There are quite a few alternatives to natural clay for pottery, sculpture and model making.
Some (paper mache or plasticine) are in most cases unsuitable for people looking for a hard, unbending finished piece.
But there are two forms of modelling material that can produce a finish like kiln fired clay, without the need for a kiln.
These are air-dried modelling clays and oven dried polymer clays.
In the United Kingdom the biggest selling air-dried clay is called DAS Pronto and the biggest selling oven-dried polymer is Fimo.
So which is better, DAS or Fimo? Only one way to find out…. FIGHT!
In early 2018 DAS was selling for between £4 and £5 per Kilo This is much cheaper than Fimo.
When you get it out of the packet it feels like a slightly damp clay. It is soft smooth and instantly workable, straight out of the pack. It dries hard in a day or so when exposed to air. So to keep it soft you have to keep it wrapped in plastic. Even when you do wrap it well it will eventually start to dry and cracking will occur on the surface.
Because it dries in air, it is a great clay for kids as well as adults.
I found it was very easy to join wet and dry clay together using the same techniques that you would use with kiln fired mineral clay. A bit of scoring, a bit of squeezing a bit of dampening and you are done.
The finish is like first baked clay. Paint and varnish are needed to give a glossy sheen. If you are looking to compare it to kiln fired clay the best way of describing it would be biscuit-ware.
I found DAS to be nowhere near as messy to work with as traditional clay but it still did leave a mess that needed proper cleaning.
Overall an enjoyable and rewarding play to work with and definitely something I will buy again.
In early 2018 Fimo was selling for £30 per Kilo so definitely a more expensive option.
Once warmed (2 minutes kneading or a few turns through a pasta roller will do nicely) Fimo has a consistency that is pretty much identical to Plasticine. You can mold and shape it, cut and sculpt it and blend colours exactly like you did with every school child’s favourite modelling clay. And just like Plasticine if you keep it in an airtight box it remains usable for a very long time. In fact, it is only baking it that makes any different.
This picture shows a ball of Plasticine and a ball of Fimo that have both been sitting in a container for 6 months after their original packaging was opened. As you can see, both are equally mold-able and just as easy to sculpt with as they were on the day they were purchased.
The oven hardening does mean that kids need supervision for the final part of the process and the kitchen MUST be well ventilated as mistakes in temperature settings or baking time can lead to nasty fumes.
When it comes out of the oven it looks the same as when it went in, shrinkage being minimal. I would say it has shrunk by approximately 5 to 8%. The clay can still be drilled, sanded and messed about with to a good degree and can be polished to a high shine if that is what you are looking for. It also takes paint well.
When working with Fimo I have never experienced unwanted mess. As I mentioned earlier it is very like Plasticine and school teachers like Plasticine for exactly the same reason.
Having considered both options I have to say that I really enjoy working with Fimo a lot more than DAS but due to cost I will often choose the latter for a project.