07 April 2021

Beginner's Corner: Polymer Clay Tips & Tricks

In this edition of the pcPolyzine Beginner's Corner, we'll share some tips and tricks for working with polymer clay!

Some of our readers may be new to polymer clay and others just may need a reminder. No matter your skill level, these tips and tricks can help to make working with polymer clay much easier.

Tip #1: Choose a good worksurface.
Many polymer clay artists prefer to work on a non-textured ceramic tile while others prefer to work on a tempered glass cutting mat with a measured grid. The key is to find a surface that works for you, but that doesn't have a texture. Textured worksurfaces can leave unwanted imprints on your polymer clay art.

Tip #2: Make clean-up easy.

Some of the best ways to clean your work area, tools, and hands after a polymer clay session is to use baby wipes. Many brands work well, but you want to find one that doesn't leave strings or remnants of the wipe behind. However, if you're out of baby wipes, hand sanitizer works well to dissolve polymer clay. Just be careful not to get it on your artwork.

Tip #3: Choose your sealant wisely.

After you've spent time creating the perfect polymer clay piece, the next big question is to seal it or not. The first answer is that polymer clay doesn't have to be sealed. You can leave it just the way it is when it comes out of the oven. If you're looking for a shiny finish, you can wet sand your project or use a polymer clay-safe product to seal it. Be sure never to use nail polish, spray paints, or solvents on your clay—they will react with the clay and can leave a sticky residue.

Tip #4: Embrace cornstarch.

When working with polymer clay, cornstarch is magic! You can take a small piece of fabric, fill it with cornstarch, and then tie the top shut to create a little pouch. Use this to "pounce" your work allowing for additional pieces of clay to remain moveable until your satisfied with the placement. Cornstarch works great as a mold and texture sheet release. It's also useful for smoothing out fingerprints that may be on your pre-baked work. You can also bury your polymer clay beads in cornstarch while baking to prevent browning.

Tip #5: Purchase an oven thermometer!

Even if you've set your oven to 275°F, it continues to cycle on and off to ensure it doesn't get too hot (or too cold). But, that slight fluctuation in temperature can play a major role in how your polymer clay piece comes out. To be sure you're finishing your work at the proper temperature, invest in an oven thermometer. 

Tip #6: Use scrap white clay to clean your clay machine.

Disassembling a clay machine is no one's favorite thing and it can quickly become time consuming. One way to clean your machine without taking it apart is to use scrap white clay and run it through. Many times, the white clay will grab the small pieces of clay that have been left behind on your rollers and makes clean-up much easier. However, this trick isn't the answer for cleaning your machine all of the time—you still need to pull your machine apart on  a regular basis and do a deep clean.

Tip #7: You can save that old, dry clay!

Just because that block of clay is old and dried out doesn't mean it's not usable. Depending on how dry and hard the clay is, will determine the best methods to use. For some clays, you can place them in a sealed bag and then in your pocket to let your body heat warm it up. If you prefer, you can use a bowl of warm water instead of your pocket. For those stubborn clays, you can add a very small amount of mineral oil or liquid clay to help with the reconstituting process.

Tip #8: Choose the proper storage.

Many times the way your clay is stored will determine how long it lasts and what condition it stays in. By keeping your clay in sealed baggies, you ensure that the texture of your clay will remain the same for a long time and you keep dust, dirt, and hair away. Some people also like to store their clay in divided plastic containers (like the ones found in the fishing department of your local store). If you go this route, be sure to choose a plastic container that's got the recycle symbol with a number 5. 

Tip #9: Sometimes your clay is too soft.

If you run into some clay that is too soft and mushy, you can use a process called "leaching" to help firm up your clay. Place a flat piece of clay between two pieces of plain paper and place under a book or something else flat that has a little weight to it. Leave your clay for a few hours and then check its consistency. 

Tip #10: Large projects don't have to weigh a lot.

For those artists who like to create polymer clay sculptures, try using crumpled up aluminum foil for the core of your project. The foil is very sturdy and creates a nice, lightweight base for your clay to be wrapped around. 

Have other useful tips and tricks up your sleeve? Send us an email or share your tips and tricks with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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