The Anatomy of a Lady with Attitude 


How does a lady with attitude come into being? 

First of course there is the idea and the design. The posture, attitude and emotion is so important in giving a sense of life to a piece, so when I start on a piece I like to have that felt firmly in my body. Then let’s put on the music…something with a bit of rhythm that will get the hips swaying.

LEFT: This piece was commissioned by an Antarctic biologist who wanted to celebrate not just his time in the Antarctic studying the Adelie penguin, but also the courage and vitality of the women he had worked with.

For my large caricature figures with curvy postures and flinging arms I use Keans White Raku clay and build very slowly over about 6 - 8 weeks, often using scaffolding to prop up gradually growing arms… putting skewers through the body to hold things in place. I usually coil build the dress to the hips in a fairly uniform volcano shape, not worrying too much on getting it right.

I wait a week or two and then when the clay is firmer put my arm right in it (feeling like a vet putting his hand up a cow, I imagine) and work the shape to get a sense of legs and movement. I make incisions in the sides to cut away segments of clay and rejoin, helping me get the shape I am after. I let the clay rest after such a big shock and the following week I put a solid lump of clay on the hips to work on the upper body posture. After this firms up a bit I hollow it out, using key hole surgery. When I first started, I used coils for the upper body as well as the base but then when adjusting the clay into the posture I found that I was getting trapped airholes…so new approach.

I have 3 potters wheels in my studio which I use mainly as lazy susans... helps to coil build very fast.

Sometimes when I put the upper body on, or head I discover that the proportions have got out of hand. Then it is sit back and work out where height might be needed or greater angles generated and like a surgeon I make a sweeping cut to the knees and remove the upper body,  adding some more coils to extend calves or thighs like those poor girls in China.

I have learnt not to put the top part back on straight away as the new clay sinks and squeezes under the weight. So patience is the name of the game. Or perhaps like some ceramists I need an air gun. However, I like not rushing a piece, as fresh eyes notice nuances that one doesn’t see when totally focussed on the building aspects.

When you compare the photo on the left with the one below you can see how after I have built on her torso I went back and bent the dress at the knees (using the technique of careful thumping) giving her a greater sense of movement.


Some pieces come together very quickly and have just the right zest and attitude that I want and others seem to elude me. It is then working on the tilt of the shoulder, the angle of the head, the gesture of the hand or elongating the body until this lump of clay seems like a person. Wet towels are the ceramicist’s friend when clay has become a little too immovable! As the clay dries I continue to work it, smoothing and sculpting to improve the shape and the finish.


I bisque fire very slowly, giving it a day at very low temperatures, before putting the kiln up regularly over the next day and a half. After bisque firing I reconnect broken bits and pieces (as necessary)  with Selley’s multigrip glue or Arildite (for extra strength), add polyfiller (sometimes with Aquadeer if I need the strength) to holes or cracks, and sand.

I don’t seem to get any blow ups now, after I ensure I have holes to any enclosed spaces (eg. holes in the nostrils to the head) but accidents do happen and a finger might be bumped off or bits broken off the bottom in the putting into the kiln. Gnash the teeth at this, but thank god for glue.   


I then paint with acrylic and varnish to various sheens. I find that the acrylic paint gives me a lot more control over colour and enables me to paint over things when I stuff up my design… something I wouldn’t get away with if I used under-glazes.

Then there is shopping at the Bead Shop for earings and Spotlight for the carefully matched felt for the base, or the fabric and other accessories that a woman just has to have.

But it doesn’t stop there. Each woman needs a story… so using Publisher I put together words and pictures to make inviting brochures so the audience can explore if they wish the story of these lovely ladies.


I surrounded myself here with pictures of icebergs and penguins.


 Gallery Exhibitions Artist at Work

Contact Sue Stack at sue.stack 'at'   (replace 'at' with @)         Available for commission