Do you fancy sculpting with clay but don’t have all the bits and bobs you think you need? Well search no more, you have just found the best polymer clay tutorial. Polymer clay is the most exciting clay product and it has been around long enough to gain a great reputation.
Polymer Clay Tutorial
Polymer clay is suitable for all kinds of creations and suits beginners to experts in this exciting creative hobby. It has been around for several decades and so has evolved into a really fabulous craft. The sky is the limit when you decide to go down the polymer road and success is really guaranteed. If you are a sewer you can even make polymer clay buttons for a custom made look to your clothing.
Polymer clay gets the thumbs up and ten out of ten for practicality and performance.
- L-long-lasting clay for
- Y-young and old
- R-robust and really great gifts for everyone.
What is Polymer Clay?
Polymer is a very practical product that is of plastic origin. It is a synthetic, modeling clay product and can be molded until it is cured in the oven.
The final product is baked at a low temperature. The basic components of the clay is poly-vinyl chloride or PVC. There are different brand names available and different preferences in different countries but FIMO seems to be a very well- known product as well as Sculpey and Pardo.
Fimo Brand History
FIMO has been around for over seventy years! It was named after a little girl called Sophie or Fifi for short who was the daughter of a German doll maker. The doll maker was looking for an alternative to bakelite for her dolls. She tried this new modeling compound and gave some of the new clay to her daughter to play with.
Fifi made all kinds of wonderful clay miniatures and enjoyed playing with the clay. When the formula for the ‘new’ clay was sold on it retained the name of Fimo - Fifi’s modeling compound.
Polymer Clay Tutorial - Tools
The beauty of working with polymer clay is that you can really start with a few simple basics and build up your craft as you go along. The other wonderful advantage of this plastic clay modeling product is that it lasts and lasts and can be re-modeled and designed for as long as it remains in its original state (ie. unbaked).
Colors can be blended, things you make can be broken down and remodeled and only at the final stage of baking will you have reached a point of no return. Polymer is water-resistant, hardwearing and easy to use.
Children, as long as they are past the stage of putting everything in their mouths, really enjoy this product. It lends itself to simple beginner stuff and to the more advanced ideas too. So with all that information carefully tucked away here are the basics to get you started.
The basic actions used in clay modeling are – rolling, molding, pinching, scratching and poking, cutting, shaping, storing and baking.
With this in mind, you will be able to find the right tools to get you started with this polymer clay tutorial.
1. Craft knife – Used to cut your clay to size and cut rolled canes which is a form of molding different colors to make interesting patterns.
2. Roller or rod – Used to roll out the clay. Wooden rollers are not recommended as wood absorbs the clay plasticizer. Use plastic or glass or ceramic rolling tools.
3. Worksurface – Once again not a wooden board. Use ceramic tile or a glass cutting surface or plastic cutting board.
4. Needle tools – You can make your own needle tools using tapestry needles that you can insert into a cork handle or make your own clay handle. Ensure the needle won't twist and turn in the handle by setting it with strong glue. Fabric or ribbon wound around the end of the needle would also serve as a handle and help with gripping the needle while it is used to decorate.
5. Toothpicks - Make great little tools and are very inexpensive. They help to secure clay while you buff the finished article and they help make holes in beads if you are making jewelry.
6. Clay of course - Choose the brand you are familiar with or try out a small quantity while you decide on the best product.
7. Storage – The best option is the plastic mini storage containers with compartments as your different clay colors should not touch each other. A tin with paper to separate the different colors also works, depending on how many colors you have to store.
8. An oven with a regular temperature gauge. Baking is the final stage of your product and it is vital that there is a controlled temperature to bake the item you have made.
These basics will set you up to start molding and modeling the clay. Your own hands are also a very vital part of the modeling and conditioning of the clay.
In addition, a pasta machine is a great asset to help with the rolling and blending process.
Polymer Clay Tutorial on Simple Techniques and Terminology
When you start out on a new hobby there are always a few new terms to understand and sometimes one can almost feel that there is a new language to be learned. Polymer clay has a few technical terms but they are so easy to understand as most of them are associated with everyday household practices.
- Conditioning and blending
- Crumbled and dried
- Baking and curing
- Décor and design
All these are familiar words in the average household and to a crafter. How are these terms associated with polymer clay
Conditioning refers to the upkeep of the clay and returning it to its malleable state ready for work.
It may be that your clay is just a little stiff and harder to work with due to air temperatures or humidity. In this case, simply put it in a zip lock bag and tuck it in your pocket while you walk around and get on with other chores. You can even sit on it, in the zip lock bag, so the warmth of your body heats the clay and makes it easier to work with.
The conditioning of the clay may just take a bit of a rub in your nice warm hands. If you have a pasta machine to use then send the clay through one of the thick shredders and that will help bring it back to a conditioned state. Keep your pasta machine for ‘clay only’ projects!
When the conditioning process is done you can blend the clay by rolling out a ‘snake’ of clay and then fold the snake back on itself and fold and roll until the folded snake does not crack and then it is properly conditioned and blended. Have fun making snakes, folding and rolling!
Crumbled and Dried
Clay that looks as if it is beyond repair can be revived. Polymer clay really lasts and lasts but sometimes it can look crumbly and dried out. There are simple solutions, no need to throw the clay away.
- Start by putting the crumbled clay and some soft clay in a plastic bag together for a few days. The plasticizer from the new clay permeates the old clay and then you can mix the two together or pass them through the pasta machine.
- If you have an old food processor around you can chop the clay into little bits and put them in the processor for a few short bursts at a high speed. The action of the blades and the heat generated will soften the clay.
- If the crumbled clay is very stubborn you may add clay softener or some liquid clay. Don’t worry about using old clay. If it has been kept free of dust and dirt it will come back to life and surprise you with its ability to revive.
Sometimes the opposite problem arises and the clay is too soft. In this case, simply lay the soft clay on sheets of paper and the oily plasticizer soaks into the paper. Then you can condition as before and roll out a whole lot more snakes!!
Polymer Clay Baking & Curing
This is the most important part of the process, the final stage of our polymer clay tutorial and the point of no return! Baking hardens the clay and finishes the article you have made.
Polymer must bake in an oven at temperatures between 215F (102c) to 325F (163c) you cannot bake the clay in a microwave.
Although polymer clay is rated as non-toxic it does give off fumes so one needs to be aware of them during the baking process. The clay package should give the required oven temperature.
The baking time also depends on the thickness of the article.
The thicker the piece the longer time required. A time of 20 mins per ¼” thickness or 6mm is a good guide.
WHAT TO BAKE ON
Use a baking tray, glass or ceramic tile for your baking surface. A piece of baking paper to rest on will help avoid shiny spots.
Beads and dimensional items can be placed on a mound of corn starch to support their shape.
Items like beads with holes in can be threaded on skewers and baked as the bead is suspended from the skewer or even a toothpick.
It is important to keep rounded items off the flat surface while they are drying as the clay will flatten slightly and spoil the shape. It is also wise to make bead holes a bit wider as they tend to close as the clay bakes.
The baked clay is rubbery when it comes out of the oven but will harden as it cools. Handle with care, the clay will be hot as it comes out of the oven.
Polymer Clay Tutorial - Safety Tips
Before starting any new project, safety is of paramount importance especially if you are going to involve children. They will want to join in and they will love working with the clay!
Here are a few polymer clay tutorial safety tips:
1. Polymer Clay is synthetic and considered non-toxic, however, it is advisable to keep it away from toddlers and pets that may take a tasty chunk out of your clay.
2. Don’t eat and work with the clay at the same time. Clay can find its way into your mouth and food will find its way onto the clay.
3. Keep Polymer clay tools separate from other tools and for clay work only.
4. Take care working with sharp objects and blades. Watch the activities of children with sharp tools and supervise them carefully.
5. Always work on glass or a ceramic tile or plastic cutting board.
6. Wrap and store the clay you are not working with.
7. When sanding or buffing or drilling use a mask and goggles
8. Supervise young children when working with sharp tools and hot ovens.
Finally – ‘to seal or not to seal!’
That is a question asked by many clay enthusiasts and our next topic in our polymer clay tutorial.
The answer is -
Actually, you don’t have to seal polymer clay after it is cooked.
There are some occasions when you may want to seal the clay for specific reasons but polymer clay is durable plastic clay and is water-resistant. Once the clay has been baked it is shockproof and fairly tough. Some of the sealing products used sit on top of the clay and deteriorate before the clay does.
A long time ago when I used to make FIMO with my sister, we used to use clear wood varnish. I still have some of my original pieces and the FIMO looks perfect but the varnish has gone brittle and yellow. Modern sealants are better but I still think you should just leave the polymer clay unsealed.
When to seal
- When you are making beads that may come in contact with the skin or clothes and the pigment from the clay may be absorbed.
- For decorative effects like antique or burnished looks. Experiment and check the supplier’s directions. Test the varnish on a sample of clay before applying it to your finished masterpiece!
- Use the right sealer and look for gloss, semi-gloss or satin finishes. Use a matt finish if you prefer. There are spray sealers for delicate objects.
When NOT to seal
- Do not seal – until you have tested the sealer and found it perfect for your article. Some sealers and varnishes turn sticky or cloudy and ruin your work. Varnish is like a thin plastic coat on top of another plastic surface and therefore it can peel off.
- Do not seal - over fingerprints or marks. The sealer will not cover ugly marks so always make sure the item is free of any blemishes.
- Do not seal – with a wax sealer that can collect in grooves or a liquid varnish that collects in pools on your newly sculpted article.
- Do not seal – with any of the following: nail varnish, oil-based varnishes, mod podge glue and decoupage mediums, dimensional glazes and certain spray varnishes. Pym is a recommended brand of spray varnish to use.
Polymer Clay Tutorial - In Conclusion
Polymer clay will open many doors of exciting, but really simple crafts, to the whole family. It is a remarkable creative medium – Practical, Original, Long-lasting, for Young and old, Makes Excellent Robust Really Great Gifts (P O L Y M E R). A hobby you will get caught up in and want to know more about.
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