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How to Transform an Empty Can with Air-Dry Clay

How to Transform an Empty Can with Air-Dry Clay main article image
Posted on July 12, 2021 by Julie Richards

There are so many things you can do with air-dry clay, including transforming an empty can into a beautiful piece of home décor. You can use any size can, from a small dog or cat food can to a large paint can. You need to know what supplies are needed to create the piece you want. You should decide what the purpose of the can will be before you transform an empty can with air-dry clay.

Transform an empty can with air-dry clay

I tend to go through the house when I am cleaning and pick up small items and carry them from room to room before I toss them into the always-present junk drawer. I then promptly forget where I put said items and spend hours looking for them. I finally figured out a better way to organize and keep everything in a place I will remember and, cleared out a much-needed drawer in my kitchen. I simply transformed an empty can with air-dry clay.

Prepare the can

I start with a clean, empty food can, sand down the rim to remove the sharp edges, and wipe the can down with isopropyl alcohol to remove any debris that might remain on the surface.  I cover the entire outside of the can with a thin layer of air-dry clay. When you do this, keep the air-dry clay about 1/8-inch thick. If you make the clay too thick, it will crack as it dries. If it is too thin, the clay will peel off as you continue transforming the empty can later in the process.

I use a small bit of water on my hands and a damp sponge to smooth the surface of the air-dry clay just a bit. I like the surface to be a bit more rustic looking because it adds texture and character to the project when it is done. Once I am happy with the look of the air-dry clay on the metal can, I figure out how I want to decorate the can. I can either let the piece dry completely and paint it or I can add decorative elements to the metal can with molded shapes made from air-dry clay.

Add decoration to your air-dry clay project

When you transform an empty can with air-dry clay, the best time to add decorations or patterns to the piece is when the base clay is still moist. You can score out a pattern in the moist clay or you can mold shapes and attach them to the clay-covered can with a bit of slip. Slip is a mixture of two parts clay to one part water that creates a slurry called slip in the clay world. Slip acts like a glue when you want to attach two pieces of air-dry clay together. Simply moisten the area you want to attach a molded clay shape, then moisten the back of the shape, and attach the two moistened surfaces together. You may need to hold the two pieces together for a minute, so a bond is created. Once the area is dry, the bond is permanent.

I actually prefer using the air-dry clay shapes because I can create more dimension on the surface of the can, which adds more interest. Once the entire piece is dry, then I cover everything with two coats of paint, drying between coats. I selected an aqua green color of paint for this project. I use acrylic paint to color the transformed empty can. Air-dry clay comes in a variety of colors that can be mixed to create even more colors. That is an option if you prefer to use a colored clay instead of paint. My personal preference is a natural air-dry clay that dries to an off-white color.

Paint your work

Once the paint is completely dry, I like to add bits of color here and there to my creation. I wanted this particular project to go well in any part of my home, so I used more neutral colors when adding the finishing touches. I used a gold-colored wax to brighten the flowers. I chose a mixture of pewter, gun metal, and white wax to color the background. As I rubbed off the excess wax, the paint underneath peeked through to give the piece a bit of a patina look.

You can transform an empty can with air-dry clay to use in the bathroom to hold cotton balls or cotton swabs. Since metal cans come in so many sizes, the possibilities are endless as to what you can use them for. As an example, a gallon sized paint can makes a beautiful container for a floral arrangement. Small tuna cans work great to hold paper clips or thumb tacks. Turn a soup can into a pencil holder. You can even fill the can with a mixture of sand and potting soil and create a gorgeous succulent container.

Seal with polyacrylic spray

Remember that when you transform an empty can with air-dry clay, you must seal it with a polyacrylic spray to keep moisture from penetrating the surface. It is clay and water can damage your beautiful piece. Keep it safe by coating it at least twice before using work of art.

I want to mention that sometimes, no matter how many precautions you take, when you transform an empty can with air-dry clay, the clay may still crack when it dries. This happens sometimes when the clay does not dry evenly over the entire surface. Do not be disappointed, all it not loss. Just be careful when you apply the two layers of acrylic paint. Use a soft brush and let some of the paint seep into the cracks. The paint will keep the clay in place once it is dry. You may even find that the cracks add a bit more interest to the finished piece.

I love that my transformed empty cans look more like a handmade air-dry clay art piece than a manufactured, machined item. It just gives my work more personality. I hope you try your hand at this project. I know you will create something beautiful!

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