Plasticine is a brand of modelling clay. There are many kinds of clay. Some are water based and will dry out if left uncovered. Others are meant to be baked into a permanent shape. The artwork on this web site is made with a plasticine type of modeling clay that is oil based, squishable, and non-hardening. Plasticine, Plastolina, Plastimodal, Klean Klay and Plasticolor are just a few of the brands you may find at your local art and craft or toy store.
Plasticine was invented in England over one hundred years ago, by art teacher William Harbutt. He had been searching for an easy to use modeling material for his students and the final product was the result of many experiments. Not only did the adult artists fall in love with “the clay that never dries out”, so did William’s six children. They filled the house with plasticine castles, model boats, battle scenes and fountains.
William first thought of his invention as a teaching aid, but when he saw the delight it brought his family he decided to package it for sale, so other children could enjoy it. The whole family helped come up with the name Plasticine.
Since then, millions of pounds of Plasticine have been shaped by artists, architects, engineers and children into everything from military maps in both World Wars to models for the first space suit, from aircraft design to dental models and dinosaurs.
An early pamphlet for Harbutt’s Plasticine declared “There are 101 uses for Plasticine”. Albert Blanchard, chief British military modeler in World War I, valued most of all the amusement and education that plasticine brought to children. He said: “You can teach art and geography with it. You can demonstrate carpentry and plumbing. You can roll it, cut it, mold and shape it, and then crush up what you have made and start all over again. No wonder it fascinates people so much that after playing with it as children, they keep the habit for the rest of their lives.” I couldn’t agree more!
Plasticine Tips and Techniques
Take a few minutes to squish and knead a small piece of clay in your hands at the start of a project. It will warm up your hands and soften the clay.
Modeling clay is available in many colours, but you can make even more by mixing colours together. For example: a small amount of red and yellow plasticine kneaded together will slowly become orange.
Adding white makes colours lighter; black makes them darker. When adding dark colour, a little goes a long way.
Brown, red, white and yellow can be combined in different amounts to make skin tones. Colours that are partially mixed have a marbled look that can be used for interesting effects as well.
When working on a book, I keep an extra board with notes and samples of the colours I have mixed, to help me remember how to make them.
Build a Picture
Artwork that is created by moulding or carving a design that stands out from the surface is called Relief Sculpture. Carvings on ancient temples and faces on the coins in your pocket are examples of relief sculpture. Plasticine pictures are made by building up layers of clay. I use three basic techniques to make a plasticine relief picture:
Choose a base to build your picture on. I use Illustration Board (heavy cardboard available at art supply stores). Some other materials you can build plasticine art on are cardboard, paper plates, plastic lids, CD jewel cases and aluminum pie plates. Make sure the material you work on is strong enough to support the heavy clay without bending.
Use your thumbs and fingers to spread a background, starting with small pieces and adding as you go. The background is the farthest thing away in the scene. For example, an outdoor scene might have a blue sky background. You might choose a black background for an outer space picture. A scene inside an igloo may have a white background. Smearing different colours together can create sunsets or underwater effects. It is easy to add details to the sticky surface of the background.
Make shapes with your fingers and add them to the background. Roll a small ball of clay in your fingers and then press it flat, like a pancake. This circle shape can be a yellow sun, someone’s rosy red cheeks, or you can pile up a few circles to build a puffy white cloud.
Rolling clay with a flat hand on a hard surface makes a long snake- like shape. Those long strings of clay can be used to create hair, tree branches, smoke rising from a chimney or stripes on a tiger. Many simple shapes can add up to make very detailed pictures.
3. Adding Texture
Adding texture makes your artwork even more detailed and interesting. Some useful tools for texture are:
- a sharp pencil to “draw” lines in the clay to add a smile to a face, or whiskers to a snout. You can poke little dots to make eyes, nostrils or nail holes in a fence.
- a plastic knife or thin ruler edge to cut straight lines to make the edges of buildings or machines.
- small comb or fork can be used to scratch a grassy or furry texture.
- an old tooth brush pressed into the surface makes a fuzzy texture.
I use my imagination to think up the textures I want, and look around the house for tools to help me.
By spreading, modelling and adding texture to plasticine you can create any picture imaginable. One of the best things about modeling clay is that if something doesn’t work at first, you can easily pick it off, squish it up and try again. The most important thing to remember is: have fun!