Top 10 Best Tips on Using Air-Dry Clay

  • Time to read: 9 min.
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Do you wish your weekends were more exciting and fun? Why not invest in learning something new with air-dry clay? However, as is with any other art form, you need to understand that there are dos and don’ts that you need to practice when learning something new. This clay is fairly easy-to-use & inexpensive for new pottery artists.

 

But, before you look for any tips or techniques for using air-dry clay, let us first understand what air-dry clay is and how it works!

 

What is air-dry clay & how does it work?

Air-dry clay is a soft & stretchy clay variant that becomes light, solid, & slightly spongy when dried. This clay dries up completely when exposed to air and hardens up. Apart from the classic white color, you get this clay in different vibrant and bright colors. This clay is fairly easy to use and especially for the kids. It is created from different combinations, one of which includes whisking together baking soda, water, and cornstarch to obtain a smooth mixture. However, the commercial variants might have different compositions depending on the brand.

 

Air-dry clay is smooth and soft to start with. However, as it is exposed to air, it starts to lose its moisture content and hence hardens up after a certain amount of time. This time frame varies depending on the brand you are using or whether you have crafted DIY air-dry clay on your own.

 

Here are some air-dry clay types you can find in the market:

Air-Dry Clay Type

Made With

Paper-Based Air-Dry Clay This type of air-dry clay begins with a basic clay body like earthenware or terra cotta. Then the makers add cellulose fiber or processed paper.
Earthen Air-Dry Clay This is a common variant of air-dry clay, which is crafted from natural clay along with iron & other minerals obtained from the ground soil.
Two-Part Epoxy Mixed-Base Epoxy air-dry clay comes with two parts that include a resin along with a hardener. These two need to be thoroughly mixed in order to be activated, after which it starts drying up and hardening while you craft.

 

 

So, now that you are aware of the basics let us know the best tips you can use with air-dry clay to partake in the perfect project.

 

Top Tips to Follow When Working with Air-Dry Clay

 

1-Prepare the Work Table:

Just like any other clay, even air-dry clay has the potential to stick and leave remnants on the surface you work at. If yours is a new table, you surely wouldn’t want the clay the stick to the surface and destroy your platform rendering it unusable.

 

Crafters tend to use multiple techniques to keep their work surfaces safe from the stickiness of the clay. The most common option most DIY enthusiasts make use of is to lay out the surface with wax paper and cover it completely and craft any project on top. This wax paper will help protect the table while providing you with a non-stick surface to work smoothly.

 

 

Wax papers are also easy to remove from the surface and Viola! Your work table is fresh as new. You can also use normal paper to cover the table in case wax papers aren’t available immediately. And while you are at it, make sure you use old clothes while crafting or at least wear an apron in order to avoid carrying any unwanted stains.

 

2-Clean Your Work Surface:

As explained earlier, air-dry clay tends to be fairly sticky before it starts to dry up. So when you start, it is important to have a clean surface. If yours is a metallic table, make sure you use a mild soapy solution with water and a damp cloth to wipe off the dust or dirt present on the surface. However, do not just start working on the damp surface. Rather, wait for the water to dry off completely and then lay down a cloth or wax paper to start working.

 

In case you have a wooden work table, do not use anything wet to clean the table. Else it could lead to rotting issues. Simply use a dry cloth to dust off the dirt from the table or use a brush to scrub off any dirt that is stuck in the crevices of the table.

 

If you end up working on a dirty table, the dust would stick to the air-dry clay’s surface and won’t come off easily. Chances are, your project wouldn’t look as perfect as you would want it to be.

 

3-Knead Your Air-Dry Clay:

Just like any other clay, you also need to prepare or rather knead the air-dry clay. This helps ease the sculpting process by making it softer and smoother. You need to start kneading the clay immediately after taking it out of the packaging. A good 5 to 6 minutes of kneading can help you create a perfect clay model with multiple critical details.

 

This particular process is termed conditioning and helps the air seep into the clay. The process tends to combine all the tiny clay platelets and helps you spread them evenly & while making it perfectly workable.

 

4-Select the Right Air-Dry Clay Brand:

The selection of an air-dry clay brand is just as important as the other steps mentioned in this guide. There are certain air-dry clay brands that manufacture products designed with delayed drying time. This allows you to get more time for crafting intricate designs.

 

Apart from this, you also need to keep in mind the pricing for the air-dry clay so that you don’t have to break your bank in the process of purchasing the clay. It is suggested that you make use of top-notch air-dry clay such as the Crayola Air-Dry Clay. This white air-dry clay comes in a convenient storage bucket to be used for multiple projects.

 

With the best quality clay at your disposal, you can save yourself from any troubles, such as a crumbly or stiff project.

 

5-Always Sculpt Using Layers:

Now, working with air-dry clay is a bit tricky as compared to regular clay. This is due to the fast-drying feature that could restrict you from crafting intricate details. So, it is way easier to control, spread, or shape up the clay when the sculpture is created with multiple thin layers.

 

Given the fact that air-dry clay actually is water-based, you need to keep up the moisture content while sculpting. So, keep a jar of water by your side and use a brush to wet the air-dry clay when creating a fresh layer. Another easy way is to ensure that each layer is dried out and you place the next layer with ease for the sculpting process. Unless you do this, the initial base layer remains wet, and you might mush the details that you crafted for hours only to see it all falling before your eyes.

Say, in case you are sculpting the lips of your model, you need to be patient & allow the base layer to completely dry out and then add in its lower lip. And while you wait for the base layer to dry out, you can try and work on different parts of your model. Do not worry; you won’t have to wait very long as it would take only about 20 minutes or so for the clay to dry out.

 

6-Get Ready for Multiple Sanding Sessions:

Regardless of how well you have smoothed the air-dry clay, it would still develop a rough texture after completely being dried. If a rough texture works well for the sculpture, you created then well and good. However, not everyone wants their sculpture to look all rough and dingy.

 

As perfectionists, most crafters strive for a satin-like smooth finish. Now, this can only be achieved if you sand down your project to perfection. You can start with the use of 60 to 80 grit paper & remove the larger bumps to even out the rough areas. Once you are done with this, opt for the fine grit paper that ranges between 400 and 800 grit. This works perfectly well in case you don’t plan to lose the details in your project.

 

This is where you need to use your patience, as it can take hours to sand down a project depending on the size. In order to avoid the dust from taking over or making you cough horribly, you need to use a mask and eyewear to work without any glitch.

 

7-Use PVA Glue Mix to Strengthen Delicate Parts:

An amazing trick several professionals tend to use is the implementation of PVA glue and water mix to sculpt the delicate parts. Using this instead of plain water is ideal for strengthening the delicate portions of the project. When this glue added to the clay completely dries up, it holds the fibers together. However, keep in mind that such pieces might be a tiny bit hard to sand down for details.

 

Also, you can make use of armature in order to avoid the parts from breaking after they are completely dried up. Even if you plan to use a thin wire, the result would be much better as opposed to using nothing at all. You can use it for parts such as fingers. In case a part falls off, it is easy to slap more clay onto the armature as compared to repairing the damage without an armature.

 

8-Avoid the Cracks:

It is pretty normal for air-dry clay to crack during the process of drying. This is due to the fact that air-dry clay tends to shrink due to loss of moisture. Now, a project with a thicker air-dry clay layer would experience a faster drying on the outside as compared to the inside.

 

When this happens, it will lead to surface cracks. This is solved by sculpting in multiple layers. As each layer dries up, you can build on it with a new layer on top. This helps avoid cracks and keep your project intact even after it dries out completely.

 

If you happen to sculpt using bigger chunks, using an oven decked with ventilators might be an ideal move. Set your oven on its lowest temperature setting & keep a tight look at your sculpture. This allows the heat a chance to penetrate deeper into the layers & dry in a rather even way. This is possible because air-dry clay is porous.

 

9-Use a Styrofoam Base:

If you are a beginner in the world of pottery art, you need to be aware of the basics. For bigger models, you can make use of a Styrofoam base or an armature. Now, there are several reasons for you to use a base for air-dry clay crafting, and those include:

 

  • It tends to dry faster
  • You wouldn’t need a lot of clay
  • The end result would be stronger
  • There would be a less likely chance of cracks happening

 

You can make use of a bendable gauge wire that is strong and tends to hold the shape. Styrofoam bases come in handy when shaping the larger sections of your project’s body. Usually, this process is used for the torso or head of the project. Adding clay to a pre-designed base will help you save a chunk of air-dry clay in the process.

 

10-Seal the project:

If you plan to use your project for indoor decorations, you might not need to do anything major after the drying and coloring process. However, if you plan to keep it outside like in your garden, you might need to waterproof the same. Now, most crafters are two-minded on this tip as you can’t actually truly waterproof your air-dry clay project. However, you can surely make it resistant to water.

 

So, for someone looking for a great way to seal the air-dry clay project, the best way is to use a glaze meant for air-dry clay or using a varnish. You can either use varnish with a glossy finish or one with a matte finish. Alternatively, you can make use of ModPodge to seal off your project from any possibility of chipping or fading.

 

Conclusion

So, here you go! These 10 tips will help you work faster and smoother with the air-dry clay. Surely this clay is an amazing medium to help you work on delicate and intricately detailed projects. Ensure that you store your clay in an air-tight box in case you don’t plan to use it all in one go. So, let out your crafting skills with these tips to help you at every step!