How to Make Modeling Clay People

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Start with a simple person with a stable base and advance from there.
Start with a simple person with a stable base and advance from there. (Image: Illustration by Ryn Gargulinski)

Clay is one of the easiest and most fun substances to work with, and one of the most entertaining projects is to make modeling clay people. People are fun to make because you can create them in a variety of sizes, proportions and poses. You can also suit them up in jazzy clothing with tons of glued-on accessories or leave them naked as a jaybird. Your options are endless, and your creativity really gets a chance to thrive.

Things You'll Need

  • Clay
  • Wax paper
  • Thin nail
  • Damp towel
  • Cup of water
  • Paint (optional)
  • Accessories as desired

Prepare your area. Lay down a large piece of waxed paper on which to work. Set up your supplies so they are easily reached.

Roll the head. Rip a small handful of clay off the main block and roll it into a ball. This will be the person's head.

Create the body. Take a larger handful of clay, at least double the size you used for the head, and roll it into a thick cylinder shape. Leave a small triangle of clay at the top so you can connect the head. Tweak out two pieces of clay from the top of the cylinder. Shape into smaller cylinders leaving them attached to the main body. These are your arms. Create a dent in the middle of the clay, lengthwise, in the bottom half of your cylinder. Pull those pieces slightly apart and shape into the legs.

Stick the head onto the body. Place your sphere at the top of the body. Flatten your small triangle at the top and smooth it into the base of the head. Use your thumbs to smooth any seams between the body and the head.

Add details. Pinch a small amount of clay in the middle of the face to make a nose. Create small dents for eyes. Use a nail dipped in water to draw a smile and any other lines, scrolls, designs or details you want your person to have. Pinch off a small piece of clay, flatten, stick to the top of the head and arrange as desired for hair. Hair can also be made by painting it, etching it with a nail or gluing yarn to the head once the clay is dried.

Position the figure. Arrange your person how you want them to be displayed. Sitting provides a sturdy base and can be done by bending the figure at the waist and gently pressing down on the legs where they connect to the ground. For a standing person, hold him upright and gently press the bottoms of his legs onto the ground. Make sure the figure is stable. Experiment with different positions but always make sure the base has been firmly pressed into the ground for stability.

Let dry then decorate. Leave clay in a safe place to allow it to air dry overnight. Follow product directions for clay that needs to be placed in the oven. Once dry, use paint, paint markers or other coloring tools to spruce up the person. Glue on buttons, jewelry, yarn hair or other novelties and accessories as desired.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your clay is not sticking together while you are working with it, dampen your fingertips in your cup of water and smooth clay with damp fingers.
  • Use your damp towel to keep your hands free of debris while you're working with the clay.

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