Getting Started

With Polymer Clay

This comprehensive video is aimed at beginners to polymer clay, who want to get stuck into this craft but don't know where to start. I go through the different brands of clay and what the differences between them are, what tools you need to start, how to mix clay, how to condition clay, and I also cover the main problems people face when using polymer clay. I have a list at the beginning of the video so you can view all of the sections and their start times. The last topic is about baking your clay creations and advice about how to get the best results. If you enjoy my videos and find them helpful, I would love it if you could become a patron of my channel!

 

What is polymer clay anyway? It's a man-made clay that is essentially a plastic (being mainly PVC), that hardens in an oven. It is a modelling material and can be polished to a shiny finish once baked. It allows people to sculpt plastic-like products at home without specialist equipment like kilns, and is extremely versatile. I really hope you find my video helpful, and thanks very much for watching!

A Bullet-Pointed Summary of the Video:

 

Getting Started with Polymer Clay | How to Condition & Mix Clay | Beginner Tips & Advice

 

Work on glass (could get from a photo frame) or a smooth ceramic tile – which is handy because it can be baked as well. Can also cover card with parchment/baking paper. You can buy non-stick mats designed for using with clay, or acrylic sheets…basically you need a flat and smooth surface that you can easily remove clay from and the clay won’t stick to it

 

Must-have tools like cutting blades (long thin cutting blades for clay rid and flexible – tissue blades, craft x-acto knife), work surface, bead hole making straw/piercing pins/very small micro drill, toothpicks, needles, cookie cutters, cling film tip, acrylic roller or glass jar, oven

 

Using silicone moulds that are meant for fondant – adding a little bit of corn starch onto moulds helps release the clay from the mould easily

 

How to condition clay – cut the amount you want to use off the block, help yourself by putting clay in a sealed zip-loc bag and sitting on it for a while or leaving it in warm but not hot water, or hit with mallet or rolling pin whilst in plastic sleeve or bag. Worse problem in the Winter/cold weather. Don’t be tempted to put it in the microwave or oven to soften it with heat, hit with mallet with a rolling pin/mallet (on top of a protected surface, perhaps a chopping board or similar with a towel underneath), mind not to trap air, when you fold clay, roll from folded edge first, 25-30 times through the machine to condition, keep some scrap clay to one side to use just to clean your pasta machine or test it’s clean before use, use wet wipes preferably containing alcohol to clean the machine all over not just the rollers, keep the machine covered, need to pre-condition clay before putting through the pasta machine otherwise the clay would crumble/the machine would be put under a lot of pressure and might be damaged/little bits of clay might get stuck to the rollers, and don’t go straight down to the thinnest setting after putting it through the thickest setting otherwise the clay will wrinkle – work your way down the thicknesses depending on what kind of thickness you need, need to condition clay before use every time, can’t just condition clay once and then leave for a day or more and come back to it without conditioning again – it needs to be made pliable just before you work with it, can hurt your hands to soften clay from hard, try and use base of hand when the clay is firmer, all about manipulating the clay until it’s soft,

 

Use lollipop sticks or playing cards or card stock to get an even thickness – stack them to get exactly the thickness you want

 

Stop bubbles getting into the clay – user firmer clay or firm it up, don’t roll it out too thin when conditioning, always allow a way for air to escape when folding and layering clay, don’t trap air between layers, instead of folding you can tear the clay in half and layer the halves on top of each other, for flat clay pieces you can prevent them by sandwiching the clay between two surfaces such as 2 ceramic tiles with just the smooth sides touching the clay and plain smooth paper either side of the clay too,

 

Different brands of clay, can be mixed together but maybe not recommended, what’s the difference between them, each brand has different characteristics. Fimo soft is often what people begin with and it’s a good choice, has some interesting textures available, Fimo classic has been rebranded to Fimo professional, which is firmer than soft and is particularly good for caning, is strong and holds its shape well. Fimo was first polymer clay created and is most common brand in Europe. Sculpey clay is widely available in many colours and is soft so quite easy to use so good for kids - but comparatively weak and breaks easily especially if used for thin shapes, Kato is probably firmest and can be hard to condition but it is very strong and good for caning, Premo is firm, good for translucents (that let some light through) and flesh colours (dolls) and seems to be used more by professionals and people who sell their work, seen as superior especially for sculpting and a lot of other uses, holds detail well, old Premo and Fimo clays can be crumbly and hard to work with so best to buy shortly before use and use fresh, Cernit is soft when warm and quicker to condition than Fimo soft and has many colour choices including neon and flesh tones, not as solid a result but is flexible and quite strong, even thinner pieces, there are other clay brands but I’m just talking about the main ones and ones I’m aware of,

 

What should beginners buy? Get a sample block of Premo or Fimo soft to see if you get on with it; if it’s too firm and hard to condition, try Cernit instead. Buy blocks of black, white and each primary colour red blue yellow in your chosen brand so you can make any colour you like by mixing them together – except for special colours and effects like neon colours or imitation stone

If you mix brands, bake for an average of the cooking temperatures and times. If in doubt, bake at a lower temperature for longer.

 

Clay doesn’t dry up from being left in air so you don’t need to keep it in airtight containers, but dust and fluff is a pain to get onto the surface of clay so best to keep clay leftovers in a sealed box or zip-loc bags, separated by colour. Also keep clay in a cool place. Clay goes crumbly as it gets old but it can usually be revived by extra conditioning, warming up and/or by adding a couple of drops of liquid clay or clay softener, if you’ve had some clay for years and you’re finding it too crumbly to work with, it might be best to buy some fresh clay if you’re a beginner so you don’t lose the enjoyment of learning, Fimo and Premo can be affected by age,

 

How to prevent or remove fingerprints – preventing fingerprints saves finishing time later so try your best not to be heavy-hand with your clay and squeeze too hard. Firm up/cool your clay (leaching out plasticisers or put in the fridge) so it’s not too soft, or use a firmer brand like Premo. It’s possible to wear smooth & tight latex gloves to prevent fingerprints, and a lot of people cut the fingers off the gloves and just wear them on the fingers that will be touching the clay – stops sweatiness. You could also spray a little bit of water onto the clay surface, or use a little cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) on your hands – which can be washed off. Don’t mix corn starch into the clay though; you only want it on the surface. Smooth out fingerprint with a small amount of mineral oil or baby oil, but that’s a bit messy. Could smooth with smoothest part of hand, could put clingfilm over before smoothing with fingers, although wrinkles can be created. You don’t need to use these measures all the time, just in the final stages of handling before baking to smooth the surface out.

 

Clay too soft and/or sticky? Use the fridge or freezer to help with cutting cleanly and keeping polymer clay in the correct shape – stop it being so soft especially on a warm day. If clay is too soft, can squash it between two pieces of paper to soak up excess plasticisers (leaches out plasticisers) for half an hour, 15 minutes in fridge, a few minutes in freezer, good to use fridge before cutting/slicing clay or putting a hole in it,

 

Clay too firm? Warm up, condition, add liquid clay or clay softener, use a softer brand

How to mix colours to give a solid colour or a marbled effect

 

Always work with a clean, dust-free, hair-free surface, and don’t wear fluffy/wooly/dark clothes, short sleeves, lint-rollers over work surface, clean hands just before you touch the clay and don’t dry on a dark towel (use paper towel), don’t touch clothes are anything else that has fibres/lint on surface, keep tools clean, keep wet wipes handy, if you notice dust or lint on clay surface, stop and don’t work it into the clay, can remove large or individual pieces with your blade or fingernail, prevention is better than cure, work with lightest colour of clay first, and then darker and darker, I used to condition whilst being on the computer and used to get dirty clay,

 

What is liquid clay – can be used as a thin coating for paper (won’t soak into paper, since it’s not water based), can help with image transfer, used as clay ‘glue’ before baking, can also be used to soften crumbly clay, I use Fimo which goes almost totally clear after baking, Sculpey has white/black/clear liquid clay, you can also mix coloured powders into liquid clay or even fine glitter, translucent liquid clay is often mixed with powder to make faux frosting for mini cakes, used as a glaze over decoupage, Clay Softener; Deko Gel can be mixed with solid clay to soften it and make it stickier for some applications. Spackle made from a solid and liquid polymer clay combination can be used to repair cracks in finished polymer pieces.

 

Alcohol inks must sit on top o the liquid clay until the alcohol evaporates before you mix the color. No more than 3 parts liquid clay to 1 part other medium.

 

You can mix things into clay and bake it with no problem, including glitter, sand, beads, metal chain or charms, gold leaf, shimmery eyeshadow powder, craft powders like mica powder, powdered pigments, and chalk pastels.

 

Baking: plastic particles in clay need to melt and bond together. Heat needs to get to the centre of your piece, so the longer you need to bake. Longer baking time = more particles melted, stronger bond, stronger clay. So bake for an hour to make sure that the particles are melted the whole way through, no matter the size. Won’t burn as long as it’s at the right temperature. Can’t be too low or particles won’t melt. If you put the oven on at the right temperature, use a protective layers and it burns, get an oven thermometer to check your oven is correct temperature

 

Clay breaks quite easy if you bake for less than the recommended time. Don’t worry about overcooking, the colour may be very slightly darker if you overcook, but it’s such a small difference and longer baking = stronger clay

 

Can bake in metal or glass ovenproof dish, but don’t put clay directly on metal, put some thick cardboard underneath to insulate from the metal, and aluminium foil or tray over the top. Ceramic and metal holds heat so creates a more even heat from underneath and doesn’t heat up or cool down super quickly. You ideally want a protective layer above and below clay.

 

Glass or ceramic bowls, shaped baking trays, curved cardboard or cardboard tube with paper over the top for smoothness and won’t stick, or wood shapes, lightbulbs that don’t have plastic on – if they can withstand the heat, then you can use them to shape the clay, household items,

Paper is OK in the oven at the low clay baking temperatures as long as they don’t go anywhere near any burners or heating elements – you can put a foil tent over any paper used to protect it,

Don’t use an oven temperature above that which is recommended on the packets; you can use a lower temperature and cook for longer if you wish as it’s very hard to overcook at a low temperature

 

Baking at a slightly lower temperature longer strengthens the clay and makes it a bit easier to get a smooth and shiny finish – a lot of people bake for about an hour to add strength

Shouldn’t have a problem with burning, but if you do then make an aluminium foil tent

Bake clay on parchment/greaseproof paper or on glass if you want a shiny base, otherwise directly on ceramic is best

 

Remove dust and fingerprints with cotton buds/paper towel and strong rubbing alcohol (or acetone after baking), alcohol wipes?, baby oil on a wipe, rubbing alcohol should be used in a ventilated area and shouldn’t get it on your hands as it is an irritant, also shouldn’t be put near any heat,

 

Part-bake pieces bit by bit so you don’t mess up previous work when you’re working on a new section, good for when you have a few layered elements, baking clay multiple times won’t damage or burn the clay, add more clay and bake again then add more clay and bake again,

Bendy clay after baking – supposed to be a bit flexible, especially if it’s a thin piece thinner than 2/3mm. Also, straight after baking when it’s warm, or if it’s in a warm environment, it’ll be more flexible than if it’s cold, always leave clay to cool completely after baking, people expect it to be like

 

Polymer clay doesn’t shrink so you can stick things like wire and beads in the surface, test any item you want to put in the oven if you’re not sure, if it sets on fire it’s not a good idea but you should be fine since toothpicks and card can be baked fine

 

Don’t bake food at the same time – don’t use pasta machines or baking trays with both clay and food

F i n d   P o l y m e r   C l a y   S u p p l i e s   o n   A m a z o n   U . S . :

4) Take your cookie cutter and use it to make a faint imprint near the edge of the clay.

 

5) Cut at least a couple of mm around the outside of that imprint to separate that area of clay from the rest, as shown above. This is so that whilst shaping this piece of clay, none of the other clay is distorted/squashed accidentally.

 6) Use a clean finger to slightly wet the surface of the clay. To do this I dipped my finger in water then lightly spread a few drops of water over the surface. Don't rub hard, or rub with a dry finger, because you'll end up marking the surface of the clay. 

7) Carefully place one of the printed images face down on the slightly wet clay surface so that it lies flat and sits within the indent you made as a guide in step 4.

Once it is positioned, don't try and move it as this could result in a blurred image.

 

8) Use your finger to add a few drops of water to the top of the paper; just enough to saturate all of the paper, but not too wet because you don't want much excess water. Make sure all of the paper is in contact with the clay.

Use a dabbing motion with your finger rather than rubbing your finger across the paper so that you avoid causing the paper to slide.

9) Repeat steps 4-8 as many times as you wish. I made 8 clay charms for this demo but you can obviously make as many (or as few) as you want.

10) Leave the clay to one side until the paper dries; 1 or 2 hours usually, depending on the environment. Don't be tempted to leave the clay much longer than a couple of hours (especially not overnight) as I've found that this makes the paper difficult to remove.

11) Whilst the paper is still stuck on the clay, take a small piece of clingfilm and lay it flat over the top of one of the clay pieces. Make sure it is smooth and doesn't have wrinkles in.

(If you prefer not to use clingfilm you can skip this step.)

12) Take your cookie cutter and position it on top of the clingfilm, making sure it lines up with the indent you created in the clay earlier.

13) Press the cookie cutter down all of the way through the clay. If you're using clingfilm, you'll notice it stretch over the clay and create a domed effect. 

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