Sunday, April 18, 2010

Oh Paperclay, Please Be My Friend

(crossposted, sort of, with the Fantasy Artists Emerging forum)

I have a big ol' block of paperclay-- that is, the dry just-add-water papier-mache stuff, not the actual-clay-with-paper-in stuff-- and I am dying to use it. It's fun to play with, and just the thing for the ever looming summer heat-- wet, ovenless crafting! Yes! Artists do wonderful things with this stuff. Make masks. Furniture. Custom paper surfaces to do wonderful collage art. It's cheap, it's energy-efficient, it feels wonderfully slimy and cool in my hands. It's like working with mud again, and my inner toddler is infinitely delighted.

The thing is, I am AWFUL with this stuff. Everything I've ever made with paperclay turns into a heap of lumpy paper and sadness. I can get general shapes across, but it takes forever to dry, humps oddly, and has big lumps-- not minor texture, big tumorous lumps-- all through every project. I've read many tutorials on using paperclay, but they all focus on individual projects over personal horrible technique.

What I need is a tutorial on How To Stop Screwing Up Your Paperclay, Carapace, You Awful Cruel Paper Abuser You. What I get are pages on pages of text that assume I am a halfway competent human being who knows what I need to do. I'm not! I don't! And I keep wrecking my paperstuff.

I love paperclay. I want it to love me back. And right now I am outside the window with minstrels singing ballads,beginning to suspect that Paperclay is more into bikers...


MarZel said...

OOhhhhh poor Cara!! So are you working with the grey colored papier mache or the white paper clay???

If you are working with the grey papier mache... well, it is difficult to work with. It lends itself to building bulk on structures, with paper clay or polymer clay over it. If not, it is great for sculptural designs that want texture!!!

As for the paper clay, you must work quickly and even adding water can either make it mush or not adding enough it can still crack and dry while you are working on it. I make that work for me...the cracking.

But no matter the clay, everything starts with a good armature and building bulk with a basic shape structure. Then smoothing the clay and working quickly is simple.

Paper clay shrinks a lot for me, so I only use it on certain types of art.

You know, if you can do experiments with it and post it as a tutorial... you will learn a lot, have great posts and discover techniques that work for you.


mermaiden said...

oh boy, i need to make something with paper clay but have not tried yet and now i am afeared.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Oh! This is something I actually know stuff about.

1) are you using this stuff?
If so, it will ALWAYS be sort of lumpy and doesn't sand well. It's FUN FUN FUN to work with, and you can smooth it to an extent by letting it air dry for 15-20 minutes after you're done shaping by smoothing it with more water (or a flat sponge or your hands). Alternatively, I've heard it casts decently well in a mould. But it will never be super smooth.

2) On the other hand, the traditional newspaper paper mache as a base or over the fully dried (minimum of two days, more if cold or wet out) smooths it quite well. And it sands really nicely, so you can get a very nice smooth surface with lots of patience and elbow grease. (I use 1 part wood glue, 1 part water, and enough corn starch to thicken it to whole milk consistency for the paste.)

3) Activa Creative Paperclay ( ) while more expensive, this stuff is very light, sands like a dream, Hand smooths very nicely, and while very brittle, can be used as a smoothing layer over something else to get a lovely texture. (Freya "wing horns as well as that snake necklace I've shown you both are made of Creative Paperclay).

Armature and careful regulation of moisture while drying do lots for your finished product, but it's also important to use the right material for the right job.

I have more links on getting good results out of paper mache, I'll get a list together later.

Carapace said...

Marzel- the stuff I have is grey. I've only used it for very basic things-- tried to make some small paper balls and such, just to see how it works. Well, and once I tried to mold it to a mask. That worked in a not-at-all way. Is the white stuff notably different in performance?

Mermaiden- there is a very good chance that you will be much much much better with it than me. You have far better handworking skills, for one thing. And you're used to building structures and all with your hats. And you can read Ruby's comment, here, and see what she has to say!

Ruby- Yes! THANK YOU! You are my goddess of paperyclayity things. I will happily study any learning links you happen to send my way. Your masks are what inspired me to start playing with the stuff in the first place!

Undaunted said...

OOh, it all sounds very interesting and exciting! I've never used paper clay before - of any kind. I wouldn't mind having a go though. I look forward to seeing your results - lumpy or otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Generally, when using paper mache, it comes in either the paper strips everyone used in grade school, or the mush-air drying clay variety. The air drying clay variety is mostly what you'll be interested in, but I include the other links as it is very useful to use both types together for things like masks. <- a homemade air drying clay I want to try making but haven't yet. The miniature roses she sells are made of the stuff, tho, and they have WONDERFUL detail. The webpage is a bit annoying to navigate, however. <- a neat article about WHY paper mache is such a neat material, plus recipes you can make at home instead of buying which are good for different uses <- recipe and text instructions on mask making with a paper mache <- actual paper mache technique videos are here, LOTS of embedded youtube videos, but one of the better tutorials I've seen for actually doing paper strip paper mache that looks GOOD.

As for working with an air drying clay/mush style mache, the trick is to refine takes a while (days usually) to dry, and as it drys it is still shapeable but more firm than when wet. This means it is easier to make less...blob like. Also, once dry, it is easy to work with using tools like sandpaper, a razor blade, a dremel type tool or a drill. Also, it can be colored by mixing paint/dye in the material as you shape it, or painted once dry.

Be aware that air drying clays ALWAYS shrink slightly as they dry, so cracking can be a problem...just fill the cracks with more clay and smooth with a little water.

Oh, and Activa Creative Paperclay specifically is mostly what I've worked with, and it can be re-moistened from completely dry to a slip-type of consistency and everywhere between. The only problem with this is that when fresh from the package it will have a less cellulose texture than when re-moistened. I find a TINY amount of lotion worked into the clay helps keep it perfectly smooth.

Jingle said...

I just bought my first block of creative paper clay (they stuff that is already in 'clay' form) and I'm so nervous! This post didn't help that much, actually! LOL! Your sounds a bit more like paper mache, though, and I work with that a lot. I avoid pefectionism with it, for starters, but I also have found that the more mushy it gets, the more detailed I can get with it. I like to work in strips for larger areas and then just mush some up for the specifics. Have you tried sanding after it is dry? Maybe that will help?