Fantastic Figures Class Plan

By Susanna Oroyan

"Fantastic Figures: An Introduction to Doll Sculpting" is a class which introduces the student to the basic sculpture and human anatomy -- head, hands and feet -- needed to create original doll figures. Students begin by creating a basic, standard head shape and then use practice exercises to learn how to create realistic and correctly proportioned features. When the easy step-by-step directions are followed everyone experiences the excitement of making a "real" person come to life from a lump of clay…in just one day. Painting and assembly methods are discussed as well. Because sculpture and curing processes are time intensive, students should not expect to complete doll parts in class.

One - 6 hour session

The book, Fantastic Figures is essentially a set of lessons in sculpture, design, use of materials and costume theory. This lesson plan was prepared for use in developing a class to teach the basics of sculpting dolls with the easy to use, air-drying and oven curing craft clays and is what the author uses when teaching for shops and groups. For the beginner, the idea of sculpting a "real" human is very spooky! The class outlined here is intended to provide the student with a one-day survey of the book basics in a comfortable, no-fail, approach. An experienced dollmaker/instructor can use the book to create additional classes in body construction and costuming.

The teacher should have good experience with using all forms of polymer and paperclay in craft work -- assemble examples of the products to show and discuss. The teacher should also have a good basic knowledge of human anatomy. It is helpful to bring in enlarged diagrams of skull shapes (pages 23, 24, 30), or to be able to draw them on a blackboard. An artist's model of a human skull will also be helpful in demonstrating head sculpture. The teacher should have good experience in completing original doll sculptures and bring examples of finished work to show and discuss and should be familiar and comfortable with the processes outlined in Fantastic Figures.

Required text: Fantastic Figures by Susanna Oroyan
1 pound package of Super Sculpey
metal fingernail file
2-3 feet of aluminum kitchen foil
12 inch dowel stick or long pencil
small fine embroidery scissors
17 gauge wire
wire cutting pliers

1.   Discussion of types of clays and what they do. Show examples of dolls made with polymer and paperclay.
2.   Following the "Sculpting the Head" chapter, have the students roll the foil into a loose ball and add clay to form the egg shape of a basic head. Suggest they make 2 or 3 heads to get the feel of making a perfect egg shape. Put the egg shape on the dowel, making sure it aligns with drawings on page 22. Mark lines on the head as shown on pages 22 and 23. Use the metal fingernail file to make eye sockets and a nasal cavity.
3.   Have the students put aside the heads. Demonstrate the eye exercise. Have students practice the eye exercise several times on separate pieces of clay. When the students "have the feel" for the technique, have them apply it to their head shape. Repeat the demonstration and practice before applying this approach, with each of the exercises for the nose, mouth and ears. The practice exercise method is important because it takes away a lot of the feeling that "one must get it right the first time". Emphasize that the class is an experimental and learning experience. It is process oriented, not project completion oriented. Encourage "follow-me" in class and discourage the tendency for students to get into independent detailing in class.
4.   When the students have added features to one head, have them do the same to a second and third head. Most students -- even those who have never tried to sculpt before -- will probably have a basic head roughed in within three hours.
5.   Demonstrate hand sculpture techniques shown on pages 35-37. Demonstrate each technique at least twice and close enough so each student can see what your hands are doing. After students have seen the demonstration, lead them through the process in step-by-step follow-me manner.
6.   Demonstrate foot/leg armature construction on page 38 and sculpture steps on page 39. Be sure to point out "shoe last" foot shape. Students may elect to continue work on heads and hands or go on to work on legs.
7.   Demonstrate insertion of foil covered armature wires into hands and legs (pages 38 and 70).
8.   Demonstrate the use of a mirror to check the balance of the facial sculpture. Demonstrate using a compass to check the proportion and correct placement of features (page 30). Use the remaining class time to demonstrate assembling parts on a cloth body (illustrations page 16, 65, 66) and assembling parts on a wire armatured body (pages 70, 71). Cover the highlights of curing and painting.