Monday, September 3, 2012

Working with Polymer Clay

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Polymer clay is easy to work with, comes in a wide variety of colors, and bakes in your home oven.  And it's fun!  I am still a beginner, but here are some useful things I've learned so far about working with polymer clay:

(1) Conditioning
Conditioning the clay really helps, especially because the clay can be pretty hard out of the package.  Warm it up in your hand and flatten it enough to start rolling it.  I bought the cheapest clay roller I could find ($10 using a 50% off coupon at Joanns) and it is working well for me, even though it can be tough to turn sometimes.  Feed the clay through the machine on the thickest setting, fold it in half and repeat.  It's OK to get jagged edges, just mush it together in your hand and roll it again.  This technique can also be used to blend different colors of clay.

If the clay is really dry or tough, you can add a bit of mold maker to soften it (a little bit goes a long way).  They also sell a liquid softener, but I am hoping to use the mold maker to make molds someday, so I bought this.

(2) Tools for forming clay
You are going to use a lot of tools when working with polymer clay.  I bought a tool kit to get me started, which includes a flexible blade (good for cutting off chunks of clay and shaving surfaces), roller, needle end pointer (good for making bead holes), and a variety of round and blunt end tools.  I also use my Xacto knife, a small drinking straw (coffee stirrer) for punching holes, and a small round cookie cutter.

Tools you don't really need
I tried a bead roller to make nice evenly shaped small beads.  It worked pretty well, but if you want nice evenly shaped beads it is much cheaper and faster to buy them at the bead store.  This is home-made art, and it doesn't need to be perfect!  I doubt I'll use this much...

Bead trays are meant to hold the beads while they bake so they don't form a flat spot.  A good idea, but the trays just cost a lot for what they are.  Instead, I covered a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, folded some foil up, and stuck toothpicks into it. 

(3) Surface Finishes
It is easy to end up with a lot of finger prints on your clay.  Dabbing or gently rolling it on a paper towel can give it a nice matte finish.  Be careful of lint - I used a tissue instead of a paper towel once and ended up with a very fuzzy product (not what I was aiming for!).  

I have tried a clear glaze, but I think I prefer the matte finish.  I have also tried sanding the baked clay, as I have seen suggested on other guides.  I ended up with a very scratched piece, so if you are going to try this then use a very fine grain sanding paper!

(4) Refrigerating!
Soft clay is great for forming your clay, but sometimes you need to harden it a little.  Putting it in your refrigerator for 10 minutes can really help!  This will harden it enough that you do nice sharp cuts with your knife or shave the surfaces (for the Mokume Gane technique).

Mokume Gane method (pressed and then shaved surface).

Pumpkin & ghost were refrigerated and then carved.

(5) Play and have fun!
The clay is very forgiving.  If you don't like how a piece is turning out, roll it in your hands and swirl the colors together and you'll get some great looking beads!  If a piece gets squished out of shape, just push it back.  Experiment and have fun!

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