Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lesson 17: Polymer clay

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.

Polymer Clay

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 need
ed 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
Binder clips
Straight edge razor blades
Latex gloves
Polymer clay (I used copper; you are looking at 1/2 package)
X-acto knife kit

Optional Items:
Rubber stamp(s)
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.


21 thoughtful remarks:

Halle said...

Great lesson...if I could tolerate the smell of polymer clay I know I'd love working with it. I think I sent the remainder of mine to you a couple years ago if memory serves. :)

Dianne said...

Terrific tutorial! I did not know about covering the clay in the oven to minimize fumes. brilliant! I rarely use clay, but decided to resurrect a post from the past on my I linked up to show my impressions of old buttons in clay. enjoyed this. your tutorials are always so well done.

Dianne said...

ok. so I messed up the first linky thingy. maybe you can delete it. so sorry. hopefully the second try works correctly...

Dianne said...

This was a great lesson! I've used polymer clay extensively and never knew about the pie tin method of containing the fumes... What a great idea!

BJ said...

May I be so bold as to think it was my decorative edge you have seen already? Many thanks if so. I was so very nearly interested in this lesson on polymer clay but then got to the bit about fumes and now I don't think I will be buying any - sorry not for me. Not sure what you mean by transfers for lesson 18 either. But if I can do fabric WITHOUT polymer clay next time now that will be just down my street. Thanks BJ

BJ said...

Don't panic Elizabeth, I got both of your replies and can still see you blog, but can understand your shock of the situation considering all your hard work. Air dry sounds much better to me, I do believe the Fimo I have seen is such and I did see loads of colours, I'll have to check it out again and let you know. Afraid I'm not sure of what you call packing tape??? You know our names can be quite different! As for pop-ups I was thinking of simple ones often used in the card making arena, thought they might add a cool surprise aspect to turning the pages. Might be good for my New Year page, I'll look into it. Thanks as ever BJ

BJ said...

I got the post as an-email (like I get all of my posts) but yes you are right it isn't on my blog - curious??? Must have missed that bit. I could cut and paste it as a reply on my blog if you like.

gina said...

This is the go-to post on working with clay! What a comprehensive tutorial, Elizabeth! I tried having my students work with clay when I taught Kindergarten, but I wasn't very knowledgeable and the results were mediocre....if only I had all this info back then. Have a creative week!

HeARTworks said...

Wow! You know so much about so many things! And you're always so generous with what you know! Thank you Elizabeth! Patsy

Darla said...

Thanks for the polymer clay info. Someone gave me a few squares of clay and some small carving tools about a year ago and I've yet to take the clay out of the packages. I think I am brave enough now that I have your "beginner" instructions.


elle said...

A wealth of information for sure. I need to think about what I'll do for my book but I am game to try it for sure. I linked up my beaded edge which has been my MOST favourite thing so far.

gina said...

Hello again!

Just wanted to pop back in, since I don't have your email, and say thanks so much for your kind comments on my blog. I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts! :)

paulaexuk said...

Great lesson Elizabeth, I have a small amount of light weight clay that is white. I usually paint this with watercolor as I prefer the more transparent look to acrylic paint that I see lots of people use. You made me laugh about using knives....I too have arthritis and they don't mix with me either. Off to do some baking!

paulaexuk said...

Sorry forgot to say my link is up for decorative edges.

paulaexuk said...

Does this mean we are going to have a guest appearance lesson from you BJ for the pop-ups?

carol l mckenna said...

Wow ! This is quite the tutorial ~ great job ~ (A Creative Harbor)

Dandelion and Daisy said...

Thank you for the baking pan suggestion! Not having an oven is the reason I've not used poly clay. Woo Hoo, something else to try!

Carolyn Dube said...

I have played with clay but was never terrible happy when using it with stamps- not any more! Your idea with the paint stirring sticks is genius and solves the problem I've had in the past with it! Thanks for sharing your ideas so generously!

Healing Woman said...

Very useful information. I appreciate that you write with such precision and detail. Anyone should be able to follow this tutorial and produce something amazing. Thanks so much for sharing Elizabeth.

Dawn said...

Wow, yet another fab lesson my lovely thank-you. I will have to be brutally honest though and say that clay orientated crafts have never really floated my boat so to speak so I will probably give this one a miss. My feeble attempts at a window and decorative edge spread have now been posted and linked for you. Huge learning curve for me tbh, I started it ages ago but ended up with a big gap before finishing it. I truly lost the love for it because of the gap I think, and I had lost all creative impetus too when I returned to it. Lol was determined to get it finished so that I could move on so lots of doodling ensued to try to tie it all together.
Bring on the fabric lesson is all thats on my mind now, really looking forward to it.
Big hugs x x x x

Types of Mold said...

nicely done! i love your design... thanks for sharing