Getting started in ceramics can be intimidating. You need a potter’s wheel and access to a kiln for firing your finished piece. Fortunately, there are ways to make ceramic-like objects without spending a lot of money. Polymer clay is inexpensive, easy to find and fun to work with.
What is polymer clay?
Polymer clay isn’t actually clay at all, it’s a plastic that can be worked like regular clay. It doesn’t dry out like earthen clay does and it doesn’t need to be fired at really high temperatures in a kiln to finish it. You can bake polymer clay in a regular oven and it hardens when it’s cooled.
There are several brands of polymer clay but Sculpey and Fimo are probably the most well-known. Both brands are readily available at craft stores and come in a large variety of colors.
The supplies you need to start creating with polymer clay are simple:
- polymer clay
- non-porous work surface (a piece of wax paper will do)
- cookie sheet used only for baking clay
That’s it! You don’t even need to buy a bunch of different colors of clay. Starting with the basic colors – red, blue and yellow – you can mix just about any color you want. Add black and white and to expand your options even further.
If you want to move beyond the bare minimum of some clay, an oven and your own hands, there are several tools that will make your clay crafting easier:
- cutting tool (an X-acto knife or a non-serrated kitchen knife will do)
- flattening/smoothing tool (an acrylic roller, a brayer or a rolling pin will work)
- piercing tool for jewelry-making (toothpick, skewer or knitting needle)
Beyond the Basics
The great thing about working with polymer clay is that a lot of the tools you use in the kitchen can be used for working with clay. Just be sure any tools you use with clay are not used with food too. If you use your favorite pizza cutter for clay, you’ll need to buy a new one for pizza.
For cutting and slicing clay, you can use a pizza cutter, a cheese slicer and a vegetable peeler. For serious flattening, a pasta machine can make uniform sheets of clay. You can also use a pasta machine to blend colors and to create gradations of colors. This color technique is called the Skinner Blend, after artist Judith Skinner, who developed it.
The book Polymer Clay Master Class has extensive instructions on the Skinner technique. I highly recommend this book, not only for the clear, detailed instructions, but also for the variety of art objects featured in it. From beautiful jewelry to free-standing sculptures, this book highlights the versatility of polymer clay.
Creativebug Can Help
Creativebug has two really great video classes on polymer clay. Just sign in with your library card and get started.
In the “Sculpey cake topper” class, the instructor demonstrates using a pasta machine to blend different colors of clay to create new colors. The cake topper is a rainbow, so the artist also shows how to roll out thin “snakes” of clay and how to assemble them into the finished product.
In “Faux terrazzo earrings” the instructor demonstrates how to make earrings using lightweight Sculpey Souffle polymer clay. She uses parchment paper as her work surface and a wooden dowel for rolling out the clay. She also uses fondant cutters (a smaller version of cookie cutters) for making perfect geometric shapes.
Give It a Try!
Polymer clay is such a versatile material, and so easy to work with, that you can be successful right from the start. The best thing is if you’re not happy with what you make, you can mush it back into a lump and start over. It’s a budget-friendly craft material, so you can experiment as you build your skills.