Julian Jardine Ceramics - Making a Giant Tortoise
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Julian Jardine - Creating a Giant Tortoise

Over the last few years I have made several giant tortoises and they remain one of my favourite pieces to date. I love the feel of the finished object, its weight and smoothness contrasted by the scaly limbs sticking out. I originally wanted to make something that children visiting the gallery could touch without risk of damage and their parents having a heart attack!

© Julian Jardine I usually make these pieces on top of a kiln shelf so that I can check the finished work will fit the kiln and so I can store them out of harms way until completed. This piece I made on a board marked with the diameter of the kiln shelf. Starting with a thick donut of clayto support the weight, but which will be removed after firing, I then place a wide pinch pot (roughly 1cm thick) on top. I then build a rough slab from front to back to help hold the tortoise's shape as it is built up.

© Julian Jardine I then build two more rough slabs across the pot extending them up to take the shape of the inside of the shell top. These slabs will be removed later as the work dries so there is no great need to make them very well.

© Julian Jardine Next I add in very rough shapes for the legs, tail and head. Each is simply a large lump of clay, squeezed into a fat sausage shape then hollowed by pushing my finger into them. Each is added to the pinch pot and care is taken to make sure the clay bonds well at the joins.

© Julian Jardine I then build over the top of the shell building around from the lip in a similar fashion to the early stages shown in other demonstrations on the site. Again I am aiming to keep the thickness to 1cm so that the piece will dry as evenly as possible. I then leave the piece overnight unwrapped to stiffen slightly.

© Julian Jardine Now that the piece is a little drier I can start to work in the details of the piece. I normally work my way round from the head doing each limb one at a time.

© Julian Jardine This picture gives you a good idea of scale, the piece will shrink approximately 8% from start to finish (about 5-6cm). In this picture I am using a steel kidney tool to shape the outside of the shell and roughly smooth it.

© Julian Jardine By this point I have marked out the pattern on the shell and I am adding individual scales to each leg. This is rather a lengthy job taking several hours per leg using a scraperboard tool (with a diamond shaped head) to carve into the clay.

© Julian Jardine With all the legs detailed, I am almost ready to work at the shell. Firstly though, as the model has now become leather hard, I can open it up and remove the honeycomb of slabs that has been holding the shell up. I scoop out any excess with my hands then give the inside a quick smooth with the steel kidney to help strengthen the piece.

© Julian Jardine Fully hollowed I score the edges of the opening on the shell with a needle tool and apply slip clay then leave it for a few minutes before re-attaching the top. This bonds the clay together which is necessary when the clay is leathery. Just above the head of the tortoise in this image you can see the ball of removed clay.

© Julian Jardine In order to tackle the underside I turn the tortoise over on to a bag full of polystyrene chips (like a large bean bag) so that I can sculpt in the details without damaging any work done to the top. It is then flipped back over and the shell is steadily smoothed off.

© Julian Jardine Detail of the face and front leg.

© Julian Jardine With the model now complete I smooth any small tool marks on the shell with a soft sponge, then burnish the shell lightly as it dries. I use a needle tool to make small holes through the piece so steam can escape during the firing process.

This was a commission for a client in Tiawan, upon completion it became the fastest giant tortoise on the planet by travelling from Scotland to its new home on the other side of the planet in less than 48 hours!

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