Why We Stopped Using Air-Dry Clay

The long and short is that we found ourselves running headlong into the limitations of air-dry clay with frustrating regularity.

To be very clear, air-dry clay got us started, and it’s still an excellent medium to use depending on an artist's needs, but we no longer feel very comfortable excitedly recommending it to everyone we meet. Air-dry clay is great for personal home projects, but as our quality of work improved, we realized that it wasn’t the right medium for delivering the quality we wanted for our work and for our customers.

The biggest drawback to air-dry clay is twofold; the durability, and its absorbency. We’ve tried many things to try and mitigate different parts of these issues, from glue washes for strength to hardy floor varnish for paint job protection. In the end, none of these tests gave us peace of mind that we were delivering a truly lasting product to our customer.

If you’ve followed our Instagram, you may know that in early 2019, we made the choice to begin phasing out air-dry clay sculptures, shifting to polymer clay and resin casting. You also might know that we’ve struggled with finding time to execute the plans we have for the shop - it takes us ages to reach our goals, and by the time we do, we often find that the goalposts have moved once again.

Spring 2019 was a lot of researching new materials, planning masters for resin casting, and trying to finish up the seemingly endless pile of in-progress air dry work. We spent that summer much the same, frustrated by our slow progress, but determinedly chipping away at the works-in-progress.

Then we showed in the 12th Annual Santa Fe Renaissance Fair. Saturday was a huge success! Sunday… it rained.

We’ve done shows in the wind. We’ve done shows in the cold. We’ve done shows in the dark. But somehow we had never done a show in the rain before. It rained for hours. We rigged up tarps, moved our air-dry products away from the edges of the tables, and felt the humidity in the air climb. Our sculptures felt it too.

Now, our care instructions for our air-dry clay work has always been “wipe with a damp cloth, but do not submerge or expose to moisture for long periods of time.” Nature clearly hadn’t read our care instructions. A paint chip there, or broken spike here - seeing what prolonged moisture did to our hard work was all the convincing we needed to decide that all air-dry work needed to cease immediately.

There are drawerfuls of sculptures that will probably never be finished.

It comes down to this: air-dry clay is amazing, and in the right conditions, work made from it will last a very long time. Some of our relatives were our first customers, and keep their figurines in dry shelves or glass cases, and they look just as good as they did when we mailed them out. I don't expect that to change as long as they are properly cared for.

The problem is when you make and sell a product, you want a little more guarantee that the item will hold up. With air-dry clay, we just don't feel like we have that guarantee. Delicate parts like wings and long horns won’t hold up as well as if they were made from stronger materials such as polymer and epoxy materials, so it’s limited in what it can do without breaking, and it’s very weak to water. Anything more than a quick swipe with a damp cloth risks re-hydrating the clay, weakening delicate details, and compromising the bond between the clay and the paint.

For those reasons, we decided to steer our shop away from it, as hard and fast as we were able. We stopped feeling comfortable sending out air dry products to our customers, but for a home project, it’s a great, affordable way to let the creative juices flow.

If you want to look into using air-dry clay for your own projects, you can read more about what kinds we’ve used, and product reviews for them in our past blog posts.

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