How to use air-dry clay and create an authentic African Mask with 4 bonus tricks

Hi, I’m Lillian Gray, South African fine artist, and today we are going to be covering the basics of working with air-dry clay. In this video we will be covering:

  • How to wedge your air-dry clay
  • How to roll a proper slab
  • How to join different section
  • What is slip?
  • How to finish off a clay artwork
  • The characteristics of air-dry clay

So stay tuned for how to store your clay which is a very important step, so we don’t have a lot of tears at the end of the stunning project.

Wedging the air-dry clay

This step is super important to get your air-dry clay malleable and to get rid of all the air bubbles inside. Air is the enemy of air-dry clay and will make it crack.

Wedging your air-dry clay makes it malleable and soft, and it gets rid of all the air bubbles
Wedging your clay is very important

Rolling the perfect slab

Use a roller to roll out the slab of clay. If air bubbles appear while you are rolling, pop them with a pin and continue rolling. Use two dowel sticks to make sure that your slab has an even thickness all over.

To cut your clay, you can use a sharp, pointy edge, to get a proper, square slab.

air-dry clay African mask. Rolling the perfect slab
Use a roller to roll the slab

When you are using shapes and forms, it is very important to cover them with soft paper. A paper towel works very well. The reason is that clay shrinks and needs a bit of movement. The paper towel allows the clay to shrink a bit, while it is drying.

Using air-dry clay to make an African mask, using a mold to create the shape
Cover the mold with a paper towel to absorb moisture from the clay

So just gently press, not too hard, to get it shaped over the form.

Air-dry clay African Mask, placing your clay slab over the mold
Place the clay slab over the mold

I have decided to make an African mask for this exercise. I’m still going to use my little pen, just to cut and I’m going to now figure out the shape for my beautiful African mask. You have to round off clay, it is very important to not have a jagged edge.

Air-dry clay African mask, creating the shape of the mask
Use your pin to neatly cut the clay into the shape of the mask

So you would want to get a sponge, and I’m just using a basic kitchen sponge and wet it. But then really get all the water out. You don’t want this to become a mud bath you really just want to take your water and finish off these edges. Make sure everything is exactly the way you want it.

air-dry clay, African mask, use a kitchen sponge to smooth out your mask
Use a kitchen sponge to make sure that your mask is smooth and without jagged edges

Making slip

A super important part of working with clay is to make proper slip. To make slip, take some of your air-dry clay, you just mix with water. Don’t add too much water because that’s just gonna be one mushy mess. It should actually be like the texture of toothpaste. That’s quite important. You cannot do clay without slip. Things will crack and fall apart. Slip is like the glue of clay, so it’s very important to make proper slip. I’m going to show you how to use your slip when you are joining certain things.

How to make slip, using air-dry clay and water. Slip should have the same texture as toothpaste
Use some clay and water, mix it to create the slip. It should be the texture of toothpaste

I’ve made a nose from my mask. If I’d like to adhere this nose onto my mask it is important that you scratch, you then take your slip which, remember, is your glue. You’re going to add your slip. Then, also scrape the other side and then join it and work it in with your fingers.

I take my stick, I scratch a bit with it, I stick it, I press it nicely, softly, easily. and then I stick it. I press it down nicely softly easily

Air-dry clay, African mask, scraping and using slip to add pieces to your African mask
Scrape both sides, the nose and the face and add slip to attach the nose

Then I go for my second one, which is the bottom one. I scratch again. I also scratch the back of it. I push it soft, easy again and then I got my African face.

Air-dry clay, African mask, drawing the lines to place the lips
Use a pin or toothpick to draw the lines where you are going to add the lips
air-dry clay, African mask, using slip to add the lips
Scrape and use slip to add the lips to your mask

Decorating your African Mask

Some bonus tricks when using air-dry clay

  • Use a plastic fork to create patterns
  • Use old pens or twisties to create facial tattoos
  • Use the back of a plastic fork for different patterns
  • Use a sieve to create hair or shrubbery

We are now going to show you guys how to actually decorate this mask and make it really pretty. So the first thing Gody is going to do is to show you this trick with a fork

air-dry clay, African mask, use a plastic fork to make patterns
Use a plastic fork to make patterns on your mask

Old discarded crayons work really well. These are those twisties that we all used to use at school. And I am going to use the front of this to make lovely facial tattoos and add some patterns to our African mask.

air-dry clay, African mask, use old twisties to create facial tattoos
Use old twisties to create facial tattoos on your mask

I also just want to show you, you can use the back of your fork which also makes interesting patterns.

air-dry clay, African mask, using the back of the plastic fork to create different patterns
Use the back of the plastic fork to create different patterns

You guys can go and find buttons or interesting beads that you can roll over the clay to make some interesting textures. Gody is also going to show you one of our favorite tricks on how to make hair or shrubbery out of clay. We push the clay through a sieve. Once it protrudes you get these fine, fine strands. Remember, when you’re going to be joining this and placing this on your mask or any other clay surface you need to use slip to join these. I’m going to remove it using my little pin and I will be placing that on my mask.

air-dry clay, African mask. Use a sieve to create hair or shrubbery for your mask
Squeeze the clay through a sieve to create hair or shrubbery

We’re now done with our mask and what is really important is to let your clay dry slowly, So remember you’re working with air-dry clay which means you need to finish your project in one go, and number two, it’s got to dry slowly. To do that you want to store it in tight plastic, in a really dark cupboard. What Gody and I are going to do is, we’ve placed it on a board, nice and hard. We are going to cover it in plastic so no air can get So we’ll be storing this away. Two very important steps, after day one you need to take it off the hard mold that you’ve used if you’ve used one to shape.

Air-dry clay, African mask drying process. Cover in plastic and store in a dark cupboard.
Cover your mask in plastic and place it in a dark cupboard. Remove mold after day 1

By that time some of the moisture is already out and it can start cracking if you leave it on a hard strip. So by that time I’m going to take away that green shape that we’ve used and then day two and three and by day three or four, you are going to take the plastic off. Let it dry completely. I’d say we take about a week before we actually paint on top of the clay.

Now you decide whether you are going to paint or polish it with shoe polish. There are various finishing options and I will show you that in my next video.

Visit our blog for some more amazing art projects.

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