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Posted on January 1, 2013 in Hints, Tips, & Tricks by Katie Oskin
There is a lot of information on the internet about how to condition polymer clay. There are even people saying that there’s no need to condition clay if it is soft (gasp)! 2013 is going to bring lots of talk of polymer clay and all things sculpting to Kater’s Acres blog, the biggest of which is The Friesen Project. Because of this, all during the month of January, I am going to talk about some of the basics of polymer clay. With so much incorrect information on the web, it’s really hard to know what it correct.
So what is polymer clay? Polymer clay in it’s basic form is an oven hardening modeling compound that is made from polymers of polyvinyl chloride. To make polymer clay, liquid is added to a dry mix until is becomes a gel-like material. This compound remains soft and pliable until it is baked in an oven between 250-285 degrees (depending on brand).
If you are a science person, you can read all about the properties of polymer clay and what it’s made from here. But frankly, I don’t understand most of those big words…I’m just glad that clay is awesome!
Unconditioned clay, though it may be soft, does not have properly aligned particles. While this may not seem to be a big deal, unconditioned clay that has been baked has a tendency to be very brittle and break easily. It is very important that before you begin any project that you condition your clay.
When polymer clay comes from the factory it comes in a block that has been mold injected to make it’s “shape.” The polymers are not aligned in the block forms of clay off the store shelves. If you are working on a project, you can precondition your clay. This means that you condition all of your clay at the beginning of your working time. By doing this, even if they clay sits for several hours, it takes just a minute to recondition it and begin to use it to sculpt.
For many people who make jewelry or miniatures, this is by far the easiest way to condition clay. Why? Because with small amount of clay, it is super easy to condition by hand. All you do is cut off 1/4 of a block of clay and begin to roll it back and forth in your hands. The first thing that happens is that the rectangle looses its sharp edges. You will then notice that the clay begins to get warm. When the clay is nicely warming, begin to roll that rectangle-loggy shape into a ball. Then roll the ball into a snake. And repeat as often as necessary.
When is the clay fully conditioned:? The clay is fully conditioned when you make a snake and bend it in the middle. If the clay does not split, crack, or break then your clay is conditioned.
Okay, so while this picture isn’t of me preparing polymer clay, it’s the only one I had with clay in my Pasta Machine…it’s even from my OLD studio! (In fact, this pictures is from a tutorial that isn’t yet completed….obviously a Klimt cane tutorial is in the works for you….more on that later…)
The process is very similar to the above mentioned process. Only for this, you are going method you are going to cut off the portion of clay that you will use from your block. This next part is very important: do NOT cut a section of clay wider than the widest setting of your pasta machine. Jamming hard clay through your pasta machine can damage it! Your going to put your clay through the pasta machine and roll it through. Then, when it comes out, fold it in half and put the fold side DOWN into your machine. Keep doing this over and over.
How will I know when my clay is conditioned? Your clay is conditioned fully when it develops a slight sheen, bends in the middle without cracking or breaking, and has no “rough” edges on it!
Yep, there are other methods to conditioning your clay…especially when your clay is rock hard. One of them is described here.
You can also use a food processor to help condition your clay.
Color Blending Trick: Do you know the color blending trick? If not, let me tell you. You know when you take two colors of clay and combine them? You know how it gets streaky and funky before combining into something beautiful? Another way to know that your clay is fully conditioned is by blending two colors. When you combine 2 colors to make one new color you are also conditioning your clay. Your clay is conditioned when those two colors are completely merged and there are no streaks of either color remaining. Easy huh?