The Fine Art Air-Dry and Polymer Clay Market Can Be Confusing for the Beginner to Intermediate Artist

What this page is and isn’t about — It’s about fine art air-dry and polymer clays. It’s not about ceramic, cold porcelain, resin clay, epoxy clays, or any kiln-cured products.

This page was written after reading https://www.reviewstream.com/reviews/?p=155083#thoughts-box, which was about Premier clay, which is an artist grade air-dry clay, and the beginner’s needs and understandable confusion.

For jewelry making, Premo!, Fimo Classic, Kato, and Cernit are some of your better choices of oven-cured polymer clays –they’re durable enough and do not have to be sealed unless certain surface treatments (mica powders like Pearl Ex or Perfect Pearls…) require it. See: https://thebluebottletree.com/seal-polymer-clay/

Durability… While people making charms often use various air-dry clays, they usually don’t construct bracelets or rings out of air-dry clays. Jewelry may take much more wear and tear.

Seal it or not? As a rule, air-dry clays generally have to be sealed once dry and finished but oven-cured polymer clays don’t. (Two-part epoxy clays don’t have to be sealed but although they’re often called air-dry, they actually cure by chemical reaction and may even be able to cure under water. They’re not true air-dry clays.)

Cracks in Premier clay.… Cracks don’t mean your air-dry clay is weak. Premier is one of the strongest air-dry clays. Nearly all air-dry clays have some shrinkage and Premier is no exception, although it shrinks less than some air-dry clays. Having a good armature, if armature is necessary, and using minimal amounts of water while sculpting with Premier can decrease the likelihood or severity of cracks. Sometimes cracks happen but they’re easily be repaired with Premier, even if your item dried. See the below video. Cracks may occur if you added too much water while sculpting, used a cardboard armature, used thin clay over a rigid armature (Ostrich legs, for example), let your item dry too quickly, or didn’t support sculpture parts subject to gravity. Don’t dry your Premier clay items under a fan, for example. Do remember to keep unused clay in an air-tight bag and/or container.

For figurative works, Premix, an air-dry clay made by the same company as Premier, is easier to sculpt and blend than Premier. Doll artist Hannie Sarris loved Premix clay. Premier clay may take some different sculpting techniques than what one would be used to with polymer clay and one uses minimal (!) amounts of water are used while sculpting Premier. People working with these air-dry clays might lightly dab their fingers across a wet sponge to keep clay moist enough while sculpting. They may use a mister type of water bottle. Do not use Sculpey Clay Softener or any type of oil to soften, smooth, and blend these air-dry clays — they are hybrid clays and have their own characteristics, sculpting techniques, storage and compatibility considerations. They’re not like the majority of polymer clays that are oven-cured (e.g., Fimo Classic, Fimo Soft, Cernit, Fimo Doll, Premo!). They’re not like most air-dry clays on the market. They are used by a number of very famous art doll artists and others.

So yes, there are indeed air-dry polymer clays — Activa Lumina Translucent Polymer Clay, Staedtler Fimo Air Basic Modeling Clay, and Activa LaDoll Premier clay are examples of air-dry polymer clays. Activa, the company that makes laDoll Premier clay, describes Premier clay as a type of polymer clay on their site. Lumina has long been known to the polymer clay community. Fimo Air Basic is weaker than either of those.

Polymer clays have their own issues — Dirt, lint, hair, compatibility issues, and baking considerations (always monitor your oven with two oven thermometers, not counting the oven’s own temperature reading). If you look at it that way, a few easily repaired cracks in Premier clay items isn’ts a bad deal.

Sculpey Diluent, AKA liquid Sculpey Clay Softener, works with oven-cured polymer clays, specifically, and not with air-dry polymer clays. Here’s the Sculpey Clay Softener Material Safety Data Sheet: https://www.sculpey.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Clay-Softener-SDS-10282015.pdf

In contrast, Makin’s, Hearty, Das, “cold porcelain” clays, Creative Paperclay, Celluclay, and epoxy putties are not polymer clays no matter who describes them as such.

For a whole lot of information on all things polymer and air-dry clay, see:

…Or go to clay manufacturers’ sites and hit their FAQs and MSDS pages. I wish there were sculpting, storage, compatibility, MSDS and other information (to seal or not to seal) with each clay package that one takes home, but that’s sadly not the case.

Viva Decor Precious Metal Colour Paint in Gold Was Heat-set on Cured Premo Polymer Clay, by Karen A. Scofield

Viva Decor Precious Metal Colour Heat-Set on Premo Polymer Clay

The Clay

I added crushed, shiny micaceous (meaning it’s loaded with mica) rock, fine gold glitter, and Blank Slate Gold and Silver Flake Mix, in order of volume, to some Premo! polymer clay (a Sculpey product). That’s why it’s sparkly and can appear darker or very light depending on how the light shines on it and it moves, you see sparkles as well as flashes and glints.

Aside: The Backstory on the Micaceous Rockhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/sari0009/19354330223/in/dateposted-..

The Paint (and A Closed US Office)

Spelling

Viva Decor’s US office closed in 2015 and my bottle is labeled “Precious Metal Colour” because that is how the UK spells it. Many sites and blogs still use the US spelling (Precious Metal Color), you may notice.

Viva Decor Closed Their USA Office in 2015. European Offices remain open. 2016.

Viva Decor Closed Their USA Office in 2015. European Offices remain open. 2016.

Inclusions Added to the Paint

Precious Metal Colour gold colored paint, specifically, has larger glitter-like particles while the mica powder has super fine (!) particles.

  • Alone, Pearl-Ex mica powder has a very slight orangish undertone by comparison.
  • Alone, Previous Metal Color is a bit bright and silvery.
  • Combined, the color is amazing and the larger particles of the paint aren’t glaringly evident.

So, I added a decent amount of Pearl Ex mica powder to Viva Decor “Precious Metal Colour.”

Rule: With mica powder, less is more, meaning you start by adding very small amounts and adjust according to your liking. I found my mix pleasing as a 14 karat gold color.

This doctored up Viva Decor “Precious Metal Colour” acrylic/enamel paint was painted in 3 or 4 layers on an already baked Premo polymer clay mix.

The bezels were entirely painted with the paint while the figurative beads only had detail work painted.

Heat-setting

All but one were heat-set at 275°F  for 30 minutes. There was no visual or tactile difference between the baked and unbaked paint.

I couldn’t scratch the paint off with a fingernail once the paint was heat-set. The paint looks the most like real gold. I finally, after years of looking for a rather durable solution, now have a tremendous amount of confidence regarding gold detail work on my beads and pendants.

Although Varathane Gloss sealant is one of the top choices for sealing polymer clay, it’s water-resistant, not waterproof. I’d prefer not to have to seal my beads at all.

Acrylic Paints — Drying Time vs. Cured

Note: There is A difference between drying time in curing time. Drying time might occur within minutes or a few hours for acrylic paints while curing time might take a few days. This difference might help explain some problems with heat-setting acrylic paints a polymer clay.

I say it might help explain some of the problems because, according to Blue Bottle Tree, there was a correlation between painting the paint on raw polymer clay before heat-setting and the paint bubbling. This was dependent upon brand of acrylic paint and/or polymer clay, whether the clay was raw or cured, and other factors. For more information, see that Blue Bottle Tree blog post.

One Minor Problem to Solve

When removing these painted bezels from the glossy tile they were baked on, some of the gold paint stuck to the tile. There was enough paint remaining on the bezels so this wasn’t a problem but I’d would still prefer this not  happen.

Perhaps baking on a silicone mat would improve things.

Micaceous Rock and "Yellow Gold Glitter" Premo Polymer Clay Mix, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Polymer Clay Micaceous Rock Composite Goddess Pendants, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Polymer Clay Micaceous Rock Composite Goddess Goddess Pendants, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Polymer Clay Micaceous Rock Composite Goddess Goddess Pendants, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Micaceous Rock and

Micaceous Rock and “Yellow Gold Glitter” Premo Polymer Clay Mix, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Micaceous Polymer Clay Goddess Pendants, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Micaceous Polymer Clay Goddess Pendants, by Karen A. Scofield. 2016.

Appears more glittery and sparkly in person.

Micaceous rock from family land in South Dakota was crushed and added to “Yelllow Gold Glitter” Premo polymer clay — the stronger polymer clay by Sculpey that’s suitable for making thinner beads like this. (Always wear a mask if working with micaceous rock in this manner to avoid permanent lung disease.)

About 2″ long and 1/4 inch thick. Mica powder patterns, a sun or spirals, were stamped into the raw clay before curing. The sun and spiral symbolism can have significance. E.g. http://www.whats-your-sign.com/spiral-meaning.html. Small bead holes are added after curing (now shown), usually after jewelry design is complete. Design may determine hole placement and number.

The finished beads look very much like some of the micaceous earth in South Dakota. The particular rocks used in making this came from family land right by Medicine Mountain, which is sacred land. So these beads have personal significant meaning for me in at least four ways. They are my creative expression, the rock comes from family land, the rock comes from the vicinity of sacred land upon which I attended a ritual, the rock represents time spent with family, and the symbolism is well chosen, of course.

Medicine Mountain Background:www.flickr.com/photos/sari0009/19354330223/in/dateposted-... There are two Medicine Mountains and only one is in South Dakota. The history and backstory for this particular Medicine Mountain is hard to find, hence my link is offered here.

Interesting Factoid: In some areas of South Dakota, the ground glitters like gold due to the earth and rocks’ micaceous (mica-filled) nature and looks magical.

Earthenware Greenware Handmade Ceramic Goddess Pendant, by Karen A. Scofield

The Evolution of Karen’s Beads

Shorter Video

Longer Video

Good news! I have found out I can fire and glaze my beads locally. Probably do this in batches of a dozen each. Here is one that has finished drying and is ready for bisque firing.

image

Raised Scratch Foam Designs in Polymer Clay

Raised Scratch Foam Polymer Clay Designs

Raised Scratch Foam Designs in Polymer Clay

Raised Scratch Foam Polymer Clay Design Test, with notes, by Karen A. Scofield

KarenAScofield Spriograph Clay Texture SheetsNote: This page will be updated as examples are made.

The above picture is only a simple and fast test. It’s not meant to be a prime example, just an example to get your creative juices flowing (and mine). It shows a moon shaped piece of clay with a raised scratch foam design that was colored with Pearl Ex.

I haven’t yet seen others doing it, but yes indeedy, spirographs can be used on scratch foam (Inovart Presto Foam Printing Plate was used in this case) with a ball point pen, ball stylus, or Sakura Gel Pen.

Back at it, Dec. 2016.

KarenAScofield Spriograph Clay Texture Sheets

spirograph clay texture sheet by Karen a Scofield

The Basic Idea

Create a design on scratch foam with a spirograph set and a ball point pen. Press  polymer clay into the design and lift. Add bead holes, etc. You’re looking for spirograph sets that won’t make unintended scratches on the scratch foam. Mine came with “The Spiral Draw” Book.

Taking it Further

Pointillism elements or entire designs be be added inside or around the spirograph design with a ball point pen or ball stylus. The result creates raised clay designs once clay is preseed into it.

Ball point styluses that come in varying sizes can be used for added interest and then needles or beed hole makers can be dragged across the surface, at a slant, to add on to the design too.

Scratch foam designs are probably more commonly used for printing monoprints and other techniques … and also by metal clay artists. They can be earthy/rustic looking or linear and crisp ones.

One can create a bezel complete with boarder designs, with scratch foam designs. What you indent on the foam will be raised on the clay. If you add dimensional writer designs to the scratch foam ones, the clay pressed into it will have both raised and indented designs.

If you use Sakura Gel Pens for the spirograph scratch foam deisgns, many of their inks are oqaque and therefore show up on darker clays. You can press the clay into the fresh scratch foam design and then bake. You may want to seal your design afterward.

Any manner of polymer clay extrusions, applique, relief sculpture, lace impressions/molds, designs for faux enamels, crackling, or designs made with cutters/blades can be applied over the spirograph textured clay passages. If you’re worried about pressing clay together to cause adhesion, because you don’t want to ruin more delicate designs, you may want to use liquid clay or Bake and Bond for adhesion purposes.

With single layer or multi layered scratch foam designs, you create mixed media mosaic tiles, embellishments, beads, and larger clay sheets. You can create molds of the larger clay sheets if you want.

Raised designs can be colored with paint, Sakura Gel Pen ink, inks, or Pearl Ex powders (which are a brand of mica powder). I’d apply paint to baked clay but Sakura Gel Pen, Pearl Ex, and alcohol inks can be applied to raw clay that’s then baked.

You may want to seal baked polymer clay items that have Pearl Ex mica powders or Gel Pens baked onto them. Varathane Water Based varnish is a wonderful sealant for polymer clay pieces.

I Just Used 7 Year Old Amazing Mold Putty Successfully

Artist-Made Dimensional Bead Molds

I had a more rounded, 3D polymer clay goddess bead that I’d made some years ago. The bead has a juicy, plump front and a flat back, which makes it perfect for molding … which is why I designed it that way. I wanted to make a mold of it so I took out my old Amazing Mold Putty, took a deep breath, and went through the steps to mold my bead. It worked! All the definition is there…all the details. I can’t tell, so far, that I used older mold putty.

According to the company, shelf life is typically 6-8 months:

The shelf lift is typically 6-8 months for the putty. Clayburn if you would like to call me, we will be happy to help you. The putty still may be good, there may be an issue with what you are putting it against, as it is a platnium cure silicone.”

So how did I store my mold putty? In a cool, dark basement. We used a dehumidifier before we got a central air unit that controls humidity. We still use the dehumidifier on wet rainy days as water seeps into the basement (it’s a very old house). We’ve kept the house 68 to 74 degrees F most of the time.

I’ll have to compare the mold I just made to one made with recently purchased Amazing Mold Putty.

There’s a good comparison of Amazing Mold Putty and EasyMold here (which also mentions that some substances like sulfur, tin, and stearate can interfere with the mold compounds setting). That interests me because both are available locally. So far, I’ve chosen to use Amazing Mold Putty because it’s more flexible and allows me to pop my polymer clay beads out of the mold with extreme ease.

Arist-Made Flatter Texture Molds

I am, however, curious about EasyMold. It’s a bit more rigid so I’d like to try it with the creation of texture plates — I’d sculpt and carve polymer clay, then use EasyMold to create a texture sheet of it.

Combination Molds?

And since new mold putty sticks to old mold putty, could I use a combination mold with Amazing Mold Putty for the more dimensional parts and EasyMold for the thinner, less dimensional portions? Hmmm…. I will have to check into that some day soon!

Can You Condition Hard, Crumbly Polymer Clay or Should You Get New Clay?

Hard and crumbly polymer clay could be older, partially cured, or the plasticizer has evaporated or leached out. Some clays tend to be more crumbly by nature if older than a year or so old, e.g., Cernit Doll clay. The question is, can it be successfully , softened, conditioned and then used?

Bottom Line or Pro — Unless the clay had been cured, most hard, crumbly clay can be softened.

Pro: Not all methods of softening difficult-to-condition polymer clay require adding products (see Methods 1 through 3, below).

Possible Con: Adding products changes the way clay feels and behaves so some techniques will require new, fresh clay instead. If in doubt, test.

Work it or Buy Fresh Clay? That’s a decision that you’ll make based on a variety of criteria. Personally, with the price of larger “bricks” of different doll clays, which is mostly what I have, I’m going to choose “work it” more often than not. I’ve worked really old clay (10 to 15 years old) for 30 to 40 minutes, conditioned it, and used it with satisfactory to excellent results. Often, it doesn’t take nearly that much effort.  If it literally hurts, you might want to consider using a mallet or NeverKnead (a machine).

Goal: The Goal of Methods 1, 2, and 3 are to make it possible to clump your clay together and run through the pasta machine repeatedly and/or work it with your hands in order to condition your polymer clay.

Method 1: Put it (in a zip lock baggie) in your pocket, otherwise against your skin, or in a microwave pillow for a bit to warm it up.

Now try to condition it.

Method 2: It’s not too stiff and crumbly but still needs a little more help?

Soften it with a combination of conditioning and adding new materials to make it supple and workable. Here are your options. Some of you will want to try the physical methods first, especially caners.

  • Whack It — Whack the clay with a rubber mallet to “get things moving.” A few good whacks can “jumpstart” conditioning — the more you whack it, the better it behaves, generally.
  • NeverKnead (Tool)– NeverKnead is a modified arbor press that smashes polymer clay. It allows you to condition it without hurting your hands, and while it’s not a substitute for a pasta machine, it lessens hand fatigue. This can be a boon to those with arthritis and so on.
  • Use Clay Softener (Diluent) or Translucent Clay – Work some softener or translucent clay into it.
  • Translucent clays – Translucent are often a bit softer than opaque clays.
  • Fimo MixQuick — Fimo MixQuick helps soften hard polymer clay.
  • Sculpey Mold Maker – Sculpey Mold Maker can also help soften hard polymer clay.

Now try to condition it.

 Method 3: If it’s really hard, crumbly, and unresponsive

  • Chop — Chop up the clay in tiny bit using a blade or dedicated food processor.
  • Add — Add Sculpey Clay Softener, mineral/baby oil, liquid polymer clay, or Fimo MixQuick to your polymer clay, if you didn’t already, or maybe again if it needs it, and mix.
  • Simmer” in a Ziplock Bag — Place in a zip lock sandwich bag let sit for a few days in a cool, dry, dark place so that the liquid or plasticizers in Fimo MixQuick seep into the hard clay and soften your clay.
  • Repeat — Repeat the process with more liquid or Fimo MixQuick if necessary.
  • NeverKnead/Mallet — Whack the clay with a rubber mallet to “get things moving” and/or use the NeverKnead.

Now Try to condition it. Again, the goal of the above 3 methods is to make it possible to clump your clay together and then condition it in the pasta machine and/or with your hands.

 “Conditioning Fail”

If even method 3 doesn’t work, your clay was probably cured. It can be used as clay crumbles in faux rock or other uses, perhaps, or it can be thrown out.

Prevention

Avoid ordering your clays in the hotter summer months, buy clay only just before you need it, and/or consider your storage conditions. Your clay is supposed to be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Many people try to order the clay just before use. Others found a bargain and store it until later.

I have clays that are 10 years and older that I’ve conditioned and used. We have central air. I store my clays out of the sunlight in a cool, dry, dark place.

Polymer clay can start partially curing at 90 degrees F. So while it’s okay to warm polymer clay against your body before conditioning for short periods of time, never leave your polymer clay in a hot car while shopping or on a warm windowsill. Store it in a cool, dry, dark place…about 74 degrees or lower, ideally. If you don’t have a house or other storage in which you can keep it 74 degrees or lower, your clay may not fare well if stored for longer periods of time.

See: Glassattic.com’s page on storage