Sculpture from a first timer

Air-Dry clay model of Batman bust

Bharath Raja
7 min readJun 7, 2016

When I was young, I’ve tried making elephants and dogs with semi-solid wheat flour that’s used to make Chapatis (Indian dish). But the next day, it’ll smell so bad and the insides would be liquidy. So I had to throw them out. I’ve never played with the common clay that’s available for kids. But I’ve always had an itch for creating models.

So I looked up for an art class nearby and tried to join there for clay modeling. When I went there I saw a lot of kids and I felt I couldn’t be at the beginner stage as the kids. Speaking with the artist there, he wanted to see if I’ve done anything so far, so that he could evaluate me and place me at the right point. So, to prove and to find what I’m capable of, I bought some Air-Dry clay and came home. Air-Dry is a basic clay type, which is kept in closed space and when exposed to outside, it’ll tighten itself. So you only get limited time to make the model. Also, after it’s dry, it’s very likely for Air-dry clay to break. And on exposure of water, it’ll start to slowly dissolve, layer by layer. Basically it’s a horrible clay, but I’ve never tried any other clay, so it was a good start. I just realised I’m using too much commas, noted.

The head

On a sunday, while me and my friends were watching a movie, I thought I could try something with the clay. I had no idea what to do, I made a sphere. Then instinctively I pulled a nose out of it. So I thought, okay a face would be a great start. So shaped the skull and jaws, nudged the eye holes and I had something. I held it in a screwdriver because I didn’t want my hand pressure to spoil the shape and I didn’t have a proper holder setup.

After seeing a head, I drifted towards batman head and so I added the ears. As the clay was getting less moist, I added the details on the face, the mouth especially using a ballpoint pen and scissors. After shaping a nice chin, it sorta looked like Ben Affleck. It was before the release of the movie and I was super excited. So I thought my model would be Ben Affleck Batman. This was on may 3rd, 2015.

The body

3 days later, since I had some more clay left, I thought of finishing the bust for Batman. It was very difficult to find the exact size for the bust. So I drew a head the exact size of my model and tried to draw a body for it. And based on that, I started building the bust, separately.

Once I had a pretty good shape, I inserted the head over the body. The head was pretty dry then, but I kept applying water till it became softer just on the surface. Thus I was able to blend them and the neck was pretty smooth. The head kept breaking off though, and i kept fixing it until it stopped.

A big dilemma I had was the batman logo. Since it was Ben Affleck Batman, aka the Frank Miller Batman, I wanted to have the prominent big logo. So drew them up to see which would fit more. I also thought about the Nolan’s Batman logo, but nah I wasn’t a big fan of them either. In the end, I went with the one from Arkham series.

Then I focussed on the smaller details, the cape folds on the shoulder, the thickness of it in the chest, the line between the chest and the shoulder bone. When I was done, I saw my watch and I’ve been on this for more than 6 hours and my bedroom was a total mess. I kept the bust safe in a shelf up top and called it a day.


I went home the weekend after and I let the clay dry, for more time that needed. Meanwhile I’ve ordered Acrylic color tubes and 2 sets of brushes, round and flat. After 10 days, I took out the model and started carving. With clay, you have the option to mold and to carve. I dug out the eyes to give a crisp shape to it. I also sharpened a few more edges and it was lookign pretty good.

Then I started painting black to it. I was okay with it going-over the other regions, because I’ll paint them too anyway. This acrylic paint, felt like liquid rubber. You only got sometime before it turns solid, so you paint it in a single go. You could go for multiple coating, from what I’ve read, but I was okay with a single coating.

I could’ve painted the logo white, or yellow, of grey, but I wanted to black. So I chose to color the chest grey, #ccc may be. The tough part was the face. For a moment, I was tempted to leave it as is, the clay brown, but it wouldn’t be right. So I wanted a fair skin color and I’ve never mixed colors before. I saw a couple of youtube videos and I started mixing yellow and red, with some green. Clearly first tries are never perfect, neither was mine (it was horrible, like a vampire Batman, see below)

But I eventually found a color I was okay with and painted the face. I added a bit of pink to it and painted the lips. I wanted to lips to be in different color but not too weird or like joker. So a mild change that probably would ever notice, but I cared :D The eyes were white and it was a piece of cake with thin pointy brushes. And in around 3 hours I painted the entire bust. I kept it safe and in the shade, the eyes were standing out.


I was happy with my model, it was looking great, the colors were awesome. But as I read about clay sculpting, most people preferred to have it sealed because moisture will spoil it. So for the next few days I went around Chennai looking for a matte varnish. About 6–8 shops and nobody had it. One guy offered to order it for me, but for a large scale. I just wanted 50ml of it. By third day, without any other choice left, I had to get a glossy one.

The screwdriver helped me open the box

I took a brush and started applying the varnish over the bust. I looked brownish, but when applied it was colorless. It had a really strong odour though. They said that it’ll take at least 2–3 days for the varnish to dry. So I didn’t disturb it for the next 4 days.

The Dark Knight

I loved it. I glossy finish was better than I expected, but it was shining way too much. But I was amazing, and for a first, it was more that I could ask for. I was sure that the local artist would be impressed. I just haven’t got time to visit him yet.

Here’s my entry in DeviantArt. If you have any thoughts, please leave any comments below :)



Bharath Raja

DevRel 🥑 Engineer 📟 Adventurous 🏂 High-functioning Absurdist. I cherish meaning, truth, beauty and the paradox of their co-existance.