Adding Home-Made Air-Dry Clay to the Indian Rhino



I’ve been working about an hour a day for almost a week now to get the Indian rhino covered with the air-dry clay. Now all that’s left is to finish the other side of the head and give her some toes. Then I decide how I’ll finish her.

I know you’ll think I’m nuts, but the primary reason for making her (I decided it’s a girl) is because I want a large picture of a rhino to go over the couch in my new living room. I’ve been imagining that rhino in just that spot ever since I decided to buy the house, way back in December. But there’s still no rhino on my wall.

I tried to paint one on canvas, but I didn’t like the way it came out. Now I hope this lady will work instead. The sculpture won’t go on the wall, of course, but if I like her enough when she’s done I’ll photograph her (or hire someone to do it for me) and then print the photo poster-sized. I’d like to take her out to Oakwood Lakes State Park to get a nice background that I can fiddle with in Photoshop. Not that I actually know how to do that, of course…

Anyway, take a look at how the new air-dry clay works for rhino skin.

63 thoughts on “Adding Home-Made Air-Dry Clay to the Indian Rhino

  1. What is the glue you apply to the plaster before adding the clay? Have you seen any issues with the plaster removing moisture from the clay?

    • I use a mixture of water and Elmer’s Glue-All, a PVA glue. The air dry clay will dry quickly if you use a thin layer, as I suggest, but I haven’t had a problem with the combination of the plaster cloth and the air dry clay. You can actually add the air dry clay to the plaster before it dries, and they will both dry together.

      • Perfect! I’m planning on using the plaster + clay to make a mask. I’m also going to experiment with painting liquid latex over the clay so I can get more of a skin texture/look.

      • Saw your recipe…TY very much!!! I live in Sweden and I don’t understand what joint compound is…and not Elmers glue???

        • Hi Maria. The Elmer’s glue is our version of PVA glue. And he joint compound is used to fill in the cracks between two sheets of drywall (plaster board, gypsum board, sheetrock) when a new wall is built. I don’t know what it’s called in Sweden.

  2. I am writing to ask your advice. I made a small egg shaped bird figure out of cardboard covered with paper mache. I decided to cover the paper mache with paper mache clay, made from your recipe (mostly). When the clay dried, I found I could not smooth the surface of the bird no matter what I tired. I sanded mostly, and found myself with a surface shown in the photos attached. I am wondering if you have experienced this and if you have any recommendations for preventing or coping with an irregular surface like this.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Rick. Yes, the paper mache clay does have a texture to it. I like it, but some people would prefer it be smoother. There is a smoother recipe, which you could use as a very thin layer on top of what you have, or you can use the home-made gesso instead. You might need three or four layers, sanding each layer as it dries, to get your really smooth surface.

  3. hello Jonni

    I am a huge fan of your work and zest to share knowledge from your experience w paper macho clay. I am extremely inspired by your videos, in particular this rhino project.

    After watching your videos I set out to create a life-size adult rhino based on a painting by famous conceptual artist Josh Keyes entitled “The Collector.”

    I began by downloading the gridded template that you posted that you used for your baby rhino. I scaled up the parts to make the rhino about six feet tall by 8 feet long and roughly 3 feet wide. I looked at your gridded template and painted each section (head, torso, legs) on sheets of 1/4″ plywood.

    I took my paint on plywood template to a local steel fabrication expert. He used heavy gauge steel tubing in 1″ and 3/4″ diameter and essentially traced the template that I painted (which scaled up and traced from you)

    We mounted the beast on a rectangular platform, to stay true to the painting and to make the 1000 lb animal easily moveable by forklift. We fabricated custom forklift extensions so that it would not tip off the end of a forklift as the platform is about ten feet long.

    After fabricating the steel armature we followed your directions and made the bulk out of newsprint enrolls procured at the local newspaper and a whole lot of rolls of masking tape. Probably 30 rolls of masking tape give or take if I had to guess.

    On top of that we put a LOT (about 50) of rolls of 12″ medical grade plaster bandages purchased from brick in the yard (as recommended by you)

    Basically, the animal is roughly 6-8 ply thick of plaster bandages, which have completely dried.

    I am posting this because I need to step up your air dry clay recipe to industrial proportions. I am thinking I might need 2 55 gallon pickle barrels full of the air dry clay to complete this project.

    Could you help me think of the recipe to make lets say 200 lb of air dry clay (lets say 1 55 gallon drum full)

    can you think of the best way to mix it? Would you say all at once in the pickle barrel or in smaller increments in a 5 gallon bucket and then add mixed clay into a pickle barrel?

    Any help and input would be greatly appreciated because I don’t want to mess up a huge batch. also any points to avoid cracking would be helpful!

    Thanks again for all the energy you put into maintaining this site and openly sharing your knowledge!!!!

    You’re awesome Jonni!!

    • My, this is a huge project! I’m impressed. But I’m not sure how you’ll make so much clay all in one go. You don’t want to make more than you can use in one session, since it will eventually mold in the bowl. It needs to be spread thinly and then dried quickly. It might be possible to use a paint mixing attachment on your drill, but I don’t know if it will result in the smooth product that I’m sure you’re looking for.

      Do let us know how this turns out – I can’t wait to see it.

  4. Hi jonni i absolutely love watching your tutorials and i have just ordered two of your books i wondered if you have done a tutorial of the animal doll book ? because that is one of the books i have on order.i am at the moment in the process of making my first air dry clay sculpture and it is a humpty dumpty which is sat back i will upload it for you to see when ive finished.. Thankyou for all your tutorials and blog
    kind regards karen

  5. Hi Jonni,
    I am unsure what the best forum is for asking you a question, but here I go. I’ve done a project with 30 children – wire armature, paper, and masking tape figures with the homemade airdry paper clay over them. Sadly we have about zero budget and only poster paints to use on them. Poster paints are highly water soluble so I’m concerned about what will happen and I don’t want to ruin all their lovely work! Question is, what type of gesso would you recommend they use before painting – or do you suspect it may not work at all to use this type of paint? Any suggestions would be very appreciated. I meet with them again this Thursday for this next step! Thanks – Brooks

    • Hi Brooks. How old are the kids? And how thickly do you intend to apply the clay? I only ask because if you’ve only got a few days to do this project, the drying time really matters – and thickly applied clay will take a long time to dry.

      I haven’t used poster paints for years, but it should work just fine if you seal the sculptures with Acrylic Gesso. It might also work if you use the glue and joint compound gesso, but I haven’t personally tried it so I’m not sure. Can you whip up a test sculpture at home and try it, just to see?

      • Thank you so much, Jonni. I have been working for several weeks on the project in stages, so they’ve already completed the sculptures for the most part. They are just 8 and 9 years old , and though some of them had a hard time applying the clay in thin layers, there was plenty of drying time, and they’ve done very well! I have done my own tester so I’ll see how glue and joint compound works. Perhaps a clear coat of something at the end might seal the vulnerable poster paints but what that could be I don’t know. Poster paints, being designed for “washable” school use and a cheap budget are NOT what you’d call archival (sigh). The school has been one of those selected to display at the National Gallery here in London so I’d love to send a pic of their creative results when we’ve gotten there! Your generous site has been incredibly useful and inspiring. Thanks for your reply!

  6. Hi Jonni
    This is my first time using the new air dry clay. I did a brook trout as my fish from your book. (great book, once again) The fish is 4 inches tall and just over 8 inches long. My guestion is: Should I use the homemade Gesso before I try to paint my little fish?

  7. Connect the dots – Jonni style! Ms. Rhino should get front and center right over your most comfortable sofa.

  8. Hi Jonni,
    I’m sending pics of another doll face from a mold, where I tried to put in eyes and lids.
    This is also from the soft new clay (paper porcelain) I need more practice, but oh well.
    This was a plastic molded face intended to be sewn into a cloth doll but I have used it as a mold and it seems to work just fine. I used the cornstarch as a release agent.

  9. Love, love, LOVE the air dry clay recipe! Truly awesome stuff:) I recently nabbed a free lamp from a neighbor who was throwing stuff out. It was just a silver pole with a light bulb basically. I created the form, taped it up, mached it, then put the air dry clay all over. I’m making a gnome house! It’s for my daughter’s room. Not painted yet, but getting to it today;) I’ll be posting all the step by step pics I took (of course I had to document it) on my blog as soon as its finished???

  10. Hi Jonni,
    Thanks for the recommendation. I have a Nikon Coolpix 4800 digital camera.
    I’ll dig out the manual and see what I can figure out.
    Also, I was so impressed with the pothead you created a while back for your dad. (I think)
    I made one for my daughter-in-law and she posted it on her facebook page. She loves it and I was glad since I question my creative efforts.

    • Hi Kat. I did a Google search for your manual, and found one here (pdf). It looks like the magic search term for your manual is “Image Mode,” and the instructions are on page 75. The setting you want is for the TV Screen, 640 x 480.

        • Hi Jonni,
          You were exacly correct. The TV setting gave me less than 250KB per picture, thank you so much.
          The three faces are from a fruit mold intended for plaster of paris. For the most part they took the impression well. I didn’t do the top part which are the leaves because I wasn’t sure how they would work. I used the new soft clay and powdered the molds with cornstarch. I pushed the clay down into the mold sort of hollowing it a bit so it would dry more efficiently and allow me to use tin foil or styraform ball to anchor the back of the head to. After the clay skimmed over a bit I gently removed them from the molds, left them to dry overnight and I don’t think they’re too bad for my first try. I am really loving this paper mache. Thanks again Jonni

            • Hi Jonni,
              The mold is made of plastic. There are 8 different pieces of fruit. I got it back in the 90’s, I think the company is called Flexmold. Not sure why the mache looks yellow in the pic they are cream colored like the soft mache.

      • I found my manual. On page 85 it gives me the option you suggested and one that said Webpage I will try one if it doesn’t work I’ll try the other. For now I will see if the notice I got from my daughter-in-law will post of her “pothead.” Thanks for helping me.

  11. If you look at the background, it is to busy, you can see a green tarp in the back and a lot of lines sticking out behind the glass. I will make a PDF file for people to see what not to do. This series is why I keep my mistakes. That is why I have to edit also. These keep me humble and tell me not to get to cocky.

    • Sorry, I will have to make the photo smaller. I will go into my photoshop elements 10 and modify the photo.

      • I hope this works. This photo is the classic do not do. If you look at the background you will see a tarp, green chair and a very busy background.

          • They both worked – thanks for editing the photo so it would fit! I have taken so many photos like that, because when I’m taking the picture I only see what I want to see. Then I look at the photo and there’s electric lines running through it, or garden hoses, or something. Aggravating!

            Thanks for the tips. I’ll go check out that YouTube video about the light box – I’ve been wanting to buy one of the fancy ones from Amazon for years, but couldn’t justify the expense. Home-made sounds a lot better!

            • You will not regret it. This will work just as well as the most expensive and all you have to do is raid your Wal Mart or local grocery store for the boxes. and if you have a threadbare sheet that you plan to throw away, this will make for covering the tops and the sides.

  12. Hello Jonni and all the fans of Ultimate Paper Mache, I have been asked to do a tutorial and I have some ideas and it got me to thinking. One thing I learned along the way is that you do not reinvent the wheel. I am posting some sites for the fans of this blog to make a simple light box to really bring out the sculptures and in future posts I will show how to set up a hot set to showcase your work.

    http://youtu.be/z1bAh193Iwc
    http://www.wikihow.com/Creat-an-inexpensive-Photography-Lightbox
    http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent

    In the utube tutorial, the girl uses t-shirts, an old sheet will do.

    Remember, I said that I did a lot of photos that showed what I should have done but did not? I was looking back at a series that I did with my glass cutting projects and I have one post on what not to do. One tip, when shooting outside, always look behind what you are shooting, as it does not take much time to be concentrating on your subject in front of you that you do not see the distraction behind you. This next photo will showcase that faux pas.

  13. Jonni,
    Can you or anyone else explain to me how to take or reduce a picture to the size of 250 KB so I can post my pic of the faces I made in a mold? Thank you

    • Kat, every camera is different, but they almost always have a setting that allows you to choose the image size. I have a Canon PowerShot SX30, and the manual calls it “Changing the Recording Pixel Setting (Image Size),” and Changing the Compression Ration (Image Quality). It wasn’t easy to find in the manual, so I had to use the search function. Since it uses symbols on the menu, I can’t explain it very well here (but it wouldn’t help much anyway since you probably have a different camera). If you set the camera to take a “Small” picture, the file size will be perfect for this blog, and the picture itself is still plenty big enough to see.

      Since this probably isn’t very helpful, tell us what kind of camera you have, so we can be more specific. We definitely want to see those faces you made in the mold!

  14. I was glad to see you address the crack issue as I found the same thing happened on my box turtle shell. The first coat was regular Jonni clay, then the air dry clay, so it is not because of the plaster cloth. I had done the shell in segments and if I did not completely attach them to the next segment, it cracked or shrunk away. It was an easy fix though- I fixed it just like you did- I guess I am starting to think like Jonni! I will post the turtle when I finish the paint job. The rhino is looking great- will you show us the finished photo?
    I also appreciate all the tips on photographing from everyone. Do you remember how I got into that art show? Well they contacted me to see if I could provide a photo of one of my sculptures to feature on their invitations! What an honor… I am floored as this is my first attempt at showing. Talk about validation! Now to see if I can get a decent photo, if not I will get a professional. Thanks everyone for the tips.

    • Wow – congratulations on getting that spot on the invites! You’re heading places, girl!

      And yes, I agree about the importance of photos. I just asked Christine if she might be interested in giving us a guest tutorial so we could all make our artwork look a bit better online. Maybe if we all beg, she’ll give us some more pointers. 🙂

  15. You are so talented! I love watching the step by step progress. I can’t wait tosee the finished piece. I hope you’ll show us the picture you take for your front room.

  16. It’s a trophy animal! A great animal.

    Why not photograph the rhino on a white or black backdrop and then drop out the background in Photoshop and paste it on any photo background that suits your eye? I recall that some chap carried a red living room couch around the country and photographed it in every photo he took on the trip. Obviously, he didn’t have Photoshop. Creatively, you might set your rhino gal well back into the frame and see if anyone notices that it isn’t real. It’s kind of a cruel intellectual test.

    Since my muddles are now in real mud, rather than paper mud, I’ve learned that dry clay just won’t stick to wet clay. Ain’t going to happen. But you can get adhesion if you get the dry clay as wet as the wet cay you are adding and dry it as slow as you can. A local class caster here in Aheville attaches cold glass to cold glass “chemically” – read as “glues” his stuff together. He gets thousands for each sculpture. There are some amazing glue out there.

    I’ve made fifteen pieces of clay based sculptutal art since January and have yet to have something explode while being fired. Surprise! Mostly to me.

    Doesn’t your young rhino lady need a little brother and/or sister?

    Jim

  17. Hi Jonni. Impressive rhino. But the cracks are hard to deal with if they crop up often. Do you suppose its because your going over dried gauze which is inflexible? Regardless, I’m curious to know how your new recipe works so will have to try it over the gauze. One more thing – it resembles dried plaster when cured – but is the open working time longer than plaster or commercially available Sculptamold? As you probably are aware this product contains plaster + paper, and whatever else they put in it. It dries very fast and you have to work rapidly. I’ve used it over gauze with the cats I sent pictures of. Nice job, especially with the armature which must have been difficult to construct.

    • Hi Joanne. Actually, the cracks only developed where two pieces of air-dry clay were put on next to each other, but not blended in together properly. The clay itself didn’t crack, but the two pieces pulled away from each other, leaving that space between them. When you’re careful when applying it, even over really large spaces like the second side of my rhino, there is no cracking.

      There’s no plaster in the mix, so it doesn’t set up fast like the Sculptamold product. I tried that product once, and it seemed to set up really fast (because of the plaster, of course) but then it took forever to dry. This air-dry clay will form a drier skin on the outside when it comes into contact with air, but doesn’t really “cure” the way plaster does. You can re-wet it if you need to work on an area longer. And it takes at least 10 minutes for that to happen anyway, so you have quite a lot of time to play with it.

      By the way, for all the folks who didn’t get to see Joanne’s cats, you can find them here.

  18. Jonni, that beauty is coming along just nicely. Like I suggested to Debra, if you were to photograph that Rhino when it is finished against a green or blue background, making sure the background is flat, you can super impose that on any background you choose. I can do that in Photo Shop Elements. There are a lot of people who would love to help you with your poster. Make sure you have even light all over the rhino sculpture. Debra’s moon and cow was just begging for that same treatment.

    • Christine, I know a lot of us would love to know more about taking good photos of our work. Would you have any interest in writing up a guest post for us? (With examples of your own work, of course! 🙂 )

      • Yes I would. I will work on that right away and should have a post by the end of next week. I will have to work and think about that. I could write a series on the different ways to set up your work. My approach is that money is tight I do my setups on the cheap that anybody can afford to set up and take good photos. I will send yo a PDF file and let you see what you think. I started working on the that but now I will change direction on presentation.

  19. Hi Jonni,
    I’ve been waiting to see how she was going to look with the Paper Porcelain layer and I’m so impressed! You certainly have the skill to get all the right folds in just the right places. I’m trying to get the courage to post a pic of how I used JPP in a doll face mold. I will do it soon. I really like getting back into paper mache(ing) with your mix. I will be watching for her final outfit. Thanks for generously sharing your talent.

    • Yes, we definitely want to see how the air-dry clay works in a mold. I’m wondering if you’ll get folds and voids when it’s pressed into the mold? And what sort of release will you be using?

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