Softening VERY Crumbly Clay

The other day I needed a lot of white clay for an upcoming class on polymer clay mosaic, but the clay was VERY crumbly…. Over the years I have heard many many theories on clay consistency: “white is always dryer” “black is always harder to work with” etc … and while I have had my fair share of dry whites and hard to condition blacks, but I have also had many WONDERFULLY consistent clays straight out of the wrapping, in both these colours. So in my experience it is less about which colour and more about which batch. After seeing all that they do in the factories with air conditioners and so on, they work VERY hard to get the clay consistent across the board, and this applies to all brands, but some just come out softer than others. AND, don’t forget that some that come out of the packaging “perfect” can be clays that become too sticky to work with the more that they are worked… so there is a VERY fine line that the manufacturers need to work with!

I have also opened packs of clay that are 6 or 7 years old and been just fine (it’s amazing what you find when you clean out the dark corners of studio cupboards! …. and nothing should be wasted right?!!), … Β and others that are fresh and new and still need a ton of extra conditioning to get them going… so what does one do when a pack of clay is too hard or crumbly?? I am not talking about clays that need that little extra conditioning before they are right, I am talking about the stuff that just keeps crumbling and refuses to be conditioned!

One way is to use clay softener. I am not very good at this. Yes I have tried it and yes it works a treat, but problem A: is that one has to be very careful of using too much and it going mushy …. which of course you don’t realise until it is too late!! And B: is that to do it best you need to put it in a zip lock bag over night to absorb at it’s own pace, and this takes both time and patience, both of which I forgot to stand in line for when God was handing them out!!! So what is a quicker, easier way??

Translucent clay!! The first reason that this stuff is great is that it is USUALLY (but not always) more on the softer side of usual clay, and secondly, it doesn’t change the original colour. Of course if you use a TON then it can lighten it somewhat, but mostly it just makes the colour you are mixing it with go further.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 6.22.02 PM

1. I started by conditioning half a block of translucent clay which took 2 seconds because it is so nice and soft πŸ™‚ then I rolled it on one of the thinner settings, cut it in half, and broke off bits to cover any holes so that I had a full sheet of translucent clay, and laid it under the machine ready to catch all the crumbles of white clay. I then cut the white clay into 3 thin slices and ran one of them through the roller on the widest setting. The crumbles fell through and landed in a pile on the bed of translucent clay πŸ™‚

2. I gently removed the whole thing being careful not to drop anything, and spread the white clay over the whole piece of translucent so that spread it out evenly (I will do this another day using a colour other than white sorry!!)

3. I then covered the whole thing with the second half of the translucent clay and squashed it down. By now all the crumbles of white are embedded in translucent clay and so won’t fall all over the place as we proceed. You will still have a few bits who get away but for the most part this keeps them all contained πŸ™‚

4. I then ran the whole thing through the machine as I normally would to condition, and eventually had a consistent clean white block of fairly soft clay.

I then repeated the process with the second third of white clay, using the conditioned translucent/white mix as the base, and then when that was worked through I put the last of the three parts of white crumbly clay through. I ended up with a whole block of white and half a block of translucent mixed, making it one and a half blocks of pure white πŸ™‚

Of course if I had some white clay that was very soft I could have used that instead of the translucent, and earlier in the week I needed some skin tones and so used a soft terracotta as the base and added the crumbled white to it and it worked just as well. So this worka for mixing colours as much as it works for simply making more of one colour!

In the end I had all the white I needed to make this dove for an upcoming class, and here it is baking with some red embellishments that I made the day before!

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 6.27.04 PM


Enjoy πŸ™‚