The old klutz dives in again


The story so far

I am so bad with modelling clays. I think I’m slightly better at chipping out a shape from a block than shaping one in it, if you see what I mean.

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

Shields and figures carved in balsa are more recognisable

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

than 2.5 inch DAS modeled items

Types of air drying clay

There is a much wider choice on the market since I last looked years ago when I bought DAS. I had fun exploring the possibilities to see if I could get a handle on what might be the best clay for me and came across one dedicated to work in papier-mache (website) which is well worth many visits.

Generally there is quite a mix of choices of medium amongst the sites I found; however, most of the them displayed work of a much larger size. So, I wanted to see if paper clay or papier-mache would rub down enough and be controllable (by me) on a 1:12 scale?

To find out, my Christmas request was for some paper clay or equivalent. Not yer actual Creative Paperclay as it doesn’t seem to be available over here in the UK.   Don’t get me wrong, you can purchase it from the States. However, the pre Christmas price for the postage was almost three times the price of the item (£24 delivery cost would you believe), so Santa and I agreed it would have to go on a future wish list.

As it happened, Santa brought me Art Mache from eBay and, as mentioned, I’ve already got DAS clay. These I’m having an exploration with.

Day 1 and 2


I want to squirm around on my seat like a little kid because of my ineptitude, but there’s really no point in being squeamish when sharing dismal results so I’ll jump right in:  so here goes.

I’ve started with the bag of magic dust that makes up into Art Mache as it’s the newer challenge. I mention the dust aspect because I found I preferred mixing it wearing a mask – it really does float about in a very fine haze.

Mask on, and following the general instructions for the mache, I made a mix and let it stand and kneaded it as instructed. At a slightly thicker mix it might be excellent for plastering walls and shmearing on a model armature/framework.

Even slightly thickened, it had me wanting to reach for flour or talc or even oil to stop it sticking so much to every tool used and totally coating my hands. It was like trying to work with unproved bread dough with too much water in it and an after thought of chewing gum. I’d got something very wrong here.  It stuck to everything and was most reluctant to be smoothed out. It gave a general look of a ball of porridge.

I’ve since made a much, much, much thicker mix, let it stand uncovered for a couple of hours, kneaded it, let it stand again and kneaded it again and am now storing it in a plastic bag. Instead of the recommended 3:1 dry to wet for the schmearing mix, it’s more 16:1. It’s still pretty sticky but does not appear to be as universally adhesive. I’ll have a go with it tomorrow and see if I can manage better.

Photos of ¾ inch balls of clay

Meanwhile, as you can see from the photos, I’ve returned to the ever present DAS air drying clay which almost feels oily in comparison to the mache. I’ve already failed to get a handle on this medium when it comes to getting a smooth finish. I know each attempt is good practice in gentle handling and fine movements, so I’ll keep on with these two materials until they and I understand each other a little better and manage to make some sort of peace pact.

Day 3

Some improvements

 The Art Mache is much better and is an altogether pleasanter handling experience, (as long as I don’t dampen any area too much, at which point it becomes a slurry).  I wonder if it will be better still tomorrow.

Rolling out

I’m rolling it out, partly to help with the kneading but also because I’m using an aluminium foil core to the head shape. I’m doing a tight ball or ovoid shape and then sticking a piece of kebab skewer through from top to bottom. I’ve left the stick inside as, for me, it makes a good way to handle the head whilst trying to work on it. I suppose I should use a wire frame/armature but I’ve not yet worked out how to make one I can get out. (I must spend some time on that).

When rolling out, cling film is recommended on various web sites for most clays, and it is good but has a will of its own too, and does ‘flirt’ about the work-surface with every draft that passes. I’ve settled on, at least for the moment, a piece of stationary stationery.

You know the file pockets for A4 pages that you can buy by the 100? Well not one of those, because they’re too thin for my purpose, but one of the open sided ones that are meant for a group of documents. Open at top and down one side and in a much thicker grade of plastic, I can slip a ball of clay inside and roll it out to my heart’s content and still get it to come off without sticking. The packet is also very easy to clean.

Storing bits of clay whilst working

As well as the major lump of medium in its plastic bag/sealed tub, I do keep a little piece of cling wrap (weighted down) by my side to slip in the bits I break off or will be using to build up areas as the shape progresses.  It’s useful to know its safe from drying out if I walk away to do something else in the house or answer the phone etc.

Other materials

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

Kitchen towel or some blank, un-printed equivalent, the cling, the thicker grade plastic and aluminium foil.

Today’s work on DAS 2

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

DAS 2 receives an undercoat before another sanding

Clay working tools

By day 3 I’ve limited my materials and tools to what I can handle.

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

Despite having some recommended modelling tools (bought from Aldi from one of their odd displays) I’ve found that to-date I’m using the following items most often:

  • plastic rolling-pin
  • big needle
  • broken toothpick
  • kebab skewer – flat and pointed end
  • 1 x medium thick soft bristle brush
  • 1 x thinner soft bristle brush
  • fingers
  • screw top jar with water
  • small tray to rest wet brushes and hold a small amount of water
  • wipes of some sort to keep hand clean

as well as using various sizes of the throw away trays and wrappings from shopping of yesteryear. Jelly pots, fruit trays, fish trays, etc and you need at least one with an air-tight lid.

I recommend a deep and narrowish bowl shape for mixing the papier-mache powder; one you can get your hand in to knead the stuff, but otherwise the deeper the better, in order to contain the floating dust whilst first mixing.

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

Bowls, tubs, tins etc being recycled

Rubbing down

theinfill - trying air drying clays - Medieval, Tudor and Jacobean dolls' house

I’m using 100 and 150 sandpaper along with a piece of a foam sanding block plus water and finger tip. I think this is something that’s going to need serious reassessment as I go along learning.  And many repetitions.

Present plans

I’m trying to take at least DAS 2 through to some sort of conclusion – painted and vaguely usable or binned – whilst still trying to learn how to refine the work and photographing the results.

But I’ve also sent Santa off after a couple of late items, both air drying clays.  (Well, he’s in his off season now, isn’t he?)  It turns out that the well known online seller who had the Paperclay before Xmas is now selling it with no postage! A chance not to be missed, so I’ve ordered a little of that. It still has to come from the US so that will be a wee while yet.

It seems that another likely candidate, Model Air Sculpey, can’t be bought over here either and is not yet available without vast carriage charges, so I’ve gone for Staedtler Fimo Air Natural which boasts of being:

  • Extremely break resistant


  • Ideal for crafting dolls and puppets

and, as DAS items can be as friable as plaster if knocked and generally fragile when dry, I’m hoping that this air drying Fimo means ‘break resistant’. I also hope that it will, like other Fimo clays, have a little of the translucency that you see in many of their colours. I’m not holding my breath on that one but I am finding that paint on the DAS, for instance lacks the ‘look’ you see on the Fimo dolls. Of course it would help if I could get the surface that bit smoother.

A Contest

It’s going to be, a “head to head” (sorry) of four different materials, as I’m determined to give doll heads and limb making a go one way or another.

  • DAS
  • Art Mache
  • Staedtler Fimo Air Natural

and, now that they aren’t charging vast postage from the States

  • Paperclay

There is a further one I came across but I think that would be really going over the top: Sio-Plus Self Hardening Clay. Anyone used it?

Hopefully I’ll be able to train myself to produce something with one of the materials if I persevere long enough and meanwhile I’ll keep you posted on the wobbly, but hopefully improving(?) outcomes.

A few of the wonderful sites I’ve recently come across:

and there are hundreds more

Other info:

Charles Laughton

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