Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Working With Polymer Clay

This project is for persons 18 years old and older!

If you remember your kindergarten days, you might re-call several occasions in which you mashed and poked away at that vivid and doughy sculpting clay called Plasticine. This stuff would entertain me for hours, and I always loved it more than Playdough because it would never dry up. Whenever something looked all wrong, you could just ball it in your hands and roll it around some more to create something entirely different.

Polymer clay is quite similar to Plasticine. Both of these clays are somewhat solid when you buy them, but are softer from the heat of your hands. They both have an "oily" feel to them that leaves that residue on your hands, and they do not harden in the air. Plasticine is one of those clays that does not solidify at all, unlike Polymer Clay which, when baked, turns hard as a rock. So, if you intend to create a figurine, piece of jewelry, or some dollhouse miniatures that you would like to last forever, than Polymer Clay would be your best bet.

But Polymer Clay is a clay in name only. It is actually PVC based, and is more of a moldable and sculptable plastic than anything. It doesn't actually contain any Earth clay at all. Polymer Clay doesn't require any curing in a kiln, but it does require you to bake it in a conventional oven, ranging from 265* F to 275* F for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the object you are baking. Afterwards, you may choose to sand buff it to create a surface sheen, file down any imperfections, and than leave it as-is or gloss it with a water-based finish.

Polymer Clay isn't a new concept. In fact, it has been on store shelves for almost 40 years as a sculpting material, and even longer for other purposes. So, it's no surprise that there are a vast array of clay brands and colours to choose from.

The most popular and well-known brands of Polymer Clay are Fimo Soft and Sculpey III. Through the years, these companies have come out with different formulas for their clays, so the texture and feeling of the raw clay in your hands has changed tremendously overtime. For a beginner, I would suggest that working with either Fimo Soft or Sculpey III would be your best bet, namely because they are easy to handle and easy to find. You can easily find other brands as well online, such as Premo or Kato Polyclay, and they can also be found in your local hobby or arts & crafts store.

Polymer Clay generally comes in small 2oz packs of one particular colour, although many brands also offer boxes of 24 or 32 small packets of various colours to get you started. This may be your cheapest option if you have never worked with clay before. If you wish to create something with just a few colours, than you might be better off just purchasing the small amount of colours that you need. You may want to go ahead and buy just one block of each brand just so you can get a feel for their qualities and decide which brand works best for you.

One of the most favourable aspects of working with Polymer Clay is that it comes in so many colours. There is basic colours, fluorescent, metallic, pearl, glow in the dark, translucent, glittery, and even textured clays. Unlike sculpting materials like Terra Cotta, you don't have to spend all the work painting your creations afterwards. The option is always there if you would like to add details after your goodies have been baked with paint such as acrylics.

The great thing about colourful Polymer Clay is that it does not shrink or alter shape after baking, and most of the colours only change hues a very small bit and are quite unnoticeable. The downside of so many colours to choose from is trying to keep them separate. If you have several packages of opened clay, you may want to invest in some zipper-top baggies and an airtight container. If you have too much clay to handle, invest in one of those plastic organizers with the different compartments. Grab some sticker labels, write down the colours, and stick them on the matching compartments. This will keep your colours separate and clean. A good idea is to keep opened clay in one place and un-opened clay in another place to avoid opening several packages of the same colour when you already have some opened.

Cleanliness is another huge factor in Polymer Clay sculpting. Light colours such as White and Yellow just love to pick up specks of dirt and dust from the air and your hands. Even when your hands appear clean, these specks somehow seem to find their way onto your clay. Here are a 3 steps to keeping your clay nice and clean.

1) Keep a smooth and clear work surface. An ideal surface would be a big chunk of ceramic tile or glass. Clean thoroughly with soapy water, baby wipes, or some rubbing alcohol. After the surface starts to get tacky or oily again, keep paper towels and alchohol to give your surface a wipe down.

2) Keep your hands clean. I find that washing up with dishwashing liquid and letting your hands air dry works the best. Cotton towels are monsters for little specks of dust, so avoid them. Also avoid wiping your hands on anything or touching anything. A good hard wipe with a paper towel on your hands does wonders in getting off any dust. Keep a scrap piece of clay to roll between your hands to get off any spare dust that the paper towel didn't pick up.

3) Work with dark colours last. Dark colours leave dark residue on your work surface, and when you are rolling light colours on the same area, you are going to pick this residue up and your colours can get very muddy. Also, red seems to be a bad culprit in bleeding into other colours, so consider this a "dark" colour.

Another addition to Polymer Clay is the very useful "Liquid Clay" usually sold under the names "TLS - Translucent Liquid Sculpey" under the Sculpey brand, or "Fimo Decorating Gel" under the Fimo brand. Use liquid clay on your wire when you insert it into the clay before baking. This keeps it from slipping or falling out eventually, and acts as a very good adhesive or glue. When you attach pieces of clay to each other before baking, try adding a bit of Liquid Clay to the joint before sticking it on, as this will ensure a strong grip onto the clay base. Liquid Clay can make very attractive garnishes, such as frosting, icing, syrup, and glaze. If you add some colour, either by Oil Paint or by shaving in some hard coloured pastel, you can make yourself some glaze or syrup. If you add solid clay to the liquid clay, you can stir it constantly to a smooth consistency and make some very tasty looking frosting or icing for some clay cupcakes. Liquid clay can be baked with the rest of your clay at the same temperature and the same time, so they can be combined effortlessly.

Polymer Clay can be rolled out and cut out with cookie cutters, it can be pushed through a clay "extruder" to create strands in all different sizes and shapes, it can be sculpted with an unlimited amount of tools such as toothpicks and Popsicle sticks, and it can be rolled into different shapes and stuck on itself. Experiment! If you look up "Polymer Clay Tutorials" on the internet or in a bookstore, you will get many helpful resources to get you started as well if you do not know where to begin.

You can do a lot with clay. It doesn't just have to sit on a shelf and collect dust. You can wrap pens in it, create picture frames and light switch panels, or you could do what I do - make some jewellery! Before baking, try sticking some wire loops or eye pins in the clay so that it can be hung on things like jumprings and earring loops. Polymer Clay makes very attractive necklace pendants, rings, keychains, and all sorts of accessories that anyone can enjoy.

Sculpting with Polymer Clay is an entirely different world where you are free to create all that your imagination conjures up. What I have explained will get you started, but if you are ever curious to know more about the art, there is a wonderful Polymer Clay encyclopedia on GlassAttic.com. The creator is a Polymer Clay guru, and she is always happy to explain anything you need to know about the wonderful art of Polymer Clay. Experiment and enjoy!

Original Source: Crafts: Working With Polymer Clay

1 comment:

Pretty Paper Passions said...

This is great! Learned a lot! I'll have to keep this one marked!