Under normal circumstances I usually go to a ceramics class once a week. It’s not really a formal class, more of a relaxed space where you can make what you want and use the studio space, materials and equipment. The teacher Sue showed me how to make coil pots when I first started three and a half years ago and is always on hand if you have any questions or want a demonstration of how to do something, otherwise she just lets us all get on with it! She does not teach how to make ceramics on a pottery wheel and doesn’t have any wheels in her studio. She also taught me how to carve and that is my favourite thing to do. I love to make a big pot and then spend weeks carving the design.
However, we are of course not able to go out and about at the moment, which means that I haven’t been able to attend the class. I do have an unfinished piece waiting for me, but I suspect it will probably have dried out too much by the time I get to go back to it. I decided that I want to keep my ceramics going during this time, but due to my lack of kiln at home I thought I would give air dry clay a go. I ordered some online just before the official lockdown came into effect and have just got round to having a play with it! My first impression when I unwrapped the clay were that it smells! It has a sharp, almost vinegary scent to it, which I’m not sure if I can get used to! The second thing I noticed when I started playing with it was that it’s really fibrous. It’s quite hard to pull apart and when using a cutter you don’t get a nice clean edge. I did find that the more I handled it and the more it dried out, the easier it was to use, however you don’t want it to dry out too much. I would definitely suggest having a bowl of water and a sponge nearby whilst you are working to smooth off any rough edges.
I decided on an Easter themed project. Easter is one of my favourite times of the year with Spring on the way and so much chocolate around! I decided to make some decorations in the shape of Easter eggs. Using the tools I have for polymer clay I rolled out the clay until it was fairly thin, probably just under half a centimetre. I have some plastic texture sheets which I then rolled on top to give the decorations different textures, but if you don’t have these then you could use anything which has a textured surface; leaves and twigs often work well pressed into clay.
I then used an egg shaped cookie cutter (not recommended for use with food after using with clay) to cut out my shapes. I used a small circle cutter to create a hole at the top for the ribbon to go through and I also found a small flower cutter which I used on some of the eggs to add extra interest.
Once my textured shapes were all cut out I left them to dry. I read that air dry clay usually takes 24-48 hours to dry out completely. I went down to my studio the next day to see if they were dry enough to turn over to make sure the backs were dry too, but they hadn’t dried at all. As this was quite an experimental project for me I decided to put them in my dehydrator to see if it would speed up the process. I was a bit worried in case the faster drying would cause them to crack. I put the dehydrator on the lowest setting and left them for a few hours. When I went back to check on them they were almost dry so I turned them over and left them again. When I went down at the end of the day they were completely dried out. I left them overnight on a table before continuing to the next stage.
Before painting them I decided to sand them as they still had really rough edges. I think for my next project I will smooth the edges down with some water and a sponge before drying to minimise this. I used a 400 grade sandpaper which is the roughest grade I had to hand. It took a bit of work but it was definitely a step worth doing as the eggs looked so much better once it was done.
I then gave them all a white base coat of acrylic paint. Although the clay dries white I felt that the other colours would pop out more with a white base. Once that was dry I could then start to colour them. I decided to sponge the paint on to make the textures stand out more as I thought if I brushed the paint on they might lose some of their 3D quality. I had a bit of fun blending some of the colour together to create an ombré effect. After the paint had dried I added two coats of PVA glue mixed with some water to seal them, letting them dry in between each layer. Although this won’t make them completely waterproof it should help to prevent water getting in and ruining them.
I’m pretty pleased with my results, although I would like to do some more experimentation to work out how to get them to dry flat! It’s not quite the same as working with proper clay, glazing and firing in a proper kiln, but as an at-home alternative it’s pretty good to play around with and make some fun smaller items. I bought myself a book with some projects in called ‘Make it with Air-Dry Clay’ by Fay De Winter so I will definitely be giving some of them a go, plus I also have a few projects of my own in mind too so watch this space!