Working With Polymer Clay
I recently received an email from someone whose work I admire greatly. She asked me how I kept my Parker colors so crisp and untainted from the other colors of clay. I do have a “secret” method to keeping my polymer clay colors from mixing together that I will share with you today. Working with polymer clay is always fun…but can often be frustrating too. In all honesty though, the “secret” is no secret at all…
I have an entire post dedicated to the benefits of using lotion when you are working with polymer clay. But using lotion is the first thing I do when I enter my studio. It’s so important to me and working with polymer clay that I keep a bottle of it right in front of me at all times…you can clearly see the bottle of lotion, right there, front and center. Make sure to read the article as to why using lotion is a good thing for you and for your clay!
By looking at my polymer clay studio work area here in these photographs, you can see many of the things that I use often. The other thing that you should notice in this photograph is the huge container of cornstarch. I don’t use corn starch often, but I use it when I have colors that I know taint my hands, work surface, and other clays. Most of those colors are any shade containing reds, black, or green pigment colors. In order to use cornstarch to prevent my colors from bleeding, I have an intricate process. Feel free to use my process and achieve nice results working with polymer clay.
HOW-TO USE IT:
Tap your moist fingers into the corn starch (get the moist by using lotion or wiping with a baby wipe). Then rub that cornstarch onto your hands (similar to washing your hands). Then lightly tap the cornstarch with your fingers again and rub onto your work surface. Then play with your clay like normal. When you are done there should be very little of the color on your hands and on your work surface.
Please remember that using cornstarch also will keep your clay from sticking to the surface and other clays…so use sparingly!
Separate Your Colors
Often on my FaceBook page you will see me post pictures similar to the one here at the left: a color palette of something that I’m working on for the day. What I didn’t notice until after I took this picture, was that the white clay on the bottom looks like my work surface. It’s not my work table, yet it’s so white that it almost looks that way.
In order to prevent color bleeds, I always start a project with an idea in mind. I rarely start from scratch. In this way, I condition the lightest color first, following through to the darkest colors. In the case of this palette I conditioned the clays in this order: white, gold, green, brown, red, & black. In each, if any particles were picked up from the previous color, it seamlessly blends into the clay with no “ack, I got red onto my white” spots.
First Thing’s First
In the same way, when I begin a design, especially my Parker StoryBook Scenes working on the lightest color first. In most cases (except Christmas designs) Parker is a bright and vivacious yellow color. I always make Parker first. Since Parker is the featured element of all my StoryBook Scenes, he must be perfect. So in whatever you are working on, be sure that your primary object of focus is the item that you do first, while your hands are clean!
When All Else Fails
When all else fails, after you’ve successfully done everything you can think of to avoid color bleeding, you still have red spots on your white and blue spots on your yellow. When this happens, you must do what you must…break it out…the bottle of rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is my secret weapon…but truthfully something I use only about once a week. Read my post on rubbing alcohol to see how to effectively use this to remove stains from your hands & work surface. (And yes…you can see my bottle of rubbing alcohol to the far left on my work surface. Yep, I don’t use it that much, only when I have too.)
If you think before you begin your clay process, you should have no trouble with your polymer clay colors bleeding on you.
Thank you for being a part of the Kater’s Acres Family, Sculpting Blessings,
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11 thoughts on “Spot Free Polymer Clay CAN Be Achieved”
I’ve read that you can put a small amount of cornstarch on a finished (uncured) piece and gently rub to remove fingerprints. Bake the item, then rinse off the cornstarch. I haven’t tried it, but seems it would work. Fine salt (such as pickling salt) would probably work too (or use table or kosher salt for things you want a bit of stone-like texture on) and that’s water-soluble.
Yes, you can use cornstarch and yes, it does work. However, it also CREATES work as you must clean all the cornstarch off your beads after baking. I’m an advocate of learning how to use a soft touch. It also helps to add lotion to your hands just prior to working with clay. This fills in your “fingerprints” and will help keep them off the clay as well.
I do not know if pickling salt would work and can not recommend as I have not personally tried it. Salt work great as a texture additive. Again, items that you use this technique on need to be able to be thoroughly cleaned to get the salt off. Often this is not possible with sculptural work.
Hi there! I follow you on Etsy, but actually came to this article through Pinterest. Gotta love Social Media! My question is this, how do you keep your fingerprints off your work? Does the cornstarch help with that too? Does keeping the polymer colder help? I am very new to Polymer, but still putting myself out there flaws and all…this one particular thing keeps evading me. I have to touch and push and sometimes blend…so just what are you experts doing? I also have questions about strengthening hardware for charms and using armatures effectively – what works best and techniques. Okay, that might be like three separate articles or something! Appreciate the help and the lovely blog. Take care! – Lisa
I think fingerprints are the plague of every polyclay artist. Some clayers like the fingerprints as it adds an organic feel. My best advice is this, use lotion before you begin to clay. See this article here: https://katersacres.com/polyclay/hints/polymer-clay-tip-lotion/ The more “moist” your fingers are, the less prints they will leave behind. Use as light of a touch as possible. When smoothing use the sides (no printy) part of your fingertips. If you are making jewelry components, your fingerprints (as long as they are not deep) can be sanded off effectively. Let me know if that helps you at all. These things have worked for me over the years, but there are other things that you can try as well.
Great advice Katie. I have often wondered about working my clay after putting lotion on my hands, and hate working those bleeding colors… especially red! Thanks for these great tips. This will help with color bleeds. I am still not sure how you use the alcohol though.
Also, when I finish working particularly large white pieces, I can’t avoid (no matter how clean my work surface is) finding very tiny specks of dust and lint showing up. Is there any advice on eliminating this?
Hi Angee! Thanks for joining me today. The alcohol is used AFTER you’re done sculpting. It takes the stains OFF your hands so that the color doesn’t contaminate your NEXT batch! It’s quick and it’s easy.
White is difficult. When I am working with white, I thoroughly CLEAN my work surface with a baby wipe, followed by rubbing alcohol. Then I clean ALL my tools to get off lint, dust, debris, color crumbles, etc. It also helps to wear WHITE clothing. Half of the “dust” that gets into your clay comes directly from the fibers of your clothes believe it or not. So getting a painters smock or something like that may help. Lastly, take a deep breath, pray, and begin to sculpt.
Other than that, you can always remove large fibers with a needle before you bake your piece. Also don’t forget that as long as the fiber isn’t embedded into the clay, a light sanding will take it right off!
Thanks Katie, I was a bit confused,got it now 🙂
I love these tips. I at one point got so frustrated, I started working on a way to embrace dirty clay as part of my designs… An “if you cant beat ’em join ’em” strategy. I look forward to going home an working on my work space to incorporate your suggestions better!
oh Katie, Thank You !! This is something I have so much trouble with..am not an expert in clay, I love what I do and thats the only reason I do it ..I never looked much into technicalities like this and I often have this happen to me .. As I work with very tiny pieces of clay(in the mm and half mm range) this always give me big issues! I have a question, would this cornstarch show up like white particles ? Or is
it very fine that it goes into the mix unnoticed ?
Hi Peeli – You don’t MIX the cornstarch into the clay. You can use it on your hands to keep the clay from getting sticky and gunky on your hands. On your finished pieces if you have used too much cornstarch, yes it shows up as white particles. To remove them, simply take an old toothbrush under warm water and gently “scrub” your pieces. If you use it sparingly, you shouldn’t have any residue on your clay or your pieces.
GREAT tips! Thank you for sharing Katie!! Bleeding colors and spots can be so frustrating, and I use alcohol as my secret weapon too… Must try the cornstarch, sounds like it works great for you.