Where do you start when it comes to working with modelling clay? Angie Scarr shares some of her favourite types of modelling clay for your dolls house, diorama and miniatures projects.
Continuing with our 'A-Z miniatures' series we're exploring 'M' for modelling clays. Many different clays are used for miniature modelling, so we're bringing you a quick guide on modelling clay types, the types of projects they’re best suited to and top tips for getting started with polymer clay… perfect if you’re a beginner modeller or looking for a refresher! It’s over to Angie…
By and large the flower making world go for an air drying material generically called cold porcelain. This material is based on corn starch mixed with PVA glue and there are recipes all over the internet for how to make it. It’s fun to make but there are companies who take all the fuss out of it for you, with a whole host of products which are particularly durable.
There are dozens on the market and a quick scout around online will show how many, and which are recommended by those in the know.
Miniature easter cupcakes using cold porcelain made by Loredana Tonetti.
Pros of cold porcelin
- Cold porcelain shrinks when drying, making a small item even smaller!
- You don’t need an oven to bake them and they can be delicately or intensely coloured with craft powders or pastels.
Italian artisan Loredana Tonetti works with cold porcelain. She makes wonderful little creatures including vegetable characters in miniature, tiny little animals and animal themed cupcakes.
Love the world of miniatures? Explore all things 'mini' with Dolls House & Miniature Scene magazine, packed with inspiration from across the eras, absorbing features, step-by-step projects and all the latest news.
Paperclay is another product widely used for miniatures and preferred by the ‘scene’ and diorama makers.
Pros of paperclay
- It’s a little cheaper than both cold porcelain and polymer clay and so really useful for creating large areas of shape and texture.
Cons of paperclay
- The downsides of this material for fine work are lack of translucency and very limited colours.
American artist Rik Pierce of Frogmorton uses this material to create his wonderful fantasy buildings.
Polymer clay is an oven baked ‘plastic’ clay. It can be used for modelling, moulding and caning (which is producing designs in clay by millefiore techniques).
The Chieftain by Jamie Carrington. Polymer clay and mixed media (leather, feathers, fur).
“My favourite clay to work with is polymer clay.”
I’m a beginner, which polymer clay should I use to start with?
Get the clay you can find most easily near you. It can be very frustrating if you’ve come up with an idea and just can’t get hold of your favourite clay quickly and easily. So try the easiest one to get hold of first. If there’s something you just can’t get used to then try a clay with different qualities that suits you better.
The clay you use should have good translucency and should hold shape especially when caning. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a mixture of clays on the go. Some clays have a slightly ‘Non-Newtonian’ property similar to cornflour, some have a waxy feel, others have a rubbery feel.
“For a complex cane I wouldn’t put them side by side with a clay that flows more smoothly when it’s being stretched because you can lose your design when one clay stretches and the other stays resolutely still! I sometimes mix clays to get modified properties.”
At what temperature should I bake my polymer clay?
When mixing clays it’s probably sensible to try the lower of the recommended temperatures. Professionals, with separate well-ventilated ovens, can experiment within the range suggested on the packs. The most widely used and recognised is Fimo. Fimo has their ‘professional’ brand which makes the choice of material for miniaturists to use instantly recognisable from the children’s ‘Fimo soft’ brand.
Why not get stuck into a miniature clay project or few with our miniature garden series using polymer clay and art clay, or explore the blog for more projects!
Olive tree by Angie Scarr. Polymer clay, Liquid clay and natural vegetable parts.
Modelling clay books
If you’ve never used modelling clays for miniatures before there are lots of books out there with several really good beginner as well as more advanced books.
- James Carrington’s 1/12 Scale Character Figures for the Dolls’ House book is a must have for anyone setting out to make dolls from Polymer Clay.
- Sue Heaser’s books which include Miniature Projects for Polymer Clay for more advanced projects
Don't miss more from our A-Z miniature series where you'll learn lots of handy techniques! Go back to 'L for leather accessories' and learn how to make your a miniature leather suitcase and travel bag!