Every summer I take my daughter to Estes Park, Colorado for time with extended family at the YMCA. The cousins go off to day camp while my sister, mom and I do something creative. This year my sister taught us to make folks out of DAS modeling clay. The idea is to take a fistful of foil, crunch it down to make a solid core, and then lay a layer of clay over that.  Your aim is to shape a face and shoulders. Later you’ll add paint and fluff for hair, but at first, you have a blob of clay and a squished ball of foil.

Every possibility and no constraints. Way scary.

When I started with the clay I had no idea what I was making. I just started slapping on blobs—that’s the head, those are the cheeks—letting my fingers move along the clay. I’m no genius at making folks but I do know not to force it. If I start with the intention of making a Greek god with perfect jaw lines, I’ll end up with a lopsided snowman.

Yes, this is an allegory for writing.

But, back to the clay person. I just starting poking, making some eye sockets, and pushing up some cheekbones. Added big floppy ears and some eye detail. I enjoyed the pliability of the clay and the feel of the details as they emerged.

I got a sort of hunchback with uneven eyes and a weird nose. I smooshed it up and started over. Made a longer face, with a big, full mouth. Too big. I smooshed it up and started over again.  Eventually, I got something that looked like a funny little man. Now I could slow down and go for some details.

After we baked him, I started painting over his terra cotta face. But what color is skin? Besides all the ethnic choices, I noticed by looking at my own freckled skin that it’s composed of bits of orange, green, pink and ivory, in addition to brown and white. I added those colors, painted again and again, added some silver to give him a magical glow.

After I painted him, I gave him a bit of hair. I knitted him a little scarf, because he seemed to be the sort of bloke that would hang out in cooler climates like bogs and ferny forests.


Like this.


Or this.


I like my clay man. But I wouldn’t have continued past the hunchback if it hadn’t been fun.

So once again, making art serves as creative teacher. Keep it fun. Redo if it’s lumpy and ugly, unless you’re going for ugly.

It’s only clay.

Or words.

*For more clay creatures, check out my sister’s blog. She’s Jill Berry, and it’s at http://jillberrydesign.com/blog/2012/06/20/summer-camp/