Sculpture in the Round

Making a Portrait in Clay


A relief sculpture, as you learned in the previous lesson, is a sculpture made to be seen from one side (or from one angle). A sculpture "in the round", on the other hand, is made to be seen from many directions (or angles), perhaps even from above and below, as well as from behind. So, it is is free-standing and must be fully developed from all points of view.

A portrait* is a likeness of a real person. Two styles* of making portraits are realistic* and caricature*. In another unit of this course you studied (or will be studying) political cartoons for which drawing caricatures is important.

Realism requires a realistic-- natural, distortion-free -- representation of people, places, and/or things in a work of art.

Realism is generally considered the opposite of idealization-- the representation of things according to a preconception of ideal form or type-- a kind of aesthetic distortion to produce idealized forms. A possible motive for idealization might be to make things appear as they would if the world were perfect. The ancient Greeks are famous for their striving to depict human figures as ideal types. Today, typically, cosmetics are applied to facial features in efforts at idealization.

One of the common themes of Postmodernism is that realism-- the notion of an unmediated presentation-- is impossible.

The following example is realistic portrait.


see thumbnail to right Etruscan, Votive Bust of a Woman, [at 195 k this is a large file,] first half of the third century B.C., terra cotta, height 34.7 cm, Vatican Museum, Rome.

The work represents a woman of about thirty; her pose is frontal and her head inclines slightly to the left. The woman's face [299 k and gigantic, but wonderfully up close] is characterized by a high forehead, a large chin and nose, strong cheekbones and hollow cheeks; irises and pupils are marked by light incisions.


Caricature is representing a subject's distinctive features or peculiarities with deliberate exaggeration to produce a comic or grotesque* effect.

It is most common in drawings and editorial cartoons, but Honoré Daumier made several sculptural examples. Here's one of them.


see thumbnail to rightHonoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879), François-Pierre-Guillaume Guizot, 1831, unfired clay bust painted with oil, 22 x 17 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

see thumbnail to rightHere's a photo of Monsieur Guizot.

Today, many sculptors use general, or idealized, proportions to begin a portrait. Then they add and change parts to make their work either realistic or caricature.


Your Assignment:

1. Make some sketches of the head and shoulders of people you're thinking about sculpting.

2. Using clay and other materials in on the list below, begin an idealized sculpture of a person by using forms and guidelines similar to those in the following diagram. Use about a quarter of the clay to create a cylinder for the neck and three-quarters of the clay for an egg-like form for the head. (For this lesson, the head for your sculpture should be at least five inches high. If your sculpture were any smaller in scale, it would be more difficult to get sufficient detail.)

[ [ Here will be a graphic depicting an idealized head and neck, with the proportions noted for locating the top of the head, the level of the eyes, ears, nose and chin. ] ]

Here's a list of materials to get together:

  • water-based clay (you may find it labeled self-hardening, or earthenware, or stoneware), 3-5 pounds per student
  • or, modeling clay (you may find it labeled oil-based, or under such brand names as Plasticene or _________), 3-5 pounds per student
  • cardboard squares, 6 inches per student
  • small tools for clay (pencils, craft sticks [sometimes called popsicle sticks], Bic pen caps)
  • large paperclips, one per student
  • water containers
  • plastic bags in which to store works-in-progress so they won't dry out
  • sponges and paper towels for clean-up

2. If you're using water-based clay, you need to connect pieces by scratching and moistening them to join them well. If you're using modeling clay, you can simply press them together.

3. In modeling the features of the face,

4. Take lots of really good looks at real peoples' faces, zeroing in on individual parts one at a time as well as in combination. Try to capture aspects which are universal, and some that are unique-- from the profile, front, and back. forms should catch light (raised surfaces) and have shadows (indented surfaces).




  1. Briefly describe the piece of art that resulted from your work on this lesson. (Include title, media and methods used, dimensions, elements and principles of design employed, and meanings.)

  2. Reflect on and describe your reasons for the decisions you made which resulted in making this piece special.

  3. Identify and critique how this piece of work fits into the progression of your own works. What reasons can you give for your success and/or for your need for improvement?


Play the game:

Who the Heck is That?!!



General References:

where you'll find information on these art terms (Finding most of these requires scrolling down an alphabetical list to which each word is linked):




Sculpture Unit Introductory Page.