Art Sculpting Overview
From snow to ice, wax and clay, sculpting is a fabulous art form that can be cathartic and expressive. Whether you are a professional sculptor or a mom looking to entertain her kids for the afternoon, sculpting is a great way to spend your time. Let's take a look at sculpting with clay, the different types of sculpting clay and different techniques of how to sculpt clay.
Clay comes in an abundance of variations. The most time-honored is the regular reddish brown earth clay that has been used for millennia to create hardened objects such as dishes, containers and even building segments. On the other side of the spectrum, clay has been artificially recreated and now has several plastic-based look-a-likes that also work splendidly for a number of projects. There are four main types of sculpting clay that we are going to deal with: Air drying, plastiline, polymer and ceramic clay.
Plastiline/plastacine- Plastacine is an oil-based clay that never dries out. For this reason, it is often the preferred modeling clay for sculpting. It comes in a variety of colors, is wonderfully workable for making small details and plastacine won't stick to your hands. This clay can't be fired though, so a mold of the sculpture has to be made, and the actual finished product is made of other materials such as resin, bronze or plastic. If you just enjoy shaping projects and don't mind putting it all away afterwards, this is a great clay for sculpting such projects.
Ceramic (a.k.a. pottery or earth clay)- Ceramic clay is easier to work with than polymer or plastiline because it starts off much softer and stiffens with time. It is also simpler to work with because no armatures are involved. Ceramic clay is natural clay, so parents and artists won't have to worry about kids or pets, and it is also cheaper than the manufactured plastic types of sculpting materials. Ceramic clay comes in terra cotta or grayish white tones and becomes harder dries out the more it stays in contact with air. This means your project has a time limit after which it will be unworkable. Keeping the clay moist, though, can prolong ceramic clay's lifespan. When the sculpture is completed and left to air dry, it is cured through firing in a kiln.
Polymer- Polymer clay sculpting is the expensive form of this art. Polymer is a PVC compound that can be cured at medium temperatures, even in your own oven. People enjoy this because it means you have a finished product quickly. If curing on your own, though, be careful not to do it too quickly or to slowly or you may end up with a brittle or crumbly finished product. Sculpey and Fimo are two of the most popular brands on the market. Polymer clay comes in a huge variety of colors. A number of techniques can be used on polymer such as carving, sculpting and texturing, making it a crafter's delight.
Air drying- Also known as self-hardening or self-curing, this clay will cure without being placed in the oven or fire. When using air-drying clays you can make use of materials that you normally wouldn't be able to because of their inability to be fired or baked. Epoxy air-drying clays dry into an extremely durable consistency and will stick to nearly any material. Despite it's firm drying process (which can happen overnight), epoxy self-hardening clay is actually quite easy to work with for several hours. Air-dry polymer clay does not dry as solidly as epoxy, a feature that can be used to your benefit. When working with smaller or intricate details, you can make these portions separately and attach them later after they've hardened without the fear of ruining the details.
Pottery clay is something we will not be dealing with in this series of articles. Pottery clay is used to make earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain items. A turntable is rotated at varying speeds to keep the clay in motion as the crafter gently manipulates the clay with his hands and water. Pottery clay is then glazed or painted. Finished products are baked in a kiln using incredibly high temperatures.
Water based clays are good and soft, easy to for small or fast projects. It dries out quickly, though (over a few days) so it has to be kept moist or it will crumble. Too wet, though, and the clay will sag or run. Water-based clays are not great for small details.
Oil based clays remain malleable and can be used over and over. They also work well with molds, but they can't be cured so you will not have sentimental items that last forever made from this clay.