Chances are the word “polymer” will trigger a flood of memories of your college days full of sleep-inducing organic chemistry. Fret not, we’re not talking about Chemistry here.
These days, modelling clay based on the polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the big thing in contemporary art. Artists call it polymer clay. As a unique form of clay, crafters and sculptors find it a great medium to work with; no special tools required, not even a kiln. (I remember disappearing early from a raku art workshop because kiln would take forever to fire up!)
In the beginning, every artist stumbles and that doesn't mean you should be afraid to use polymer clay. Just keep in mind that trial and error are part of the creative process. And that we’re just making explorations every day. Now, it’s time to play with the clay.
Polymer clay - how does it work?
Almost all kinds of polymer clays are a combination of same basic building blocks: gels, fillers, plasticizers, colouring agents, and resins. Unlike art clays, polymer clays are produced in a great range of colours that can further be mixed to create a custom colour palette. Different types of polymer clay can be mixed together according to the requirement of the craft. Popular types used globally are Sculpey III, Premo, Fimo and Fimo Soft
After mixing, clay must be conditioned. Conditioning is achieved by kneading the clay by hand, or by rolling the clay repeatedly, then folding and rolling it until it is soft and pliable. Now you can make anything out of it! Like, charms, pendants, bowls, mini toys or maybe a cake slice or a doughnut if fake food makes you happy.
Don't think you are done here. The real part is curing which means malleable polymer clay needs to be baked at a temperature of 230 º - 325 º Fahrenheit. Once cured, the clay is hard and fixed. Now you can’t make any changes to it and there is no way you can soften it again.
Where will you bake the clay? If you plan to get your hands on polymer occasionally, use the same oven your mom uses for muffins to bake your polymer craft. But if you choose to do polymer art frequently then you must buy a separate one for this purpose only. A convection oven works best and can be easily bought from a thrift store at cheap rates.
Keep your cool, bad boy!
Polymer clay begins curing at approximately 90 º F so make sure you store the clay at cool temperature and away from direct sunlight. Raw clay should be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap or placed in zip locked bags.
Also, please note polymers are highly reactive chemicals; especially when exposed to other polymers, they can wreak havoc. Drop some raw clay on your sofa and watch it melt. Be careful! Ruining furniture can put an end to your polymer clay adventure because mom’s watching.
Tools of the trade
A nice clean surface is a must. Ceramic tiles, a glass sheet, a marble top can make a good work station.
For shaping clay, knitting needles, rods, rolling pin, screw driver, etc. are fantastic tools.
Also invest in craft knives or scalpels so that perfect slicing of clay becomes hassle free. Simple cookie cutters also work wonders in the beginning. And yeah, don't forget the glue that’s specifically made for polymer clay.
Use a spray of isopropyl alcohol for cleaning up work surfaces, tiles and tools. Simply spray and wipe.
Wipe hands with alcohol wipes or lotions, and then finish with soap and warm water.
If polymer clay still sounds terrible to you, please don’t feel frustrated! Tooba Ishaq, a brilliant crafter and owner of Entrahnj, an online arts and crafts shop, has got an alternative to polymer clay that works just fine. She is passionate about making stunning clay jewellery, bookmarks, badges, Harry Potter themed crafts and other ornaments.
She says, “For beginners, working with polymer clay could get messy. One can use china clay instead. It’s easy to handle, and works like polymer.
“I used to watch Youtube videos of artists making gorgeous crafts with polymer clay and would wonder if this clay was available here. Then I found it could be easily bought from standard craft shops.”
More tips for beginners
“Tools matter but don’t get obsessed with the idea of collecting as many tools as possible. In the beginning, to be very honest, they don’t matter! Even a toothpick comes in handy here. It’s weird but I even used hair chalks on my crafts.
“Use air dry clay; it will dry out in room temperature. You will not have to bake anything.
“After you have figured out how to make the desired piece, make sure you have got everything within arm’s reach. Mixing of clay and water needs full concentration. If you don’t get the right consistency, you will end up ruining your clay or have trouble shaping it.
“Even air drying has to be done carefully! Crafts shouldn’t catch dust particles. The great thing here is if you think your final product needs changes, you can still do it, but of course not after it dries out completely. Use acrylic paints to colour your clay art.”
Halloween black cat
1- First create the front legs (image 1): two long cones. With the needle, create the claws.
2- Then, create the head (a ball), the body (a larger cone), the tail (a very thin cone) and then the back legs (in the form of an hourglass) in image 2.
3- Next, work a little more on the back legs. Use image 3 from the first row to adjust them and then combine the body with the legs and the tail as shown in image 4. Use a toothpick in the body to fix the head.
4- Now, begin modeling the head of out polymer clay Halloween black cat. Create two holes and fill them with yellow clay. Then add a thin dash of black to create the spooky effect. Add in the middle a small orange triangle (that’s the nose). We have to add two more triangles, this time black ones. Those will be the ears of our clay cat.
5- Attach the head to the body. Hurray, you have just created your first polymer clay Halloween black cat.
Happy Claying, everyone!