Thursday, May 15, 2014

Boot Camp: Fine Finishings: Polymer Clay

by Staci L. Smith

Polymer clay is a wonderful product.  It is an extremely versatile medium, with a low cost for start up. 

That is good, and that is not good at the same time.  Even though it is very easy to work with, it requires some education and practice to create pieces that will last.  

So the first advice I would give on polymer is learn about it, know your product, and test your beads and pieces before selling them.  That may take months- but I highly recommend it. 

I often see the same questions come up time and time again in the polymer clay groups on facebook; what should we use to seal our beads? 

I also see complaints that polymer clay components break easily, crack or crumble.

This Boot Camp was made to help share the things that we have learned in our experience, to help you guys

1.  Make a durable, lasting product you can be proud of

2.  Inform the buyers of these products and the process, and give them tips so they can ask informed questions before purchasing.  Though this is not always the case, you usually get what you pay for.  It takes a lot more time to properly make something that is going to last, and that is going to push the cost of it up.  This goes for most things in life, and is no different in the arts and crafts world.

  In the polymer world, someone who spends hours making beads, layering and layering expensive, and durable sealers, who spends time conditioning the clay thoroughly, who puts endless effort into their work, will of course have to charge more for their time. 

Today I will be sharing a couple tips that I have learned, mostly the hard way (i hope to spare you some of my own fails I've had a long the way), so that you can make the best components possible.

1.  Conditioning the clay.  Thoroughly conditioned clay should  not crumble or break once it is baked. Using a pasta machine is the way to go!  I recommend just getting a good one if you plan to make components consistently.  Condition it well beyond when it feels soft- as this process spreads the plasticizer through the clay making for a stronger bead.  I love my Atlas. I bought a cheap one from the craft store and it was awful.  (another example of you get what you pay for).  A friend found mine at a rummage sale for me, so I got it for a great price anyway.
2.  This is a huge one- adding metal connectors or bails.  Unlike ceramic clay, polymer does not shrink when it is baked.  So, when you add your metal connectors, head pins, ect.....especially if they are going to have any kind of pressure on them, there are some simple things you can do to ensure they stay in place.  (I had some come out on me early on, and I was so embarrassed...)  First of all, I use the Sculpey Bake and Bond on them before pushing them into the clay.  Second, I cut the wire as long as I can, to ensure it is REALLY inside the clay, and not merely just under the surface or at the edge.  Third, try to push them in as straight as possible, to make the smallest hole possible.  If you wiggle it as it goes in, you create a bigger space around the metal.  As you push them in apply gently downward pressure on the bead, right above where you pushing in the metal, so that they clay is bonding around the area the metal has entered. You will be happy you took the extra time.  

3.  Bake it thoroughly.  Ovens vary, so using a thermometer is an option to ensure your items are being baked at the correct temperature.  I prefer using a convection oven, I bake on a pizza stone, and I bake it for longer then recommended, which hardens it s bit more (this varies from brand to brand and takes some experimenting).  Baking on a pizza stone is wonderful, because I don't get hot spots, it never burns, and it doesn't even put flat spots on my round beads, even if I just lay them on it to bake.

4.  If you do not paint your creation, you can sand it.  You should not varnish your polymer if it is not painted.  It is unnecessary.  Sanding is all you need to do.  You start with a bigger grit, and move down to a finer one.  Wet sanding is the best, and always wear a mask.

5.  Varnishing your clay.  If you do not use a water based varnish on your clay (this includes nail polish and many other varnishes) it will eat away at the clay over time, making it gummy down the road.
The sealers I most highly recommend, are Varathane, PYMII.

Varathane can be found at a number of place that sell house paint, and it varies by region.  It also comes in smaller sizes then this.

PYMII or Preserve your Memories II can be found online, here.   This comes in spray form, and though sprays have their draw backs at times, it really works amazingly to seal beads.

Ginger Allman has written some extremely thorough, and informative posts on PYMII.  

I also recommend sealing them many times.  I seal my beads with at least three coats, but usually more.  

Well, that is some of the most requested information I hear when it comes to polymer. I think the biggest fine finish suggestion is the part about testing your work.  Some brands of clay are too easily breakable for the making of beads.  Here is a good list of the different polymer clays and their qualities.

Ginger Allman has also done a great post about the newest type, Sculpey Souflee.  You can read all about that here.

As a matter of fact, if you are new to polymer clay, Ginger's blog, The Blue Bottle Tree, is full of wonderful information and tutorials.  She is extremely thorough in her testing, and meticulous in her writing.  Her and I have chatted a few times of various polymer clay topics, and I value her opinion and research!  I would highly recommend her blog.

As for our Fine Finishing's Boot Camp, we will have the blog hop on Monday May 19th.  For this Boot Camp, we just want you to blog about your most finely finished piece.  Feel free to share tips as to how you got there, or just show off what you have learned- we know you got skillz!  You can add your links right to this blog next Monday, there will be a spot to do that.  We do ask that if you participate, that you also visit the other blogs and comment and encourage each other in the hop.  You can add links all week, so check back and see what is new!

We hope to see you then!



Kathleen Lange Klik said...

Great post! I love learning about polymer clay. I took a class with Christine Damm two years ago at ArtBliss and fell in love with polymer. I made some beads shortly after for a bead swap hosted by Lorelei Eurto. My time to explore the medium has diminished since my son was born but I hope to get back to it some day! Thank you for the links and sealing info.

Monique (A Half-Baked Notion) said...

Thanks for sharing these great tips, Staci! Another great resource is a video channel from Cindy Lietz. Cindy has a wonderful paid video series by subscription, but her Youtube videos are free and informative, detailing lots of info on tools, new products, techniques and mini-tutorials.

Jean Wells said...

Thank you for this informative post. Ginger of BlueBottleTree is urging me to venture into making my own rustic components from polymer clay (she was my Bead Soup Partner) and I am in the 'soaking up information' stage. I haven't even bought any clay yet! LOL

This was great information.

Karen Totten said...

Great post - love all the tips!

I was looking for the link to the list of polymer clays (Here is a good list of the different polymer clays and their qualities.")... but I think the link is missing or broken? Can you post or fix it? Thanks!

mairedodd said...

what an incredibly informative post - written by one who has the experience to really share the hard won knowledge.

Chris Caine said...

Thankyou Staci. I just bought your crackle effect workshop and am thrilled. I thought I saw you were using a pizza stone or two, so I went out and bought one this morning. Cant wait to get started

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