Looking for a fun art project? How about clay!? We’ve been experimenting with clay as I create a few art lesson plans that use clay. We’ve tried several different varieties of clay and we’ve each found our favorites.
I’m using the term ‘clay’ loosely here to mean anything you can sculpt. While traditional clay came from the earth (yep, it’s mud- no wonder my boys love it so much!), you can now purchase clays made from all sorts of synthetic materials. You can also make your own clay with ingredients that you probably already have on hand.
I have a pretty printable of my three favorite homemade clay recipes for you. These are all air-dry clays, so you won’t need to fire them in a kiln (a special kind of oven). You can download it here:
My favorite store-bought clay is Crayola’s white Air Dry Clay. It’s only $5.50 for 2.5 lb at our local Walmart and closer to $4 at Michaels with a coupon. (Where else can you get hours of entertainment for the whole family for that cheap?) Since it’s an air-dry clay you won’t need to fire it in a kiln (a special kind of oven), which is extra easy.
We used about 3-5 oz for each of our clay projects, so the 2.5 lb tub lasted us for quite a few projects.
Clay is a really fun medium to just experiment with, however, most students find they enjoy it more when they have some direction. (Which makes a lot of sense once you understand the Classical Model of Education!)
There are only a few clay-specific basics you need to know: some vocabulary, how to form basic shapes, and how to attach pieces together.
- Sphere: a ball
- Slab: a flat piece of clay
- Coil: a cylinder or long snake-like piece of clay
- Score: rough up wet clay in preparation for joining two pieces together
- Slip: water with a bit of clay dissolved in it
Two Elements of Art also get used a lot when we talk about clay:
- Form: the three dimensions of an object that takes up space
- Texture: the actual, or appearance of, three-dimensional raised areas.
Making the Three Basic Clay Shapes
- When working with clay, we usually start by forming the clay into one of the three most common starting shapes:
- A Sphere or ball, formed by rolling clay in a circular motion
- A Slab formed by flattening a ball
- A Coil formed by rolling a ball back and forth in only two directions
Attaching 2 Pieces of Clay Together
- When using clay, we use the “score and slip” method to attach two pieces:
- Score (rough up) the areas of both pieces where they will join by scratching crisscross lines in the clay. You can use a toothpick, a bamboo skewer, an old toothbrush or even a fork!
- Dip your finger (or old toothbrush) in the slip and then touch each scored area, leaving a bit of slip on each piece. (The slip acts like glue.)
- Press the two pieces together using moderate force and wiggle the two pieces slightly to encourage adhesion.
- Smooth out the seam where the two pieces meet.
Sealing and Painting Clay
All air-dry clay, even after drying completely, will absorb any moisture it comes into contact with. So if you plan to keep your clay creation, you may want to seal it with paint or sealant (but it’s still not completely necessary).
Paint with a Paint Brush
Paint is inherently wet, so, if you paint air-dry clay with a brush, you have to work fast! Paint the first coat quickly, not worrying about getting full or thick coverage. You’ll know you’re painting too slowly if the clay starts to soften or you start to pick up soft clay in your brush! Once the first coat is complete, let it dry overnight. It may be a little splotchy or transparent, but that’s ok. The next day, paint another coat for better coverage. (Yes, I’m obbsessed with gold paint!)
This is a quick and easy way to seal the clay or add color. Spray your clay creation from one angle, let it dry for an hour or two and then turn it and spray the other side. Let it dry overnight, then you can spray the bottom if you’d like.
If you don’t want to add color, you can also spray a clear sealant. I tested out three different types and they all seem to work well. The homemade clay seemed to need three coats of sealant whereas the store-bought clay only needed two coats.
On this fully 3D bird, I sprayed the bird with a clear spray sealant first, which allowed me to paint fewer coats of gold paint than I had to paint on other projects without the sealant
Other Ways to Add Color
We’ve also experimented with other ways to add a pop of color to our clay projects. It turns out both markers and colored pencils will work on all the different types of clay we tried. We still had to spray the clay with a sealant afterward, otherwise, the ink ran and blurred when wet.
Now have fun with clay! Here are some great art projects of lesson plans that use either store-bought or homemade clay.
I keep a stash of fun clay projects on a Pinterest Board, all about clay.
I also happen to really enjoy Cassie Steven’s book, Clay Lab for Kids. See if your local library has it or a similar book of sample clay projects!
If you try clay, post some photos and tag me! I love to see the artwork you’re doing with your students!