Now, I am going to describe MY process to you. Other clay artists may have a different approach to the same process, but you might develop your own techniques as you go on. This technique will get you started. But first off, we need a few simple materials.
- Wet/Dry Sandpaper
- Polishing Cloth
Personally, I work with a 600 grit, 800 grit, and than a 1200 grit to finish it off.
Any sort of canvas will do - you could use burlap or white denim too, just as long as it has a good coarse rough texture. I use a piece of painters canvas that my old high school Art teacher gave to me. As for a polishing cloth, you could try looking in the automotive department with all the car waxing supplies or in the fabric department. Find a piece of material that is very soft like fleece, flannel, soft cotton fabric, or terry cloth. You could even tear apart an old shirt!
Now that you know a thing or two about where and how to get the materials, I guess we should start the sanding process! Lay out a towel onto your work surface, and get yourself a container filled with warm water. This container should be large enough so that you can dunk your hands into the water without being too cramped - just as long as it is comfortable for you.
Now, get your clay creation out! All it needs to be is baked and cooled, and you can begin to work on it. Make sure you haven't painted it yet, as any painting you need to do can be done AFTER this process. Give your clay a dunk into the water, and grab yourself the coarsest grit of sandpaper (in my case, a 600 grit) and dunk it into the water, as well. Now, working over the water, begin to sand your clay, working in small circles, and paying special attention to all the nooks and crannies. When you notice that the clay particles start to fill up on the sandpaper and the clay, just dunk them into the water to give it a rinse. If there is any dust, impurities, or unevenness in the surface of the clay, this is the point where they need to be sanded away.
When the surface starts to improve, move onto the next grit of sandpaper. Just like before, sand the entire surface and pay special attention to the nooks and crannies. Keep dunking the clay and the sandpaper into the water to remove any clay particle accumulation. When the surface becomes more even and smooth, move onto the finest grit and repeat the process over again. By this point, your clay will be extremely smooth - but not as smooth as it is going to be a little later!
Dry your clay off with your towel, and grab your piece of canvas (or whatever you chose as your rough material) and begin to rub your clay. Get into all the nooks and crannies, move in circles, and don't be afraid to apply some good pressure. After about 3-5 minutes of buffing, we can now move onto the polishing phase! With your polishing cloth, do the same thing as you were doing before with the canvas - rub and polish your clay until it is bright, shiny and smooth!
This process really is easy, but many people just don't go through with it because it takes too darn long. If you sit in front of the T.V, it helps to be a little bit zoned out - or try listening to some music, as it makes the process a little more enjoyable. If I could offer any advice at all on this process, it would be to spend the MOST time in the first phase while sanding. This phase is crucial because it defines the final product.
If you don't spend much time sanding, than buffing and polishing isn't going to make it look much better. How does that saying go? "You can't polish a turd"... hah! Spend the most time with the coarsest grit of sand paper - I usually sit there for a good 8-10 minutes sanding away. Than spend a little less time with the next grit, and even less time with the finest grit. This phase is always the most time consuming, and for good reason! Buffing with the canvas and polishing with the cloth usually don't take that long.
If you like, you can add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to your water at the beginning. It creates a little less friction, and heck - it smells nice! You will find that if you are going to be adding any painting detail after this process, the paint will go on even smoother and it will hold on more easy. If you add any paint, just go over the entire surface with a little bit of rubbing alcohol - this gets rid of any excess dirt and oils so that the paint will stick even better. If you are used to glazing your clay creations with layer upon layer of gloss, you will only need ONE layer of gloss for an equivalent shine after the sanding, buffing, and polishing process - it is THAT shiny!
Seriously, if you haven't tried doing this before, just try it once - that is all you will need to convince you. After gazing at your smooth, shiny, and beautiful creations and seeing your practically seeing your reflection in the clay, you will be wondering how you did without it!