Traditional Sculpting
with John Mahoney

An image of an alien type clay monster

John Mahoney‘s recently-released Traditional Sculpting series on ArtStation Learning covers everything you’ll need to create a professionally-sculpted clay figure, from making a wire armature to capturing your final portfolio shots. He also incorporates ZBrush, Photoshop, and KeyShot into the course to help you develop a complete workflow.

In this interview, John shares some helpful perspectives for new sculptors looking to develop their sculpting practice.

Watch the Series 

An image of JohnJohn Mahoney is a Pratt Institute graduate with a BFA in Illustration. He has worked as a visual development artist for Disney Feature Animation on numerous films including Atlantis, Treasure Planet, and The Emperor’s New Groove. During his time at Disney, he contributed to a total of ten feature films. John has also worked for Lucasfilm, Miramax, and Heavy Metal Magazine. Recently he sculpted toys for Jurassic World, The Avengers, Frozen, and Ghostbusters for Hasbro.

John has taught diverse subjects including figure drawing, sculpture, film design, storyboards, stop motion animation, and character design in the United States, Singapore, and Taiwan. He is currently producing his own sci-fi feature film called Xentropa, which is currently in pre-production. John works in Los Angeles.


A large alien skeleton monster with checkered pants and a red shirt stands menacingly in a cathedral

Image from John’s Traditional Sculpting series

Behind the course:

As for my background in sculpture, I worked as a Visual Development Artist/Concept Sculptor for Walt Disney Feature Animation on the film Treasure Planet. This was my first professional job as a sculptor in the business and I loved every minute of it! After this, I studied under numerous master sculptors in Los Angeles and used these skills to develop my own series of sculptures. Later on, I got hired by Hasbro toys to do a number of ZBrush sculptures for The Avengers, Jurassic World, and Ghostbusters.

Most memorable learning experience of your career?

Moving into pre-production on my own science fiction feature film Xentropa. Making it through the incredibly difficult process of screenwriting to pre-production design and now storyboarding has been by far my most challenging, yet rewarding experience of my career.

What tips would you give to artists still developing their own style?

I believe the best thing an artist can do is study other artists they admire and try to learn stylistic approaches from them. If an artist wants their work to be more stylized, study more stylized artists. If they want their work to be more traditional then study the great traditional artists of the past. Also, it’s incredibly important to study real life and the world around them. As an artist/sculptor they can then go one way or the other.

What are some important professional skills that you suggest learners should hone?

I would say learn as much as you can about the entire process of sculpting: from mold making to understanding the properties of different types of clay, to finishing the sculptures (which sometimes includes painting and photographing the work), to getting the work out there. All of these components will influence your sculpting. The next time you plan to do a sculpture, you’ll already have all of these things in mind. Now saying all this, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed, so take each piece one at a time. Enjoy practicing these things and eventually with a lot of studying, you will understand the entire process from start to finish.

1 sentence of advice?

Study real cultures, real people, real environments, and do a lot of life drawing.

One thing I would recommend to young artists, above all else, is to try not to focus on working so much on their imagination but instead studying the world around them. It’s difficult to come up with believable imaginary works unless you’ve spent enough time studying the real world. Embrace what you love and keep doing that until you become great at it. This is a great recipe for enjoying a happy life.


ArtStation Learning courses are included in all ArtStation premium subscriptions. Find out more >

See more of John’s ArtStation portfolio here.


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