Sculpting from life – figure and portrait with Gilbert Whyman

Ref: S4D33091

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About this course

Learn modelling techniques to create a small figure and a portrait head. Working from a life model, develop skills in looking and observing, explore form and structure, use of plumb line and negative space.

Course Description

Learn modelling techniques using clay to create a small figure and a portrait head. Working from a life model, you will develop skills in looking and observing, exploring form and structure, using a plumb line and negative space. There will be discussions and demonstrations of different tools and the marks they make, as well as aspects of anatomy and modelling facial details.

On this course you will learn how to:

• Create a sculpture of the human figure.

• Use tools confidently to form interesting marks on clay.

• Look for the structure and proportion of the anatomy, and to establish in the sculpture where the bones and muscles show.

• Confidently draw the curve of the backbone and angle of the shoulders, waist and hips on the clay.

• Look for character and what you want the work to say.

• Stand back from the work and assess the effect, moving clay around to try various relationships, and decide on the most meaningful.

The course will start with a short demonstration of a method (one of many) to achieve a likeness of the human form.

Skills of looking and observing will be encouraged. Sketching with pencil and paper is often useful. As the course proceeds, appropriate aspects of anatomy and what to look for will be explained as well as form and structure, use of a plumb line, negative space, use of tools and the marks they make.

Different techniques and unusual and recycled tools that create interesting marks and surface and textures will be shown.

Finishing off – hollowing out the work to allow it to dry evenly for firing.

By the end of the course you will have:

• Achieved an understanding and confidence in how to begin a sculpture, what to look for, how to plan the base support and how to handle clay and its structure with various moisture contents so that it stays in position.

• Strengthened your observational skills and learned how to make decisions from the model so as to be able to create an interesting sculptural form from a basic slab of clay.

• Learned to look, see, wonder, sculpt and suggest.

This course is part of our materials week. Our February themed week of short courses for 2025 focuses on CLAY, led by talented artist-tutors:

Sarah Burns – Nature's alchemy: clay resist printing and indigo dyeing

Helen Miles – Classical mosaic making

Grainne Reynolds – Jewellery using silver clay

Sarah Villeneau – Organic sculpture in clay

Gilbert Whyman – Sculpting from life – figure and portrait

Laura Dennis – Mixed media landscape painting on clay board

Each course explores a different aspect of using this versatile material and how it may be used in a variety of contemporary practices.

Each tutor will be invited to give a short talk (10 minutes) about an aspect of their work relating to the theme of the week on Tuesday evening at 5.15pm. Participants will also be encouraged to visit other courses to see work produced across the varied approaches offered in the week.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The course fee includes the cost of providing a life model, all clay, glazing and firing costs – large work in size and quantity may be charged extra.

What students need to bring

  • An apron
  • Any sculpture tools you may have (don't worry if you haven't as there will be tools available to borrow)
  • Sketchbook/paper and drawing media
  • It is not necessary, but would be helpful in preparing for your course, to look at illustrations of work by any sculptors, e.g. Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink, etc., and examples of any sculpted human figures that interest you.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials including sketchbook/paper and drawing media.

Additional information

Firing options: 1. Leave any raw, finished pieces that you wish to keep, for biscuit firing by the College, for collection within six months. 2. Take away your unfired work for firing elsewhere. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals).


Gilbert Whyman

Gilbert Whyman MRBS qualified in Architecture at Manchester University. More recently he studied sculpture in London followed by a PGCE in teacher training. As the passion for sculpture took over, he retired as an architect and is now a well established sculptor with regular commissions for work in metal and portrait heads in clay. He has exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, The Society of Portrait Sculptors Exhibition in Cork Street, and has work in private collections in UK, Australia, Sweden and New York. He is a Member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, Surrey Sculpture Society, Art Workers Guild and the Chelsea Art Society.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.