Getting Started with Air Dry Clay

Getting Started with Air Dry Clay main article image
Posted on June 11, 2021 by Julie Richards
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What is Air-Dry Clay?

The first thing you need to know when you get started with air dry clay is that it does not need baked or fired in a kiln to hold its shape. Air dry clay only needs to dry naturally once you create something with this soft, pliable material. It is marketed under many different names from several manufacturers. The packaging will specifically state that the product only needs to dry in the open air.

You will also notice that the storage container or bag is often air-tight to hold the moisture in. If the air-dry clay is exposed to open air, it will dry out and become extremely hard. This means that the remaining clay in the container or bag is rendered useless. Always remember to securely close the container or plastic bag once you remove the air-dry clay with which you want to work.

Glossary

These are some terms you should be familiar with when getting started with air-dry clay:

  • Slip – A 3 to 1 ratio of clay to water that produces a mixture similar in texture to heavy whipping cream. Slip is used to bond pieces of air-dry clay together. It also helps to smooth the edges of your clay piece.Slip
  • Coil—A section of air-dry clay formed by rolling a piece of the clay between your hands and a flat surface to create a rope with an even thickness from end to end. (Often used to make coiled pots)

coil

  • Slab—An evenly cut square or rectangle of air-dry clay, no thicker than ¼ inch.

    slab

  • Score (scoring)—Make hash marks on the surfaces of air-dry clay pieces that you want to join together.

    scoring

  • Conditioning—Kneading the air-dry clay to make it pliable.
  • Pinching—Using your fingers to pinch the air-dry clay into the shape you want.

Tools

You do not need expensive tools when getting started with air-dry clay. You need something to roll out the clay. This can be a rolling pin, a dowel rod or any smooth, round cylinder that will create a flat, smooth surface to make slabs.

Another item that comes in handy is a sharp knife to make clean cuts in the air-dry clay. You will use this tool to score the air-dry clay when you join pieces together.

It is good to have wax paper or a sheet of plastic to protect your work surface when getting started with air-dry clay. You want a smooth, flat surface to work on. And you need to know that the air-dry clay leaves a white film on the surface you are working on that can be a little difficult to clean up. The plastic or wax paper keeps the film off the work surface.

You may want to have a soft sponge sitting in a small bowl of water. Use the sponge to wipe down your project to get a smooth surface. The sponge also removes any crumbs from the clay that may build up when making your project.

Avoiding Cracks

Air-dry clay will crack and break if it does not dry evenly. For this reason, you must keep the thickness of your pieces consistent. It is best to keep the thickness of your pieces to ¼ inch or less. The air-dry clay dries more quickly and evenly.

Do not use a heat tool or set your project in direct sunlight to speed up the drying time. This distributes uneven heat over the project. Since air-dry clay shrinks as it dries, any clay pieces that dry more quickly than others can break off or crack away from the rest of the project.

Shrinkage

When you are getting started with air-dry clay, remember that the clay contains water. As the clay dries, the moisture evaporates causing the air-dry clay to shrink. Always keep this in mind when you create a piece that must be a certain size. To determine how much your air-dry clay shrinks, it is best to start with a test piece. Once you do this, you will have an idea of how big you need to make your finished project.

Joining Pieces

It is simple to join two pieces of air-dry clay together to form beautiful creations. As you are getting started with air-dry clay you need to know that each piece you want to join together must be scored at the joint. Once the pieces are scored, dampen the score marks ever so slightly with a moistened finger and hold the pieces together until the bond is secure. If you are joining larger pieces together, like a head to a body, you may want to use toothpicks as well as scoring the joints.

Colors

You may notice when getting started with air-dry clay that most of the brands available are either white or an off-white color. If you want to add color to your air-dry clay project, you have a couple of options.

You can add acrylic paint, one drop at a time, to the moist clay before you start creating your project. It is important to add one drop at a time to avoid the clay becoming too moist and causing drying problems.

You can use food coloring to tint the air-dry clay. Again, add one drop at a time to avoid adding too much moisture to the clay.

The option I prefer is painting the project once the air-dry clay is completely dry. The paint will not absorb into the clay and the colors remain vibrant. Once the paint is dried, I apply a sealant which protects the paint and my project.

Sealant

It is important to use a sealant on air-dry clay pieces. This protects the air-dry clay from moisture that could cause your project to deteriorate over time. A clear varnish spray works well. The spray sealant can be glossy or matte finish, depending on the desired look.

Working with air-dry clay is very relaxing. You can create beautiful pieces of jewelry or little trinket boxes. It is also a great way to spend some time with the children on a rainy afternoon. I hope this information helps you when you are getting started with air-dry clay.


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