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I like to do messy and creative play with my toddler at least once a week and over the last month we've been using this clay to produce some wonderful home-made presents and ornaments. One of the projects I had planned was making some ornaments for everybody's trees. I toyed with the idea of using salt dough, but in the end decided that I would get better results using air drying clay. I actually purchased two brands of clay, Early Learning Centre's version that cost £1.60 for 500g and this Das air drying clay that cost me £7.50 for 1kg. As both types of clay should (in theory) be similar, there will be times when I compare the two as I feel this will be more helpful than simply focussing on the one type.
The Das clay arrives wrapped in an airtight package that needs to be opened with a pair of scissors. Once opened the package can be resealed using a sticky tab, well that's the theory anyway. In reality the sticky tab is not really up to the job and comes unstuck within seconds. This poor design means that unless you use the clay in one go, you will need to find another way of keeping the air away from it. It's probably a bit excessive, but I've wrapped my block in cling film and then placed it in a Tupperware style container with the lid firmly closed. By doing this I've managed to store the clay for a couple of weeks without it showing any sign of drying out. I must say that this is definitely a minus point for the Das clay especially as the ELC clay comes supplied in a screw top tub.
On opening the packaging you are faced with a largish block of off-white clay, that has a fairly soft consistency making it easy to tear a piece off for modelling. After tearing a piece off it does need a little work to make it pliable enough to do fine work with, I generally knead and roll it with a rolling pin, much as would if I were making pasta. I find it takes less than five minutes before the clay is ready to turn into pieces of artwork. When working with the clay it does leave an off-white residue on both my hands and the surface that I'm working on, but this residue washes off easily with a little soapy water.
Once I've worked the clay, I allow my toddler to have a piece to squidge between his fingers, which he absolutely loves and then I roll the rest out into a flat sheet ready to use cookie and ELC Soft Stuff cutters. We find the clay's consistency is good, not so dry that it cracks as we work with it, but not so wet that it sticks to everything. By rolling it out to about ½-1 centimetre thick, we have no trouble pushing the cutters through the clay and then removing the access. One slight problem that I had first time, was the cut-outs being hard to lift off the cutting surface without pulling them out of shape, but this was resolved by lifting the rolled out clay before starting to cut.
After cutting out the shapes it's easy to make holes in them ready for threading string through by using a toothpick. Once we've cut all our shapes out, we lay them on a cling film covered baking tray to dry. The time the clay takes to dry obviously depends on the size of your final product, but our ornaments took about 48 hours to become totally dry, with me turning them over at regular intervals. Once dry the clay's "whiteness" brightens considerably, meaning that the finished article is just off of pure white. The dried article is also considerably lighter than it was while wet, meaning that we can make fairly large ornaments with worrying that they will bend the tree branches. My only real issue here is that the clay appears to be made of fibres (like paper) which means the edges are a little rough and need sanding once dry.
Once your project is completely dry it can be painted and the white clay takes colour very well, I've only ever used poster paint and have had good results with only minimal bleeding into unpainted areas. One slight problem at this stage is that the paint does make the clay a little wet and therefore fragile for a short while, meaning it needs to be dried between coats. At the decoration stage other embellishments can be added, we've glued on sequins and glitter which really adds the personal touch. Although you can leave the finished objects as they are, to protect them for years to come we've varnished them with a specialist varnish. I would imagine that clear nail varnish would also do a fairly good job. Once we'd painted, embellished and varnished our ornaments they looked absolutely fantastic, and I must say that using only 75g (out of 1000g) of clay we made 10 ornaments, meaning that the clay is great value for money, as this type of home-made, one-of-a-kind ornament would cost at least a couple of quid from a craft stall.
As well as making these simple ornaments with my son, I have to confess that I've had quite a play with it myself create slightly more intricate pieces. Although I've never been particularly talented where art is concerned, I've always enjoyed the tactile experience of working with clay. There's something about the feel of the clay as I work it and it earthy aroma that takes me back to my teenage years, when I spent almost a year working on a sculpture for my art GCSE, taking out all my anger and frustrations of a lump of clay while it slowly transformed into something that represented my inner self.
While this isn't exactly identical to working with "real" clay, it's pretty damned close. It has just the right texture for creating even fairly intricate detail, soft enough to roll into thin sausages for plaiting or little balls but firm enough to hold it's shape. I've used it to create several projects including a name plate for my son's door, fridge magnets (using some magnets I bought in a craft shop) and a tea light holder. I can smooth a little water over the surface to help stick different elements of a project together and it holds once dry (although the paint and varnish may help). I can also use various objects to create patterns on the surface, for example if I press a piece of netting onto the surface it with leave a good imprint. I love working with this clay and find it therapeutic, even if I don't always get fantastic results. I also love that rather than needing to be oven or even kiln baked, this dries just by being left in the open air, although I have found that it's best to turn it regularly so that it dries evenly. So far I've had no problems with the clay cracking as it dries, but none of my projects has been particularly large.
When I compare this clay to the ELC version, it has many advantages and very few disadvantages. The main disadvantage would be the price, gramme for gramme it is far more expensive than the ELC clay, costing £7.50 per kilogram as opposed to £3.20 per kilogram for the ELC clay and the ELC clay comes in a tub rather than being wrapped in plastic. But really that's it as far as the disadvantages go, unless you are looking for clay that is clay coloured. The ELC clay is much harder to work, so dry that I need to add water and is the colour of normal clay meaning it's harder to decorate.
Although this clay is somewhat more expensive than some of the alternatives, it is a far superior product that I will be purchasing again. I've not tried the ELC coloured clay, but this is far easy to work with than their standard air drying clay. Both my son and I have enjoyed working with it and we've both created some really nice ornaments. Although I wouldn't really suggest allowing a child under the age of say eight to play with this unsupervised, it's an ideal medium for working with them. I especially like the fact that we don't need to worry about heating the oven up, which takes away the risk of burning (and the cost of the gas). So I'm perfectly happy to give the Das Air Drying Clay four stars out of five, with it losing the one star due to the rather unfit for purpose packaging. And I would recommend it for those who wish to make models and ornaments from clay without worrying about the need to fire or bake the final results.