How to Make a Face With Polymer Clay: A Helpful Guide
Learn how to make a polymer clay face. Making the face of your polymer clay figurine is the most important and detailed part of the sculpting process. The trick to making a polymer clay face more realistic is properly layering the clay strands for detail. I’ll explain exactly how this is done.
Step 1 – Prepare for sculpting a polymer clay face
There are two different ways to go about sculpting a face from polymer clay. You either have a plan, or you’re just going with what you see in the clay. The first part of the tutorial I sculpted a face without any direction roughly keeping a troll in mind. It came out more like a devil or demon. On the second tutorial, I had a clearer plan that I was going to create a dwarf. Neither way is right or wrong, it simply depends on what your goal is. I can come up with some crazy ideas when I use the shape of the clay as my guide. This can also lead to roadblocks along the way.
That’s not to say such roadblocks are completely avoidable if you have a clear plan. I once specifically tried to make a character called the Winter Ghoul. The name had already been decided as with its background story which was actually created from a poem. As I sat down and began sculpting the “Winter Ghoul”, I ended up with something that looked much more like a troll which I later named Gorblur the Haglid Troll. It was okay because I ended up with an extra character I had no plans for. The next day, I had a clear plan on what direction I was taking with the Winter Ghoul and it came out like I originally envisioned.
Sometimes I’d sketch something out on paper before I begin sculpting but since I’m not good at it, such drawings aren’t much help. Sketching something out may work for you though and it’s something I think you should consider if you’re going in with a plan. I can usually follow a plan by using the image in my head. It’s also fun to just see where the clay takes you. Again, the choice is yours and depends on what you’re looking to create. I don’t base my characters from other people’s artwork which is why outside of my (self) training back in December 2014, I have no idea what’s going on in the polymer clay world or what the current trends are. I’ve never cared for following trends. I’m still into Jason and the Argonauts and would love to start a Dungeons & Dragons campaign if I could find like-minded people locally.
Step 2 – Start with a ball of clay
We’re going to start out with building our face from a solid color of polymer clay, making a ball out of it. The size of the ball depends on the size you’re aiming for with your figurine. I usually go with about an inch in diameter. Next, cut the ball of clay in half. Choose one side for the face, but save the other side for the nose, ears, and other facial features. It’s handy to have that extra half by your side. Take the side for the face and start to shape it more oval with your fingers. Allow your fingers to start shaping the clay to appear head-like. That means (usually) larger on the top while becoming more narrow as you reach the bottom chin area.
Step 3 – Add the eye sockets
I like to add the eye sockets before doing anything else. I find this to be advantageous for several reasons but most importantly, it gives you a clear view of where everything needs to go. Perhaps after adding the eye sockets, you may find that the forehead needs enlarging or the chin needs to slim down more. Let the eye sockets be your guide.
Step 4 – Add the nose
Next, I like to add the nose. Work the bridge of the nose starting from between the eyes expanding as it goes down. Try and get some detail in the nose when you first plant it but remember, you can come back to it later. When adding the nose, be sure to blend the lines of the clay together so they disappear. I first do this with a wooden match, but I smooth it out with my finger once the two pieces of clay blend together. This is technically the first example of layering.
Step 5 – Go back to the eyes
Once your nose is properly in place, you can set the eyes. I take two tiny balls of white polymer clay and stick them in the eye sockets. It doesn’t matter if they’re perfect because next, you’ll add the eyelids(more layering). The eyelids must be more on the mark and use them to correct any discrepancies with the eyeballs and eye sockets.
Once the eyelids are in place, add two tiny, and I do mean tiny specks of clay for the pupils. With a smaller figurine, you only need one color. In the case of a larger one, you’ll need two colors including the iris and the pupil. I usually take a speck of clay and place it on the tip of a toothpick and place it into the eye that way. Now the eyes are sunken in with the eyelids above them. Eyebrows are optional and you may add them now or later.
Step 6 – Set the chin and the mouth
You’ll find both the chin and mouth very important to one another. Build the chin up first by adding another layer of clay. Now you can work the chin and get a better idea where exactly you’ll place the mouth. I take one of my tools with a flathead and create an opening for the mouth. Add a tongue and/or teeth depending on the situation but I usually like to at least have a red tongue. Now layer two smaller strands of clay for the lips. One might think the lips should be created with red clay. Adding fire engine red clay as lips often results in overkill. Of course, you could add some colors making them less red but I usually just go with the skin color of the subject. Again, much depends upon what you’re going for.
Step 7 – Add detail and texture
Once the basic foundation is complete, you can add detail and texture. This comes in the form of hair, ears, clothing, cloaks, and anything else. Ears are often covered by hair or some type of clothing like a hood or cloak. In other cases, your character may need ears. Take a small piece of clay and roll it in a ball. Cut it into two separate parts that are equal in size. Then, shape out the ears the way you want them and place the two layers on each side of the head where appropriate. If your character is bald, layers are sometimes added to the forehead appearing as skin folds. Add hair as either string-like spaghetti strands or simply a piece of clay covering where the hair goes. Both ways are textured similarly with tools. For curly hair, a wooden match head usually will suffice. Otherwise, the wire-brush tool is good for adding texture to hair.
Less is more, sometimes…
You don’t have to overdo it with texture. Sometimes, especially with smaller projects, a simple line or two on the check and/or nose is all that’s needed. If you’re creating a reptilian kind of figurine, scales are a must and need more texture and much more individual layering. Check out my fantasy figure page for many examples of all the different options discussed in this article and more!
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Here are the two video tutorials
How to make a polymer clay face Part 1
How to make a polymer clay face Part 2
Congrats on your progress with polymer clay
Finally, I’d like to congratulate you on making it this far. What a rewarding experience polymer clay sculpture is. Now you have something that can last a lifetime. Remember, with practice comes experience.