Local Artist Lauren Manninen

Lauren is an artist who has worked with many students in the Cedar Rapids School District through the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy After School Enrichment Program and at the Music and Arts Studios. She received her bachelor’s degree in painting from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and studied abroad at the Osaka University of Art.

Class 1 

This project shows you how to create homemade clay or play dough using some pantry staples. This clay can be left to dry or baked in a 200 degree oven until hard, then painted. I’ll go over how to make two versions of a rainbow fish with clay in a few simple steps. But this clay can be used to sculpt whatever you imagine!

  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • Plate or parchment paper to protect work surface
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Mixing bowl
  • Buttons, plastic gems or any small doodad
  • Cooking Cutters (optional)
  • Food coloring (optional)

For the dough

  1. Mix together salt and flour.
  2. Slowly add water and knead dough until smooth. ​​​​​​If dough seems too dry add water, and if too wet add flour.
  3. If desired add a few drops of food coloring and knead into the dough.You can split the dough into several parts for different colors. Or you can add two colors of food coloring and create a marble effect.
  4. Sculpt & let dry! It will take several days for the clay to dry, be sure not to disturb it until it is fully hardened or it may crack.
    • Alternately you can bake the clay in a 200 degree oven. Don’t use this method if using plastic buttons or gems. Small rocks are okay though.


  • To smooth the clay keep a small bowl of water nearby to dip your fingers into. Don’t use too much though!
  • You can substitute part of the flour with corn starch for a smoother dough.
  • Clay will keep in an air tight container for a week or so. Adding a small amount of oil will extend the shelf life further.
  • The food coloring may stain, so keep your sleeves in mind.
  • Other ideas include sea snails, crabs, sharks or dolphins!

Sculpting a simple rainbow fish

  1. Flatten or roll out dough.
  2. Cut out a heart shape.
  3. Push buttons, gems or other small bits into random places on your fish.
  4. Give it a face and a smile!
  5. Let dry for several days, after which you can paint as an optional step.

Sculpting a rainbow fish version 2

  1. Make a flattened oval shape for the fish body.
  2. Make four small oval shapes and attach to the bottom, top and backside of the fish for fins. Be sure to smooth these into the body of the fish securely.
  3. Embed your buttons or gems into the fish at a slight angle, working from back to front.
  4. Add detail to the fins by drawing some lines with your spoon.
  5. Draw a face on your fish.
  6. Let dry for several days, after which you can paint as an optional step. 

And you’re done! 

Share your work and stay connected!

We are curious to see your project! Upload photos in the comment section below. If you have trouble, or want to share a short video, email us at info@eiaaprogram.org. Leave your school name in the comment box and we will share images with your school!

We want to stay connected to our creative students when we get back to the new normal. While you are here, learn more about the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. While we don't have much taking place in real space/time during the pandemic, we will get back to our regular live and in-person classes. When we do, we'd love to have you as a member!

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