Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ten on Tuesday: ten ways to use translucent polymer clay

If you've been working with polymer clay for a while, this list might not be of much interest to you. (Sorry! Maybe next week. (g)) However, if you're new to clay, you may be perplexed by the "color" of clay called "translucent" (or "frost"). What's it for? Does it turn clear when you bake it? Well, no, unfortunately there is no perfectly clear polymer clay. (Wouldn't that be great?! So many new possibilities!) Even though it's "just" translucent-- not transparent-- there are still many ways to use it. So many that it's usually at the top of my shopping list when there's a clay sale. I love the stuff!

Ten on Tuesday: Ten Ways to Use Translucent Polymer Clay

1. Faux effects
This is probably one of translucent clay's most popular (and recognized) uses. Many natural stones (and other materials) are not completely opaque. They frequently have some degree of translucency, so translucent pc is the obvious choice when imitating them. Lightly tinted and glittered translucent clay makes faux opals or faux rose quartz. Many layers of translucent and gently tinted clay create the illusion of agate or ivory. Faux versions of jade, marble, amber, and more all utilize translucent clay.

2. Inclusions
Closely related to item #1 is the use of inclusions with translucent polymer clay. An inclusion is anything that may be blended into the clay body. It must be able to withstand curing temperatures, but other than that, there are few limitations. Spices, metal leaf, glitter, sand, embossing powder, dried flowers-- even soil can be used as an inclusion. Faux effects frequently call for one or more inclusion, but inclusions need not always imitate a natural material. I like the sparkle of colored glitter in translucent clay. It doesn't look like anything in particular-- not opal, for instance-- but it's still very pretty.

3. Infusions
Since "inclusions" are usually listed as solids (glitter, sand, etc.), I like to refer to liquids mixed into clay as "infusions". Most infusions are inks or paints. Technically speaking, they aren't liquids when they're mixed into the clay, as they are allowed to dry first-- but let's not be too fussy. (g) Alcohol inks are my favorite infusions, as they lend brilliant color to translucent clay without decreasing the translucency much, as can happen when you add much colored clay to a mix. Translucent clay tinted with alcohol inks can appear almost to glow in good light. You can also use acrylic paint as an additive, though this will decrease the translucency. I like the effect of metallic or iridescent paints mixed into translucent clay. It's important to let the paint dry thoroughly before mixing it in, and it's safest to make a small test batch first. You can also mix scents into polymer clay. They will eventually fade, but some people report that rubbing or gently warming the cured piece temporarily revives the aroma. Try essential oils, perfumes, or soap-maker's scents. Fragrant inclusions, such as certain dried herbs and spices, do double duty, adding a slight scent in addition to an interesting appearance to translucent clay.

4. "Stretch" (and Soften) Your Clay
Let's say you need more of a particular color of clay, but can't make it to the store. If you have translucent clay on hand, you may be able to stretch your supply just enough to meet your immediate needs. Translucent clay can be mixed thoroughly into opaque, colored clay, and as long as you don't add too much, it shouldn't noticeably affect the color of the clay. What is "too much" is open for debate and may vary by brand and color of clay, as some colors are already composed of large amounts of translucent clay. The more translucent a clay is, the more risk there is of an extreme color shift. (This is why it takes only a tiny bit of color to tint translucent clay. The color of the clay, pre-curing, seems to be amplified when the piece is baked.) If you're particular about the color, it's best to test your proportions before committing to the whole batch. Softer brands of translucent clay may also be added to hard or crumbly clay to improve its workability.

5. Get Your Glow On (without glow-in-the-dark clay!)
Premo "Frost" (aka "bleached translucent") glows under a black light. It will not glow without a UV lamp, as glow-in-the-dark clay does, but if you have a Halloween party coming up-- or some other event where you'll be partying under black lights-- you needn't make a special trip to buy G-I-T-D clay. ;o)

6. Mokume Gane
I know, I know. "Here she goes with the mokume again!" ;o) But it's true! Mokume gane is an excellent technique to try, if you're wondering what to do with translucent clay. There are many versions of mokume gane-- so many that it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be and include whatever you have on hand. Read more about mokume gane elsewhere on this blog: Top Ten Products to Add to Mokume Gane.

7. Millefiori Canes
Another very popular use for translucent polymer clay is canework. Used throughout a cane, it can give a dreamy, watercolor-like effect. However, it may be even more impressive when used in combination with opaque clay. Typically, these canes are composed of an opaque (or partially opaque) design-- such as a flower-- surrounded by untinted translucent clay. The cane is then sliced as thinly as possible, and the slices are layered onto a base of clay. When cured and finished properly, these pieces can have wonderful depth. The flowers (or whatever other image the cane contains) appear to float one atop another.

8. Skinner Blends
Skinner Blends can be used in a multitude of ways. Don't forget, when you're busy making these beautiful gradations of color, that the Skinner Blend works just as well with translucent clay as it does with opaque. Try it with two (or more) shades of lightly tinted translucent clay. Blend tinted translucent clay with untinted translucent clay-- or try an opaque clay with plain (or tinted) translucent clay. The options are endless, as are the possible uses of the finished blend!

9. Miniature Food
Many foods are not completely opaque. (Go look in the kitchen, if you don't believe me. Hold up a grape-- an orange slice-- a thin slice of ham. See how the light comes through in spots?) Recognizing this and varying opacity can mean the difference between a stunningly realistic miniature and something that's, well, not. I'd say that translucent clay is a must for anyone serious about making miniature foods with polymer clay. (Read more tips for making miniature foods in this blog entry.)

10. "Encasing"/Protected or Softening Images
An ultra-thin sheet of translucent clay (later sanded and buffed, usually, for optimal clarity) is sometimes used to seal (or "encase") and protect something, such as a toner transfer. You see the image through the layer of translucent clay, which softens the image-- an interesting way to create a dreamy effect. See Donna Kato's new book for examples of the "encasing" technique, or read more on this page of GlassAttic. You can also use this technique in other ways. Paint, ink, glitter, etc. can be sealed beneath a sheet of translucent clay. Or cut shapes from the sheet of translucent clay and apply them to a base of colored clay, as in the Crackled Inlay tutorial.

Obviously, this is just a start. There are more ways to use translucent polymer clay, and you can read about some of them at GlassAttic.


Jeanne Rhea said...

Great post with lots of info. I go through phases where I work with a lot of translucent and then its liquid clay and then metallics. Going to add your site to my blog. Good info.

Michael said...

Thank you! :)

polymer clay user said...

Great article!
here is a nice tutorial on how you can use translucent clay: