Paper clay is an ideal solution for building complex or delicate ceramic sculpture. Made by mixing any type of clay body–earthenware, stoneware, raku or porcelain–with paper pulp, paper clay improves joining capabilities and decreases warping and shrinkage, all the while reducing the heft of the work.
But when it sits around, it can get rather stinky. In this post, Diane Gee explains her solution for avoiding the stink and making paper clay easy and convenient to store. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
There are several advantages to drying and storing slabs of paper clay, including saving space; avoiding the rotten, moldy smell of wet paper clay as it ages; and the fact that when reconstituted, it’s easy to roll, drape, cut, or form in a multitude of ways. The biggest advantage to making dried paper clay slabs is the time savings. It’s easy to make, and when you need to reconstitute the paper clay, just break up the slabs into smaller pieces, add water to the desired consistency, and you’re quickly resupplied.
Paper clay slip can be made from a recipe (see below) or by slaking down the clay body you already use, adding 5–15% paper pulp to the slurry, and mixing it thoroughly with a drill mixer. After making a fresh batch of paper clay slip, pour a generous amount onto a bisque or plaster mold. Use a rib to spread the clay out evenly on the form. It should be at least half an inch thick. It may take several consecutive pours to get the desired thickness. Note that the slip will shrink dramatically as it dries, and if your slabs are too thin they may curl while drying and may chip when you store them. Leave the paper clay slabs on the plaster until they are completely dry. You may need to flip the slab over on the plaster to keep it from warping. This makes for easier storage.
To reconstitute a paper clay slab, use a spray bottle to evenly wet the top of the slab. It usually takes 4–6 thorough spray soakings to fully reconstitute the dry slab. This gives you a lot of control over the degree of wetness. For faster results, put the slab on a flat board with water. Be careful with the latter method; if you’re not paying attention, the slab can quickly revert to mush (in which case it is best to dry out the mush once again on the plaster slab. One obvious way to tell when your dry slab is ready, is that any curl or warp in the slab will disappear, and the slab will relax and lay flat. Once that happens, you can use the slab any way you want. Another great aspect to making paper clay slabs is that you can cut them with scissors or a utility knife. The slightly reclaimed slabs can be cut into specific shapes (dry slabs can be drawn on with a pencil, and the marks will remain even after the spraying). When they are damp and slightly pliable, the slabs have a very fabric-like feel and capability that increases if they are rolled out even thinner with a rolling pin or smoothed with a rib. Fabric techniques such as darting, gathering, draping, and ruffling are all possible with care and practice.