Sunday, 17 February 2008

Polymer Clay

It was with great excitement that I unpacked my first ever delivery of polymer clay and associated paraphernalia last week. Friday night was the first chance I had to play and I figured I'd start just figuring out the feel of the clay and how to work it. Problem one soon struck in that I had a overly dry block of black that crumbled when I tried to condition it. Not a problem, I'd thought ahead and my little bottle of clay softener was put to work. I got it worked into my clay and tried again. Soon I had a nice, flat sheet of clay and stamped a star out then rolled some super thin rolls to decorate it with spirals. Problem two. Polymer clay and lint don't mix. I live in a house full of dogs and cats so I tend to have a coating of animal hair on whatever I'm wearing. Which happened to be a fleece, it being February and winter in the UK and rather chilly - fleeces however, particularly bad for collecting pet hair. No matter, fleece removed and I continued to work in a strappy pink vest.

I continued through Friday evening and Saturday morning making a selection of pendants, drops and canes, learning the feel of the clay, how to roll it evenly, making nicely round beads, mixing colours and marbling, texturing, applying mica powders and metallic finishes, then went through my art folder on my PC and miniaturised a number of my creations for use in pendants. So by midday Saturday I had, ready to bake, the original star pendant, plus matching drops for earrings, a selection of copperised drops, a marbled pendant frame with one of my tiny pictures in, a second pendant with another star motif, and a whole collection of beads.

After some experimentation, the correct temperature on the kitchen oven was obtained and things happily baked to completion. The kitchen still smells vaguely of molten plastic but I have assured my family (and two slightly perplexed German shepherds that live in the kitchen, who've never seen Mummy cook before) that as soon as my mini oven arrived, baking would take place in the utility room with the back door open.

I then dug out my Proxxon mini drill (like a Dremel but well... Proxxon) and associated bits and again, after some experimentation, sanded and buffed my creations to a reasonable finish.

Things I Discovered on the Journey
1. Polymer clay sticks. Not massively, just enough to pull up little patches of clay from your nice flat sheet when you stick it through a pasta machine or roll it on the purpose-designed mat. My solution - this is greatly reduced by working on greaseproof (baking) paper. You can roll it through the pasta machine like this as well - just cut a piece to size, fold it in half and put the clay inside at the fold. I did read a suggestion of talcum powder to stop sticking - like using flour to roll pastry on - and would appreciate an opinion. Surely this just weakens your clay by introducing a new, and very dry ingredient to it?
2. I discovered that clay doesn't behave as well as wire when you spiral it. Slippery little buggers like to retain their default position of 'log' but I eventually persuaded my tiny, slightly misshapen rolls to stay put and firmly stuck them in place with another, smaller star at the centre.
3. Somebody somewhere recently posted in a forum that pasta machines were a LOT easier to clean if you remove the front panel - no more taking apart to clean them. I am eternally grateful to this genius of 21st century art. For good measure, the back panel came off too.
4. The little things in drill accessory sets that look like miniature sanding discs are in fact for cutting. In fact they cut marvelously through 18ga sterling wire, embedded in your clay as a bail. Like butter. They don't sand very well either.
5. Luckily, you can, it seems, attach sticky-back sandpaper to sanding drum attachments without any problem and I happen to have rolls of such in a number of super-finenesses from 600 to 2000 grit.
6. Its not a good idea to catch your fingernail on the surface of printed, baked HP photo paper. My pretty little fairy now has a white scratch which I shall try and fix before covering her in resin!
7. If you're going to use repousse punches as modeling tools, when you wrap the clay around it, put a sheet of greaseproof paper around FIRST! I didn't think it would stick - steel not affected at the temperature polymer clay fires at so I figured they'd slide off afterwards. I was wrong. I now have a highly decorated repousse punch with completely immovable clay wraps (prettily textured and copperised).
8. Using liquid sculpey to help unfired clay stick to fired clay works wonderfully. It also leaves a white seam between the two pieces. The book suggested PVA.... maybe I should have listened.
9. Polymer clay is really good at taking fingerprints. It also deforms when you try and smooth them out. Practice, practice, practice! Do latex gloves work or do you lose sensitivity too much? (or does the latex react with clay?)
10. The more accurate you are getting your shapes right when you cut, the less sanding there is to do!
11. If, like me, you're used to working in wire of a maximum thickness of 18ga, its almost instinctive to try and work with the clay really, really THIN. Thicker clay makes better weight pendants though! There is no shame in 2mm+ thick pieces!

Today I intend sending the OH out to get some alcohol (arghhh polymer clay has driven me to drink!)... just kidding, its for cleaning the glaze brushes so I can get them finished up - then I need to make necklaces and earrings with them :-) Given that wirework and stringing is my normal MO, no matter how pretty a pendant is, I won't feel I've finished until I've incorporated it into something and just stringing them on cords simply won't do!

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