Dynamic techniques for sculpting animals with clay with Susan Halls

Pottery and ceramics

Ref: SSS11641

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About this course

Interpret animal imagery using a plethora of hand building techniques and drawing exercises. Investigatory working will liberate your ideas and forming methods so that they play a more significant role in your interpretation. A raku firing will enable you to complete several pieces.

Course Description

Pottery forming techniques are varied and exciting. Slabbing, pinching, coiling, doweling all have a different aesthetic voice – apply to sculpting animals and you’ll find the forming method has played a significant role in the end result. Used individually and in combination, demonstrating the impact of techniques is at the core of this workshop. Working in two- and three-dimensions on a variety of different scales, wall-mounted, free-standing, clusters and group projects, you will be encouraged to take risks in this intense and productive week.

A minimum of one day will be allocated to raku fire and finish pieces, you’ll also have the option of using slips and oxides to colour work before bisque firing.

There will be a loose, experimental drawing element to the course – doodling ideas to explore sculptural possibilities and encouraging you to express ideas beyond literal interpretation. No solid modelling is used, all pieces are constructed hollow occasionally adopting a simple external armature, allowing you to work more effectively and with more immediacy. Electric heat guns and the use of stoneware paper clay increase the possibility of faster working and a more spontaneous approach to interpretation.

Animal structure and anatomy will be discussed as this should inform and underpin much of your decision making. However, the goal is not to make a realistic copy of an animal but to capture the spirit of the creature through re-interpretation of form combined with respect for the forming technique.

Demonstrations will be ongoing and personal assistance and advice always available.

The aim of this course is to demonstrate the important role of techniques and how each has its own voice affecting the final appearance of the sculpture. Training yourself to consider the method of making before you begin can help achieve a more successful outcome. Other intentions are to show how basic drawing can play a vital role in helping to interpret and extend sculptural ideas. To think about design and stylisation rather than make life-like copies and to work with the benefits/constraints of the medium.

By the end of the course you will have gained enough confidence and experience to continue developing ideas independently. The techniques acquired on the course can be adapted to create other kinds of clay sculpture, such as figures or abstract forms – they can also be utilized for making large or small scale vessels. You will also have a basic understanding of raku/smoke firing.

Summer School highlights:

The Summer School week is an immersive learning experience with more time to develop your creativity and embrace opportunities for creative development beyond your chosen course. A detailed timetable for your Summer School week will be given to you on arrival. This will include:

• Short inspirational talks by tutors and displays of their work

• A short creative experience session in another discipline/media or course

• An optional evening at the Chichester Festival Theatre (if pre-booked)

• An optional lunchtime tour of West Dean Gardens, the historic rooms at West Dean College, or West Dean Tapestry Studio

• A celebration dinner on the last evening, with a surrealist theme inspired by Salvador Dalí, who was one of West Dean founder, Edward James’ friends and collaborators. (Feel free to respond to the theme if you wish.)

• Informal end-of-course group reviews and displays of students' work in studios

As evening events are planned as part of the Summer School week, dinner is included in the course fee to enable all students, including non-residents, to participate fully. A detailed timetable will be given to all students on arrival.

(Please note that plans may be subject to change depending on GOV.UK guidance at the time.)


Timetable for Summer Schools

Several evening events are planned throughout the week, a detailed timetable for the summer schools will be given to you on arrival.

Arrival Day

Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students should vacate their rooms by 10am please.

Course Materials


  • All clay and firing costs (large work in size and quantity may be charged extra). Basic tool kits are provided in the pottery for use during the course.

What students need to bring

  • Any sketches or doodles of animals that you have done in the past or in preparation for the course, though not necessary.
  • Overall/Apron (preferably cotton or laminated fabric), outdoor clothing and stout covered boots essential for raku firing day.
  • Basic pottery tools if you have them – especially a potter's knife
  • If you have already or can acquire, strong cardboard tubes, like those used for posting or similar. Various sizes are useful, though preferably longer and larger such as 50cm long x 15cm wide.
  • Small sketchbook/notebook and pencils.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Pottery tools, pottery knife (basic pottery tools are provided for use)
  • Art materials, if needed
  • Wood or plastic ruler
  • Natural sponge
Firing and glazing options: 1. Leave any raw, finished pieces that you wish to keep, for biscuit firing, and re-firing by the College, for collection within six months. 2. Take away your unfired pots for firing and glazing elsewhere. Wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear i.e. no open-toes or sandals.


Susan Halls

Susan intended to study illustration, but beguiled by the art school's ceramics department she jumped ship and has never looked back. After two years studying for her MA she established her London studios, moving to the USA in 1998 where she continues to teach and make sculpture.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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