Arts and Crafts Explained: Beginning Colored Pencils, by Apryl

 

Colored pencil has to be my favorite medium to work with. I love the control and the feel of using them, and I love the results.

“Emma” colored pencil portrait.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a colored pencil and what makes it different from regular pencils?

For an interesting look at how colored pencils are made, check out this video from “How It’s Made.

What is the best brand of colored pencil?

Although individual preference can dictate which pencil will work best for you, there are some favorites among serious artists. Most often, Prismacolor pencils come out on top for quality and color selection, followed by Faber-Castell polychromos. Personally, I would recommend Prismacolor to start out with and then experiment with a few other brands. You can usually buy colored pencils from open stock at art supply stores, so you can experiment without investing in a full set.

What is the best type of paper to use?

While you can draw with colored pencil on just about any type of paper (and even wood!) some papers perform better than others. In order to layer colors and blend without marring the paper, you need thicker paper with a little bit of tooth. (Tooth is the rough surface of the paper.) I recommend using a heavy weight paper such as Bristol. Hot press papers will have a smoother surface, while cold press will be much more rough. My personal favorite is Arches Watercolor paper, 140lb Hot Press. It is smooth, but still retains enough tooth to allow several layers of color. I buy it in large sheets at the art supply store and cut it down into the sizes I need.

What do I need to start?

For a beginning artist who wants to seriously explore colored pencils, I would recommend the following:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Woodcase Pencils, 12 Assorted Colors/set. You can often find the larger sets on sale for half price, especially around Christmas.

Prismacolor Premier Colorless Blender Pencil, 2 Pencils

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Pad – 11-Inchx14-Inch – 20 Sheet Pad

X-Acto Home and office Electric Pencil Sharpener (19210) Yes, I do recommend an electric pencil sharpener. Don’t go all out and buy the most expensive one, as colored pencils will be hard on your sharpener. That said, I’ve had an X-Acto similar to this one for several years now and it is still going strong.

Sanford Design Kneaded Eraser

Extras that are handy, but not essential:

Mini Dusting Brush, 10in for dusting off pencil dust without smudging your drawing

• Masking tape for taping off the edges of your work for a clean edge

• Rulers

TECHNIQUE

Outlining:

Colored pencil can be hard to erase, so laying out your drawing beforehand is recommended. I often draw a sketch entirely in pencil, and then trace it lightly onto clean paper for my final colored pencil drawing. I will usually use a light gray or brown colored pencil to trace with, and use a very light hand. For easy tracing, tape your original drawing to a window or glass door and tape your clean paper over the top. The light will shine through, making the tracing easier. You can also purchase light tables for that purpose.

As you can see in this photo, I am working on top of a lightly sketched drawing.

Laying down color:

Colored pencil drawings are slowly built up by layering the colors one over another. You nearly always want to keep each layer of color light, adding more light layers to make it darker or to modify the color. If you color with a heavy hand, the wax of the pencil will build up too quickly and you will find that you cannot add more color. It will end up looking blotchy. So, when coloring in your drawing, use light even strokes.

Keep your pencils sharp. A sharp tip will fill in all of the little hills and valleys that occur in the paper surface. This results in an even coverage and fewer white specks showing through. When your pencil is blunt, it will skip over any small valleys in the paper, allowing the paper surface to show through.

You will also want to begin with the lightest colors first, gradually building up your drawing, and finishing up with the darkest colors.

Here you can see where I have begun to gradually build up color and shading.

more gradual color building

A very handy tool when using colored pencils is a colorless blending pencil. These pencils are just wax, and can be used to blend and smooth your colors. This should be done near the end of your project because it will lay down a layer of wax that makes adding more layers difficult.

Beginning to blend the skin tones more with a colorless blending pencil. The eyes and lips are also blended.

Lifting or erasing color:

Colored pencil can be very difficult to erase, and will rarely erase completely. However, you can use a kneaded eraser to “lift” color. You do this by firmly pressing a small amount of eraser onto the area to be erased and lifting it. Do not rub it across the paper. This technique will pick up small amounts of colored pencil. Be sure to use a different area of your eraser for each lift, so that you do not smear color back onto your paper.

You can also use an electric eraser. I have read that people can get good results from them, but I have not tried it.

Highlights:

There are several ways to create white or “highlighted” areas in your drawing. If you are using white paper, you can leave the desired area blank. You can color it in with a white colored pencil (with no other colors beneath). You can “lift” an area of color with a kneaded eraser. Or you can use a knife or other sharp object to gently scrape the area clean of colored pencil. For very fine areas of light color (such as hair) I have used a needle or thumbtack to lightly trace the area, leaving an indentation. When you color over it with a darker color, the pencil will not hit the indented area, leaving it white.

Below I have used a combination of highlighting techniques. In the eyes, the light reflections were left uncolored until the end, and then I went over them with a white pencil. The forehead and cheekbones needed a little more highlighting to make them more rounded, so at the final stage, I went over the skin tone in those areas with a white pencil, lightening them slightly.

The finished piece. I left the background unblended.

PROJECT

In this project you will create a color wheel and learn how to blend colored pencils to create different colors and shades. If you would like to learn a little more about color theory, check out my previous article, “The Science of Color.

First download and print this mini poster onto paper. You can use regular copy paper, but you can also use artist paper cut to fit your printer.

For this project we will only use 3 colors: red, blue and yellow. I used Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Canary Yellow. You can also use a blending pencil if you have one.

1. With your three pencils, color in the primary color wedges — red, yellow, and blue:

2. Color in secondary colors:

orange = yellow + red (because of the way colored pencils blend, I recommend laying down the yellow first. This will keep the orange lighter in color.)
violet = red + blue
green = blue + yellow

Remember, use a light, even hand and a sharp pencil when coloring.

3. Color in tertiary colors:

yellow-orange = yellow + yellow + red
red-orange = red + yellow + red
red-violet = red + red + blue
blue-violet = blue + red + blue
blue-green = blue + blue + yellow
yellow-green = yellow + blue + yellow

4. Now you can use these color mixing techniques to color in the pictures around the color wheel. Experiment using different combinations of the three colors to create shadows and contrasts. *

*Be sure to read “Pencil Control and Shading” for more on how to create realistic shadows and gain pencil control.

Below I have a photo showing the same image colored on two different papers. The paper on the left is just white copy paper. The paper on the right is Arches 140lb Hot Press watercolor paper. You can see the difference in vibrancy and that I was able to add more color depth. Also, if you look at the cherries in this photo vs. the cherries in the above photo, you can see where I have used the colorless blending pencil to smooth and blend the colors.

Have fun with your new colored pencil skills!

apryl

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

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Parents are Teachers: Calling for Backup, by Apryl

 

Sometimes in the homeschooling journey, we run into subjects we cannot or do not want to teach. Sometimes our children need more interaction with the world at large. Sometimes mom just needs a small break. When these times arise, calling for backup is warranted.

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Outsourcing is an important part of homeschooling, especially as your children reach the teen years. Depending on your area, income level, and family preferences, outsourcing opportunities can look very different from family to family. I will be discussing some of the ways our family has met these needs.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to expand your child’s view of the world. There are so many unique ways your family can serve others in the community. My oldest child, in particular, has been a very active volunteer.

When she was twelve, we managed to talk our vet into letting her help at his office. She was able to observe surgeries, interact with adults, and learn a bit more about the profession. This experience allowed her to realize that she really did not want to be a vet like she thought, but she also learned that she has a very strong stomach!

Her love of animals, and that iron stomach, have led her to be a volunteer at a rescue center for birds of prey. There she has learned so much and developed a great relationship with the woman who runs the center. Now she is a pro at cleaning up bird dung and handling mouse guts.

She has also volunteered at two different libraries, one that was part of a metropolitan library system and one that is a small town library. Working at a local food pantry was another volunteer position she had and she learned so much about people there.

The girls have all spent time volunteering at nursing homes. They have gone with homeschool groups, scouts, and our church and have done everything from putting on a show to doing arts and crafts projects with the patients.

All of my girls will be volunteering at a summer camp this year. They will be mentoring and teaching younger kids in a science camp.

In order to find volunteer opportunities in your area, just ask around. Don’t be afraid to ask local businesses and services if they can use help: the worst they can do is say no. You will have more luck with older children and teens than with young children, but even when they are small you can volunteer as a family.

Religious Activities

Church is a large part of our lives, and I consider the things we do there as part of our outsourcing. The kids have attended Awanas, worked in the nursery, sang in the choir, helped with events, and attended regular services. Again, they have learned things they could not pick up at home such as relating to the elderly, caring for small children and infants, meeting some of the needs of the poverty stricken, being part of a choir, and socializing with larger groups of people. They have also learned more about our faith, and grown stronger in it.

Park and Play Groups

This option will depend on how many homeschoolers there are in your area and how far you are willing to drive. Most larger metropolitan areas will have park groups. A group of this sort usually meets on a regular basis to play, go on field trips, or organize things like field day. Don’t limit these to smaller children. We were lucky enough to belong to a teen park group that met once a week just to hang out and play. On warm days we met at a large park that could handle 20+ teens and other days we would meet at various homes. The kids developed some very close friendships, and also got some much needed exercise. They often played things like zombie tag, or “everybody’s it” tag, dodge ball, Frisbee, or just ran around and had fun.

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Groups like this also have the ability to organize group field trips, often at a discounted rate. We were able to see plays at school rates, attend an astronaut school, visit museums at school rates, take farm tours, and more.

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It did take us a while to find a group that we felt comfortable in. We have had the most luck with inclusive groups. While we are Christian, we have found that exclusive groups simply weren’t a good fit for our family.

Online Classes

Sometimes you need a class taught by someone else. There are many reasons for this, from a parent needing a teaching break, to the parent just not feeling comfortable in their ability to teach a subject. We are fortunate that so many classes are available online. There are paid and free options, with the paid options giving you more time with a real instructor.

Our personal experience with online courses have been with both self-directed classes such as ALEX math and Kahn Academy, and with a class that had a live instructor and certain class times. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Self-directed courses allow more flexibility in scheduling and pace. However, if you run into difficulty, it can be hard to get help. With live classes, you will have an instructor that can help the student, but you are also tied to the class schedule. We have found both types of courses to be valuable to our homeschool instruction.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) should also be considered as part of this option. This is a rapidly growing area in which you can find self-directed courses on just about every subject you can imagine. There are both free and paid options from universities and teachers around the world. Some of the most popular MOOC providers are Coursera, EdX, and Udacity.

Co-ops

Co-ops are parent co-operatives in which parents come together to teach (or hire someone else to teach) classes to homeschooled children. Co-op styles and structures vary greatly and it is important to find one that fits your family’s needs. There are religious and secular co-ops, inclusive co-ops and co-ops that require a signed statement of faith. There are co-ops that are entirely parent taught, and there are co-ops that hire professional teachers for their classes. Some co-ops focus more on extra-curricular classes, and some are more academically focused.

We have attended three different co-ops over the years. Our first was a very small, parent taught co-op that focused on extracurricular classes. This was a good way for the kids to do some fun things a few times a month. Since it was so small, however, a little bit of drama between families made the entire co-op uncomfortable. We ended up leaving.

Our second co-op was huge. It was in a large city with a very large number of homeschoolers. It was run like a large one-day-a-week private school, and there were waiting lists to get into classes. We weren’t there for very long due to a move, but it was a good way for the kids to get a few classes in, like acting and choir, that I couldn’t do well at home.

Our third and current co-op has been a huge blessing to our family. Now that the girls are all in high school, there are some needs that I find hard to meet at home. Our current co-op is fairly large. While it is a Christian co-op, it is inclusive and does not require a statement of faith. We attend one day a week, and the kids change classes during the day much like they would at public school. Parents are required to volunteer and the classes are taught by paid teachers. The quality of the classes and teachers is very high, with many classes taught by former professors and degreed teachers of their subjects. The girls take all of their foreign language classes there, along with some very interesting electives like Ballroom Dance and Fencing.

Clubs and Sports

Most communities have various clubs and sports organizations for children. You often do not have to be part of the public school system to participate. I know our rural area has Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, basketball, soccer, softball, baseball, rowing, swimming, summer camps and more.

In some areas, you may also be able to participate in public school or private school sports teams. The laws vary from state to state. Some homeschool organizations even have their own sports teams.

Other Sources

Finally, don’t forget some of your most valuable resources: friends, family and neighbors. Grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, neighbors and friends all have talents and abilities that they may be willing pass on to your children. My father-in-law has taught the girls about gun safety, archery, botany, and more.  A friend organized a writing club for our children, and a friend of a friend ended up being our piano teacher.  The people in your life can become wonderful mentors to your children.

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Most of all, don’t let the thought of being responsible for your child’s entire education intimidate you. You are essentially the director of their education, and you can find the resources you need to accomplish your goals, regardless of where your own strengths and weaknesses are.

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Memoria Press Review by Apryl: Traditional Logic I

 

We were recently given the opportunity to review the Traditional Logic I set from Memoria Press.  This set sells for $75.00 and includes a student book, an instructional DVD, a Quiz and Test book, and an answer key.

Traditional Logic I is an introduction to formal logic for grades 7 and up.  We used it with my 17-year-old Junior, and it seemed to be at a good level for her.  The text was clear, and the DVD gave an alternative method for lesson instruction.  We thought the set could stand easily on its own without the DVD, but our family doesn’t care for DVD instruction in general.  It can be used as a semester-long course if stretched out a bit, or it can be combined with Book II in the same semester.

This curriculum covers traditional, or formal, logic as laid out by Aristotle.  It does not delve into informal logic or modern logic.  From what we have seen, it seems to be a good foundation for delving deeper into the studies of the other branches of logic.

Traditional Logic is written with a Christian worldview.  While we did not find it overly preachy, a non-Christian may take issue with some of the exercises that include views on the Bible as truth.

Overall we thought Traditional Logic covers the topic very thoroughly in an easy-to-follow format.  My daughter thought it a little dry for her taste but did not find it difficult to complete.  We would recommend it to anyone looking for a logic program for a high school student or even an adult.

Be sure to read what our other reviewers had to say about this and other Memoria Press products.

I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are the opinions of myself or my family and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

apryl

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Needle Felting! by Apryl

 

Needle felting is a fiber art that has been gaining popularity, and for good reason. It is fairly inexpensive to get started and not difficult to learn. Your creations are only limited by your imagination!

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The basic supplies:

1. Felting needles.  These needles are barbed and come in triangle or star shapes. Common sizes are 36, 38, and 40 gauge.  40 are the thinnest and best for finish work. The lower the number, the thicker the needle. You can also purchase “pens” that hold multiple needles. This allows for faster felting of larger surfaces, and can be more comfortable to hold. Please be aware that the needles are very sharp. Accidentally stabbing yourself is nearly unavoidable, especially at first. Keep this in mind when allowing children to take up this project. It is really the only reason I would lean towards older children doing this rather than younger ones.

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2.  Wool roving.  Roving comes in many different colors and textures. The rougher textured wool will felt more quickly and feel firmer. The finer silky roving takes longer to felt and has a softer texture. You can find everything from lower cost, mass produced roving at the larger craft stores, to beautiful hand-dyed roving from exotic breeds. I recommend using the lower cost roving at first as you learn.

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3.  Foam block. The foam block is your work surface. It allows the needle to freely stab through the wool without hitting a hard surface ( or yourself!).

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That is all you need to get started! You can purchase a starter kit like this Round and Wooly Turtles Needle Felting Kit that come with a needle, roving, a small block and instructions to make an animal. I highly recommend these as it will give you an inexpensive taste of needle felting without investing in a lot of different items. I do recommend buying an extra needle or two, because they break easily and beginners break them often.

These are the turtles my 13-year-old daughters made from the kit linked above. It was their first attempt at needle felting.

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A quick search on Pinterest or YouTube will yield a plethora of tutorials from very basic to very advanced. Check out a few and then try it yourself!

Look for future articles in this series for more advanced techniques.

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Inspiring Creativity at Our House, by Apryl

 

Inspiring creativity in our children can be intimidating for some families. Many have no idea where to begin, or believe that since they aren’t artistic or crafty themselves, that they have no way to pass creativity on to their own children.

It can be done, and should be done. It will look differently in every home, but it begins with the same idea: exposing your children to the creative side of life.

This is what it looked like in our home when our girls were small.

Outdoor free play was important. Sometimes it was making a train out of lawn chairs.  Sometimes it was filling buckets full of earthworms or cardboard cities in the back yard.

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Music was vital. We listened to all types of music, sang songs and danced around. They made noise, played on instruments, and made up songs. Growing up, they knew the sounds of Bach, the Wiggles, the Beatles, Union Station, Guns and Roses and Norah Jones.

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Our home was imagination friendly. As long as they weren’t overly destructive, or in danger, they had the freedom to play. As you can see in the photo below, we had all sorts of things accessible, even as toddlers and preschoolers. The desk and drawers were full of paper, glue, markers, scissors, paint…you name it. And they were allowed to use them. They were allowed to empty closets of blankets and pillows to make forts. They were allowed to drag baskets of books under the table to read.

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Yes, sometimes their creativity ran away with them…

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But even then, it was an opportunity to learn about personal responsibility, caring for your home, and how to clean up.

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We had toys that had no specific purpose. Simple wooden blocks that provided years of entertainment and learning, marbles and balls, nameless dolls, boxes of odds and ends for inventing; all were available for play.

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We let them take some risks, like climbing trees, and playing in creeks. Yes, they fell. Yes they bled. And oh, did they get dirty! But they made some wonderful memories, and can still recall the elaborate dramas they created in their minds as they played outside.

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They used real tools, like scissors. Yes, hair got cut occasionally. It grew back.

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Sometimes, paint got eaten. (Non-toxic, of course.)

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Sometimes it was actual food…they learned how to cook and use real kitchen appliances. A real oven was used instead of an Easy Bake.

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They even had places to go for quiet contemplation or just to be alone.

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And plenty of opportunity for complete silliness.

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Their adventures led them to all sorts of imaginary places.

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And sometimes even turned up an Oompa-Loompa.

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The point is, creativity doesn’t have to be a beautiful work of art. It is often messy and a little wild. It is simply the freedom to let your mind play.

 

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself,apryl and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

 

Why Classical and Why Now? by Apryl

 

Our homeschooling adventure did not start out with Classical Education in mind. In fact, I had never even heard of Classical Education, nor did I know a thing about educational theory. I just knew that I could provide a better education than my children were receiving at school. They were in the 3rd and 6th grades when they came home to stay.

We started off, as many new homeschooling families do, with an all-in-one curriculum. Then, as I discovered the gaps in my children’s education and began to see how they learned best, we moved towards a literature-based curriculum. I began to read more about homeschooling methods and began to frequent homeschooling forums online. That is how I came across The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.

The Well-Trained Mind put into words the thoughts I had swirling around in my head about the kind of education I wish I had had as a child. It made me realize that I wanted something better for my own children.

We began to study history in a four year cycle. Latin and Greek entered our home. Great Books were read. While I never followed The Well-Trained Mind methods exactly, our homeschool began to have a classical flavor that it didn’t have before. The girls learned how to ask questions. They became familiar with the great minds from our past. They developed critical thinking and a desire to obtain wisdom. They began to show an intellectual maturity that I did not see in many of their peers; they could ask the deep questions and have deep discussions.

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Since Classical Education entered our home fairly late in the game, our eclectic methods have only a strong flavor of the classical. There are things I wish I had done differently, or had learned before my children ever set foot in a public school classroom. Now, though, my thoughts are shifting away from their education, and more towards the future of education in general.

I have begun reading more about the Great Conversation, and begun to think about the studies I want to pursue at home, for myself, such as logic, and a deeper study of the classics. The developments in the public education of our youth are becoming more of a focus for me, and the ways a Classical Education could improve the ability of future generations to problem-solve are becoming more apparent. I am realizing that the failure to pass on the ideas of the great minds of the past to the potentially-great minds of the future would be tragic.

So why do I care at this point in the game, when we are so close to the end of our homeschool journey? I care because it doesn’t end with my children.  Someday they too will have choices to make about their own children’s education, and I want to be there to help them. However, the scope extends beyond my own family. There are millions of parents out there who are looking at homeschooling for the first time; I want to be able to facilitate homeschooling for those families. I want to be able to explain the benefits of a Classical Education and point them towards the resources that can help them achieve it.

Finally, I want to do it for myself. A spark ignited in my mind as a small child, lit by my father: He gave me books. They weren’t easy readers or picture books. He gave me Aesop’s Fables, Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They were gloriously thick, hard-bound editions that were not watered down. He handed them to me with the expectation that I could and would read and understand them at the ripe old age of seven or eight. He encouraged reading in a way that was nothing like what I encountered in the public school system. It sparked that desire to learn for learning’s sake, a desire that has stayed with me far beyond my school years and I expect will be there for many years to come. I want to fan that spark into a flame and watch it spread to the next generation.

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“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

 

 

Apaprylryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Clay! by Apryl

 

If, as a homeschool mom, you have ever considered going beyond Play-Doh for teaching your kids a little about sculpting,  you may have noticed that there are a lot of choices out there for clay.

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The type and brand of clay you choose ultimately depends on the desired end product. If you just want to sculpt some objects and let them dry on their own, then you will do best with an air dry clay. If you want hard, cured sculptures but don’t want the hassle of using a kiln, then polymer clay may be what you are looking for. If you want to go all out, buy a kiln and fire your work, then natural clay is where it’s at. This post is going to explain in a little more detail the differences between these types of clay and even mention a few of the best brands.

Air Dry: 

There are a wide range of possibilities in air dry clays. Many of them aren’t even technically clay at all.

As a first step beyond Play-Doh, I would recommend Crayola Model Magic Modeling Compound. Model Magic is a fun starter sculpting medium for kids. It is easily mold-able and quickly air dries. The finished sculptures are extremely lightweight and feel kind of like Styrofoam.  It is paintable, and we have also had success coloring the clay using markers.

Not to be confused with Model Magic, Crayola Air Dry Clay is another option. It is a bit more dense than model magic, and will take longer to dry. It is closer in texture to traditional clay. After drying it can be somewhat brittle and is prone to cracking. This medium can also be painted.

AMACO Air Dry Clay is a natural clay that can be air dried or kiln fired. If left to air dry, the pieces will be very fragile. There is the tendency to shrink and crack when air dried, as well. This clay can be used for pottery or for sculpting and handles just like any other natural clay. This can be a good transition for working with kiln fired sculptures.

Polymer clay:

Polymer clay is a plastic based product that is heat cured. This clay will stay pliable until it is baked. Since it is a PVC product, it is recommended that you use a dedicated toaster oven to cure the projects in. Undesirable fumes can linger in your oven after baking and can permeate any food cooked in it afterwards. You can usually pick up a used toaster oven for a few dollars at a your local thrift store or garage sale.

I recommend using the Sculpey III Polymer Clay brand if possible, as it is the easiest to work with. Other brands will take more conditioning before use. (Conditioning is the act of rolling out and gradually warming the clay to make it more pliable.) A quick way to condition polymer clay is by using a pasta rolling machine. Again, use one that is dedicated to use with clay and will not be used for food again. Craft stores also sell them as clay conditioning machines, but they are really the same thing.

Polymer clay can be painted, and it also comes in a wide variety of colors.  (Paint AFTER heat curing!)

Natural Clay:

There are many brands and varieties of natural clays, but they all require kiln firing which is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to work with kiln fired clay, try looking for pottery classes in your community.

Tools:

To begin sculpting, all you really need is some clay and your hands. However, there are many tools available that can add to your enjoyment of the process.

A starter set like this is a good place to begin: Sculpt Pro 11 Piece Pottery and Sculpting Art Tool Set. These tools allow you to easily cut away, smooth, pierce and shape your sculpting projects.

The best way to get started is to choose your desired type of clay and just begin to play.  Practice making balls, ropes (or snakes), coils, and other shapes. Use old cookie cutters or press things into the clay to make different textures. Aluminum foil, floral wire and other objects can make great armatures (foundations) to build your sculptures on. Be sure to use non-flammable/non-melting armatures for any clay that will be heat cured.

Most importantly, have fun!

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.