How to Sculpt a Coral Reef // Polymer Clay Sculptures | Stephanie Kilgast | Skillshare

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How to Sculpt a Coral Reef // Polymer Clay Sculptures

teacher avatar Stephanie Kilgast, Contemporary artist.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Stove Pipe Sponge


    • 3.

      Finger Sponge


    • 4.

      Brain Coral


    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.

      Montipora Coral


    • 8.

      Royal Angel Fish


    • 9.



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About This Class

This class is a great project for all levels, even people who never sculpted before.It is a great way to start sculpting, as corals are fairly easy to master.
You are also going to learn how to deal with colors and play around with composition as you go. I'm going to guide you through my own creative process, from finding the right reference pictures online or in books, deciding on colors, composition and how to sculpt a few different types of corals and sponges. The class is organized like follow :

1. Introduction
2.1. Sculpting : Aplysina Archeri (Stove Pipe Sponge)
2.2. Sculpting : Negombata Magnifica (toxic finger-sponge)
2.3. Sculpting : Lobophylia (Open Brain Coral)
2.4. Sculpting : Heteractis Magnifica (Magnificent Sea Anemone)
2.5. Sculpting : Zoanthids
2.6. Sculpting : Montipora Coral
2.7. Sculpting : Pygoplites Diacanthus (Royal Angel Fish)
3. Final Words

// M u s i c

Instrumental music by Amarante, Clairvoyance, Denial, Breathe In, They Can Fill an Ocean, Possession, Don't Look Back

Music by Three Chain Links of Phase, Gaining Traction

Meet Your Teacher

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Stephanie Kilgast

Contemporary artist.


Inspired by natural forms, Stéphanie Kilgast’s artwork is an ode to nature and its current biodiversity. Plants, mushrooms, insects and other animals encounter in a vibrant swirl of colors under her brush or sculpting tools.

Since 2017, in her series “Discarded Objects”, she grows colorful organic sculptures on human-made objects, celebrating the beauty of nature in a dialogue with humanity, questioning the lost balance between human activities and nature.
Her work has a cheerful post apocalyptic feel to it, a reassuring reminder that nature has the capacity to grow back, if we only let it.

She built her reputation and her sculpting skills around hyperrealistic miniature food sculptures. Her wo... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello. Today I am going to show you how to sculpt corals and sponges and even a fish. I decided to show you, I think seven different ones. It should be a fun class. You can make coral reefs for different occasions. I made these for sculptural painting I worked on, but you can also use them as jewelry, for instance, or to cover tiny boxes, trinket boxes for instance, or even to cover notebooks. The limit is your imagination. I think it's a really fun project and it's fairly easy. It's also suited for beginners, but also for advanced people as you can really dig into details if you would like. I'm going to show you everything I know, all my techniques and I'm going to give it all. We are going to use polymer clay, but also dry pastels and a few tools. You are probably going to be just fine with a toothpick and a pin and a blade. The goal for you today is to make your own coral reef pieces, jewelry, or as a small sculpture or to cover box, for instance. I would love for you to share your project with the class. I really would like to hear back from you if the class was good enough, if you liked it or not, if it was too fast or not clear enough. Let me all know because I can easily change the class if something is not clear enough. Now let's grab your clay and join in the fun. 2. Stove Pipe Sponge: For the stove pipe punch, I am starting with some pink clay. I simply mixed white with some carmine, but you could use magenta and a tiny bit of yellow or a nice deep red, and that is a bit on the blue side, you don't want to use cadmium red because it's going to be too too salmon-y in the end. Unless you are going for salmon-y look, that of course is different. As you see, I rolled everything out into a thin snake and I cut out pieces. Now using a ball ended tool, I am making a hole in the middle, so it just go around smoothly and be sure to make a nice hole that is good looking and then I textured the outside always with that ball ended tool. Of course, you could use a toothpick as well, even to make the hole on one end. It's just going to be a little bit trickier as toothpicks are made out of wood, so they are not as smooth as a metal tool. I highly recommend getting now a good, not even a good, just a ball ended tool. It's going to be one of the tools you are going to use the most. Here is just another view of the same process where I make the hole and then texture the outside. As usual, it's pretty good to have reference pictures for this one. Then I put everything together, you want to make a sort of a bunch of those tubes. They are not really tubes in your case, we are just making them look like tubes. In real life, they are actual tubes through the hole goes all the way down. But that is too much work and it doesn't make much sense at that scale so we're just pretending they're hollow. Just make as many as you wish, try to make different sizes and thickness for more realism. After that, I did dirty them up a little bit with some dry pastel. I am using dry pastel from the brand Sennelier which is French brand, a very good brand. I live in France so it's a good brand that is not too expensive here, however, in your country it might be another brand. Just be sure to have good quality brand that has lots of pigments, that way, they're going to last you longer and they're going to give you better effects, and I'm just using a mix of brown and ochres. 3. Finger Sponge: For the red finger sponge, I used red that I mixed with some orange because it's a very dark orange and almost reddish orange. I put it through the pasta maker to have a thin sheet. You could use a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta maker. Then I drew with a scalpel the general shape of it, and then I started to make holes in the thin sheet of [inaudible] using a bowl and a tool. So I used a specific reference picture for that one. However, if you look online, you are going to find different versions of the finger sponge. I was using a book when I sculpted the corals and I really liked that specific shape so I sort of replicated it. Here I am adding some extra texture by simply pushing the ball and the tool in the clay. Then I even use the toothbrush to add some extra texture. I personally like to take my time when sculpting as I think it's always so much better when you are aiming at something that should look realistic to take your time and do the extra work to make it look great. If you feel like rushing your artwork, then you're probably not going to be too happy with it. If you are going to, again, make it realistic. Otherwise, of course it's going to be a bit different. Here I'm just reopening all the holes a bit, I made three different ones and I prebaked them before arranging them into my bigger coral reef. Some corals you wants to bake first before baking everything together. This is one of them because it's so thin that It's impossible to work on if it's not baked. Then just rearrange how you wish. 4. Brain Coral: Now for the open brain, coral, I decided to go with blue. I'm not too sure about all the colors that exist for that one. I just happen to like blue. I also tend to work or I try to work in a more naturalistic way and one of my techniques, if she could say so is to just use whatever color I fancy and not obey to the natural rules of the corals or plants that I am sculpting. So the open brain coral is really fun one. It's a coral I really like to do because you can fill gaps with it very easily. It's called open brain because it looks like a human brain. Brain. Not a human brain brain because all brains look the same, right? Not just humans have brains. So you simply, what I do is to roll out a snake of clay and then as you see, just twisted to here and there for it to look like a brain. As usual, it's always good to have reference pictures to see how they evolve and how they grow and as there are many different shapes. Then I used a toothpick. I didn't use a tool because for that particular sculpting I just think toothpick does a better job. As you can see, I'm pushing tiny holes into the clay. So it's fairly long process I guess, but it's a very easy one. So just push clays as to make tiny segments. As you can see, I'm first preparing segments with the toothpick. Then I texture the segments. So I push some holes deeper than the others. Here those are deeper. Those are more shallow. Then I add some dry pastel on top. So I'm using the dry pastels from Suni lea, which is a French brand a very good quality brand. Just find a good quality and brand wherever you live, I live in France, so I picked up French brand that is made in France. But you can pick a German brand if you live in Germany, [inaudible] , I think is pretty good. I am just added some purplish on top to give it some interest. Here just to show you how I usually use the brain calls is to fill in gaps between different types of curves. So you can see the tubes sponges and the red finger sponges, corals that I showed you previously. 5. Anemone: For the magnificent sea anemone, I used some very translucent clay. I actually mixed Cernit translucent mint with some Cernit translucent white or neutral. I mix them together because the mint one is just too dark and I wanted a more pastel looking one. Real anemones look translucent, so that's why I wanted a fairly translucent result. The technique for anemone is very simple. However, it's a long to-do, as you simply roll out a snake of clay. You want to shape the end into a cone and then you are bunching everything together. This is also where it's getting a little bit interesting for you as a sculpture because you can replicate waves into the sea anemone. So you don't have water and you don't see the currents of the water, but you can actually see them in how the anemone moves. As you can see here. You can really give it some kind of a dance. Of course it's always easier to sculpt within the coral reef you are creating. I started to make it on another tile and then I brought it to my choral arrangement and then added bits and bits, I'm going to call them tentacles, I have no clue how they're called and I don't. Yeah, I haven't checked. Sorry about that. I simply add them one bit by one bit, giving them nice move. That's pretty much it. 6. Zoanthids: For the Zoanthids, we are going to make what is called a Skinner blend technique. Where you basically are going to blend a few colors from one to another. I used four different colors and as you see, I'm just cutting out some clay and stick the clay together. The first one I did in a bit of an odd shape, it's because red is; it's not really red, it's more of a pinkish red, is a very strong color. That way I ensure that I have a nice gradient from the very light pink to the very dark one. Then I simply roll it through the pasta maker by folding it always in the same way. Now, I'm rarely too precise about the Skinner blends simply because I can't be bothered, that's the one reason. The second reason, which is a nice rational one, is that nature is imperfect, so it makes no sense to try to be perfect when you replicate it. Here, what I did is to bunch it together because it was way too long and it was really hard to make nice blends. I'm just pushing it like this folding and then let it through again and then put it a few times again through the pasta maker to have a nice gradient. Just put it as many times as you feel is right, and at the end in the other side, because you want to be able to roll it into a tight cylinder. We are starting with the pink and go to the blue. I added an extra layer of blue all around. I reduced it a bit. Reducing is what is called what I just did when making canes because yes, you did make, this is the polymer clay cane. Then I prepared a base from scrubbed clay as you can see. Then you cut out very thin slices of the cane. Choosing a spatula tool, you are going to indent all around. You could alternatively use a pin, a needle, or a blade. You're basically making tiny flowers. Remove delicately with a blade, and then using a ball end tool, you want to give it some shape and push it onto your base. Here you can rework your indents if needed. But since you are going to have a lot of those, honestly, you're not going to do it. Maybe for the first one like I did, and then you're just going to leave it like they are. Then you repeat the process until you have covered the base. Like most corals, it is much easier to work on the coral reef directly like I'm showing you here. Zoanthids are very colorful so you can play around with colors just as you want. You can get inspired by real pictures and reference pictures, but you can also just recreate the collage you need for your own coral reef. 7. Montipora Coral: For the Montipora coral, I started as usual, to roll out a snake of clay. I often tends to start this way, but this time I cut it in tiny segments to make tiny balls of different sizes and shapes. With my finger, I simply flatten them down onto the tile. I made a bunch of different sizes because I wasn't sure yet which sizes I was going to use. I textured two of them using a ball and the tool. As you can see, I'm doing it radial way, so everything goes from the center to the outside of the circle. Just make it look a little bit rough. You don't want fine lines, you just want the idea of a line, but in a rough shape. I then painted all the borders in purple. This is optional, but I really like to emphasize the edges, so this is what I did here. Here I am cutting kind of snail shape because the Montipora coral across wills of corals, but that is really hard replicate in one go and sculptures. So I'm, sort of cheating in a way. I'm just going to see now, I am pushing down the top coral, the top circle underneath and just spilling the little snail bits around, and then I simply cut down the under coral and make it look like swill. I'm making a slightly larger circle to put underneath, and this time I'm making it very quickly the texturing, I mean, since we are hardly going to see it. So this time I used a toothpick. You can also use a toothpick in the first place and not a ball and a tool if you don't have any. I'm a big friend of using what you have at home instead of buying tons of tools. Adding some paint on the edges again, and now putting it on top. With the same cheating technique, pushing the top unto the bottom so it looks like a swirl. Of course, you can repeat this a few times more if you want a higher Montipora coral. 8. Royal Angel Fish: I also decided to add some fish to their coral reef, and I went with the Royal angel fish. For that, I rolled out a piece of yellow clay, and using an X-Acto knife, I just cut out the general shape, pushed it down with my fingers. Then using a metallic embossing tool, I am pushing down the clay where the fins are. Sculpting a fish is not too difficult. However, you really want to have a reference picture next to you. [MUSIC] For the eye, I pushed down a tiny hole with the bowl ending tool, and I added a tiny bowl of clay inside. For the fins, I textured them using a spatula tool. [MUSIC] I made and added a tiny fin on the side. Textured the top fins with my spatula tool but you could use a needle tool or a pin. On the back as well. Once I was happy with the result, I baked the fish. After baking, I proceeded to paint it with purple paint. The purple paint I have is very translucent. I knew I was going to have to go twice on everything. You are basically painting stripes. [MUSIC] Let it dry before applying a second coat of paint. [MUSIC] Let it dry, and then add a thin line of white onto each purple stripe. [MUSIC] 9. Conclusion: While you're around, you can also check out my mushroom class, my gemstone class, and my wildflower class. Don't forget, today's class project is for you to do your own coral reef. Choose the colors you like, choose the corals and sponges you prefer, and just do it. Please share your project with the class, I'd really love to see what you come up with. It also helps other students who are a little bit afraid to start. Thank you so much for watching and I really hope to see you in my next skill share class.