How to Paint Air-Dry Clay – Your Guide to the Best Paint for Clay
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Air-dry clay is an amazing art medium for both young and old, beginner and skilled artists. Products are easy to come by and affordable. Air-dry clay is also easy to use as you do not need a kiln to help harden the clay, so clay projects can be done at home. Painting clay after it has hardened is another step in the whole process and can be just as fun as molding the clay. But what is the best paint for clay, and can you paint air-dry clay before it dries? We will be answering these questions and more, so keep reading to find out.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Air-Dry Clay?
- 2 How to Paint Air-Dry Clay
- 3 Tips and Tricks for Painting Air-Dry Clay
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Air-Dry Clay?
Air-dry clay, not to be mistaken with polymer clay, which is now quite popular, is a natural clay that can come in various forms from earthen to paper-based and epoxy-based varieties. The clay does not require the use of an expensive kiln, and as the name implies, it dries naturally in the air. As you do not need any fancy equipment and it is non-toxic, this type of clay is quite popular, and can even be used by kids. The polymer clay mentioned must be oven-baked and come in a variety of colors. Air-dry clay, on the other hand, has limited color options including gray colors, terracotta, and white.
What Is the Top Used Paint for Clay?
Since air-dry clay only comes in a handful of natural colors, you might want to consider doing some clay painting. So, what type of air-dry clay paint can you use? There are quite a few options available, however, you might need to experiment first with some to see what the results will be, and which one you prefer.
When painting air-dry clay, there are two main methods. The first is to add the paint into the clay while it is still moldable, and the other is to use the air-dry clay paint after the clay has dried and hardened. Here is a list of air-dry clay paint you can try:
- Acrylic paints
- Watercolor paints
- Oil paints
- Food coloring
- Fabric paint
- Alcohol inks
- Nail polish
Acrylic paint is the best paint for clay as it is more durable, offers great colors, and is affordable when compared to other options. Acrylic paints are thicker and can be thinned with water if needed. Acrylic paints are also extremely useful and can be used on a variety of items like glass, wood, plastic, and much more. When acrylic paint is dry, it does become somewhat water-resistant, but it is still not waterproof.
You should still consider sealing your clay item for added protection.
To get the best results, it is a good idea to get more artist-grade or professional acrylic paints. These have a better pigment load and provide a more vibrant color that will not fade. Although, if you are simply having fun, any acrylic paint will do. You can also try different effects like glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint, or shimmer and metallic acrylic paint. There are also acryl markers you can use to draw on your clay piece. You can also try using acrylic spray paint on larger items that are more three-dimensional.
This type of paint has a nice creamy-like consistency and is water-based, so it is safe and non-toxic. You can also get the dry tempera pigments or paint powder. When painting clay with kids, this might be the best paint for clay. Since it is water-soluble, the paint can easily be washed off surfaces and hands with no fuss. There are various colors of this type of paint available, so you can go wild on your designs.
Oil paints are a lot more expensive than your other options and it needs to be used more carefully. Some of the paints may be toxic and you need solvents to clean up, which makes it not very user-friendly when working with clay. You will need to wear gloves if you wish to color or “dye “your clay with oil paints as you do not want to get the paint on your hands.
Painting clay with oil paints is also possible, as long as the clay is completely dry.
Oil paints take extremely long to dry to the touch and may never dry completely, which is another disadvantage. You will have to wait days before the paint will dry to the touch. If you do decide to use oil paints, it might also be a good idea to prime the clay surface first, since oil paints might negatively affect the clay surface. All-in-all, there are other better and cheaper options for clay painting.
More Air-Dry Clay Paint Options
There are a few more ideas for painting clay. You may want to experiment with other natural color options, for example, turmeric, or coffee. Whatever the choice, you should try out the paint before starting on your main project.
- Watercolor Paints: watercolors provide a nice color but consider the liquid watercolors for more vibrant colors. Once the varnish is applied over the paint, it can change the color.
- Food Coloring: most of us have food coloring in the cupboard, so why not try it out on clay? The color should come out good but consider making it opaque by using some white food color.
- Mica Powder, Chalk Pastels, and Powdered Pigments: Some prefer using powder pigments for coloring clay. This can help if you want to bake the clay, as there is no added moisture. The powders also give the clay a shimmery look.
- Fabric Paint: this is also a good choice and should provide excellent color. The paint is also easy to come by and an affordable option.
- Alcohol Inks: You can experiment with many different colors both to use as a “dye” to blend into the clay and for painting clay that is dry. It can provide a translucent or tinted look.
- Nail Polish: there are many different colors available, and they can act as color and sealer in one, or use the nail polish over paint, using clear nail polish.
How to Paint Air-Dry Clay
Can you paint air-dry clay before it dries? There are two approaches to painting air-dry clay. You can paint on the dry clay, or color it before it dries. The most important step to follow before painting air-dry clay is to wait until you are sure the clay is completely dry. The best clay for painting is your white clay, as it will show up the colors well. When using acrylic paints, try to not dilute them with more water, as you do not want to introduce more moisture to the clay. The clay can begin to soften slightly if you overdo the water, and when it dries, the clay can crack and break. However, you can mix different acrylic paints.
When painting clay, it is also a good idea to use some good quality brushes, as you do not want to get any bristles in the paint while you are busy. You also want to be able to paint a nice and even color. Acrylic paints can be difficult to remove once it becomes dry. So, you need to use some newspapers to cover your work area. You might also want to use some gloves and cover your clothes. This is why tempera paints are a better choice for kids.
Can You Paint Air-Dry Clay Before It Dries?
Air-dry clay takes about 24 hours to 72 hours to dry properly, and you should not do any clay painting until it is completely dry. If you do paint too early, this could cause the clay to become misshaped, and can lead to cracking. This is because the paints are mostly water-based and can be absorbed by the clay. However, you can color the clay before it dries.
White air-dry clay is a good option when painting clay and coloring clay.
Before adding your chosen colorant, which could be powdered pigments, acrylic paints, or alcohol inks, you should knead the clay to warm it up. Then add small amounts of color at a time and knead it through the clay to get an even color. Once you are satisfied, sculpt your piece and dry as you normally would. The drying time might be slightly longer due to the added moisture.
Should You Prime the Clay?
You should prime your clay if you are sculpting or want a more durable clay piece. You can simply use gesso for this process, which you can get in white, black, or clear options. You also have the option of using a spray gesso for sculptures that have more edges. Here are some benefits to using gesso.
- Gesso is cheap and the product can usually last for quite some time.
- Most air-dry clay and other clays are porous, so the paint can soak into the surface. Applying gesso can provide a more even distribution of the paint.
- The gesso helps to create a barrier between the clay and paint, so it slightly seals the clay from moisture. This is especially helpful if you use watercolors or even oil colors, which may react with the clay. Three gesso layers should be used for oil paints.
- The clay surface becomes a better surface to paint, as the gesso provides the optimal surface for the paint to stick to. This is most helpful with products like epoxy clays, which have a smooth surface.
- Applying gesso provides extra protection and will help to make the clay piece stronger and last longer.
Generally, two coats of gesso are sufficient, making sure to wait for the first coat to dry in about an hour before adding another layer. For best results, allow the gesso to cure for 24 hours, which should make it ready for any watery paints you want to use. If you want a really smooth surface, you can consider three layers of gesso, waiting for each to dry and then sanding them down.
You should use the finest sandpaper from about 220-grit and then 400-grit, for a smooth feel. Wipe any dust away after sanding.
Painting Air-Dry Clay
Once you have sculpted and allowed your clay piece to dry properly, it is time to paint. Remember, it must be completely dry before you begin, otherwise, there will be problems. A simple way to paint on clay is to use acrylic markers to draw with. Make sure your hands are clean and dry as you do not want to create any smudges. Draw on your design, using one color. Once done, wait for this to dry before using another color. Continue until you have completed your design. When painting air-dry clay, you can use acrylic paint as well as tempera paint, which are your best options.
The brushes you use should be of good quality, and you can use finer brushes for more details and broader brushes for larger areas. You can try practicing your design before painting, so get the design correct on the clay. Apply one paint color at a time, and then wait between layers. You should also paint from your lighter to darker colors. You can either hold the clay piece in one hand and paint with the other, or you can paint on a prepared work area. If you have limited brushes, you will need to clean and wait for them to dry before applying another color, to prevent any mixing of colors.
Sealing Your Clay Painting
Once you are done painting the clay, you need to seal it to protect it and make it waterproof. If you do not seal the paint, it will eventually begin to peel off, or if you get water onto it, the paint can be washed off. Some might use mod podge, but this will not provide the best waterproofing, so a sealer like a varnish or an acrylic sealer is a better option.
Varnish is easy to find and apply and should seal the paint and colors nicely. You can also think about using a spray-on varnish or gloss varnish, which dries transparent, and you can use several layers if you want. When applying the varnish, the paint should be thoroughly dry.
The acrylic spray sealer works best on clay items that have more edges and surfaces to cover. Simply spray and wait for it to dry, and then spray again, making sure you cover every surface. When buying a sealer, always read the directions and check to see if you can use it on clay. You can try using clear nail varnish, but for smaller clay items.
Tips and Tricks for Painting Air-Dry Clay
Here are one or two helpful tips, so you can do clay painting with ease. Number one on the list is to prepare your work area and cover-up, not only the work table but yourself as well. It is as simple as laying down some newspaper and donning an apron to protect the clothes.
- Always clean your hands and make sure they are dry before you begin painting or sculpting.
- Prepare and knead your clay before you begin to sculpt or before adding some paint colors.
- The clay must be completely dry before you begin painting.
- You can experiment with various paints and color ideas, but acrylic paints remain the best option for painting clay.
- A sealant is necessary to make your clay piece waterproof. Acrylic paint is only water-resistant and will not provide enough protection.
- Using white clay is best when painting clay. The white is a great background for painting and making sure the colors a the most vibrant.
- You can draw on clay with acrylic pens or markers.
We have discovered that acrylic paints or tempera paints are perfect for painting air-dry clay. The paints are affordable and easy to use, and the tempera paints are ideal for kids to work with. Air-dry clay itself is easy to mold into different shapes, and by adding air-dry clay paint, you can bring your clay pieces to life.
View our Painting Air Dry Clay web story here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Paint Air-Dry Clay?
Painting air-dry clay is very simple using acrylic or tempera paints. Always allow the clay to dry completely before you begin painting. There are some other air-dry clay paints, but you may need to experiment with these to get what you want. This includes painting with watercolors, alcohol inks, fabric paints, and food coloring.
How Long Does Air-Dry Clay Take to Dry?
Once you have sculpted your clay piece, you will need to leave it dry. Since it is an air-drying clay, you must leave it for 24 hours up to 72 hours, so it can totally dry. You can also place it in the oven to dry faster but leaving it to air dry is the best way.
Can You Paint Air-Dry Clay Before it Dries?
No, you need to wait for the clay to fully dry before you begin painting. By painting the clay while it is still wet, you run the risk of altering the clay item and causing cracks. However, you can color or dye the clay with paint before it dries by kneading in the paint.
Should You Seal Your Air-Dry Painted Clay?
Yes, you should seal the clay once you have painted it. This not only makes it waterproof but also makes the item more durable and protects it from scratches and sunlight. You do not have to seal the clay before you paint, as this will make it difficult to paint on.
Behind acrylgiessen.com are Martina (39) and Thomas (38) Faessler, a creative couple from Zurich in Switzerland. Artistically active are both already quite a while: Martina discovered her creative streak as a child and has always been passionate about painting and illustrating. Today she works as a graphic designer and art still plays a big role in her free time. Before painting, Thomas was active for years as a sculptor/art turner and created noble sculptures and hollow vessels from burl wood using a lathe.
The two of them came to Fluid Art by chance when it came to finishing one of Thomas’ sculptures with liquid acrylic paint. Once they tried Acrylic Pouring, both of them couldn’t get away from it and through countless Pourings they gradually acquired a gossamer know-how about the Acrylic Pouring technique.
In addition to the original fluid painting techniques, other topics such as color theory and the creation of drawing tutorials were added as an extension.
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