Pattern Samples and Bracelet

I’m up to to Chapter Nine in Polymer Clay Color Explorations,  “Exploring Pattern and Texture in Your Colors.”  The first  exercise entails  making 3 x 3 inch polymer clay pattern swatches  based on your collage and using them as veneers in a bracelet.

I made  lots of color washed sheets and ended up not using most of them.  I did use the one you see  above which  is also embellished with  simple canes like the ones you see below.

There aren’t many patterns in my collage except for the hobnail style pottery and the pattern on the seahorses.  I didn’t have much to imitate,   so I spent a lot of time auditioning checkerboard patterns, cut out shapes and randomly applied pattens.  I stuck with the  random patterns and shapes.  When I tried to get too precise, my work ended up looking sloppy.

Simple canes on solid backgrounds

Since I used random patterns, my bracelet is different on each side.  I would not normally make this style bracelet, but I found it an excellent design to use for learning how to combine different patterns and color combinations into a cohesive piece using my color collage as a starting  point.  It was fun to make the swatches and try different combinations.

Bargello Exercise (and Bracelet!)

Here is my take on the Bargello Bead exercise  from Polymer Clay Color Inspirations.     I started the exercise  by picking three three colors from my collage.  Then  I  located them on  a  color scale I’d made to give me some idea of how to mix them.

I made a new batch of my primaries first.  I found I had problems  mixing my magenta,  even though I’ve mixed it countless times!   I had to put in more medium red to get the right color this time.   I think it’s because  I had used my old Premo fuchsia in the batches I’m mixed before,  but the brand spanking new package I used this time came from a different  dye lot.  But I got the color I wanted  by altering the mix a little bit at a time.

Then I   mixed the  orange, green and purple from the collage.  I found I needed more blue to make the purple  in the collage.  I added it bit by bit until my purple resembled the color from the magazine clipping.  The picture below shows the finished purple with a bit of the color I had originally mixed on top of it.

Here are the finished colors.

The object of the exercise is to mix  increasing amounts of mud into your three colors so you can see how it makes the colors shift.  I am leaving out  parts of the exercise, but all the information is in the book.

I got a surprising (to me) result.  Look at the picture below.  The purple in the stripes on the right shows hardly any gradation.  This was a “smack myself on the forehead” moment for me, as I remembered that darker colors shift less that lighter ones.  I added some white to the purple and  made the sheet on the left.  You can see the purple color shift in that one.  Much more interesting.

The next part of the exercise is to slice strips and lay them on a sheet of mud to make patterns.  Here are some examples.

Then I started to make the beads.  You don’t see any here because   my attempts at bargello  beads are now vying for a place in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ugly.  In a moment of inspiration,  however, I grabbed a bracelet blank I bought from Melanie West and made a bargello bracelet instead.

OK, what did I learn?   I got a practical example of the way colors shift and how darker colors shift less.  I also feel a bit empowered because I was able to replicate the colors from the collage and correct color problems.  For me, that is a giant leap forward.

Trying Color Scale Triangles

Here are  pictures of some more of my latest forays into Polymer Clay Color Explorations.

The advantage of making color scale triangles is that you get to see a bigger sampling  of the colors you can mix with your primaries — the eggplants and the browns, for example.  I know I don’t usually mix these colors except by accident.    After I finished a couple of triangles, I was struck by how appealing some of these colors can be and how in the color mixing I had been doing, I had been limiting myself to “safe” predictable colors (like white and a touch a green makes mint).  The color scale triangles let me see the  nuances that emerged with each color combination.

This exercise is more than academic.  Since it requires you to document your color mixtures,  you come away with a concrete idea of how you got every color in the triangle. The practical application is that when you want to mix a particular color- say something you saw in a magazine, and the exact color is not in your triangle, you have a good idea of what colors you need to start with, and what  to add to the mixture, to get the shade you want.  Amazing!

These two triangles are similar, but the one on the left uses slightly different blue and magenta primaries than the one on the right.

This is a “color wheel” that I mixed with my primaries going from my yellow to my blue,  my blue to my magenta, and my magenta to my yellow.  The colors in the middle of all of the scales are made of 1/2 of the base color and 1/2 white.

My primaries are: Yellow-1/2 zinc and 1/2 cadmium with a pea of white, Magenta-3/4 fuchsia and 1/4 medium red with a pinch of white and Blue: 7/8 ultramarine and 1/8 cobalt with a pinch of white.

Watch Maggie Maggio’s excellent video on mixing color scale triangles for a thorough explanation of the exercise.

Clayathon 2010

I don’t know what I enjoyed more: watching Wilma Yost of Polymer Clay Express demonstrating the Dream Machine and trying it out for myself, watching Melanie West’s demos, catching some of Arlene Groch’s enthusiasm or having uninterrupted time to continue working through Polymer Clay Color Inspirations.

I clayed, drank whiskey, sat up until 7:00 am one night (morning?) claying and chatting, made new friends and saw old ones.
Everyone had a wonderful, relaxing time.  See you in 2011!

What I made in Ellen Marshall’s class

I took a little time off from working my way through Polymer Clay Color Inspirations to take a surface design class with Ellen Marshall at the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild. You can read all about it on the Guild Blog.

Ellen led us through making texture plates and gave a boatload of suggestions for clay surface treatments with a host of acrylic mediums, paints, pastels, stamps, and a secret discovery from Radio Shack. The pictures below show some of the work I did-a texture stamp make of scrap clay, and the surface-embellished clay in various stages. After texturing and coloring a sheet, I cut it in strips, rearranged them, cut them cross wise and rearranged them again. They offer some interesting project possibilities. It was an interesting, relaxing class. Thanks Ellen!






Sanding Polymer Clay Beads in a Rock Tumbler

I’ve seen so many questions about this technique on the Internet that  I had to share what I’ve learned from my experiments.

I prefer vibratory tumblers  to rolling tumblers because they’re quieter and work more quickly.   Plus, they are less likely to distort the shape of the beads. When my beloved Vibratech tumbler (no longer made) gave out earlier this year, I researched vibratory tumblers and  liked what I read about the Raytech brand. You can read more about Raytech tumblers here.

As you probably know, vibratory tumblers can be expensive, but Raytech makes a hobby-sized model that won’t break the bank.   I chose the Raytech TV-5 Complete Vibratory Tumbler Kit from 1 because they had the best price and it comes with a spare bowl and bolt.  

3 I tumble my baked beads with Bon Ami cleanser and water.  I got the idea from a post on  Glass Attic.  I don’t just finish my beads this way; this is the only sanding they get. Of course, if you have a real bumpy bead, you probably need to whip out the sandpaper, but I’ve found that the Bon Ami tumbling method works on hand-formed beads, extruded beads, beads made with bead rollers and it puts a nice finish on most shapes, including disc and lentil, and carved faux beads.  I always drill after I tumble.

4aI wait until I have a bowlful of beads and I put them 4bin the container (which looks like a bunt pan) with about half a can of the cleanser. I pour in enough water to make a slip-like substance that coats the beads. What smooths the beads is the abrasive action of the Bon Ami and the beads vibrating (rolling actually) into one another. If you have too much water, there’s not enough abrasive action.  Too little water, and the beads become embedded in cleanser muck and won’t move.  

The Raytech TV-5 is low tech.  You turn it on and off by plugging and unplugging it.  I sit mine on a cement floor in the basement. It has a clear plastic top that screws on with a rubber and metal bolt.  It’s important to screw the bolt on tightly for two reasons: First, the tighter it is, the quieter the tumbler runs. Secondly, the water will evaporate more slowly allowing you to leave the tumbler on for 12-24 hours at a stretch.

I check my beads every 12 hours or so,  unplugging the tumbler first, taking out a bead, rinsing all the cleanser off, feeling the surface and noting the shape. If I decide to continue tumbling, I might add water if the bowl contents are too dry or a bit more cleanser if the bowl contents are too wet.

Whether the beads get another tumble depends on how smooth they are. There is no exact recipe; each batch is different and things like bead shape and humidity (which affects how fast the water will evaporate) influence the process.  You have to experiment and see what works for you.

When the beads are as smooth as I like, I dump the contents of the bowl 5into a dishpan filled with water and dislodge as much of the cleanser as I can. Then I put the beads in a big mesh strainer and rinse off more cleanser.  I put them back in the bowl (which I have cleaned) and tumble them for a day in water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. The cleanser will get into small cracks (usually in faux beads) and this process removes most of it. Sometimes I finish cleaning any cracks with a toothbrush, but I’m not obsessive about it. This is supposed to be a work saving technique after all.    bead

It is very important to dry the beads and get as much of the white haze off of them as you reasonably can before buffing.   I buff the beads with a high-speed buffer and a muslin wheel.   The result is the nice shiny finish.   beads


The left picture shows an experiment: untumbled baked beads (front) and other shapes made from the same clay  that were tumbled and polished on a high-speed buffer. The beads on the right were tumbled and buffed.

 Why use Bon Ami instead of tumbling grit?  You can pour your waste water down the drain for one thing.  And the grit is made for stones.  The Bon Ami might take longer, but you won’t have to check as often and you are less likely to ruin your beads.  If you have any doubts about the capability of Bon Ami cleanser and water to remove baked clay from beads, look at the picture below.  The two beads were identical and the one on the right spent a few days in the tumbler.


I’m a Fool for Faux

I love to make faux beads from polymer clay and have been obsessed with it lately. Here are four of my favorite books. They contain plenty of recipes for making every kind of faux substance you can imagine.


I use a vibratory rock tumbler instead of sanding and I’ve gotten great results. I promise I’ll do a post on it soon.

Polymer Clay Experiments: Bleaching Baked Clay

Did you ever put clay into the oven looking bright and have it come out looking dark and dull? This sometimes happens to me with white clay, translucent and light yellows. The first thing I recommend is to give your oven a good cleaning, even if you never use it for anything but polymer clay. (A dedicated oven is recommended) I think that scum can build up on the inside of the oven and sometimes discolor light clay and affect the temperature. You’d be surprised what a difference a clean oven can make.

But what to do if your clay is discolored or even burned slightly? Before you throw it away, try bleaching it. I have used bleach on black and white canes. The white got whiter and the black stayed black. I don’t have any pictures of those. A few weeks ago, however, I made some earrings with lots of Premo zinc yellow and they came out looking dark and dull. I put them in a glass, covered them with bleach and let them sit for about a week. Look at the before and after pictures below. The bleach seems to lighten light colored clay but not to wash out dark clay. Try it yourself and see what you think.

Since I posted this, a person wondered if soaking baked polymer in bleach might weaken it. The answer is, “Maybe.” My friend Terri Powell who is a chemist and a polymer clay artist said, ” I don’t know the answer to your bleach question for sure, but my suspicion is yes. You’re talking about putting plastic in acid for an extended period of time. It’s the extended period of time that I think might be the problem–I’m sure just a wash probably wouldn’t be too bad, but the prolonged contact could be problematic. On the flip side, you could just be cleaning off the surface layer of yuck, and not doing much damage to the main body of the structure. I would do an experiment. Take two similar pieces, bleach one, and then try to bend/break both. That might give you some clues. “