Paper clay is an amazing material which you can buy readymade from most clay suppliers. It comes in all clay types, to meet all of your making needs – earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, red, white, grogged, and so on.
Regular clays are all great at doing their jobs, but sometimes you start a project and think ‘paper clay would be perfect for this’. Of course, you don’t have any and can’t get to the supplier to get some. So, what do you do? Make your own! The perfect solution
You will need:
A roll of two-ply toilet roll
Tea tree essential oil (bleach will work too, but tea tree smells nicer) * Reader Chris Heneghan wrote in with an additional tip to prevent rotting: 0.2% copper carbonate (2g/kg) added to the mix is not enough to colour it, but the copper’s antimicrobial properties are enough to keep the clay sweet and usable, with no added scent. Chris has some that’s two years old and is as good as the day it was made
Food processor/ juicer/ liquidiser
Drill – a single food-mixer blade should fit the chuck, to act as a mixer for the clay
Plaster batt or whatever you normally use for drying reclaim. HardieBacker board is great
Bowl/bucket for mixing
Some useful information and tips before you begin
You can buy dry paper fibre from most ceramic suppliers, and it cuts out a stage in the making process if you have some in the cupboard for those times you want to make paper clay. If you use this material, you must wear a dust mask when first mixing it – at least until it has been soaked in water.
Alternatively, you can use tissue paper or newspaper, and it’s worth experimenting with other papers if you have time. The weights used in this mix are not scientific but will work well – you can alter the ratios of paper to clay, but the more paper you add, the more open and friable the clay will become. If you want to change the mix, you will have to experiment to find a ratio that will suit the item you want to make, but I would not suggest more than a 50/50 mix.
Homemade paper clay will rot quickly and smell quite dreadful – hence the addition of tea tree oil or bleach. This slows down the formation of bacteria to some degree, but the best solution to the problem is to make only enough clay for the project in hand. Any scraps left over from making can be allowed to dry, then slaked down the next time you want to make something.
YOU MUST ventilate your kiln well when firing paper clay. The paper will burn away during firing, causing fumes, which can be very unpleasant. The fumes will affect the kiln elements over time if the ventilation is not adequate.
You shouldn’t be in the studio when firing paper clay and the room itself should also be well ventilated.
Paper clay can be used in exactly the same way as your normal clay, with some extra benefits. It can stick to itself in any state, wet or dry, thin or thick, and paper clay slip can be used as a glue.
Unroll a roll of toilet paper into a bowl.
The beauty of using toilet paper is that it will break down quickly. It will look like a large amount when dry but will break down to only a small bowl full.
Pour boiling water over the paper. This helps it break down more quickly than cold water.
Give the paper a good mix with a spatula then leave it until the water has cooled down again, or even overnight (if you can wait that long!).
Liquidise the paper in a blender. You’ll need to add an adequate amount of water for the paper to break up well, and zizz it for several minutes before transferring it to another bowl. It will look like porridge when ready.
Scoop out a handful of paper and allow it to drain through a sieve to remove most of the water – give it a little squeeze to help it along.
Transfer the paper to a bowl or bucket and add two handfuls of clay slurry. You can weigh these mixtures if you prefer – 2 clay to 1 paper – but it isn’t necessary unless you want to avoid the mess of scooping out the slurry/slip in your hand. Alternatively, you could use a cup for measuring – the same ratio.
Repeat this ratio of clay to paper to make as much or little paper clay as you need for your project.
Add a drop of tea tree oil to the mixture or a small capful of bleach.
Fix the food blender blade into the end of the drill and secure, then mix the paper clay mixture thoroughly for several minutes to ensure it is well blended.
Empty the bowl of clay onto a plaster batt using a rubber kidney to ensure none of the mixture is wasted. See here for how to make a plaster batt
Spread the clay evenly over the batt using a rib or similar tool.
Note – You could leave the slab to dry completely in this way; it can then be used for a slab project – easily cut to size and shape with a knife at either the leather hard stage or when fully dried.
Scoop the clay up periodically with a rib and turn it over to allow it to firm up evenly if you want to use the clay in a plastic state.
This can be a bit messy, depending on how much water is in the clay and may need to be done a few times.
When the clay easily peels off the plaster without being a squelchy mess, knead it until it’s a completely smooth and even body with no visible air pockets.
It’s now ready to be used for slabbing, coiling or modelling and there’s no need for the work to be made hollow if you don’t want it to be because the paper opens the body enough to allow for the safe escape of air in firing.
You can work to any scale – paper clay is extremely strong in both green and fired states but only a fraction of the weight of regular clay.
A useful idea: While still a slip, spread the mixture into a mould to dry out – great for bowls!
You could even throw with it, although this isn’t easy.
Treat the clay in the same way as you would for your usual practice in terms of decoration and firing, bearing in mind it’s great for raku and other extreme firing processes.