20 AMAZING TIPS FOR POLYMER CLAY BEGINNERS
Tips and tricks that every beginner should know to get started with polymer clay.
If you’re just getting into polymer clay, this article will provide you with 20 great tips to get familiar with this flexible material. If you’re more experienced, then some of these tips may be quite obvious to you, but will surely make a beginner’s experience with polymer clay much more enjoyable.
Just a little bit of gems for you, polymer clay while has the word clay in its name, does not actually contain any clay. It is a man-made material that is pliable and made from the same material used to construct most pipes, polyvinyl chloride ‘PVC’, making it a very durable material. However, regardless of its material, polymer functions similarly to clay, you work with it when it’s soft and you place it in an oven and bake, to make it hard.
With that in mind, here are the 20 things you should know, when getting acquainted with polymer clay:
1. Mix & match
It is possible to mix and match any number of colors and brands of polymer clay. This makes things even more exciting and creative since you can invent your own colors (or make them if you run out). If you get two brands with different baking temperatures, use the average between both of them and you’re good. If you don’t want to take any risk, just bake it at a lower temperature for a longer period, especially if you’re a beginner. Purchase your primary colors red, yellow, blue and of course black and white, that way you can make any color.
2. Adding various materials
Polymer clay is fun because you can add a lot of details and elements into your pieces, so don’t be afraid to use different items. Since your polymer clay will be cured in low oven temperatures, it is perfectly fine and safe to use other objects like eye pins, toothpicks, plastic or glass beads, micro marbles, shells, glitter, and the list goes on and on. You can even use metal parts.
3. Buying your clay
Get the newest and freshest pack you can find in the store. The best brands will have a code on their packages, including the year of fabrication (they are in the first 2 numbers).
4. Storing your clay
You don’t need to store it in an airtight container, because it is plastic based and won’t get dry like water-based paints and glues. It will only harden when you cure and bake it. The main objective when you’re storing your clay is keeping it away from dust and dirt.
Be careful, since your polymer clay can react with different kinds of plastic and get a melted, dissolved look. Keep your clay away from dust by storing it in sealable baggies.
5. Liquid clay
Yes, there are liquid clays available! They are fun and versatile. Used often because of the translucent looks, and can be used in many ways: securing pieces together like cement, creating surfaces and realistic frostings, water-like effects and even used straight out of the bottle or mixed with other polymer clays or pigments.
6. Securing eye pins
To make charms, you must secure eye pins and make sure they won’t fall off. The best way to do so is by applying some superglue after the charm has been baked and cooled. You can also use resin to secure the eye pins before baking by burying them in the clay. Another good way to secure them is by bending the end and then adding some liquid clay to keep everything in place.
7. Creating a work surface
The best material to use in a workplace is glass. If you don’t have a large sheet of glass, you can use an old photo frame. There are specific store-bought solutions as well, or you can do it yourself with a sheet of baking slash parchment paper taped around a sheet of cardboard.
8. Rolling out an even sheet.
If you don’t have a pasta machine, grab some popsicle sticks and stack them until you reach the thickness you want your plate.
Place the clay in the middle of the two stacks and use a rolling pin or anything else you use to roll the clay and voila! You don’t need fancy tools, your household has plenty of options.
9. Create your own tools
Use the stuff you have hanging around to make tools and equipments. Toothpicks, safety pins, needles, skewers, pens, paintbrushes and much more, are all common materials that you can find in the home. All these items can be used to help create a myriad of textures, details and effects.
10. Coloring and shading your polymer clay
You can use the same techniques used on cookies and other desserts to make your artwork look even more realistic. Chalk pastels that can be bought from craft stores or online are great for coloring. If you can’t get hold of them, any kind of pigment will work, like eyeshadow or powdered makeup. Just scrape some powder into the clay and mix it or apply with a brush. You can even invent your own custom colors.
11. Polymer clay softening
If you find some polymer clay you need to use, and it’s hard and crumbly or if the brand you bought is too hard to condition straight from the package, you must soften it up to prevent hurting your fingers. To do this, you can use store bought clay softener or use liquid clay. Baby oil or vaseline are also good options for that.
In the winter, it might get very cold and difficult to condition your clay. To soften it up a little, work near a heater or use a hairdryer. You can also place some clay in a baggy and put it into warm water. Sometimes, all you need to do is cup your hands around them and use your breath to heat it up, by blowing on it. Mixing a softer, translucent clay also works.
12. Clay hardening
You will also have a bad time trying to work with your clay if it is too soft to sculpt and it’s sticking to your fingers and collecting dust. If that happens, you can use a technique called leaching, where you put the clay among two sheets of paper and use something to press the sheets together, going up and down the paper. Then, leave it like that for half an hour.
This works like a charm because the paper soaks up all the excess oils in the clay, making it less stickier and oily. When you take it out from the sheets, they will be just perfect and manageable.
You can also leave it in the freezer for a few minutes. This is awesome when you need to make some clean cuts or making items like cupcakes from molds and other things. It’s easier to pop it out of the mold when the clay is hard, keeping every detail intact. The only thing is that you need to do, is work quickly when using this technique, because the clay goes back to room temperature in a very short time.
Always keep some cornstarch around as it helps you remove clay from molds with much more ease. All you have to do is rub some cornstarch on the surface of the mold before you put the clay in, and it will pop out much easier.
It will also help you get rid of those pesky fingerprints that sticks around if your clay is very soft. You can also add some to your working surface to prevent the clay from sticking.
Amongst the many ways you can use sandpaper while sculpting your polymer clay, using sandpaper to add texture is definitely one of the best uses. After baking your pieces, you can add shine, remove dust or fingerprints and smooth out surfaces
This is a super important process to master if you want to make amazing polymer clay pieces. You can use a regular kitchen oven, just make sure you never bake clay and food at the same time because of the fumes from the clay. They will get into the food, and that’s just not healthy at all.
You will want to let your oven sit for sometime after baking clay, so the fumes can go away. Open the door and let it rest for a while.
You can bake your charms in any cooking dish, be it a metal tray or a glass dish. Some people use a tile.
Sit your charms on a sheet of baking or parchment paper, or even tin foil (just keep in mind it will leave a shiny spot on the parts of the charms touched by the tin foil).
After sitting all the charms on the baking paper, make a little tent with tin foil to allow the heat to swell around and bake them evenly, rather then having the heat being pushed directly to the charms and risk burning them.
ALWAYS PREHEAT THE OVEN! Use a thermometer. Don’t rely on the oven buttons, they can be incorrect and you can bake your charms at the wrong temperature, or even burn them up.
After the time is up, let them sit inside the oven without opening it, to make sure they cool very slowly. This will make them stronger than if you just took them out from the oven straight to room temperature.
16. Broken charms
Polymer Clay can be baked over and over again, so if something breaks or if you want to add more details, all you need to do is rebake them. However, don't do it if you have already added any glaze. To prevent them from breaking in the first place, bake them for a longer time at a lower temperature, they won’t burn and will become more flexible.
17. Burnt charms
If you happen to burn your charms, remove them from the oven as soon as possible, and open up all the windows and doors so you can flush out the smell and the fumes.
Setting your oven to a lower temperature and always using a timer will help you to avoid burns. You can however, recover burnt pieces by painting over the burnt parts.
To save a great deal of money, buy one color of clay and paint it after baking instead of buying a lot of different colored clays. Painting is great at covering up the dust and fingerprints as well as to add small details such as words or facial features. The best paint to use is acrylic, but make sure you seal the paint with a glaze so the paint won’t wear straight out of your charms.
19. Cleaning your clay
If you notice your clay is getting a lot of dust and specks, clean them after baking with a cotton tip or piece of tissue (if you have a larger space) and rub some nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol. It will take off a little layer of clay from the outside, and with it the dust and speckles, leaving your clay spotless.
20. NEVER use nail polish
This is one of the most important tips. Don’t ever use nail polish! They are not a proper substitute for glaze. The chemicals in it will dissolve the clay over time, and make it sticky and gooey.
The best glazes to use are polyurethane varnish, which can be bought online or in almost any hardware stores. It is actually meant to seal wooden surfaces like floorboards. Once you add a few coats to your clay, it will be very protected.
You can get polyurethane glaze in a gloss or satin finish, depending on the look your aiming for. There are many kinds and brands of glaze, just test them out and check what works better for you. Pay attention if the glaze is water-based, and not oil-based.
This is pretty much sums up all you need to know to start your polymer journey, safe and sound!