This is the beginning of a monthly (hopefully!) series of posts that are intended to give you my experience with polymer clay and my observations of this unusual medium, from the bottom up. I would like to help new clayers to understand the medium, to become familiar with its quirks, so they can concentrate on creating, not getting bogged down because of "failures" due to technical problems. I'm a firm believer in there being no mistakes in creative endeavors, but it's heartbreaking and frustrating to have your efforts end up broken, burnt, or otherwise useless. This is meant solely to offer my lessons learned, observations made and conclusions drawn during my 24 years' progress as a polymer clay artist.
1: I don't think of polymer clay as "clay". It does not act like earthen clay at all. I have come to think of it in terms of "wax" as it behaves similarly to wax, and this reminder helps me when I'm working absentmindedly and not getting the results I would like. Wax softens with heat. So does polymer clay. I often pack the clay into my clothing before starting a day in the studio, and this warms up the clay safely. That does not mean warming up the clay results in "conditioned" clay - it just helps with the conditioning process. The clay still needs to be thoroughly mixed to redistribute component chemicals and yield a good, strong, final product.
Earthen clay takes an impression quite easily. Wax does not, neither does polymer clay, especially if it is not warm, soft and pliable, so there are several things you can do to help it warm up. Friction transfers kinetic energy to the clay, thus warming it a bit as you roll vigorously across the surface with your acrylic rod. Putting hard pressure does not do much to help. Think of putting pressure on a wax candle - see? Warming up your instruments (pasta machine, tile or glass work surface, etc. will help, mainly because these items tend to be cooler to the touch and suck the heat out of the clay as you work on it! So warming these up with a hairdryer (or a heating pad) before you start working, really helps.
Speed also impacts on the results. Unless your polymer clay is very warm, soft and pliable, you need to affect it slowly in order to achieve good results. For example, the images below show fairly softened clay run through the pasta machine rolling slowly (#1 - on the left) vs rolling quickly (#2 - on the right):
|please click on image for larger picture|
Thinking of polymer clay as similar to wax helps to understand other things that happen. For example, translucent clay has a property known as plaquing - forming small, flat, roundish discs below the surface when baked. This is a wonderful quality when you want to mimic jade or some other stones, however, it can be a nuisance when you don't want it. The reasons for this occurrence are not fully understood, although some feel it may be moisture from your hands that contributes to it happening. In watching what happens when I run translucent clay through the pasta machine, it became evident that rolling too quickly tended to trap minute amounts of air in the clay, which looked like small, whitish striations barely visible below the surface. Rolling slowly, this did not happen. I feel that this is another situation where rolling quickly doesn't allow the clay to conform to surface differences, whereas rolling slowly does, and it gives the clay time to fill in depressions and air does not get trapped. This seems to be particularly important in translucent clay which, for some reason, seems more waxy than pigmented clay.
'nuff said! Please feel free to leave feedback.