Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Connections. . .

I've been trying out the "extruded snake wrapped around base bead" thing (as I wrote about recently) and am planning to play around with it some more, soon.

That's connected to:

This entry on Le Blog de Perlchen that illustrates how to use scrap clay, a clay gun, and a pasta machine to make an interesting effect.

. . . and . . .

This entry on Parole de Patê, which combines the extruded-clay-wrapped beads with a faux ceramic effect, very prettily. (There's also a link at the bottom to my faux ceramic tutorial and a similar one that was featured on the Polyzine back in 2004. Just goes to show, even if you think you're writing something "new", chances are pretty good that it's been done before. (g))

. . . which is connected to . . .

Something I saw on the Polymer Clay Central message board, back a couple of weeks ago when I stopped by. Someone (I forget who it was... Ok, looked it up. On the forums, she goes by carlierae26, so I assume her name is Carlie Rae, or something similar...) had shared photos of some recent work. It was yet another variation of faux ceramics. She'd used a base of black clay, with opaque glaze, with some nice results. She wrote that she started with opaque liquid clay, but if you have translucent clay, you can always tint it with something opaque. I know oil paint will work, and I think that powdered pigments (mica or just ground up pastels) also yield opaque color.

I'm definitely going to have to give all of these a try! (Maybe I'll remember them, now that they've been blogged...)

On another subject-- Here's a link to a new-to-me polymer clay blog edited by Heather Powers: Polymer Clay @ CraftGossip.com.
Seriously, there are so many great polymer-related blogs out there, and more popping up all the time, that I can't keep up with them all! I'm already way behind on my blog-reading, as it is. But I can't resist, so I'll be adding this to my reading list, too... You guys really don't want me to have time to play with the clay, do you? ;o)

Ok, got to go medicate the dog. . . (No, really. Daisy needs her pills. She's epileptic, poor thing.)

Top Ten Tuesday: top ten polymer clay tools

Because I'm feeling lazy today (and because I have a zillion things to do besides blog, right now), I'm choosing an easy one. Here's a list of. . .

My Top Ten Favorite Polymer Clay Tools
(in no particular order)
  1. Pasta Machine-- Not exactly original, but true. Before I had one, I wasn't sure I really wanted one, but it's a wonderful time-saver. (Now I'm even daydreaming about getting another one so that I can reserve one for translucent clay and avoid having to clean a machine every time I want to use translucent clay.) Making uniform sheets of clay (in a variety of thicknesses) is so easy with one of these things!
  2. Needle Tool-- You really have no choice; if you're going to make beads, you need a needle tool of some kind, be it store-bought or just a regular sewing needle baked into some scrap clay. Needle tools aren't restricted to making stringing holes, either. I use mine for stippling texture into clay, drawing lines in the clay, and so on.
  3. Darning Needle-- At least I think that's what it's called... Back when I was "setting up house", I bought some cheap packs of needles. Some of them were odd shapes that I've never found much use for-- but one of them was a nice, fat, fairly blunt needle that I've found plenty of uses for-- with polymer clay. It's great for making larger bead holes, smoothing seams (sometimes), and more.
  4. Craft Knives and Tissue Blades-- I'm cheating a bit by lumping these two together, but they perform very similar duties. However, I do suggest getting them both, if you haven't already. The tissue blade, while essential to cutting thin slices (as in mokume gane) and very useful for making long, straight cuts, is a bit unwieldy in certain other circumstances. For cutting off small bits of clay and other more delicate tasks, I constantly reach for my craft knife. I've also found the "end" of my craft knife (the end without the blade in it) to be very useful for smoothing seams and blending away marks in the clay.
  5. Shape Cutters-- I get the impression that some people think that using shape cutters is a sin. (g) Or at least that anyone who uses a shape cutter must have limited artistic skill. These days, if something is referred to as "cookie-cutter"-- cookie-cutter houses, for instance-- it's *not* a "good thing". Well, I for one will admit to a fondness for shape cutters. They're not perfect for everything-- and we shouldn't let them limit us ("I can't make an octagon! I don't have a cutter in that shape!"-- but they're very useful, and sometimes they cut down on the "busy work" side of working with clay. Personally, I love them and will be happy to expand my collection. ;o)
  6. Ball Stylus-- This tool, I'll admit, has a somewhat limited range of uses, but I've found several already, and will probably come across more in the future. I use a ball stylus to adhere small balls of clay in an "appliqué" technique. (See the marble picture pendant tutorial here for a visual aid.) You can use them any time you need to make a void or indentation-- as when making faux stone (Faux Lava Rock Tutorial) or when making mokume gane. I use them sometimes to add texture to the clay. Stipple them over the clay randomly or place them in a pattern for a "polka-dot" effect. You can also use them to apply nice dots of paint.
  7. Ceramic Tiles-- I don't know if many people count a tile as a tool, but I do. I have built up a small collection of tiles-- multiple large ones that I leave on my clay table for a safe work surface (because I can't help myself-- I always have several projects out "in progress"), one lovely medium-sized one that just happens to fit perfectly in my toaster oven (and which I leave there most of the time, to help regulate the temperature), and most recently a few small tiles that I think will be useful for working on and popping directly int the oven. (Very) lightly textured tiles may be best for working on, as they make it a bit easier to lift the clay when it's time to move it. Completely smooth ones are useful for baking on when you want a glassy finish on the bottom of your work (as with Donna Kato's faux opal technique).
  8. Drinking Straws-- Save them when you get fast food, because different restaurants use different sizes of straws. Cut them into shorter lengths, because this makes it easier to remove clay that gets stuck in them. (It also gives you 4 or more cutters per straw.) I use them for making "little bites" in my mini foods. I also like them for punching out holes in pendants. Obviously, they can also be used for cutting tiny circles. If you find one straw that is just slightly smaller in diameter than another, you can put one inside the other and use it as a "plunger" to help push the clay out of the straw. (I can't remember where I read that, or I'd give credit... I just tried it recently. It works, but it does leave a slight circular mark where the "plunger-straw" touches the clay-- or at least it did for me, but it's September in Alabama, and I use soft Premo clay, so it may be less of a problem for others or in a cooler time of the year.)
  9. Texture Sheets-- Again, this is something I wasn't even sure I wanted, at first, but I've had a lot of fun with them. I like the Shade-Tex sheets and similar products, because they're so affordable-- much cheaper than buying large rubber stamps. They have the added advantage that you can feed them through the pasta machine with the clay to be textured. Personally, I haven't done that, preferring instead to just roll over the sheet with a brayer or press it down by hand, but maybe I'll give it a try sometime. (And when I do, I'll probably wonder why I haven't been doing it all along... (g))
  10. Found Texture Tools-- This one really deserves a "Top Ten" all of its own, so for now, I'll just list one-- an old toothbrush. I'd been saving all our old toothbrushes for a few years because I knew that they had uses in cleaning around the house. (They're great for getting in all those little nooks and crannies that a larger scrub brush can't reach. I also keep one in the laundry room for working stain removers into fabrics.) Now, I have a few in the clay room. You can get quite a few different looks from one toothbrush, just by varying the degree of pressure you apply, how many "passes" you make over area, whether you stipple or brush, and so on. And best of all, it's absolutely free. You can't beat that! ;o)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Just chatting a bit :o)

I'm still far from completely settled back in, but I'm getting there. It's funny-- I spent hours of my vacation reading the two polymer clay books I brought with me (the new book by Donna Kato and the bead bible-- er, I mean Making Polymer Clay Beads (g)). I day-dreamed about all the wonderful things I would do with the clay when I got back home. I wrote down ideas. I missed my clay table. And now that I'm home again, I'm already back in my old bad habit of not spending my time as wisely as I ought. That didn't take long! ;o)

Joking aside, I have spent a little time at the clay table since returning home. There's one project (based on a project in the new Kato book) that I'm in the middle of. (It didn't go quite as planned, but I'm going to try to make lemonade.) Then I've also been using up some scrap clay and taking advantage of the opportunity to try out some of the bead shapes I admired in the Blackburn book (as well as online, in my contacts' Flickr photostreams).

I've taken a few photos of my first attempts at that "new-to-me" style of bead. I'm not sure what the name for this style of bead is, if it even has one. Basically, it's just a base bead covered in one long string of extruded clay. To jazz them up, you usually use a few different colors of clay to make the extruded snake.

I was excited to finally try my new homemade clay gun leverage tool. My husband made it for me based on the design I found on-line. (You can see the page here: http://kelliesklay.homestead.com/pusher.html.) It doesn't look like much, but it works like a dream. I had only used the clay gun once before, and it was so difficult that I never cared to try it again. Now, with this nifty tool at my disposal, I see more extruding in my future. ;o)

Here are my first attempts. I was using up some scrap clay and didn't realize that my color choices were so similar that there wouldn't be much variation in the extrusion. There is some variation, but it's very subtle and may not be visible in this photo. . .

Next, there are a few more from that first batch, in a slightly different color.

As you might have noticed, I decided to experiment a little with the basic idea by adding some texture to the beads. I used rough sandpaper and a toothbrush (my favorite texture tools, and also some of the cheapest I have (g)).

Oh, and I also experimented with whitewashing/antiquing a few from this group. I used white acrylic craft paint. I don't like the fact that they even further dim the colors, but I think this might work well for some styles of jewelry. They remind me of some pottery I've seen. . .

These in the next photo aren't even baked yet, but by the time I made these, I had at least managed to choose colors that didn't completely blend in the extruder. ;o)

While I was taking photos, I snapped a couple pictures of my clay table. At least it looks like I've been busy, right? ;o)

Before I decided to try the "extruder beads", I was using some scrap clay by playing around with some stamps and acrylic paint. . .
Oh, and I made a few of one of my other new favorite bead shapes (which I also admired in Blackburn's book). I've always loved spiral seashells, so this shape has a strong appeal for me. :o)

This photo definitely leaves something to be desired. I'll have to give it another try the next time I'm "really" taking photos. (This was something of a spur of the moment photo shoot.) This is something I made before our vacation. I was just in the mood to try something different, so I tried my hand at applique. It's a bit time consuming, but enjoyable. (Probably would be more enjoyable if I put it up on a taller surface so I wouldn't have to hunch over it.)

Here's another in the same style. (Actually, I think I made this one first.) I'll have to give this another try, someday. Maybe think up some new flower shapes. . . Planning would probably yield better results than just free-handing it.

So, what's in my near future, clay-wise? I need to start work on a special order double cheeseburger. There are a couple other custom order things I need to look into, as well, not to mention that I really ought to list some new items in my Etsy shop, as it's dwindled down to nearly nothing. I have a tutorial in the works (nothing ground-breaking and it has definitely "been done", but I don't think anyone has dibs on it. . .)-- plans for at least two more tutorials/projects to work on-- and I've spotted some glaring errors in my last tutorial, so I need to fix that. (It's nothing sunstantial-- just an accidental repetition in the instructions.) Then there are a few things I really want to try soon, just for fun.
Plus there's all that other stuff-- you know, the rest of my life. ;o)
Vacations are nice, but it's good to be home again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Top Ten Tuesday: top ten ways to reduce fingerprints in clay

Unwanted fingerprints are a huge annoyance to many clayers. Our hands are our most valuable and versatile tools, but they also bear those pesky loops and whorls that help identify us as unique beings-- marks that can mar the smooth finish of our creations.

One school of thought suggests that the occasional fingerprint is nothing to worry about. Our work is done by hand, so why not celebrate that fact and leave our imprint-- literally-- on what we make?

However, there are still many who prefer to disguise or remove fingerprints. The following is a sampling of the techniques polymer artists employ in this pursuit.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Fingerprints in Clay:
(In no particular order, despite the whole "top ten" thing...)

1. Wear gloves.
If you can stand wearing gloves, they'll help you cut down on fingerprints. Even if you don't wish to wear them the whole time, you can still slip them on for last few steps before curing your project. A good, tight fit is preferable, as any looseness in the fingertips can cause crease marks in the clay, which can be just as frustrating as the fingerprints! Many people use latex gloves. Others, worried about developing a latex allergy, prefer vinyl, nitrile, or other materials. If you absolutely cannot stand the feeling of gloves, you might want to try finger cots, which fit over fingers individually.

2. Smoothen your fingers.
If you simply aren't going to use gloves, no matter what, you can still improve matters by smoothening your hands. Try an exfoliating scrub to gently remove dead skin every few days. Work moisturizing hand lotions into your daily routine. Lotions keep your hands soft, which can reduce their "grab" on the clay.

3. Use firm clay.

Firmer brands of clay tend to take fingerprints less readily than soft brands. Fimo Classic and Kato are two of the better clays for avoiding fingerprints-- particularly if you have warm hands or live in a warm climate. You can also try leaching very soft clay to increase its firmness to some degree.

4. Keep things cool.
The warmer the clay and your hands are, the more fingerprints you'll leave. For this reason, it's a good idea to allow the clay to sit a while before you do the final smoothing of your work. If possible, you might even put the clay into the refrigerator to chill. For those with warm hands, try cooling them in a bowl of ice water (or with an ice pack, etc.) before putting on the final touches.

5. "Pet" away fingerprints.
Prior to curing, try to pet away as many fingerprints and other marks as possible. Use a light touch, and experiment with short, soft strokes and circular motions to find what works best for you. Some artists dip their fingertips in water or powder to aid in the smoothing.

6. Burnish away fingerprints.
You can burnish fingerprints away with a variety of tools-- anything from an agate burnishing tool or clay shaper tool to a simple piece of deli paper, plastic wrap and bags, or baking parchment. Gently rub the burnishing tool in small circles over the clay to smooth away imperfections. Put the paper or plastic against the clay (being careful to avoid creases) and rub your finger against the piece "through" the paper.

7. "Brush down" the clay.
This technique is particularly popular among sculptors. Brush (or wipe) down your piece just before curing, using any of a variety of materials, including everything from a mixture of diluent and rubbing alcohol to lighter fluid or acetone. A couple other suggestions are baby oil and waterless hand cleanser, which consists largely of alcohol. (You can read more about brushing down on this page of Glass Attic: Sculpture.)

8. Apply texture.
For certain applications, the best approach may be to remember the old saying, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" That is, rather than trying to remove all vestiges of your fingerprints, go the other way and add texture to the clay. Make polymer clay's natural tendency to accept texture work for you. Mask undesired texture by imprinting a new texture on top of it. Popular choices for this technique include sandpaper, salt (which can be dissolved away with water after curing), brush bristles, and heavily textured fabric, but a variety of other materials will also work.

9. Look, don't touch. ;o)
Be careful about handling clay that's still warm from the oven or fresh from the buffing wheel. In this warm state, even cured clay can take a fingerprint (and leave you baffled when you later discover it).

10. Remove prints after baking.
For those times when you can't avoid leaving fingerprints, you can always remove them after curing. Not many of us enjoy sanding, but there's no arguing with the results. In addition to the usual wet/dry sandpaper most clayers use, you may want to look into the possibility of trying another material or sanding technique. Some people pawn the task off on their rock tumblers (using bits of sandpaper instead of the abrasive materials required for polishing stones). Others swear by polishing papers, sanding sponges, emery boards-- even jeweler's files. (You can read more about sanding on Polymer Clay Web and Glass Attic.)

With these tips in mind, you should be well on your way to avoiding-- or at least removing-- fingerprints. Unless, of course, you choose to leave your mark wherever it may fall. ;o)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Top Ten on Tuesday -- Tips for Using Liquid Clay with Miniature Foods

Hey there! I'm back home after a long vacation. Not quite back in the groove, yet, but I'm getting there. ;o) My next "assignment" is getting back into the habit of blogging, so here goes!

I've suggested before that someone interested in making realistic miniature foods (out of polymer clay, at least) really ought to get some liquid clay and play around with it. Today, I'll offer a few insights that I've gathered so far in my own experiments with liquid clay in mini-making.

Top Ten Tips for Using Liquid Clay with Miniature Foods
(in no particular order)

1. Often, when working with teensy things, you'll find it helpful to cure them in stages. (That way, you'll have something to hold on to without constantly worrying about leaving fingerprints or completely squashing your carefully sculpted work.) A dab of liquid clay (hereafter shortened to "LC") acts as a glue between cured and raw clay, when you're ready to continue working on a partially cured piece.

2. Adding a little mica powder (pearl is a good all-around choice, but others can work, too, depending on the application) lends a slight sparkle to your LC mixes. This shimmer can be useful in duplicating the appearance of sugary glazes, certain gravies, and so on.

3. Know the properties of different brands of LC and use them to your advantage. Kato and Fimo liquids are clearer than TLS, so use them when you need only the slightest hint of color.

4. Another hint related to the one above-- For more transparent food items (glazes, translucent syrups, jams), tint your LC with alcohol ink, when possible. This yields more transparent colors. (Obviously, you'll also want to use a brand of LC that cures clearly-- Kato or Fimo.)

5. For opaque food items (chocolate sauce, nacho cheese), try oil paint or powdered pigments to add more opaque color. (In this case, you can use any brand of LC-- clarity is not an issue.)

6. While I generally prefer to use cheap mineral oil for mixing my icings, you can always use LC for that, too. Just mix a few drops into regular clay of the color you'd like your icing to be. Continue mixing and adding LC (a drop or two at a time, as needed) until you like the consistency of the mix. (If you get the mix too sticky, you can thicken it back up by adding more regular clay to the mix.)

7. Don't forget that you can combine regular clay and LC. A gravy made of LC can be poured over tiny "meat and veggies" (bits of regular clay in the right shapes, sizes, and colors) to make a convincing bowl of "stew". (Obviously, in this case, you'd want to use your most translucent LC and coloring agent, or else you may not see much of your veggies through the gravy, and instead of "stew", you'll get "weird, bumpy brown stuff". ;o)

8. Pay attention to sheen. Is the food you're imitating matte or glossy? TLS cures to a more matte finish than Kato or Fimo liquids. If Kato is cured at a higher temperature (or hit briefly with a heat gun), it takes on a higher gloss. (Of course, you can always apply the pc-friendly finish of your choice, once a piece is cured.)

9. If you want a "thick shine" on a piece-- more dimension than you can get with Varathane or Future-- you might try a clear brand (Kato or Fimo) of LC. This could be useful for the suggestion of a little water on top of a pot of veggies, for instance. (You could also use epoxy resin for this, but if you're like me, you may prefer to stick with clay as much as possible. I am going to try resin, one of these days, but honestly, I'm a little scared of the stuff. (g))

10. Don't forget your artist's pastels (or other powdered pigments). Those same powders that make your loaves of bread brown so realistically can be applied to cured LC to add a touch of toastiness. (You'll need to seal the powders in with a pc-friendly finish, if the piece will be handled or worn, as in jewelry.)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~
I am becoming more and more enamored of liquid clay-- not only for miniature-making, but in other polymer clay projects, as well. The more I see of the stuff, the more amazed I am by the possibilities.