DAS Air-dry Clay Review

Updated: May 1, 2020

Before The Beast Boutique even existed, we started playing with DAS. At the time, it had the best dollar-to-pound ratio, for one, and we were broke. I never liked it, though I made some of the pre-Beast Boutique sculptures in our gallery with it. Once Theresa got her hands on it though, The Beast Boutique was really born. It became our primary medium for the first year and a half of operation, and remained a staple of our air dry phase right to the end.

Anyone who has used polymer or stoneware clay will find it's a very different experience than either of those. Theresa and I talked about how to write this review - there are features that either complement or conflict with our different workstyles,and it’s hard to sum up with a list of simple pros and cons, so let’s start with the features. (DAS also comes in different colors - we only used the white, but I imagine the other colors would have similar properties.)

So, say you just ordered a bag of DAS. You get that sleek, foil-like package, open it up, and probably the first thing you’ll notice about it is the strong odor when you open the bag. It’s a vaguely paint-like, chemical odor. That smell never really goes away, though it does become less pungent after you open it. For someone with sensitivities towards chemical ‘fragrances’, like me, this may be a bit of a turn off.

Next, you reach into the bag to grab a bit and it’s slimy! Ick! Don’t worry - that goes away once you condition the clay a little. DAS does need to be conditioned before you work with; most clays do, but this one has a rather stiff body, and so it particularly benefits from a little massage before you start working.

The firmness of this clay could be either a pro or a con, depending on your hands. For example, I have a lot of issues with my hands and wrists - joint pain, mostly. The stiff body of DAS was a big turn off for me because it was much harder to work, and left my hands sore. In contrast, Theresa doesn’t mind the firm body - in fact, she prefers it! She really likes being able to push the clay this way and that, and DAS is suited to that.

As the clay is exposed to the air, it starts to do something no other air dry clay I’ve used does. It forms a leathery skin. This is another point of contention for Theresa and I. She doesn’t mind it, and even used it to her advantage when shaping her work, but I hate it! If you’re looking for a soft, malleable clay will blend smoothly with itself mid work-session, the skin prevents that. The reason this worked for Theresa is that she forms the main body of her DAS sculptures in just one or two pieces, and has little need for blending. Instead, once the skin forms, it can be shaped and smoothed, and burnished, and she used that to her advantage.

(DAS does sometimes develop small surface cracks as it dries and the skin begins to shrink, but depending on your patience levels, these can be touched up with more clay once dry. Something great about this clay is that adding new parts to dried ones works pretty well. Adding beads and other mixed-media accents is also possible due to this clay’s low shrink rate as it dries!)

Other things about DAS we were able to agree on include its resistance to water. DAS is very resistant to re-hydration. It was easier to incorporate neglected, dry lumps of clay into new sculptures than to try and turn it back into usable clay. (I don’t recommend this clay as a slip - if you must, go ahead, but be prepared to tend to your maturing slip quite intensely - lots of stirring. And if you leave if for too long, it starts to smell like bad microwave bacon. )

As you continue to work the clay, you’ll notice that it begins to cake itself onto your hands, drying into a second layer of skin. DAS’s water resistance comes back into play here, making the clay mad hard to clean up. Off of tools, off your hands, the table...you name it. Your best bet for getting off of anything in a timely manner are those green scrubby pads - you know the ones. If you love yourself, you’ll buy a couple of those for cleaning up when the fun is over.

Adding onto its weirdly hydrophobic tendencies, on the bright side, you will find it very hard to accidentally melt your sculpture down into slip! On the not-so-bright side, paints and washes tend to just...slide right off at first. I recommend sanding, and then applying gesso to help with this.

Now, you’ve painted your work, set it up on a shelf….and your cat has a sudden, demonic compulsion to let gravity work its magic. What happens then? DAS has this weird habit of crumbling when it breaks - there are rarely any clean break lines. This makes things a little tricky to repair, but it can be done. That said, it would be nice if DAS broke more cleanly. As it is, a repair usually entails removing and resculpting the damaged portion using fresh clay, or gluing two portions back together and fixing the seam with fresh clay.

So! We’ve made it all the way from opening the bag to the cleanup and cat-astrophe afterwards. What’s the conclusion? Well, DAS has a lot to offer as a sculpting medium whether it has good properties or bad ones is up to the sculptor. Let’s recap!

In the end, this is a great clay for those on a budget, or who like a firm air-dry clay that's on on the heavier side. If you want to give DAS a try, you can buy it here! Happy Sculpting!

Additional notes:

The smell of normal DAS is a strong chemical smell. If your bag smells like almond extract, and has a slightly yellow tint to it, ask for a refund or just toss it. We got a bag like that once, and it was useless. It was fragile, broke and crumbled at the slightest provocation, and we ended up trashing it.

No air dry clay is truly waterproof or incredibly resistant. Humidity and moisture will still work their evils on your work if exposed for too long. The ‘hydrophobia’ that DAS exhibits is just in regards to how stubbornly it resists water in a work session capacity.

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