Sculpting the Human Head/Body


The bust has been used for centuries to honor, memorialize, characterize and distinguish identities of culture. As a social political tool, as many forms of art have been and will be, the face and bust have been used to provide as an instrument of social control and propaganda. For ourselves and prosperity art through human form has been a link to the identities of personalities of the past. History, mythology, and other stories are hinted and revealed by these simple yet complex forms. We have a compulsive draw towards the replication of identity through various mediums, to empower a material to conjure a sense of preservation.

Mission: (Project Description)

In this project the student will be asked to create a replication of the human head/bust or figure, to recreate a realistic form in clay from observation. The form must appear relatively realistic. (Makes sense, right?). A additive/subtractive method will be used. References are suggested below. Students must attend class for faculty instruction, support, observation, and in process critique.

The final form will be developed further. The student may choose the next component of the assignment. The next steps way heavily on the materials used in the initial fabrication of the form. Plan ahead for the final materials and results expected from this assignment. Each option below must be discussed with the instructor. Option 1 is equal to one project. Option 2 is equal to one project. Option three is equivalent to three projects. These equivalents are relative. The development of the student proposal may expand the time needed for these base options.

Option 1: Ceramic Model/ Fired Ceramic/ Finished Ceramic Form

  • Student should research, modeling the human figure.

  • An armature will be built for the form.
  • The form is modeled in a ceramic material conducive to low shrinkage.
  • Form will be graded in clay (wet, green, or bone dry)
  • Student should research, prepare the piece for firing
  • The form will be split and hollowed to reduce damage.
  • The form will be scored and slipped back together.
  • The surfaces will be refinished in accord to aesthetic
  • Student and faculty will organize firing.
  • Final form will be graded in clay (wet, green, or bone dry)
  • The form will be be fired in accord with the ceramic clay body used.
  • A finish will be applied.

Option 2: Clay Model/ Mold/ Cast Plaster or Alternative Material/ Finished Form

  • Student should research, modeling the human figure.
  • An armature will be built for the form.
  • The form will be modeled in a clay material conducive to a plaster mold.
  • The form will be graded in clay (wet/green)
  • A multi-part plaster mold will be made from the clay original.
  • A form will be cast from the mold
  • The surfaces will be refinished in accord to aesthetic.
  • A finish will be applied.

Option 3: Clay Model/ Rubber Mold / Multiple Material Castings/ Finished Forms

  • Student should research, modeling the human figure.
  • An armature will be built for the form.
  • The form is modeled in a clay material conducive to a rubber mold.
  • Final form will be graded in clay (wet/green)
  • A multi-part rubber/ plaster mold will be made from the clay original.
  • The mold will be graded on aesthetic and functionality.
  • Forms will
    be cast from the mold.
  • A plaster will be cast from the mold.
  • The plaster will be finished within/as a composition
  • A wax form will be cast from the mold to create a metal casting.
  • The form will be gated, invested and cast in metal.
  • Foundry Process: Lost wax process.
  • Student and faculty will organize burnout.
  • The mold will be filled with  metal.
  • The form will be de-invested and de-gated.
  • The surfaces will be refinished in accord to aesthetic.
  • A finish will be applied.
  • Type of facilities and furnace will designate what casting metals will be used.

A great amount of effort should be placed on crafting the materials that they visually simulate the aesthetic and objective of this assignment. Materials, shapes and forms should transition from one to the other in a convincing manner.

Overview: Challenge yourself and the project. 

Project grades gain much from the thought and “Effort” put into them.This project is traditionally based. Sensitivity to the model and technique, observation, and measuring are key to creating a likeness that satisfies this challenge. A word of advice, a three dimensional model will greatly inform how one models this form. It will make it easier to see the true form. Two dimensional models, i.e. photos, are less likely to give the amount of detail found on a real model.

To do list and Techniques:

  • Play: Experiment Session:
    • Sketching.
    • Quick gesture modeling:
    • Learn to work the clay.
    • Clay modeling, rolling in hand and fingers, molding, attaching, trimming, cutting, scraping, Use available tools, hand made tools. A variety of tools should be experimented with.
  • Choose: Choose a model.
  • Research:
    • Observation of model
    • Techniques
    • Measuring
    • Sketches
    • Practice on individual components
    • Small models in clay.
  • Collect:
    • Print and collect imagery and text of your research.
    • Human Anatomy
    • Strategies
    • Styles.
  • Making Sense: Make it believable.
  • Prefinish: Form is critiqued in green state and at leather hard stage.


  • Well crafted form
  • Developed technique
  • Uniform aesthetic
  • A command over the material:
  • Excellent Craftsmanship should be a major goal for all processes explored.

Tools and Materials:

  • Sketchbook  (Hard bound, 9 in. by 12 in. or larger recommended)
  • Clay
  • Clay sculpting tools
  • Clay tools
  • Scraping tools
  • Burnishing tool (Spoon)
  • Texturing, scoring tool (Fork)
  • Metal Ruler (cork backing preferred): 24 in. or 36 in.
  • Calipers
  • Seamstress tape
  • Armature material
  • Safety Goggles/Glasses/ Eye Protection
  • Drawing Pencils and Erasers
  • Measuring tape
  • Utility Knife w/extra blades and X-Acto knife w/blades
  • Adhesives and Masking tape
  • Adhesive Bandages
  • Variety of Pliers and Wire Cutters
  • Plasticine Clay (Soft)
  • Sharpies
  • Mold Max 30: One gallon kit to 5 gallon kit may be needed
  • Wood and MDF
  • 3-5 gallon plastic bucket and other mixing containers
  • Paint (optional)
  • 4 1/2 inch Angle Grinder w/grinding, cutting and flap disc
  • Leather covered work boots/shoes (Stay away form Synthetics or Poly blends)
  • Leather Welding Jacket (Stay away form Synthetics or Poly blends)
  • Leather work gloves/welding gloves
  • Welding Helmet (Shade 9+)
  • Shade 5 Welding Glasses( for oxy-acetylene)

Books and Resources:

Create a label for your project with these specifics:

• Name:
• Dimensions: HWD
• Materials:
• Metal casting weight:
• Year Complete:
• Course:

Tape your label to your project. Use masking tape so that it will not harm your project.


  • Sculpting the human figure
  • Presentation strategy
  • Method: Planning, work ethic, building techniques and strategies
  • Material Characteristics:
  • Three-Dimensional Pattern Making
  • Mold Making Process: Lost wax/Sand casting-Cope and Drag
  • Volume: HWD
  • Mold Gating/Sprue Methods
  • Hot Metal Casting Process
  • Successful Casting
  • Fabrication techniques: Post Casting fabrication, Object Installation
  • Structural and Aesthetic qualities
  • Finishing Techniques: Heat Treated Patina
  • Sensibility to form: Good design, clean aesthetics
  • Integrity of the artist to their craft


Chemicals and fumes: This process uses chemicals and materials that might be dangerous for some people. Read the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for questionable materials. Please use a respirator and rubber or latex gloves while using chemicals and chemically treated materials. A dust mask may be used rather than a respirator. The respirator will provide better protection.

Foundry: This project will incorporate the use of the foundry and “Extremely Hot Metal”. Safety and a disciplined studio etiquette should be followed during metal pours and all studio activities.


Research and Inspiration:

Project Gallery

Wood Carving: Merging Early and Contemporary Icons


In this project create a wood carved mask that visually merges early and contemporary icons. The mask should take on a combination of both icons chosen. The main material will be wood, other materials can be used to embellish the form. Try to use materials that are a part of our current culture. Accumulated objects or components of devices we use might be good resource. A visit to the salvage yards will be a good resource as well.


  1. Build and carve a mask which merges an icon form the past and an icon from the present.
  2. Process: The finished sculpture should be built through the use of wood lamination and carving.
  3. Wood purchased or found for this project should have No nails or Staples, If you find them in the wood remove them and have the instructor approve before cutting with saws or equipment. Non chemically treated wood only. Suggested material is two by fours, but obviously there are other sizes that may work to your advantage.
  4. Scale: A minimum of 1.5 ft in one dimension (HWD). A good starting point would be purchasing or having on hand two 8 ft two by fours.
  5. Finish: You may decorate your carved mask in accord with your selected icons.
  6. Students are strongly encouraged to combine or evolve the project using other materials and media to complete the finished form. Take chances.


This project should include a design that incorporates wood lamination and carving. No metal fasteners, such as nails and screws should be used in the lamination process of this project. Nails, screws and other metal fasteners can damage chisels, equipment blades and other carving tools. The design should be built in a manner that presents a relevant conclusion to the subject, two chosen icons. Your mission is to build a form that acts as a symbol in resolve of  your creativity towards the concept.

Engage, Invite, excite, challenge, your audience to react to your work.

Function, Engineering and concept: An understanding of the material, process, and concept should be a major concentration for this assignment.

Materials to purchase or acquire for this project.

2-3  two by fours: Pine or cedar is a soft wood that can be easily carved.
Ratcheting Straps (2)
Sand paper
Wood rasps, Chisels
Wood Glue
Finishing materials
Paints and Sealers


Wear appropriate eye protection, clothing and shoes while working with wood equipment.
Wood shop tools can be very sharp.
Be aware of peers working near and where you are aiming your tools.
Do Not Use “Treated Wood” in the studio. Stay away from a treated lumber. Some lumbers have arsenic as a treatment.

 Writing Assignment:  

As a beginning level course, the student is responsible for developing and presenting a typed research paper of their work for this assignment. The final document should include a description of themes/concepts the artist is addressing, descriptions of how the artist uses imagery, materials and material qualities to address their themes, images of the artist’s works and other supportive documentation. The processes and techniques the artist utilizes to create their work may also contribute to the research.

Writing Assignment Guide Lines:
Below is a brief outline of format and what is expected in your writing assignment.

  1. Cover sheet:
    1. “Your Name”
    2. Research Title
    3. Sculpture 1
    4. “Semester and Year”
    5. “Instructor’s Name”
  2. Body: (500 words +)
    1. Introduction Paragraph
    2. Your research
    3. Images of your work
    4. Summary
    5. Bibliography: Cited text and images.
  3. Images
    1. Images can be printed within the body text
    2. Images can be printed on pages after the body text
    3. If you have trouble placing images in your Document, Please see me.

Sketch Book: Merging early and contemporary icons.

1.  Find and print- 10 images- early masks
2.  Find and print-10 images- contemporary masks
3.  Add images to sketchbook
4.  Generate 6 full pages of sketches, combining early and contemporary masks.


1.  Select sketches to model your concept in clay
2. Wood lamination with 2×4’s and other wood materials
3. Begin Carving: This may be an additive and subtractive process.
4. Design and fabricate a method to wear the mask. Welding and other methods may play a part here.
5. Paint and embellishments
6. Consider the antiquity of your form is this a new mask or does it have a sense of history.
7. Dance and Performance: Develop an interpretive performance: Solo or Group engagement

Research and Inspiration:

Anthropomorphic(having human characteristics)
Thai Masks
African Masks
Bundu helmet mask
Lewa spirit mask
Mumuye mask
Biombo helmet mask
Luba Style Mask with Brass Made in Ghana
Djibouly Mask Made in Mali
Aztec mask
Northwest Coast Masks: Native American mask
Venetian Masks
Japanese Masks
Jake and Dinos Chapman
Ron Mueck
501st Legion “TK Project” Stormtrooper Helmets
AJ Fosik


Sharpening wood carving tools