How Do You Make Terracotta Warrior?

Terracotta warriors are ancient Chinese clay sculptures that were created over 2,200 years ago for the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Spanning an area of over 20 square miles, there are estimates of over 8,000 life-size terracotta figures that have been excavated near Xi’an, China.

The terracotta army served to protect the emperor in his afterlife. Each figure was given an individualized facial expression and details. The figures include warriors, charioteers, horses, civil officials, acrobats, and musicians. It is considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Creating your own terracotta warrior models allows you to mimic the ancient artform used centuries ago. The process involves sculpting clay figures, detailing and decorating them, allowing time to dry, and finally painting and sealing the completed sculptures. With some clay, tools, and crafting skills, you can make your own miniature army of terracotta warriors.

Materials Needed

To make your own terracotta warriors, you’ll need the following materials:


Terracotta is a type of clay that can be fired at high temperatures to harden it. Choose an earthenware clay body that fires to cone 04. This type of clay will be sturdy yet porous enough to absorb paint.

Sculpting Tools

Gather basic sculpting tools like loop tools, ribs, wooden modeling tools, wire tools, and sculpting knives. These will help shape the clay and add details.

Kiln or Oven

You’ll need access to a kiln that reaches approximately 1915°F (1045°C) to fire the clay. If you don’t have a kiln, some clays can be fired in a conventional oven.

Paints and Brushes

Acrylic or oil paints work well on fired terracotta. Gather a range of colors and variety of brushes to paint on details.

Sculpting the Figures

The process of sculpting the terracotta warrior figures begins with properly kneading and preparing the clay. Choose an earthenware clay that is smooth and moist but not dripping wet. Knead the clay thoroughly to remove any air pockets and achieve an even consistency across the entire ball of clay. The clay should be soft and malleable but firm enough to hold its shape when pressed.

Once the clay is prepared, you can begin sculpting the body parts. It is easiest to work from the legs up. Roll balls or tubes of clay for the legs and feet, then press them together firmly at the knees. Continue rolling tubes and balls of clay to form the hips, torso, arms, hands and head. Assemble the parts by pressing them together securely. The joints should be smooth with no gaps or cracks. Use your fingers to blend the seams and sculpt the anatomical details.

Take your time shaping each body part to achieve a realistic, life-like form. Use clay sculpting tools to refine the features and add textures like clothing folds. Sculpt the facial features last, paying close attention to the eyes, nose, lips and hairstyle. Carefully support the figure as you work to prevent slumping or damage. Allow the clay to firm up slightly between sculpting sessions.

Adding Details

Once the basic shape of the terracotta warrior sculpture is formed, it’s time to add the finer details that bring it to life. This includes facial features, hair, clothing, armor, and weapons. Facial features like eyes, nose, mouth, and ears can be carved into the clay. Use small, precise tools to indent the eyes and cut out sections for the mouth and nostrils. Ears can be formed by rolling thin coils of clay and attaching them to the side of the head.

For the hair, roll long coils of clay into thin strands that can be arranged into braids, buns, or loose styles. Use a needle tool to etch in lines simulating individual strands of hair. Clothing like tunics, robes, or armor can be created by cutting shapes of cloth out of thin sheets of clay and draping them over the figure, then securing them with additional clay. Ensure the folds and creases in the clothing look natural.

Armor can be built up using coils and slabs of clay formed into intricate shapes to mimic scale armor, plates, or leather materials. Etch in details like rivets, straps, buckles, and patterns to make the armor look realistic. Weapons like swords, daggers, spears, and bows can be cut out of clay, rolled and bent into shape, then attached to the figure. Use thin coils of clay to create the bow string or wraps around sword handles. Make sure weapons are proportional and positioned appropriately in the figure’s hands.

Take your time when adding these intricate finishing touches. The details really bring the terracotta warriors to life and convey their identity as protector and warriors from ancient China. Use small sculpting tools and brushes to etch in the finer details like facial expressions, clothing patterns, and armor textures.

Drying Process

After sculpting the terracotta warrior figures, it’s crucial to let them dry thoroughly before firing. There are a few methods for drying the clay:

Letting it Air Dry

One of the easiest but slowest ways is to simply let your sculpture air dry. Place the finished wet clay figure in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight. Avoid drafty areas. Allow the clay to slowly dry over several days until no moisture remains.

Using a Fan

To speed up drying, you can point an electric fan to blow air over your sculpture. Rotate the figure periodically and make sure air circulates all around it. Be patient as full drying can still take 1-2 days.

Using Heat Lamps

For fast drying, you can use a ceramic heat lamp or high wattage shop light. Position the light 2-3 feet above the figure. Rotate the sculpture and check for any wet spots. Allow it to dry for 8-12 hours until bone dry.

Firing the Clay

Firing the clay is one of the most important parts of making terracotta warriors. This is when the clay sculptures are hardened into their final form. The firing process can be done using a kiln or oven that can reach very high temperatures.

The ideal temperature to fire terracotta is around 1000-1100°C (approximately 1800-2000°F). Firing at higher temperatures can cause the clay to become brittle or even melt. The sculptures should be fired at this peak temperature for 6-12 hours to fully harden the clay.

It’s crucial to slowly increase the temperature when firing the sculptures. A slow, gradual temperature climb over several hours is necessary to remove any moisture from the clay and help prevent cracking. The cooling process after firing should also be gradual, taking 12 hours or more to fully cool down.

With proper firing, the clay will be transformed into a hard, ceramic material that will allow the terracotta warriors to last for thousands of years without deteriorating. Careful control of the firing process helps create strong, long-lasting terracotta sculptures.


The terracotta warriors were originally painted in bright pigments of red, blue, green, pink, black, brown, white and lilac. The painting process helped bring the clay sculptures to vivid life.

There are several types of paint that can be used on terracotta sculptures:

  • Acrylic paint – This is a good choice for painting terracotta. Acrylics adhere well to terracotta and porcelain surfaces. They dry fast and are easy to use.
  • Oil paint – While oil paints take longer to dry, they can create nice blending effects on terracotta. Use linseed oil or stand oil to help oil paints adhere better to the clay surface.
  • Enamel paint – Enamel paints create a smooth, glossy finish. They are often used as a top coat over acrylics or oils.
  • Glaze – Ceramic glazes can be used to color terracotta sculptures. These often require firing the piece after painting.

Some techniques for painting terracotta warriors include:

  • Base coating – Apply an overall base color first before adding details.
  • Dry brushing – Using a brush with little paint, sweep over raised surfaces to highlight details.
  • Washes – Dilute paint to a watery consistency and apply over the sculpture to fill crevices and create blending effects.
  • Layering – Building up layers of different paint colors to create depth and dimension.

Historically, the original terracotta army sculptures were painted in vivid hues using mineral pigments. Common colors included red (cinabar), green (malachite), blue (azurite), pink (cinnabar), black (magnetite), brown (raw umber), white (lime white), and purple (manganese violet). Studying genuine artifacts can provide inspiration for paint colors.


Sealing the painted terracotta warriors is an important final step to protect the finishing and details. The original ancient Chinese warriors were painted with mineral pigments that have survived over 2000 years buried underground. However, when displayed in a museum today, sealing is necessary to preserve the paint.

Terracotta is porous, so a sealant will protect the painted surfaces from moisture, oils, and environmental contaminants. Varnishes and lacquers are common sealants used. An acrylic varnish or polyurethane can be brushed on to permeate the surface and create a protective barrier. Multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat for even coverage and protection. Let each coat fully dry before adding the next.

When choosing a sealer, opt for one designed for ceramics and terracotta. The sealant should be archival quality, meaning it is stable and won’t yellow over time. Make sure it is non-reactive and won’t interact negatively with the paint or clay. Test on an inconspicuous area first. Use sealants in well-ventilated areas and allow plenty of drying time before displaying the finished warrior sculptures. With proper sealing, the artistry of the painted details can be preserved for many years.

Displaying Your Terracotta Warriors

After all your hard work sculpting and firing your terracotta warriors, you’ll want to proudly display them. Here are some tips on mounting, cases, lighting, and maintenance to properly showcase your creations:


Terracotta is sturdy, but fragile if dropped or hit. Mount warriors on secure bases or stands to avoid damage. Use museum wax, clear acrylic mounts, or wooden stands. For a floating effect, suspend warriors using clear fishing line and sturdy mounts.

Display Cases

Protect fragile details from curious hands and environmental dust with enclosed display cases. Glass or acrylic cases work best. Ensure cases are UV filtered to prevent fading. Allow 1-2 inches between figures and case walls for airflow.


Spotlight warriors against dark backgrounds for dramatic effect. Use soft, diffuse lighting to avoid harsh glares and shadows. Warm light enhances terracotta’s natural color. Position light sources to minimize reflection and glare on glass cases.


Gently dust warriors inside display cases using soft brushes. Avoid commercial cleaners which may damage the clay. Check for pests like moths which can harm unfired clay. Stabilize paints and glazes yearly. Store warriors safely when not on display.


Here are some common issues that can occur when making terracotta warriors, and how to fix them:

Fixing Cracks

Terracotta clay is prone to cracking during the drying and firing process. Small cracks and crazing can be filled in with a mixture of water and clay slip. For larger cracks, mix together some dry clay powder and white wood glue into a paste. Press the paste firmly into the cracks and smooth over.

To help prevent cracks while sculpting, avoid making any section too thick or thin. Also maintain consistent moisture levels when drying.

Paint Issues

Chipping or faded paint can be touched up with acrylics after sealing the figure. Make sure to match the original colors. If the paint won’t adhere properly, the sealant may need to be reapplied.

To avoid paint problems initially, use high quality acrylics and properly prepare the bisque fired surface before painting.

Structural Problems

If pieces break off, they can be carefully glued back in place with epoxy or strong white glue. For figures collapsing under their own weight, materials like wooden dowels, wire, and even plastic bottles can be used for internal support.

Prevent structural issues by keeping the clay thickness uniform and including subtle structural supports when sculpting the initial figures.

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