Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Making cold porcelain

After making a tiara a few weeks ago using cold porcelain roses, I decided that I really should try my hand at making my own cold porcelain clay.  I keep reading how easy and cheap it is to make - I did actually try to make some last year, but it just didn't work out for me.  Making it was fine, but when it dried, cracks appeared all over my pieces and I wasn't sure what I'd done wrong.

Also, it was the summer holidays and I really wanted to get my 5 year old daughter involved in something creative, that would keep us both happy for a couple of hours.


Having looked at recipes on The Internet, I think one of my failings the first time was the glue I used.  Many of the American sites said to use Elmer's Glue-All, which, being in the UK, is a little harder to get hold of.  My Alan Dunn book also recommends Elmer's Glue-All, Bison 'Wood Glue' or Impex 'Hi-Tack All Purpose Very Sticky Glue'.  Instead I used regular P.V.A. glue which I hoped was the same - apparently it's not!

This time I went to a children's craft factory shop and bought some "washable school glue"  hoping that this might be more suitable than just standard P.V.A.

The recipe I used is based on these instructions.

Instead of in a pan, on the hob, I wanted to make mine in the microwave - mainly because I didn't want to use my best pans!  I found a big, old casserole dish and measured out the ingredients, mixing them together until it was pretty well combined.  I'd made my first failed attempt in the microwave, which seemed to come together all at once, with a few areas that had slightly overcooked, so I thought I'd try to make it a bit slower than previously.
The ingredients I used were :-
  • 1 cup of washable school glue
  • 1 cup of cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 tablespoon of baby oil
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to act as a preservative
After cooking in the microwave I added :-
  • 1 tablespoon of Nivea moisturiser or a similar cold cream
  • Extra cornflour to prevent sticking
  • Permanent white gouache to give it a porcelain quality

I set my microwave at 50%, stirring it with an old metal spoon every 30 seconds.  I eventually cooked it for a total of 3 minutes, stirring at 30 second intervals, each time making sure that it was as combined as possible.  By the last cooking session it was all coming together into a solid dough so I knew that it was ready.

I spread a tablespoon of Nivea moisturiser onto a big sheet of cling film and kneaded my dough until all the cream had been absorbed.  I wrapped it in cling film, put it inside a ziplock bag and left it in an airtight container to cool down completely.

So far so good!

When it had cooled, I was itching to try it out to see if it would crack this time.  Many  of the instructions tell you to add a good squirt of permanent white gouache as it stops the clay looking translucent and gives it more of a porcelain appearance.  Being an impatient kind of gal, I couldn't help but make a little 'pinched rose' out of the uncoloured clay, just to get the feel for it and to try it out.  As you can see, the one on the left has more of a yellowy, see-through, slightly plastic look to it, but it's not wholly unattractive.  I'm sure this translucent quality could have its applications... and look - no cracks!  Just to clarify, the one on the right has had permanent white gouache added to the clay. (I may have had a touch of red on my fingers as it's gained a lovely pink tinge to the centre.)


I broke off about a third of my dough and mixed in a good squeeze of permanent white gouache and then started colouring small chunks with gouache paints. Using a child's clay extruder I squeezed out strands of different colours.  I had amazing ideas of making millefiori beads... well it squeezed through the extruder beautifully, but it was just too sticky to get any kind of definition when I cut them and the strands broke when I tried to pull them apart - they were so well stuck together.  Never mind, it was my first  second attempt. 


She hadn't wanted to get involved earlier, but at this point my daughter decided to put down her Disney dolls and get creative.  When she saw that I was making beads, she wanted to have a play too.  Well we had a lovely morning making beads together.  She'd seen me making a rose earlier and so she wanted to make some flowers of her own.

Her beads have cracked a little now that they've dried, but I think that's more because she didn't press her clay together enough.  Also, she was working and reworking it over and over, so it's possible that it had started to dry before she finished her beads.

I'd already made a 'pinched rose' earlier by taking tiny pieces of clay and pinching it between my fingers to form the petals.  This time I wanted to make a more delicate rose like the ones I'd used on my rose tiara.  For this, I need to roll it out, but my clay was just too sticky and was sticking to both my rolling pin and my Teflon sheet.  It definitely needed extra cornflour so I put down a sheet of clingfilm and starting kneading in spoonfuls of cornflour until it felt a lot drier to the touch.

It was a lot easier to work with after I'd added the cornflour, and a lot more similar in texture to the one I'd purchased previously.  I must do a follow-up post after I've worked out exactly how much extra cornflour it needed...

I then went on to try the dough in my butterfly and dragonfly push mould.  I was starting to turn scientist after my success in mixing a dough that I could make roses out of.  I wanted to find out how much my dough shrank by. I sprinkled my moulds with cornflour and gently pushed my dough into the mould, easing it out by flexing the mould a little.  I then just left them to dry.

A few days later I made another one to compare the shrinkage, which is quite evident from the picture above.  Using just the height and width measurements as a guide, my cold porcelain appears to shrink by 20% - which is pretty standard apparently.

3 weeks later and I got my clay out to make something else and look what's happened!  I added lemon juice at the start which is supposed to act as a preservative, but the piece of clay that I added the permanent white gouache to has started to grow some lovely green mould.  Nice!  Strangely the one that didn't have the paint added to is looking and feeling as good as new.  (If anyone knows why that is, I'd love to know!)  In the future I'll be adding the white gouache to smaller pieces and just use what I need.

My cold porcelain book actually recommends using sodium benzoate as a preservative but given what we now know about the health risks, I think I'll stick to my lemon juice...

Phew! Well done for getting this far!  Sorry for such a lengthy post, but I learned quite a lot and I just wanted to share it.  Hopefully I'll be sharing more cold porcelain makes soon.

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Kim said...

Amazing, by changing the type of glue, it made a big difference!

Leanne said...

Great tutorial! Do you think you could use acrylic paint instead of gouache paint ?

Unknown said...

Just a thought and may be something to try in the future.. There are some 'no cook' recipes for cold porcelain that I saw on Youtube. The ingredients are virtually the same however I'm not sure about the proportions - you would need to look.
Apparently the shrinkage for the no cook method is much less.
I haven't made any yet but I would like to in the future.
If shrinkage is an issue, or may be just to play with a different technique, try the no cook method too?

Unknown said...

Try to use vinegar in place of the lemon juice and the white titanium oil paint instead the gouache. I use those and never had mold issues with my clay.

Dulcea said...

When you add paints to the mix they tend to make the clay have less of a shelf life. One of the things you can do it to add the paint to the clay as you're using it instead of when you make it.

Kiana Ramos said...

I think the mould happened because you used gouache. Try oil paint.

Unknown said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Was reading your recipe and experience, where I live we usually use white glue used for wood, it is similar to all purpose glue but with more consistency and you can add 1tsp or 1 tbs. of Tylose powder to the dry mixture before combining it with the glue. Another subtitute for lemon or lime juicw is white vinegar. God bless from Puerto Rico

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, that’s really helpful. I’ll definitely try that next time!

Josey said...

I only now stumbled onto this tutorial, thank you for explaining everything so thoroughly! Apologies for my English, it is my second language. I was just wondering, apart from the shrinkage, have you ever had problems with items losing their shape or form? I once made clay which felt very nice and worked well, but after it dried, it lost it's shape. I tried to make miniature plates for my doll's house and they came out perfect, but once they were dry, they looked deformed and "wobbly".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comment, your English is excellent!
I probably have had problems with distortion when my items dry, but I tend to make natural shapes like flowers and leaves, where a little “wonkiness” is forgivable.
Looking in my ‘modelling in cold porcelain book’ by Tombi Peck and Alan Dunn, the implication is that homemade cold porcelain clays have their limitations.
I’m intending to revisit cold porcelain this year, so I’ll pay closer attention to how much it distorts.

Josey said...

Thank you for the reply. It was my experience as well: when I tried to make miniature apples, it worked fine, I just had to make them a bit bigger (for shrinkage), and they don't have to be perfect!😄