Feb 5, 2010

Hand Building Clay Tutorial - Make a Kawaii Mushroom with Bird

In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to build a simple sculpture of a kawaii (japanese for 'cute') mushroom out of ceramic clay. There are just a few tools needed, along with the moist clay. Here's what you'll end up with:

I use mid-range stoneware clay that fires between cone 5 and 6. You can use any ceramic clay you choose. This design would also be good to use with polymer clay. This tutorial assumes you know understand clay firing and usage of a ceramic kiln. I work on a table covered with canvas. It helps keep the clay from sticking.
First, assemble your tools. I used the following:
  • sharpened pencil
  • large plastic drinking straw
  • scratch tool (although a toothbrush or the end of the pencil could be used)
  • needle tool
  • wooden clay tool
  • clay slip (runny clay about the consistency of cream)
  • moist stoneware clay
  • my hands!

Referring to the photo, take a lump of clay and form it into a cylinder. This will be the mushroom top.
Flatten the underside by tapping it on the table and flip it over and round the other end with the palm of your hand.

Slowly work your finger into the flattened end of the cylinder, and gently roll the cylinder and your finger against the table. Try to maintain an even wall thickness throughout. A wall of about a 1/4 inch is fine. Make sure not to lose the form of the mushroom top.

Cupping your fingers around the end, slowly push the edges together. You may need to lengthen the cylinder to allow for the edge you are going to join. If the clay begins to get dry, moisten it with a slightly wet sponge. No need to get it too wet or sticky. 
Work to get the edges nearly touching.


 When the edges finally touch, take your fingertip and drag some clay across the top.
Turn the form and drag clay across the top. Do this for several turns. Use the pad of your fingertip to smooth out your drag marks. You can also use the wooden tool if you prefer. Tap it on the canvas table to smooth it.


You now have a closed form.
Roll the cylinder on the table to take out any bumps and irregularities. Roll the top of the form 
on the table to make it nicely rounded.


 This is what yours should look like.


Cut a blob of clay for the bottom of the mushroom. Check the size against the mushroom top.


Roll the base into a ball, then a fat cylinder, and finally, squash the top of 
it with something flat. I used a small dip bowl.


 To attach the base to the cap, score the clay on each piece using the 
scratch tool. If you don't have a scratch tool, use the point of the pencil or the 
needle tool. Then, paint on some runny slip on each part - not too much.
Press them together with gentle pressure and a slight twisting motion. You 
want to make sure they are connected.
Wipe away any excess slip that seeps out.


 Here you can see where I used the sharp edge of the wooden tool to
impress a series of lines that will make the gills of the mushroom.


IMPORTANT- You must make a hole for expanding air to escape. If you 
forget this step, your mushroom will explode in the kiln. That would be sad, so 
don't forget to do this! 
You must poke the needle all the way through the base into the hollow cavity of
the cap.

 Don't forget to sign your work.
The lead pencil glides through the clay much easier than a metal tool.


Poke two eyes with the pencil. 
Use the straw to make cheeks on your little mushroom dude.  
If you go in at this angle, you'll only make a half circle shape. Wiggle it while
it's in the clay so it makes a nice gap.
Squeeze the straw by the tip and make a mouth shape, too.


 For the bird, here is a ball of clay.


Pull into a bean shape. One end is a bit pointy.


 Pull the clay more into a bird shape and use your finger and thumb to flatten the tail.
Score and slip the bird to the top of the mushroom.


 Hooray! You're finished!



  1. Too cute and what fun!!!

  2. Looks like a fun project! Good explanation and easy to follow!

  3. Well written with great photos! thank you, Denise

  4. Now you've got me wanting to get out all my clay tools again and have fun with clay! Thanks for putting together your first tutorial!

  5. What a cute tutorial! Really great photos & clear explanation.. it was really fun to read & made me smile! :) Awesome blog!
    Cheers, Chrissy

  6. I love it. You did a wonderful job of explaining the whole process. Great pics.