Plasticine® is a trademark name for an oil-based modeling material that was developed by an art teacher in England in 1897. The non-drying clay that William Harbutt formulated is still available, as is plastilin, a similar modeling clay developed by Franz Kolb in the 1880s, but the terms plasticine and plastilina are now used by many people as generic terms for modeling clay.
This material has distinct properties that make it useful. Unlike clay and wax, it stays soft and workable: it neither hardens nor dries. It also comes in a wide array of colors, unlike pottery clay, that can be used as purchased or blended. Also, unlike clay, plasticine doesn’t stick to the hands.
Plasticine can be shaped and worked with modeling tools for shaping, sculpting, blending, texturing, thinning, scraping, poking, and cutting. It can be worked on its own or built on a pre-formed armature. Users should note, however, that it cannot be fired.
Two important uses of this material were developed recently. Canadian illustrator Barbara Reid has developed a book illustration technique using it to create illustrations of scenes as relief sculptures, employing a variety of techniques to convey distance, size, texture, and lighting. Her illustrations for The New Baby Calf by Edith Newlin Chase, copyright 1984, are the first published example of this technique. The Party, from 1997, for which Reid won the Governor General’s Literary Award, and The Subway Mouse, from 2003, are other works illustrated using this technique.
Probably the most famous new use of plasticine is in Claymation®, originally used solely as a servicemark for a type of stop-action movie animation process done with oil-based modeling clay that was invented by Wlll Vinton, the man responsible for animating the California raisins. The term claymation has come to be used generically to describe animation using modeling clay.