Air drying clay is a great way to sculpt without using an oven, but coloring can be a bit more difficult. Depending on the method you use, you can add patterns and color to the clay before or after drying. Learning to color the clay before shaping it, drawing with a marker on the dry clay, or painting designs on it will help bring your creations to life.
Method 1 of 3: Coloring Before Drying
Step 1. Choose the correct type of clay to dye
Air-dried white clay will give you the best results. Make sure to check if the clay is colorless. Even off-white clay will affect the final color. If you are using white, always test a small part first to determine how the color will work and achieve the shade you are looking for.
Step 2. Choose the coloring
If you want the clay to be only one color, dyeing it with the pigment before it dries will give you the results you need. There are many options for pre-coloring air-dry clay, so feel free to experiment!
- Acrylic, tempera, or aqua paints will give you a bright solid color.
- Oil paints will work for basic coloring as well, but they are more difficult to clean.
- If you want a really deep and intense color, try some artistic quality acrylic or oil paint.
- Food coloring or icing will give results similar to acrylic and tempera.
- If you want a pastel or very light color, try pastel chalk.
- You can also buy prepared clay stains, but they come in limited colors and can be very expensive.
Step 3. Set up your work surface
Staining clay can be tricky. Make sure your hands and work area are protected from staining. It only works on disposable or washable surfaces, like a sheet of wax on a plastic counter or cutting board. Wear plastic or rubber gloves, especially if you are working with oil paint or food coloring. Disposable gloves are the best.
Step 4. Knead the clay before adding food coloring
Spend a little time kneading and pressing the clay with your hands before adding the food coloring. It will help it smooth out and can absorb the color quickly and evenly. Kneading means that you have to press the clay repeatedly with your fingers. The time you spend kneading will depend on the temperature and altitude you are at, but it shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. You will know it is done when the color is evenly distributed throughout the clay.
Step 5. Add a small drop of food coloring to the clay and knead it
Knead the food coloring into the clay until the entire piece is a uniform color. This may take up to 5 minutes, so don't worry if it doesn't change color right away!
If you're using a solid food coloring like pastel chalk, add a little powder to the clay
Step 6. Keep adding a drop of food coloring until the clay is the color you want
Be careful when adding additional food coloring, you should not add more than one drop at a time. Make sure to knead the clay well after each drop!
Step 7. Sculpt and dry as usual
After you get the color you want, you can continue working with the clay. Stained clay generally dries faster than unstained clay, so you may have to work a little faster than usual.
Method 2 of 3: Draw on the Dry Clay
Step 1. Sculpt and dry the clay as usual
Make sure the clay is completely dry and solid before you start drawing on it. Wet clay will cause the marker to rub off, thus ruining the piece. White clay is best to make sure the drawing shows up, but you can use whatever color you want.
Step 2. Get some markers
Acrylic paint markers are best for drawing on clay, but you can also use regular children's markers, permanent markers, or water-based markers. Avoid using oil markers as they take longer to dry and rub off easily.
Step 3. Plan the layout
It is important to know what you want to draw before you start! You won't be able to erase the designs and start over if you use clay. Practice drawing on paper for a few minutes until you can do it perfectly several times in a row.
Step 4. Wash and dry your hands completely
Working with wet hands will erase and blend the marker ink, especially if you are using water-based markers. Make sure your hands are clean and dry before you begin.
Step 5. Draw the design on the clay
Hold the piece of clay in one hand and draw the design very carefully with your dominant hand. Draw one color at a time to avoid blending, and draw the light colors first. For example, if you are planning a black and yellow design, draw the yellow first, let it dry, and then draw the black design.
Step 6. Let the design dry well
When you're done drawing a side or using a color, lay the piece down and wait until the marker dries completely before touching it again. Check the marker packaging for estimated drying times if you're not sure how long to wait. Keep going until the piece is finished.
Step 7. Seal the design to prevent staining or discoloration
Check the packaging for a recommended sealant. Most sealers are spray-ons, but you can also use paintable sealers or even clear nail polish.
- For store-bought sealants, follow the directions on the package for best results.
- If you're using nail polish, put it in a well-ventilated area. Paint slowly and carefully, making sure each side is dry before flipping.
Method 3 of 3: Painting the dried clay
Step 1. Sculpt and dry the clay as usual
Painting a wet clay or sculpting a painted clay will not work, the designs will be ruined or stained. You will have to wait until the piece is completely finished and totally dry to start painting. White clay will show paint better.
Step 2. Choose acrylic or tempera paints to color the clay
These types of paints are best for painting air-dried clay, but you can also use water paint or even enamel if you want. Make sure to open the container and look at the actual paint first, to make sure it's the shade you want.
Watercolor and oil paints can work as well, but they are much more difficult to handle and will not have the same effect as acrylics
Step 3. Choose the right paint brushes for your design
Using the wrong brush can ruin your design! If you are planning a complex design, use a very fine brush so you can get the details right. On the other hand, if you're painting a large area a solid color, use a large brush to ensure an even coat.
Make sure the brush is in good condition. An old or damaged brush can leave bristles that stain the design
Step 4. Practice the design on paper
If you're painting a design on the clay instead of just applying a solid color to it, practice it a couple of times on paper or on scraps of clay to make sure you get it right. This is very important if it is a complex design or if you are not used to painting; You won't get a second chance!
Step 5. Paint the design on the piece of clay
While holding the piece in one hand, paint the design with the other. You can also place it on a clean, protected work area if you don't want to hold it. Remember to apply only one color at a time and if possible, put light colors first. For example, if you are painting a bee, put the yellow first and then the black.
Make sure your hands are clean before and during the painting process
Step 6. Wash the brush and wait for the paint to dry between each color
If your paint brush is wet, you risk the color mixing or even smearing! When in doubt, it is better to wait longer to avoid any mistakes. You should also wait for the paint to dry before starting a new side.
Step 7. Add a coat of sealer to your creation
Check the label on the clay packaging to make sure the sealer you use is suitable for the clay. You can use spray sealer or paint sealer. Read the instructions carefully to ensure best results.