Tips, Hints, and Explanations
Clean hands: Always make sure that your hands are clean when working with clay. The clay acts as a magnet and will pick up any little bit of dirt on your hands. It’s kind of like a mother, if you don’t clean your hands, the clay will. Try not to wipe your hands on your clothes when working with clay. Never wear dark colored clothing. The dark fibers from the fabric will also get into your clay. Always wash your hands when switching to a different color of clay. The clay residue on your hands will get into the new color.
Protecting your furniture and storing clay: Polymer clay has a plasticizer in it. Before your clay is baked, this plasticizer can leak out and eat fabric or hard plastic. If you drop bits of clay onto your carpeting or chair, please pick it up. Do not store your clay in hard plastic containers. The clay will eat a hole through the hard plastic. It will also eat through Styrofoam. The best way to store your clay is in little zip lock bags. Once they are “bagged up” you can store them in anything. Once your clay has been baked, you can store it in anything. The heat from baking “kills” the plasticizer.
Measuring clay: When I talk about mixing clay to get a certain color, I use the word parts in my directions. By this I simply mean proportions. So, in other words, if I ask you to mix 2 parts White with 1 part Transparent, this means that you will take the color with the highest number of parts, in this case, the White, and divide it into 2 parts or pieces or equal size or dimension. You know have 2 parts or pieces of clay of equal size. Since you only need 1 part of the Transparent, the size of the Transparent clay that you will use will be the same size as one of the parts of White. You should now have 3 parts or pieces of clay of equal size: 2 parts or pieces of White and 1 part or piece of Transparent.
Mixing clay: Soften each color of clay separately. To soften clay, place it between the palms of your hands for a few seconds. Then begin to squeeze and press the clay between your hands until it begins to soften. Your hands should be warm. If they are not warm and you are having a hard time softening the clay, wrap your hands around a cup of hot water to heat your hands. Some people have the opposite problem and their hands are so warm, they “melt” the clay. In this case, wrap your hands around a cup of ice cold water.
Once each color has been softened, press the different colors together between the palms of your hands. Keeping the clay in your hands, roll the clay into a ball then roll it into a snake. Hold the two ends of the snake with both hands and twist the clay like you would wring out a dishcloth. Fold the clay in half then start the entire process over: roll into a ball, roll into a snake, twist the clay, fold the clay in half and twist again. Repeat this process until all of the colors have been mixed thoroughly. Some clays, such as Fimo, are harder to soften than other clays, such as Premo or Sculpey.
Rolling clay into snake: When I talk about rolling clay into snakes, that simply means that you will first roll the clay into a ball. Place the ball of clay on your work surface, and using your fingers, gently roll the clay back and forth until it starts to grow or get long. If the directions ask you to “roll a snake 1/8” in diameter, this means that you will continue to roll the clay back and forth until the diameter (not the length) of the entire piece is 1/8”. To determine the diameter, you will need a polymer clay template (purchased at a craft store), or a Midwest ruler that measures wood or dowels. Look for the hole that is 1/8” and run the “snake” of clay through the hole. This clay should just barely touch the sides of the hole.
Baking clay: Always use a preheated oven. If you are going to be baking a lot of clay, I would recommend that you invest in an inexpensive toaster oven or a polymer clay oven sold at craft stores. Cover the pan in the oven with a layer of paper towel cut to fit the pan. Always use an oven thermometer so that you know you have the correct temperature. If you bake a lot of clay in an oven or toaster oven, the fumes and smells from the clay will permeate your oven and sometimes get into your “real food”. This is why I recommend that you have a dedicated toaster oven if you are going to be baking a lot of clay. Once your clay has cooked the required amount of time, you can turn your oven off and let the clay cool inside your oven or you can remove it immediately. It does not matter. Never bake your clay on aluminum foil or a pan. These will leave shiny spots on your clay as it bakes. I always use either old business cards, cut up pieces of cardstock, or a ceramic tile. You can also place your clay directly onto the paper towel that is covering the surface of your toaster oven’s baking pan. Never place the clay directly onto the oven racks. Never use a microwave!
Work surfaces: I always work on a ceramic tile. These can be purchased at any hardware store. They come in different sizes and colors. Some are textured and some are smooth. You do not want the textured tiles, only the smooth ones. I always use a neutral color so that I can easily see the clay. This is my preference. These tiles usually cost under $1.00 and it’s always good to have several of them so that you can work on different projects at one time. They can be cleaned with soap and water or baby wipes. They must be cleaned off every time you switch to a different color of clay. Sometimes if my tiles are cool, I warm them up by placing them under hot water or placing a hot cup of water onto the tile for a couple of minutes. If your tile is warm, your clay will be easier to work with. If you do not wish to buy a ceramic tile, waxed paper will work as well. Whatever your work surface, please make sure it’s clean.
Tools: (some of these tools are optional or can be substituted with something else that you already have) an x-acto knife (if slicing clay that has been baked, use a new or sharp blade), a polymer clay template or Midwest ruler that measures wood and dowels, tweezers, a lace tool, an acrylic roller, Kemper cutters that are different sizes and different shapes.
Polymer Clay Template and Hobby and Craft Ruler: These two tools are used in measuring clay. The Polymer Clay Template can be purchased in any craft store in the “clay aisle”. They are a plastic sheet with different size holes, the largest being 1-1/8” and the smallest being ¼”. There is also a 7” ruler on one end, as well as diagrams on how to measure clay by cutting sections from the block of clay. I love this tool. It allows me to measure clay accurately. For example, if directions call for a ball of clay ¼” in diameter, roll your clay into a snake ¼” in diameter. Test this by simply running the “snake” through the opening that is marked ¼”. Your clay should barely touch the sides of the clay. You now have a “snake” that is ¼” in diameter. Next you will cut a piece from the snake that is ¼” long. Roll into a ball and place on top of the ¼” hole. The ball of clay should just fit inside that circle. If you have to flatten a ball of clay to a certain dimension, for instance 3/8”, you will roll the clay into a ball, flatten slightly and place the 3/8” hole on the template over the clay. The circumference of the clay should just fit inside that circle. The diagrams for the blocks of clay on the template are self explanatory. The Hobby and Craft Rulers are made by Midwest Products and can be purchased at your local miniature shop or hobby shop. They are 8” long white rulers with very small openings to measure clay. The openings range from ¼” (the largest) to 1/16” (the smallest). This is useful when measuring small amounts of clay. There is a 7” ruler on one side and openings on the other side to measure strips of basswood. I use both of these tools a lot.
Artists’ Pastels: Artists’ Soft Pastels are used to color clay before it is baked. The pastels look like sticks of chalk and can be purchased online or through your local art supply store. Do not use the oil pastels! These are very different than the soft pastels even though they look alike. I prefer the pastels by Schmincke. These are very soft. I have to order these online through www.Dick Blick.com. You can also use the soft pastels by Rembrandt. These can be purchased in an art store or your local craft store. To use the pastels, simply break off a piece (or use your x-acto knife) and place it in a small container. Run your paintbrush along the surface of the pastel and paint it or dab it over the clay until you get the desired look. When using the brown or darker pastels, be very careful. They are potent so always start off light. You can always add layers but if you add too much of the color to the clay, you cannot remove it. When you break off a piece of the pastel, especially the pastels by Schmincke, it will crumble or turn into powder. Until you are familiar with how to use the pastels, try not to stick your brush into the powder. This will give you a dark application. Play around with the pastels on scrap paper until you get a feel for how they go on.
Resins and Dyes: There are several different types of Resin on the market. I use a product called EnviroTex Lite Pour On High Gloss Finish. This product can be purchased at a miniature shop or a craft store. Some hardware stores also sell this brand. The EnviroTex Lite comes in 2 parts: the resin and the hardener. Both are liquid and are in bottles. It is only when the two parts are combined that the resin sets up and hardens. I purchased 2 inexpensive sets of plastic measuring spoons: one to always be used for the resin and the other set for the hardener. I used a black magic marker to mark an “R” on the back of one tablespoon and an “H” on the other set so that I don’t get them mixed up. You will also need a craft stick (a popsicle stick) and a paper or plastic cup. Always have paper towels on hand. The resin and hardener are both sticky so you want to be careful about not getting them on your hands. It is hard to get off. Always wipe the measuring spoons with a paper towel after using them. Depending on how much resin you need, use the proper measuring spoon and slowly pour the resin into the spoon. Pour the resin into a paper or plastic cup. Let the resin drip off the spoon. You can use the end of the craft stick to scrape out the excess then wipe the plastic spoon with a paper towel. Repeat the same process with the hardener. Make sure you use the same amount of hardener! This is very important. You always want equal amounts of resin and hardener. If you don’t have equal amounts, your resin will not set up - it will be sticky. If this happens, don’t panic. Simply mix another small batch and pour it on top of the sticky batch. Use your craft stick to slowly stir the resin and hardener. The secret to stirring is to stir slowly. If you stir quickly, you will create air bubbles. Stir slowly and stir well. If you are making something that requires bubbles, then stir very fast. After the resin and hardener have been stirred well, slowly pour it into your container. If your container is small, such as a cup or glass, use a toothpick to drop the resin into the container. The resin always dries clear. If you want to color it, use the dyes from Castin’Craft. These dyes are made specifically for resin and they are either a transparent form or a concentrated form. The transparent is just that and the concentrate is thicker, good for gravies, puddings, milk, etc. These dyes can be purchased from any miniature shop or online. I have not seen them in craft stores or hobby shops but always check with your local shops first. If you only need a small amount, you can substitute these dyes with food coloring. After pouring the required amount of resin into your paper cup, add the dye, then add the hardener, then stir.
Tips: It is always helpful to have a good colored photograph from a cookbook or the real thing in front of you when making foods.
Remember: practice makes perfect. Do not give up if you do not like what you see the first time. Try again and again until you are happy.
Please remember that everyone has his or her own way of “doing things”. My instructions are what works best for me. I encourage you to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.