Keeping your clay projects moist and plastic

Our students create a variety of 3-dimensional projects and sculptures, and sometimes we work with clay.

Clay is a natural material found in the earth.  In order to keep the clay moist (slightly wet) and plastic (soft and pliable for easy modeling and shaping), it is important to take care of the clay.  Clay dries out slightly while we work on it and will dry completely if left exposed to the air for long enough.

In between classes — when the children are not working on their projects — we keep their clay sculptures moist and plastic by storing them in plastic bags.  The following video demonstrates how the children take care of their artwork at the end of each art class and how they should store clay if they use it at home.


how to store your clay to maintain moisture & plasticity from YIS Academics on Vimeo.

36 thoughts on “Keeping your clay projects moist and plastic

  1. Went to a art class today and used clay to make model sculptered and I am keeping wrapped in plastice for now, but would like to know can I paint or spray it with something to keep it from drying out to much, so I can keep it? It is not going to be put in an oven.

    Thank you,

    • Did the art class teacher not explain your options? Do you mean “keep it” as in “work in it later” (unfinished) or as in “put it on display” (finished)? Clay will eventually dry as the water evaporates. Even wrapped in plastic, it will have to be regularly sprayed with water in order to stay malleable.

  2. My Son and his kidlets 11 and 8 found, cleaned and prepared natural clay. Our holiday ended before they could begin modeling. Will plastic bag as above keep it usable for several months. My Grandmother the Potty Potter kept bags of it around but she is not here to check with.
    Rosilind Schroeder

    • Yes. Wrap clay in plastic bag tightly (no air) and then wrap again with another bag. Perhaps store it in an opaque plastic container and not in a dry environment.

    • Hello,
      I’m not sure what “modify a dry sculpture with moist clay” means. Like add a handle to a cup that is already bone-dry? I have found that to be a tricky proposition. I don’t have the expertise to answer. Same with bonding dry & moist clay — I’ve tried slip as an adhesive, but it usually fails.
      You may find better advice online in art/ceramic forums.

    • I really don’t know how to reply to this question as it’s quite broad. There are many different clays. What do you mean by “materials”? My best recommendation is to take a basic class on clay pottery or sculpture at a local school, university, community center, or private studio. Your instructor should be able to answer your questions. Also, many answers about clay and sculpture are available online. Type your questions into a search engine and see what responses you get.

  3. I need to use a mold for my ceramics. How can I make sure that the clay won’t stick to the mold? In other words, what is a non-adhesive formula I can use for clay?

  4. Hi, jean again. Sorry for not being clear on my previous question.
    I’m making a diorama and I need to make some tiny figurines out of clay. What are the best materials for this and are their any molds that you know I can buy?

    • I would go to a craft store (or website) and order airdry “clay” (which is not actually clay but a heck of a lot easier to deal with as no kiln is required). You can paint the figures with acrlyic or gouache paint (or model paint). I never use molds, so I have no recommendations there.

    • There are many clays. I am not a ceramic expert. You may need to ask someone at a clay studio or a college/university ceramic instructor.

  5. Jean here,
    I got air-dry clay for my figurines, however it dries “brittle” and cracks pretty easily. Would Sculpey be a ben tter solution?

    • There is so much variation in the available “clay” (air-dry, sculpey, plasticine, paper-clay, etc) — not to mention between various brands of the same type — that you really have to try them out until you find what works for you. A lot depends, as you are finding out, on exactly what your needs are for a given project. Explore and experiment and document your trials.

    • My experience with non-clay “clay” — clay not from the earth — is that each type (each brand) is different. You just have to spend time playing with it, testing it, noting drying times, etc. I personally do not use it for class projects, but I have it around in case a student wants it. I either use playdough or actual clay for our projects.

  6. Any recommendations on which clay to use for claymation? I currently only use figures for stop motion. Would love to get into claymation.

    Any help is appreciated.


    • I am no expert, but definitely do not use clay for claymation. Use playdough/plasticine. As to what kind or brand, I do not have a suggestion — other than to Google it.

    • You can try. Ultimately, it’s your decision as to what it looks like in the end. If you like it, then I guess that’s fine. Clay generally is a slightly rough surface, which is tough on markers (which are made of felt). Also, what if your pottery gets wet? Probably the colors will drip or fade. There is a good reason people usually use glaze to color their clay work. Then again, the artist Ken Price famously painted all his ceramic sculptures with acrylic paint, not glaze (but then his were pieces of “fine art”, not pottery). In the end, you just have to experiment and do what works for you and your eye.

    • Apologies, but I am not a ceramics expert. From my university days, I do not recollect any clay stored in refrigerators, but the work studios were relatively cool where the classes was stored. Not sure what you mean by “some time”, but I keep clay for months at a time at room temp (triple-wrapped), and it’s fine. I would try looking online for answers.

    • I don’t know what type of clay you are using, which may affect this result. Also, the clay must be very well wedged before it is used. Beyond that, I don’t know the solution.

    • I don’t use sculpey, although I know it’s not clay. It’s a manufactured playdough/clay type of material. You might need to search for solutions online. Perhaps there are either forums by people who use it or you can check the manufacturers’ websites for directions-for-use.

    • Sorry for the late reply, Miranda — apparently I’m not receiving notifications anymore from WordPress. When you refer to “sculpture”, do you mean strictly CLAY sculpture? I have never put metal in a clay sculpture and then fired it in a kiln. Certainly it can add texture depending on how you do it, but as to the effects of hot metal in clay in a kiln-fire process, I don’t know the ramifications. You would need to ask a proper ceramic artist, which I am not.

  7. A few of My students’ clay project fall apart during spring break. I know they saved the project using newspaper with too much water because they wrapped it with plastic. They not believe me. They think I am crazy. They challenge me and were disrespectfully. I research and can find no information about clay collpsing due too much water. Do you know where I can find information about that so that I can show it to the students ? Thanks a lot

    • Too much water means the clay will turn to mush and not be workable. Too little water means the clay becomes dry and brittle and also unworkable. The humidity of the room where you work and store your clay is also a key factor. There is a lot of information online about clay, if you don’t have a ceramic teacher/artist/expert available (I’m not an expert in ceramics, but I teach basic clay building techniques in my elementary art classes).

  8. Hi Reeda. Love how you made an article on keeping clay dry and every question you are asked in this thread your answer is basically “I don’t know I’m not an expert, google it” Just thought that was amusing. I won’t ask any questions, you’re totally right that google is a better source LOL.

    • Thanks for the kind thoughts. I have received more replies to this thread than any other single thing I’ve ever posted online. I actually made the video strictly for my students to refresh their memories of what we cover in class. Also it helps the parents see what their children are learning in my class. But I never meant to come across as an expert in clay art. Clay is actually quite complex when it comes to firing times, glazes, storage, etc, as I learned when I was in university. I have a great respect for ceramic artists.

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