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How to use clay?

Updated: May 28, 2021

I love clay, it gives you a lot of freedom. You can use it to create sculptures as small as a nut or as big as a rhino. Clay is very flexible, sometimes messy, but you can reuse it unlimited times and as long as you need it.

What is clay?

It's like plasticine, but messier and cheaper.

Clay is a natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals. Clays are plastic when wet. They harden, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Different clays can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red.

Clay is a very good material for both: beginning artists as well as professionals, because when you get used to it, you can create amazing sculptures with it.


When you use your clay for the first time, clay is usually ready to use, so you can start sculpting immediately.

But when you reuse your clay, sometimes it doesn't have homogeneous density. In that case, before you start your work, it's good to knead your clay. You can do it with a big hammer or with your hands, by hitting the clay to the table. Do it until you're sure that it has homogeneous density.

Your surroundings

Clay can be sometimes quite messy, so make sure that around you there are no things that you would prefer not to dirt. You can leave it if you're very careful with all of that, but your hands will be dirty with clay for sure. You can change your clothes, put your clay in a place where you can have fun and cover your workplace with something like big foil where all your mess will gather.

Whicht tools are necessary?

The only necessary tools are your hands (or maybe not), the others are just useful:

Hammer: the bigger surface the better. As a replacement, you can use for example a roller.

Ribbon/loop tool: this tool is really useful when you scoop holes or the interior of your sculpture.

Knife: it's the most universal tool. Use it to cut the elements, to make a shape, to add a feature.

Sponge: use it to make your feature smooth.

Wire cutter: to cut, for example when you cut off a sculpture from table

Scraper: to sculpt and tidy your workplace.

Features of a clay

Clay is very plastic, you can shape it with your bare hands or basic tools mentioned above to make some details. By controlling the hydration of the clay you can control its features.

How to keep the clay in a correct state?

The optimal state of clay is when you can sculpt with it like with plasticine. It's soft enough that you can change its shape with little force, but it keeps its shape. It’s important to keep it moisted.

When it dries, it hardens and harder, so later it’s flexible. It cracks and crumbles. If the shape that you have created is fragile, it’s really difficult to sculpt it when it's dry. The element will break when you push it strongly, and you can't connect it that easily. So it's important to regularly wet it.

On the other hand, when your clay is too wet, it's like toothpaste, moreover, when there is a lot of water, it can be like a liquid.

Hmmm, maybe you will need it, you won't make a sculpture with that, but it can be done something different. Actually, I've never tried it! But I will. When your sculpture is very big, and you put too much water on it, it will disintegrate.

How to apply water?

There are a few ways to moisture the clay, but it depends on which stage you are. Clay absorbs water but not instantly like a sponge, so you have to add it in portions and wait.

  • When your clay is not a sculpture yet but it's too hard

Just put it in a pail, something that doesn't pass the water. Make holes in the clay or cut it with a knife or shovel. Pour it with water, thanks to the cuts, the water will be absorbed faster and equally. It can take a few hours.

  • When you have a sculpture and it's too hard

If it's slightly hard, just spray it a few times with water, every few minutes.

However, when it's quite hard, you can take a piece of material, as cloth, soak it with water, spray your sculpture and cover the dry element with the material.

How often should it be sprayed?

When your sculpture is not covered, it's good to spray it every 2 hours.

I suppose that you don't use your clay 24 h a day, every day. When you don't use it and you would leave it uncovered it will dry out, so later you will have to put a lot of effort mentioned above to make it ductile again.

But there's an easier way. Just cover it with waterproof material, and that's it. The water inside your clay won't dry out, because it won't have a way to get out.

You can simply use a plastic bag or anything like that. Just cover your sculpture tightly, it doesn't have to be hermetical, but the less air circulation there is the better. Before that just spray your work with some water.

How long can it stay like that?

You can leave it for a few days, if there is no air circulation (there is no way that the air can get in) there's nothing to worry about. From time to time, when you don't use your clay, spray it every week.

However when you have a sculpture that you're working on. It's good to spray it every day

Can I connect two elements which are quite dry? How?

Yes, sometimes a part of your sculpture can be broken by accident or maybe it wasn't connected strong enough. Here is what you can do:

Find the places where your sculpture was broken. Cut it with a knife, so that the feature of this surface will be rough. Prepare some clay mixed with water, it should be a density of toothpaste, so you can use it as glue. Connect it, push it strongly and retouch.

The case of big sculptures

When your sculpture is big, new problems may appear. Your sculpture can break under its own weight. To prevent this, make a construction. If you want to fire it, make metal construction, if not, you can make your construction of anything else, like wood for instance. The important thing is that the construction will support the weight of the clay, if it's really thin, it will work like a knife instead of construction. That's why you can cover your construction with other materials that will increase the surface of the support.

When you finish

Are you satisfied? Are you sure it's finished? So, here are 4 things you can do.

  1. Wait a few days when your clay will dry and that's it. The easiest way, your sculpture will be hard, however, it won't be very strong. The advantage of it’s when you add water, you can reuse it.

  2. Wait a few days to dry it, and then fire it. It's good to give it to someone who has an oven that is designed for it, because it sometimes requires just 700 C degrees, or more than 1000 C, or even more than 1200 Celsius degrees, it depends. After that your sculpture will change its colour, you can't sculpt it anymore, but it will be much more durable.

  3. You can make a cast. Just make a form and then you can make a cast of gypsum, silicon or a metal. Your sculpture can get completely new features. Unfortunately, the process can be complicated, but it's worth it. When you do it, try not to mess your clay, because you can use it again, and small pieces of dirt can be irritating.

  4. I asked above you if you're satisfied for sure, maybe you're not, maybe you feel the opposite. In that case, you can just destroy your work and create a completely new shape. Just make sure that you documented your work.

Any problems?

Our team will be happy to help you. I have sculptured in clay since I was 5 years old, so feel free to ask any questions.

Sometimes it's better to start from the beginning. When part of your sculpture is often falling away, it can be the fault of the clay. In that case, it could be a good idea to sculpt the element with fresh clay and replace it.


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