Sculpted clay Master moulding “How To”. As all my friends know, because I declare it regularly, I am not a sculptor. However, since I took on Chic Mouldings, I decided I really wanted to bring some more unconventional appliques to the collection, and the best way to do that was to make them myself. Cue panic mode.

I’ve done a bit of sculpting in the past, but I’ve never been confident about it, and since I often work alongside  people who are very good and quick at it, I don’t get to practice much. That said, I have had to do some sculpting in the past, when a job calls for it. I have worked in theatre for a long time. Budgets are often low, even in professional theatre companies in New Zealand, so it’s not always possible to afford a subcontractor –  you just have to get on with it and do it yourself.

I’ve worked a lot with polystyrene, which is very forgiving ( if you chop too much off, you can just stick it back on again and start again!).

Here is a piece I sculpted many years ago for a show. Yes, it took ages, It was for a show called “Female of the Species” by and was a fairly technical set prop. It was supposed to look like the cover of the book “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer. I was OK with how it turned out, but it was a huge challenge. Organic, 3-dimensional forms are not easy!

I have not sculpted much in clay until recently, however, and clay is a completely different beast. Yes, it is very forgiving, because if you chop too much off you can easily add it, but it is a much softer medium and has its’ own little idiosyncrasies that I am still getting used to.

So here’s how I progressed with these fish….

I used a product that is similar to plasticine, but a little firmer (u can actually get it in different level of hardness) and is sulphur-free (sulphur messes with silicon and causes it not to cure properly – that’s the last thing you want  when you’re trying to make a mould from something you’ve just spend hours sculpting!) It is called Chavant NSP – Medium – Brown – Sulfur-Free Plasteline.

I started with a template. I found an image that had a shape similar to what I was after and used adobe illustrator to reflect the image so I had a mirrored pair to work from. I then taped the image to a flat board.

Then I got to it. Now, I’m no expert, but I simply laid down clay as I needed it. Sometimes I squished a big piece down and then removed bits, sometimes I added little tiny bits to build up where it was needed.  I have a bunch of sculpting tools (you can get sets of tools here) but I mainly used a pointed spoon shaped tip (you  can find a similar tool in the useful set linked here), some ball tips and a rubber-tipped clay shaper – both of which are in this handy set here. I also found the digital calipers handy so I could position things into the right place once my reference was covered up.

One of the annoying things I found was that when you remove a bit of clay, you often get a little ball that builds up alongside the sculpting tool. Patience is useful. I just kept at it, removing excess clay and smoothing off any messy bits with my rubber tipped tool. Any tiny bits I didn’t; worry about – I took care of them at the end (will explain later).


So once I had the general form down, I carved detail into the fins and tail. The scales were done using a thin clear polythene on the sculpt, and a half-moon shaped tool that I made out of some brass pipe and thin dowel. In fact I made 3 tools for 3 different sizes of scale.

And then it was just a matter of using my reference and keeping at it until it was finished. Phew!

To do a final clean-up, I used some turps and a small (approx 10mm) flat, firm paintbrush to smooth out any bits that needed smoothing (including some of those annoying raggedy little balls I mentioned earlier. Then it was just a matter of making my mould and casting my first set of fish.

Of course, me being me, I couldn’t help but have fun with some colours. Here is a pair I painted in a standard orange acrylic paint, then used my favourite gold wax, rub n buff to highlight.

I really enjoyed this project and I love the little fish I made. I think they’ll make a really interesting, contemporary addition to upcycles. You can get your own set of fish here: