To create your own Claytown, you will need non-hardening plasticine modeling clay and a table with a scratch resistant surface (Formica works great). Dust is a problem that cannot be ignored. Fortunately for us, we never had a problem with dust because our father had installed an air filtration system in the house for his asthma. The next best thing is probably a light plastic tablecloth to cover the table when it’s not being used. Get one with a design on one side or mark the top, so the kids don’t accidentally cover the clay with the dusty side down. Extra clay can be stored in plastic containers with lids.
As for heat, don’t put clay next to a window where the sun’s heat will beat down on it, but a hot day indoors won’t significantly affect it.
You can achieve a pretty complete color palate by collecting different brands of clay. If you want larger amounts of clay than those little packages most art stores seem to carry these days, look up Van Aken International online. They make a great clay (they call it “plastalina”) in a wide range of vibrant colors. The colors can be mixed by hand (the heat of your hands will soften it) or it can be warmed a little in the microwave to make it easier to mix. Clay where the colors have gotten mixed is not “junk” clay. When you blend several colors together it makes a nice dark grey. We used this color all over Claytown – it worked great for bricks, roads and mountains.
Our “tools” were flatware knives (non-serrated), toothpicks and popsicle sticks. These days, I would add wood sculpting tools, and, depending on the age of the children, a very dull paring knife (take fine sandpaper or an emery board to it).
CLEAN-UP: To get clay off hands, first rub them clean with a dry paper towel and then wash with soap and water.
Plasticine becomes more pliable in warm weather but will not dry out. It’s not strong on its own, so to engineer sculptures of any size you’ll need some sort of armature. These can be made from different gauges of galvanized or aluminum wire (twisting wires together with needle-nosed pliers gives the clay something to grab onto), wood, foam core, toothpicks, etc. – anything to give it a “skeleton.” Reinforcing something properly in the beginning saves hours of work later when it falls apart – and it will if poorly constructed.
Plasticine cannot be permanently “set” for display. No matter how well built, the clay will eventually fatigue. That’s why LILY POND’s illustrations were only built for the photographs.
Faces are the most important part of an image. Don’t stop working on them until they “breathe.” A piece can be brilliantly executed, the design perfect, but if the faces don’t come to life – if Santa’s eyes don’t twinkle, if the pig doesn’t “oink”– then the reader will turn the page, unmoved.
- Sew small balls of clay together with a needle and thread. This makes beautiful pearl necklaces, and strings of “beads.”
- Blush and eye shadow make-up work well for subtle shading like flower petals and, of course, eye shadow and blush. Soft pastels applied with a brush or cotton swab will shade as well.
- Acrylic paint adheres well to plasticine. Metallic colors can be used for crowns, etc.
- Clear fingernail polish adds a shine to lips, teeth and eyes. It works especially well on animal eyes but can make human eyes look watery. The drawbacks to fingernail polish are that the brush marks show on large areas and the polish will yellow over time.
- To mix large batches of clay, melt the clay together in a double boiler and pour it out onto sheets of plastic wrap.