Air Drying Clay: The Ultimate Crafting Hack
Many of us have likely watched television series about pottery and hoped to take clay craft up as a result, but is it really achievable? Unless you have access to an expensive kiln and adequate drying space, perhaps not. But the thing is, pottery doesn’t have to be unachievable — air drying clay is the ultimate crafting hack. This versatile modelling material can produce a professional-style finish — just like kiln-fired pieces — but it cuts out the intense firing process. As its name so thoughtfully suggests, this type of clay simply dries out when exposed to the air!
An added bonus? You don’t need a pottery wheel to get crafting, either! I think it’s important to note, though, that air drying clay won’t enable you to produce exactly the same types of projects that pottery clay does. (Forget the bowls, jugs, and large sculptures you’ve seen on TV!) However, it is incredibly versatile in what it can do.
What Can I Make with Air Drying Clay?
Air drying clay is commonly used in crafting because it’s great for embellishments and decorations. You may have seen Trimcraft’s guest post on the Create & Craft Blog recently; Kathy Hodson made the sweetest little Christmas tree decorations using the stuff! You could make your own shaped embellishments for cards (make sure you have sturdy cardstock!) or you could create fridge magnets, badges, and tiles. Really, the possibilities are enormous. It’s important to note that this lightweight clay isn’t waterproof or food-safe, though, so don’t go making your own egg cups!!
How Long Will It Take For My Clay to Dry?
As mentioned a little earlier, air drying clay begins to dry out once exposed to air. It doesn’t have a super fast drying time, so you needn’t worry about being left with a semi-hard lump halfway through your project! It’s pretty pliable for the duration that you work with it — there’s no need to rush your project to finish it. Just remember to wrap up any leftover clay in an airtight container so that you can work with the medium again in the future. So, when will it completely dry out? It’s advised to leave it for 24 – 72 hours before painting, depending on the size of your piece.
What About Models – Can I Make Those with Air Drying Clay?
The great news is yes — you can model air drying clay! Because of the nature of the clay, you won’t be able to achieve grand sculptures to display on your driveaway, but small figurines and decorations are entirely achievable with the use of wire. The easiest way to do this is to create an armature– a wire framework –to then mould onto.
Cassie Brown’s Small Orchids Made in Air Drying Clay
It brings us great joy to pass this section of the article on to Cassie Brown — an experienced cake artist and little-known air drying clay crafter! Cassie has sculpted an absolutely stunning orchid that really looks like the real deal! The craftsmanship is quite simply exquisite, and the best thing about it is that it’s totally achievable at home.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Air Drying Clay
- Non-Stick Mat
- 5 in 1 Rolling Pin Tool
- Tea Rose Veiner
- 30# White Wire
- Small Orchid Cutter
- Tulip and Yellow Dust Colour
- Small Glass Vase
- Large Glass Beads
- 7″ Long, Thin Stick with Small Clip (to hold the orchid in place)
- Green Forest Tape
- Red Paint and Fine Paintbrush
- Airbrush and Compressor or Green Dust
- Green and Brown Airbrush Colour
To start, I always rub a little cream into my hands and over the mat as I find it helps the paste not to stick.
Roll out a thin ridge into the clay and, using the throat of the orchid, push down over the ridge to cut out the shape. Lift up and use your fingers to rub over the cutter to get a good clean cut. Push out from the cutter and then cut the 30# wire into 5 pieces. Push the 30# wire into the ridge.
Put this on to a foam pad and gently hold the rounded end of the rolling pin or ball tool around the edge of the cut-out shape. You will notice this shape looks a little like Mickey Mouse ears! In between this, brush with a little water. Roll a very small ball of clay and push onto the water.
Cut the ball in half and then squeeze the 2 halves gently using the tweezers. Bend the wire and clay just behind the ball, then bend the wire down a little more. Leave to dry so the ‘Mickey Mouse ears’ are hanging down. Alternatively, you can leave to dry in an egg cup.
The second part of the throat is a small ball of clay about half the size of a pea. Roll into a cone shape and then push the wire into the pointed end of the cone. I pushed the small ball tool into the cone sideways to create what looks like a spoon shape. Then, using the tweezers, pinch the rounded end of the spoon to create what looks like a little tail. Leave to dry a little.
When you look head-on at an orchid, you’ll notice that there’s always a throat, 1 head, 2 arms, and 2 legs. To make the other five petals, simply roll out a thin ridge and cut out the head. Push the 30# wire into the ridge and place into the rose petal veiner. This is a two-sided veiner, so push the top down to create the veins, then remove and place onto a piece of foam. Roll the ball tool half on the petal and half off to create life-like movement on the petal. You need to repeat this with the 2 arms and 2 legs of the orchid, then leave to dry a little.
To colour, dust the ball on the throat with a little yellow and then dust a little around the edge with yellow, too. Dust around the yellow with the tulip dust colour. Paint little red dots on the yellow coloured areas. Dust the second part of the throat with a little yellow dust and then tape these 2 parts together using 1/2 width green forest tape.
Dust all of the other petals using a flat brush, then dust the outer part of the petals with a little yellow dust. Dust with the tulip colour onto the centre from the bottom of the petal, up.
To tape together, join the tape to the back of the two throats and then add the 2 arms either side of the throat. Add the head and tape up to secure. Then, add the two legs of the orchid and tape all the way down the stem. The flower head of the orchid will need to be bent about 2cm down the wire ready for the next step.
The buds are very easy to make. Make a small hook at the end of a 24# wire, then make a small ball of clay and push it onto the wire. Cup your thumb and two fingers around the top of the ball and gently squeeze to create 3 little indents in the clay. Dust with a little of the tulip dust and leave to dry.
To make the leaves, roll out some light green clay, leaving a ridge for the wire. Roll to a thickness of about 1cm and cut out a large leaf shape, then push the wire through the ridge. Gently soften the edges using the ball tool and then fold the leaf in half. Open the leaf and then leave to dry over the edge of the table.
I like to airbrush the leaves with a mixture of green and brown; mix 3 drops of green to 2 drops of brown. Gently spray this over the leaf with the airbrush. If you don’t have an airbrush, you can paint or dust the leaves green. Once the leaves are dry, use 1/2 width florist tape to tape up the 2 smallest leaves and then add the 2 larger leaves behind the smaller ones. Tape all the way down the wire.
The roots are not essential, but I think it just adds great finishing touches. Simply roll out a sausage of clay about 5cm long and 1/2cm in thickness, then roll it around your finger. Pull the coil open a little and leave to dry. I like to add a little green airbrush colour to the roots to add a little definition.
Tape the buds up individually and then hold the smallest bud and tape the 2nd bud onto that wire, about 2cm down. Then, introduce the first flower about 2cm to 3cm down. Add the other 2 flowers. You should now have 1 stem with leaves and 1 stem of flowers.
Now the fun begins — putting everything together! Start by filling the glass vase with glass beads and then push the leaves into the beads so that they’re in the middle. Then, add the flower stem slightly to the back of the leaves. If the stem is too tall, simply take it out and cut the wire down a little. Place the curly roots of the orchid randomly on top of the beads. Stand back and admire!
This would make a perfect gift for someone; they can simply leave it on the windowsill and have a flower for life! Enjoy.