How to Use Air Dry Clay for Sculpting

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Air dry clay is one of the easiest clays to use. I think everyone has used air dry clay once before. But how well does air-dry clay hold up when you want to use it for more complicated sculpting endeavors? Can air dry clay be used for sculpting?

Air dry clay can be used for sculpting, but other clays such as polymer clay or monster clay are better for sculpting intricate or detailed designs. Air dry clay only has a limited working time and it is important to keep the thickness of the sculpture as equal as possible to keep it from cracking.

How to use air dry clay for sculpting step-by-step:

  1. Make an armature for your sculpture
  2. Condition the air dry clay by kneading it
  3. Establish the general shapes of the sculpture
  4. Add some details
  5. Let the clay dry
  6. Add finer details with a knife or Dremel
  7. Seal the sculpture (optional)

It is absolutely possible to create amazing-looking, detailed sculptures with air dry clay but it is much harder than using polymer clay or monster clay.

But there are a few things that you can do to make it easier to make sculptures with air dry clay. The most important thing is the right type of air dry clay.

You can also read my complete guide on how to work with air dry clay with lots more information right here.

Best Air Dry Clay for Sculpting

There are a lot of different types of air dry clay out there but most of them aren´t suited for making detailed clay sculptures. So what is the best air-dry clay for sculpting?

As a whole, the best type of air dry clay for sculpting is paper-based air dry clay. Paper-based air dry clay has fibrous paper material mixed in with the clay that makes it sturdier, shrink less, less likely to crack, and easier to add details.

DAS air-hardening modeling clay is my personal favorite air dry clay for sculpting. You can get it in your local crafts store or right here on Amazon.

You can use any air-dry clay that you want but I highly recommend using paper-based air dry clay.

The fibers inside the clay will make the clay a little harder to work with initially but once the clay is conditioned it will be much easier to carve in details and the finished piece will be sturdier and less prone to cracking.

How to Use Air Dry Clay for Sculpting

Sculpting with air dry clay can be a little challenging but it is possible to achieve quite good results if you know what to look out for.

So here are the individual steps of how to make a sculpture with air dry clay.

1. Make an Armature for Your Sculpture

The first step is making an armature for your sculpture.

An armature is basically a skeleton that will give your sculpture something to adhere to and that will make your sculpture more stable in general.

An armature is usually made with a thick aluminum wire that is bent into shape.

I usually adhere my armature to a small piece of wood to give the sculpture a base to stand on when it is finished.

You can also use some aluminum foil to bulk up the armature before you add the clay.

This will save some clay and also make sure that the clay will be distributed as equally as possible and not too thick which will keep it from cracking during the drying process.

2. Condition the Air Dry Clay by Kneading it

Most types of clay have to be conditioned to make them malleable. The process of conditioning is different for each type of clay.

To condition air dry clay you simply have to pull the piece of clay you are working with apart and then knead it back together repeatedly until the clay is soft enough to work with.

Paper-based air dry clay will need more time to be conditioned properly than earthen air dry clay.

But after 1 or 2 minutes the clay should be soft enough to work with.

3. Establish the General Shapes of the Sculpture

Add pieces of air dry clay to the figure until you have established the general shape of the sculpture.

Don´t think about details in this step as it will just distract you.

Simply add thicker parts of the clay to the armature until everything is covered and the general shape is established before you move on to adding details.

4. Add Some Details

Details can be added with different sculpting tools but you can also be creative and simply use pencils, your fingers, rulers, knives, or other tools that you have lying around.

Don´t try to add very fine details as this is not really possible to do with air dry clay while it is still wet. Just add some surface details and add finer details later.

5. Let the Clay Dry

This is one of the easiest steps if you know how to properly dry air dry clay.

It is important to put the clay in a location where no sun will hit it and where it is far away from any other heat source.

Cover the sculpture with a thin piece of plastic and leave it to dry for at least 72 hours.

I have a full guide on how to properly dry an air dry clay sculpture that also talks about avoiding cracks. You can read the guide right here.

6. Add Finer Details With a Knife or Dremel

After the sculpture has completely dried it is finally time to add some very fine surface details.

You can smooth the surface of the sculpture with some fine grit sandpaper and you can add fine surface details with a crafts knife or by using a Dremel.

I recommend using a very fine sanding bit on the dremmel.

If you are using a crafts knife then make sure that it is as sharp as possible before adding the details.

Simply carve in the fine details directly into the surface of the clay.

If you find any cracks or if you accidentally added a line somewhere where you didn´t want to then you can use some slip (a mixture of water and clay) to fix those mistakes.

You can read more about fixing cracks with slip right here.

7. Seal the Sculpture (Optional)

This final step is optional but I would recommend sealing your sculpture anyway to protect it from scratches and water drops.

To seal your air dry clay sculpture you can use an acrylic sealer or some matt varnish.

Both is available in spray cans and I highly recommend applying them with a spray can as it is much easier.

I also have a full guide on how to seal air dry clay that you can read right here.

And that is about it. It really is that easy to make a sculpture with air dry clay but I still recommend using other types of clay for creating sculptures simply because you have a longer working time with those which makes the whole process even more simple.

Is Air Dry Clay Good for Sculpting?

Air dry clay is probably the first type of clay most newcomers use for making their first few projects but is it the best type of clay for sculptures?

Air dry clay is not the best choice for sculpting. While it is possible to make detailed sculptures with air dry clay it is way harder than simply using polymer clay or monster clay. Air dry clay won´t hold fine details as well and it has a limited work time. Most alternatives don´t have these issues.

If you are new to making sculptures then I highly recommend using polymer clay in the beginning.

I have a full article comparing polymer clay and air dry clay that you can read right here if you want to know about the differences between the two.

But polymer clay is generally very good for making sculptures because it only cures when it is baked in a regular oven which means that it has a very long working time.

It is also easier to add finer details to polymer clay than to air dry clay and polymer clay does not crack nearly as easily as air dry clay.

For sculpting, I highly recommend using firm polymer clay as it allows for adding very fine details.

Monster clay is also a good alternative and it is my personal favorite modeling clay but it does not ever fully cure or harden.

So the finished monster clay sculpture has to be cast in resin by first making a silicone mold out of it. This is a very complicated process that might end up in failure.

You can see how to make silicone molds in this article right here if you are curious.

This is the main reason why I don´t recommend monster clay for beginners.

Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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