Can You Paint Clay With Acrylic Paint?

Sometimes you don’t have time to get another fire done in your kiln. Especially when those clay projects are just taking up so much space in your art classroom. While we love glazing ceramic projects with kids, we also like the freedom of using acrylic paint on clay.

clay flower pinch pot painted with pink and yellow acrylic paint.

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Can kids use acrylic paint on clay?

Yes, we let even the youngest children use acrylic paint on sculptures. Acrylic paint is the best option for clay items if you are not planning on using glaze. This type of paint will not chip off like washable tempera paint. We love adding some sort of gloss varnish to seal the artwork. If you do not seal it then it will have a matte finish. 

variety of colors of acrylic paint on pallette.

What kind of paint can you use on clay?

You can use watercolor, tempera or acrylic paint. When painting with children, you don’t always have to use high-quality paints. Scholarly paints will work.

What is the best acrylic paint for kids?

Crayola Portfolio Series or Sax Tru Flow Heavied Bodied are suitable paint types for kids because of the price and quality. You can also use regular acrylic craft paints like this variety pack.

Biggest Cons To Using Acrylic Paint With Children

  • It will stain clothes.
  • Brushes need to be washed in a timely manner.
  • If brushes sit covered in paint for a long time, they will be ruined. If painting with young kids the easiest way to avoid this is to soak the paint brushes in a bucket until you can get to it.
  • You will not get the same glassy effect as regular ceramic glazes.
  • Acrylic paint is unlike some glazes that can be food safe. You would only want to paint ceramic pieces that are for decorative purposes.

Pros Of Using Acrylic Paint

  • They can mix their own different colors.
  • You won’t need a lot of paint.
  • Not limited to different types of glaze colors available.
  • More economical if using a scholar type of acrylic paint and not an artist brand.
  • They have more control over the finished project because they know what the color actually looks like.
  • Details may be easier to paint using a variety of brushes.
  • They can paint the whole surface of the clay slab or sculpture including the bottom of the clay projects (unlike when we glaze with a whole class).
  • If using regular clay, one less extra fire in the kiln as a bisque fire is only needed.
  • Doesn’t matter the type of clay. You can use acrylic paint on air-dry clay projects.
clay flower with paint brushes and primary color acrylic paint on tray.

Recommended Supplies

  • Acrylic paint in a variety of colors
  • Paint palette or foam tray if mixing colors
  • Water
  • Paintbrushes
  • Bisque Fired White Clay Project (Check out 8 easy clay project for kids)
  • Paper towel

Optional: Gloss medium or clear coat

General Rules For Painting Anything

  • Work general to specific
  • Start with light colors
  • Add details as you work
  • Work in thin coats and let layers dry
  • Consider different techniques like blending or dry brush

Can you water down acrylic paints?

Also known as thin paint. For clay, it can be a good idea if you water down acrylic to use a wash (especially great to get in the grooves of the clay details).

Now this project below was done by a high school student, but it really illustrates how you can layer watered-down acrylic paint on clay to help showcase the textures and details.

clay relief tile of city painted with acrylic paint.

How to create a shiny look when painting clay?

Depending on the kids applying the paint, will depend on the sheen. If they water down the acrylic paint to create a wash, it will not have a glossy finish. Naturally, acrylic paint has some gloss to it. For best results, we do recommend sealing your clay projects. 

However, if you want your ceramic pieces to have more shine like normal glaze consider coating them with spray gloss Mod Podge, glitter Mod Podge or a variety of acrylic gloss mediums. You could also consider doing an epoxy resin on your painted clay projects.

What is one of our favorite gloss mediums for 3-d kid art projects?

Spray utlra gloss mod podge bottle on green marble background.

The spray Mod Podge is super convenient and found it is the best way to seal other types of sculptures.  We will even use it to spray down model magic sculptures.

One of the clay fish in the image below was painted with watercolor paint and generously sprayed with the sealer. The other is just regular low-fire glazes.

different ways to add color to clay fish projects for kids.

Kids will love the shiny look and you save yourself the hassle of running a whole other kiln fire.

Gloss Medium Idea

If you really want to create a unique look on top of your acrylic paint, use an Iridescent Medium on top of your projects.  Sometimes the Liquitex one is hard to find, but that is the fun brand of glossy varnish we have the most experience with.

How To Use Acrylic Paint On Clay Flower

You can read the step-by-step instructions on how to build the clay flower here.

Step 1: Mix the base coat of the flower petals.

Step 2: Paint the flower petals of the flower. Add some lighter tints (color mix with white) to add extra texture.

Step 3: Add a slightly darker shade of color by dry brushing.

clay flower art project with tints and shades blended in.

Step 4: Mix the color of the middle of your flower. Add highlights.

yellow and pink painted clay flower pinch pot art project.

Step 5: Let fully dry. If using thin layers you will be surprised at how fast acrylic paint can dry on clay.

finished clay flower project drying with paint pallette.

Step 6: Optional: Apply a thin coat of Mod Podge, acrylic sealer or iridescent gloss medium.

Step 7: Let dry and possibly add a second coat of sealer if the appearance is too matte.

Other Ways To Add Color To Clay

clay tile in sink getting black paint rinsed off of oil pastel.

Creating ceramic projects with kids is such a special memory and an important part of their arts and crafts journey.

Follow us on Pinterest or YouTube for more arts and crafts ideas!

We love that there are other non-glazing options, like using acrylic paint for their clay projects.

Yield: Painted Clay Flower

Paint Clay With Acrylic Paint

pinch pot flower clay project for kids painted with pink and yellow acrylic paint.

Can you paint clay with acrylic paint? You sure can! Kids and adults can have a lot of fun experimenting with different painting techniques to make their clay projects shine.

Prep Time 2 minutes
Active Time 10 minutes
Total Time 12 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost Less than $5

Materials

Tools

  • Water container
  • Paper towel
  • Paint brushes

Instructions

    1. Mix a base color for your flower colors. We used a medium pink.
    2. Add some lighter tints (color mix with white) to add extra texture.
    3. Add a slightly darker shade of color by dry brushing.
    4. Paint the inside of the flower. Add highlight with white.
    5. Apply a thin coat of acrylic sealer or add iridescent gloss medium.
    6. Let dry and possibly add a second coat of sealer if the appearance is too matte.

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