I have watched this category and noticed that a lot of people are dissatisfied with store-bought clay. The complaints are generally that it is too crumbly, the colors stain, arms crack, and fingers snap off.
After considering the options and spending a year studying and formulating modeling clay, I have come up with a solution based on the many samples friends have sent me or that I purchased from all over the world:
Giotto Pongo (New York via Italy)
Van Aken Plastalina (Oregon via California)
Faber-Castell (Colombia via Brazil)
Jovi Plastilina (Amazon U.S., via Mexico)
Sargent Art (Philadelphia).
I have talked to various chemists at these companies, trying to persuade them to distribute to retailers in Oregon because I thought they clay was nicer than what I could find in stores. They all said that it was too expensive for the chain-store retailers they approached to consider, citing the fact that the product might be sitting on their shelves for a good amount of time before it is purchased and store would want to sell it quickly.
So, for the past half-year or so, I have gotten to work on creating a modeling clay that incorporates all of the features I liked about the samples people sent.The consistency is variable, depending on the mix ratio of wax to clay, but you can get everything from something similar to Jovi, to something closer to Pongo.
At first, I was going to simply make clay with these qualities, but quickly realized that offering my own brand was not only reinventing the wheel, but it would be complicated by all of the different pigments I would need and would necessitate a factory to fill orders because of the sheer volume and expense.
It was at that point that I thought of all of the clay people had purchased over the years; the stuff that had to age before it could be used. The clay that was too crumbly, or too stainy, or not flexible enough. And that is what led to the idea to formulate a wax that you can add to your oil-based, meltable clay to improve it instantly and put in all the features you wished you had.
This has led to two options, each with two variables.
I have created a poll to gauge which the vast majority of people would rather have.
Part I. How flexible should it be?
Please answer with a 1 or a 2 along with a brief comment if you:
1. Prefer flexible, easily melted clay that won't leave much residue on your hands, but is slightly sticky, more resistant to oil and lights, and might leave residue on other colors.
2. Prefer slightly crumbly, easily melted clay that will not stain your hands, but which will not leave residue on other colors.
Part II. How would you like to add it to the clay?
Please answer with an A or a B along with a brief comment if you:
A. Prefer a very sticky clay conditioner that you add small amounts of to melted clay in a double boiler in order to improve the consistency.
B. Prefer a slightly sticky, soft ball of wax that you can mix into your clay by hand in whatever amounts you desire.
After tabulating the results, I will make the decision about how to formulate the wax. You can see some images of puppets I have sculpted with it in the photo album on my profile or by scrollling through the randomized ///PHOTOS picture stream near the bottom of this site.
I am excited to offer this product, and feel that it is the answer we've all been waiting for in two simple words: nicer clay. Clay that will be judged on how it can be sculpted, rather than how well it was formulated. Because that is what every animator and sculptor is looking for when buying modeling clay. Now you can afford to be less picky. It could be incredibly crumbly and stainy, but once combined at 1:1 with this wax, it is neither of those. That is what I am offering. A second chance with both old and new clay alike. The price will be $20 per pound of wax. Once I have production and distribution, it will be much lower. at the moment, I am unable to pay wholesale prices on the ingredients. However, I am working on that. I already have an online store lined up to sell it when we're ready to go, and am in talks with a major clay manufacturer to put out an artist collaboration.
But don't be fooled: despite the reasonably high price, one pound of this stuff goes a long way and will permanently alter the structure of the clay. You will just need a little more of the hand-mixable version to accomplish the same results as the tacky liquid because the liquid is more pure and far too sticky to mix by hand.
Minor update: Due to a general lack of funds, I have decided not to sell modeling clay any longer (except for special batches requiring certain features).
However, I am writing a book on how to make it yourself with Marc Spess and it will be available in Animateclay's web store by the end of the year. The book covers improving existing modeling clay, as well as adjusting sculpting tools to sculpt it with (the recipes in the book are slightly stick to promote added flexibility when sculpting arms and legs).
Initial reaction to this clay has been very good. My instructor Barry Bruce liked its smooth consistency and lack of pigment transfer. He all but singlehandedly invented much of Claymation's look and process, so that's quite a compliment. The main purpose of the book, though, is to give you the ability to make your own clay or get the crumblies out of your existing store-bought clay if you are unsatisfied with the quality of it. It will tell you where to buy the different powders, oils, and waxes as well.
To wit, there is no known formula for melting Newplast. I'm working on it. In the meantime, depending on the ratio of ingredients in the book's recipes, you can make your own either meltable or un-meltable. The amount and type of powder you use controls that property.
Good luck with your book Don. Are you also going to cover the best armatures for Clay Puppets? For example, the best type of wire vs. ball and socket, etc? I think good clay puppets are quickly becoming a lost art these days with the rise in popularity of silicone and rapid-prototype options over last several years.
I'm not sure. Marc is editing it, and I'm just trying to keep up with my own knowledge level, which, with the aid of Google is ever-changing. As soon as I think I have the answer to something, there is new evidence to counter it. It's all chemistry-based, and I am not a chemist. So, that is why I have not sent out samples. I wanted to make sure the quality was of useable quality by that point. But the good news is that I had a breakthrough last night which led to a better understanding of what is happening when you mix all this stuff together and sweat over it as you try not to burn yourself and just hope you got the ratio right.
Will Vinton and Barry Bruce taught me everything I know about sculpting and animating, but the formulation of clay has been a journey I've had to go alone. It will ultimately be worth it.
The armatures for clay puppets are kind of Spess's thing. I can tell you what I use, and it's slightly different from what is generally recommended because I've had to invent or update some processes quickly in order to finish assignments on time in the middle of the night while all of the stores were closed. I use whatever works, and it's definitely not the conventional way go do it, but it works best for me and is the fastest way I've found to do it.
Neither instructor (nor Marc or I) recommend ball and socket armatures for clay puppets. In class it was explained that on The Adventures of Mark Twain, nylon ball and socket armatures were attempted, but wire was always in the back of everyone's minds because it just generally was better suited to clay...
This book is primarily intended to address the problems with oil-based, meltable clay and how to solve them. It also briefly goes into how to make it yourself. I think, the most important thing is to have a cool workspace. LED accent lights are very diffuse and wonderful for clay animation because it adds zero heat to the set. There is also a chapter on the tools, but the majority of information I left out was in deference to the masters of clay animation who teach two wonderful classes in Portland. I could easily fill five books with the knowedge they imparted throughout the courses.
As far as silicone, I have never attempted any kind of mold (even for clay), and silicone is more expensive than clay so I have no experience with silicone puppets. But I can see why people like them. I enjoy clay because it is always a challenge. I don't know how much farther it can be pushed as an art form, but look forward to what people might do with it once they understood how to manipulate the consistency of their clay. For my own part, I hope to one day reach the level of clay animation quality achieved in the early-to-late 80's. That is always going to be the sweet spot for me in terms of the sheer volume of the clay animation work being done. The techniques were very clever and ahead of their time. As far as I can tell, some have carried over to other studios in different parts of the world. With each new term of classes, the torch is passed and the Claymation legacy carries on.
Hi folks, the book I wrote with Marc Spess has been released in the Animateclay store.
This might be useful to anyone who works with oil-based clay at any point in their puppet-making process. The formulas will work with any clay you can melt in a double-boiler. They will allow you to manipulate the consistency and anything from hard to soft, shiny to matte, brittle to stretchy, and bright to muted colors can be achieved. Toward the end of the book, there is even a tip about how to make un-meltable clay.
Hope you like it! I wish something like this existed when I bought my first clay at age 14. Nearly 20 years later, there's a book on it. It is apparently a first for its subject matter, so that is kind of cool.
You can buy it here:
Making and Improving Modeling Clay