas elf undergarmentspolymer clay christmas elf undergarments trimmed polymer clay christmas elf undergarments side

The Sculpting The Legs

polymer clay christmas elf legsThe legs proved to be trickier than I had envisioned. Because I don’t feel comfortable sculpting toes, I planned for the elf to wear tall green boots. Sculpting these over the leg wires would be a nightmare of mushed clay and distorted feet. At the same time, cured clay is tricky to adhere to. After much debate, I decided to sculpt and bake the legs before adding the boots.

The fact that my elf is seated works to my advantage because I won’t have to rely on the legs to support her, instead, I can just secure them to the body and let it rest directly on a flat surface. I find legs tricky to sculpt, there are so many bumps and grooves that are less obvious than a face or torso. After a few hours I was happy enough with the results.

polymer clay christmas elf side view

I baked the legs to ensure they don’t get messed up in the process of sculpting the boots. I position the baked legs near the baked torso and added clay for the thighs to ensure that they would be a smooth fit. This now allows me to sculpt the boots on to the baked legs without ruining their shape.

The Elf Boots

polymer clay christmas elf boot bottomThe high moccasin style boot is my favorite for magical creatures so you will probably be seeing this frequently in the creatures that I sculpt. I created a ‘magical’ color by mixing green and black Premo sculpey. I mixed more than I expected to use to ensure that I didn’t run out on the middle. I measured the soles against the elf’s face to get the correct size lest I wind up with something too big.

polymer clay christmas elf moccasin boots

I added clay to build the bottom of the foot then covered her legs with green and started shaping the boots. I also keep looking back and forth to ensure that both legs shaped up the same way to look like a matching pair. To make the candy striped laces, I twisted red and white sculpey to match her underwear and added them in pieces to show threaded laces. I added wrinkles and scratches along the boots making them look realistic and almost life like.

polymer clay christmas elf wearing bootsSecuring the Thighs

The thighs proved to be as tricky as I had anticipated especially because I was trying to attach them while making sure not to ruin the raw boots that I have already crafted. Working slowly and carefully I added layers of clay between the thigh and the lower torso/buttock region until the legs were secure and the elf looked full bodied and well-rounded.

Sculpting the Hands

polymer clay christmas elf hands frontThis is where I incurred a minor sculpting delay after bruising my finger playing volleyball. I wound up abandoning the sculpture for a few weeks and finally resumed this weekend. While I do enjoy sculpting hands I still have trouble making them look realistic, and more importantly, making them look like a pair.

A magical elf requires a smooth hand with long and lean fingers. I sculpted each finger one my one, using a needle tool to add in creases for the knuckles and fingernails. The hands wound up taking a few hours to complete, but I’m quite happy with the results. I then sculpted the forearm and the upper arm and put them aside to ‘set’ while working on the coat.

The Fur Trim Coat

polymer clay christmas elf shouldersWhile I had a basic idea of what I want to sculpt here I didn’t have a real plan. My goal was a fun, festive, and sexy fur trimmed jacket. I mixed a combination of red and accent clay for a sparkly and glittery Christmas red. I rolled, cut, smoothed, and tried it again and again till I was happy with the results.

Since the elf’s back wasn’t sculpted, I simply padded the area with clay to give the illusion of shoulders, and to allow the raw jacket to adhere to the figure. I then draped the large piece of red clay over her back and let it hang towards the front so that she’s wearing an open coat. I capped the upper arms with red short sleeves, and attached it to the shoulder. I added additional clay to mold the shoulder and support the hands.

The hood was a mystery in itself. I knew what I wanted but I really had no idea how to shape it. I tried, shaped, cut, tried again and again. I finally created the hood using 2 slightly off-shaped square shapes attached to the center and then just ripped away at the extras until it looked like a hood. I attached the hood and then continued shaping until I was happy with the results.

polymer clay christmas elf jacket hoodpolymer clay christmas elf jacket

The elf’s arms were hanging precariously on her side awaiting the fur trim. In the future project I’ll trim the coat and then add the arms. Lucky for me they didn’t break. For the white fur effect, I mixed white primo with original sculpey, then used it to trim the coat, hood, and sleeves. I used the softness of the original sculpey to my advantage, and poked away with a need to create the fuzzy fur effect.

Despite the hands being attached at the sleeves, I was still worried that they may break off in the oven. I attempted to position them over the knees, but they did not adhere to the baked clay. I wound up attaching the fingers to the unbaked boots to secure them in place.

Polymer clay christmas back right jacket Polymer clay christmas elf back left jacketPolymer clay christmas elf red jacket Polymer clay christmas elf red jacket left 

The Final Bake

This final bake was one of the scariest hours in my life! Dozens of hours of sculpting and more sculpting hung in the balance, to be determined by the results of this one final bake. There are so many things that can go wrong in the oven, from scorching, over-baking, distortion and breakage, I was terrified. Raw and warm clay is extremely weak and will happily fall apart in the oven. I set the elf on a small baking pan then lined, padded, propped and secured every aspect as best I could to prevent any breakage.

I used 2 different thermometers to ensure careful temperature monitoring. I calculated the time needed, set the timer and held my breath! And not just because of the baking clay odor. I checked on the oven every 2 minutes to ensure the temperature was just right.

Here’s a cool trick that I picked up: About halfway through the bake, I took a small piece of paper towel, wet it and put it over her face. Since the face has very thin features and bakes faster, I didn’t want it to scorch as the thicker body parts were being cured. By putting wet paper towel over those thin features, the water will absorb the heat and prevent the delicate features from scorching while the rest of the elf cured.

An hour later I checked the oven and whew! She looked okay!

I left her in the oven overnight allowing her to return to room temperature slowly and evenly. This gradual decrease in temperature helps avoid temperature ‘shock’ which may result in breakage.

With the sculpture complete I intend to paint and add hair over this weekend.

Click HERE for Part 3 – Adding the Hair

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