12 Air Drying Clay Tips
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun creating sculptures with air drying clay. What we love about this versatile clay is that it can be used by artists of all ages and is suitable for a variety of art and craft projects. To help you get the most out of this fantastic medium, we’ve put together our top air drying clay tips.
1. Cover up to Prevent Stains
Since clay is essentially mud, you can expect it to get a little messy at times. If you’re using tinted air drying clay, the pigment can stain some fabrics. Like many other art mediums, the best practice is to cover up anything that you don’t want to get stained. Cover up your work surface, wear old clothes or an apron, and keep some water and an old towel close just in case a swift clean up is needed.
2. Prepare Your Clay Correctly
Preparing your clay is an important part of the sculpting process. Once you’ve taken the clay out of its packaging, knead it to make it smooth and soft. This is referred to as ‘conditioning’. This process combines all of the tiny platelets in the clay to spread them evenly and make it more workable.
3. Use a Base Board To Work Your Clay
A base board is a sheet of varnished wood that clay sculptures are created on. We usually use a sheet of 24mm marine plywood that is sealed on both sides. The size will depend on the sculpture you plan to create, but for most air dry clay projects using a 30 x 30cm board is sufficient.
4. Choose the Right Tools
Air drying clay is a versatile medium that can be used for a range of art and craft projects. Your tools will depend on the type of sculpture you would like to create. Wooden tools are suitable for shaping and smoothing, while stainless steel tools are perfect for precise modelling, detailing, and removing clay. Many of our clay tools come with information about what each tool is suitable for. If younger children are using this clay for craft projects, their hands may be the only tool that they need.
5. Create an Armature for Extra Support
This is one of our lesser known air drying clay tips, but can save you a lot of frustration. Although air drying clay is strong, like all clays it is also quite heavy. In some cases, you may need an armature to support your sculpture. An armature can be thought of like a skeleton for your sculpture. It can be constructed from wire, booker rod, or sealed timber and should be fastened to the base board. Your sculpture will need this extra support if it is thin in certain areas or top heavy.
6. Bulk Larger Works
For works larger than a fist, bulking will usually be required. Bulking involves filling the internal space of a larger sculpture with materials such as alfoil or polystyrene and building around them. This not only makes the sculpture lighter, it also helps prevent cracks from forming due to excessive shrinkage (less clay means less shrinkage). Another benefit of bulking is that you will also have more clay for other projects.
7. Preserve Sculptures Properly for Multiple Sessions
Sometimes you won’t have enough time to finish your sculpture in one session. To keep your piece workable for the next session, wrap it in a damp tea towel and then wrap it in cling film to make it airtight. If you use this method properly, the clay will stay in a workable state for up to four days.
8. Store Clay in an Airtight Container
If you’ve finished a project and have clay left over, wrap it in cling film, put it in an airtight container, and store it in a cool dark place. This air drying clay tip will save you a lot of wastage if you don’t use all your clay at once.
9. Reclaim Dried Out Clay with Water and a Zip Lock Bag
Sometimes stored clay dries out because you either forget about it or don’t go back to it in time. If this happens, we have a little trick that you can use to reclaim it. Cut up you clay, place it in a zip lock bag, and add some fresh water to it. Next, lock the bag and leave it for two days. Once the 2 days has passed, you can then empty it out of the bag and knead it back to the desired consistency.
10. Minimise Cracking with a Wet Mix
Like all clays, air drying clay shrinks as the moisture evaporates from it during the drying process. Sometimes this shrinking can cause cracks to appear. To fix cracking, let the clay dry out completely. Once it has dried, create a wet mix of clay (use the same clay you’re working with) and fill the cracks. After you’ve filled all of the cracks, simply let the clay dry again. It shouldn’t crack after this and you will be surprised at how unnoticeable the repair work is.
11. Make Outdoor Sculptures Waterproof
If your sculpture is intended for outdoor use, you will need to ‘seal’ it to help protect it from the elements. Before you apply your paint, we recommend applying PVA glue and water mixed in equal proportions to the entire surface of your sculpture. Let this dry, then give your work a coat of grey acrylic paint. After the grey coat has dried, you can then give it two top coats of your desired colours.
12. Apply a Grey Base Coat
If you’re planning on adding some colour or decoration to your sculpture, we recommend using acrylic paints. For our projects we generally use our Satin Series Acrylic paints because they have a suitable consistency for painting sculptures and provide good coverage. It’s best to paint your sculpture with a grey mix first, then let this dry and add your desired colours as a top coat.
Keep these air drying clay tips in mind for your next project to get the most out of this versatile medium. We’d love to see your sculptures, so feel free to tag @montmarteart or #montmarteart on social media to show us what you’ve created.
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