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Clay can be an amazingly versatile craft medium
Working with clay can be a fun and rewarding experience. You can do so much with clay, you are limited only by your own imagination.
Clay is becoming a very popular medium for artists and crafters. Times have changed and the variety of products is increasing. An artist can now do a lot more with clay than just traditional sculpture. No longer are you confined to carving from a block to create a piece of art. Now one can use forms and molds, sculpt freehand, and create everything from traditional sculpture to jewelry to parts for other craft projects.
I started working with clay back in my early teens. At that time, the only clay I knew about was the gray kind that dried on its own, and the red kind that had to be kiln-dried. In later years I discovered the wonders of FIMO and Sculpey. The versatility of clay has increased over the years, and there’s very little you can’t make with clay if you just give it some thought. The new types of clay encouraged me to work with it more, and I was amazed at what I could do with it.
For me, the self-hardening clay wasn’t very appealing. I wasn’t really very talented at carving, and that type of clay lends itself best to being carved from a block into a sculpture. I was able to make some things by molding and working it in my hands, but I was never able to make too many things that I was proud of. Some people however, were great with that type of clay, and did some really beautiful sculptures.
What I took a shine too was the new clay types, Sculpey and FIMO. Sculpey was great for creating things in pieces, and made a great base product. FIMO became my favorite because it was so amazingly pliable. It never got too soft, and I could roll it thin enough to see light through it without it ripping. I was completely amazed by the delicate pieces that I could create with FIMO. Both FIMO and Sculpey need to be baked to harden, but they have the advantage of being able to be cooked in your home oven.
I remember creating some amazing pieces by combining Sculpey and Fimo. My uncle now owns a little demon I created. I made the body from Sculpey, then baked it. Afterward I used FIMO to create hair, a cloak, a face (which I laid on like a mask) and tiny fingers and cloven feet. The entire piece was only about 3” tall, and had amazing detail. Later I used Sculpey to create ocean waves on an old dinner plate. I loved how the colors blended and the product could be stretched and molded to resemble waves. I added dolphins which I made with FIMO, and suspended them from the top of the wave with fishing line to simulate them jumping out of the water. My best friend proudly displays the piece in her living room.
The type of clay you choose to use will all depend on the type of item you want to create. Water-soluble clay that dries in a kiln is usually best for vases, plates and the like, though I have seen people make low-detail sculpture from it. Self-hardening clay is good for sculpture if you’re good at carving from a block, but you have to be aware that it will harden if you don’t keep the surface damp. Sculpey and FIMO seem to have the most versatility due to their plastic content and ability to be hardened in a home oven.
If you’re just getting into working with clay, I suggest FIMO. It won’t harden while you’re working, it can be rolled thin or used in large chunks, it comes in an amazing variety of colors, and it works really well over a wire skeleton when you’re making larger sculptures. You can make anything with it from hefty foot-tall sculptures to delicate flowers for jewelry. FIMO is more expensive than other clay, running about $2.50 per 2 oz. block, but the versatility of the product makes it well worth it.
If you’re not sure what clay will work best for you, try buying a small portion of each type from your craft store, and try working with each one. You can also look at craft books or online for the type of projects you want to use the clay for, and see what they suggest. Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t combine various types of clay into a single project. Experiment, get creative, and see what happens!