1. GETTING STARTED WITH POLYMER CLAY by Donna Kato
You can fast forward to 14.50 time on the video – to see “How to condition Kato Polyclay” although the whole video is worth watching if you are just starting your polymer journey.
2. WHAT IS POLYMER CLAY?
Polymer clay is an exciting and extremely versatile art medium, well known for its ease and simplicity to work with. It is used by artists and hobbyists ranging from children to professional artists and movie makers.
It is a pliable modelling material which remains soft until baked. It is comprised of polymers, resins, colouring agents and fillers in a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base. Although called a clay, it is actually a manmade material that can be baked in a home oven. It is available in many colours and finishes and various techniques are applied that enable the user to simulate other materials such as stone, glass, wood and precious metals to name just a few. Although used for art and craft, it also has commercial applications.
3. WHICH CLAY SHOULD I BUY?
While there are many different types of polymer clay available, each brand has properties applicable to different purposes and each brand has its own range of colours and way to condition it.
All brands of polymer clay must be conditioned before you can begin creating. Conditioning means the clay is moved around enough to make it soft and workable so that it will stick to itself.
- TODDLERS AND CHILDREN – Sculpey III
- SCHOOL STUDENTS – Souffle or Premo
- JEWELLERY – Kato, Premo, Fimo Professional, or Souffle.
- MAKING CANES – Kato or Fimo Professional
- DETAILED STRONG SCULPTURES – Kato
- SCULPTING THINGS THAT WON’T BE HANDLED – Super Sculpey
- SCULPTING CARTOON FIGURINES – Premo, Kato, Fimo Professional
- SCULPTING DOLLS & FIGURINES – Super Sculpey Living Doll, Fimo Proffessional
- VERY LIGHT CLAY, BEAD CORES, ARMATURES, FLOATS – Sculpey Ultralight
- IF YOU HAVE HOT HANDS OR A HOT CLIMATE – Kato
- ARTHRITIC HANDS OR A DISABILITY – Souffle
- SUPER CLEAR TRANSLUCENT – Pardo Professional Art Clay in Translucent.
- A SUPER STIFF AND STRONG RESULT IS REQUIRED – Kato
- VERY FLEXIBLE AND STRONG RESULTS NEEDED – Souffle
- TO MIX YOUR OWN COLOURS USING TRUE PRIMARIES – Kato, Fimo Professional and Premo
Excerpted from What’s the Best Polymer Clay Brand by Ginger Davis Allman of The Blue Bottle Tree.
4. WHAT CAN POLYMER CLAY BE USED FOR?
You are limited only by your imagination and of course the imagination of others as there is a massive amount of inspiration available on the Internet. It is used for anything ranging from jewellery components to covering a car! However if your plan is to cover a car, you may want to practice for a while first!
Polymer clay is used alone and to complement a number of other crafts:
- Bead making
- Home decorations
- Garden Ornaments
- Repair broken items
- Replicate polished beads
- and much much more…….
The clay can be used to cover any item that will not burn at the low temperature used to bake or cure the polymer clay.
Many techniques are used to work with the clay and these are often borrowed from other arts and crafts techniques such as glass making, metal work, ceramics, sculpture, pottery, scrapbooking, stamping and textile arts.
Note: Polymer clay should not be used for objects that may be in direct contact with food.
5. WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
We have a range of starter kits on our website and as a minimum to get started the following items are recommended:
- An acrylic roller (or you can use a glass rolling pin, wine bottle or smooth wooden roller)
- A wooden skewer for piercing holes (kebab skewers are ideal)
- A flat ceramic tile, piece of glass or non-stick craft mat to work and bake on
- Polymer clay of course and
- A tissue blade or very sharp blade or knife to cut the clay.
While many items used on polymer clay may be found in our home kitchens, once used for polymer clay, they should not be used for food purposes.
As you progress, you’ll want to invest in a pasta machine to make conditioning the clay easier. While cheaper brands are available, a better machine will give better results and last longer. Be kind to your pasta machine by partially rolling the clay until it is a thickness that will fit into your pasta machine! If you spend a lot of time working with polymer clay or have health issues, a motorised pasta machine is worth considering.
6. PASTA MACHINES – WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM?
Pasta machines can be used to condition clay, roll even thickness sheets of clay, gives a crackled finish to metal leaf on clay, texturise with a thin texture mat and to mix colours. The most popular brand is an Atlas machine, made in Italy. The Wellness model, made by Atlas has quality rollers that will not transfer metal deposits from the rollers onto your clay as they are designed for health conscious people, hence the name “Wellness”.
To condition clay with the pasta machine, first press and roll the clay into a fairly flat shape with your acrylic roller. (If the clay is too stiff to do this, you’ll may need to warm slightly and condition it by hand first.). Some people like to tuck the clay under their armpit to warm it with body heat. Most importantly, the clay must not be too thick to feed through the rollers or you will break your machine and the clay will shred.
Feed your sheet through the pasta machine at the thickest setting then gradually work up to setting #4 or #5. Fold the sheet in half and feed it through again. I like to work back down to a thickness of #1 or #2. Folding and feeding through. Always feed the folded edge into the pasta machine to one side or fold first so as not to trap air in the clay. Repeat this three or four times. Then increase the setting to the next level. Continue feeding the clay through the machine, three or four times at each level of thickness, until you get to setting #4 or #5. By this time, the clay should be well conditioned and ready to use. You will get to know when it is conditioned. As a guide, if it cracks when folding, it is not ready, so you need to keep conditioning. There is no right or wrong way – this is just my way!
To clean a pasta machine, wipe the rollers with baby wipes and dry with paper towel. The metal flanges at the bottom of the machine trap the clay which will transfer to another colour unless you clean it off. Try wiping a baby wipe along the flange from underneath while pressing upwards. You can also run a piece of scrap clay or a baby wipe through the machine to pick up any loose flecks of clay.
After a lot of use, you may need to disassemble your machine and give it a thorough clean with rubbing alcohol. If you do this, consider putting your machine back together with only the essentials on it. Mine is a skeleton version now and so much easier to clean. Beware, they are not easy to put back together! It is a last resort but sometimes necessary. If you know a mechanic, they seem to be able to do it easily!
Again, once you have used your machine for clay, you cannot go back and use it for making pasta!
If your clay isn’t soft enough, running it through the pasta machine will make it shred into a mess. If you’re having this problem, you need to condition your clay a little more first. If you’re working in a cold room, you can try warming the clay and rolling with an acrylic roller first.
Always roll your clay initially with a hand roller and then through the thickest setting of the pasta machine and gradually work up to thinner settings. If you force too thick clay into your machine you will break it. If the clay seems to be sticking to the rollers, you can try brushing the surface of the clay very lightly with talc or cornflour, then run it through the machine. Or really oily clay can benefit from leaching between 2 sheets of photocopy paper overnight.
7. WHAT IS CONDITIONING?
Conditioning is the process that makes polymer clay ready to work with. Conditioning will improve both the workability of the clay and the strength of your baked pieces.
8. WHY SHOULD I CONDITION CLAY?
Conditioning clay softens it, making it easy to work with, mould, and roll into canes. It also makes the clay stickier and less brittle, letting you roll thin sheets and reduce canes without causing the clay to crack and break.
9. HOW LONG DO I NEED TO CONDITION THE CLAY?
As a rule of thumb, you should condition clay for the same amount of time it takes to thoroughly blend two colors. (Take a bit of clay of each of two colors and condition them together, timing the process; when you can’t see the separate colours any more in the blended lump of clay, the clay is conditioned.) This time can vary depending on the type of clay you’re using, your style of conditioning, the amount of clay, and the temperature, but usually it takes something between three and ten minutes.
The clay’s texture changes during the conditioning process. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to see and feel this change to tell when your clay is completely conditioned. It will not crack when you fold it and feel soft and malleable.
10. WHY WON’T MY CLAY SOFTEN?
If clay has become partially cured, it will be crumbly and refuse to condition no matter what you do to it. This can happen if the clay has been exposed to excessive heat or ultraviolet light – it’s has been partially baked, and the process can’t be undone. You can try mixing it into a soft clay to get an intermediate degree of softness by rolling through a pasta machine. You can also add a few drops of mineral oil, clay softener or liquid clay and continue conditioning until you get a workable consistency.
11. IS IT POSSIBLE TO OVER CONDITION MY CLAY?
You cannot “over condition”, clay but some clays get softer and softer the longer they’re worked and the warmer they get. If your clay is getting too soft, you can let it rest overnight, or chill it for an hour or so, to firm it up. There is no need to re-condition after resting clay.
If you’ve added too much liquid clay, softener or mineral oil and have over-softened the clay, try flattening it into a sheet and leaving it between sheets of copy paper overnight. The paper will absorb some of the plasticizer, making the clay firmer. This is known as “leaching”.
12. WHERE CAN I LEARN HOW TO USE POLYMER CLAY?
- The Internet is a great source of information for polymer clay enthusiasts where you will find likeminded people have created “You Tube” videos, Facebook groups, Blogs, Pinterest posts and so much more.
- There are in person classes available where you may enjoy creating under the guidance of an instructor and in a class environment.
- Find out if there are clay play days in your area. Others are only too happy to help you learn.
- There are many free online tutorials and as you progress, online tutorials can be purchased from a large variety of sources.
- 2wards Polymer Clay online store is packed with little gems of information about products and even some free tutorials using particular products on the website. You will find these tucked around the products for sale. We like the idea of making it a bit like a treasure hunt for you!
Make sure to like our Facebook pages and subscribe to our newsletter and you will be kept up to date with classes, events, sales, play days, freebies etc. Kato Polyclay Australia and 2wards Polymer Clay are the 2 Facebook pages.
13. POLYMER CLAY TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
Please check out the link below for hints and tips for polymer clay beginners. The Blue Bottle Tree is a website full of information for polymer clay enthusiasts and artists.
14. CAN I MIX DIFFERENT BRANDS OF CLAY
Yes you can mix different brands of clay to get the results you want. However if making canes, mixing of different brands is not recommended. The brands react so differently you may have poor caning results. There are exceptions to this rule but that is for the more experienced caners.
15. IS POLYMER CLAY SAFE?
Please check the link below for a great article on the safety of polymer clay. Well worth a read to set your mind at rest.
16. DO I NEED TO TAKE ANY SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS WITH POLYMER CLAY?
You can safely bake the clay in your home oven, taking care to properly ventilate the room. If you are baking frequently, many prefer to use a bench top type toaster oven. Clay should not be used with anything that will prepare or touch food. Baking trays can be lined with foil or baking paper during baking to protect them. If you use kitchen items or toys as clay tools, be sure not to return them for food preparation or for children to play with. Washing your hands frequently and before eating is recommended. Children should be supervised-around polymer clay. While polymer clay is certified as nontoxic, it should not be ingested. An oven bag (sealed with a metal clip) can be used over your baking tray to minimise fumes when baking inside. If pregnant, be especially diligent about the above precautions and protect yourself from the baking fumes and let the items cool outside, still covered with the baking bag before opening.
17. HOW SHOULD I STORE MY POLYMER CLAY?
Store polymer clay away from direct sunlight and heat. In the packaging it comes in is best of course. Be sure not to leave in a vehicle on a hot day as it will begin to harden at 30o C. Plastic zip lock bags to separate colours are ideal and these can then be placed into plastic containers. If you live in a hot climate, store your container of clay in the fridge or freezer when not using.
18. HOW LONG DOES POLYMER CLAY KEEP FOR?
It will keep indefinitely if stored in an airtight and cool environment. Fresh clay is generally softer and easier to work. Never buy clay that has been displayed in a shop window that is exposed to the sun! Don’t laugh, it happens!
19. HOW DO I BAKE OR CURE POLYMER CLAY?
An oven thermometer is recommended to ensure your oven is accurate. It is surprising how many ovens are not! Oven Thermometers are inexpensive and will save ruining your work and wasting your valuable time.
Different brands of clay have varying baking times and temperatures so it is always best to follow instructions on your clay package. If you have combined different brands of clay, then do the same with your baking times and temperatures and make an estimation based on your combination.
Thicker items require extra baking time or will be brittle and surprising the same applies to extra thin items. Large beads can be plunged into icy water to minimise cracking. Bake white and translucent clays at slightly lower temperatures if you experience browning or yellowing.
You can bake directly on the tile or a non-stick craft mat you have been working on. You can place photocopy or baking paper on a tile to prevent shiny spots. Bake beads suspended on pins on a bead baking rack or accordion fold photocopy paper and place your beads in the hollows for baking. Another method is to bake shapes and beads in a bed of bi-carbonate of soda or thick quilt wadding. You can add support to items with wadding also. It does not burn and does not stick to the baked clay.
A good method for even baking and to minimise fumes (if baking inside) is to place a ceramic tile in a heavy Glad baking tray, place your objects to be baked on the tile and top with another heavy Glad tray upside down as a lid. Clip both Glad baking trays together with metal clips. If using a home oven, it is a good idea to place all of this inside a large Oven Bake bag and secure with metal clips. Eliminates fumes entirely and also prevents any residual smell inside your oven. Let cool in the bag or open outdoors.
20. APPLYING CLAY TO GLASS, PLASTIC, METAL AND WOOD OBJECTS?
You can bake clay on any object that will withstand the relatively low temperatures polymer clay is baked at. Wood, cardboard, glass metal and many plastics are suitable. For plastic items, you can try running them through a dishwasher (hot settings) to test its melting temperature. (Burning plastic fumes can be toxic to breathe so take care!)
To attach raw clay, apply a thin layer of liquid clay or Kato Poly Paste to an object. Some substances, such as glass, do not stick well to clay; if you’re attaching clay to glass, either make sure the clay goes all the way around the piece (so it can’t come off during use) or bake the clay and then attach the baked piece to the glass with an adhesive.
When you’re baking clay on an object, it’s a good idea to put it into a cold oven and then turn on the heat, and leave it in the oven after baking until it cools. Changing the temperatures slowly lets the clay adjust as the object expands and contracts. This minimises the possibility of cracking too.
Lisa Pavelka’s Poly Bonder can also be used to affix clay to other surfaces including metal. It is an instant glue that tolerates high temperatures.
21. HOW CAN I BRAND MY WORK?
There are several methods of adding a brand, signature, initials, or logo to your polymer clay work. Scratch a signature into the bottom of the unbaked piece with a needle tool, create a cane with your initials or logo and include a slice from the cane, stamp your initials onto a piece of clay, bake it, and hang it from a jump ring attached to your piece, purchase a set of stamps and emboss your initials or name on your work. Some people use Sharpie pens to sign their baked pieces.
2wards Polymer Clay have alphabet stamps and you can make a reverse image stamp in polymer clay.