A Method to the Madness: Drying Air Dry Clay Effectively

March 16, 2018

A Method to the Madness: Drying Air Dry Clay Effectively

I've discussed techniques for sculpting with air dry clay, but in this post I would like to go into the short, but sweet specifics of drying air dry clay. If the slow drying time of artists grade clays like Creative Paperclay has dissuaded you from using it as a serious sculpting medium, don't despair: There is a solution!

Fully Baked

The fastest and most effective way to dry Creative Paperclay (and it can be applied to similar clays, such as La Doll), is actually to bake it in a standard oven. Game changer.

Baking air dry clay horses

Creative Paperclay is non-toxic, and unlike polymer clay, it does not generate fumes as it's baked. However, because of its paper base, you have to be careful not to scorch it. It is also only possible to bake a sculpture if you have NOT used things such as Styrofoam as your armature materials.

How to bake air dry clay:
  1. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. This will help prevent the clay from sticking and keep the tray clean.
  2. Place your sculpture on the baking sheet. Remember that the tray will become the hottest item in the oven, so I try to have as little of the clay actually laying on the sheet to prevent warping.
  3. Put the tray into a cold oven and turn it on to the lowest setting (around 200-250°F). Do not put the clay into an already hot oven as it is likely to crack.
  4. Baking time depends on the size and thickness of your sculpture. For a small 5in sculpture, about 15 mins will generally do, while a larger one will need repeated bakings.
  5. I never leave the oven on for longer than 20-25 mins at a time to prevent burning the clay. Optimal technique: turn the oven off after 15-20 mins and leave the sculpture in the oven to cool and cure. If by the time the oven is cool and the sculpture is still not dry, I turn the oven on for another round.
  6. When you remove your sculpture from the oven be gentle, especially if it is still warm. Letting it fully cool ensures you can tell if it's really dry and also prevents any new clay you're adding from cracking.

Note: If you have exposed wires on your sculpture, beware! They can get VERY hot. 

Drying in the oven cuts drying time to a fraction, and means that you can complete your art pieces much faster than before!

Make it a Dry One

Now that you have a drying technique - How do you know when your sculpture is actually dry?

If you touch your sculpture and

  • it feels cold (similar to ceramic, CPC gets cold as it dries)
  • it has some give when you push on it

it’s not dry!!!

 air dry clay testing to see if dry with nail
Using your nail to test dryness: if the clay gives a lot it's still too wet
 

Make sure your sculpture is fully dry before painting. This way you won't be surprised by a crack midway through. The other bonus of baking the clay is that it has a tendency to crack less. And if it does crack - it can easily be fixed!

The Horror, The Horror: Air Dry Clay Cracks

Your air dry clay sculpture is most likely going to crack. Accept it. Cracking is normal in air dry clays: it's caused by shrinkage because of the loss of the water inside the clay body.

Cracking is often caused by sculpting over an armature or using a lot of water, either to mix the clay or to help it adhere onto a previous layer. 

Creative paperclay air dry clay crack
A typical CPC crack. Easily filled in with new clay
An Easy Fix

Cracks in Creative Paperclay can easily be fixed! If the crack is not structurally related (holds weight), just take some fresh clay and pack it into the crack.

Note: If crucial parts of your sculpture, such as thin horse legs, are breaking, it may be necessary to reinforce the legs with epoxy clay. Air dry clays are not suitable for all types of sculpting, and you may need a different material to complete a specific task.

 

Air dry clays, like Creative Paperclay, are very versatile, comparatively strong and can easily be combined with other materials to create intricate and unusual artwork. My techniques are the result of trial and error, and hopefully you'll find them useful to help you push the limits and see what you can create with these awesome artist materials!

Horse sculpture by Susie Benes
"Volu" a mixed media horse sculpture made primarily from Creative Paperclay

 

What's Else?

Build your own horse sculpture from air dry clay
See an air dry clay sculpture made from start to finish