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October 18, 2005

customizing clay?

by sven at 2:19 pm

I've been doing a lot of experimenting with sculpture techniques lately. I've been creating roughed-out figures using polystyrene insulation foam -- and am very happy with the results. Now what I want is an air-dry, non-toxic clay-like substance for fine work on the surface... Ideally, y'know, clay -- but I've had problems with cracking.

So far I've tried surfacing with air-dry clay, parafin, concrete, and paper mache (craft paper, newspaper, paper towels, toilet paper, and tissue paper). The concrete created an exciting surface that I'll be experimenting with more. I'm also going to be trying encaustic-style wax. ...But really, these options are more about creating an interesting "skin" than the "muscle"-level sculpting.

I re-read the How to make a Noah's Doll website, and got really curious about why these folks mix sawdust with their clay. As I Googled further, I think I've figured it out. This site on paperclay explains that paper fiber creates microscopic straws that allow clay to dry without cracking -- and that also allow you to adhere new wet bits to dry. Wow!

This fellow, Ian Gregory, claims to be one of three folks who invented paperclay... He recommends not exceding 25% paper pulp in your clay. ...I'm guessing sawdust serves the same function -- though Noah's Dolls mix 50% clay and 50% sawdust.

Ah, now what else could we mix into clay? There are several websites out there that give formulas for making "sawdust clay" (2 parts sawdust, 1 part flour, add water). These sites tend to be geared toward schoolroom settings, rather than fine arts... I'm also finding a bunch of interesting customized clays at the level of housebuilding: cob, papercrete, paper adobe. Whether we're looking at sculpture or housebuilding, though, the principle seems to be the same: add fiber to clay, and you get something that's more lightweight, less brittle, and dries more easily.

So: What should I start mixing into clay? Toilet paper? Straw? ...And what products exist already? I know that there's a product marketed as "Paperclay" -- I should try that, for sure. There's also a good clay shop in town, Georgie's Ceramic and Clay Co. (756 N. Lombard), that I'll have to visit. I doubt they'll have much with fiber mixed in -- but I should get a sense of what a real clay shop looks like.

posted by sven | October 18, 2005 2:19 PM | categories: sculpture