When I first started using air dry clay there was nothing more frustrating for me than trying to smooth the surface of my first few sculptures. No matter how hard I tried I never really got the surfaces of my sculptures to look smooth. So after a lot of headaches, I finally decided to ask a professor at the arts university to show me how he manages to get a smooth finish on his sculptures. And he did. So in this article, I will share with you what I learned and how I smooth the surface of my sculptures.
To smooth the surface of air dry clay you can use a little bit of water and either your fingers or silicone rubber sculpting tools to smooth the surface as much as possible before you let the clay dry. You can further smooth the clay surface after it has dried by sanding it with some fine-grit sandpaper.
As you can see, there is no easy way to get a smooth finish on air dry clay.
Smoothing Air Dry Clay Before It Has Dried
This is one of the most important parts of getting a smooth finish on your air dry clay.
The smoother the surface is before you let it dry the less you have to sand it later on. And believe me, sanding is quite annoying and time-consuming.
But how do you smooth your clay when its still wet?
Well, there are a couple of ways and depending on your choice of air dry clay they will work better or worse.
I would highly recommend using decent quality clay for all of your projects. If you use a cheap one then you might run into problems here.
I personally like to use Makins air dry clay. It is easy to get a smooth surface and it´s not that expensive either. You can get it right here on Amazon.
The method that I personally got the best results from is smoothing the clay with a little bit of water and either your finger or silicon rubber sculpting tools.
The silicon sculpting tools are especially good if you are working on a very detailed sculpt or if you have hard to reach parts on your sculpt.
You can get these silicon rubber tools quite cheap off of Amazon right here or at your local crafts store.
Simply take a glass of water and either dip your finger or the silicon rubber tool in the water. Then run over the surface of your sculpture in order to smooth it.
Don´t use too much water or the clay will start to run.
You should go over the surface multiple times in order to get the best results.
And once you are happy with the result just let the air dry clay dry over night.
You don´t need to get perfectionistic with this method of smoothing the sculpt. There will be some marks and uneven parts left on the sculpt no matter how often you run over it. That’s just how it is wiht air dry clay.
No matter how much you try to smooth it in this step, it will never be perfectly smooth and you have to sand it later on.
When you let your air-dry clay dry make sure that you let it dry the right way to avoid cracks in your air-dry clay. If you don´t prepare the clay properly before letting it dry or if you let it dry in the wrong spot then cracks might appear.
If you want to know how to dry air-dry clay without cracks appearing then consider reading my guide on properly drying air-dry clay.
Smoothing Air Dry Clay By Sanding
When I first started sculpting with air dry clay I never thought of sanding my sculptures after they were already dry to smooth them further. I didn´t even know that you could sand air dry clay.
You can sand air-dry clay to smooth the surface of your sculpture. When sanding air dry clay it is important to use fine-grit sandpaper. Clay is easily sanded and a rougher grit could remove more material than you’d like. Wet sanding is not recommended when sanding air dry clay.
If you have cracks on your air-dry clay then don´t panic! You can easily fix cracks in air-dry clay even after it has dried. I wrote an entire article where I explain exactly how to fix cracks in air-dry clay. So you can refer to that article to fix any cracks in your air-dry clay.
Sanding your air dry clay with a very fine grit sanding paper can create an amazingly smooth surface.
But only if your clay was kneaded properly and no air pockets are inside the clay. Through sanding you might unearth any air pockets resulting in ugly dents and holes.
But don´t worry if that happens to you. You can simply take a little bit of water and moisten the area where the whole is. Then take a little bit of fresh air dry clay and stuff the hole with it.
Then let it dry and sand over it. As simple as that.
When you are sanding your sculpture make sure that you don´t overdo it. Start with the finest grit of sandpaper that you can find and work your way from there. If the sandpaper grit was to fine then get a little rougher grit.
But if you start with a rough grit sandpaper chances are, that you remove too much material at once. So be careful.
Also don´t wet sand your air dry clay. While wet sanding might be very useful for other materials, air dry clay will absorb the water, and sanding over wet clay will do anything but smoothen the surface.
For very detailed sculptures I actually bought some jewelry files. These are very fine and small, so you can get to hard to reach areas easily and smooth them too.