Sculpting with clay is so much fun, especially when done with the right type of clay.
However, there are so many types of clay both natural and synthetic and you can’t easily say a particular type of clay is better than others because they all have their pros and cons. Your choice of clay is determined by your personal preference, what you intend to work on, and several other factors.
Your level of experience and expertise is also an important factor since some types of clay are better for beginners than others. So, you do not just choose any clay at random. You need to learn about the different types of clay.
In fact, it is better to patronize a store that offers a wide variety of clay types. Your choice will depend on the options available to you. There are natural earth clays like terracotta, stoneware, and earthenware but you need to understand that these ones are water-based.
Their synthetic counterparts are oil-based. The synthetic clays are collectively called polymer clay. The major advantage of polymer clay is that with proper finish, it can be sculpted to look like other materials like stone or metal. Most importantly, it does not dry out fast so it is easy to work with.
In your choice of clay, you should think of the project you intend to work on. If you plan to glaze your sculpture, then you are better off with natural clay. Your sculpting time frame is a factor to consider too.
Polymer clay does not dry out fast, so if the project will take you days or weeks, you need to opt for polymer clay as it does not dry fast. However, if you have to use natural clay for such project, you will need to keep moistening it regularly.
Since you will need to fire your clay, it is important to consider the kind of firing equipment at your disposal. Terracotta, stonewear, and earthenwear clay should be fired to a temperature between 1,800 to 2,300 degrees. If your firing equipment cannot offer such high temperatures, you need to consider polymer clay that does not require up to that. With polymer clay, you are good with an ordinary home oven.
Even if you enjoy working with a particular kind of clay, another type may be better. So, as a rule of the thumb, it is better to work with different types of clay before you choose the most preferred one. At least, you should work with a small quantity of natural and synthetic clay to know which one works better for you.
Texture is another feature of clay that matters. Different types of clay have different texture and every sculptor likes some textures better than others. Since natural clay dries out quickly, it is advisable to have a spray bottle of water handy when working with it. That way, it will be easier for you to moisten the clay while working on it.
General features to look for in clay
Good clay should be pliable enough to assume any shape you have in mind. It is pliability that makes sculpting fun. You can’t have fun when you are struggling with the clay you are using.
In fact, you may not be able to implement exactly what you have in mind when your clay isn’t pliable. You will only end up creating a sculpture that is as close to your original intention as your clay allows you. Remember, it is also pliability that allows kids to have fun molding with clay.
You should also ensure you select the clay that dries slowly. With such clay, you won’t be working under the pressure of completing it before it dries up. You won’t also need to keep wetting it as you work. Well, this may not be a problem when you are working on smaller projects that you can finish within 24 hours. But if it is a large project that will take days or weeks, you need slow drying clay.
There is no point buying different types of clay for different projects when you can buy a particular one that works for all kinds of sculpting projects. So, you need to ensure that the clay you want to purchase is suitable for all kinds of projects. It should also be suitable for children, beginners, and sculpting pros.
Another angle to versatility is being ideal to use with tools and hands. Some types of clay are better when you work with your hands and others are better off with tools but ideal types of clay are the ones that are great with both hands and tools. This should be your best bet.
To cut cost, it is better to purchase the exact amount of clay for each project. But you can only do that if you have a wide variety of sizes or quantities. In other words, size variety matters too and you should consider it when you are buying your clay.
That being said, here are some of the best types of clay for sculpting. They exhibit all the qualities discussed above.
1. Aurora Sculpting Clay
This clay makes it easy for you to create any sculpture. Its only drawback is that it comes in only gray color but that should not be a problem because you can always paint it with the paint of your preferred color. You just need to wait until it’s dry before you paint it.
If the timeline for the project is not tight, you can finish it up and air-dry it instead of firing it. You can use it for a wide range of projects and most importantly, it is suitable for children since it is safe. Kids can also have fun with it, sculpting what they like.
2. Amaco Clay
The most attractive feature of this clay is that it does not dry out fast. So, it is great for beginners. You can take your time while working with it and you won’t need to keep spraying water on it. The clay comes in different sizes but it also comes in only gray color but you can paint it. You can also choose other varnishes. It is all up to you. This clay is very soft and pliable enough for kids too.
For larger pieces of sculpture, it can be used with pottery wheel. It can either be fired or left to dry up on its own but this will take a relatively longer time. You will definitely enjoy the way it feels in your hand while working on it. Whether it is a small masterpiece or a large project, you can’t get it wrong with this clay. As a reputable sculptor puts it – work is fun when you are working with the right clay. This clay is the right clay.
The clay is oil and wax-based and it is why it is relatively more flexible than most other types of clay. It should not come as a surprise that this clay is mostly used for special effects.
3. Polyform Sculpey Super Clay
This clay is also very pliable and it dries slowly. It is great with both hands and tools. The clay comes in many different sized packs and this gives sculptors more quantity options. The quantity to buy will depend on the size of your project. The clay is produced in brown and beige colors. Color really does not matter as you can paint the sculpture when it is completely dry.
Since it is versatile, the clay can be used for very many projects and it is easy to glue multiple pieces of the clay together. It is also versatile or multipurpose in the sense that professional sculptors, children, and beginners can use it. Finally, sculptures made with this clay have stood the test of time. Durability is one feature you can’t take away from this clay.
Creativity is a trait that is common among the best sculptors all over the world and this clay gives room for innovation and creativity. It is also important to include the fact that there are many more great types of clay apart from the 3 that have been outlined above but they were just selected at random among the best types of clay. They have also been arranged in no particular order.