I’ve been so impressed with how naturally most kids take to clay. It’s a medium without mistakes- Just keep playing with it until you like what you see! I laid out all the basics of working with clay here. Air-dry clay is nice because it doesn’t need to be fired in a kiln (a special kind of oven) but still dries hard without crumbling or cracking.
You can make your own air-dry clay at home or purchase some. One of my favorite homemade clay recipes is for Cornstarch clay. It’s best for flat cut shapes, imprints, and low reliefs. However, it’s not as easy to sculpt as other clays because it doesn’t stand up well against gravity while wet.
To Make Cornstarch Clay
- 1 c. Baking Soda
- ½ c. Cornstarch
- ¾ c. Water.
Mix all three ingredients. While stirring, cook about 3-5 minutes on the stove until it has a dough-like consistency. Let cool enough to handle and then kneed.
This makes a little over 1 cup of clay. You can easily make this clay a few days before and keep it in a ziplock bag to keep it from drying out.
Tip: You’ll want to only cook it until it looks like clay. Sometimes it turns out too wet and needs to sit out and dry an hour or two before it’s easy to work with. Don’t try to keep cooking it to dry it out faster (I tried it and it just made the clay crumbly).
Cornstarch Clay Projects
My favorite way to use Cornstarch Clay is on flat projects where we’re not actually trying to sculpt anything. Here is an example project that you could use when doing a science lesson about leaf shapes or imprint fossils.
- Roll a small ball of cornstarch clay (~1/8 cup) into a ball and then flatten it into a circle/oval.
- Use a straw to create a hole in the top of the ornament. (If you forget, like me, you can slowly drill a hole, as shown in the photo.)
- Press your favorite leaf into the clay and remove. An imprint of the leaf will be left behind.
- Allow the clay to dry slowly, turning after a day, so the back can dry too.
A relief is a three-dimensional project that’s like a flat wall on the back. You’ll want about 1/4 cup of clay for this project. These often decorate walls and doors in important buildings. Creating a clay relief would be a great project to do when studying a relief artist like Ghiberti. In fact, I have a full lesson plan called Creating Relief Sculptures with Ghiberti.
Sculpting with Cornstarch Clay
As I mentioned above, cornstarch clay is not ideal for sculpting, but you can still do it. You’ll want to have some supports available while drying because this kind of clay doesn’t stand up well against gravity while wet. In the photo below, a small bowl provided the perfect support for my bird’s beak and tail feathers, which kept trying to droop. I also found that I needed to set the Cornstarch clay on a paper towel to help it dry and not stick to a surface. Once dry, the clay is hard and the support is no longer needed.
Sealing and Painting Cornstarch Clay
Like all the air-dry clays, even after drying for several days, cornstarch clay will absorb any moisture it comes into contact with. Sealing the clay will fix this (but it’s not required). You can use paint or a clear sealant.
If you want to paint it with paint brushes, be sure to paint the first coat quickly. Put a quick thin layer of paint on your creation and let it dry. Then you can go back and add another coat of paint. You can also spray paint the clay with a sealant or spray paint.
On this silver bird relief (pictured above) I painted a quick coat of silver paint and then let it dry. Soon I could paint a second coat without having to worry about the clay softening. On this fully 3D bird, I sprayed the bird with a clear spray sealant first and then painted it gold. The first coat of gold paint was still thin though, so I painted a second coat on it. (This particular gold paint is thinner than the silver paint and often needs three or four coats, so I think the sealant helped to reduce the number of coats I needed to paint. But look at how shiny it is!!!)
I hope you’ll give this type of clay a try. It was fun to work with on flat projects (but a little challenging to use on fully three-dimensional subjects) and I plan to use it again soon! Let me know if you use it and how it works out. You can leave a comment here or join our Anyone Can Teach Art Facebook group!