I have a pile of oil-based clay from the mid 1990s (when I took a cool Anatomy of the Head class), so yesterday I set to working on a little head about the size of a clementine. It was stickier than trying to make a sculpture out of Hubba Bubba.
If you are new to Roma Plastilina, I have included a picture so you can see what it looks like. It's discreet. It's so discreet that if you're new to the product (as I was), you may fail to notice that there are actually different kinds (they don't just stock 20 bricks of one kind, as I had originally assumed):
- No. 1 - "Soft: For those who prefer an extremely pliable modeling plastilina. Best for large work."
- No. 2 - "Medium: A slightly firmer consistency—the type most generally used by everyone for all average size work"
- No. 3 - "Medium firm: A more consistent degree of firmness, generally used for smaller models and by those who prefer a firmer plastilina."
- No. 4 - "Very hard, for small figures, medallions and reliefs."
The number is in very small type—in French first—to the right of the crest.
I waffled between No. 2 and No. 3 (because the description on No. 2 seemed so universal), but ultimately decided on No. 3 because of my freakishly hot/sweaty hands. I returned to my office with my purchase, where I excitedly unwrapped it—and immediately decided I had made a terrible mistake. It was hard as a rock, and when I drove my putty knife into it to break off a smaller chunk, it fractured and left a large quantity of very un-clay-like crumbles.
How to Use Roma Plastilina No. 3
Start with smaller pieces. Normally I would cut clay with a wire, but I was legitimately concerned that it might sever my fingers before it cut through the brick, so I used a putty knife chisel-style to break off about an eighth of the material to warm up. I can easily understand why I would get a softer clay for a larger model—not just because you get different, larger textures, but also because it could take you all day to warm up the No. 3 and keep it pliable. If you're using an armature or form, which I don't need because of the shape of my project, now would be the time to get that prepared.
Next, warm the clay. Even if you plan to carve your work (subtractive) instead of model it (additive), it seems like warming and kneading your clay is a good plan. I would worry about it being overly brittle and crumbly without the conditioning it gets by being manipulated.
Based on some lite internet research, it looks like there are a couple of common methods for warming the plastilina, depending on how much you need at a time.
- Hot water bath. Place the plastilina into a water-tight Ziploc bag, then drop it into a pot or bowl of steaming (not boiling) water and leave it to soften. If you will be working with a lot of clay or over a long period of time, you can keep your water and plastilina warm longer by using a crockpot on low.
- Solar heat. Place the plastilina on a plate and set in a warm, sunny area. Allow a couple hours of sunbathing before you plan to mold anything. And make some sun tea while you're at it.
- Lamp. If you just need a small amount, and you have a desk lamp that gets hot, put the plastilina near the bulb, or even on the shade if it's metal. (This is the method I used, on and off last weekend, as I worked with different bits of clay.) Other folks suggested building a small incubator for the clay using a lightbulb and a foam cooler to keep the heat in. I'm sure your daughter's Easy Bake Oven (or her tanning bed, depending on how old she is) would also suffice.
- Double-boiler. Boil water in a pot on the stove, then place your plastilina in a separate pot on top of the water pot. Hm. I have used this method for things like wax and fondue, but am not sure about how effective it will be when trying to heat but not melt. Better keep a watchful eye on your plastilina if you try this approach.
- Microwave. I was reluctant to experiment with this method because we cook food in the microwave at the office, and also, based on this food-cooking, I know that the microwave is a random and fickle device. If you heat your clay in the microwave, be careful of potentially molten centers.
Roma Plastilina No. 3: One Noob's Opinion
Once I was able to knead and shape the warm No. 3, I was very happy with the firmness, and relieved I hadn't given into the allure of No. 2. It held up well to my hot hands, carved as readily as it stuck to itself and accepted tools easily. It burnishes to a nice, smooth surface and retains a great deal of detail, even as I continue to work with it. Perhaps best of all, once you leave it, it goes back to it's cold, stone-like state and won't lose shape or get nasty stuff stuck all over it if you drop it on the floor. As I said, I'm just a novice when it comes to modeling clay, but I give this stuff two thumbs up.
That said, any plastilinaphiles in the audience should leave a comment if I have goofed up details, misled fellow noobs, or overlooked any nifty shortcuts that you know about.
In closing, I will say that Roma Plastilina has yet another great thing going for it, and that is its name. It is beautiful and literary-sounding, and that is why I like to say it over and over.
Furthermore, I have had this song stuck in my head since my trip to the art store yesterday, but instead of Porcelina, I have changed it to Plastilina. (Special thanks to SP for helping me write another Drawg entry.)
(plus an additional .75 down the ASMR-video rabbit hole)