This is the finished plaque I have been working on for the last week; it is yet to be kiln fired and glazed, but this is as far as I think I’ll go with the clay work.
I made it using paper clay, which is basically normal clay mixed with cellulose fibers to make it lighter and stronger. Adding paper pulp and other fibers to clay reduces shrinkage in the drying stage and strengthens joints. It also makes it easier for wet and dry pieces to be joined together without the piece cracking.
I bought the clay for this sculpture ready made, but sometimes I make my own paper clay.
The easiest way is to use dry bits of scrap clay and then add water so it dissolves and revert back to slip…
…like this. You can see an earlier discarded attempt to catch the face I used in the sculpture above. I love the way she’s softly dissolving in the water…
You can then mix the clay slip with ripped up newspapers, egg cartons or toilet paper. The proportion of clay slip to paper pulp varies, but a typical sample would be 4:1. The clay slip and paper pulp are mixed thoroughly together, with the best results achieved using a blender or electric mixer. The blended mixture is then laid out on plaster batts to dry a little so it can be wedged into balls of clay. The proportions can vary from 5% to 25%; you may need to experiment a bit to find out what suits your work best.
Making your own paper clay is economical and versatile, as any clay body can be used.
But the shelf life of homemade paper clay is only about two weeks, so it needs to be used up quickly; if kept for longer, the organic cellulose starts to break down and decay which makes it unhealthy to use. Besides, the paper clay loses its special properties when the structure of the cellulose fibers break down ; toilet paper is more prone to rapid decay. To prolong the shelf life, you can add a small amount of disinfectant (but not bleach) to the wet mixture before drying it out on the plaster batts. You can also roll out thin sheets of paper clay and let it dry out completely. When you want to use it, you just moisten it up with a damp cloth.