Making air dried clay hearts is a wonderful creative pastime. Airdrying clay is widely available from craft and art stores. I’m experimenting at the moment with different brands, but primarily they all work out the same. Here is a step by step of how I make my art decoration hearts.
Rolling and Forming the Shapes
I have arthritic hands, so use a heavy duty rolling pin to pummel and knead the clay to soften it so that it becomes more pliable. After softening the clay, I roll it out to approximately 5mm thick, making sure the surface is as smooth as possible at this stage. I then use shaped cutters to form the hearts and smooth the edges with a small damp sponge, and using a thin straw, make the hole ready for ribbon later.
Next comes the bit where patience is needed. Waiting for them to dry. I lay them on grease proof paper to dry, but not by a radiator. Slow drying helps them to keep their shape better and avoids cracking. As they dry, there will be some shrinkage. The trick for me here is to regularly turn the hearts, approximately twice a day, morning and evening, which helps for even drying and to stop them curling. At this point though, wrinkles may also begin to appear in places. This is not a disaster though because later, once thoroughly dried, they will be sanded until smooth and slightly rounded at the edges.
Sanding and Smoothing
I start off with rough sandpaper to get rid of the wrinkles and change to fine sandpaper to super smooth the surfaces. I don’t rush this step because heavy scrubbing with the sandpaper can easily catch and break away a bit from the edge. By the time the surface is lovely and smooth, the heart will be about 3 mm thick. The dried clay though is surprisingly tough and doesn’t shatter if you accidently drop it like ceramic clay might.
I’m quite picky at this point, and some hearts get rejected for not being good enough for my miniature paintings, but I still keep the rejects for other craft work possibilities. Nothing gets wasted.
Next comes the crucial step, to thoroughly seal the airdried clay to stop moisture getting in over the years to come, and to provide a base ready for painting. This I do several times. The first sealing is with PVA, taking care to get into the ribbon hole as well, but without clogging it up. Then, again with another coat of PVA mixed with acrylic artists white primer, about 50/50. Sometimes, after a very light sanding, I will add another coat of white acrylic with a little PVA, about 80% acrylic and 20% PVA. This helps to level any tiny imperfections like bumps or dimples. Each coat is left to dry thoroughly before adding the next coat.
Finally, the painting begins. Depending on what I’ve decided to paint, I give an undercoat of the base colour. Then, as each layer and glaze of colour is added, the flower takes form, and gives depth to the final painting.
I tend to leave the hearts hanging on makeshift wire hooks to thoroughly dry between layers of primer, and layers of the actual painting. I also want to make sure my final painting is thoroughly dry before varnishing.
I use artist quality satin and gloss varnish to finish off my work, or a combination of both. Each heart has several coats of varnish. It is crucial here to leave each coat to dry a minimum of 24 hours (longer in damp winter months) before applying the next coat, and to apply the varnish thinly each time. Impatience at this stage can bobble the varnish underneath if it is not completely dry, and then it all needs removing and starting over.
I have found that the varnish needs to cure or harden for several weeks. I learnt this the hard way. I had a small pop-up at a craft fair and displayed the newly varnished hearts on small display cardboards (like necklaces are displayed), only to find once stacked for any length of time, the varnish, although dry, was still slightly “tacky”, and had to be very carefully separated from the boards.
So, you can see from the process, that each heart is not only completely unique, but has gone through a dozen or more stages of handling, and waiting in between, before being ready for finding a forever home.
If you appreciate completely hand made unique artisan decorations and miniature paintings, then browse the Art Decoration section in my shop. Visit me regularly to see new ones added when they are ready. I love making these in between painting my larger art works.
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