Polymer Clay

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2012-02-23 Rev. 2012-04-08, -06-13, -06-18, -08-17, -10-10

Clay Center

Modern polymer clay or polyclay is a solvent softened PVC plastic that can be baked hard in a household oven for colorful jewelry and figurines and can be stuck to glass and baked.

I have become somewhat more involved with polymer clay since my sister gave me a variety of colors for Christmas.  I don't know how far I will go. It is certainly more convenient than trying to work glass, which I haven't for some time due to health and progressive equipment problems.

This page begins with a section on making standard polymer charms as shown in a book and showing my first two items, modified for my interests and working needs.  Then is a discussion of where I think I am going to go with the clay showing some of my working ideas.

When I first encountered polymer clay on the Internet as part of a Answer wiki on Sculpture where I was answering questions about glass and metal, I went looking for more information and found the book: "The Polymer Clay Cookbook : Tiny food jewelry to whip up and wear" by Jessica Partain 745.5942 P273P copyright 2009.
The book does quite detailed step by step pictures and text as shown below.  The clay needed is specified  as shown right.  As you will see below, the minute 1/16" balls are below my tolerance to handle.

Step-by-step images of counstruction of the hamburger charm.

Polymer clay ball sizes for components of tiny hamburger charm.
Photograph from the book showing the earrings of burgers with a relative scale from the ear hooks at top.
An arrangement of my tools used for the polymer clay work. (CCW from upper left.) The items purchased just for this are the deck of cards, used for thickness control in rolling out the clay; the bottle of clay softener; a block of yellow clay (used for cheese) taped closed with blue masking tape to restick, and a "tissue blade" that is like a razor blade with no stiffening back, the red is edge protection and handle for pushing.
Most people would have buy the acrylic rod for rolling, but an indication of my shop clutter is that I cut it off a piece I have.  The gray PVC pipe is another roller from pipe on hand. A scalpel and small blade hobby knife are next. And finally a home-made needle tool with a sewing needle pushed into a dowel rod - with a BIC pen cap for protection. Other tools were used from my collection of modeling and hobby clamps, tweezers, and blades.
Also purchased was the 8x10" ceramic glazed wall tile (from Home Depot) for a flat easily cleaned work surface. A roll of parchment paper for moving the piece while working on it and then baking.  And a pad of palette paper - glossy on one side and water proof - for rolling clay thin where it can be peeled from the paper.
A metal can once holding caramel corn shows a collection of small block colors and large block bulk white as well as a wood roller.
My first two polymer clay items for learning are a large version of the hamburger shown in the book above and a design I sketched in my note book for a clown head.  The clay is self supporting while it is being baked so the rim survived standing out as did the thin tomato slices.  The black hat's crimp in the top was done carefully and intentionally as was the "melted" cheese with rounded corner bent down.
The head is hollow as is required of all clay that shrinks.  Solids this size will crack as the outer shrinks over the not yet shrunk inside.
And a photo to compare scale shows my hand holding my burger in front of the picture illustration of a finger pushing down the burger bun stack onto the lettice.
The two books below were found in the Dallas Public Library and have something of interest in each while being considerably different in approach.  Among the shared areas are intense use of a pasta rolling machine that was mentioned in the book above but skipped over for the manual rolling with cards for thickness because of little need for lots of uniform material..
Example of rolling Skiinner Blend from Polymer Clay for the Fun of It!This book, Polymer Clay for the Fun of It! by Kim Cavender [745.572 C379P 2006 North Light Books, Cincinnati], uses larger pieces of polymer clay and those of less complicated color.  The technique shown at right below is used considerably including the example at right for a graded color murini that is much easier to make that a cane. As shown, a pastry rolling machine is almost required and is used to make very thin layers at times. Even details are graded or blended with the machine - such as the detail in the turquoise case on the cover.  Much use is made of thin layers of clay wrapped around supporting objects like the glass and case on the cover. 2012-06-13
Cover of Polymer Clay for the Fun of It! by Kim CabenderSample page and illustration of Skinner Blend from Polymer Clay for the Fun of It!
Cover of Creating with Polymer Clay by Ford & DierksThis book has a lot more of what my sister calls "fiddly bits that drive me crazy" as can be seen in the multiple colors in the bands on the cover and the graded colors in the beads as well as the details of the sliced butterflies on the cover and below.  And almost everything requires repeated use of the pasta rolling machine to make layers that are cut and restacked and rerolled.  Much of the clay is rolled thin as in the image just below with the folded layers to be stacked as shown in the other pictures and the wrapping with black and added material and gentle shaping with the hands.
Much more use is made of detailed color than in the book above. Although both books involve working on details in a very small size.
It seems to me they each cover enough of the basics that the choice has to do more with style of working. In fact, although many of the projects in this book bug the heck out of me, a sort of mosaic technique caught my eye for making a pair of earrings for my sister. 2012-06-13

Sample pages of layering technique from Creating with Polymer Clay
After reading/sampling the books above, I decided to build a simplified church rather than just pursuing the snow church below.  I needed to handle the clay in flat slabs, see about problems with corners, etc. The image at right shows the completed lower part at the point of rolling the clay for the roof with scraps of clay (to be reused) to the right.
The green ground is the same green as in the clown head but darkened somewhat with a bit of black; the roof material, lower center, is chocolate with red added to tone it up. Before final assembly, two holes were cut in the green inside the building with the needle tool to vent. Sitting on parchment paper for handling and baking.
  The folded paper at top is a paper model of the roof with overhand for sizing the rolled clay. The cards have just been laid down for thickness so the rolled clay shows uneven rolling. A first batch of the clay was much too small and thus too thin when rolled out and a larger batch was made. The roof was V grooved by cutting at the fold to make the shape and as can be seen, it sagged in handling and baking.
The vertical line below right is a long head pin inserted through the bottom after baking to hang for display, lacking shelf space.  Cut and bent to a hook after photo. 2012-06-18
The windows and doors were made with simplified cane form, wrapping plain white cores with thin black. The side windows were formed into a rough gothic shape and sliced. The larger front gothic over the double doors started to be the rose window but was too small so was reshaped.  The round core of the rose at the back of the church over the single utility door (which would be behind the altar) was a short stub.  The front double doors were carefully made up of two cores pressed together before slicing with one side only wrapped 3/4 to give a thin line down the middle. It took some pushing and working to get the doors to match.  The back door is a slightly reduced portion of the fully wrapped core. Photography conceals several clay handling flaws as well as slightly showing including roof dent to right and white clay scraps and denting at bottom of near corner in both.  Fun and not hugely time consuming, done over several days about 30 minutes per session. Imaged with iPhone and edited.  2012-06-18
While the projects above were good for learning and the book gives a lot of clues for handling the clay, this picture aligned my thoughts as to what I might make with polymer clay for the fun/heck of it - small buildings or building scenes.  The image was offered up on Yahoo!Answers for Photoshop-type exercises and turn out to be "An aerial view shows the snow covered church of the village of Jenisberg near the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann"
This is a copy of the center of the image with lines and markings to gauge the relative sizes of the end and sides and trying to allow for the viewing angle.
Snow Church paper model with picture In an attempt to relate the size and proportions of end to side, I measured the photo and scaled from that to make a paper cutout.  The first version (not shown) was smaller and clearly the wrong proportions. After nipping away at it, I made the one shown here, half again as big as the first. Again the first version here was too long in the roof, so it was notched back to make this model. Note that the  roof line of the tower is wrong - the rising edge actually has a kink in it - without the snow it would look like a pointy steeple on a sloping but flattish base.
This photo was made by taping the picture to a support, then taping a paper shelf to the front of the picture and turning the model and changing the tilt of the shelf and the camera angle until the match was the best between the photo and the model.
Then I discovered the photo below with more information and after some experimenting and asking around, I discovered that Google Sketchup was much better than my memory held, including detailed measurement input and better handling, so I began to learn it and how to fit the 3D drawing to a picture. (further down, maybe soon)
And this is exactly the same scene photographed from a few hundred feet to the right of the other shot (see the different roof details/angle and amount of fence  at top.) http://www.hellomagazine.com/imagenes/travel/201202067157/world-snow-pictures-photo-gallery/0-32-742/n-suiza2---a.jpg
And meanwhile, I made up a rubber mold of a model car and pressed white original Sculpey into the plaster backed mold, then lined it with aluminum foil to prevent sagging during baking, giving the result at right and many steps of the process detailed at car-body-mold.htm 2012-08-17


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