What is Polymer Clay?
Polymer Clay is a type of oven bake modeling clay. All brands of polymer clay are manmade materials composed of the same basic building materials: gels, fillers, plasticizers, coloring agents, and resins.
Polymer clay is subject to change with prolonged exposure to temperature of 90 °F or higher. But even at cooler temperatures, polymer clay will naturally "advance," or change over time. Advancing makes the clay stiffer, as ingredients shift toward their original wet or dry states. Polymer clay will last for years if stored at cool temperatures and away from direct sunlight. I store all my unused clay in either sealed plastic containers or sandwich baggies. Other artists have wrapped completed clay canes with saran wrap or parchment paper, keeping in mind many papers will leach the plasticizers out of the clay.
COMMONLY USED POLYMER CLAY TERMINOLOGY:
Conditioning: act of restoring the clay to a state close to its original factory-mixed condition
Packing: filling areas in and around canes
Reduction: making the diameter of a cane smaller
WORKSTATION / SUPPLIES: You will need a few tools such as craft pasta machine used for clay conditioning and mixing clay colors, various sizes of acrylic rollers, and tissue blades for cutting the clay. Please be aware these blades are extremely sharp, so please cut clay with caution. You may also want a clay extruder set and other sculpting and measuring tools at some point, but not all these tools are needed when first learning how to work with polymer clay. I personally use a white ceramic tile for my work surface, but there are other surface options available as mentioned in this video. I am a firm believer in "the best way that works for you" policy.
POLYMER CLAY SUPPLIES: Polymer clay may be purchased either in person at art and crafts stores or by shopping online at your favorite crafting venues. There's a variety of clay brands available, depending on your personal resources and interest in the craft will depend on which brands you want to invest. The various brands have different benefits (as mentioned below) but with the brands we use, Premo! Sculpey is normally the least expensive ($0.83 - $1.40 per ounce), Fimo is the most expensive ($1.59 - $1.85 per ounce), and our favorite, Kato, averages in between ($0.97 - $1.25 per ounce). Fimo is sold in grams, but prices have been converted to ounces for easier comparison. It is most important to point out that not all clay sample packages or online sources will save you money, so it's important to compare prices prior to your purchase decision.
These are the three polymer clay brands that I use the most:
- Premo! Sculpey - retains flexibility in thin areas, making small details less vulnerable to breakage. It has a rich color palette, with at least 32 colors, some of which have mica-shift particles. Premo! Sculpey baking directions state to bake at 275 °F (135 °C) for 30 minutes per 1/4 in (6 mm) thickness.
- Kato Polyclay - maintains its shape and minimizes distortion, and has a minimal color shift when cured. The color of the raw clay is the same as the color you get after curing. There are 21 colors available. Kato Polyclay should be cured at about 300 °F (150 °C), however it can be cured within the range of 275 °F (135 °C) and 325 °F (165 °C).
- Fimo Soft - keeps the shapes and colors you want, making it a very good choice for cane-work. It comes in 24 bright colors. Fimo recommends to let the clay harden in the oven for a maximum of 30 minutes at a temperature of 230 °F (110 °C).
PLEASE NOTE: clay is not baked until it has been sliced and applied to the pen tube. I use a regular house oven, but some people prefer using a toaster oven, keeping in mind the temperature fluctuates more in a smaller oven so an oven thermometer is necessary to get accurate oven temperature readings. There was a strength test completed by a company called Garie International if you are interested in more information about clay brands. They also ran a test on toaster ovens.
CANEMAKING: Making canes with polymer clay is similar in techniques originally learned by artists using millefiori for glassware and beadmaking. Polymer clay canes can be personally made or purchased online. I make all our abstract canes from scratch, and a mixture of home-made and purchased canes for the flower designs. It all depends on how much time and energy you can devote to learning the necessary skills. Whether you make or buy canes, it only takes a few dollars of clay per pen tube, so the cost of clay is minimal. What can get expensive are the learning materials and tools you may purchase to assist in making better pens.
How to Make a Rose Polymer Clay Cane: NEW VIDEO
1. Cut the skinner blend cane into two, roll the second half a smaller diameter. CLICK HERE to learn how to make a skinner blend.
2. Cut the two canes into smaller pieces about one inch long. The center piece can be smaller. Flatten the smaller cane pieces with a slight bump in the center, showing the different colors on each end of the pieces. The center piece may be rolled into a small jelly roll. The larger cane pieces can have a larger bump. The bumps become the petals of the rose.
3. Wrap the rest of the smaller pieces around the center jelly roll, alternating light and dark colors on top. I like to add a translucent contrast to the outside of my rose designs, or you can add white or black polymer clay to fill in around the petal formations. Reduce the cane by gently rolling and stretching until it is the length / diameter desired (usually around eight to twelve inches).
How to Make a Basic Flower Polymer Clay Cane: NEW VIDEO
Flower canes are probably some of the most documented canes you can find on the internet to learn to make. Here is how I make basic flower canes. For other samples of my work, please visit my pen blanks page or learn to make your own.
1. Blend the colors you want for your flower components including (1) center and up to (8) petals. Depending on the style of flower design you want, these petals can be either solid colors or a skinner blend of many colors. CLICK HERE to see how to make a skinner blend if you are not familiar.
2. For better contrast, add a thin black (or white or translucent) layer to the polymer clay canes. Pinch one side of the cane circle to create triangle canes.
3. Create a pattern or design in the clay you want to use for your cane. To maintain the petal formation, add wedges of colored or translucent clay between the petals to create a square or circle before reducing. Reduce the cane by gently rolling and stretching until it is the length / diameter desired. There are dozens of how-to videos on the internet if you cannot come up with your own designs.