Clay bust sculpture

Students explore the nature and qualities of clay as a 3D sculptural material. Clay is a unique, malleable and highly tactile material that can be formed, dried, fired in a kiln, glazed and re-fired. It is also the material that the miners of the 1800's had a lot of connection with in their search for riches.
Focus Artwork #1: 
Goldminer 1861 by James Anderson


MAKING: Students learn to:

  • interpret subject matter which is of local interest in particular ways in the making of artworks

APPRECIATING: Students learn about:

  • how concepts and materials are thought about, organized and assembled, and serve different ends in artworks that they and others make

Background notes for Teachers

This oil painting is of an Australian bushman, or possibly a gold miner, an occupation suggested by the pick and shovel carried over the subject's left shoulder. It is an unusual painting for Anderson being a genre image rather than a formal oil portrait for which he is now mostly known. During the third quarter of the nineteenth century, Australian bush and gold mining life became the principal subject for popular artists such as S.T. Gill and George Lacy. The notion of Australians as sturdy independent bush types, defined by the bush experience, was beginning to take hold during this period. This oil is an early example of the subject moving from popular illustration to the more sophisticated and formal genre of oil painting.

James Anderson, portrait painter and member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, emigrated from Ireland to Australia in 1852-1853. Initially he lived in Victoria where he contributed to the Victorian Fine Arts Exhibition in Melbourne in 1853 and 1854. By 1858, Anderson had moved to Sydney and continued to paint portraits advertising in the Sands Directory of Sydney for 1861. -- Reference: Dictionary of Australian artists / Joan Kerr, editor. [Sydney] : Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, 1984

Very few of the men who came out to Australia in the 1850’s and beyond would have looked as fresh faced, clean and healthy as the man in the image for very long. The toil of the conditions and the haphazard nature of striking it rich would have taken their toll on each one, but the dream of wealth was kept alive by the circulation of such imagery. 

Student Activities

The Goldminer image

Students study the painting, Goldminer 1861 by James Anderson and discuss features of the painting.

Number of set tasks: 1

Activity notes for Teachers

Students will be assisted in:

  • discovering ways of creatively responding to knowledge and information discussed through visual analysis of an image
  • exploring handbuilding techniques using clay
  • applying this knowledge to begin an artwork

The step by step guide for making a clay bust sculpture is available as a downloadable resource in Activity 2.

Materials needed for artmaking:

  • Be ready with all the materials you need and your workspace set up before starting.
  • White earthenware handbuilding clay or modelling clay – at least 800 grams per student
  • Modelling tools – paddle pop stick, fork, spoon, pencil or commercial clay modelling tools– a variety of objects to make marks
  • Old toothbrush – for scoring surfaces to join them
  • Small water container and/or water sprayer – to help keep the clay moist if it dries out during the making process
  • Newspaper - for use in supporting the structure during the handbuilding

A note about using clay: There are many different types of clay available. You will need to consider which one is best suited to your needs in the classroom.

If you will be firing your finished artworks it is best to use a general handbuilding earthenware clay in either white or terra cotta. Paper clay (earthenware clay extruded with paper fibres) is also suitable as it is robust in construction and joins easily.

Make sure that all finished pieces have no air pockets trapped in the construction as these will cause major damage in the firing process due to the expansion of the air when it is heated.

All pieces need to be completely dried out before firing. This takes up to a week but is quicker in the warmer months. Keep in mind that the pieces are at their most fragile when dried and should be handled with great care. The artworks will shrink by approximately 10% in the drying/firing process.

You may also use air-dry clay or modelling material in a white or terracotta colour. This is a cleaner material to use than earthenware clay but has limitations of texture building. It also has a much lesser life span than a fired piece of earthenware.

Additional resources

Other images from State Library collection on the theme of the Gold rush:

Basic information and instructions on clay firing can be found on many ceramics websites.

Creative Arts Syllabus K-6

A student

  • VAS3.1 Investigates subject matter in an attempt to represent likenesses of things in the world.
  • VAS3.2 Makes artworks for different audiences, assembling materials in a variety of ways.
  • VAS3.3 Acknowledges that audiences respond in different ways to artworks and that there are different opinions about the value of artworks.
  • VAS3.4 Communicates about the ways in which subject matter is represented in artworks.

Typically teachers of Stage 3 students will:

  •  use a range of construction techniques when using clay and other three dimensional materials, including pinching, joining, forming, gluing, modelling, casting and carving, and consider sculptural concepts such as solids, voids, volume, mass, space