I bought clay at a dollar store a while ago in order to make models to help me with water-forming leather. The other day I wanted to try a new craft so I thought that I’d get the clay out and try to have some fun with it. That’s how I started going down the rabbit hole….
The quest for the right clay
Natural clay vs plaster + white glue vs air-drying paper clay
The clay I originally had is “natural” clay. The kind that requires a kiln to be fired up to properly harden. It was fine in its air-dried state when I used it for leatherwork because I would essentially make rectangle like shapes that were quite thick so they were not that brittle. But when I used it to make thin leaves and such it would be too fragile to be of any use. I naïvely tried to bake it in the oven: ended up with a patch of dust.
So I moved on and tried to make a homemade clay like substance with what I had available. Which was plaster of Paris and white glue. I saw homemade recipes of air-drying clay using white glue, vinegar and corn starch. Close enough. Long story short: didn’t turn out too well. The surface of the wet “clay” dries very quickly so it creates little cracks when when you’re still working with it. Then it dries annnd…it is also way too brittle.
Next. I went back to the dollar store and bought some regular air-drying clay. I’ll be honest, I thought I had purchased the kind of polymer clay that can be baked in the oven. But when I opened the bag I quickly realized that this was paper based air-drying clay. The tiny fibers of paper paste are visible when you tear a piece of clay from the block and the smells remind me of my teenage days hanging wallpaper in the summer to make $$$. It demonstrated interesting properties. First of all it wasn’t as “sticky” as the two other clays so it was easier to work with: to spread it out with a roller on the work surface and pick it back up without tearing it apart, to imprint motives onto it. I also thought that its paper constitution would allow me to make very thin pieces that wouldn’t break easily because of the woven paper fibers structure inside. I was wrong, the fibers are too small so they don’t really weave in to each other as happens in paper paste when you’re making recycled paper for example. Other disadvantages of the paper fibers: the edges cannot be re-worked as easily. With regular clay I would use a bit of water and my finger or a brush to clean out or curve the rough edges but in that case the fibers get in the way. For the same reasons, it makes your cuts less clean.
To be continued
The quest for the perfect clay to make quick home craft projects continues. Ideally I am looking for a material with the following properties:
- Can be prepared from regular household items – because you know what’s on the ingredient list of those clays from the dollar store? Well, there’s none and they often give out a very chemically smell. If I’m gonna make decoration for my home I’d like to know what’s inside + avoid a run to the city to buy supplies if I have a sudden urge to make a all hanger or whatnot.
- Can be hardened by cooking it in the oven – air-drying is fine too but I’m the impatient type so I like it when the drying process can be sped-up one way or another.
- Easy to work with – doesn’t stick to the work surface, stretches well, surface doesn’t dry too quickly, can be re-hydrated to be re-worked.
- Not brittle once dried/baked – it shouldn’t break apart under the stress of normal manipulation. I’m a clumsy person, I will eventually drop everything on the floor. It shouldn’t shatter then.
I plan on taking a weekend in the near future to experiment with different options and write-up a summary of the result.
Trying-out different concept ideas
Mixing the clay with watercolor paint
Since I have a bunch of cheap and terrible watercolors laying around (also from the dollar store), I thought that I’d try to mix them in with the clay.
The results were interesting. There must be a whitening agent in the clay which gives pastel like colors especially when dry.
Last note: the colors of the dry clay will show a lot less contrast than it does on the picture.
After those little coloring experiments, I moved on to trying to imprint leaves I picked up in the bushes around my home on the clay.
I worked on a lightly oiled tile because it offered less adherence than my kitchen counter top.
I used a small leather hole punch to prepare a hole for hanging them later on.
Also tried mixing in clays of different colors to create interesting effects.
Tried different color mixes and different leaves. As you can see the color fades away quite a bit during the drying process.
After using leaves to basically stamp the clay, it wasn’t a big stretch to wonder how the stamps I usually use for paper and leather would do on the clay.
The product tags turned out quite nicely. As long as they above 5mm of thickness they are hard enough to be used.
The business cards look very cool but they are unfortunately too brittle. It’s only natural for someone manipulating them to want to bend them a little. At which point, they will break.
A candle holder
Next up, I wanted to test the ability of the clay to bend and dry without cracking, as well as experiment with a way to stick different parts together.
Using a ribbon taped to the cutting board as a mold, I laid out the leaves one at a time on top of each other. Every leaf was coated with white glue before moving on to the next.
Finally I let it dry a fortnight, added another coat to the top and bottom and let it dry another 24h.
A wall hanger
With the leaves I prepared earlier, I thought of doing a hanger for my kitchen.
As with the candle holder, I coated the leaves with a mix of diluted white glue to highlight the colors and give it a more satin finish.
Finally I used brown polyester thread to hang the leaves together.
Even if it came with some downsides, I found it interesting to work with paper clay and I will definitely finish the block quickly. Let me know if you would like me to write a more thorough tutorial about any one of the items here or any other idea you might have.
The following online content provided some assistance and/or inspiration during the making of this project: