Sculpture Materials: An Intro to Air Dry Clays - Susie Benes

A Sculpture Material for the Future: An Intro to Artist Air Dry Clays

Advances in Artist Materials

Chinese ceramic horse sculpture Tang dynasty

Tang Dynasty ceramic horse

Ceramic is a traditional material used in the construction of sculpture. It is considered one of the original “noble” sculpture materials, which, among others, includes marble and bronze. These materials have a long history and maintain a high level of status among artists and collectors alike.

And yet, as technology advances we’re also advancing our artist’ materials: new clays are being developed that are strong and also archival. The sheer variety means that now artists have an incredible range of resources at their disposal, and can explore new techniques that may not have been possible before. Modern air dry clays are now serious contenders in the realm of contemporary sculpture.

Paperclay air dry clay small horse sculptures

Some clays dry even better when baked in the oven.

My Quest for the Ideal Material

I’ll admit it – I am one of those people that love ceramics. I appreciate how this natural material handles and its un-predictableness. However, I wanted more control over the finished product, and glazes and kilns are a tricky business.

Wood-glue-based paper mache was where I started because I wanted to make big sculptures. It was lightweight and strong, even on a large-scale, but a giant pain in the ass. This led me on a quest to seek out an air dry clay that would have these properties, but also be easy to work with and take detail well.

Paper mache foal sculpture covered in air dry clay

Covering an older paper mache sculpture in air dry clay

I investigated cold porcelain (a clay you can make at home from white glue and corn starch) which is incredibly strong. Sadly, it only has a working time of about 10 minutes before it starts to harden and crack. If you try to soften it with water, you end up with a glue-y mush. Ick.

I tried so many brands of clay, many just randomly selected from art supply store shelves, but none fit my exacting standards. It was discouraging. I even tried polymer clays, but the plastic-y residue it left on my hands put me off.

Finally, I picked up a package of Creative Paperclay, and it’s been my main medium of choice since then. It combines all of the requirements that I searched for: strong, lightweight, and it lets you work both big and small.

Air dry clay small horse sculpture

Horse sculpted from Creative Paperclay with Apoxie Sculpt ears

In the next few blog posts, I will give you a glimpse at the main clays that I utilize in my sculptures. There is little information about these clays apart from scant reviews, and I want to demonstrate their properties and to give you an inside look into this exciting world of the latest clays for artists. These include:

- Apoxie Sculpt

- Creative Paperclay

- Half Cilla

- La Doll Premix

- La Doll Premier


So stick around and find out what all the fuss will be about.