There are many reasons to choose clay as a medium:
- Clay is very durable - There are many examples of clay sculptures lasting for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. Many horse sculptures are still around from ancient Chinese dynasties. There are exhibitions even today at major metropolitan museums showcasing ceramic sculptures from West Mexico dating back to 300 - 400 B.C., almost two thousand years ago. In its fired form, clay is very durable, and when kept in a home environment can be passed down generation to generation.
- Many finishing options - From acrylic paints to kiln fired glazes, raku to horse hair glazes, there are many options.
- Repairable - Ceramic sculptures can be fixed, especially if it is a minor break.
- No mold-making required - If your goal is to create one-of-a-kind artworks, then the original clay artwork just needs to be fired and finished.
Keeping costs down
If you do not own a kiln but wish to create clay sculpture, there are a couple of options -
- Use air dry clays - these clays, while not as durable as fired clays, are a good way to practice working with clay. If care is taken with the finished product, it can last for some time (I would only recommend this product if you are not planning on selling the sculpture).
- If you would rather work with molds/castings, you can use oil-based clays, which has a higher initial cost but can be reused.
- Many schools or associations will allow you to fire your personal sculptures in their kilns, usually for a fee. They may, however, have specifics to the type of clay, etc., and they may not allow a sculpture that still has newspaper inside.
Some Important Things to Remember
About the Clay Medium
- Each piece can be finished to look however you want it to look - you are not confined to the color or patina choices of metal works, such as bronze.
- Works can be cast to have multiples of each sculpture - clay or plaster casts are much more cost effective than metal casts.
- Ceramic works can last for hundreds of years.
- There are some limitations to the clay medium, but with enough experience these limitations will not keep you from creating beautiful and durable artworks.
- Clay artworks should be kept indoors - Clay sculptures last longer when kept indoors, and can be damaged if they get wet. Any finish, other than glaze, can be damaged from water. Most fired glazes keep clay from getting damaged by moisture, but clay not covered by the glaze is susceptible to water damage. Even glazed artworks can be damaged, cracked, or busted by water combined with freezing temperatures.
- Size and shape is affected by the clay strength - Clay is best used for smaller artworks because it is simply not strong enough to support its own weight on a larger scale. This also affects positioning of your artworks - a horse sculpture that is supported by only one leg will not hold its weight. Even if you could build the sculpture and make it work for a short period of time, eventually it is likely the supporting leg will break.