The Prehistoric Circus: Process and Concept

The Prehistoric Circus is my most recent series of ceramic sculptures. Here I will discuss the process involved with these pieces, the prehistoric mammals they are inspired by, and the concepts behind them.

1150631_971265690634_203117654_oI always start with an armature and start packing clay onto it in a solid mass. The armature can vary depending on the pose and size of the piece I am sculpting.

20130930_153449Once the piece is roughed out enough I can begin hollowing. I leave all detail until after the hollowing process because I will have to cut through the solid piece.


The hollowing process often takes much longer than it took to sculpt the solid form. On larger pieces hollowing can take up to one week. I make sure all the walls are as thin as possible, compressed, and even, so I do not have to use any internal structures.

20140101_165214Once pieces are reassembled I start carving in all fine details and textures. Thin, or delicate parts like ears, tails and trunks will be put on as late as possible to prevent them from drying out while all the detail is being done.

???????????????????????????????All detail is a combination of techniques. Patterns like this one are drawn on first by hand, then embellished with carving, stamping, and later stencils and patterns.


Some of the embellishments are made using a plaster press mold of machined patterns. I can press wet clay into this mold to get an impression of something more architectural for some pieces.

20130916_171904Once all detail is completed pieces are bisque fired once to cone 04 (1940 degrees F) before any glazes are applied.

DSC05008After the bisque firing, stains and glazes are applied in several layers. Sanding through and roughing the surface of these layers gives the effect of an aged surface.


The surfaces on my pieces all start with layers of stains, slips or underglazes. These are often followed by engobes and or more underglaze.


I often use paper cut out stencils, rice paper decals, and slip trailers to add pattern to areas that I left blank of any carving or stamping in the wet clay. This gives the surfaces depth by showing both printed and carved elements together, and creates a more mysterious looking surface.

DSC05120I usually hand paint most of the color in using small brushes. On pieces like the elephants, one layer of their skin is done first, then the pattern and colors on the blankets are completely finished before I apply the crawling skin glaze to the elephant body. This is so runs and drips don’t ruin the finished skin surface while I work on the blankets.

DSC05103The half way point of the glazing I do looks finished, but this is before I do the distressing on the surface that makes the pieces look older. Once I reach this point, I sand off the dry, but not fired, glazes and slips in places. This reveals the layers of darker color, stain or engobe underneath and makes the surface look worn. I also use an exacto knife to make the painted surface look chipped off in places. After that, a brown, or black underglaze wash is applied with a spray bottle to create runs and stains. Until the piece looks more like this.

DSC05090After the piece is fired I will do a copper carbonate wash. This creates a dingy effect in some places.

Prehistoric Circus-26

Some of the pieces receive a cold finish surface, meaning I use non fired materials like paint, or wood stain.  In this piece the base is a ceramic surface, and the saber cat is a cold finish using house paint and wax encaustic.


Here are some of the finished pieces from these processes, as well as the information about the animals. The prehistoric circus is a series that is inspiring me to create sculptures of animals that bring joy and interest to the audience. Most exotic or strange animals were at one point, only seen at the circus. I use the circus setting to display these fascinating prehistoric animals in a grand setting and introduce them to viewer. I hope that this allows people to experience the wonder and excitement I feel when I discover that these animals actually existed and their amazing feats of evolution.


Photo by Chris Kemler


Bozo the Dodo

The Dodo:

This commonly known prehistoric bird dates back almost 45 million years ago. The first recorded mention of the Dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors, their domesticated animals, and invasive species introduced during that time. The last known of the species went extinct in the 17th Century leaving behind their closest living relatives the Nicobar pigeon.

Size: 3 ft. tall, weighing 20-40 lbs.

Location: The island of

Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean


Photo by Chris Kemler


Cage Wagon I

Pulled by Brontoherium (Megacerops)

This species of rhinoceros lived about 40 million years ago. Brontotherium had a pair of blunt horns on their snout with the horns of males being much larger than those of the females. Despite resembling a rhinoceros, it was larger than any living rhinoceros: the living animal easily approached the size of the African forest elephant, the third largest land animal today.

Size: 8.2 feet at the shoulder

Location: North America

Cage holding Dinofelis

A saber-toothed cat that lived about 8 million years ago. In size they were between a modern leopard and a lion, most being about the size of a jaguar, medium-sized but powerful cats that possessed two prominent sabre teeth.

Size: 2-3 feet tall

Location: Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America


Photo by Chris Kemler

Gunter the Miraculous Megatherium



A giant ground sloth that lived 5 million years ago. Megatherium was the largest of ground sloths that ranged in size. This animal’s large claws were believed to be used to scrape leaves off of branches. Megatherium is believed to be an omnivore like some modern day bears.

Size: About 20 ft. tall, weighing 4 tons

Location: Central and South America

Photo by Chris Kemler

Photo by Chris Kemler

Photo by Chris Kemler

Photo by Chris Kemler










Colombian Mammoth

The Columbian mammoth was a savanna and grassland inhabitant, similar to the modern African elephant that lived 2 million years ago. A pair of Columbian Mammoth tusks discovered in central Texas was the largest ever found for any member of the elephant family at 16 feet long. The Waco Mammoth Site in Waco, TX holds the record for the largest known concentration of skeletons of mammoths believed to have died in the same event

Size: 13 ft. tall, weighing 10 tons

Location: North America and South America


Photo by Chris Kemler

King of Cats


Smilodon Fatalis

The best known of prehistoric cats, also known as the saber-toothed tiger lived 2.5 million years ago. However, Smilodon is not related to the tiger or any other living big cat today. Many of the best fossils found of smilodon were discovered at the La Brea Tar Pits. Overall, Smilodon was more robustly built than any modern cat, with particularly well-developed forelimbs and exceptionally long upper canines. Its jaw had a bigger gape than modern cats and its upper canines were slender and fragile, being adapted for precision killing. These attributes made Smilodon a specialized hunter of large herbivores like bison and camels.

Size: About 6 ft. long, weighing close to 500 lbs.

Location: North America

Photo by Chris Kemler

Photo by Chris Kemler

The Balloon Horse Jupiter


This extinct horse lived about 20 million years ago. It had three toes on each foot, two small toes on either side of a main hoof. This is the first horse known to have grazed. Merychippus is very closely related to the modern day horse, and it was the first equine to have the distinctive head shape of today’s horses.

Size: 3.5 ft. tall

Location: North America


Photo by Chris Kemler

Kala Nag

Palaeoloxodon Antiquus (The Straight Tusked Elephant)

One of the earliest species of elephant that lived 400,000 years ago, closely related to the modern day Asian elephant. Palaeoloxodon antiquus was a forest elephant, and was the largest species living in Europe until the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Size: 13 ft. at the shoulder and up to 14 ft. long

Location: Bilzingsleben, Germany, Cyprus, Japan, Sicily and Malta


Photo by Chris Kemler

Silver Star


An early horse species that lived 50 million years ago. Distinctive features include four small hoof-like toes on the front feet and three toes on the hind feet. These toes eventually evolved into the single hoof on horses we know today.

Size: 2 ft. at the shoulder

Location: North America, Wyoming and Oregon


Photo by Chris Kemler

A Mighty Mountain of Mammoths

Anancus (Center)

This prehistoric elephant lived about 9 million years ago. It had two tusks, whereas most other gomphotheres had four. Aside from its somewhat shorter legs, Anancus was also different from modern elephants in that its tusks were much longer, up to 4 metres (13 ft) in length. The tusks were possibly defense weapons not unlike elephants of today.

Size: 9 ft. tall, weighing 6 tons

Location: Africa, Europe, and Asia

Cuvieronius (Sides)

A prehistoric elephant that existed 5 million years ago. Cuvieronius is famous for being one of the few prehistoric elephants (the only other documented example is Stegomastodon) to have colonized South America, taking advantage of the “Great American Interchange” that connected North and South America a few million years ago. This smallish elephant was distinguished by its long, spiraling tusks, reminiscent of those found on a narwhal.

Size: 9 ft. tall

Location: North America and South America


Photo by Ron Jenkins Fort Worth Star Telegram

To read the article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram about The Prehistoric Circus exhibition click here.



About Ariel Bowman

I grew up in Dallas, Texas where I learned to love nature, animals, and art. I graduated with a BFA in ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2011. I am currently working towards my MFA in ceramics at the University of Florida. This blog serves as a way for my friends and family, as well as anyone interested in my work, to view not only the finished pieces, but some of the process as well. You can subscribe to this blog to keep up to date on what I am currently working on in the studio, research, new sources, and exhibitions.
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3 Responses to The Prehistoric Circus: Process and Concept

  1. Gary Staab says:

    Beautiful show! Great concept

  2. Art Di Lella says:

    Wonderful post! Beautifully executed work Ariel. Well Done!

  3. Kat says:

    Really enjoyed your blog post. I am always excited to see your work and am happy that you share your process. You are very creative and talented and I really enjoyed the circus work — very thought provoking.

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