Clay modeler Johannes Collopy: soul-infusing artist

For twenty years I have been working as a lifestyle automotive journalist and some aspects of the car creating/producing process I really wanted to have a closer look at. To feel the clay in my hands as car clay modellers can experience in their daily job was definitely on my bucket list. During the launch of the new Mazda3 in the Portuguese township Sintra near Lisbon, we had the chance to experience clay modelling with Mazda’s Senior Clay modeler, Johannes Collopy. An experience to remember.

Text Anja Van Der Borght – Pictures David LF Smith

A clay modeler’s job is to transform the designer’s idea into a three-dimensional object using automotive modeling clay. Through this process, the design moves closer to reality and one can see whether things work or not. Although today we live the golden era of digital technology, Mazda is still working hard on design development using handmade clay models.

Mazda’s Senior Clay modeler, Johannes Collopy, explains in this video:

“Most of the time we transform the idea of the designer into 3D but sometimes we are required to make proposals ourselves”, Johannes Collopy, Mazda’s Senior Clay modeler in Mazda’s European design center in Oberursel (Germany), says. “Sometimes, the form envisioned by the designer can’t be created in the real world because the proportions don’t seem to work, because of aerodynamics, etc In such cases, I make an alternative proposal from my point of view as a clay modeler.”


“As a clay modeler, I care particularly about adjustments to make reflected light look beautiful,” Collopy says. “This particularily was a challenge in developing the new Mazda3, as the designers wanted to bring the car to live by having the surroundings reflected in the bodywork of the car. If something is wrong with the surface, light doesn’t reflect back smoothly. I fine-tune the clay surface finish with aluminum film over and over again.”

But Collopy uses much more than aluminum film. He uses dozens of tools that look like wood carving tools. “Some of those tools used to belong to my grandfather”, Collopy says. “He was not a true carpenter but he lived in Sweden and I remember him working and carving wood all my life. He even built a wooden weekend house himself.”

Today Johannes Collopy follows his footsteps. Not infusing life into wood but breathing life into a sketch through the unique beauty of sculpture; infusing a soul into the form as he sculpts the clay.

That’s exactly what we want to experience ourselves. We choose a tool that looks like a cheese grater and we start to remove parts of the clay. After that we take a tool that much looks like a large shaving blade.

Removing clay doesn’t require much effort, it’s rather calculating not to remove too much which is a challenge. The clay feels harder and dryer than we expected but the experience is a fun thing today, reminiscent of craft classes during our childhood. One more to cross off my bucket list.

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