Creating Life-Like Animals in Polymer Clay, by Katherine Dewey -- A Book Review: How to Sculpt Lifelike Animals

Photograph is in the public domain
Photograph is in the public domain

It has often been said that nature is the perfect artist, and as such many artists attempt to come as close as possible to nature’s beauty in their own work…a pursuit for which polymer clay is particularly well-suited. Katherine Dewey is possibly one of the best-known names in the world of polymer clay sculpture instruction, and now has turned her attention to animals. This book contains instructions for 10 different gorgeous, realistic-looking animal figures ranging from small domestic animals to the giants of the wild.

The book starts off with a description of the most popular brands of polymer clay, their properties, and the types of applications that each works best for. Dewey includes a detailed description of the different tools of the trade, including ways to make some of the tools yourself to get just the right effect for a great price. Next come the basics of conditioning, measuring, and molding the clay, making the book suitable even for beginners to try (though some of the patterns may be easier with some previous experience working with clay to get a better idea how it will react). Finally, Katherine Dewey includes instructions for properly baking your sculptures without experiencing any sagging or other reshaping, as well as tips for correctly painting the animals to get a lifelike result.

Each animal gets its own detailed instructions in clear, easy-to-follow steps, which are each accompanied by a picture illustrating that step. The “materials you’ll need” box on the right-hand side of the first page of each set of instructions lets you know absolutely everything you need (unlike some books, which only give you the colors of clay), including the recommended tools, colors of clay, which pieces will be prebaked, armature pieces used, and any other tools on the side so you won’t be surprised by anything halfway through the project. The ten included creatures are:

Deer Mouse
Cottontail Rabbit
Harp Seal
Black Bear
Basset Hound
White-tailed Fawn
Red Fox
Bull Frog
Fledgling Bluebird
Siamese Kitten

At the end of the book, Dewey has detailed instructions and techniques for creating habitat-specific bases for the animals you’ve created, as well as tips for changing the sizes and poses of the different animals. By experimenting with these different elements and shades of color, there are numerous possibilities for creating your own unique animal sculptures or even craft your own habitat snapshots with a variety of plants and animals.

The Author’s Experience

I purchased this book after having a great experience with Katherine Dewey’s Creating Life-Like Figures in Polymer Clay, which takes readers through the steps and techniques of creating human figures of any age, race, physical fitness level, either gender, and to any scale desired. That book was the most educational of all my polymer clay books, and so I decided to see how much more knowledge might be gained from one of her other books. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Dewey really knows the ins and outs of sculpture and has a very straightforward way of relaying that message to her readers, as well as offering options to encourage individual creativity rather than just follow instructions and create replicas of the author’s sculptures.

The techniques taught in this book are almost all entirely different from those covered in some of her other books, with only the very basic instructions in the beginning of the book bearing any similarity to instructions in other books. I was also very impressed with her selection of exactly WHICH animals to include, as these offer a very wide range of shapes, hair/skin textures, and painting techniques which, once mastered, will throw the doors to the world of animal sculpture wide open for the aspiring artist.

I do have to wonder how long it took to take all of the photos used in this book, because with all of the extra instructional tips and an average of 30 steps per animal, each and every one is accompanied by a very clear, well-targeted photograph that leaves no question as to what the words mean. Dewey makes sure that exact painting placement, armature location, and element shape is never in question.

Overall, this book definitely fixed Katherine Dewey in my estimation as one of the very best at polymer clay sculpture instruction. True, I thought very highly of this author after getting acquainted with Creating Life-Like Figures in Polymer Clay, but the true measure of greatness is if success can be repeated. Dewey certainly did repeat success, not only by offering more great instructions, but by offering her readers a whole new set of skills and techniques to add to their creative arsenal. The only down point now is that these are the only two books I’ve been able to find by the author, and even after about eight years with polymer clay I’d readily buy any other book she may produce, these other two have definitely added more than enough value to justify their purchase price for me.

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