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Sculpture How To: Sculpting a Bas-Relief in Clay


In this tutorial I will explain my process for modeling in bas-relief, as well as some of the unique aspects of relief sculpting.

There are two main types of sculpting.The first type is subtractive or reductive which involves taking away from your material, as in carving stone or wood. The second type is additive, which is to build up through the addition of material, as in wax or clay modeling. The second type is what I will be talking about today.

One thing that makes relief sculpting unique is that it combines elements of both drawing and sculpting in the round. Like drawing you are not only taking into consideration the subject but the background as well. Placement of the subject and its size in relation to the background of the relief is the first thing I consider.

After I decide on size and placement, I sketch into the wet clay creating a simple silhouette of the subject, correcting it as I go by observing my subject and its relationship to the background. As with drawing and painting, this comparing of positive and negative shapes is quite helpful in correcting my work.

At this point it becomes more like sculpting in the round in that I can now concentrate on building mass. Starting with the largest shapes, I emphasise the outward swelling of the shapes nearest to me while keeping the more distant shapes flatter. I'm not aware of any exact rules regarding the degree with which you should advance or recede your masses in relation to each other. I believe it t is more of a personal aesthetic choice.

Once I am satisfied with my large masses I then concentrate on modeling the more subtle forms within the larger ones. The advancing shapes will require the most work, while the receding ones need to remain flatter to help with the illusion of depth. This is another unique quality of relief in that it creates depth through three-dimensional form yet also the illusion of three dimensions by way of foreshortening and overlapping planes. Working from the large shapes down to the smaller ones allows me to build my sculpture up sequentially, so that I won't be distracted by the smaller shapes and details. (Details such as eyes, ears, fingers and toes are nothing more than the smallest shapes and will virtually take care of themselves if I work from large to small).

At this point I can continue refining the clay as much or as little as I wish until I am satisfied with the result.

I hope you enjoyed this relief sculpting tutorial and will read my other art related articles.

Here is a 3 min timelapse video demonstrating a quick relief study from a figure model which may be useful as a visual aid

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