How to make an air-dry clay bird sculpture
Learn how to make clay birds easily with this step-by-step tutorial. A fail-proof way to make identical, light-weight bird sculptures to decorate your home.
I always liked to craft with air dry clay. And I was over the moon a couple of years ago when I’ve found that you can make air dry clay at home with a couple of simple ingredients.
Yeah, we made salt dough when we were children but never liked how they looked after drying.
The first project I made with homemade air dry clay (cornstarch and baking soda dough) were snowflake ornaments for Christmas. They were white and lightly sparkling because of the baking soda. They turned out chic!
I decided a couple of months ago that I will make a little sculpture using this recipe. A little bird would fit best in our living room decor.
Even though it’s effortless to craft with air dry clay (either store-bought or homemade) but there a few tricks that can save you from a lot of headaches.
Because you know air dry clay:
- Cracks easily and shrinks while drying,
- small lint stick to it,
- get stained easily (from the hand or working surface),
- big chunks won’t dry out properly, etc.
I wanted to create a lightweight bird sculpture, so I could also use it as a wreath decor if I want to, and that will keep its shape and won’t shrink or crack after drying.
Also, with this simple tutorial, you can make an army of birds that look the same.
So, let’s get started!
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How to make a bird out of clay easily?
It’s not that hard to sculpt a bird. The tricky part is the drying, and if you want to make multiple identical birds. This process will also allow people who are not crafty to create a stunning clay bird ornament.
My ‘secret’ is to create an armature. I’ve chosen styrofoam because it’s lightweight (I plan to add this bird to a Spring wreath), it’s smooth, so it’s easy to achieve an even surface all over the bird.
Supplies and tools:
- air dry clay (homemade or storebought),
- styrofoam egg,
- styrofoam ball (1.2″),
- foam sheet (with sticky back or simple + double-sided tape),
- bead (Optional, I’ve added a smaller one, but the dough covered it. You may use a bigger one if you want to create eyes),
- craft knife,
- hot glue gun +glue,
- plastic wrap,
- sandpaper (optional).
Clay bird instructions:
STEP #1 – Carving
Carve out the head socket with the craft knife. I’ve cut almost half of the size of the ball. I recommend carving gradually and testing it over-and-over again until you are satisfied with the look.
STEP #2 – Cutting
Cut out the tail and the beak from the cardboard. I made the tail pointy at the top so I could easily insert it in the body.
Foam sheets are better for the wings because they fit the body. I’ve cut two pairs of wings for both sides (so four in total). The upper layer of wings was a bit smaller to achieve a rounder, more natural effect.
To make the tail thicker, cut out two layers of foam ‘tails’ (one at the top the other at the bottom). Attach them only after assembling the bird.
STEP #3 – Assemble the parts
Glue the head (styrofoam ball) in the socket. Cut a ‘<‘ shape for the beak. Fold and insert the small triangle cardboard.
Make a line cut and insert the tail. Attach the foam tails on the cardboard.
Stick the foam sheets on the body. Make sure that they are symmetrical.
I also added beads for the eyes, but they weren’t noticeable after covering them air dry clay. So, you can skip that or try to add bigger beads. (To put in the eyes, make a ‘+’ shaped cut.)
STEP #4 – Cover with clay
When the armature is ready, cover the bird with air dry clay.
I loved the homemade air dry clay because it was softer than regular store-bought brands. It was easier to patch and smooth roughnesses.
I used this cornstarch and baking soda dough recipe from A Piece of Rainbow.
Use plastic wrap on the table and also for smoothing out the surface of the clay bird. It prevents small lint and dirt from sticking to the dough.
STEP #5 – Mending and smoothing (optional)
If small cracks appear on your bird (like it did on mine), use small pinches of clay push in the crack and smooth it out.
Leave your bird to dry at least 24h to cure properly in a warm spot of your home.
Gently sand off rough or uneven spots.
STEP #6 – Painting and sealing
You can paint your clay bird with acrylic paint.
To make it last longer, use a sealer to protect your craft soaking up moisture from the air.
Tips and Hacks for sculpting with air-dry clay:
- Always wash your hands well before working with air dry clay. You wouldn’t think how many small fibers or dust may be stuck on your hand.
- Store leftover air dry clay wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the fridge. (They last a couple of weeks. I still have usable dough from this craft.)
- Wet your hands to smooth the clay.
- Work fast while sculpting, and don’t touch the clay a lot. The dough can dry it from your hands.
- Don’t rush the drying time (hairdryer, putting in the oven, or somewhere hot). Fast-drying may result in lots of cracks.
Do you paint clay before or after baking?
Paint homemade air dry clay with food coloring while preparing the dough (before cooking the dough).
Paint your sculptures after drying. Acrylic paint works beautifully both on homemade and store-bought air dry clay.
How do you preserve air dry clay sculptures?
Applying varnish to your clay craft will make it last longer. Air-dry clay can soak up moisture from the air and becomes softer.
Can you waterproof air dry clay?
You can use Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge to make your air dry clay bird waterproof. But since this is a bird sculpture, I believe you wouldn’t pop it in the dishwasher. It’ll help you in keeping your beautiful bird clean.
Mod Podge becomes yellow if it’s exposed to the sun a lot. Use the Outdoor Mod Podge if you want to display your clay bird in the garden.
Mod Podge is awesome for sealing crafts. You can get it in lots of variables.
How to get a gloss finish on air dry clay?
Most Modge Podges have a gloss finish, but you can also choose one with a matte effect. Use Modge Podge Super Thick Gloss for a high-shine finish or Modge Podge Extreme Glitter for a sparkly effect on Christmas crafts.
Does air dry clay break easily?
Air-dry clay crafts are fragile and may break easily. Using an armature makes them sturdy and more durable.
Thin, long, protruding parts are more prone to breaking off.
How long does air dry clay last?
Air-dry clay sculptures and objects that are sealed and stored properly last indefinitely.
Here are a few tips to make them last longer:
- Keep them away from water and moisture.
- Store them in an air-tight container, in a dark and dry spot when not used.
- Dust off gently with a soft brush (if it’s not sealed) or wipe down with a soft, damp cloth (if you used a waterproof varnish like Modge Podge).
- Use armature to make them sturdier: wire, aluminum foil, styrofoam, etc.
Can you leave air dry clay outside?
Technically, If your air-dry clay bird, sculpture, or craft is sealed with a waterproof varnish that is also suitable for outdoors (for example, the Outdoor Mod Podge), you can leave them outside.
Nonetheless, I would still keep them in a protected spot.
For example, leaving them on the ground, exposes them to constant humidity. Strong sunlight may discolor and fade the sculpture.
It’s best to keep them protected from weather extremities (mostly sunlight and water).
Conclusion about the air-dry clay bird
I really enjoyed making this cute little clay bird. I’ll keep it on my shelf until Spring, when I’ll use it on a wreath.
I hope you liked this easy air-dry clay tutorial, and I could also answer your questions.
If not, leave a comment!