The Clay Effect – Air Dry vs. Bake

Nature has it’s way of healing. Clay has been used for making arts and crafts since times immemorial. An easily available, natural material, used to make numerous household and decorative items ; mud and clay also have cooling properties. Playing in mud or working with clay can have therapeutic effects too.

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai has a section dedicated to the evolution in this art. They take us through different types of clay that were used and the evolution in designs of the objects made from clay. Yes! Even though it is called ‘pottery’ world over, many artisans have unique methods in : mixing the clay, making the art and designs and drying the objects.

I got to work on the potter’s wheel thrice. We made pots of different designs each time. I don’t think I can do it all by myself though. Pottery is a very skilled art. We definitely need help from the artisan for the start and the finish. At summer camps they call a local artist and arrange for the potters wheel as an added attraction. One thing that I clearly noticed is, that all the potters had a different mix of clay. They used the local soil or mud and mixed it with other ingredients such as minerals to prepare their clay.

Once the pot was dry, I would decorate and paint it. ‘Pot Decorating and Painting’ as they call it, is an art anyone would enjoy. Those who work in the kitchen might find it similar to working with a dough. We also make toys or models from clay. India is a country of festivals where we make idols of gods and goddesses from clay. Clay sculpting is a very well known and age old art form here. The ‘Diyas’ we make during the festival ‘Diwali’ are an example of painting clay pots and lamps.

Then there is another art, where we use mud or clay to decorate the walls. It is called ‘Lippan Art’. ‘Lippan Art’ is a traditional art in India where mud mouldings are used to make decorative designs on walls or panels. Thereafter the entire panel or wall is painted in white. Once dry they embellish it with mirrors. It is definitely worth a try if you get a chance. Essentially in white, we also get them in coloured designs. Workshops in Lippan Art are held during the summer holidays.

These crafts are best done in their studio settings or at the artisans place. In India as tourists when we visit the countryside or village, we may get a chance to try them. Whenever I visit the interiors I make it a point to learn, try a local art or interact with the local artisans. It is very insightful and is my idea of a fun and interesting holiday. These clay arts are difficult to do in a home setup. At home, we can make other items that have a simpler process.

For arts and crafts at home, we use Clay that is available at art and craft stores. Basically for hobby crafts and crafts at home there are two types of clay : one is the air drying and the other one that needs to be baked. We can use them to make many artistic objects from the comforts of our home. I have made wall murals, decorated wooden and glass panels, mirrors, jewellery and toy models with both types of clay. Yes! I know friends who have made saleable products from these. They are now successful small businesses.

‘Lamasa’ is a clay craft where the clay is coloured using natural ingredients from the kitchen. The clay is a type of a dough made from corn flour. The process includes mixing and heating the clay dough. Varnish is applied to the dried clay models for lustre. Statues and sculptures made using this technique are expensive and famous world over. Have you heard of it?

Plaster of Paris (POP) is also a kind of clay used for craft projects. POP Sheets are used to make decorative ceilings. We also mix ceramic powder with glue to form a paste. Fill it in cones (like mehendi) and make designs. I have used this method in making traditional Indian folk style wall murals.

Unfortunately I made these artworks more than a decade ago and I don’t have pictures to share. If in future I make these again, I will be happy to share them. There are loads of images, designs and videos on all these crafts online, if they interest you.

There isn’t a recommended type of clay here. It is to understand one’s crafting process and decide which clay will be suitable. There are some differences in properties and methods on processing both types of clay. We need to understand these differences to choose the clay best suited for our project.

Air Drying Clay – As the name suggests, this clay hardens naturally if left open in air. It is available as two separate materials to be mixed well for a chemical reaction. The clay made from mixing hardens over time in natural air. In the meantime we have to shape it. The time we get is barely a few hours. This clay is a bit messy and sticky to use. So, we dust it with talcum powder while working. This clay is either black or white. We can paint it with acrylic paints after it dries completely.

Bake Clay – This clay is available in a variety of colours. It is oil based and needs heat treatment to produce a chemical reaction for bonding. The clay hardens only if it is baked in the oven for the correct time at the right temperature. It is quite advantageous for an artisan to work with it, if the design or product is time consuming.

For my artworks I have used the white clay of the brand ‘M-Seal’. White so that it is a good base to paint any colour shade. Moulding Clay by ‘Fevicryl’ is also good. For the bake clay, I used the pack from the art store by the brand ‘JAGS’. There are other brands and types, but I am happy using these. If you wish to try, you may use the same ones for your crafts.

Here is a short intro to clay crafts. Have you tried any of these? Do share your experiences in the comments below. Have an arty week ahead!

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