How to Choose Drying Modeling Clay – Tips and Advices

Ceramics & Pottery

Questions about air-drying modeling clay

If you like to be creative and prefer to work with your hands, you will certainly find an exciting hobby in pottery. After all, the most diverse things can be formed from the mass. From small pendants to jewelry and bowls to vessels, sculptures, and decorations, just about anything is possible. The disadvantage of real clay, however, is that it must be fired.

And because this is done at very high temperatures, a special kiln is necessary.

So if you want to make pottery at home, you need to find out where you can have your finished work fired.

A great alternative can therefore be an air-drying modeling clay. As the name suggests, this material does not have to be fired, but dries in the air. The processing is very simple and opens up countless possibilities for implementing creative DIY ideas.

But what exactly is air-drying modeling clay? And how is it processed? We answer five questions about this popular craft material!

What exactly is air-drying modeling clay?

Modeling clay is first a generic term for all masses from which objects can be shaped and modeled. Clay and plasticine, for example, are just as much a part of this as plaster, concrete and clay.

The special feature of air-drying modeling clay is that it hardens in the air. The molded works, therefore, do not have to be fired in a kiln. Instead, they harden on their own.

In this respect, air-drying clay is similar in texture to conventional clay. The variant that dries in the air is also sold in blocks, kneaded, and shaped into the desired form. The decisive difference is only that the clay then becomes solid by drying in the air.

Another difference is that air-drying clay is usually white. However, it can be dyed during processing and painted later.

An alternative to air-drying clay is the so-called polymer clay. This is a mass of plastics that is hardened at comparatively low temperatures in the oven. The advantage of this modeling clay is that the finished work is somewhat more stable and also weather-resistant. Comparing with clay, however, polymer clay is a little more difficult to work with.

How to work with air-drying modeling clay?

Air-drying clay does not require any significant preparation. Unlike normal clay, the mass is inherently quite soft and contains hardly any air pockets. Therefore, it is not necessary to knead the mass for a long time to make it pliable.

Process the air-drying clay as follows:

  1. First, the required amount is cut off the block and kneaded once briefly. This makes the clay even easier to work with.
  2. Then shape the mass with your hands into a ball or cube. This is the starting figure.
  3. Depending on what is to be pottered, the clay can now either be shaped into the desired form with the hands and fingers. Or the clay can be rolled out into a slab with a rolling pin. Knives, cookie cutters, and other tools are then used to cut the slab to size.
  4. If an object consists of several individual parts, they are simply put together. The joining edges can be smoothed with water. Small beads of clay can be used as additional supports.
  5. Once the object is finished, it must dry. To do this, it is best placed in a room where it is rather dry and warm. Depending on the size and thickness of the work, it may take several days for the clay to harden. That air-drying clay has, can be recognized by the fact that it has become quite white.
  6. If you wish, you can smooth the edges of your pottery with a file or sandpaper, coat it with clear varnish, or paint, glue or otherwise decorate it. Individual parts can also be connected with normal glue.

air dry clay works

What should be taken into account when working with air-drying clay?

First, it is important not to roll out the clay too thinly. For one thing, this could cause cracks to form as it dries. And secondly, air-drying clay shrinks by about a third as it hardens. Therefore, the finished objects could end up being too delicate and fragile.

It is also advisable to work on baking paper or a silicone mat. This way, the clay does not stick to the work surface and the table does not get dirty. Other than that, nothing else really needs to be taken into account. The best thing is to just get started. The rest will take care of itself.

Small cracks, bumps, or unwanted fingerprints can be smoothed out with water.

To do this, simply moisten your finger and stroke over the respective spot or edge. Once the clay has dried, the edges and the surfaces can also be sanded with fine sandpaper. A discarded nail file will serve the same purpose.

Unlike fired and glazed ceramics, air-drying clay is not waterproof. Therefore, the objects can not be put in the dishwasher. And also for vases, flowerpots, and similar objects that are constantly in contact with moisture, the material is only conditionally suitable. It is then better to put a second vessel inside.

At the latest, when the pottery work is finished, the leftover modeling clay should be packed airtight again. Otherwise, it would dry out and become unusable.

What can air-drying clay be painted with?

Air-drying clay is usually white. Some manufacturers also offer the clay in brown, terracotta, and black. Other colors are rare. But that doesn’t mean the potted work has to stay that way. If you wish, you can color the clay while you are still working with it. Food coloring is very suitable for this purpose.

Otherwise, the finished objects can be colored. Acrylic paints are a good choice here because they are easy to handle and dry up waterproof. Normal watercolors and felt-tip pens also work.

To ensure that the painting lasts, however, the pottery should then be sealed with clear varnish. Speaking of clear varnish, spray-on varnishes are also an option for giving the objects the desired look.

The secrets of making decorative objects out of plastic

  • Before you start, knead the plastic to make it soft and warm. To knead some laminates, you have to make a noticeable effort in the beginning.
  • To avoid leaving fingerprints on the finished work, you can work in medical gloves or grind the product after heat treatment. Wash your hands thoroughly before you begin.
  • When working with self-curing clay, take a small amount of material so that it does not dry quickly. Put the remaining plastic in the film, wet the unfinished parts with water.
  • When using thermoplastic, make sure that there are no air bubbles in it: it will expand when heated, and therefore the product will deform.

Be sure to try working with polymer clay! There is a huge variety of techniques that will allow even beginners to make something beautiful and original.

How to make clay malleable?

To make air dry clay malleable, you just need to knead it well with warm hands; with cold hands, you need to knead it longer.

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How to reduce or increase the plasticity of clay?

Soften plastic with creams, petroleum jelly, warming, and other ways. But it is easier to use a special plasticizer. Also, hard plastic can be simply mixed with soft plastic.

If the clay, on the contrary, sticks to your hands, you need to mix it with a dry piece. If there is no suitable dry clay, put it on white paper for 2 hours. When the paper becomes greasy, it means that excess plasticizer has come out of the clay.

Plastic can also become too sticky after reacting with paint. This is where the situation can no longer be corrected.

How to mix the clay?

Air-dry clay comes in different colors and properties (hard, soft, giving a matte or glossy surface). Different types of clay are mixed to get the desired result. Air-dry clay of different colors can be mixed very well. To get a particular shade of clay, you need to mix the basic colors in the right proportions.

How to store air-dry clay?

Plastic does not cure in the air but dries perfectly as the plasticizer that makes it plastic evaporates. Therefore, the printed package should always be sealed tightly. If the factory packaging is very damaged, wrap the rest of the plastic in food wrap. The clay will not react with it.

When the temperature changes in the room, as well as during prolonged storage, pieces of plastic can stick together, so different colors need individual packaging.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. When exposed to freezing or heat, the plastic will dry out or harden.

DIY – easy Air Dry Clay projects for Home Decor – Video

Additional Questions

What is the ideal method to dry modeling clay?

For the best results with air dry clay, it’s crucial not to drench the clay in water. While it’s true that you can apply water to soften the clay and attach pieces together, overdoing it may cause cracks when drying. If you find that your clay is overly saturated and has become too mushy, give it some time for the excess water to evaporate before you start molding your creation. Additionally, it’s essential that your air-dry clay pieces have a minimum thickness of a quarter-inch for optimal drying and stability.

What are some tips on using air dry clay?

One tip that clay modeling experts swear by is controlling the amount of water used during the modeling process. Over-saturating your clay could lead to cracking during the drying process. If you find that you’ve used an excessive amount of water and your clay is super soft, an excellent solution is to let it stand for a while. This will allow the excess water to evaporate naturally. Another helpful tip is to ensure your air-dry clay pieces are not less than 1/4 inch thick. This preventive measure helps ensure the durability of the end product.

How can drying cracks in clay be prevented?

The key to preventing drying cracks in clay is ensuring that the right amount of water is used when modeling the clay. Too much water will result in a cracked clay piece once it dries. If you notice that your clay is overly softened from excessive water, let the excess water evaporate before proceeding with your molding. Moreover, air-dry clay pieces should not be less than 1/4 inch thick. This thickness is ideal as it helps reduce the chances of cracking during the drying process.

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