Air-dry clay is very different from potter’s clay or polymer-based clays. Many people think of it as a beginner’s clay or something for kids to play with. In fact, many professional artists enjoy working with air-dry clays for their simplicity and a change of pace.
Surprisingly, for such a common item, there isn’t as much information available for air-dry clays as there is for other types. One bit of information we have found difficult to locate is what materials air-dry clay will adhere to.
If you have wondered what air-dry will and won’t stick to, keep reading. Here we answer that question and offer our opinion on the best surfaces to work air-dry clay on.
What Does Air Dry Clay Stick To?
Air-dry clay sticks very well to plastic. While this makes sheets of plastic less than ideal for a working surface, it does open the door for some wonderful projects.
Taking a plastic cup and decorating it with air-dry clay is a great project to introduce kids to creating useful art or creating one-of-a-kind baby shower gifts.
It should be noted that some slicker plastics won’t bond as well with the clay. In these cases, you can roughen the surface by lightly sanding it. It is also helpful if the plastic is moist before the clay is applied.
Air-dry clay will and won’t stick to wood. Virgin wood that has not been sealed in any way or treated sticks to air-dry clay and will remain bonded even when the clay dries. This makes wood ideal as a base for sculptures or as part of mixed media pieces created with air-dry clay.
Unfortunately, many times wood that has been oiled, stained, varnished, or sealed with other methods doesn’t adhere well to air dry clay. Often they may stick for a while but break loose over time.
Canvas and air-dry clay do not bond very well. Some artists have found that thinning the clay at the contact area does improve the bond but only to a limited extent. Even if treated with gesso or plaster, the bond will not be solid or long-lasting once the clay dries.
There is little that will stick to silicone other than specially formulated adhesives. Among the list of things that have no hope of boding is air-dry clay. Wet clay tends to slide on the surface, and dry clay can be easily lifted free.
Air-dry clay will stick to metal wire and roughened metal surfaces. Many sculptors use wireframing for their work, and metal armatures are a staple in the claymation industry. However, smooth and flat metal surfaces do not bond well with air-dry clay. They tend to break loose and allow pieces to slide. If you want to use a metal plate as a working surface, it is important to roughen the metal with sandpaper or steel wool before you begin work. Even then, it will be less than ideal.
Tin Foil / Aluminum Foil
Tinfoil, or Aluminum Foil as it is more accurately called, is in essence just thin sheets of metal. The same concerns that apply to any other metal surface will apply to it. You can achieve some temporary bonding between foils and air-dry clay, provided the surface has been prepped properly. However, a permanent bond can not be achieved.
All air-dry clays will bond to themselves when wet. How well the wet clay will bond to dry will depend on the particular clay that you are working with. If you are wanting to place handles on pieces that are already dry, it is best to rewet the dry clay and then blend it together with the fresh. Otherwise, you risk them pulling apart.
Air-dry clay will tack to plastic wrap but not really stick. That is one of the reasons that air-dry is often wrapped in plastic for storage. Plastic wrap is a very smooth extruded plastic film that has a very sticky surface. This allows it to cling to itself, but it remains slick enough not to bond well with other surfaces.
Glass will bond with air-dry, especially if it has been moistened before the clay is applied. However, once the clay has dried, the bond is not as stable. As an example, if you want to use a drinking glass for the base of a clay vase, is recommended that you glue the dried clay to the glass.
Air-dry clay will stick to most cardboards other than laminated and coated types. Keep in mind, though, that it is not the best companion to use as a base or form. When cardboard comes in contact with water, it tends to get mushy and deform. If you should decide to use cardboard with air-dry clay, you will need to work the clay as dry as possible.
Styrofoam bonds to air-dry clay very firmly and remains so even after the clay has dried. Many artists use it as a weight and clay-saving form inside sculpted works. One word of caution here is that styrofoam should only be used with air-dry clays. Polymer, ceramic and other clays that must be fired don’t work with styro. The styrofoam will melt and deform when heated.
Best Work Surfaces for Air Dry Clay
The top choices among professional artists as a work surface with air-dry clays is the same as with most other clays.
in that order.
Metal has the advantage of being very resilient and difficult to damage while providing a solid work surface. It holds the clay well enough to work even when stiff clays are used but not so tightly that you are likely to deform a piece when removing it.
Wood as a potter’s work surface is very traditional, and that appeals to many artists. It also has the advantages of being reasonably cheap, easy to find, and supplying a firm grip on your work. The downside to working air-dry or other wet clays is that, over time, it will tend to soften if kept constantly wet and it can be easily dinged.
Plastic may not presently be the top choice among professionals, but it has come to dominate the market with teachers and novice potters. Fairly cheap, light, and compact, there are wheels on the market for less than $25.
If you are not looking for a wheel but just want an inexpensive surface to work air-dry clay on. Then scrap pieces of plywood and vinyl flooring can often be had for free from friendly tradesmen.