Clay Bird Totem :: Part 1 :: Sculpting Birds

Clay Bird Totem :: Part 1 :: Sculpting Birds

A while ago I had seen this sculpture online. You can see the original HERE

I wasn’t able to buy it, so I wondered if it was something I could make myself. I haven’t used clay since I was in school which was about… hmmm… well, suffice to say it was a long time ago. But as I’ve aged… or, as I prefer to think of it… have become more sage like, I find I’m more willing to try many things, throwing caution to the wind! Because I do not have a kiln for firing clay, at least not yet, I bought some air dry clay. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t appear to be as hard as clay that is fired, but it was easy to work with, and if you let the pieces dry thoroughly, there are many things you can do with them.

Although this is not a “how to sculpture” post, I will walk you through my adventures in making my own Clay Bird Totem!


Note: Although a wooden dowel can be used, I highly recommend the steel metal rod (available in the hardware section of Home Depot, etc. The birds weight a lot and a thin dowel rod my warp and bend over time.


I did not want my birds to be exactly the same size, but close, so I used a 1 cup measurer to scoop out the clay. 

I then worked the clay into a smooth ball. And began sculpting. Fun stuff!

Here is my first finished bird. I don’t have any “steps” because I just started shaping it. When you look at all my finished birds you will notice they all look different. I made sure the bottom was rather flat, so it could stack with the other birds, but other than that I wasn’t overly concerned. These are primitive, folk art birds after all. They are not trying to look like any particular real bird. So, relax, have fun and don’t sweat the details. When I was done sculpting the bird, I used a sketching pencil, without an eraser, to push a hole through the bird. Just make sure your pencil is perpendicular to the table or your bird will sit all wonky when it is put on the pole. Also, make sure your hole is a bit bigger than your dowel and metal rod that the birds will be placed on. 

Use a tooth pick or a sculpting tool to add any detail you wish to add. I just added eyes.

Once you set the birds on a paper to dry, use a damp sponge of rap to remove any fingerprints you may have gotten on the birds while moving them. Make small clay beads as spacers between the birds. Place a whole in the center of them, too.

Now comes the hard part… waiting for them to dry. It took over a week for them to thoroughly dry. I began painted one before it was completely dry and the paint did not stick as well and the wetness of the paint deformed the beak. When I waited a few more days, I did not have that problem at all.

Part 2 :: Finishing the totem can be found HERE.





  1. Would u mind if i ask u what kind of clay you used in your sculptures? Thank you

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