Portrait heads in terracotta – a visual approach with Jon Edgar

Ref: SLW30007

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About this course

Sculpt a life-sized portrait head from a model. Use sensitive observation to inform your clay modelling, then hollow out your portrait head for firing, and get advice on mounting and finishing techniques.

Course Description

Sculpt a life-sized portrait head and aim to capture the sitter's essence. Sensitive observation will inform your clay modelling throughout the course, with two models being used. You will hollow out your second portrait head for firing and receive advice on mounting and finishing techniques.

Portrait sculpture considers mass, form and attitude, the feelings conveyed by both artist/sitter and the asymmetry of the head, all of which contribute to the character of our being. The course will suit those who wish to try their hand, through to more experienced sculptors who want challenging objective feedback and some valuable time with experienced portrait models in excellent working conditions.

The underlying structural form will be seen as vital in capturing recognisable character; the sensitivity of minor forms (for instance around eyes, mouth and nose) can only support and enhance. Works will also be given life by the texture of the working processes with the material, in this case, clay.

You will work directly from the model for ten hours. Demonstrations, using students' works for reference, intersperse these periods of quiet concentration.

The aims of the course are:

• to introduce a process to complete a life-size terracotta portrait piece, working directly from the model

• to improve awareness of sculptural form through overcoming preconceived thoughts in working from the figure, contrasting anatomical knowledge with what we see

• to improve awareness of sculptural qualities through sensitive working with clay in the round

• to introduce practical discussion around the processes and/or aesthetics involved with drying, firing, mounting, sealing and patinating terracotta or other clay works

You should achieve improved observation skills and a recognition of the factors which affect how we use our eyes effectively, alongside greater awareness of sculpture and the factors which improve sculptural form. Support will be given to those wishing to work further in this area.

The objectives are to complete at least three portrait starts from two different models, a portrait mask (model 1) and a life-size portrait head sketch (model 2), ready for kiln firing, if so required.

First evening – there will be a demonstration of the start of the modelling process and a question and answer session to prepare you for the start on day one.

Other evenings – there will be two films linked to the course, which will be available to watch on the second and third evenings to encourage discussion and respond to your individual needs.

Day 1 – Work from model 1 (male). Several starts as the best way to train eye and hand. Relaxation breaks throughout the day considering various sculpture topics. Retaining a mask for firing.

Day 2 – Work from model 2 (female). Slower working through the day with review breaks to challenge our work at every stage and keep a fresh eye.

Day 3 – Heads will be removed from pegs and hollowed for firing after a short discussion around photographing jobs whilst still on the armature. Discussion (with examples) will centre around the basics of kiln firing, their subsequent mounting, patination and display to set off works to their best.

Learning outcomes include clay modelling techniques from life, preparation of works for the kiln and subsequent kiln firing, kiln procedures, tools, clay and recycling of clay for sculpture, advice on photographing work before drying and firing and advice for mounting, sealing and patinating works.

Course Materials


  • Providing models to sit for the course, all clay and firing costs
  • All tools are provided for use during the course.

What students need to bring

  • Comfortable clothing for ease of movement (and that you don't mind getting clay on)
  • Please bring along the available to buy items if you have them.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good selection of art and craft materials, including wooden modelling tools, cheesewire cutters and hollowing tools

Additional information

Please note: works will be ready for collection approximately eight weeks after the course. Hollowed clay can be taken home at the end of the course for your own re-use. You will have the option of purchasing your head-peg armature. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals).


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)

General Information


Jon Edgar

A tutor with 10 years experience teaching at West Dean on both short and degree courses, he has recently created bespoke short sculpture courses for the degree course at UCA, Canterbury, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, UEA.


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

Courses of interest

Further study options

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