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Current Rants and Recent Rambles

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 projects.

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 miniatures. 

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 always right. 

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 here. 

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 sculpting. 

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.  

Here are two Rambles about Color Cards.  Short Ramble  A little longer Ramble

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 clay.

How long should I condition the polymer clay? One might ask and that is a good question. 

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 it here.)

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. 

About Canes 

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 journey. 

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 it. 

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 medium. 

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 over time. 

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. 

Consider yourself encouraged. 


aka Nora Jean Stone, Co-Owner of CITY-o-Clay


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