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Nudes and Bas Relief Clay Sculptures

Updated on June 5, 2019

Clay Sculptures and Bas Reliefs

Anyone can work with Clay. I remember when I was still in Primary School we used to go and get some clay from a nearby hillside almost every Saturday morning. Believe it or not we used to do coffins mostly just by pounding the clay to a thick rectangle and hollowing it out with our fingers. Very messy but working with clay has remained one of my most enjoyable hobbies.

I think that the simplest thing to make with clay is a bas relief like the ones I’ve produced on this page. All you need is a lump of soft earth clay or any other clay and a stiff wooden board. It is best to cover the board with a sheet of plastic so that the wood does not absorb the moisture in the clay.

One can start by doing something simple like a landscape with hills in the background, a plain area divided into small rectangles to represent fields and maybe a small cottage in the foreground. The first thing to remember when working on a bas-relief is to always start with the background, which should have the lowest profile, that is the area with the least thickness of clay. For example in our landscape, the cottage which is nearer to us would have to look more prominent than the hills at the back. Similarly the fields in the foreground or nearer the center would have a fairly distinguishable rubble wall or fence whereas for those further away a simple dividing line in the clay would suffice.

A bas relief is simpler to do, unlike a stand-alone statue or bust. In a bas relief you are basically only depicting the front part of things. One should do some research and have a plan before beginning to work with the clay, perhaps a drawing which you have prepared yourself beforehand. You can even fix the drawing on the board with masking tape which will make it easier since you can follow the lines of the drawing. A little research is always important and it will save you a lot of anxiety afterwards. In the St. George on Horseback (below), I started doing the horse from memory without a picture of some kind to follow and it cost me no end of trouble. I looked on the internet for a prancing steed but couldn't find one to my liking. I later discovered that I had one or two in my camera which I had taken for this same purpose in Italy when I was on holiday last Summer, but I had forgotten all about them.

To start building your bas-relief you begin by taking small pieces of clay from your lump, flattening them as required and 'sticking' them to the wooden board. If you are doing the hills, form your small pieces of clay into triangular shapes for example and flatten them on the board. If you are doing clouds, you would form your pieces into roughly rounded shapes, for rubble walls irregular small beads flattened into place and so on. Use your imagination and form the clay pieces as you think best.

The St. George is about 15 inches by 11 and large enough to work mostly with the fingers but the usual tools have also been used. The Hercules and Calypso is a little smaller while the other 4 coloured bas reliefs are smaller still. As you can see I have painted the latter with acrylic paint after they had naturally dried. Before colouring I applied a coat of shellac, the kind that is used in French polish. I also gave them a coat of varnish and fitted them into frames and they are now hanging in my hall. Although they are not great works of art I'm quite happy with them. My favourite is Jesus Christ calming the waters, then comes the nativity scene, the prodigal son follows and lastly the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel.

Repairing Broken Clay and Plaster

Repairing broken or cracked clay - - You may have noticed that the St. George has cracked in the left hand corner, in the horse's neck owing to the fact that the wooden board was not strong enough and it buckled a little bit, since it was missing a plastic sheet (my mistake). But I have now filled the crack with very soft clay mixed with a few drops of white carpenters' glue. After it dries I'll smoothen it down with a sharp tool and sandpaper. I've done this before and I found it a very good solution to mend broken clay pieces.

Recently I was asked to repair a small hand of Mary Magdalen, a 7-inch statue made of plaster which formed part of a larger crusifixion stand-alone . It had pieces of fingers missing. The hand, palm and fingers was only about 1 1/2 inches. I know that clay does not stick to plaster but I had to fashion the missing portions in clay to finish the job as quickly as possible. I stuck a small lump of clay to the plaster fingers and started sculpting, using a sharp knife, wetting it to make it slip easily through the clay without cracking it and carefully shaving off thin slices of excess clay. When I was satisfied about the size and form of the fingers, I let it dry for a day or two. Sure enough a crack developed between the clay and the plaster but I solved this defect by filling and plastering the crack with polyfiller (instead of the method above). When this dried I smoothed it down with the knife and fine sand-paper.

It is curious that I find it easy to get inspiration from my religious knowledge, the Bible and the Sciptures and in fact my next Bas Relief is going to be a piece of sacred art as well. Another curious thing is that when I look at my work, I like it OK, but I always observe that I could have done it better, more refined perhaps. I guess that this happens with all artists.

Face of Jesus Christ

My latest piece of art is the face of Jesus as I imagine it. A frank open face with nothing hidden behind a mask. With Jesus you always know where you stand.

The bust is in earth clay which was left to dry. It is partly hollow so drying out did not take too long. Afterwards I gave it a coat of shellac, then a coat of white acrylic and onwards to the flesh colour and the hair and beard. Finally a coat of clear varnish.

I fixed it on to a polished mahogany board slightly larger than the bust itself. Jesus is now hanging on my study wall and whenever I look at it I say to myself "not so bad" and say a little prayer.

Stand Alone Clay Sculpture

I have now started working on a statue depicting the Annunciation, that is the Angel Gabriel announcing the Birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. It therefore consists of 2 statues about 8 or 9 inches tall, their faces and hands only about 1 inch, so you can imagine what patience it takes to form the eyes, the mouth, the fingers, etc. But it doesn't matter, as long as you like what you're doing. I am more than halfway through so I will be posting some photos in the next couple of days.

My other Hub about Clay Scupture: Clay Figurines and Statues

The statues below are partly finished. They represent the Virgin Mary being visited by the Angel - - the Annunciation. They still need a lot of work, but at least I know where I want to arrive. Work is still needed on the faces and hands, not only smoothing and removing the particles of clay but also retouching of the nose, mouth and eyes. I like to do this when the clay has set a little.

Work in Progress - half finished statues

The young Virgin Mary being visited by the Angel
The young Virgin Mary being visited by the Angel | Source
Side by side but they will face each other as in the photo below.  I have spent another couple of hours this morning (27/1/15) just to refine the face and hands of the Virgin and the Angel.
Side by side but they will face each other as in the photo below. I have spent another couple of hours this morning (27/1/15) just to refine the face and hands of the Virgin and the Angel.
The Angel, who though coming from Heaven kneels before the Virgin Mary.
The Angel, who though coming from Heaven kneels before the Virgin Mary. | Source
How the finished statue would appear. The lady is sitting down while the angel is kneeling so the Virgin is slightly taller.
How the finished statue would appear. The lady is sitting down while the angel is kneeling so the Virgin is slightly taller.

Clay Sculpture representing the Annunciation

When I am satisfied with the sculpture I leave them to dry, maybe for a month or more. However before leaving the sculptures to dry out, I need to do some work on smoothing the clay especially on the faces and hands. Afterwards I will paint them and stand them on a mahogany platform. First a coat of white undercoat and then I will use bright acrylic colours like light blue, some red, yellow etc. Finally a light coat of varnish. The angel will probably be wearing a white dress with a belt of gold, blonde hair, etc. while the lady will be wearing a blue and white dress. Probably she will have brown hair.

I have today fashioned a kind of platform with some scrap wood that I had in the garage so that I do not have to handle the statues themselves while the clay is still very soft. However the finished statue would have a polished solid wood mahogany platform.

Sculpture is beautiful, isn't it!! You create things, make them happy or sad as you like and fashion them and dress them according to your taste.

Nude Female Standing

I have made this figure about 5 years ago during the summer holidays. The medium is earth clay the cheapest or more precisely it does not cost anything at all. I took the photos this evening and the statue is still as solid as ever, no cracks or any signs of damage.

I painted it dark green mixed with a few drops of brown and when it dried I smudged a few brush strokes of gold paint to make it resemble bronze. It's not a masterpiece but passable I think. As usual I think that I could have done it better but all the same I have posted some photos of the nude lady.

Bronze-coloured Nude

A more natural Nude statuette

I have now started on another nude, this time half lying down and resting against a thick tree trunk. I will paint this one in 'natural colours' flesh colours and dark brown for the tree trunk. I have included the tree stump as a support and I think that the rough bark will contrast very well with the smooth body of the girl.

Will post photos as the work progresses.


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    • NewHorizons profile imageAUTHOR

      Joseph Attard 

      6 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      Futamarka and Mylindaminka, Sorry but Comments in a language that I cannot understand are not accepted.

    • NewHorizons profile imageAUTHOR

      Joseph Attard 

      7 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      Yes, Peggy W, working with clay is great fun since one can create anything, but my problem is.... I have several hobbies and I change too often from one to another. Besides I am busy with building a Website about Gozo, where I live so at the moment I have no time for anything else. My website is fun too, though. Thank you for your Comment.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      My favorites were the two at the top which were left uncolored. It must be so much fun to see things take form with your ideas and lumps of clay. Thanks for showing us your obvious talents. Voted up!

    • NewHorizons profile imageAUTHOR

      Joseph Attard 

      8 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      Thank you nebaker. I should have spent more time on them to make them nicer. I was too eager to get them ready, I guess lol.

    • nebaker profile image

      Nathan Tarantla 

      8 years ago from Largo, FL


    • NewHorizons profile imageAUTHOR

      Joseph Attard 

      9 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      thanks Shyamchat. I visited your hubs and found them really interesting. Keep it up.

    • shyamchat profile image


      9 years ago from Calcutta

      Terra cotta panels on temples of Bengal, India is a nice form of art that can help you to understand how other artistes in this area have created fine work. You will find them in my hubs, and as well as blogs and posts of t/c enthusiasts like Rangan Dutta,Utpal Saha etc.

      These panels were burnt and never painted. Also, the artisans added additives so that the exposed surface

      can withstand wear & tear.

    • lisa brazeau profile image

      lisa brazeau 

      9 years ago from Canada

      You've given me some great idea''s not an art form I had ever thought about tackling. Thank You!

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 

      9 years ago from United States

      I think these pieces, while in ways lacking finesse, are so full of spirit and emotion that they do their job extremely well.

      This looks like a lot of fun.

      Changing subjects now. You sent me a short e-mail earlier asking how I'm doing. This came out of the blue, as you and I haven't gotten to know one another at all (as I see it), and while I enjoy your hubs, I don't yet know what I think of you as a person. Therefore, I hesitated to e-mail back, but will tell you here that I am not living up to my username these days, as I am dealing with large amounts of depression and anxiety, and could use massive amounts of prayer from dedicated followers of Christ. The cause of my depression is mostly unknown, and while I have dealt with a few known causes over the last several days, my condition has not visibly improved. I am waiting on the LORD.

    • xunlei profile image


      9 years ago


      it is great !

      I will keep you posted!


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