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   The Polymer Clayspot
       Polymer Clay FAQ

The Polymer Clayspot:

Welcome to Polymer Clay
Choosing & Mixing Clay
Conditioning Polymer Clay
Using the Food Processor
Using the Pasta Machine
Forming Clay Pieces
Firing Polymer Clay
Finishing Clay Pieces
Storing Polymer Clay
Using Stone Clays
Using Translucent Clays
Molding & Sculpting
Creating Surface Effects
Making Polymer Clay Jewelry
Safety & Cleanup
More Information Sources
What is polymer clay?

Polymer clay is, as the name implies, a pliable, blendable polymer compound for artists and crafters. It's not a true clay - clay is fine particles of silicate suspended in water, whereas polymer clay is fine particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in plasticizer - but it can be used much like clay.

What makes polymer clay special is its versatility. It comes in dozens of colors, and you can blend clays together like paints to make your own colors. Since the color is inherent in the particles, you can also work two or more colors together without blending them, if you prefer, for special effects such as caneworking and marbling. The clay's pliability and ductility let you use techniques from glasswork, textile arts, and sculpture. And polymer clay doesn't dry out, so you can sculpt and form it without worrying about a time limit.

Firing - the process that fuses the particles into a solid - requires only low temperatures, low enough to use a home oven as your kiln. The colors and size are not changed during firing. When fired, the clay gets hard enough to make durable objects, and can be finished in various ways to obtain textures from glassy to stonelike.

What can I use polymer clay for?

You can cover anything (as long as it won't melt or burn at the low firing temperatures) with a veneer of polymer clay: wooden boxes, picture frames, mirrors, tableware. One popular application is jewelry: polymer clay can be used to make beads, pendants, bracelets, and neckpieces. Small sculptures and buttons are other possibilities. Clay artists have developed techniques to give polymer clay the appearance of granite, jade, amber, coral, turquoise, and ivory, and its flexibility means you can make pieces in shapes and sizes that wouldn't be possible using actual stone.

(Because the plasticizer in polymer clay may leach out even after it's fired, polymer clay is not suitable for objects in direct contact with food.)  - Safety tip!

Where can I find the clay?

Polymer clay is undergoing a surge in popularity and is more widely available than it was a few years ago. Look in local craft stores, art-supply stores, and bead stores. Some toy stores and general (sundries) stores also carry polymer clay, although the selection of colors is sometimes limited. You can obtain polymer clay via mail order, although some outlets require you to buy in large quantities and/or have a reseller's license.

There are several polymer clay manufacturers; each brand is a little different in softness, strength, and so on, and each one offers its own selection of colors. Polymer clay is generally available in small (about 2 oz.) and large (about 12 oz.) packages. In the U.S., a 2-oz. package usually costs between $1.50 and $3.00, depending on brand and location.

Do I need special equipment?

All you need to create polymer clay pieces is your hands and an oven. Clay artists use various kinds of equipment to make working with the clay easier and to create special effects for some pieces, but these are not really necessary.

However, there are some implements that are useful to the beginner:

Work surface
The raw clay may damage some surfaces (plastic and wood), so you need to work with it on some surface, such as a piece of smooth glass or marble. You can also tape a sheet of waxed paper to a table top and put the clay on the waxed paper - if the paper gets dirty, you can just remove it and use a new sheet.
Piercing tool
If you want to make beads, they will need a hole for stringing. You can make this hole with a long sewing needle or a wooden skewer.
A knife is useful to cut the clay. It can be a cheap, unserrated kitchen knife (but don't use the same knife for both food and clay).  - Safety tip!

Many other things can be used with clay, but these are good tools for the beginner. You can find or buy more equipment as you need it.

What would be a good project to start with?

There are many pamphlets and books with instructions for all sorts of polymer clay projects - check your local bookstore or craft store.

If you want to start right away, here's a quick project that will introduce you to the basics of polymer clay: marbled beads.

  1. Pick two or more colors of clay that you like and that go well together. (You can use any clay brand, but if you're a beginner, you might want to use Sculpey since it's softer and easier to work with than Fimo.)
  2. Condition each color of clay by working it with your hands until it's soft and pliable. Squidge it between your fingers, roll it between your hands, roll it out into a snake shape and back into a ball. Do this for a few minutes with each color of clay.
  3. Take a small hunk of each clay color and mix them together, rolling and twisting to create a marble look. (You want them partly mixed, but not completely.)
  4. When you like the effect, pinch off a piece of the marbled clay and roll it into a small ball betwen your hands. Then use a toothpick, a long needle, or a wooden skewer to pierce a hole through the center. You now have your first bead!
  5. Roll the rest of the clay into beads, piercing each one. You can match sizes or make all different sizes of beads. Try different shapes, too - cube beads, long skinny beads, flat ovals for a pin or earrings, etc.
  6. Line a cookie sheet with plain white paper and put the beads on it. Put them in the oven at 250 degrees for 30 minutes or so to fire them. Take them out, let them cool, and they're ready to string.
  7. When the beads have cooled, string them into a bracelet or necklace.

Experiment, play around, and see what you get. As clay artist Tory Hughes told Jewelry Crafts magazine, "You can't do anything wrong except burn it."

Where can I find other people who work with polymer clay?

The Usenet newsgroup rec.crafts.polymer-clay is an excellent place to ask for advice, get inspiration, and read about what clay artists are doing. Newcomers are always welcome. (If you're new to Usenet, make sure to read the information in news.announce.newusers before you post - this newsgroup contains advice and help for Usenet newbies, and will tell you a little about how Usenet works and what the expectations are.)

You can also join the National Polymer Clay Guild. There are local chapters in many cities; if yours isn't listed, try asking at bead stores, or post a message on rec.crafts.polymer-clay, or a newsgroup that's local to you, to see whether there's a group nearby.

 Next: Choosing & Mixing Polymer Clay

Jeanne A. E. DeVoto
Copyright © 1996-97 Jeanne A. E. DeVoto