Fall in Love with Artful Paper Clay

Sometimes you come across an art supply, use it, fall madly in love with it, and wonder, where have you been all my life? That’s my story with paper clay. I didn’t pay much attention—until I read the book Artful Paper Clay: Techniques for Adding Dimension to Your Art by Rogene Mañas. What I discovered changed everything.

What Rogene creates with paper clay is nothing short of astounding. The effects she’s able to get with this simple, inexpensive material are incredible—beautiful sculpted artwork with depth, color, texture, and dimension. The pieces you’ll create can be used in every aspect of mixed-media art: collage, assemblage, painting, jewelry, books, and more.

artful paper clay
Artful Paper Clay is the only guide you need to working with this fun, versatile material to create mixed-media art.

If you’ve never worked with paper clay before, you have zero to worry about. Everything is included in this book. Rogene’s instructions, tips, and techniques cover every facet, including how to work with paper clay, basic tools, and how to mix colors, add texture, and finish the pieces. She also includes techniques that incorporate stamps and stencils, so you’ll get even more use out of your favorite mixed-media tools. If you’re no stranger to paper clay, you’ll ramp up your skills with new methods of working with the material. Rogene’s artwork will inspire you to make paper clay a big part of your repertoire.

Since we’re on the cusp of fall here in New England, I was inspired to create an autumn leaf, using one of the many templates in the book. You can absolutely come up with your own designs, but Rogene’s great templates included in the book are perfect for first-timers. After rolling out some clay, I used the template and a stylus to impress the leaf design. With a craft knife I cut around the shape, then neatened it up. Rogene’s a big proponent of using inexpensive tools for paper clay (think drinking straws), and these wooden clay tools were perfect. Some have rounded ends, some are pointy, and others are flat. As she says, use the ones you like best. I used the rounded end of one tool to refine the edges I had just cut, dipping it in water and gently smoothing the clay. Using a sharp edge, I defined the leaf’s veins.

paper clay
Wooden clay tools are perfect for shaping, defining, and adding details to paper clay.

Rogene also has a great technique for created a raised vein in the middle of the leaf, which helps to make it look more realistic. I love the effect.

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Creating a raised vein in the leaf’s center helps make it look more natural.

Another favorite tip is creating a shadow on one side of the center vein by impressing small lines in the clay. Brilliant. It gives the leaf so much dimension.

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Add even more depth with a shadow effect.

When the paper clay was dry (it will be room temperature to the touch, instead of cool), I prepped it for painting by brushing on two coats of white gesso and two coats of acrylic gloss medium. These are important steps before painting the piece, and they don’t take long. When all the layers were dry I brushed on a wash of Payne’s Gray, then wiped it with a paper towel saturated with a little rubbing alcohol. This removes the deep color from the surface, but the paint remains in the crevices to give the piece extra depth.

paper clay
A dark paint wash makes the details in the paper clay piece stand out.

A little staining was left on the surface, but it didn’t bother me, so I kept it. You can paint on another coat of gesso to make it white again.

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The paper clay piece is now ready to be painted.

Using acrylic paint, I painted part of the leaf green, and part red-orange.  Artful Paper Clay includes thorough information on painting paper clay, color mixing, and color palettes, offering great ideas for adding color to your piece. There’s even a technique for using collage papers, which is not to be missed.

artful paper clay
Blending shades of acrylic paint makes for a more nuanced piece; the book has all the details on how to achieve those effects.

I mounted the leaf on a small wooden plaque that I painted and distressed. I also made some tiny dome shapes from the paper clay, painted them with burnt umber paint, and adhered them as well for a little embellishment.

artful paper clay
The finished paper clay piece is ready for hanging!

With the holidays approaching, Artful Paper Clay makes a great gift for the creative people on your list. Add a package of paper clay and some tools and you’ll be a hero. Pick up a copy of the book for yourself and get a head start on paper clay gifts, tags, and ornaments. I hope you fall for paper clay as much as I have!

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