Working with clay Basics
Polymer Clay -
How and Where to Start
Welcome to the polymer clay "family"! A polymer clay artist, whether a beginner or advanced needs only a few basic supplies to produce successful results. Some of the best artists don't use many tools beyond the basics. If you're visiting this site, it means you are wondering about this material called "polymer clay". The 1st time I saw polymer clay was on 2005 when I joined a small group of women and made a simple millefiori cane, for others it may be a final product they saw and wondered what it is made of. Where did you see it for the 1st time? :)
So, Where to start?
Although, there is an impressive list of tools and materials you can purchase for this new hobby you don't have to buy them all at once, you will not need all of them (not right away). Most of the tools and materials are not very expensive, but they add up very quickly. To make it easier for your budget, buy only the tools you need at the moment.
How do you decide what you need?
Find a project or two that you would like to start with, it can be something from the internet or a meeting with a polymer clay friend. When looking for internet projects, each project description contains a list of tools and materials. There are many sites on the Internet where you can look for projects. I would suggest picking one that is suitable for beginners. Some of PolyPediaOnline tutorials are also designated to beginners (such as Vol. 12 - Fun bugs & Vol. 13 - Summer Trio), I am currently working on a new PolyPediaOnline section just for beginners but it may take a while until it is available.
In the following list I am reviewing many tools and materials, not all of them are a "must" for beginners.
To my opinion, these are the 5 "must" tools for beginners:
1. Polymer clay
2. Working surface
3. Roller/Pasta machine
5. Oven (with a thermometer)
and of course your talented hands :)
Take the time to read along and choose your tools according to the project you are creating but remember, you don't have to buy all at once, I'm still collecting tools and materials and adding a few every time i see something interesting :)
Polymer clay is a synthetic modeling material that remains maleable until it is cured by baking at a low temperature. All polymer clays are basically made up of polyvinyl-chloride (PVC), pigment and solvents. Most project descriptions avoid mentioning specific brands, yet you will find at least a few different types of polymer clay in a craft store and even more on the Internet.
Which one to buy? Each country carries different brands, In Norway i heard there is just Fimo, in Germany Fimo and Pardo are the most popular, in USA mostly Premo. Check at your local craft stores (USA - Michael's, Joann Crafts or Hobby Lobby), and do your best to pick clay that is not too firm (Premo is very comfortable to start with and easy to soften). Once you are more comfortable with polymer clay, you may want to switch to other brands of polymer clay (such as Kato which is the strongest after curing but is also pretty stiff in its raw form and requires more conditioning than other clays)
Before you go to the store, decide what colors of clay you would like to use for your project. You may have to buy more than one block if multiple colors are required for your project. Keep in mind, that different colors of clay may be mixed just like regular paints, so if your project requires yellow, green, and blue, you can simply buy yellow and blue (and mix them to obtain green). You can also mix different kind of clays!
A Work Surface
The best surfaces for working with polymer clay are a smooth ceramic tile, a plexi-glass piece or a sheet of glass, flat placements sheets are also optional but you would need to use tape to secure it to the table so it won't move all the time. Don't use the surface of your room table or any other surface you care about, raw polymer clay may damage/stain surfaces and it is better to keep it separate for your dedicated projects.
Baking is the most important element of success in creating with polymer clay. You can create the most amazing thing, but if it melts, burns or break because it's undercooked - it's sad. Polymer clay needs to be baked in a regular oven for it to become hardened, durable.
To bake your polymer clay creations, you will need an oven that can be accurately programmed to generate temperatures between 215°F (102°C) to 325°F (163°C) - according to manufacturers instructions. This range is sufficient to bake any polymer clay item.
For more details on baking polymer clay, please see a separate page
General Tools and Materials
If you have tried other crafts, you may already have some of the tools and materials that are required for your first polymer clay project, some other tools may be borrowed from your kitchen or throughout the house. These include knives, roller, grater, and many more. However, to be safe, it is wise to designate these tools for polymer clay only. I have posted about the use of kitchen tools in my PolymeriOnline Blog - you are welcome to check that list
Rolling Tools A pasta machine is invaluable for rolling smooth, even sheets of polymer clay at various thicknesses. It is used to roll out the clay quickly and accurately. If you are planning to use polymer clay as a new hobby or an occupation, consider purchasing a polymer clay dedicated pasta machine and make your life much much easier.
If you are not sure yet about this new hobby, I would suggest getting a roller. You can use an acrylic rod or brayer for hand rolling sheets of clay. However, any smooth, lightweight tube will work as a rolling tool. You can also use a good clear simple plastic roller that can be found in a craft store. If you decide to buy the pasta machine later, the roller will still be useful.
Most projects requires the cutting or slicing of stripes/slabs/shapes and polymer clay millefiori canes.
A few simple cutting tools will make the job easy -
Blades for polymer clay are available in craft stores. They are usually 6" (15 cm) long and come in both flexible and rigid types.
For some projects they can be substituted with a disposable cutter from a home store. I personally used them a lot when i started with polymer clay and we didn't have any alternative, other blades weren't available.
For safety, I suggest marking the dull side of the blade with some nail polish/permanent pen. Be careful!!