Friday, December 16, 2011

Finishing ceramic clay portrait of Harriet Tubman

 Harriet was very inspiring to sculpt. I took longer than I needed because I tried out different sculpting techniques from very impressionistic to fairly tight. I have to say that I really liked the looseness of the impressionistic version - so full of energy. However, as she neared completion the strength of her personality and her face competed with the strong strokes of the very loose version.

So I continued to refine until I felt that I struck a balance of free strokes and polish. The clay is a very heavy, firm, groggy clay called Chestnut that I got at Mile Hi Ceramics. It's an interesting clay to work with but the heavy grog can be a bit sandy to work with. I find that the grog (sandy, pebbly particles that add body and strength to a clay while reducing shrinkage rate when firing) comes to the surface when using sponging or brushing with water on the surface. However, if you push on the surface using wood or metal tools or pallets, the grog is pushed deeper into the clay and the surface is smooth - or at least smoother. I found this to be an interesting combination as I burnished a few areas where the skin would be most taught, giving a tighter, more light-reflective property to the clay and leaving the more textured, groggy clay for other areas. Very tacticile

This portrait bust of Harriet Tubman was very satisfying to sculpt. I plan on doing a 3/4 figure of her soon and the bust was a way of getting familiar with her face and features before expanding into more of the figure later.

She'll need to dry for a while before firing, so that won't take place until sometime in January.


  1. Lori, I want to thank you for sharing your work this way. I've really enjoyed watching Harriet come to life! I'm writing an online story about Michelangelo and you've helped me understand the mind of an artist much better.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. I'm so glad, Dave! Michelangelo inspired me with his Pieta when I was 7. Never forget the teacher showing us a tiny replica and some photos. Fell in love with him that day.

    I hope to figure out how to shoot and edit video in 2012 so I can show some working clips. It's always fun and informative to watch other people work, so I'd like to share too.

  3. Looks wonderful, it's been great to watch this piece progress!

  4. Thanks, Vicki! I really like your owls and twin series. I've not worked with glazes before - is it raku?

  5. She's absolutely gorgeous! Wow.

  6. Really turned out well... Lots of strength and determination in that face.