Hello, Happy New Year! It's really nice to see you again.
I hope you had a lovely Christmas and that you started the year recharged and looking forward to doing lots of great things.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my latest pieces: casitas-as I call them, which is Spanish for "little houses". I've been making miniature cakes and cake-themed jewellery for about 10 years now, and for some time now, I wanted to do something different. I don't know if I want to leave my miniature cakes completely behind, I enjoy making them, especially when teaching. But I really craved going into the new year with something I hadn't done before, something that was out of my comfort zone, so that it was like giving birth to a new me.
Though is a theme I have worked on before, sweet little dwellings, to make these little houses I used different techniques and materials. Something I was also desperately looking for.
I've been experimenting with other sculpting mediums aside polymer clay. As much as I love its versatility and the myriad of effects one can achieve, I was craving something more natural and simple. I tried using paper clay and salt dough. I have posted a blog about my experiences with both in my "Sculpting Salt Dough Seals" post. But none of these was a medium for me.
I had also tried using air dry clay before, but at the time I sculpted an enormous toadstool with a caterpillar on it (you can watch the video here if you're interested) which may not have been the ideal piece to sculpt for my first time using that medium, but there you go. I didn't think of houses at that particular time and so the moment passed.
But I seemed to have completed a circle and I found myself ordering air-dry clay again and having a go at making houses. Aside my interest in making houses, I was also was partly inspired by the neighbourhood of "La Boca" in Buenos Aires. La Boca is known around the world for its colourful, make-shift houses, for "Caminito" (little path), a pedestrian street full of artists showcasing and trading their art, for the Bombonera, for Maradona, for tango.
For me La Boca is so much more than that. It's where my grandma and my mum, and other family members were born and where they spent a big part of their lives. It's part of my family's history and that's the part I treasure. My grandma loved her neighbourhood so much and knew so much about the history of this city and I loved listening to the many stories and anecdotes she treasured.
I loved to hear about the reason behind the colourful and seemingly cheerful look of these little houses. Built by mainly italian immigrants, Genoese to be precise, in the XIX century, these little houses were painted using the leftover paint that sailors brought back from the docks; they didn't always match and they didn't always have enough of one colour, hence the colourful and eclectic style that as the years went on and La Boca became known for its colourful buildings, more and more houses and shops were painted in the same style.
This neighbourhood is so full of history I couldn't possibly tell you all here; I'll just tell you that I remember my grandma describing this neighbourhood as full of interesting, fun and loud people, with amazing stories. La "murga" is something she used to tell us frequently about, which is a sort of local carnival that is to this day very important to their tradition and identity. Many things may have changed with time, but the essence is the love they hold for their neighbourhood.
My aim wasn't to replicate specific houses or colours, more the use of colour itself in a sort of "illustration" type style to add little pops of joy wherever they may be. Some of them are houses and some of them are shops. Being located on the river Riachuelo (Matanza River), La Boca is prone to floods, which is why you'll find that so many blocks are on a higher level and you have to gown down some steps to get to the street. A feature I'd like to add to some of my houses in my next batch.
Panaderia is Spanish for bakery, and "La Medialuna" means croissant basically, in Spanish "media" means half, and "luna" means moon, half moon. We call croissants "half-moons" due to their shape, though they are technically slightly different that croissants in that they can be made with two different base ingredients, "manteca" (butter) or "grasa" (lard). The medialunas de manteca (butter croissants) are glazed and therefore sweeter than a croissant, whereas the medialunas de grasa (lard croissants) are drier, thinner and crispier.I am not ashamed to say I like both, and they are great with mate or cafe con leche.
Not all of my houses were inspired by La Boca, some of them were inspired by the English countryside, in particular Cornwall (Boscastle to be exact) that I find so magical.
What I love about using air dry clay is:
The "Cleanliness": If you ever worked with polymer clay, then you'll know how hard it is to keep clean, especially the light colours. Even after washing your hands and tools, wiping your tiles and pasta machine, there's always little specks of lint and clay lurking in the pasta machine that ending up on the clay. I have got very good at developing routines to minimize this, so the cleaning of my pieces after baking (sanding or scraping unwanted specks with a knife) are minimal; but with air dry clay, this problem doesn't exist.
The Colour: Being available in three colours: white, stone and/or terracotta, you only need one base colour and it can come in packs of 500g to several Kgs. I only used white for now, and I love how minimal it is to shop for it. You don't need to ponder over what colours you're going to need.
Curing Process: I love that I don't have to bake it. It takes days to fully dry, but I don't see that as a downside, it means I can work on more or other things in the meantime.
Origin: I love that it's more natural and eco-friendly than polymer clay. Polymer clay isn't toxic, but it does cure into a plastic.
The Feel: I love the way it feels in my hands, it's cool and damp, and I just love that. There's no kneading required like with polymer clay, which sometimes can be very painful.
Use of Water: I have a thing for water, which makes me love using this type of clay even more.
Painting: This clay is a dream to paint. I love how it glides on and how quickly and matte the paint dries, so I can work more intuitively if that makes sense, making it more like art therapy. When there's so many breaks in between (baking, cooling, baking again, cooling, painting) I can lose interest.
I hope you enjoyed my post and some of the reasons behind my love for air-dry clay; I'm not trying to convert you, only sharing my experience.
My little houses will be available on my Etsy Shop soon, I am getting their descriptions ready and I want to make sure that every single detail, like their dimensions, is right. Keep an eye out for my next shop update date and time on my Instagram bio.
Sending you lots and lots of love,
Thank you so much for reading and I'll catch you next time,