April 12, 2011

Taking A Painting Break with Polymer Clay Fun

While I have plenty of reference photos and a full list of ideas in the ole moleskine, I'm still not back in the painting groove. So last night, I decided to pull out my tin of polymer clay.  I don't use it very often, but when I do, I use it to give new life to old jars.

Here's the frog I completed last night using a jar from those little
sample jams.  I'm using this one to keep the few marbles I have left
to lose.

Covering jar lids is one of my favorite ways to "upcycle".  I've completed quite a few for storing tea bags, sugar, honey, dried pasta, beans, rice, etc.

"But, Rosa, is that safe?" you may ask. To which, I would answer:  Sculpey's website specifies that the pre-baked clay should not come in contact with food prep-surfaces and tools, which is a rule I tend to follow.  The other rule, which I've interpreted as more as a guideline in this case, is that polymer clay should not be used to make items that are meant to hold or serve food.  Both Sculpey and Fimo are certified as non-toxic, but I'm inclined to agree that making bowls or plates from the stuff isn't the best idea.  Jar lids aren't quite the same, in my opinion.  As long as the clay is kept off the inside of the lid, it's not really coming in contact with the edible contents.  I've been using these jars to hold the edible items I've discussed above for years and I've yet to come down with a case of clay poisoning, but that said, I must include a little disclaimer stating that I do so at my own risk and I cannot be held at all accountable if you happen to come down with a case of clay poisoning, or any resulting ailment for that matter.

After all, there are plenty of non-edibles worth keeping in jars-- swearing fees, lockless keys, marbles one has left to lose, so why not make a few?  Here's how I do it.

They were fine peaches.
I select a nice glass jar with a solid metal lid and make sure it's nice and clean. The jar itself isn't as important as a good lid. Polymer clay has to be baked in an oven to harden, so you want to make sure there's no plastic or other materials that would warp or melt when subject to temperatures of over 200°F. Obviously a mason lid wouldn't work as it's comprised of two separate components. Jared fruits and veggies, tomato sauce, peanut butter, honey, jam-- all good sources of metal, screw-top lids and glass jars that will work for this project.

After the jar is secured, all that's needed is some polymer clay, a conventional or toaster oven, and a few basic tools. You can purchase specified sculpting and clay working tools (usually in the same aisle as polymer clay) but I've found that an old X-acto knife and manicure stick are usually the extent of what I need for this sort of project.  A rolling pin helps too, but I only have one of those and it's exclusively for food use.  Any smooth-surface, cylindrical object does the trick, but if you really love working with polymer clay and want to do some fancier blending and rolling in less time, many people opt for a craft-exclusive pasta maker.

An old reed diffuser bottle works for me.

 I start by putting a thin sheet of clay over the jar lid, which is just going to serve as a base layer.  I like to save all my mixed scraps from previous projects and blend them together for this purpose.  The color isn't too much of a concern as the pretty parts will happen later.

Making sure I have a abundant quantity to cover the top and sides
of the lid.
The clay is rolled fairly thin-- roughly the thickness of a
heavy rubber glove.

The clay is smoothed on tight.  I try to press out any air bubbles.  Stubborn ones can be vented by cutting a small hole with the X-acto and pressing the air out.  The hole can then be smoothed over by hand.

This particular lid has a helpful little rim, so it's easy to press
the clay to the very edge.
Once the clay is smoothed and flush over the surface and sides, I carefully run the X-acto knife around the edge to evenly trim the excess.

Based on the type of lid at hand, sometimes some careful rounding is needed. 

You can see where more careful trimming and smoothing is
needed on those lids that lack a base rim compared to the
photo below.

  Once that's done, the fun stuff can begin.  At this point, I start smoothing cuts from canes I've made to create a patterned surface.  Making polymer clay canes can be a whole other project until itself.  That's not to say it's difficult, there's just a technique to it.  You can even purchase pre-made canes, but I don't think they're really worth the price, especially when you can create something totally unique by making your own. It's pretty much just like making sushi.

Few canes in progress here.
I usually start the covering process by wrapping cane cuts around the lid's side.

They're not the most glamorous cuts, but much of this
edge is going to be overlapped with other patterns.
Adding a few "leaves" to smooth around the edge.
A simple teardrop cane can be used to create flower petals.
After enough petals, some full flowers come into bloom.
If I'm creating a design that's not quite as three dimensional as our frog friend at the top, I usually do a basic rolling technique to flatten the polymer when things really start to stack up.  This also serves to smooth the clay and secure the individual cane cuts.

Gently rolling the lid while it's attached the jar here.
Make sure all clay bits are cleared from the rolling
surface or you will work them into your design--
which can work for or against you.
Once the design is smooth, I usually add additional canes and repeat the process until I'm happy with the design or sick of working on it, which often occur simultaneously.  If there's any overlap on the edge, which is sometimes created as a result of spreading the clay during the rolling technique, simply run around the edge with the X-acto knife and trim the excess again.

A time-consuming butterfly wing cane that came out a bit too
large, but the colors should work with this design so I decide
to add it in.

Once the design is completed, the lid is removed from the jar-- taking care not to smudge. The lid is then baked on a foil covered baking sheet in a 250°F oven for half an hour per quarter inch of polymer.

Our little frog friend seems to be enjoying the heat.

After cooling, the polymer is totally hardened and can be
gently hand washed as needed.
Thanks again to every one who followed along.  I hope you enjoyed this little painting break as much as I did.  It'll be back to painting again soon, but I welcome any questions or comments on this project.