Sculpting Bodewell The Yorkie in Polymer Clay

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Bodewell the YorkieMeet Bodewell the Yorkie

This beautiful yorkie is Bodewell, because according to his mommy, he bodes well. He has an adorable personality complete with the cutest waddle, really high jump, and a bark that sounds like an old lady.

Bodewell belongs to a close family friend and is my second-best canine pal (after Trooper) I’ve been honored to share many a weekend and holiday with this fella. I created this sculpture as a holiday gift for his family.

To Paint or NOT to Paint?

This is a question I’ve been toying with since I first started sculpting animals. As someone working with sculpey and premo polymer clay, the idea of adding paint sounds a bit less ‘authentic’. However, clay alone makes it difficult to acheive realistic features and delicate details. Intricate details and delicate fur patterns may be difficult to create without the help of a paintbrush. Even my standard sculptures require paint for the eyes, lips, nails and overall details.

After completing my first dog sculpture (Sandy – pics to follow) sans paint, I’m going to experiment with acrylics to mimic Bodewell’s complex fur pattern.

Bodewell the Yorkie right Bodewell the Yorkie  left 

Choosing The Clay Colors

Since the final sculpture will be painted, clay color wasn’t that much of an issue compared to workability and overall endurance of the clay. I plan to follow Katherine Dewey’s painting style where the clay shows through very slightly under the painted coat. And so I chose a light flesh color for Bodewell’s blond areas, and a light gray for his darker fur.

The face will require heavy detailing from facial features to sculpting the fur. This requires a ‘stronger’ clay so that the features don’t ‘mush’ at the slightest touch. My tougher clay is a combination of Sculpey Living Doll and Premo. Both of which are fun to work with yet hold details extremely well.

The body won’t have as many details, but will undergo a great deal of texturing for the fur. To make this process easier I mixed generous amounts of original sculpey – a very soft clay. I find the original sculpey very easty to imprint (translation: attack with a needle). I will rely on the foil and wire armature to support the sculpture thus reducing the risk of cracking the soft clay during baking

Supporting and Sculpting the Head

Bodewell the Yorkie head armatureAs with my humanoid sculptures, I chose to start with the head. I created a simple armature using a heavy gauge wire for his ‘skeleton’ then covered the top portion with a ball of foil for his ‘skull’. This not only provided a solid surface to work on, but also reduced the overall clay thickness in the final sculpture. Thicker layers of clay risk not baking all the way through adding to the risk of breaking and crumbling down the line.

After covering the foil armature with a layer of clay, I added simple features like the muzzle and eyebrows. The rest of the face is marked for detailing.

The eyes were created using my ‘new’ eyeball trick. In the past I would bake 2 small eyeballs. Once cooled I would push and plead, trying to force them into the scull. The full circle made it difficult to push into the armature and would often disfigure the positioned clay.

My next experiment involved baking 2 dome-shaped eyes, but they always appeared too… ‘squished’

Bodewell the Yorkie clay eyes

My newest discovery involves Partially baking a single eyeball. When it’s still warm I use a super-slicer to cut it in half then run it under cold water to cool. With flat backs and round fronts, these half-ball eyes fit nicely into my facial armature and still provide the nice round eye surface once positioned on the head.

Delicate facial details are bound to be ruined with the rough-handling of the body sculpting, so those will wait for later. I put a small round ‘placeholder’ nose to stop the nose-less Bodewell from glaring at me (read: So I have a better idea of how he looks)

Bodewell the Yorkie sculpting face Bodewell the Yorkie sculpting face left

Building and Sculpting the Dog’s Body

Bodewell’s body, like his face, will be sculpted over a well-supported foil and wire armature. Using my sketch as a guide, I shaped the body armature using a large strip of aluminum foil. I wrapped the foil in a layer of tough clay to ensure a maximum hold and minimal distortion. I built up the body shape by adding additional clay ‘pancakes’.

The pancake method involves conditioning a ball of clay and flattening it into a pancake. this pancake is then carefully added to the sculpture and blended in at the seams. I really like this method for adding bulk to areas like the belly, sides, and back of the sculpture.

Once satisfied with the overall shape I added additional padding with my softer clay mixture to form the textured fur.

Bodewell the Yorkie body armature Bodewell the Yorkie clay covered body armature  Bodewell the Yorkie layering body armature with clay Bodewell the Yorkie more clay for body armature

Bodewell the Yorkie connecting head and body

I flattened the bottom to accommodate the sculpture’s seated position, then pierced the armature with a long needle. This allowed me to easily slide in the partially sculpted face with minimal distortion. (another past sculpting nightmare)

Connecting the Head and Body

This step gave me a really hard time. The wire armature ensured that the head stayed in place (good boy) but it kept turning to look at me. I solved this by adding 2 additional pancakes, one starting at the top of the head going down the back, the other starting under the muzzle going down towards the tummy.

This worked to secure the head in place and allow me to sculpt the shoulders without rotation.

  Bodewell the Yorkie adding clay to neck Bodewell the Yorkie underside of neck and faceBodewell the Yorkie head and neck

Sculpting the Ears

Bodewell has very unique ears. While they point to the top of his head, they also tend to stick out to the side. I tried to mimic the overall idea by sculpting two triangles and adding the necessary texture. Because the ears are so thin and fragile, adding texture later would be a disaster. Though some of the ‘fur’ did get distorted in the process, most of it remained intact. Whew!

I added a few layers of bulk behind his ears for the large tufts of hair sticking out of his head.

Bodewell the Yorkie building up earsBodewell the Yorkie placement of noseBodewell the Yorkie face sideBodewell the Yorkie face 

Sculpting the Nose and Face

Bodewell the Yorkie adding facial hairWith the body supported and secured, it is now safe to add fragile details. This proved to be a really big challenge. I’ve gotten really good at avoiding Bodewell’s wet nose and sloppy kisses, I’ve never taken the time to examine them closely. Instead I did a google image search for ‘yorkie nose’ and used the results as my guide.

Bodewell has a very detailed face. I added soft clay for the different ‘hair groups’ to serve as a texture guide. Final clay additional included his lower lip, lower muzzle, and soft clay for the beard.

Then came the best part. I went to town on his face with a series of needle tools. I did all the fine texturing around the muzzle and between his eyes using a very thin sewing needle. Each ‘hair’ was carefully carved following the natural flow of his fur. I did the longer fur with a tapestry needle for a longer/thicker hair appearance including the side of his face and back of his head.

At this point I had a somewhat realistic face looking back at me. Alas I forgot my camera in the excitement to see the rest of him come alive.

Sculpting the Legs

Bodewell the Yorkie front paw armatureThe ‘fun’ thing about a fur-ball type dog, is that ‘shape’ is lost under the hair making the legs relatively easy to create. Since Bodewell’s seated figure is fully supported, the hind legs required no additional support. I created the hind legs using round clay disks smoothed towards the back, yet sticking out enough to show his knees and inner thighs. I did this using 2 simple clay ‘logs’. The texturing process will bring them to life.

Bodewell’s front legs present yet another challenge. Securing the front legs are key to his overall support. Weak legs will cause the sculpture to sag in the oven (hot clay is very soft) which will eventually crack and break.

I created the front leg armatures using the same thick gauge wire as the head. I curved the bottom for a firmer stance (read: not to scratch my glass work space) and secured the wire deep into the foil body core.

Additional pancakes and logs of soft clay form the from legs, with slight added bulk to the toe area. I even curved the legs outward to represent his signature ‘waddle’ pose. I really wish I had a video to show you, this dog has the most adorable waddle).

With legs in position, it’s texturing time again. I really love this part 🙂

Bodewell the Yorkie textured pawsBodewell the Yorkie sculpted and textured

The tail (not shown) was created and textured the same way.

Whew! With the actual dog sculpture complete I set him aside to ‘set’. Freshly sculpted clay is warm and soft, thus easily distorted/squished. Allowing him to ‘cool’ overnight gives me the opportunity to assess his features with fresh eyes and fix anything that I missed prior to baking.

To Be Continued… Part 2 – Faux Wood Base

Part 3 – Baking & Painting

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    • MagicByLeah says

      Thank you so much Jayne. He didn’t turn out perfect but his mother was very pleased so I won’t complain. I learned a great deal on this project.

    • MagicByLeah says

      Thank you Elinor. I too consider myself a beginner but in documenting the process I get to analyze my work for the sake of improving, and the teacher in me can’t help teaching 🙂
      I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful. I’d love to see your sculptures. Do you have a website or image account (flickr, pintrest…)

  1. Doggirl211 says

    Hi Leah,
    Thanks for this tutorial on sculpting Bodewell! I started sculpting last year and have recently started a sculpture of my Chinese Crested Hairless dog and found your site by searching for tips on sculpting dogs. I like your tip of using needles for the finer hair….my girl isn’t truly hairless, she does have a sparse scattering of hair on her head that is super fine and thin, so I think the needle tip will be very helpful! Thank you again.

    • MagicByLeah says

      OOoooh I’d love to see your sculpture. Please post to my Facebook page at
      I think a needle would be great for fine hairs and can’t wait to see how it turns out

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