Monday, July 11, 2016

Keep it Simple, Sculptor!

Ah, words to live by…

(part 1 of 2)


I'm going to start out with some basic information that is meant for folks who are just starting out with Creative Paperclay, or trying to decide if they should try it.  I tried every type of clay on the market trying to find one I liked.  Originally, I passed over Creative Paperclay (CP) because I thought it was too soft, but after looking at the competition I came back to it and I'm glad I did.

When you read articles about sculpting in clay, a lot of the information comes from artists who are working with oil-based clays with the intention of casting in bronze.  I think a lot of the misconceptions about air dry clay comes from individuals who are trying to apply classic approaches to a modern product.

Air dry clay often gets a bum rap for not being a professional material.   Things like:

"It cracks easily."

"It doesn't take details well."

"It's not durable enough."

"It's designed for weekend crafters not artists."

I think these statements stem more from a lack of understanding of how to use the clay rather than the material itself.

There are several reasons I came to love Creative Paperclay (CP).  First off, I am only willing to work with nontoxic materials for my own personal safety and for environmental reasons.  I never want to conduct an art class with children and have to say something like, "Ok, kids, everyone put on your respirator, rubber gloves, and hazmat suit.  We're going to make some art!"

Second, I prefer to work with an air dry clay as opposed to baking things or using a kiln or mixing epoxies.  The great thing about CP is that even when you're finished with a piece and it's dry and as hard as a piece of pine wood, you can still make changes to it:  either adding new clay, carving it or sanding it.  Because of its advantages over other kinds of clay, CP is really a revolutionary product  so think of yourself as a rebel and get some attitude.

When I was a little kid, I liked to mix my chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.  I liked to make designs with the swirls and kept mixing until it was a perfect consistency for shaping into things.  I worked it with my spoon, but only for a few minutes until it turned mushy.  Working with paper clay reminds me of the fun I had making shapes when it was the perfect consistency.  CP is soft right out of the package, which means you don't have to condition it by kneading it for several minutes.  I have worked with clays that were so hard they actually hurt my hands just trying to make them pliable enough to use.

The ultimate reason to buy CP is that when you decide it is right for you, you can buy it in bulk directly from Creative Paperclay at nearly half price.  Very few companies offer artists such a break on materials.  If for no other reason, this is reason enough to climb aboard the CP Train.


I use very few tools when working with clay, which allows me to concentrate on what I am creating instead of trying to decide which tool to grab.  You can buy a package of four plastic sculpting tools made by Staedtler/Fimo for about $5.  There are other plastic sculpting sets available, but they are shaped differently and not as versatile.  This is the set you want.

Of the four tools, I use the one on the left over 90% of the time for anything where my hands won't fit, which is really the only reason I reach for it in the first place.  Once in awhile, I may reach for one of the others if I want a special effect.

There is a prevailing attitude in the art world at large that you need a lot of sophisticated, expensive, heavy-duty, sharp equipment to produce serious sculptures, but you don't.  Creative Paperclay is soft and forgiving.  You can use simple, plastic tools that have a little bend to them. 

I received as a gift, a toolset that contained about 30 tools in a carrying case.  The tools were impressive, made of wood and steel and sharpened to a dangerous level, and I liked holding them, but I couldn't work with them.  Every time I needed a tool, I would look at my massive collection and lose my train of thought as I tried to decide which one to use.  No matter which one I ended up choosing, it was never quite the right shape for the task at hand and I would end up searching for another.  I went back to my plastic ones and have been happy ever since.

For smoothing things out, I use a small, flat, acrylic paintbrush dipped in water.  That's it.

Here is what I use 99% of the time for everything (the glass is just for holding water):



If you are new to working with air dry clay, the first thing you may not notice is the voice in the back of your head telling you to hurry up before things start drying out.  Let me assure you, you can put your mind at ease.  Not only can you work with this clay for hours at a time, if it does start to dry out, you can just mix a little water into it and it's as good as new.


To store your clay, once it's been opened, use a ziploc plastic bag or something similar and try to get all of the air out of it before you seal it.  I usually fold it over, partially zip it shut, then squeeze out the remaining air before sealing all the way.  It takes a little practice to get it right.  If you're having trouble getting all of the air out, you can add a few drops of clean water inside the bag to keep the clay moist.


An important consideration when planning your piece is what scale you will use.  Depending on the size of your work space, this may be a limiting factor.  I find it is easiest to work on figures between 1:12 scale and 1:6 scale.  A 1:6 scale figure is about 12 inches tall and a 1:12  figure is only 6 inches tall.  Anything smaller becomes difficult to add details (I have fat fingers) and anything larger takes up too much space on my workbench (and a lot more material).

If you are making an individual piece that stands alone, maybe scale doesn't matter much, but if you will be combining it with other figures, miniatures, doll clothes, etc., trust me, you will want to account for scale.

By making one part of your entire piece larger than the others, you can add drama and focus to it.


If you need ideas for pieces, just start sculpting things you like.  A rule of thumb I often use is to combine three objects/items/figures into an interesting arrangement.  I often have an idea in my head when I start, but not always.  By working on multiple pieces simultaneously, I sometimes find better combinations by switching parts between pieces.

creative paperclay tutorial realistic sculpture
A Minotaur, a Satyr playing a bouzouki and a broken Greek column
The great part of working in three dimensions is that as you view your work from different angles it can reveal new ideas.  For instance, an item may be hidden behind another from one angle, but turn it around and a secret is revealed.  Try doing that with a painting!

In future articles I will go into more detail about what we've covered so far and also give examples.

If you are new to sculpting with air dry clay, there are two things to keep in mind. 

1.  If someone is critical of your work, you can always say, "I meant to do it that way."


2.  A potato is the easiest thing to sculpt.  "It's a potato!"

You can read part 2 of this article here.

link to kevin whitham saatchi art online

You can connect with me on Facebook.


SandeeNC said...

wow, loads of useful information!

VickiRossArt said...

Great article! I used paper lay today for the first time!

Unknown said...

full of info. thanks 4 sharing

Unknown said...

full of info. thanks 4 sharing