Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Intro to: Polymer Clay

With Christmas (arguably a crafter's most profitable time of year) closing in fast I thought we'd start taking a look at some specific crafts to awe or inspire you fine and wonderful people.

My current favourite medium is polymer clay. This wonderful material is extremely versatile and can be used for virtually anything crafty. It starts off as something akin to playdough, which you can shape to your will. However, upon baking in an everyday oven, it hardens to a strong plastic!

I find it to be the most artistic of all the mediums I currently work with as it allows for so much creativity. Many people use it to create buttons and beads, with intricate canework techniques known as millefiori. I enjoy using it to sculpt, making weird clay creatures.

Take a look at some of these wonderful clay creations:

(Right) The work of Christi Friesen at CF Originals. Very intricate and detailed with complementary beadwork. Gorgeous.

(Above) I LOVE this gorgeous little guy made by 
polymer clay artist Dawn Schiller. He's got so much 
character! Here she has used faux fur to give him 
a shaggy, disheveled look. Just adorable.

(Right) More by Christi Friesen, this time in the Steampunk style.
It's really trendy right now, and it's not hard to see why. Wow!

(Left) These very bright, sparkly, artistic spirals were made by Elise Winters using translucent and coloured clay along with gold leaf, for stunning mixed-media beads.

And last, but by no means least, the work of our very own Katie, who makes some really scrummy food jewellery using polymer clay.

Tools required:
You can start with a very basic toolkit when working with clay. If you enjoy it this will undoubtedly increase over time. I've got all sorts of odd tools now! To get you started all you really NEED is:

  • a clean, smooth work surface (I use a large sample tile I got from B&Q, as the raw clay can react with wood and some plastics due to the plasticiser)
  • an oven 
  • a lidded casserole dish (if things go really well with the clay you may want to invest in a separate oven, but for most of us we start off using the same oven we cook in. The concern here is that plasticiser, which evaporates during the baking process, can build up on the walls of your oven and compromise food safety. ALWAYS make sure you cover your clay work in a lidded dish or aluminium tent before baking it in your home oven)
  • your hands! (though it's a bit harder work to condition the clay by hand  - warm and elasticise in order to work with it - it can be very cathartic. After being conditioned you can shape it into whatever you'd like using just your hands and a clean work surface. However, many people who work with polymer clay eventually invest in a pasta machine for dedicated clay work. Rolling the clay through conditions it quickly and easily, but once used with the clay these tools should never be used for food preparation)

As mentioned, the clay contains a plasticer, which mixed in with your food isn't exactly great. However, the clay itself is non-toxic, so there's not a huge amount to worry about. I do, however, always thoroughly wash my hands after working with it.

The only thing that's hazardous about baking the clay is OVER-baking it. The fumes produced if you scorch (blacken) the clay ARE toxic, so you do need to keep a watchful eye on baking times.

The only other dangers associated with its use are using the oven (i.e. burns if you're not careful) or injuring yourself with some of the tools you acquire for clay use (needle tools, craft knives etc, which, while not absolutely necessary to work with clay, can pose a problem to people who phase in and out or tend to be accident prone).

I've never really hurt myself working with polymer clay, but I have had a needle prick here and there. It's usually a sign to put my current project away and go back to bed.

M.E. concerns:
I tend to use the clay at my desk, but if you struggle to sit up for long periods of time you could easily adapt by using a tray in bed.

It does require use of your hands, so dexterity is helpful but not required. I've seen many weird and wacky clay creations made from scrunched up balls or flattened shapes.

If you're worried about using the oven or baking your creations then why not ask a friend/family member/carer to do this bit for you? The creative, and therapeutic, bit is in working with the clay to create wondrous things. The baking just solidifies it and generally takes 15-30 minutes, depending on the brand of clay you're using.

For more information on polymer clay why not check out this post on British craft website Folksy, all about getting started in polymer clay art?

Or you can search for polymer clay using Google and see what turns up! I love looking through the images and being inspired by the amazing things other people have made.

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