Back to Bases: Mounting Air Dry Clay Horse Sculpture - Susie Benes

Back to Bases: Mounting Air Dry Clay Horse Sculpture

"A Terre" is mounted on a single pin in the tip


When starting a new project, I ask myself:

Does this sculpture need a base?

The need for a base is something that should be decided early on in the design stages, though in some cases it’s possible to add afterwards. Air dry or cured clays, as opposed to fired clays, are often lightweight, and a base provides much needed stability.

I’ve made sculptures with and without bases, and I want to give a brief introduction to the techniques I use, especially as they relate to air dry clay and equine sculpture.

 Horse legs are thin in clay sculpture
Horses' legs are thin and are a challenge to affix to a base


Bases can be made from any number of materials; stone, concrete, plastic, metal, etc. Conversely they can also be sculpted from clay.

For an understand modern look, I find that my Creative Paperclay sculptures are best complemented by a solid wood base. The wood  provides enough weight to keep the sculpture balanced without compromising the lightness of the sculpture’s weight.

I have my wooden bases custom cut, often from reclaimed wood and then sealed with tung oil for a lovely and subtle hand-rubbed finish.

How the base complements your subject should be a central consideration when it comes to choosing a material and finish. It should not detract from the sculpture itself.


The issue of horse legs

Here are the facts: horses have thin legs. While they give them grace in life, those lovely legs can cause all sorts of issues when it comes to mounting because they can be fragile, especially when small.

There are several approaches to mounting clay horse sculpture that can help tackle these concerns:


Option 1: No Base
The Foals Rush In series had no bases


Many air dry clay sculptures don’t require a base if they are well balanced. When making my miniature set Foals Rush In, I opted out of using bases because a base can often create a sense of formality that I felt didn’t fit the sculptures’ spontaneous feel.


Option 2: Rod to Base

Using a wooden or metal rod to attach a sculpture to a base is very common. I use this approach not only when I want to create the illusion of a horse suspended in mid-air, but also when attaching delicate horse legs directly to a wooden base is impossible.

It also works well for portraiture-style sculpture where a horse bust can be raised away from the base and brought to life.

"Suspending Gravity" is a good example of when to utilize the rod method


I integrate the rod or pin right from the beginning because by making it part of the armature it will hold the sculpture securely. 

Method - A hole is drilled into the wooden base, a 2-part epoxy is put into the hole and the rod (with sculpture on top) is inserted into it and left to dry. When using metal rods, I use the epoxy almost as a formality because the rod is tapped and then physically screwed into the base.

"Hot Date" uses rods to set the horse busts above the base and bring them to life


Option 3: Clay Base

Making a base out of clay is an effective way to mitigate the difficulties of thin horse legs while ensuring a sculpture is balanced.

Lulu (below) is a good example of that. Because she is technically only standing on one leg she needed to have a second base built in the front to keep her upright.

This method also means that the armature is integrated right into this clay base, and consequently there’s no movement at the point where her hooves touch the “ground”, ensuring no cracking.

Lulu's base is constructed of clay


This appraoch also allows the sculpture to be attached to a more solid or heavier base material. If I wanted to attach Lulu to a wooden base, it would only require 2-part epoxy on the clay bases to permanently affix her.


So does my clay sculpture need a base?

The most important question to ask yourself is, will the final product will be well-balanced and not get knocked over?

I typically decide right from the get go if an artwork will have a base because it helps to structure the entire sculpture. Bases add a sense of formality and richness, but also make sure your sculpture will stay beautiful for many years to come.

All in all it comes down to a personal choice and what is best suited to an individual piece.

Susie Benes equine artist Felix large foal clay sculpture
Felix shows that a large sculpture doesn't need a base to be stable


What's Next?

 Find out how to make a strong armature for your sculpture
 Check out my past sculptures and ones that are currently available