Saturday, June 30, 2007

Miniature foods book by Sue Heaser

I was looking around on Amazon this evening when I cam across a book I hadn't seen before:

Food Displays, by Sue Heaser

It's one of those books with the handy "search inside" feature, and judging by what I see there (and based on the glowing comments from satisfied buyers), it looks interesting. But the price! The cheapest I've seen so far is $55.00. For a 64-page paperback. And comparable books from the same series are selling in the $12-$15 range. (The MSRP for this book is just $15, too.) I can only guess that this particular book is less widely available (maybe even out of print) and/or more in demand than the others, but still!

Well, I won't be placing an order for this book any time soon. ;o) From what I could see in the preview, the projects look similar to those I've found in a couple of other books, but I might still have been interested, had the book been $15 or so.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Been slacking... again...

...And yet again it's because I feel guilty for not having done things I need to do!! (This is becoming a bad habit. Maybe I need to take a hiatus from custom orders, as they tend to leave me frozen like a deer in the headlights! A little prodding now and then does me some good, but maybe I need a break from it.)

Despite my absence, I have been doing things-- clay-related things-- but I've been holding them back out of guilt. Well, no more. It's time to make an effort to get back into the swing of things.

So-- starting with a little effort--

Here's a mini hot dog I made a while back:

I think I've already decided that mini hot dogs are not my favorite thing to make. On the other hand, maybe I just need a break from the minis.

This hot dog is only about 3/4 of an inch long-- but that's still gigantic by some standards. I don't see how the 1/12th and 1/24th scale people do it. I suppose there's less need for some of the fiddly details when you're working on such a small scale, but still!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Clay sales this week (in the US)

In case you haven't heard, there are clay sales going on this week in two major chains of craft stores. Michaels has the 2-ounce blocks on sale 4 for $5. Hobby Lobby also has a sale going on their 2-ounce blocks of polymer clay-- .99 each. The fact that HL's sale is better than Michaels is something of a surprise to me, because since I've been involved with clay (a couple of years, now, I think), I haven't seen that happen before.

When the news of the 4 for $5 sale first came out at the Polymer Clay Central message board, there was some talk that this might be the new "best price" for clay. Prices do inevitably go up, over time, and clay is no exception. Also, someone had heard a rumor that the higher price might be linked to the availability of one of the "ingredients" that go into the clay.

Obviously, I don't know why the sale price isn't quite as good at Michaels this time around-- and I do realize that, over all, an extra .25 per block of clay isn't enough to keep me from claying-- but I'm still glad that Hobby Lobby's having a better sale this week, and I'm tempted to really stock up. If the story about the higher-priced ingredient is true, 99-cent sales may soon be a thing of the past...

Someone at PCC (not to mention my husband) commented that an extra quarter per block really isn't that bad, and that for those of us who sell things made from clay, the cost of the materials is nothing compared to the value of our time and labor. I know they're right, but it still hurts to think that the 99-cent sales might be history, soon. It'll take a while before $1.25 feels like the best possible deal, even if it is.

What a cry baby! ;o) I should just be glad that there's a good sale, make up my list, and thank my lucky stars that I have a husband who's happy to stop by the HL one day this week for me. What a great guy, huh? :o)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fire Mountain's "Mica Polished Pigments"?

I'm an admitted craft supply addict. If it has something to do with a craft I'm interested in-- and especially if it's also sparkly, shiny or otherwise "fancy"-- I want it. I don't necessarily run out and buy it, but it's definitely on my radar. (g)

So, of course I was intrigued when I saw a new product in the Fire Mountain Gems catalog, some time ago. "Mica Polished Pigments" look like they're similar to Pearl-Ex Powdered Pigments, but I haven't read any reviews of them, so I'm just speculating.

The colors of the Polished Pigments in the catalog are more vivid than those on the website... I think it's because the ones on the website have the lids on (most of them), so you can't really see the colors as well. I like some of the colors they offer, but they're not exactly cheap-- (according to my catalog) $20.51 for a set of four 10-gram jars. (You do get a better price if you buy more than 14 items at one time-- about $15.70-- and if you buy 200+ items, the price goes down to $11.66. I wish I had a group of local beaders to "go in with" on bead orders. I don't think I'll ever buy that much at once by myself, so I'll never be able to take advantage of the bulk purchase price.)

Well, it's still fun to look, and I am curious if anyone's tried them and has compared them to Pearl-Ex or Powdered Pearls.

Speaking of Powdered Pearls-- I was sad to read several months ago that the creator of Powdered Pearls, Sandy Lemons, passed away in July of last year. According to this page, her daughter and son-in-law were planning to continue the business (Lemon Tree... Etcetera). I wonder if that's still in the works, as at least one on-line shop I visit still has most of the Powdered Pearls listed as "out of stock", and I can't locate the business' webpage. I would certainly understand if they had a change of heart, but it was an excellent product, and I'm sorry to see it disappearing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

So many blogs, so little time!!

I never realized until recently just how many clay-related blogs there are!

Christie suggested that I try Google Reader-- and so far, it does seem pretty useful!-- so I've been copying my "blog collection" over there. In the process, I've found several more interesting links (which I've been trying to keep updated here, too). Many of these blogs aren't in English-- lots of them are French, for instance-- but even if I can't understand exactly what they're saying all the time, I still enjoy the photos. (Of course, you can always try a translating program, but they leave something to be desired. Kind of like my high school French classes. )

Here are a few interesting things I found in the process of moving:

  • Les Bijoux de la Diva. If I'm not mistaken, she works in ceramics-- not polymer clay-- but I love the look of her work, and it should be possible to make polymer pendants that mimic glazed ceramics. It's one of the techniques I've been wanting to try-- putting a thin layer of tinted TLS onto a stamped (or otherwise textured) piece of clay, wiping away some of it so that "just enough" is there, and then curing the piece (and probably giving it a shiny finish).
  • Free miniature projects from Cotton Ridge Designs. There are miniature foods here, too-- like blueberry and cherry pie-- cakes-- sandwiches-- and more! The only catch-- these aren't "polymer-only" projects. In fact, I'm not sure if any of them use polymer clay... But they might still be interesting to miniaturists. (The best material for making the ultimate miniature is whatever works best-- not always polymer clay.) And for those of us who prefer to use clay, there are some nice photos and ideas that can be translated into pc.
  • Moon Pies Miniatures: Fimo food gallery. Lots of photos of wonderfully detailed miniature foods. Which reminds me, if I haven't already pointed fellow miniature food enthusiasts to Angie Scarr's page, I should do so now.
  • And there are more, but they'll have to wait!

Friday, June 08, 2007

New polymer clay books on the horizon!

And they're beckoning to me. ;o)

The idea of a new book is usually somewhat nicer than the reality-- but not always so. And anyway, that's how it is with most things. Anticipation is the best part-- or the worst, dependent on what you're anticipating.

I haven't been active on any (polymer clay-related) message boards or e-mail lists for a while, now, so perhaps everyone else in the pc universe already knows about these new books, but this is the first I've heard of them.

I was looking forward to Donna Kato's latest, which is due to come out this month: The Art of Polymer Clay: Creative Surface Effects. The library system "next door" already has a copy on reserve, and I was hoping to get a peek at it before too terribly long. (And if it was simply too wonderful to pass by, then I'd consider buying it.)

With visions of "creative surface effects" dancing through my head, I never gave a thought to the other clay books that might be in the works. But I just found two (and I'm sure there are more, but two is all I can handle at once (g))!

The Encyclopedia of Polymer Clay Techniques: A Comprehensive Directory of Polymer Clay Techniques Covering a Panoramic Range of Exciting Applications, by Sue Heaser. 160 pages, hardcover, $18.45 from Amazon, and due out October 2007! Let the countdown begin. ;o) I've yet to see a photo of even the cover, but I've so enjoyed some of Heaser's other books that I have high hopes for this one. It does sound like it might be more useful for a beginner-- or someone who doesn't already own a few good clay books-- but you never know. There's not even the standard description you usually get from the publisher, but based on the title, I'd expect it to be "comprehensive", with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Pretty tantalizing, actually!

Polymer Clay Beads: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration, by Grant Diffendaffer. 144 pages, hardcover, $16.47 from Amazon, and due out January 2008. (Just a bit too late for Christmas, more's the pity. But I guess one could always ask for money or an advance order placed in one's name. (g)) I don't know much about Diffendaffer, but the little I've seen of his work has been impressive, and I like the beads in the cover photo. I'd like to at least see this book, so I hope the trusty library will get this one, too. ;o) This book does have a description in the "editorial reviews" section:
Twenty different crafting methods—countless breathtaking beads, all made from easy to work with polymer clay! The varied techniques in this comprehensive skill-building book—many of which have never before been published—range from hand-formed tubes, spheres, wedges, teardrops, and baguettes to traditional mokume gane with fantastic layered effects. Add mica clay to create iridescent “ghost image” beads. Construct veneered pillow beads. Carve beads, press-mold them, or even use a cookie-cutter to get an array of fabulous shapes. Turn and form the bead on an extremely affordable craft lathe. Close-up photos show every step in the process, as well as the completed beads; some also appear as part of a finished piece of jewelry for inspiration.

Some of it is familiar and even potentially "over-done" (mokume gane, "ghost image")-- but there's no way to know what twist he might have put on it-- and there are also things that he "specializes" in-- such as the use of the lathe-- which you probably aren't going to find in another book. I'm definitely interested in this one, too.

Books, beautiful books! ;o)

P.S. *gasp* I almost lost this post! (Not that it would have been some great loss to humanity, but I still would've been annoyed.) Thank goodness for Blogger's handy-dandy new "auto-save" feature! (Because I didn't think about copying the poste until immediately after hitting "publish". Isn't that always the way it works?) Blogger Autosave, you're my hero!! ;o) (Now, where do I go to type a glowing testimonial? (g))

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blogroll, Revamped!

I've finally attended to the growing list of blogs that I've been collecting in my list of favorites. They're all added to my blogroll, now-- and what's more, I've alphabetized the whole thing, to give it some sort of order.

I've tried to stick to my "rule" of including only blogs that focus on polymer clay, but I have made an occasional exception, if the clay entries weren't totally overpowered by the non-clay entries. Apparently, some people presume to have other interests, apart from polymer clay. The nerve! ;o)

So, if you have some spare time, you might enjoy browsing some of the links you'll see on the right. (You might have to scroll down to find them.) I guarantee there's enough there to keep you busy for a good, long time! (I still haven't thoroughly examined many of them, myself!)

If you find a broken link, please let me know-- and if you are aware of a polymer clay blog that absolutely must be included on any decent list of clay blogs, I'd be glad to learn about it. :o)

Maybe, someday, possibly...

Maybe, someday, possibly-- I might eventually try PMC. (PMC = precious metal clay, "regular" polymer clay's costlier cousin, which you can read more about here, here and here, among other places.)

The main thing keeping me from considering it at the present is cost. The PMC itself isn't exactly cheap-- Really, what else would you expect from a material that contains and turns into silver or gold?! (g)-- and I'd have to buy some new tools (including either a kiln or a torch, probably). I'd also have to do a whole lot more research, because I don't know much about the firing process, etc. So, I doubt PMC is in my immediate future, but maybe someday I'll work up the courage and enthusiasm-- and save up enough proceeds from the sales of "regular clay" items so that I won't feel so guilty about the cost. ;o)

If I were to work with PMC, this is the type of thing I'd like to make: Beadfuddled. (I saw the link on Heather Powers' blog.) So many of these gorgeous pieces make me think of the ocean. Some of them give the illusion of bits of jewelry or coinage scavenged from distant shipwrecks. Others have a more organic appearance-- almost as though they are combined with pieces of sea creatures. (Some of these are obviously mixed-media pieces.) I can almost smell the salt air and feel the thunder of the surf!

Well, even if I'm not presently set up to work with PMC, I can still take inspiration from Kelly Russell's sense of style and incorporate similar motifs into my polymer clay work. Those colors, for instance! Softened brassy gold combined with champagne gold... tinged with purple-- blue-- green, and copper... A good dose of sea green... And don't forget a dash of sunset (oranges and purples) and the soft pastels of seashells... So many of even these metallic colorss can be simulated in regular clay, with the aid of mica clay and mica powders. And of course as far as shapes go, polymer clay can do anything PMC can do. It's only a matter of giving it a try! :o)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Creating realistic miniature foods

Though by no means have I given up my interest in all the other beautiful and enjoyable applications for polymer clay, I have been focusing lately on making foods-- mostly miniatures, but the occasional life-size item comes up now and then. I'm even getting a few questions (through flickr, mostly) about how I make my miniatures, so I thought I'd write (for my own benefit, if nothing else) about some of the things I've learned so far about making realistic miniature foods. This is not to say that I consider myself to be some sort of expert. (g) Just that I've picked up a few hints and made up some of my own along the way, and these are things I've found the most useful, so far.

Tips for Making Realistic Miniatures

For the most realistic miniature foods, you need to hone your skills of observation. Pay close attention to every aspect of the food's appearance. If it helps you, take notes that you can refer to when you're working with the clay.

Unless you've seen a food so often that you can picture it clearly in your mind's eye-- and even then, actually-- you'll probably do well to locate a good, large photo of the food. It's best if the photo shows the food larger than life-size, as this enables you to notice things you might otherwise overlook. Cookbooks are wonderful resources. If you have a sample of the actual food, use it as a model. If all else fails, look on the Internet. (I use the "Images" feature at Google, myself.)

When translating food into clay miniatures, the following are some of the characteristics you'll want to be aware of:
  • Scale. If you're making dollhouse miniatures, you'll want to make them in the appropriate size. Dolls and dollhouses are made in a variety of scales, such as 1-inch-scale, in which one dollhouse inch corresponds to one foot in real-world measurements. If you're making miniatures that will be used for jewelry or other applications where they won't have to fit a specific scale, this is less important. However, you'll still want to consider something I'll call, for lack of a better term, "internal scale".
  • Internal Scale. Say you're making a miniature hamburger. To make it fairly realistic, you'll want to make each component (bun, burger, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion) in corresponding sizes-- as well as you can. You don't want a slice of cheese that's far too large for the burger, for instance. Unless you're purposely skewing the internal scale to give the piece a whimsical flare, try to keep the internal scale of your piece uniform.
  • Color. Getting just the right color can be tricky, but it's crucial to the creation of many realistic miniatures. From time to time, a color may be perfect right out of the package, but more often, it's not. Some people have more trouble than others with mixing colors. If you know you have problems in this area, I suggest a visit to Maggie Maggio's Smashing Color blog. There, you'll find tutorials to help you learn more about the principles of color-mixing with clay. Otherwise, I suggest lots and lots of practice. Start with small proportions of clay, so that if you end up with a color you hate, you haven't "wasted" much. (Also, remember that until it's been cured-- and sometimes not even then-- no clay should ever be considered "wasted". I'll write more about scrap clay sometime down the road, I hope.) Always mix tiny portions of dark, strong colors-- like red-- into lighter colors-- like white or yellow. It only takes a bit more of red to darken the mixture a little more, but it can take a great deal of white to lighten it back up. Keep records of colors you love or find useful. (Actually, I never do this myself, but I know I should. Instead, I usually try to reserve a bit of the color and mix to match it. This works, but it's more time consuming than if I just figured out the "recipe" and wrote it somewhere.)
  • Shading. Similar to color, shading is a vital part of realism-- particularly important for fruits, vegetables, and breads. Take a look at a photo of a peach, for example. The colors on one piece of fruit can vary widely from golden yellows to dusky rose. Few things created by nature (or baked in an oven, for that matter) come out in one uniform color, and so if you try to make a peach all in one color, it won't look realistic, no matter how perfectly you shape or texture it. Shading in clay can be accomplished in a few ways. The first is the Skinner blend. You can also apply powdered colors (such as mica powders, make-up, or chalk pastels) to uncured clay. (Uneven application of a range of shades usually provides the most authentic results.) Acrylic paint (either unaltered or thinned with water) or water-based finishes tinted with acrylic paints can also provide shading.
  • Shape. Obviously, if your miniature doesn't have the right basic shape, it won't look like the original. Getting that "right shape" can take some practice. Try making the shape with scrap clay until you perfect your technique. Experiment with different ways of doing it until you find one that works. Books, videos, and on-line tutorials can teach you some of the tricks of the trade. I suggest starting out with something that isn't too difficult to sculpt. For instance, a simple round cookie is an easier shape to master than a Thanksgiving turkey. Fortunately, because so much food is itself imperfect (each apple a slightly different shape and size, each taco a bit different from the next), your miniatures needn't be perfect, either. Shape can also be purposely exaggerated. For example, my mini cupcakes are a bit unrealistic in the hugeness of the cupcake tops.
  • Texture. It didn't take me long to realize that texture is one of the key elements in making realistic miniatures. If you don't get the texture right, your minis won't be at all convincing. The texture of foods can vary greatly, so it's important to note the textures you see in your example or photo. Is it almost perfectly smooth (like the skin of an apple)? Is it dimpled (like an orange)? Is it bumpy? And if so, are the bumps uniform or irregular? Once you've identified the texture(s) in your food, you can begin experimenting to find just the right way to replicate that texture. I suggest taking a lump of clay-- scrap or whatever-- and trying different textures. Put one next to the other to compare them. Layer one texture over another (by applying two or more tools to the same piece of clay). Build up your arsenal of texturizing tools. (I've written about this before.) Use brushes, crumpled paper and foil, stamps, texture sheets, needle tools, ball styluses, sandpaper-- whatever you see around you (that isn't to be used with food) that looks like it might make an interesting texture. You can also create texture by mixing things into the clay body. Semolina, spices, seeds, and partially cured (then crumbled) clay seem to be popular choices for bread and cake mixtures. To create softer clay (for whipped creams, etc.), clay is sometimes given a few drops of diluent, mineral oil, or liquid clay.
  • Shine. Can you imagine an apple without its shine? Many foods don't look quite right without a touch of shine. Sure, you can tell what they're supposed to be, but a little gloss can be the difference between "good" and "great". Notice whether your food needs some shine (based on the photo or real life sample you're using). Is it a high shine or just a bit of a sheen? PC-friendly finishes come in at least three sheens. Personally, I use just two-- high gloss for "very shiny" and matte for "kind of shiny". Of course, minis can also be buffed by hand or with a power tool, like other polymer clay items, but often they aren't a convenient shape for buffing. When adding shine to your miniature foods, be careful not to overdo it. Something that wouldn't normally be shiny in the real world probably shouldn't be shiny in the realm of miniatures, either. A controlled application is the key to success.

Here are a few more tips for making miniature foods with polymer clay:

  • Use liquid clay. Sometimes liquid clay is just what you need to make a convincing miniature. Liquid clay makes excellent syrups, sauces, and gravies. I recommend buying a translucent liquid clay, because you can always tint the translucent clay to whatever color or opacity you need, but if you have opaque liquid clay, you can't make it translucent. In addition to the liquid clay, you'll want something to tint it with. Oil paints mixed into translucent liquid clay makes it opaque. (I use a cheap set my husband bought years ago and never used. So far, they're working great, despite their cheapness.) For translucent color, I like alcohol ink. Powders (powdered pigments, artists' chalk pastels, mica powders) can also be used to tint liquid clay. Keep in mind that if you use shimmery powders to tint your liquid clay, the clay will also take on a shimmer. This can be used to your advantage in some applications.
  • Be open to trying different brands of clay. This isn't something I've done much myself, as of yet, but it is something I'd suggest for your consideration. Each brand of clay has its own unique properties. For instance, some are softer than others. Generally speaking, the softest clays are not as strong as the firmer ones. (This may not be an issue if you're making decorative miniatures that won't be put under stress. ) The softer clays are easier to condition (and whip into frosting-like consistency), but this also means that they don't hold patterns for caning as well as firmer mixtures do (and they may distort when sliced). Keep these differences in mind. You may find that one brand of clay works well for one project, while another brand is better for the next.
  • Use clay softeners. As I mentioned earlier, a few drops of clay softener (or my personal favorite-- mineral oil) allows you to whip regular clay (of whatever color you want) into different stages of softness. It's messy-- no denying that-- but it makes an excellent frosting.
  • Bake in stages. I've learned this from experience-- and since read it, too. Baking things in stages makes miniature-making much more enjoyable. Not everything needs to be cured in stages, but don't be afraid to try it if you think it'll make things easier for you. I cure things in stages primarily when I find that trying to do everything in one step leads to unwanted fingerprints in my clay. I don't like wearing gloves, but neither do I want fingerprints all over the place in my miniatures. Sometimes I can put the miniature down on my baking surface and leave it there while I work on it, but other projects require more handling. In those cases, I pre-bake one part of the project, let it cool, then hold onto the hardened portion while I work on the rest of the miniature. Also, sometimes it's just more convenient to pre-bake little bits and pieces (such as candy sprinkles) that I'll be applying to raw clay. (Applying soft clay to soft clay requires more care-- so that I won't squish something or leave unwanted texture-- than applying hard clay to soft clay.) When adhering raw clay to cured clay, it's a good idea to use a tiny bit of liquid clay or diluent as "glue" to help strengthen the bond between the two.
  • Pay attention to opacity. This refers back to the part about finding the right color and shading. ("Opacity" refers to the degree of light that shines through something. A closed book is completely opaque, meaning that no light shines through it. Now, if you were to open the book and hold just one page up to the light, you would see light through it. A single page of paper has less opacity-- and therefore more translucence-- than a whole book full of papers.) Many foods, you'll find with close observation, are not completely opaque. The maple syrup I use on my mini waffles is translucent. It has a brown color, but you can still see through it somewhat, down to the little squares of the waffle. If I were to use an opaque brown mixture for the syrup, it would no longer resemble maple syrup. Instead, it would look like chocolate sauce-- an interesting alternative, but not the one I want. Keep opacity and translucence in mind when making miniature foods. Try using different amounts of translucence in your miniatures-- not only with liquid clay, but also with solid clay. Tinted mixtures consisting largely of translucent clay usually cure to more vivid colors than they appear before curing, so you may want to bake small pieces of a color before committing to it.

I think that should do for now. ;o) If you have a tip you'd like to share, please leave a comment. :o)

My neglectful ways!

I've fallen back into neglecting my blog again! (Which is obvious, I guess, but I still feel as though I ought to somehow acknowledge my guilt. (g))

I'll try to do better, but old habits die hard! Most of the time, when I suddenly disappear, it's either because I'm busier than normal with other aspects of life or because I'm procrastinating and feel that I shouldn't allow myself to do "C" until I've completed "A" and "B". However, I've found that denying myself the chance to work on "C" doesn't really increase my diligence as regards items "A" and "B"-- so from now on, I might as well go for it! ;o)

So-- I finally finished the thing that was giving me such trouble, back when I was last writing here. It was a custom order-- a hushpuppy dipped in cheese. Even when I finally decided I'd done all I could and gave the customer the option to purchase or not, I still wasn't completely satisfied, myself. But oh well. I can only do my best, and for the time being, this was my best effort:

Fortunately, hushpuppies aren't likely to be requested again in the immediate future. ;o)

Now I need to make myself buckle down to the next project, which shouldn't be quite so difficult-- but I'd better not say that, because when I first got the request, I thought a hushpuppy would be fairly simple, too!