The Fine Art Air-Dry and Polymer Clay Market Can Be Confusing for the Beginner to Intermediate Artist

What this page is and isn’t about — It’s about fine art air-dry and polymer clays. It’s not about ceramic, cold porcelain, resin clay, epoxy clays, or any kiln-cured products.

This page was written after reading https://www.reviewstream.com/reviews/?p=155083#thoughts-box, which was about Premier clay, which is an artist grade air-dry clay, and the beginner’s needs and understandable confusion.

For jewelry making, Premo!, Fimo Classic, Kato, and Cernit are some of your better choices of oven-cured polymer clays –they’re durable enough and do not have to be sealed unless certain surface treatments (mica powders like Pearl Ex or Perfect Pearls…) require it. See: https://thebluebottletree.com/seal-polymer-clay/

Durability… While people making charms often use various air-dry clays, they usually don’t construct bracelets or rings out of air-dry clays. Jewelry may take much more wear and tear.

Seal it or not? As a rule, air-dry clays generally have to be sealed once dry and finished but oven-cured polymer clays don’t. (Two-part epoxy clays don’t have to be sealed but although they’re often called air-dry, they actually cure by chemical reaction and may even be able to cure under water. They’re not true air-dry clays.)

Cracks in Premier clay.… Cracks don’t mean your air-dry clay is weak. Premier is one of the strongest air-dry clays. Nearly all air-dry clays have some shrinkage and Premier is no exception, although it shrinks less than some air-dry clays. Having a good armature, if armature is necessary, and using minimal amounts of water while sculpting with Premier can decrease the likelihood or severity of cracks. Sometimes cracks happen but they’re easily be repaired with Premier, even if your item dried. See the below video. Cracks may occur if you added too much water while sculpting, used a cardboard armature, used thin clay over a rigid armature (Ostrich legs, for example), let your item dry too quickly, or didn’t support sculpture parts subject to gravity. Don’t dry your Premier clay items under a fan, for example. Do remember to keep unused clay in an air-tight bag and/or container.

For figurative works, Premix, an air-dry clay made by the same company as Premier, is easier to sculpt and blend than Premier. Doll artist Hannie Sarris loved Premix clay. Premier clay may take some different sculpting techniques than what one would be used to with polymer clay and one uses minimal (!) amounts of water are used while sculpting Premier. People working with these air-dry clays might lightly dab their fingers across a wet sponge to keep clay moist enough while sculpting. They may use a mister type of water bottle. Do not use Sculpey Clay Softener or any type of oil to soften, smooth, and blend these air-dry clays — they are hybrid clays and have their own characteristics, sculpting techniques, storage and compatibility considerations. They’re not like the majority of polymer clays that are oven-cured (e.g., Fimo Classic, Fimo Soft, Cernit, Fimo Doll, Premo!). They’re not like most air-dry clays on the market. They are used by a number of very famous art doll artists and others.

So yes, there are indeed air-dry polymer clays — Activa Lumina Translucent Polymer Clay, Staedtler Fimo Air Basic Modeling Clay, and Activa LaDoll Premier clay are examples of air-dry polymer clays. Activa, the company that makes laDoll Premier clay, describes Premier clay as a type of polymer clay on their site. Lumina has long been known to the polymer clay community. Fimo Air Basic is weaker than either of those.

Polymer clays have their own issues — Dirt, lint, hair, compatibility issues, and baking considerations (always monitor your oven with two oven thermometers, not counting the oven’s own temperature reading). If you look at it that way, a few easily repaired cracks in Premier clay items isn’ts a bad deal.

Sculpey Diluent, AKA liquid Sculpey Clay Softener, works with oven-cured polymer clays, specifically, and not with air-dry polymer clays. Here’s the Sculpey Clay Softener Material Safety Data Sheet: https://www.sculpey.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Clay-Softener-SDS-10282015.pdf

In contrast, Makin’s, Hearty, Das, “cold porcelain” clays, Creative Paperclay, Celluclay, and epoxy putties are not polymer clays no matter who describes them as such.

For a whole lot of information on all things polymer and air-dry clay, see:

…Or go to clay manufacturers’ sites and hit their FAQs and MSDS pages. I wish there were sculpting, storage, compatibility, MSDS and other information (to seal or not to seal) with each clay package that one takes home, but that’s sadly not the case.

Strongest Air-Dry Clay for Sculpting Art Dolls?

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

Vocabulary Notes

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.

Epoxy 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!

Polymer Clay — To Burn and Crack or Not

My Personal Fears and Work Situation

When I started with polymer clay and figurative sculpting, I immediately had problems with burning (Super Sculpey) and cracking (Sculpey UltraLight) when doing figures. (I didn’t have much of a problem with curing my polymer clay beads.) To be honest, it kind of scared me off from doing art dolls for a while, after I tried Super Sculpey and a full body sculpt (as opposed to assemblage type dolls upon which I affixed polymer clay heads, hands and feet). And I was busy parenting teens or was later taking care of infants. Well, the youngest grandchildren are toddlers now and I can get my grandson, whom I watch the most, to busy himself at the easel with his non-toxic Crayola products while I get some art done. I can get in maybe about 20 minutes at a time that way and then more when he naps. That’s up to 3 hours or more if I really apply myself and there are no other duties that might interfere.

Back to the burning and cracking issue… Even before the sculpting has begun, there’s the research, idea development, tests, planning, safety precautions, setting up a work place, finding and maintaining dedicated tools, networking… Who wants all their effort to get ruined during the curing process? Not me.

My Information-Packed, Fabulous Polymer Clay Troubleshooting and Problem Avoidance Binder

So today I gleaned information about how to avoid cracking and burning, as well as why these things happen, from all over the web, books and that fabulous glassattic site. I condensed it down into a couple of pages and into my Clay Art Dolls binder it went. I love that binder. It’s all organized with a table of contents and tab separators and it’s more thorough than any one source. The research and writing took hours. Problem-solving pages are written in  easily referenced, fleshed out, sweetly succinct outline form.  Bingbadaboom!

Local Doll Clay Shopping

Later in the day, when scouting local stores for doll clay the next town up the road, I stumbled upon a clearance section in Joann Fabrics. Mwhahahahah. They were clearing out the Adirondack inks and Ranger Rick stuff along with those protective work mats that protect your work surfaces from inks, glues, acrylic mediums and polymer clay. I got a few things for a third or a fifth of the normal price. Those are my kind of prices. Yeah.

What I found out as far as polymer doll clays and local stores go, Super Sculpey aside, is that the only local store within 20 miles that sells polymer clay specifically for sculpting art doll dolls is Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby sells Puppen Fimo. (2016 Update: they stopped selling Puppen Fimo). I’m not a huge fan of that store due to their Christian Nation stuff and Wall Builders associations, but then I’m not a huge fan of ordering clay online either.

Creager DVDs

Anyway, while at Joann Fabrics, I got some Super Sculpey and white Premo to mix because that mixture seems to get fewer moonies (white spots that show up after baking) and this is what the Creagers use. I am presently studying art doll creation with the Creager DVDs. Their 3 DVDs are amazing.

Between the Creager’s tips on the DVDs and the information about avoiding cracking and burning I gathered today, I finally feel confident about curing polymer clay doll bodies or parts. I like the combination of informed innovation or experimentation with tried and true methods. — that’s the sweet spot.