For those of you who are just joining in, you will note, according to the syllabus, this and the next lesson are out of order, as promised the last time we met. I explained that the polymer clay and fabric lessons were reversed because I use the polymer clay I made in some of my fabric pages. I hope you understand and it doesn't confuse too many of you. Now let's begin our next lesson.
I am sure some of you are thinking polymer clay is not in your wheelhouse. That could be because you don't believe you have the tools needed for this craft. I have to agree that if you decide to get into polymer clay, it can be expensive, as are all art forms that you start where you don’t have the tools needed for the job.
Although I have both a dedicated toaster oven and a dedicated pasta machine, along with unbaked clay, a few flexible molds, and Armor-All, for nearly two years, I worked with polymer clay and had no tools. That's why I know it can be a craft (like many others) that one can enjoy on the cheap. Polymer clay is often on sale at JoAnn's, Michael's, and Hobby Lobby in the US. I suspect there are quite a few big box craft stores in your part of the world that carry them, too. You can usually pick a block up for anywhere between $1.00 and $1.75 US (see my right sidebar for conversion rates in your area), depending on the brand. Granted, the blocks don’t go very far if you are making a large piece, and one color limits what you can do, but it can be done, as I will demonstrate.
However, some of you may not even know what polymer clay is. It's really a polymer medium, and not clay. It is like clay in the fact that it must be baked. It is a PVC product, or polyvinyl chloride. That is what your white "plastic plumbing pipes" in your house are made of. Additionally, polymer clay contains a plasticizer, which makes it different from your plumbing pipes.
There are several manufacturers of polymer clay, but the most used are Sculpey, Premo, and Fimo, along with Kato Polyclay, which I have never seen in my craft stores. The Granitex is a product of Sculpey, as is Premo. Premo seems to be the most expensive of all the brands I have. I've read that Kato Polyclay is the most expensive, though. Fimo seems to be the hardest of all the clays I've used, although I have read that Kato is the hardest. As true clay artists will tell you, it is perfectly acceptable to mix different brands of polymer clay together. Mixing these different clays gives you even more color choices, as well as various property choices.
Polymer clay stays soft in a cool, dark place until it is baked at low temperatures. Although you can leave unbaked clay open for several hours, it is not something I would recommend doing once your project is complete, but unbaked. I store my open clay in sealed plastic bags, still wrapped in their original wrappers, and they stay soft and ready for use when I decide to use them.
There are many ways to cut clay and I will go into cutting as I get into the tutorial. I wanted to show you a few options, though, such as cookie cutters you will NEVER EVER use to make cookies with, a tissue blade, and a ripple blade. Remember, all of these supplies now belong in your studio and NOT in your kitchen.
The words "tissue blade" always give me the creeps. Other than the brain and its functions, I have no interest in the medical community, primarily due to my desire to stay away from blood and needles. Tissue blades are used when cutting canes, those polymer clay cylinders or logs that have a design running through them. A cross section of the clay log is cut to show and bring out the design. The sharpest blade you can use for cutting these cross sections is a tissue blade, which must be sharp, or the cane will pull, smear, and distort as it is cut. Tissue blades are used by pathologists to make thin slices of tissue that will be examined under a microscope. Again, very creepy: goose bump creepy!
There are all types of molds on the market that you can use, too. The ones on the left are both designed by Sculpey, while the one on the right I consider to be a found object.
Polymer clay must be conditioned. Even if you are using a pasta machine to roll it out (NEVER EVER use the pasta maker for anything other than clay again), you must warm the clay before you work with it. You do this by kneading it in your hands, then twisting and turning it, then kneading it some more. If you start flattening your clay and it crumbles, it is still cold in spots, and must be reconditioned. Some brands and colors of clay take longer to condition than others. If you are using a pasta maker, once warm, run the clay through the pasta maker at least TWENTY times. Some artists suggest at least THIRTY times.
However, if you are NOT using a pasta maker, continue kneading, twisting, kneading, and repeating the process ad nauseum. Once your hand starts to fall off, or your wrist no longer works, the clay should be ready. OK, that's an exaggeration, but it does take a long time to condition and I don't want you to get discouraged. Of course, I've had clay that was so soft, it was nearly ready when I removed it from the package. So choose your clay wisely, because I've been told you can actually get your clay too soft, although that has never happened to me.
For those of you who work with polymer clay on a regular basis, the remainder of this lesson is not for you, although you may continue reading, if you wish. Please create any clay piece you want to make using your polymer clay tools and techniques, and skip to "Lesson 18: Student's Choice." This lesson is for those who have never worked with polymer clay, or who have been curious about polymer clay, but knew you didn't have the equipment usually required or recommended for the process.
If you are not into polymer clay, but want to play with ONE block, you will need items you more than likely will have around your home: items that are also inexpensive and often free. That includes:
A smooth, round bottle, or length of PVC pipe (used in plumbing)
At least two paint stirrer sticks or a deck of old cards
Two old pie tins (cleaned) or two metal pans the same size or an old baking pan with a lid
At least two bulldog clips
3 X 5 file cards or regular printer paper
A craft knife, X-acto, or a straight edge blade (preferred)
Optional items include gloves, pearl-ex or any mica powder, old paint brush, texture plates (although I don't own any), old cookie cutters, bamboo skewer, candy molds, and/or rubber stamps.
Supplies (from left):
2 paint stirrer sticksPVC pipe
2 pie tins
Straight edge razor blades
Latex glovesPolymer clay (I used copper; you are looking at 1/2 package)
X-acto knife kit
Flexible candy molds
Cookie cutters (not shown here, but see above)
Please note: DO NOT use the candy molds or cookie cutters with any food product after they have been exposed to polymer clay.
Begin by breaking the block of clay into one of four pieces. Since the blocks are scored, it’s easy to break off one piece. However, if you own a tissue blade, you may use it to cut your piece of clay. Knead the piece in your hand until it is soft. You might want to wear latex or rubber gloves because the pigments will transfer to your hands and your finger prints will transfer to the clay. If you don't have any gloves and the clay begins to stick to your hands, you can dust them with cornstarch.
Position two paint stirrers on each side of the flattened clay no farther apart than the width of the bottle or PVC pipe you are using. Place stirrers on top of a single piece of printer paper cut or folded to the shape of your pie tins or metal pans. This paper becomes your "baking tray." If you are making small pieces, you can use a ceramic tile as your baking tray.
Alternately, if you don't have paint stirrer sticks, you can lay out the same number of playing cards on each side, but that limits the length as well as the width of your final piece. With the small amount I am using, it would not have made a difference. I suggest six playing cards on each side, for a total of twelve. However, the total thickness on each side should be about 1/4 inch.
When the polymer clay is soft, press the piece relatively flat with the palm of your hand.
This reduces the amount of rolling you will need to do.
Begin rolling your clay with the PVC pipe or a smooth round bottle which is resting firmly on both paint stirrers.
When rolled flat, the clay can be cut using a craft knife, a break-off knife, a straight edge blade, or an old cookie cutter designated for crafts only. Whatever you choose to make, repeat with the remainder of the clay. I suggest if you are making relatively straight cuts, use a single edge razor blade. It will give a better cut from top to bottom and all the way through, while X-acto blades have a tendency to bend. For that very reason, the X-acto is best reserved for cutting around corners.
You can also dust a rubber stamp with Pearl-ex or any mica powder, since it doesn't need a resin binder to stick to the clay before it is baked. As an aside, mica powders can be applied dry to the surface of raw clay or even mixed into your raw clay.
You can also spritz your stamp with water or Amour-All,
then stamp the clay.
Always add more Pearl-ex (or other mica based powder), Amour-All, or water with each stamping. You can see the stamp came away easily from the polymer clay. Now I'm pretty sure most of you know how to stamp (and more than likely, far better than I), so I shouldn't have to say any more about that (grin).
Cut around each piece, removing the excess polymer clay. You do not need to move the stamped polymer clay, since you already have it on your "baking tray."
You can now reuse the excess polymer clay by repeating the above steps or process.
Another way to use polymer clay is, after conditioning, press into a flexible mold that has been dusted with mica powder or spritzed with water or Amour-All. Turn the mold over and roll the clay flat so it will adhere well on a page. Gently remove from the mold and cut away the excess clay using a craft knife or single edge blade as per above.
You can also make beads. Using the pointed edge of a bamboo skewer, "drill" a hole about half way into one end of the bead, remove, and "drill" through the other side until you are all the way through. Repeat until you have the number of beads you want. By drilling only half way through the beads each time, they tend to distort less.
You can bake as is, or roll the bead over a rubber stamp. Be sure to coat the stamp with water, Armour-All, or mica powders and find the spot on the stamp with the detail you prefer. I rolled mine over the heart area.
Fold a piece of printer paper so you have several valley and mountain folds. Place the beads, still on the bamboo skewer, into one of the valleys. You might have to cut your skewer if your tin is smaller than the original length of the skewer.
Place the decorated or cut clay or beads which are still on the printer paper into one of the pie tins, or whatever you chose for your baking piece.
If you are using two tins, clamp and hold together with at least two binder clips. Four work better, but two will do the job.
Alternately, use an old cookie tin with a lid. The idea is to keep the fumes inside the tin away from the oven.
Bake in your own kitchen oven per the package directions. This is USUALLY around 265 degrees F for 20 minutes for each 1/4" thickness. However, be sure to check your clay package, because they do vary. I have NO idea how to convert that to the British gas cooking system some of you use, although I am sure there are conversion charts somewhere.
You now have completed a polymer clay project with items you have around the house. Your only outlay was the polymer clay block. You have also kept your oven safe.
Use your charms or beads in your favorite AB.
I realize this is a short lesson this week photo wise, although I hope I've inspired you to find a way to incorporate polymer clay in your art. Remember, you don't even need an entire page for this technique.
I'll be back next week with my homework assignment to show you at least one more technique, this time using more than one color of clay, and how I have used polymer clay in some of my AB spreads. However, if you can't wait, and want to add your polymer clay piece to your AB, you should use a strong glue like E-6000. White glue does not work well, because of its properties.
Lesson 18: Student's Choice
Some of you asked for pop-ups, some asked for transfers. I've never made a pop-up, so am not sure how to make one. But I am exceptionally good at transfers. I have made various types of transfers many times, so I will start with transfers and if I have time, will attempt a pop-up. I hope that is acceptable with everyone.
As for the paper carving/sculpting Paula suggested, that sounds like a knife thing to me, and many of you know how much I hate X-acto knives, especially with my arthritis. Sorry, Paula, but anything even SIMILAR to that will never show up on my blog (grin).
If anyone wants to see how to make drawers, I recommend "The Less Patient Book Tutorial," by my dear friend Annette, also known as Voodoo Vixen to some. Annette is on her way to Scotland right now, but I'm sure she won't mind me pointing all of you to her extremely thorough tutorial. I swear, she is the Queen of Paper Engineering.
HOMEWORK (never mandatory, always optional):
Create at least one embellishment made from polymer clay. Use whatever equipment you have on hand. DO NOT go out and buy anything (except possibly one block of polymer clay) for this project. You should have everything you need for this project, should you attempt it.
If you can't find a suitable page on which to attach your polymer clay embellishment, feel free to create a tag using it, then fill one of those tag pockets you made earlier.
It's share time!
Now is the time to share your Lesson 15 homework (decorative edges). I've already seen at least one decorative edge, and it is awesome. I know some of you are probably anxious to show what you have made, so it's now time for the big reveal. Remember, if you have homework from any lesson other than Lesson 15 (decorative edges), you may enter it here, along with the lesson number. Thanks again for your continued support. I'm extremely grateful so many of you are keeping up with your book pages.