When finishing their sculpts, novice sculptors often struggle with the final touch: the smoothing of the clay. In the case of figurative sculpture, this could mean the difference between a clean finish and something that looks, well, unfinished.
Here are a few quick tips to getting a super smooth finish that’ll really set your piece apart.
Quick tip: If you start off with a super smooth clay that cuts and shapes easily to begin with, like Monster Clay or Van Aken’s Klean Klay Alternative, the whole process of smoothing your clay will be that much easier.
1. It starts with your hands
Your fingers to be specific. It sounds like common sense but many novice sculptors wait until the very end to start smoothing their surfaces, and that just makes things harder. Don’t procrastinate. Work on those surfaces with your fingers throughout the sculpt until you’ve gotten them as smooth as you possibly can. It’ll make the smoothing go quicker later.
2. Using a rake
Certain clays have a propensity for cracks and holes. These can be near impossible to smooth out with your hands, especially if you’re working on something small. The solution? A rake. Rakes allow you to work out those imperfections so you can come back and smooth them over. It sounds scary at first, raking over your hard work, but in the end the sculpt will be better for it. Just make sure to rake lightly and not too deep; you don’t want to ruin your composition.
3. The alcohol torch
Sometimes a rake just doesn’t do the trick. Enter the alcohol torch. With its needlepoint flame you can heat and smooth just about any surface, including those hard to reach facial features on a small bust. For minor tweaks, hit the surface for one to two seconds. To really start moving some clay around, hit it for four to five. It takes a little getting used to, but this tool will eventually prove invaluable in your arsenal.
4. The final touch
Alcohol can be found at any local drug store and does a great job of smoothing out clay surfaces. Start by painting on the alcohol with a larger brush; this will allow you to cover more area. Then, when your sculpt is pretty well covered, get in those nooks and crannies with a smaller brush. Your clay should now have a smooth, natural texture.
And that’s it! Simple, right?