Make a Clay Mobile
Welcome! In this tutorial you will practice basic hand-building techniques using air-dry clay, explore the art element line using a brush pen and ink, then combine these efforts into a beautiful clay mobile.
Gather Your Materials
-DAS air-dry clay, white and/or red
-Brush pen pre-filled with black ink OR small paint brushes and any kind of black ink
-Rolling pin OR improvise (a wine bottle works!)
-Jute string, cotton, nylon or any other strong fiber works well
-Things you may already have: a straw, wood skewer or toothpick, scissors, scrap cardboard, plastic or metal butter knife, a spray bottle for water or a cup with water
Easy to use, air-dry clay.
Cut clay into fun shapes!
Fill with ink or watercolors
Step 1: Make a double-thick cardboard slat
A slat makes it a lot easier to roll out clay evenly. We will make a simple one using scrap cardboard.
Step 2: Roll a clay slab
Once you have pressed the clay to about ½ inch thick, take your rolling pin and place it so that it rests on both of your cardboard slats, this will prevent any area of the clay from becoming too thin. Begin rolling out the clay, pausing to flip it, then turn it a quarter turn, and add a small amount of water if it starts to feel dry. Continue rolling until the clay is the height of your cardboard, about ¼ inch.
Step 3: Cut, smooth, and dry your clay forms
Now you’re ready to cut out your forms. I recommend using a paper template, or drawing your forms free-hand using the skewer or toothpick to make sure you’re happy with your design before cutting. If you do make a mistake and need to make repairs, water works like glue to help the air-dry clay stick together - but only use a tiny amount at a time.
I like to use organic shapes like circles and half-circles, but you can go more geometric - using diamonds, triangles or hexagons if you prefer. If you are looking for precision you can use a ruler and a sharp knife or even an Xacto knife to make your cuts. I prefer a Wabi-Sabi look of imperfection, and used a plastic butter knife to cut out my shapes.
Slowly work to smooth both sides and the edges with slightly damp fingertips after you cut them out, and be cautious as you work because they may stick slightly to your surface. This process can be time-consuming if you really want to achieve a smooth look, but it is also mindful and relaxing. It’s also perfectly fine to leave imperfections and textures on the surface.
You can take the remaining clay left over after cutting, and repeat steps 1-2 to make more forms.
Step 4: Punch holes in your forms for stringing
I found that a metal straw worked very well for this, but any type of straw should work - or you can simply poke or cut out small holes using a skewer if you do not have a straw available.
You may want to experiment with how you will arrange them first to see which will be the bottom shape, think about varying large and small, and how the forms can create a rhythm in your through repeating or mixing up the shapes.
Once you are happy with your arrangement I recommend taking a picture so that you remember how you would like to assemble them! Place them somewhere cool and dry to harden for at least 24 hours. If they are still squishy after drying for a day, you can put them in a sunny spot to finish drying, flipping them every couple of hours. The clay may take up to 48 hours to dry in cool or humid weather.
Step 5: Adding the ink line-work
While your clay is drying you can begin to explore the possibilities of your ink brush. Using paper or cardboard as your surface, try to make thin, medium and thick lines, and explore what kinds of motifs, patterns or images you would like to draw on your clay.
In looking for inspiration in my drawing I searched for images of traditional Nordic patterns, you may want to investigate patterns from traditional pottery, or embroidery then adapt them to your own style.
You can keep your drawing very geometric to go along with the overall feel of your piece, or explore organic patterns inspired by nature. Either way it is a good idea to practice first, the ink is permanent and the drawing you do will be spontaneous. I recommend working from finer lines to thicker when you begin drawing on the clay, whenever I have an unexpected result I either fill it in with ink, or draw more lines over and around it to make it part of the design. And don’t forget each shape has two sides - so if you really want to you can flip it over and start again. The ink only takes a few minutes to dry.
Step 6: Stringing your mobile
Now you are ready to assemble your mobile! Take a moment to arrange the shapes and make sure you’re happy with the configuration. After I added the line work I actually changed the order of my shapes so that it alternated between busier and more simple designs.
There are many knots that would work for this so if you want to use a different knot in your project that is awesome!
Add a single loop to the top shape for hanging, and trim your ends. You are ready to display your work!
Shop Faye's Wearable Art
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By Faye Kendall
Fiber artist, designer, and educator living and working in the East Bay of Northern California.