Gargoyles and Grotesques

Long before we invented downspouts, the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were worrying their pretty heads off about water damage. I’m guessing it was during a night of serious debauchery, that someone had the idea of strategically placing sculpted lion heads with spouts on the sides of buildings, thereby redirecting the flow of water from rooftops to prevent erosion. Brilliant, n’est ce pas? And so began the idea of adorning buildings with human and animal stone carvings, to protect masonry and mortar from water. They became highly popular during Medieval times, and graced the facades of many cathedrals like Notre Dame de Paris. It was believed the more grotesque looking ones served as a reminder of the evil that lurked about, while others served to protect from evil.

I have loved the troubling little faces of gargoyles and grotesques ever since I can remember, but only recently learned the difference between them. A spout. When it rains, water flows through the gargoyle’s elongated body, shoots out of its mouth through the spout, earning it the charming nickname “water vomiter.” If a stone sculpture lacks the unique ability to vomit water, it is called a grotesque. Today, however, the terms seem to be interchangeable.

When making your gargoyle/grotesque, keep in mind that a variety of human and animal forms were used. Animals were chosen for their symbolic meanings, and common ones were dogs, lions, eagles, wolves, monkeys, goats, and snakes. Some were fantasy creatures like dragons, griffins and chimeras (imaginary creature composed of body parts from different animals), while human gargoyles were often strange and humorous looking, perhaps like your Uncle Freddy.

When designing your own gargoyle or grotesque, it’s helpful to look at some images first:

A quick internet search for “gargoyles and grotesques”will turn up many useful images.

These are photos I took where I live, in Toronto, and also while travelling:

Here are some images of what are probably the most famous gargoyles from Notre Dame de Paris:

Amazing work by the artist Walter S. Arnold:

Stone Carver

Other images of gargoyles and grotesques:

North Star Gallery

A great book:

Faces On Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto by Terry Murray


  • pencil and paper
  • air drying clay
  • small, hard surface for base
  • sculpting tools like skewers and chopsticks
  • small bowl of water


1. Using pencil and paper, sketch out some ideas of what you want your creature to look like. You can combine different features from various animals, or make odd looking humans. Anything goes.

2. Air drying clay dries quickly, so open up your packet just before use. The best tools to use are your fingers, for pressing, pulling and pinching the clay to form the features on your creature. Added pieces are prone to falling off. Other tools can be used later on to add details and create hollow spaces in the nostrils and mouth. Dipping your fingers in water will help to manipulate the clay if you find it drying, and will also help smooth the surface out.



Filed under clay, sculpture

20 responses to “Gargoyles and Grotesques

  1. They are quite cool! made me smile seeing them 🙂

  2. Wow, that was a very ambitious project! Very fun for decorations and they turned out awesome! Thanks for linking up.

  3. These are very cool! I love that when it rains one will spout water out it’s mouth 🙂 Thanks for sharing at Creative Thursday this week. Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Wow, these are so cool! I have always had a thing for Gargoyles. Thanks for sharing at Creative Thursday this week. Have a great weekend.

  5. I love this post! Your creations are amazing and I appreciate all of the cool links. I am new to Pinterest but am now following you. Thanks.

  6. It looks like so much fun!

    Thanks for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer.. From Dream To Reality! Looking forward to seeing what you link up this evening 🙂

  7. I can’t express enough how much I love your blog! Even though I am an art education major and former high school teacher, I always learn something new about art history from you. The quaint facts about gargoyles are a perfect example! When my grandkids get older, this would be a great Halloween season project! I’m saving the idea.
    And now I know that you live in Toronto. My only visit there was years ago during a middle-of-the-night train station stop on the way back to Michigan from a visit to Quebec. I have always wished we could have explored your city, too.

    • You always have the kindest comments that really make my day! We all have our own reasons for blogging, but wanting to share with others is an obvious one, and knowing some of my projects are actually made with little ones is icing on the cake! If you ever make it to Toronto, I’d love to know 🙂

  8. 1929charmer

    Funny looking or not they are pretty cool looking. I would never attempt this. I absolutely have not artistic gene in my body – oh wait, I did paint by numbers when I was young. Thanks for sharing your creative inspiration with Sunday’s Best – you helped make the party a success!

  9. I never knew any of this. What a great history lesson. I always love learning new things. Your project is great. Thank you so much for sharing with Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party last week. This weeks Link Party is opened at
    Hope to see you there. It is open until Sunday night.
    Debi @ Adorned From Above

  10. Thank you for participating in Show Your Stuff Blog Hop, You are invited to come back:

  11. Oh, how interesting! I never knew the difference. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

  12. Just found you by link from Higher Up and Further In – I’m putting this project on my list for our study of Medieval architecture later this year. Looks really fun – although I’m clueless with clay!

    • I’m honoured! Thanks so much. I made it with my daughter and she really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to learn about it and come up with their silly faces. Hope all works out well!

  13. Thanks for the plug!
    Terry Murray

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