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Basics of Polymer Clay

The Most Basic of Polymer Clay Basics

There are many good sources for basic information about polymer clay.  This Polymer Clay tutorial page is meant to be a helpful start for those unfamiliar with the wonderful versatile art medium.  Polymer clay artists are still finding new ways to make art with clay, and there is an endless number of techniques, projects, and possibilites with this clay!  I personally believe that time spent being creative (without intention of harm) lends itself to mental, emotional and spiritual fitness.  I am so grateful that polymer clay has become a part of my journey. 

 

Conditioning Polymer Clay

Different brands of clay have a different feel right out of the package.   Some clays are fairly hard feeling, some are quite soft.   Regardless of how they feel right out of the package it is important to condition.   As a general rule of thumb, the amount of manipulation to condition is gauged by the amount of manipulation it takes to blend two different colors into one color.   Conditioning can be achieved by hand, or using a pasta machine.  

The first Fimo Classic clay I purchased I ended up cutting it into small bits, then placing it in a pulsing small food chopper with some Quick Mix.  Although more difficult to condition than soft clays, it enjoys a reputation as an excellent clay to cane with. 

 Fimo Soft clay, is much easier to condition. 

Cernit clay was easy for me to condition right out of the package, running slices through a pasta machine.   If hand conditioning, just remember the two colors into one rule. 

The same was true of Premo Clay. 

I’ve used a conditioning tip by Mike Wasmer for Kato Clay, and that is using a rubber mallet and my basement floor!   Kato clay likes to be compressed even before running through the pasta machine and the rubber mallet works well for me.  I do sandwich the clay between sheets of plastic deli wrap to keep it clean.  After several times folding a pounded ‘pancake’ in half and re-pounding it conditions up nicely.  If you choose to condition in this manner take care to pound from the folded edge outwards, to avoid air pockets being trapped in the clay! 

However you condition, try to avoid trapping air in the clay.  Trapped air will become a problem for you, so best to avoid. When running clay through a pasta machine, place it folded edge into the rollers, or the folded edge to one side, so air has a path of escape. If you do have air pockets in clay, (they will be visible as bumps on the surface of the clay) pierce them, compress the clay with fingers to push the air out, and/or roll through a pasta machine from the thickest setting to a much thinner setting.  Then carefully fold and roll through to a wider setting.  Air trapped in a bead can lead to cracked beads – or any other polymer clay item. 

Especially while caning, it is desirable to have all clay colors used be the same consistency.  Even among brands I’ve not found all colors to be created equally! If polymer clay is too soft and pliable, it can be rolled out and placed between two layers of unprinted paper.  Left overnight, the clay will absorb some of the plasticiser.  If the clay is too stiff, there are products available to help soften it.  I personally add some translucent clay of the same brand.  Translucent clays seem to be the softest of the clays offered by all the manufacturers.

 Curing Polymer Clay


Polymer clay is man-made, requiring heat to cure (harden). Each of the clay manufacturers prints the recommended curing temperature on the packaging.   Following the recommended curing temperature is important, an oven thermometer is a good investment.  If different brands of clay are mixed, cure at the one with the lower temperature, and cure for a longer period of time. 

If the temperature gets too high, the clay will char, the fumes released are not good.  If the temperature is too low, it will not fully cure and there will be lack of stability of the piece.  Time for curing averages 20 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness, as a general rule. 

A dedicated toaster or convection oven is a good investment.   A home oven can be used, many recommend using a couple of liked size pans to create an oven in the oven.  A pan can be used and covered with aluminum foil as well.  Simply place your work in the bottom pan, invert one of the same size and place on top.   Some metal office clips can be used to clamp the two pans together.   That will contain any by products of curing clay confined.   Once any object is used for polymer clay it should then be dedicated to clay only. 

Because Polymer clay hardens in heat, do not leave it in your car during warm temperature months.  Never put polymer clay in a microwave oven.

 Polymer Clay Storage


One of the things I love best about polymer clay is that it has a long shelf life.  I don’t have to worry about it getting dry or hard before I’m ready for that to happen.  The chemical make up of polymer clay prevents it from being user friendly with some other plastics.   As an example, it will eat holes in Styrofoam.   I personally love the plastic deli wrap sheets I purchased from my local grocery store butcher.  I sometimes use a dedicated container for a project, using only deli sheets to separate colors all in the same box.  Canes can be wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, and stored in a protected container.  There are times when I’ve left some clay on my work area, but since I have a cat, I simply cover everything I’ve left out with a cloth.   I keep a dedicated container for scrap clay, and I just drop it in without pressing together.  I’ve gone through that later and separated into color families, and have come up with some awesome colors. Some clays have glitter in them, or fibers that are included to give them a stone look.  I do not include those in my dedicated scrap contained.  The fibers are not good if I want to use my scrap for caning.  There is just no reason not to use uncured polymer clay in one way or another!  There really are countless ways.

Speaking of Color


 I highly recommend to anyone sufficiently smitten’ with polymer clay to experiment with mixing colors.   Using primaries red, yellow and blue, plus white to lighten, black to darken you can play for days!!  Or, like colors used in ink jet printers, you can choose Cyan, Magenta, and yellow clays, borrowing from the CYMK (K being black) .  Writing formulas on color samples will be a great reference when you wish to re-create a mixed color.

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