Last week I did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I created a copy of a Mayan stone carving, using our DIY air dry clay.
I got a lot of help for this project from our friend Rex Winn. When he heard that I wanted to use air dry clay to mimic a stone sculpture, he did some experiments and came up with some ideas that really helped. Thanks, Rex!
I made a copy of a Monkey head hacha that was found in Veracruz. Unfortunately, the images of the monkey hacha that I used for this project have been removed from the auction site where I found it, because it was sold. However, the hacha shown here is from the same area. It’s slightly darker than the monkey sculpture, but it was made with a similar stone.
There are a lot of ideas in this post that I’ve never shown anywhere else (because I’ve never done them before now). I know we’ll be able to use these methods on a lot of other projects in the future.
The three important things I learned in this project were:
- How to reproduce the shapes and proportions of a model. It’s similar to the way we make internal cardboard patterns, but in this case the “pattern” is drawn onto a board and then sculpted in clay or crumpled foil.
- How to use the Silky Smooth Air Dry Clay recipe to create the colors and textures of an old stone carving.
- How to make a very lightweight sculpture and background that can be hung on the wall, or used as a display for a science project.
I also used recycled brown paper when I mixed up my air dry clay recipe. A lot of people have told me that recycled paper would work for both the air dry clay and the original paper mache clay recipe, but I never tried it before. They were right – it works just fine.
Step 1: Create a grid and drawing on your work surface.
If you haven’t seen the video that shows you how to make a pattern for a sculpture using the grid system, you can find it here.
When the drawing is done, put some clear plastic shelf liner over it to protect it. The shelf liner peels off easily when you’re done. You can also clean the drawing off your work surface before starting your next project.
Step 2: Put pieces of clay over the drawing, using the lines as a guide.
It doesn’t matter what kind of clay you use for this step. I used WED clay, a wet modeling clay that I really enjoy using. You could use an oil-based modeling clay, instead. (And I’ll show you how to do it without using any clay at all – see below.)
At this point you don’t need to worry too much about getting the rounded shapes right. Just put each piece of clay in the areas between the lines on your drawing. You can make the clay thicker or thinner when you start refining the sculpture.
Step 3: Use photos as a guide to complete the sculpture.
This part of the project will be easiest if you have photographs that have been taken from more than one angle. Add clay or take some away, where needed, and smooth the clay. If you’re using water-based clay, as wet sponge will help you get a nice smooth sureface.
Step 4: Cover your clay model with plaster cloth.
If you’re using wet clay, spray it with Krylon clear varnish first, and let it dry for about an hour. This will help keep the inside of the plaster cloth a little cleaner.
If you’re using an oil-based clay, you might want to put a thin film of petroleum jelly over the clay to help you remove the plaster cloth.
You can find plaster cloth at a hobby store, or buy it online. I really like the medical grade plaster cloth that I order from the Brick in the Yard company.
Use two layers of plaster cloth, and let it cure overnight.
Step 5: Remove the clay.
It’s much easier to remove the clay before it gets too dry. If you’re using a soft oil-based clay, this isn’t an issue. However, I got distracted with another project and let my clay get a little harder than I would have liked. It’s easy to damage the thin plaster cloth shell if the clay isn’t still soft when you pull it out.
Alternative to clay and plaster cloth:
You could use crumpled foil and hot glue instead of clay and plaster cloth. If you do this, make sure you have plastic down on your work surface so the sculpture doesn’t get glued onto it. You can use the air dry clay directly over the foil, and there’s no need to remove the foil when the clay is dry. Your sculpture will still be very light.
Step 6: Make some air dry clay.
You could use a purchased air dry clay for this step. The DAS clay would work well. Or use my Silky Smooth Air Dry Clay recipe. My original paper mache clay recipe would work, too. It sticks well to plaster cloth, but it does have more of a paper texture than the air dry clay recipe.
I used brown paper in my air dry clay instead of the usual toilet paper, to make it a nice soft brown.
Brush water over the plaster cloth to help the air dry clay stick to it. Then press a thin layer of the clay onto the plaster cloth.
Step 7: Sprinkle on some sand.
When our friend Rex Winn did some experiments to make air dry clay look like stone, he used several different types of sand. He reminded me that most soft stone has a little bit of sparkle in it, if you look closely. Most sand also has tiny bits of quartz that reflect the light. The grains of sand also have different colors, which makes the fake stone look more realistic.
I found some yellow sand down in my basement, and it was the perfect color. It needs to be sprinkled onto the clay while the clay is still wet. Next time, I think I’ll use more sand.
Step 8: Press the sand into the clay.
Rex used an old piece of carpet in one of his experiments to press the sand into the clay and give the surface a natural texture. It worked well.
I used a home-made texture stamp instead, using a small sponge as my model and the instructions that you can find in this post.
Let the air dry clay dry completely. It will dry fastest if you put it in front of a fan, but you should always give it at least two days to dry.
Step 9: Make a foam base for your sculpture.
I covered a piece of 2″ insulation foam with two layers of dark grey grout. I used Mapei Utracolor Plus FA Rapid Setting Grout because I had some in the house for another project. It comes in a lot of colors, and you can buy it(or another brand) at any DIY store. I used one part water to three parts powder, and mixed well before putting it on the foam with a rubber spatula.
You could also use the original paper mache clay recipe instead of the grout. That’s what Terry used for her adorable giraffe wall sculpture.
Step 10: Give your sculpture a coat of varnish.
Seal the air dry clay and the foam backing with an acrylic varnish. I used DecoArt Soft Touch Varnish, because I really like the soft, realistic sheen it gives to my sculptures, but any brand of varnish will work just fine.
Allow the varnish to dry, attach your faux stone carving to the back with a few spots of hot glue, and hang it on the wall. I intend to use a few Command Strips for mine.
If you have any project ideas for a very lightweight sculpture, perhaps using the faux stone look, please let us know in the comments below. (I think a big fish fossil would look really nice in my living room…)