Working With Clay

Working with clay can be both simple and fun and confusing and challenging if you haven’t used clay before. It isn’t always as simple as grabbing some clay and molding it into the shape you desire, however it can be that simple! Today we are going over the basics of clay so you will know what clay to buy and how to work with this resource. We cover the different types of clay and some great tips and tricks so you can have success working with clay.

Working With Clay

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Working With Clay

Types Of Clay

It is easy to assume that all clays are the same, that is until you go to purchase it and realize that this is in fact untrue. The clay that potters use is different from the type of clay that bakes in the oven which is different from clay that can air-dry. There is even clay that is designed to be molded into different designs and doesn’t really harden.

Pottery/ Ceramic Clay

potters clay

Pottery/ ceramic clay is the traditional type of clay that potters use. It is often found at the bottom of rivers or streams but can be found almost everywhere and it is cheap. From this state, it is processed into a more workable form of clay which is then used to be made into pots and other decorations. This clay includes Earthenware, Stoneware, Ball clay, and Porcelain. All of these clays have different firing temperatures, colors, textures, and uses. If you are interested in pottery clay Pottery Crafters has all the information you could ever need and is well worth having a look through their website.

When it is wet it is squishy and elastic and easy to make a variety of different shapes. As it dries it hardens and can become brittle however it can be made soft again by getting it wet. If you have this type of clay and it has become stiff and hardened it can be recovered by wrapping it in wet cloths and leaving it in a tightly sealed plastic bag overnight. To store this clay it is easiest to seal it tightly in a plastic bag and place it inside a plastic container.

This clay is normally air-dried before being heated to high temperatures in a kiln to make it permanent. It can however be used for kid’s crafts and can be left out to dry and decorated with acrylic paints and varnished with white glue or other sealers.

Air Dry Clay

air dry clay

Air-dry clay is a great clay for all of your home clay projects. It is similar to pottery clay however has been designed for ease of use and made to dry hard without the need for heat. You can add water if it is feeling dry or to smooth out cracks during the drying process and add more clay once dry. Different brands of air-dry clay shrink and crack at different rates. This clay is left out to air dry and can then be painted or sealed with a glaze. It is available commonly in natural color tones and can be found in a variety of different colors. This is a great option for beginners as it is simple to use.

Polymer Modeling Clay

polymer clay

Polymer clay is available and sold under a variety of different brand names. This clay can be painted however it is also available in a wide variety of different colors so is a great choice if you are wanting to make colorful creations that set hard without needing paint. It is easy to mold and is baked in the oven to be made hard. Results can vary based on the thickness of the clay and how it has been baked in the oven however polymer clay tends to be more durable and less prone to shrinking than air-dried clay.

Oil Based Modeling Clay

oil based clay

Oil-based clay is often called plasticine or modeling clay and stays soft and moldable and comes in a wide variety of different colors. It is easy to work with and great for kids who want to make projects in a quick and simple way. Oil-based clay is that it doesn’t dry out and harden like other types of clay. This is a great starter clay for young children or if you are wanting to make models where the parts can be altered and moved into different positions. Oil-based clay is normally very affordable.

Tips & Tricks

There are a few simple things that you can do to make working with clay successful. Firstly have some basic sculpting tools. You can buy kits of different shaped tools or if you are wanting to save money you could use a toothpick and old knives, forks, and spoons. A rolling pin or similar is also very useful to have.

Cover the surface you are working on. We have used pottery clay in the past as we were lucky to be gifted some from a local pottery tour. The kids had a blast but it was very messy! For the other type of clays, a plastic mat may be sufficient but if you have precious furniture it is always safest to cover it when having fun with crafts and clay.

Start simple! If you are new to working with clay make sure you start with a simple project. It is easy to imagine a big and impressive project but like all art forms, clay takes time to perfect. Kids will love making simple shapes and experimenting with different tools. Even a rolled-out piece of clay with different patterns marked on it with tools is lots of fun! As your get used to working with clay try something more difficult. Remember to take your time and have fun!

tips and tricks with clay
Joining Pieces

To join pieces of clay make criss-cross lines with a fork or other tool on the two surfaces to be joined. Depending on the clay type used, moisten with water and push the pieces firmly together. Smooth out until the join is invisible. It is usually easier to form a shape by adding clay rather than stretching out the clay that is already there.


Drying will depend on the type of clay used however it is good to keep in mind that most clay will shrink as it dries. If the clay is uneven then it will be more prone to cracking therefore keeping clay models at an even thickness is ideal.

Finally, if children are creating with clay make sure you let them experiment and be creative. It is easy to want to take over when you can see a ‘solution’ to what they are working on but they are capable of their own creativity. A good idea is to start by showing them some basics such as how to roll a ball and how to use a rolling pin. Demonstrate on your piece of clay how to use the different tools but with plenty of encouragement, they will get the hang of working with clay.

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