Note: This page doesn’t cover all the wonderful Japanese resin clays (not to be confused with casting resin). I don’t find them readily available in the US, have no experience with them, don’t know if they’re even suitable for sculpting figurative fine art dolls, but see them used for creating jewelry charms.
Artist Grade Air-dry Clays
Some of the artist grade air-dry clays are great choices for creating artist dolls. They are generally messier to work and unused clay must be sealed in a plastic bag that the air has been squeezed out of, and then stored in an air-tight container. Finished dolls are usually painted and sealed.
Some Top Artist Grade Air-dry Clays for Professional Art Doll Artists, Specifically, in Canada, the US, Europe, and Russia
In order of strength:
- Premier by La Doll — Strongest
- Premix by La Doll — 2nd Strongest — Easier to sculpt than Premier
- La Doll Satin Smooth Natural Stone Clay — Often simply called Satin Smooth — Third Strongest
- Creative Paperclay (official blog!) — Fourth Strongest — Least Strong Of These Four Choices Here But Certainly Strong Enough for Some Sculpting Shapes and Sizes
To recap, of the air-dry clays Premier is the strongest, followed by Premix, La Doll, and then Creative Paperclay. Premix is very close to Premier’s strength though, considering the whole range of air-dry clays.
Both Premier and Premix are strong enough for hollow sculptures as well as fingers, toes, ears, etc, that won’t easily break off. Premier is the most advanced clay. Premier cracks the least while drying.
Creative Paperclay is pretty sturdy except fingers and smaller part that project out will be more susceptible to breakage. All of these clays, since they dissolve in water, should be sealed once the sculpture is finished.
Top doll artists use artist grade air-dry clays like Creative PaperClay, Premier, La Doll, and Premix. Both BJD (ball jointed doll) artists and other art doll artists use these clays. The late Hannie Sarris mastered both Premier and Premix by LaDoll, but came to favor Premix. You can witness many of their works via my Pinterest page on Art Dolls and Spirit Dolls here.
Where to Find These In the US:
Which Formula is Stronger, More Advanced?
From what I can tell from the more reputable sites, professional art doll artist input, and company descriptions, LaDoll Premier is indeed the most advanced and strongest of their three clays, and Premier is stronger and smoother than Creative PaperClay, the latter which is made by a different company. So, from what I can put together from all the input, Padico’s La Doll Premier airy-dry clay is the strongest, smoothest, and most advanced air-dry clay commonly available in the US (and possible Europe). It’s also the stiffest to sculpt, which is why, I suspect, the late Hannie Sarris, doll maker extraordinaire, worked with Padico to develop La Doll Premix. Premix has properties of both Premier and Stone but is finer than Stone but has more pliability, making it easier to scupt than Premier alone, presumably.
Note that while La Doll Premix is advertised as being so strong that it can be used to make hollow objects, hollow BJD (Ball Jointed Doll) parts for example, a lot of very successful art doll artists, including BJDers, have already been using la Doll Premier for hollow parts and have been doing so with great success. Also, while Padico made their La Doll Premix stronger than what any artist could mix up using La Doll Premier and La Doll Stone, meaning they did something to their proprietary mix and they charge more for that, they still describe La Doll Premier as their strongest and most advanced clay.
So Premix is a mix of Premier and Stone but is stronger than what you could make mixing those two clays, it’s neither more advanced nor stronger than Premier alone. That’s what I could surmise by looking at all the official sites and professional doll artists feedback. Premix sadly isn’t available locally and I have to use what I already have, which is La Doll Premier and Creative PaperClay, as far as the air-dry clays are concerned anyway. (I also have some of the polymer doll clays.)
I don’t have a lot of Premier or Creative Paperclay, so I’ll have to build up an armature and add ir-dry clay to it. They say it dries better that way anyway.
Creative Paperclay has a wonderful site full of information. It’s not as strong or suitable for delicate hand sculpts that are positioned away from the body, but it too can be a wonderful clay. Your sculpting style may influence your choice of clay.
Premier Air-Dry Clay
- Contents — Pumice (a stone), talc (which is processed from rocks), small amounts of paper pulp, and additional binders.
- As for the paper pulp part, how you process paper pulp and what you use makes a tremendous amount of difference. I found that out from watching a master art paper maker.
- Is extremely plaint but is stiffer to sculpt than La Doll (“La Doll Natural Satin Smooth Natural Stone Clay”)
- Is ultra-lightweight
- May blend with La Doll
- Has a bright white finish
- Has exceptional strength — works well for small, delicate areas such as fingers
- Air dries — no need to bake
- Is best air dried rather than dried in an oven an even a very low setting
- Has fine smooth texture, fine body to the clay’s feel
- Capable of fine detail
- Doesn’t attract dirt and tiny bits of who knows whats that float in the air
- Keep it moist so you can work it
- Add fresh clay to dry by re-wetting, attaching small pieces of new clay, and bleding it in — can work on it for a very long time this way
- Adheres to any core material — wire, mesh rigid wrap, paper, glass, plastic, wood, Styrofoam, and more
- Can be stamped, carved, or sculpted with exceptional detail
- Can be drilled, sanded or sculpted when dry
- Accepts acrylics, oils, water-based paints, as well as dry finish powders (dry artist pastels, for example)
- Dissolves in water to be used as a finish coat or to soak paper or cloth in so you can form it in shapes
- Dries with minimal shrinkage
Doll Artists Who Have Used Premier Clay are Too Numerous to Mention Here, but I’ll List a Few
- Marion Van Zeeland Imanse — example 1, example 2
- Ryo Yoshida – Book, pinterest link
- Hannie Sarris — tooks days to sculpt, made wonderful dolls, also wrote books (which are now out of print)
- Hannie passed away in 2010 but the workshop went like this: day 1 was introduction to the course, days 2 through 4 were sculpting, fifth day for detailing, sanding, and adjoining parts, six day was a free day, seventgh day was painting and varninshing, eighth and nineth days were for wigging and clothes.
Some people, a lot of people, call only Padico’s “La Doll Natural Satin Smooth Natural Stone Clay” just “La Doll” but all three — Satin Smooth Stone, Premier, and Premix made by Padico — have “La Doll” on the package. Even Padico sometimes calls their Natural Smooth Stone Clay just “La Doll.” Also, some packages say “La Doll Natural Smooth Stone Clay” on them and others just say “La Doll” on them for this same clay. To get a bit more confusing, all three clays are listed on their site under “Stone Clay.”
Stone Clays or Paperclays (Air-dry Clay) — Some people call the stone clays by Padico “paperclay.” Many official sites, including Padico’s, categorize them as stone clays. Premier, for example has paper pulp in it, yes, but these clays also have pumice and talc (which comes from rocks) in them, which is why they’re probably labeled as stone clays and why they’re stronger than Creative Paperclay. Some official sites refer to them as polymer clays too. Do they technically fit al three categories? That is quite possible. It seems that users most often call them paper clay and official sites most often call them stone clays.
Magic Sculp and Apoxie Sculpt technically aren’t air-dry clays — they can cure even when wet — their curing process is chemical. Also, if you use these two-part epoxy clays in the construction of a doll’s armature, they’re so tough and strong that if you wanted to cut through it later, you’d have to use a saw and it’d be hard work. Magic Sculp has an indefinite shelf life though and both can withstand heat up to 300 degrees F. One can create entire sculpts out of the epoxy clays, use them for armatures to add strength, sculpt part of the doll with epoxy clays, and/or sculpt props and bases with epoxy clay. They can be painted with acrylic paints. They’re great stuff but they’re not air-dry clays, technically.)
Techniques, Cracks, Storage, Sanding, and Working Time…
Working time with artist grade air-dry clays can extend into weeks.
Cracks don’t mean that you failed, should give up, or that the clay isn’t artist grade.
- Storage of Opened Packages — Keep a damp cloth or terra cotta disc in with the clay and keep the clay in a zip lock bag with the air squeezed out of it. Keep that bag in an air-tight container.
- When Sculpting, Keep a Spray Bottle of Water at Hand — Spray areas you’re working on to keep moist, as needed.
- Joining New Clay to Dried — Moisten the dry clay a bit where you’ll attach the new clay.
- Sculpt in Stages, Letting Dry Overnight — This makes for better drying and less or no cracks. Stages can be armature, basic bulk out, final layer, fingers, toes, details.
- Sculpting Details — Can be done through a combination of additive and subtractive sculpting, meaning you can add new clay or take it away. Subtractive sculpting can be accomblished with carving tools (both regular sized and micro, for micro see Dockyard Micro Carving tools), rasps, nail files, sandpaper or even, in more advanced methods, keyhold X-acto blades. You can use dremels too but they’re much more difficult to control, as far as fine tuning sculpts and such goes, and are probably better for drilling holes or major reworking.
- Cracks May Happen — Cracks are often a normal part of both the drying and sculpting process with artist grade air-dry clays. They can be filled in with more of the artist-grade air-dry clay. Cracks do not mean, however, that artist grade air-dry clays are less worthy or suitable for art doll dollmaking. They shrink a little while drying is all, therfore…cracks. That being said, don’t sculpt air-dry clays over springy, boingy armatures and expect those cracks to be okay. That’s a whole other story. And hey, polymer clay artists have to worry about burning their polymer clay, moonies, and other issues sometimes. Every clay has its quirks artists learn to work until they rock it (masterfully work it to magnificence). When you’re already working with an artist grade clay but cracks stop you, it’s not the clay, it’s the artist that determines success. When I first started with air dry clays, I used it for Ostrich legs. The metal was too sproingy. The clay cracked big time. That was a major structural fault. That this stopped me from using air-dry clays for years was my fault as an artist. I needed to understand more about armature and the nature of the clay. Instead, I thought I was a failure and never finished the sculpture.
- Smoothing/Shaping — Use wet-dry sandpapers (you can wet them a touch on the back, but keep the sanding side dry, to make them more pliable), nail files, nail file/buffers, dedicated pedicure sanders/scrapers, metal rasps, fine drywall screen, and even flat beach stones that have some texture. I have a jar of “smoothing stones” that I’ve found work for the purpose. I got the idea from professional doll artists who use smoother stones to smooth out raw polymer clay doll surfaces. So now I have smoothing stones for polymer clay and sanding stones for air-dry clays).
Don’t Let The Confusion Out There Get to You
Doing some research over several years, I’ve found different answers on what is the strongest air-dry clay for sculpting art dolls. Be careful, anyone can make a web site. Some sites didn’t do their homework and tell me that student grade clay, really weak stuff, is the strongest and may not even mention Padico’s La Doll Clays (Stone, Premier, or Premix). There’s also some confusion regarding vocabulary and categories of clay.
Armed with a little of the right and thorough enough information though, you can proceed and have a lot of fun.
Happy Doll Making!