07-05-2012: Beginner's Project: A new CITY-o-Clay member asked "What would be a good
beginner's project" and this was my reply.
No it's not a covered egg. This covered egg was one of my
earlier efforts. Thought it would be appropriate for a ramble about
Beginner's project, hmmm. That would seem like a fairly
easy request but oddly enough it is one of the hardest requests I've faced
in the dozen years I've help host this group.
See it's like this... only you know what colors you like, what shapes appeal
to you, whether you want to make jewelry, vessels, sculpted figures, or
What we can do to help you with tips and techniques that might aid you once
you found a focus to your artistic expression.
Now you could say, "Oh but I'm not an artist!" Oh yes you are. You got
the polymer clay. You got the book. You got the urge to create something and
in my book that makes you an artist. Perhaps an artist in training, but the
output does not the artist make. It is the desire to create that make the
artist. The rest is wrestling the clay to the ground and making it cry
"Uncle!", make it do your bidding.
To do that you have to ask yourself what it is that you want to do. Some
folks come here with the idea that they can learn quickly, make something
easily, and then sell it for big bucks on eBay. Common miscalculation,
because if it were quick and easy there'll be a lot of competition on eBay
already. We're not here to please some faceless potential customer who ain't
We're here to express that thing that churns within our heart of hearts.
We're not here to make what everyone else is making. For example, back in
the day, for a good couple of years, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was
making "rock purses". There were tutorials, there were swaps, there were
Rock Purses everywhere you could shake a stick. Everywhere but here in this
group and not on my website that supports this group. Why? Why do what
everyone else is doing. We were marching to the beat of our own drummers. If
members here wanted to indulge in Rock Purses they had a boatload other
polymer clay groups they could join where that was the only topic for years.
If they wanted to explore their own inner creative urge they could do that
I figured, why reinvent the wheel when there are so many other things to
explore. So I think around that time I started exploring face and figure
But back to your original request for a beginner's project. I feel that
getting familiar with the medium is all important and that means learning
how to condition the clay, mix colors, keep track of the mixed colors, heat
set (cure) the clay, put some finish on the clay. Before you go off and
start doing some project you got to know you got those basics mastered.
Now that sounds like work. It is if you want to look at it that way. I look
at it as using a scientific method of recording experimentation. So I have
my propeller hat on and my white lab coat while I make ....Color Cards.
Let's talk about "conditioning". When one is new to polymer clay they might
try to use the clay straight out of the pack. They make something, cure it,
and it falls apart. What went wrong? Perhaps they did not condition the clay
ahead of time. The stuff inside of polymer clay that makes it elastic before
curing is "plasticizers", which tend to settle when in shipping and on the
shelf. In order to redistribute the plasticizers one needs to condition the
How long should I condition the polymer clay? One might ask and that is a
Tip: If you have two colors of clay that can be mixed, like blue and yellow,
form small sweet pea sized balls of each color. Mix them together until you
get a uniform color of green. That's how much polymer clay should be
conditioned before making anything. Even if you are working with one color
you need to warm the clay (I put it under my breast and go about my chores -
funny stories about ladies doing that) and once the clay is warm one
conditions it until it is elastic, like Silly Putty. Then it is ready to be
used. (I didn't add the link to the video on conditioning so I'm embedding
After you experiment taking 12 colors and making a gazillion color
combinations with them with color cards you might wonder "How do people make
designs with the clay, like faces or leopard spots?" That's Cane work, or
raising cane as I like to call it. All designs can be reduced to three
things: lines, dots, and gradation of color. Since that line, dot, or
gradation of color needs to be made into a log you translate those into:
sheets, snakes, and blends.
A sheet of clay in a cane makes a line in the 2D design.
A snake of clay in a cane makes a dot in the 2D design.
A blend of two or more colors of clay in a cane make a gradation of color.
Do not over think these things as most people do. There 12 colors you need
and there's only about 12 things you can do with those colors to make
everything you've ever seen online.
Oh speaking of which, do not compare your baby steps to stuff you see online
that's perfect. That is unfair to you. My website has my polymer clay
journey. The good, the not so good, and the grave disappointments. I show
everything so new clayers like you can know that this is a process, an
evolution, it's not instant noodles. Mastering a skill set in any medium
takes trial and error, takes picking yourself up and dusting yourself off
and giving it another effort.
When you get frustrated post to the group. When you have a success post to
the group. Take pictures of your progress. do not judge your work but rather
learn from your efforts and move on down the line of your personal clay
When you're ready to learn about blends, sheets, and raising cane, let me
know by putting "NJ I'm ready..." on the subject line so I'm sure to see
Know that new clayers are spoiled like pretty babies here. We were all new
clayers at one time or another. Some of us might even have pictures of their
early miscalculations that they are not afraid to share. I share mine
shamelessly because there is no loss of honor in exploration. Like my
girlfriend Milly says when she is driving and we're lost, "I'm not lost I'm
exploring." that's the attitude we all need here when we're mastering a new
As for making Color Cards, BonsaiKathy says mixing colors is one of her
favorite things to do, it's soothing. I wrestle deciphering a color like one
worries over a jig saw puzzle, it's a mystery for me to solve.
When you make your color cards you learn to condition clay, press sheets,
make even measured cut outs to mix, you record your mixes on a cured
rectangle of clay and then you cure it all again (yes polymer clay can be
heat set many times) then you apply a finish, like acrylic floor polish. By
the time you're done experimenting with color you'll have mastered the basic
moves all polymer clay artist need to master and then some. I know a lot of
polymer clay artist who do not keep track of how they mix colors and they
have found themselves half way through a project and they can't replicate a
color mix they've been depending on.
But this is becoming another ramble and I think I might put it up on my
website as something for a new clayer. That's how the rambles got created
So there it is my dear, welcome and don't be shy, don't let THE FEAR keep
you from experimenting and ask your secret heart of hearts what it is that
needs to be expressed and express that uniquely, for that is what turns your
efforts into art, it's your creative self expression and only you can tell
us what you want that to be.
We can only help you with technique and encouragement.