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Current Rants and Recent Rambles

10-21-2009 BettyP asked: My question to you is where do I start?  Any goods books you recommend?  What supplies are a must to start?  Any help would be appreciated.

The nifty thing about polymer clay is you don't really need anything to start, a bit of clay is a must, but most people's tools in the beginning are found objects laying around the house: turkey skewer, bamboo BBQ skewer, aluminum foil, baby powder, baby oil, wet wipes, and Future floor polish.


I have to share a story with you: I was buying those things and some mini cup cake paper, I had a swap I was in and I was going to use the mini cup cake holders to hold the mini candy. My local grocery clerk-Lady, Ernie, asked, "Are the grandchildren coming over?"


That gave me pause, "What? My grandchildren? No. Why do you ask?" I sputter, confused.


She says, "Oh I see the baby powder and oil, cupcake thingies, wet wipes. I thought that your youngest grandchild was coming to visit."


I had to laugh, "Oh Ernie, that's for my polymer clay."


I use baby oil to rejuvinate old polymer clay, baby powder to use as a "release" agent when using a mold, the wet wipes to clean everything up - including my hands and face, the aluminum foil is our best friend and the uses range from making armatures for figures to tenting over our clay items while they are in the oven so the light colors don't burn. The turkey skewers are great for making small holes in beads before you cure the beads and the bamboo BBQ skewers are great for not only curing the beads in the oven, but also keeping them organized until you wet sand the beads (still on the skewer) and give them a dunk in Future for a finish.


I think I was hosting this group for a year before I got my first pasta machine. I wanted to see if I could do blends without a pasta machine, and I found that one could...

From 2001 a hand blend for a mini bird bath.


After polymer clay is cured, I don't like to use the word baked because there's more than one way to heat set polymer clay and baking is just one of them. You can use a heat gun, boil in water, leave in the trunk of your car on a hot Florida day while you're shopping (yes, that has happened to folks in Texas). So I use the term "cure" when referring to setting the polymer clay using heat.


Ok, after the clay is cured you can use tools from other disciplines, i.e., wood carving tools (a cheap batch from the craft store will do you fine), jewelry files (I use them for refining sculpted faces after the first curing), looking in my tool drawer I have rasps from wood working, as well as dental tools and long "tissue" blades.


Tip: take a bit of raw clay and put it on the dull corners of your tissue blade. This enables you to pick up your blade easier because it lifts the dull side up off of the work table, but it also prevents you from cutting yourself by picking up the sharp end when moving too fast in time and space. Aunty loves you enough to tell you that.


What else.. ClayMates what are your favorite "found object" clay tools?


Clayshapers - how could I forget? Silicon tipped clay shapers. I use the cone tip ones a lot, from size zero to size 6.


For pictures of the jewery files and clayshapers check this web section:


For a first project I always recommend making color cards. I know it may seem pedantic, but bare with me.


When you make color cards you are making a record for yourself on how to replicate certain hues. Hues that you can't buy off of the shelf. As a beginner you learn to condition clay and this is the most important first steps you need to learn.


How much should you condition clay? Take a pea sized bit of yellow and a pea sized bit of blue, mash them together until you get green. That's how much you should condition all clay before working with it.


When you make color cards you condition the clay, you press it out into sheets. If you don't have a pasta machine stack playing cards, business cards, thin magazines and use the side of a recycled mayo jar from the kitchen and roll out the conditioned clay.


One thing you'll find after conditioning clay is you can manipulate it easier. If you tried to roll a sheet of clay with a mayo jar and the clay wasn't conditioned you'd be in for a world of hurt. Don't even go there, girlfriend.


Ok, so with the color cards, you condition the clay, you press it out to thin sheets, you cut out bits to mix and to get samples of what you mixed with what for the color cards.


Soda straws - they were my first clay cutters. You can dip the tip into baby powder so the clay doesn't stick to the inside of the straw and if it does, just blow gently into your cupped hand. That makes sure that you don't blow that bit of clay into Kingdom Come and you won't find it until you've stepped on it.


Condition the clay, press it to a sheet, cut bits out, then cure the color cards, afterward splash some Future on them and Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt and you're done.


What have you learned by making color cards? Just about everything a new clayer should learn, yes?


Intermediate clayers: Keep track of your blends with color cards too. Just because you know a thing doesn't mean that you might not forget a thing you thought you knew... like how to replicate certain blends.






I want to discuss chiaroscuro today, short shrift - miniaturists can build in their highlights and shadows on pipes in a mini scene with this technique. But more on that later.

Experiment with blends.


When making a 2D design in clay remember three things: snakes, sheets and blends.


If there is a dot in the design that's a snake of clay.

If there is a line in the design that's a sheet of clay.

If there is a gradation of color then that's a blend.


Period, full stop, do not pass Go and do not collect $200. That's all there is to raising cane.


So practice those blends along with your color cards.


There are links on the home page of CITY-o-Clay and one that might be helpful, if not redundent after this post, is...

Check the Ramble links on the upper right of that page, they were all written for new clayers. BettyP, new clayers are like spoiled like pretty babies here. We were all beginners once so we know that this is a delicate time for you. We want you to have a good start, feel the love, baybeeee......


For those who come to us from the land of the miniatures...


So, found objects for tools, make Color Cards to explore what a dozen colors can create, what are the dozen colors?


I'd start with just five in the beginning




Cadmium Red

Zinc Yellow

Cobalt Blue


Yellow and Blue make Green

Blue and Red make Purple

Red and Yellow make Orange


Add White and you got pastels.

Add Black and you got more shaded hues of the primary and secondary colors.


Add all three primary colors together and you can get a brown hue.


But I prefer to get

Burnt Umber - great to simulate chocolate straight out of the pack.

Raw Sienna


So that gets us to seven colors so far.


Now if we want to get fancy






I'm like a magpie, I love anything that shimmers. I like to use Pearl instead of white if I'm going to lighten a hue. Green with Gold is one of my favorite mixes and it is so pretty when used as a blend.


So we're up to 11 colors, what makes it a dozen?


Translucent (not officially a color but necessary nonetheless) Both in solid and liquid forms.


That's all the colors I use. From those 12 I can make any hue, simulate things in nature like fish scales, feathers, wood, and gems. I can make salad dressing for a mini salad and all the fixings that went into that salad. I can make figures, put clay hair on them, dress them in clay fabric. What one can do for making beads is endless. All with a dozen colors of clay. Pretty nifty I'd say.


Now lastly, what's a good first project, after making color cards and practicing blends? Well that's up to you really. We can help with technique, tips and tricks, but only you know what is in your heart of hearts.


That's why mixing your own color pallet is so important. Everyone has a different color show up in their mind's eye when we say "Green". Some people's green is cool with more blue. Some people perfer a lighter green with more yellow. My Green is ostentatious with Pearl or Gold or both mixed in.


Then what designs appeal to you is something we can't know, not unless you tell us. We don't know if you would go "wow" with cherry blossoms or tiger lilies, two very different types of people go for one or the other. It's like "Stones or the Beatles?"


I'm an animal print gal, truth be known.


Even my rain boots are leopard spot. Yeah, I'm one of those sort of grannies. Color me weird and I'll be happy.




So darling, what do you want to make? What cries out to be manifest? You got to tell us and then we can help do some reverse engineering on your vision and figure out the tech of it. That's how it works around here.


Now I got to refill my coffee cup. I think I'll use this post as another newbie ramble.






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