Polymer Clay 101 Hi everyone! I am ClayfrommyHeart and am a polymer clay artist. I got started with tiny miniatures and jewelry and slowly moved up to what I make now, large sculptures. I'm going to walk you through what I think, are the basics are to getting started with polymer clay! Enjoy! If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
Want to work with clay but don't have a kiln? Polymer clay is the perfect clay to use if you don't have a kiln and you don't want to wait for air dry clay! It bakes at only 250 - 275 degrees F º. Polymer clay comes in many different colors, textures and brands. Here are some of the more popular brands of clay!
Those are just a few brands of polymer clay! There are quite a few more out there to experiment with as well! Though they all seem to be different, they are all polymer clay! The first 2 are made to be painted and work well for base layers of sculptures! The others, all come in different colors and textures! Premo is well known for it's metallic and glitter clays and very unique colors! Now, the very interesting thing about the last 4 clays is that they can all be mixed together! It doesn't matter if the brands are the same. Now this is not always the case for all polymer clays. Some just don't mix properly so be sure to check the packaging before mixing!
So what is polymer clay exactly?
Polymer clay is actually not a true clay at all! It is a man-made clay made of a polyvinyl chloride compound with plasticizers for flexibility. It may sound scary but it's 100% safe! So is polymer clay more like pottery clay or is it more like air dry clay? Well, Polymer clay is kind of in the middle in that, like pottery clay, polymer clay needs to be heated to cure/harden but you don't need a kiln for this! At the same time, it's a lot like air dry clay where it can be painted with regular paints, is a bit more durable, and is a bit more affordable. In fact, polymer clay is actually marketed towards children! Though in reality, polymer clay is much more suited towards older children and adults since it needs to be thoroughly conditioned before using!
What you need to get started
First off, you'll need some polymer clay! Aside from that, you'll need an oven (depending on what clay you use, you'll need to adjust your oven temperature) and aluminum foil for tenting and working on! There are many other tools you can get or even make but they are not necessary. Now depending on what you are making, you may need a few extra things. If you plan on making jewelry, make sure you have jewelry pliers, headpins or eyepins and any jewelry attachments. For sculptures, the only other thing you really need is a lot more foil and some wire for an armature! Polymer clay, like pottery clay, cannot be baked all the way through (it would take so long that your piece would eventually burn) if it's thick so it needs to have an armature or a core that's made of something that isn't clay. An oven thermometer is a good thing to have to make sure that your oven won't accidentally burn your piece! Now that you know the absolute necessities, here are some great tools to have with you when working on any type of project with polymer clay!
These are a trio of This is an This is Sculpey's This is an extruder These are a series of
ball tipped sculpting acrylic rolling glaze specifically set with multiple shaped cutting tools referred
tools great for holes, pin. Great for made for polymer disks. This is great for piping to as slicers and are
texture and smoothing. making even pieces. clay. out long strands of shaped clay. great for cutting clay.
What you can and can't do with polymer clay?
There are almost infinite possibilities for using polymer clay! Some of the most popular things to make with it are sculptures, filigree, miniatures, canes, decor and many many more things! There's almost nothing you can't do with it! It can also be painted, glazed, etched on, drawn on, and it even makes great image transfers and awesome paintings! That being said, there are a few restrictions on what you do with what you make. First and foremost, you cannot make anything that will come in direct contact with food. Now there is the exception in that you can cover wine glass stems with it as well as eating utensil handles but be sure to hand wash after use as dishwashers can be a tad harsh on the clay. Second is that if you are covering something with clay, make sure it can go in the oven! Surprisingly things like paper, cardboard, glass, paper mache, foil, and metal can be baked at the low temperature required to bake polymer clay. Polymer clay also cannot be baked in the microwave or be boiled so please don't try this! Things like plastic and rubber are a big no no unless you are planning on starting a fire!
Here are a few examples of the amazing works of art using polymer clay:
This dolphin sculpture is made This miniature kitty planter This adorable sculpture is made This dog sculpture is made by
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Now that you know the basics, it's time to pick your project and get started! I always recommend starting small and working your way up! So that may mean starting with little charms or simple canes or even some small 2 or 3 inch miniature figures! Once you've picked out you project, lay a big piece of aluminum foil out where you plan on working (this will keep your clay from ever getting food in it and vice versus!) and if you'd like, tape it down. Next you'll need to pick which clay you will work with first! If you plan on using red clay at all, I recommend using this last! It will tint your hands red and will contaminate your other colors. If using Super Sculpey, Sculpey Ultralight or you plan on painting it, you can skip this. Now you need to condition your clay! No that does not mean you need to put hair conditioner on it! Lol This just means you need to work with or knead your clay for a few minutes. If you skip this step, your piece will be at risks for cracks, breaking and being too brittle. I like to run my clay through a clay machine (which is basically a pasta roller but is designated for clay only) 5 or 6 times rather than condition by hand. Once you have conditioned all the clay you plan on using, you can start creating! Once you are finished, preheat your oven for the recommended temperature and bake according to package! Hope you have fun! Happy Claying!
Some tips and tricks!
To wrap this up, I'm going to leave you all with some tips and tricks for working with polymer clay!
- Always read the packaging to make sure you have your oven preheated to the right temperature. Too hot can burn your piece!
- Use foil for a work surface and also to tent your work while baking! Especially if you are using your home oven and not a designated oven for clay!
- If making a sculpture, be sure to push or even pound the air out of the foil! If it's too loose, it can cause your piece to bubble underneath the clay and sometimes cause the clay to crack.
- Start small and work your way up! I started making miniatures, then moved to canes, jewelry, small-ish sculptures and eventually to large-ish sculptures. Starting small will help you learn the basics of clay without wasting too much time or energy.
- Work with your red clays last! They can temporarily stain your hands and get into your other colors!
- When making any kind of sculpture, big or small, make sure you have something you can use for stabilizing your piece! I've used toothpicks, thin and thick wire, and even head pins for stabilizing pieces!
- Do some research! You never know what you will learn about all the things you can do with polymer clay! Also, feel free to contact me if you need help too!
- Last but not least, learn things your own way! Just because something works for 1 person, does not mean it'll work for another! So Experiment, test things out, try something new! And most importantly, Have fun!
The photos and products featured in this article do not belong to me.
Credit for the photos of clays and tools goes to Joann Fabrics
A big Thank you to and for allowing me to borrow their photos for this article! Don't forget to stop by each of their pages if you liked their work!