How to make a cake topper using oven bake clay

A cake topper is considered a wedding must have, but gone are the days where the plastic (and frankly slightly creepy) bride and groom figures are the only option to top your cake. These days you can have laser cut customised wooden wording, lego figures, or clay figures customised like the bride and groom. These different options range from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds for really bespoke choices.

When I was looking through the various options, the bespoke figures didn’t feel very ‘us’. I therefore decided to look into making my own!

I had seen other couples who had made their own wedding cake topper in the style of an artist we love called Catana Comics (she’s amazing – go check her out!).  Her work is so sweet and accurately mimics the little things in our relationship – to the point where my Fiancé was convinced I was Catana for a little while because something would happen between us and a few days later she’d put a comic up of exactly that! It was spookily accurate!

Anyway, he is my John and so a Catana inspired wedding cake topper needed to happen!

The Catana piece that was my inspiration

There are so many Catana Comics that I love but the one below was my favourite for the wedding cake topper. I wasn’t sure that us celebrating pizza would look right on top of a cake and it’d probably be really confusing for our older relatives!

Catana inspiration
Image by Catana Comics

Choosing the clay

Before we get to what you’ll need to make your own cake topper I wanted to talk through my thought process on oven bake vs air drying clay for this craft. This was my first decision when thinking about DIYing my cake topper and it was a really important one to get right.

Air drying clay is good for some projects, and it doesn’t have to go in your oven, obviously. However, if you’re working on something that’s going to take a fair amount of time then there’s a good chance it’ll start drying in the air before you’re ready for it to. If that happens and you’re still trying to work the clay you can end up with all sorts of problems with your work crumbling and cracking. I didn’t want that and, as I didn’t really know what I was doing or how I was going to do it, I figured I needed all the time I could get!

Oven bake clay is the next option. I’d used Fimo oven bake clay in the past but even with this I had found that over time is started to harden despite being oven bake. It’s also really expensive for what you get and I was going to need quite a substantial amount. I started looking online at various large blocks of oven bake clay from China and places where it’s much cheaper. The downside being you can’t read the instructions, or at least I can’t, and if I’m putting it on/near a cake I’d like to know it’s not going to poison anyone!

I found Sculpey clay through Amazon and was intrigued by how good the reviews were. It stated that no matter how long you left it, it would never dry up – that’s great! You can also bake it repeatedly if you need to add to your piece – handy when you don’t really know what you’re doing! – and if you over bake it (burn it) it would still be ok to paint and use as you wish. It seemed ideal so I purchased a couple of boxes along with some tools, a silicon mat for working on and a rolling pin.

I also later purchased the Sculpey bake and bond ‘glue’ to join parts of my work together. This stuff is an absolute must buy! The liquid glue turns to clay in the oven and securely bonds two pieces together. My first attempt at the cake topper was without this stuff and it ended up a completely broken mess as things started to move and change in the oven. I used this stuff to stick it back together and re-bake my piece in stages, and by the end it was as good as new!

What you will need

Oven Bake Clay. I’d recommend Sculpey but there are other brands of oven bake clay if you'd prefer. If you aren’t looking to paint your piece you could use Fimo clay instead as I think there are a few more colour options and variations. I always planned on painting mine though so Sculpey was great.

Clay ‘glue’. I found the Sculpey Bake and Bond glue to be invaluable. The last thing you want is to spend hours DIYing your perfect piece for it to dismantle itself in the oven. Trust me, it sucks!

Clay modelling mat. Really this is optional. If you have a smooth surface like a table or kitchen counter you could probably do without. I used a silicon mat which I got cheaply online. It just stops the clay residue being left in your surface and it means you can pause your work, easily move it all to one side and then pick it up again later.

Clay Tools. Again I’d probably say these were optional. I actually used a fine paintbrush (both ends), a stanley knife and a lollipop stick for the majority of my model because the clay tools didn’t arrive quick enough and I was eager to get started. When they did arrive I found them a bit clunky and harder to control than the paintbrush.

Oven container you can put you clay in. I used a glass casserole type dish. It wants to be big enough that you can comfortably fit your figures in but not so big that you can’t tightly pack it with tin foil when you bake them. I think the higher the sides the better too as it means your tin foil packing comes higher around the model.

Tin foil. A lot. This is really important for when you bake your model. Not sure on the science, I assume it’s something about evenly baking the piece. All I know is that when I didn’t pack tin foil around my piece (or use the glue) the oven part was a disaster! We'll get to that mess later.

Rolling pin. I got a cheap one as an add-on item from Amazon with the other bits I was ordering but you could get one in most supermarkets or high street shops like Wilkos or Home Bargains if you aren't already placing an Amazon order.

Paintbrushes and acrylic paint. You can probably use other paints but this was my preference and I already own them so that was a win. It also dries relatively quickly which is handy if you're a bit impatient, like me.

A base to mount your finished piece on. You could use wood or acrylic discs or perhaps a log slice if you’d rather. While you could potentially mount your clay piece directly on your cake, I’m not sure about the chemical compounds in oven bake clay and you don’t want to risk your cake being ruined. You can also get clear bases if you don't want them to be obviously mounted on something.

Sculpey Clay and Sculpey Bake and Bond clay glue
Sculpey Clay and Sculpey Bake and Bond clay glue

Making the figures

Before we begin I'd like to suggest that wherever you join two pieces of clay together you apply a little clay glue - I used Sculpey Bake and Bond as explained above. It will dry in the oven to form a clay like substance – so you won’t be able to tell but it will make sure your piece holds together and doesn’t end up a crumpled mess!

I'm pointing this out now, and I expect all the way through this post, because my first attempt was beautiful until the components started to separate in the oven as the clay dried and the bond between individual pieces wasn't strong enough. It was so disappointed and I don't want anyone else to have the same issues when the glue is so effective at avoiding it!

Step One - Making the Man

Start with two balls of clay (about the size of ping pong balls); one for the head, one for the body.

Take one of the balls and squish it into the triangle like body shape. Smaller at one end for the neck and collar, flatten the opposite end for the suit base and flatten the back and front sightly too. Make sure the edges are still curved and equally so.

Making the body
Approximate shape for the body but with rounded/softened edges

Then make two equal sized sausages for the legs. Cut the ends off each of the sausages so they are straight – these will be the trousers.

Making the legs

Apply the bake and bond to the base of the body and the tops of the legs and then, using the end of the small paintbrush or your clay tool, gently nudge the clay to join the two pieces together. Once you have a basic attachment between the two pieces you can then slowly go around and smooth out the join so it looks natural and less bumpy. Repeat this process to connect the individual trouser legs together. You only need to apply bake and bond and nudge the two sausages together at the top as this is where normal trousers would be joined. I applied a little glue in the gap between the trouser legs using a paintbrush just in case but didn't nudge these parts together.

For his shoes make two small balls, approximately 1cm across, and squish them into longish oval shapes like below. You can make a small dent in the back third of the oval underneath to mark the heel if you wish. Dab the clay glue onto the top of the shoe and the bottom of the trouser and then gently nudge these parts together in the same way as before.

Making the feet
Approximate shape of feet with curved edges and heel added

Step Two - Making the Woman

Again make two balls, one slightly larger than the other this time. The larger one will be the head and the other the top part of her dress. For the top portion of the dress flatten the top and bottom of the ball slightly to give a platform where her head and the bottom of her dress will attach.

For the bottom of the dress make a large ball - I would suggest double the size of the ball used for the top portion of her dress - and attach it to the top of the dress with the clay glue and nudging technique. Be careful to leave an indent to mark her waist. Once you’ve got the two pieces fastened together she will probably look a bit like a snowman. You can then flatten the bottom sphere downwards to form more of a bell shape, similar to the bottom of a dress. Start to tease out the dress bottom in all directions to give it some flow and volume. If you want the figure to have a train, start at the back of your figure first and tease this out to the length and curve you'd like.

Tip: If you’re finding it difficult to move the clay downwards or haven’t got enough clay to work with then you can easily add some more by roughly shaping it as you need - rolling it out to be flatter at the top than the bottom if it's for the train - and then attaching it to the bottom of the dress already in place. Don't forget to apply the clay glue to the bottom of the dress and piece to be joined before nudging the two sections together.

Once you’re happy with the dress you can then attach her head in the same way. Don’t worry about hair yet, the detail later. Hopefully you now have something that looks about like a more rounded version of this:

Male and female body shapes
Approximate body shapes of the woman and man

Step Three - Arms and Hands

For the arms you want to make two sausages again with the ends cut off. Mine were slightly skinnier than the legs but about the same length. Start with placing one of his arms and one of hers, then do the same for the opposite side.  Squish the sausages slightly, this will help them attach to the body easier (and no one wearing a suit has a perfectly round arm!).

Making the arms

Place the two bodies how you want them to stand. Mine were as close together as possible and positioned slightly facing forwards. Once you're happy with their positioning, place the woman's arm (one of the squished sausages) across from her shoulder to the waist of the man. Don't forget to add the glue wherever the arm joins! Then gently nudge the clay around the shoulder to make it attach. You don’t need to do this underneath, it's too hard to reach and the glue will secure it in place, just around the sides and top.

Tip: Try not to push the arm down too much at the join as the shoulder needs a little bulkiness to give it some definition. Gently squish the other end of her arm into his waist so it fixes with the help of the clay glue. Do the same for the man’s arm but place it over her arm and around towards her back.

For hands make small circles - half a centimetre across - and gently press them flat to about the thickness of the arms. Flatten one end so it attaches to the arm, apply the glue and gently press it into place.

Repeat this for the back of the figure.

Overlapping clay arms

Step Four - Adding the Man's Hair/Detailing

The Catana cartoon has his hair and his beard as a single shape (conveniently my fiancé has the same hairstyle) so I replicated this by simply cutting out the same shape for where his eyes will be. It only needs to be about a millimetre deep into his face. Then just smooth the area out, I did this with the paintbrush, so there are no sharp corners or cut marks.

Tip: if you are not sure on the shape lightly draw two circles which overlap and then curve the top and bottom of the join similar to the illustration below.

Approximate shape of man’s face cut out

Step Five - Adding the Woman's Hair

Roll out a thin piece of clay, about 1 mm thick. Apply the clay glue to the head of the figure and then gently place the hair over her head, cutting anywhere it doesn’t fit smoothly and ripples up. Excess clay can be cut away and the two remaining parts joined and smoothed together. Pull the hair piece straight down at the back of her head and cut it round to the length and shape you want her hair to be. Do the same with the hair at the front. I have a fringe (not a side parting like Catana) so I decided to square mine off more at the front.

Hopefully you’ve now got something that looks similar to this:

Finished unpainted clay people

Step Six - Baking

When you’ve finished making your piece you need to bake it. Place it in the oven dish and pack pieces of screwed up tin foil in the space around the edge. Not so tightly that you risk scratching or damaging your figures but enough that it’s present all the way around.

I’m not entirely sure on the science behind how the tin foil helps but it seems to somehow support the piece and makes sure it doesn’t fall forwards or backwards as it bakes. Perhaps it makes it cook more evenly? (It does say something to this effect on the Sculpey packet but I didn’t really understand what they meant the first time I baked and it went horribly wrong!). Anyway, my point is not to skimp on the tin foil as this step is clearly important and if you’ve spent all this time making your piece you want it to survive the baking step!

Clay people in tin foil bath
Different figures but to illustrate the tin foil packed around the outside ready to go into the oven. (I realise it looks like a weird little tin foil bathtub but it honestly works!)

Bake the finished piece as instructed on the packet. For a Sculpey clay model as I’ve described above it needs about 30 minutes. I'd then recommend checking how it’s doing and popping it back in for another 15 minutes if it isn’t quite done. When baked it should feel slightly soft but not too soft (helpful...).

If you're unsure - take the clay out, let it fully cool. If it doesn’t seem completely solid once cool you can always put it back in the oven again for a short time (about 15 minutes).

Finished unpainted clay people

If it all goes wrong

In case I’ve spooked you with my ‘it all goes wrong’ story, I’d like to talk about what happened and how I fixed it! This is a picture of the mess after that first time in the oven - without tin foil and without the clay glue.

Clay people gone wrong

I waited until this mess was completely cool - and I'd calmed down a bit! Then I used the clay glue and managed to stick it all back together. Take your time if you need to do this. I stuck each person and put them in the oven them separately, then joined them together and back in the oven. Then one final time in the oven with the arms etc attached.

The final painted piece you see at the end of this post is this mess re-built. So even if it doesn’t go to plan you can recover!

Step Seven - Painting your Clay Model

Once you’ve got your cool, oven baked piece all that is left to do is to paint it. I used acrylic paint. You can easily mix whatever colours you need to suit your wedding attire, hair and skin colour. I found the white for her wedding dress needed several coats to cover well over the beige clay but the other colours I used were completely fine.

Painting clay people steps

And there you have it, your finished Catana Comics inspired wedding cake topper.

Oh, I also added our little furry friends, Bobby, Max, Zach, Peach and Annabelle!

Finished Catana inspired clay people

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