Oops! I forgot to post a "Ten on Tuesday" yesterday! (I've been sidetracked by a sick dog. I hope she's on the mend, though, so maybe I'll be able to focus on regular things again soon.)
Like any other craft or task that requires repetitive motions and long periods of sitting, claying can lead to stiffness and soreness. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can help keep claying fun.
Ten on Tuesday: Ten Ways to Clay in Comfort
(in no particular order)
1. Don't get burnt.
It may seem obvious, but it's important to keep in mind how easy it is to burn yourself when working around an oven. Be sure to use an oven mitt or pot holder when removing hot cookie sheets, ceramic tiles, etc. from the oven. Also, resist the temptation to touch clay that's fresh from the oven. If you need to move hot clay, do so carefully.
2. Handle blades with care.
Again, it seems obvious, but you can't let your guard down where sharp tissue blades and craft knives are involved. It's especially easy to cut yourself with a tissue blade, because the sharp and blunt edges look so much alike. Some clayers bake an edging of clay along the blunt side or apply a little paint or fingernail polish to make it simple to tell quickly which side is safe to handle. Always store blades and knives out of reach of children and pets.
3. Use a pasta machine.
Pasta machines make conditioning clay easier on the muscles and joints in your hands and fingers. A pasta machine motor saves your hands even more work. For many, this is a wonderful convenience. For some, it's the difference between being able to clay and having to let go of a favorite hobby.
4. Use the "right" clay.
Of course, the "right" clay depends on your personal preferences and the requirements of your projects. These days, it's not as much of an issue as it used to be, as most brands of clay are relatively soft. However, if your muscles or joints give you trouble, you may find it helpful to experiment with different brands of clay. See if one of the softer brands might suit your needs. You can also soften clay by gently warming it right before opening the package. Sit on it or put it in a pocket. Your body heat will warm and soften it. On the other hand, if you have very warm hands or prefer stiff clay for some other reason, you may find that you can lower your blood pressure by sticking with a firmer brand of clay. ;o)
5. Sit up straight.
Your mother always told you not to slouch, didn't she? ;o) Poor posture can lead to back pain.
Try to notice every so often whether you're sitting up straight. If you pay attention to this, it will eventually become a habit to sit properly. (Personally, I've fallen into a pattern of slouching, but as a pre-teen, I was much better about sitting up straight-- after being told to do so to avoid any tendency toward scoliosis-- so I know it can be done. (g)) Paying attention to posture not only makes you feel better, but it can also make you look thinner. Maybe that's just the motivation you need. ;o)
6. Buy ergonomic furniture.
I haven't done this myself, but if you already struggle with back pain or if you're going to be sitting for long periods of time, it's something to consider. Most people sit while they work with polymer clay. This can add up to a lot of extra time in one chair. With this in mind, it's worth investing in a chair (and possibly a table or desk, too) that's designed to improve posture and ease muscle tension. Do some research or ask advice of someone you trust before making a purchase. Just because something is labeled "ergonomic" doesn't necessarily mean it suits your personal needs.
7. Put the clay up on a pedestal.
No, literally put the clay on a pedestal-- or a box-- or anything else that brings it closer to eye level. If you're working on small details and need to see something up close, you can either stoop over the table (very bad posture, which can result in serious pain) or bring the clay closer to your face. I've been guilty before of stooping over my clay (trying to place tiny pepperonis on miniature pizzas, for instance), only to pay for it later in the evening with back aches. Trust me-- it's worth taking a minute to find something to put the clay on top of. If you prefer, you can also use a magnifying glass to make it easier to see fine details without bending over the clay. There are devices made specifically for this type of thing, with magnifying glasses mounted to support arms, or you can rig something up for yourself.
8. Let there be (adequate) light.
A well-lit work area may also prevent you from a tendency to stoop over the clay. Good lighting can help you avoid eye strain, as well. A room with just a ceiling fixture can appear to be well-lit, but a little task lighting (closer to the area where you work) makes a world of difference. Even an inexpensive lamp is better than nothing. Place it so that it shines down on your work surface. For daytime claying, windows are a wonderful source of free, natural light, but you'll want a way to control the amount of light that comes in (such as mini blinds, curtains, or shutters)-- especially for south-facing windows.
9. Hand off the sanding.
If you suffer from arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, or any other condition that causes pain in the hands or wrists, you are probably limited in the amount of sanding you can comfortably do. ("Comfortably" being a relative term!) There are a few possible solutions for this problem. First, you can learn to love the clay's "natural" matte finish and cut out the sanding altogether. If you insist upon sanded clay, you might try tumble sanding. If you can handle some hand work-- or aren't ready to invest in a tumbler-- you might try sanding with sanding sticks or sanding sponges, which some find easier on the fingers than regular sandpaper. There are also electric and battery-operated tools (such as toothbrushes) that can be modified to help with the work of sanding. (See this page at Glass Attic for more info on sanding sticks, sanding sponges, and other sanding-related tools.)
10. Take a break.
As much as we love the clay, it's important to take a break every so often. Get up, stretch gently-- maybe even take a short walk around the house-- the yard-- the block. Even if you don't have time for a walk, standing and stretching for a minute can make a difference. Use these moments to stand back and look at what you've done. You may find new inspiration by looking at things from another angle.
If you have another tip for claying in comfort, please feel free to share it. :o)