Monster Clay, the reusable clay.
Monster Clay is that very tasty looking clay that looks like chocolate... but it isn't. It is a clay of interesting characteristics and, for me personally, of a very specific purpose, as I only use it to create the master that will lead to the mold that I will later on use to make resin casts of the original sculpture. It is, undoubtedly and for many reasons I'll specify below, my favorite clay. As I was writing this, I realized that the only half-sculpted pieces in progress I show are those made in Monster Clay. I don’t usually post pictures of the process of modeling polymer clay, and I think this is only because I enjoy working with Monster so much more that it makes me want to share the process.
Monster Clay is a sulfur-free clay, which is necessary if you want to make a silicone mold out of it. If the clay wasn't sulfur-free, the silicone wouldn't cure and the whole experiment would fail, as it would ruin both the mold and the original piece. Monster is a wax-based clay made with non-toxic ingredients that you can therefore work without gloves. The texture is quite lovely. It isn't tacky, it doesn't stick to your fingers and it doesn't stain your tools. Its best quality though, is that it is reusable. If you take good care of your clay, you will be able to reuse it for an indefinite time!
This reusable property implies that the state of the clay will always be reversible, unlike polymer clay - which once baked changes properties and you can't go backwards- or air dry clay. That is to say, monster Clay doesn't cure. This makes it useless for the originals I sell, but it is absolutely ideal to design all my future resin pieces. This is how it works:
The clay comes in a package of 2kgr approximately (4,5 l) in a solid state. You can choose the level of hardness of the solid clay, as it comes in three options: soft, medium and hard. I have only ever tried the medium, and this is just because I bought my pack of clay 6 years ago for around 30€ and I am still using that very same clay. In this sense, it is highly inexpensive. The clay softens by applying heat to it, which makes it even more chocolate like - recently they've released a gray version that makes you less hungry. The amount of heat and the way you apply it will determine the consistency of your clay. Let's see this in detail:
You can melt completely Monster Clay to a liquid state in a matter of seconds and then, let it harden back again by simply letting it cool down. This circle can be repeated over and over again, and this is why this clay is reusable. The more liquid it is, the hotter the clay will also be. Learning to control and apply the amount of heat you need is essential to learn to sculpt with Monster Clay and specially, it is essential to avoid injuring yourself by burning your hands while working with. I highly recommend trying this clay first with thermic gloves until you get the hang of it. In a liquid state, it can even be poured into molds, but I have never used Monster Clay this way. I barely ever melt it completely. Instead, I heat it to a point where it is soft and malleable enough for me to work comfortably with it.
To start sculpting your piece, you can take a chunk of clay, put it in a tray that can go into the microwave (I use the glass bowl you see below) and heat it for about 15 seconds. This is the way that it is advised in the clay's package and I think it's perfect to set all your sculpting clay to a soft enough state that will allow you to start working with it. However, when your piece starts taking shape, you will want to apply the heat in a controlled and directed way. If you were to put your whole sculpture inside the microwave, it would heat and soften the piece evenly, and some finished parts may suffer undesired changes. In top of this, the part that would be touching your bowl or microwave plate would heat more than the rest and it could even melt. Heating the clay in the microwave is effective only if you're planning on heating all your clay to start working on your piece, or heating extra pieces of it to add to your piece. It isn't effective though to heat the piece itself. In order to properly work on the piece, to start making details and to polish or to give it some texture, you will need to apply controlled and focused heat, and therefore, you may need a heat gun.
(The original of my whales, made in Monster Clay. Inside the bowl you'll see a heart being dramatically melted and reused.)
(Cat's skull, piece that I am currently workin on.)
I trust my dad when it comes to tools. He's a sort of MacGyver who can fix anything using only whatever is around him. He's very skillful and ingenious and knows his way around all kinds of tools. Despite we both work with our hands, we come from very different backgrounds, and this was obvious enough the day I asked him to help me choose a heat gun to sculpt. Instead of giving me one of the little ones for arts and crafts, he bought me a sort of industrial heat gun with 3 levels of heat. The first one resembles to a hair drier and the second one looses an insane amount of heat that softens my clay in about 3 seconds. The third level of heat reaches 600ºC and I guess it is used to melt glaciers. I use the first two modes, directing the heat at the desired power, which allows me to sculpt comfortably. Once the piece is finished, I simply let it cool down. A practical tip is to polish the surface of your finished piece and erase possible finger prints by smoothing the surface with white spirit. If ever you chose to keep working on your piece next day, or the next month, you will only need to heat it back again with your gun.
You can use Monster Clay to sculpt a master for your molds, or you can also use it to simply sketch in clay. Personally, one of the things I enjoy the most about this clay is that it is not necessary to make any sort of inside armature and, therefore, you can work with it by addition or subtraction - that is to say, you can add some more clay to your piece, as you would to with polymer clay, or you can take a big block of it and carve it until you find the hidden shape you where looking for.
(Up: Original moáis sculpted in Monster Clay. Middle: building the walls to make the molds. Down: silicone molds.)
(Up: finished pieces sculpted in Monster Clay - the painted Moáis is a resin, already painted cast. Down: resin casts, exact copies of the Monster Clay originals. Made using the molds that you can see in the previous picture.).
Polymer clays such as Sculpey are also sulfur-free clays and can also be used to make masters for mold making. Before I tried Monster Clay, I used to make all my masters in Sculpey - baked, so that it would be easier to demold-. It is still a very legitimate way to make a master, but it is likely that the piece will break when demolding it. This isn't too important - even if the original got broken, the mold would still be perfectly functional and you would be able to make casts with it. Actually, I advice to always keep a resin cast, so if your mold ever breaks, you'll be able to use your cast and make a new mold again. If you make a master with Monster Clay, it is also very possible that it will break when demolding it. The main difference is that if your Sculpey piece breaks, you will have to throw it away and it will be a waste of not-so-cheap clay, whereas if Monster Clay breaks, you will always be able to melt the piece and reuse the clay, without wasting any of it! It is therefore much cheaper in the long run to (re)use Monster Clay. It is also more ecological, as nothing will be a waste. Personally, I always keep this one resin cast, but I never keep my originals. I don't cling to them. Instead, they're all melted and transformed once and again, and this is how a Halloween pumpkin becomes a cat skull. I think there's something beautiful about this endless transformation. The 2kgr of Monster Clay I bought many years ago have given birth to all the mold designs I have made ever since. Monster clay is very worth it and they didn't even ask me to write this entry, so... it has to be true :)
(Process of sculpting the original Venus of Willendorf made out of Sculpey).
(Right: Original piece made out of sculpey. Left: first resin cast. Behind the two Venus: silicone mold.)
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(Little disclaimer :) : English is not my first language. This is the best translation I could come up with of my original entry, writen in Spanish. Thank you for understanding.)