Tutorial: Paper Clay Holiday Tags

Studio Saturday is on a short break. Please enjoy this previously published blog post from our sister site, Artist’s Network! ~ Jeannine

I used to think paper clay was something that only 8-year-olds played with because “real” clay required serious supplies, like glazes and a kiln.

Guilty as charged. What turned my head around was seeing what the clay could become in the hands of skilled artists like Rogene Manas and Darlene Olivia McElroy. Many paper clay-friendly products, like the elegant Iron Orchid Designs Vintage Art Decor Moulds from Prima Marketing Inc., transform this clay into gorgeous components that can look like wood, plaster, or antique architectural details.

Now that I’m a convert, I’m here to spread the gospel of paper clay. If you’ve never worked with the stuff, go now to your nearest art or craft supply store and pick some up. Actually, go after you read this. Today’s project involves paper clay and an IOD Mould, but the clay is so versatile and easy to work with that you can texture and pattern it with rubber stamps, stencils, and found objects, or sculpt it any way you like.

I made a holiday tag using some of the techniques in Darlene’s Art Lesson Vol. 11: Adding Dimension with Fiber Paste and Paper Clay. As you can see from the photo below, the IOD Moulds are extremely detailed, and the paper clay renders those details beautifully. Because paper clay starts to dry the second it’s exposed to air, it’s a good idea to wrap any excess in plastic when not working with it.

Iron Orchid Design Moulds for paper clay
These Iron Orchid Design Vintage Art Decor Moulds from Prima Marketing Inc. work great with paper clay.

I cut a golf ball-sized hunk and conditioned it for a couple of minutes, then pressed it into the silicone mold. After doing a couple of molds you’ll get a feel for how much clay to use; if you have too much or too little, pull the clay out of the mold and add or subtract some until you have enough to work with. The clay can spill out of the mold a little, but it should also be level with the top of the mold. Really press it in there; these molds are fairly intricate, and you want to make sure the clay gets into every tiny crevice.

Paper clay pressed into silicone mold
Pressing the paper clay into every nook and cranny ensures that it will pick up the tiniest details.

Quick tip: Don’t worry if some of the clay looks cracked, or has lines in it—this adds to the vintage, worn look.

The clay can be left in the mold to dry, but I wanted to make a few molds at once, so I removed it. This part is super easy; just slowly bend the flexible mold back and gently remove the clay. I did this several times without a hitch. When I took the first piece out of the mold, I had an Oh. My. Gah. moment—it looked incredible, and my head instantly filled with a slew of ideas and projects.

Unmolding paper clay from silicone mold
Unmolding the paper clay from the flexible silicone molds is easy.

Quick tip: Making several pieces at once ensures you have extras for testing paints and mediums, and to use on future projects.

The dry time for paper clay depends on the climate and temperature; these dried overnight, but I had to flip them once. Compared side by side, the still-wet clay on the left is darker and a smidge larger than the dry clay on the right. As the clay loses moisture, it will shrink a bit.

Wet and dry molded paper clay
Wet (left) and dry (right) paper clay; when dry, clay is lighter in color and a little smaller.

The clay can be trimmed wet or dry. I chose to trim it while still wet, and found that a PenBlade #15 blade worked great for this. The small, curved scalpel got into small areas with ease, and I just had to press gently on the clay to cut it. If you want to cut the clay while dry, scissors will work, but for very detailed cuts I recommend trimming while it’s still wet. To shape the clay, dampen the tips of your fingers with water, and then smooth or sculpt it.

Cutting paper clay with a scalpel
I used a PenBlade #15 blade to cut the paper clay design while still wet.

When the piece was dry, I sanded it with an emery board, going gently over the areas to get rid of little burrs and rough spots. You can also do this with fine-grit sandpaper.

Sanding dry paper clay with an emery board
To smooth rough spots on dry clay, sand with an emery board.

In her Art Lesson, Darlene discusses how paper clay behaves with acrylic paint; since the clay is absorbent, paint applied directly onto the surface acts like a stain. While the paint is wet you can remove some with a paper towel, or sand it when dry. Or, you can prime the clay with acrylic medium, which allows the paint to rest on the surface, without penetrating as much. On this piece, I brushed acrylic matte medium on the right side only, brushed on DecoArt Media Phthalo Green-Blue fluid acrylic paint over the whole piece, then swiped some off with a paper towel. You can definitely see a difference—on the left (untreated) side, the paint really seeped into the clay, and on the right, the acrylic medium formed a bit of a barrier, allowing the paint to sit on top. In both cases the paint settled into the recesses nicely, creating depth.

Paper clay with and without acrylic medium
The left side was untreated, and the right side was painted with a coat of acrylic medium before being painted.

I liked the way the right side looked, so I primed a rosette design with acrylic medium and let it dry. Next, I brushed on a coat of DecoArt Media Burnt Sienna fluid acrylic paint mixed with a little water, then rubbed most of it off, leaving some color in the recesses. I did this so the base layer wouldn’t be stark white. I think this piece looks terrific as is!

Burnt Sienna underlayer on paper clay
A layer of Burnt Sienna acrylic paint wash was brushed on first.

Then I painted on a coat of Phthalo Green-Blue and wiped it off with a paper towel. I was still left with a lot of popping color.

Phthalo Green paint on paper clay
A second layer of Phthalo Green-Blue paint went on over the brown.

When that dried, I lightly rubbed the surface of the medallion with Art-C Metallic Paste in gold, just on the highlights. When the clay is fully dry it’s lightweight but very sturdy, making it a perfect accent piece for a number of projects. If you missed it, the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors has a fantastic project using paper clay and Iron Orchid Designs Moulds to enhance home decor!

Gold rub over painted paper clay
Art-C Metallic Paste in gold was rubbed on the highlights, adding even more depth.

I used a chipboard tag for this project, but a thin wood tag would also work. I covered one side with torn pieces of vintage music paper, overlapping them and adhering the pieces with glue stick (white glue, decoupage glue, or acrylic medium work well too).

Collaging chipboard tag
Pieces of vintage music paper were collaged on top of a chipboard tag.

To trim the overhanging pieces I turned the tag over, placed it on a cutting mat, held a craft knife at the edge, and trimmed the papers flush on each side. I repeated the collage process on the other side, but you can also paint the chipboard. I let the tag dry under a stack of heavy books for about an hour to prevent warping.

Trimming excess paper from the tag
Cutting the overhanging paper with a craft knife ensures clean edges.

To add some color to the tag I mixed DecoArt Media fluid acrylic paint in Transparent Red Iron Oxide with a little Dark Grey Value 3, and thinned it with water. After painting it over the tag, I wiped it off with a paper towel; this colored the paper while allowing the pattern to show through.

Painted collaged tag
A wash of acrylic paint colored the tag.

It seemed a little dark, so I lightened the color with some Translucent White paint, then knocked the brightness back a bit with some sepia ink. These acrylic paints are so easy to layer, allowing you to create interest and depth in the background.

Painted highlights on collaged tag
White paint was brushed on the tag to create highlights.

When the paint was fully dry I glued the medallion to the top of the tag with a thick white glue. For the bottom of the tag I found a beautiful vintage image of a cardinal from The Graphics Fairy and printed it, distressed it with sandpaper, and sponged on some sepia stamping ink to age it a bit. I glued on a strip of the music paper, and glued the cardinal on top. To create a shadow I traced around the image with a black Stabilo All pencil, then went over it with a waterbrush.

Ephemera glued to a tag
A vintage image of a bird was added to give the tag a holiday feel.

Here’s a second tag I did, using a slightly different technique: I glued the medallion to a paper-covered 8-sided tag, brushed acrylic medium over the entire piece, waited for it to dry, then painted the whole thing at once. DecoArt Media Antiquing Cream was brushed over the surface of the medallion, and I added gold accents with the metallic paste. The nice thing about these tags is that they work as both a package topper and an ornament.

Paper clay holiday tag
A completely different look was achieved with different paint colors.

I’m a little obsessed with paper clay now, and I can’t wait to make more art with it. Handmade book cover embellishment? Check. Collage element? Check. Jewelry component? Check.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest about this incredible material that’s bound to spark your creativity in so many ways. Here’s another tutorial for using paper clay to make a fall leaf plaque. And check out some of the fun items below that will help you discover how much fun adding dimension and texture to your artwork with paper clay can be.

Artful Paper Clay by Rogene Manas
Get tons of amazing techniques and ideas for working with paper clay in the eBook Artful Paper Clay by Rogene Manas.
Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons Vol. 11: Adding Dimension with Fiber Paste and Paper Clay by Darlene Olivia McElroy
Discover how paper clay can add texture and dimension to your mixed-media art in Art Lessons Vol. 11: Adding Dimension with Fiber Paste and Paper Clay by Darlene Olivia McElroy.
Paper clay techniques featured in the September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Get more great paper clay techniques from Darlene Olivia McElroy in the September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.
Paper clay home decor ideas in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Discover ways to add paper clay to home furnishings in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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