Art of Clay Illustrations: Information and Details

For most of us, our first introduction to the art of clay would have been when we were playing with Play-Doh as kids. But clay can also be used to create decorative and aesthetic works of art.

Clay art, also known as clay modeling, is the art of molding clay into different shapes to make ceramics, jewelry, artwork, and more. Although there are many artists who practice clay pottery and jewelry making, clay illustrators are quite rare.

Rutuja Mali, who is an art director in an advertising agency in Mumbai, is one such clay illustrator who uses plasticine to create concept art and fan art. In this guide, she explains everything you need to know to get started in this art form.

Rutuja Mali

© Omkar Deval and Rohan Shriyan

01

What are clay illustrations?

Clay illustrations are 3D figures, portraits or sculptures made from different types of clay. The artwork requires you to mold, fabricate and shape pieces of clay to arrive at an imaginative or real end product. Once completed, the artwork can be kept as a digital artwork or a physical piece.

“I dismantle my works once they are finished because I like to reuse clay for other pieces. If I wanted to keep the physical product, I would have to box it up and frame it. So I prefer to document my work digitally,” says Rutuja.

02

What is the history of clay illustrations?

While the history of clay art dates back to the earliest forms of civilization, the modern style of clay illustrations can be traced to clay animations in stop motion films like Coraline and Chicken Run.

“Apart from animated films, clay illustrations can also be found in the works of children’s book illustrators,” says Rutuja.

03

What piqued Rutuja’s interest in clay illustrations?

Rutuja had been an illustrator since her university studies and she also did illustrations for her advertising agency. In 2014, she came across a few award-winning international advertisements that had experimented with clay illustrations, which made her want to try this unique art form for her next work projects.

“My boss asked me to prepare a portfolio to show him what I could do. During the process of making these five to six pieces, I realized that I really like doing clay illustrations. So I continued as a personal project,” she says.

Rutuja Mali working on clay illustration

Rutuja working on clay illustration

© Omkar Deval and Rohan Shriyan

04

Some of Rutuja’s Coolest Clay Projects

Rutuja is at her creative best when creating fun and playful artwork. She particularly likes to borrow from pop culture.

“I once did a Pixar-themed artwork, where I designed alphabets and numbers based on Pixar movie characters,” she recalls. For another project, she made stickers for Google.

05

What materials do you need to make clay illustrations?

The most important thing you need is the clay itself. Rutuja describes the most popular types of clay below.

  • Modeling dough: “I use this soft clay because it gives me flexibility and I like its finish,” she says.

  • Polymer: This type of clay is usually used to make fridge magnets, jewelry, etc. “You have to cook it to harden it,” says Rutuja.

  • Air dry clay: “It dries in 24 hours and you can paint over it,” she says. If you want to keep your models, you can choose this paste.

Once you have found your choice of clay, you can start modeling it with professional or makeshift tools. “You can use a toothpick or the back end of a paintbrush as tools when you’re just starting out,” says Rutuja.

06

What skills do you need to practice this art form?

“It is essential that you hone your design and drafting skills. This is your base; the clay is secondary,” says Rutuja. Once you start working with clay, she promises that your dexterity, creativity, and patience will improve.

Rutuja Mali working on his clay illustration for the Red Bull Red Edition

Rutuja working on his illustrations for the Red Bull Red Edition

© Omkar Deval and Rohan Shriyan

07

What is the process of making clay artwork?

Here is Rutuja’s step-by-step process for creating 3D clay artwork.

  • Step 1: “The first step is to come up with the idea,” says Rutuja.

  • 2nd step: Next comes the creation of a sketch of the artwork.

  • Step 3: “Then I model the clay referring to the sketch,” she says.

  • Step 4: Once the artwork is ready, she takes photos and videos of the final product and edits the content on her computer.

The time it takes to create each illustration depends on various factors. “Each character takes me around 1.5 to 2 hours. So an artwork of five characters would take me at least a day,” says Rutuja.

08

Clay illustrators you can follow for inspiration

For Rutuja, social media is an ocean of inspiration. “All of my personal projects are deeply indebted to social media,” she says. She follows the work of some international clay illustrators on Instagram and Behance. She lists them below and suggests that every clay beginner should follow her work.

09

What are Rutuja’s ongoing projects?

The clay art of Rutuja Mali celebrates the Red Bull Red Edition

Clay art from Rutuja celebrating the Red Bull Red Edition

© Omkar Deval and Rohan Shriyan

Rutuja is currently involved in a project that celebrates the summer 2022 launch of the watermelon fragrance Red Bull Red Edition. She created a special clay illustration that is sprinkled with cool elements to convey a summer vibe.

“My concept is to visually represent the feeling you get when you consume this energy drink,” she says.

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