Make Room for Mushrooms

I sculpted several types of mushrooms for the scene in this upcycled coffee cup.

I sculpted several types of mushrooms for the scene in this upcycled coffee cup.

In this tutorial, I’m going to be making two different kinds of mushrooms.  I highly recommend taking the time to make yourself (or purchase) a texture mold for the mushroom gills.  It took me a good 45 minutes to sculpt mine, and then I made a flexible mold of it after I had baked it, but these molds have served me well and have allowed me to put more effort into the tops of the mushroom caps.  (There are some available to buy online, but I haven’t tried any and cannot compare the results.)  If you have the gill texture set, you won’t have to worry about squashing one side while working on the other.

I did not include the creation of a gill mold in this tutorial, but you get the idea from the mushrooms that I make for the earrings.  When making a texture mold, you’ll want to make the gills as thin as possible.  The ones that I sculpted for my earrings are a little more cartoonish.  I chose to go for a sturdy, rounded mushroom that could stand getting thrown into my purse or dropped on the floor, rather than a fine, delicate one like what I would use in sculptures.

M Ear 1b.jpg

The mushroom caps on the earrings are stylized and sturdy, made by gently shaping the top first, then lightly scoring the bottom while cradling the cap in the non-dominant hand.  The mushroom caps in the sculpture are much thinner and have more detailed gills because they were made with the use of a mold. 

I’ll walk you through the mushroom earrings first so that you get the idea of carving the gills, but, if you already have a gill texture mold, feel free to skip to the second half.  There I’ll walk through how I sculpt a detailed mushroom cap and add realistic shading.

Your Basic Mushroom

For this project, I am making one whole mushroom cap, two stems, and two earring bases.  I will cut the cap in half to make two flat mushrooms for the earrings.

M Ear 1c.jpg

The mushroom itself requires two shades of polymer clay, one shade of chalk pastel, a needle tool, a sharp blade, and a flattening tool. The earrings use a third color of clay, liquid clay, and some findings.


Choose and condition your clay.  Have one or two small, non-porous, oven-safe work surfaces ready to use. 

Portion I — Forming the cap

  1. Roll a small amount of clay into a ball

  2. Using a small flat surface and the palm of your non-dominant hand, flatten one half of the ball

  3. Lay the clay flat-side-down on your work surface and smooth out any fingerprints or other indentations

  4. Using a stiff brush, sprinkle chalk pastels onto the dome of clay

  5. With gently sweeping motions, spread the chalk pastels from the center to the edge

  6. Continue applying layers of chalk pastels until you are happy with the look of your mushroom cap

For this tutorial, I have only used one color of chalk pastels, but I often mix a couple of shades of dark browns with either golden/redder shades or with a rich blue.  Feel free to experiment with colors, and remember that the colors will be muted when spread over and baked into the clay.  I try to keep the colors of the chalk pastels darker than the color of the clay so that they show up nicely.  If you play around with translucent clay, you’ll see how versatile chalk pastel on raw clay can be.  Enjoy!

Portion II — Creating the gills

  1. Hold the clay flat-side-up in your non-dominant hand

  2. Using just the tip your needle tool in a light, dragging motion from the edge to the center, score some evenly spaced lines

  3. Further divide those spaces, taking care not to cross any lines or obscure the ridges between the lines

  4. As the spaces get smaller, make some lines shorter to fill in the remaining gaps

  5. Dust the gills with chalk pastels, if desired

Portion III — The stems

  1. With another shade of clay, roll two stem shapes to desired length

  2. Using the same color as the stems, roll a small ball and flatten it to a very thin sheet

  3. Tint the edges of this clay with chalk pastels

  4. Cut in half and lift one half with a flat tool, such as a tissue blade

  5. Apply this semi-circle at an angle, wrapping around one stem near the top

  6. Check to see whether the seam shows when the stem is laid flat; adjust or trim as necessary

  7. Repeat on second stem

Again, for this basic mushroom, I’m going with sturdy and simple.  If you are making a sculpture or something else that can handle being more fragile, you can use a ball tool to add ruffling and texture.  I even intentionally tear the clay for some pieces, giving a ragged, wild look to the mushroom stem.

Portion IV — Putting it together

  1. On a safe surface, use a very sharp blade to slice the mushroom cap into two equal halves

  2. Using a ball tool that is similar in diameter to your stems, make a small indentation at what would be the center point of the mushroom caps

  3. On a flat, non-porous surface, lay each mushroom cap over the end of its mushroom stem so that the seam is covered

  4. For the earrings, prepare the base, including the eye pin, and add on the mushroom with liquid clay

  5. Bake according to manufacturer’s instructions

  6. For the earrings, make a loop at the top of each earring, trim excess, connect to ear wires


Mushrooms Made on a Mold

This is my main mushroom method.  It offers plenty of room for varation and customization.  For this tutorial, I’m just going to make a mushroom cap.  I’ll spill virtual ink over stems and wire armatures in a future post.


Have your mold (and mold release, if necessary) prepared.  Choose and condition your clay.  Choose a ball tool that is about the size of the stem that you want to use.  If you want to assemble it right away, have your stem pre-baked.  If you made your own mold, be sure to have handy the needle tool that you used to make it.  Otherwise, just have small needle/sculpting tools available.  I also like to brush some chalk pastel into powder ahead of time, but that’s not necessary.

Mushroom Cap 1b.jpg

My trusty mushroom gill mold is just black polymer clay that I sculpted with a needle tool and baked. It lays flat and is not flexible, so I need to take steps to avoid clay sticking in it… As you can see, I havn’t always succeeded in that!

Portion I — Rough Shaping

  1. Form clay into a ball

  2. Pinch around the edges to form a rough disk that is thinner at the edges and thicker in the middle

  3. Dust the mold with chalk pastels or your mold release of choice (be generous with this step if you are not using a flexible mold)

  4. Press the clay disk firmly onto the mold, moving from the center toward the edges and ensuring an even impression

  5. Sprinkle chalk pastels onto the center of the clay

  6. Gently blend chalk pastels out toward the edges, thinning the edges as you go

  7. Repeat with more chalk pastels (in additional colors, if you like) until you have desired color

  8. Check to ensure that the color reaches to all of the edges evenly

Portion II — Shaping your Cap

  1. Release your cap from the mold (with short, gentle prodding motions with your needle tool, if necessary)

  2. Use your needle tool to make any desired changes to the gills

  3. With a ball tool the size of your stem, make an indentation in the center of the gills

  4. For a more cupped or ruffled shape, gently shape the mushroom cup over the ball tool (but watch out for cracking!)

Now you are ready to either bake this onto a pre-baked stem or use it as part of a larger sculptural project.  I hope that you’ll play around with this basic method to create proportions and color combinations as varied as your imagination desires.  Enjoy!