Friday, December 28, 2012

Chris Dembinski’s Polymer Clay Color Recipe Ebooks. Love them!

A few days ago I discovered Chris Dembinski’s amazing and helpful "Premo Spring/Summer 2013 Polymer Clay Color Recipes Ebook", available at her Etsy shop, CraftsbyChris. I had posted a question on the PCC Forum asking for polymer clay color formula ideas for using Premo clay to get an Emerald color to match the new Pantone's Emerald "color of the year 2013". Susan replied that she had purchased Chris' Ebooks for three years in a row and they had saved her hours and hours of experiment time. She referred to herself as a very happy customer with a notebook of samples she actually uses. So.........I purchased one and am SO PLEASED and inspired I want to purchase more!

Just SOME of the many colors in this one Ebook by Chris Dembinski

Chris has a number of different PDF Ebooks with recipe formulas to match the Pantone "hot color" picks for various seasons and years and with color recipes using various brands of polymer clay, including Premo, Kato and Fimo Classic. When you download the recipes you can choose to print them out in index cards size, or business card size. She also includes information and lovely pictures showing which of the Pantone colors in the specific formula book are likely to work well together. I was happy to find out that the formulas use the basic colors that Marie Segal used when she originally designed the Premo colors rather than any of the trendy "upstart" colors. They do use the "retired" Zinc Yellow and Cobalt Blue colors, but she lists three sources of where those colors may still be purchased via mail order.

Another surprise was that she creates so many gorgeous colors from so FEW colors. In the book I have she just choose the exactly CORRECT colors needed in the formula blends to create a veritable rainbow from only 8-9 basic colors total for the entire color palette.

Many of my colleagues know that I'm a color formula "junkie". When I first started my polymer clay journey 16 years ago I was paralyzed with fear to the point of inertia with the "learning curve" involved, to the point that ALL I did with the clay for the first year was to experiment with making color samples that were then taped to business cards with heat resistant double sided Tacky Tape before I cured them.

Whenever I begin a new project my favorite thing to do is to formulate the colors and crank out color samples as needed. That's my first step to planning out a new project and that first step often gets my Muse's attention (she LOVES color) and gets my creative juices flowing. Whenever I get "stuck" my favorite thing to do is to make color samples.....well, you get the idea why I call myself a color formula junkie. The samples now number around 12,000 at last "ball park" count several years ago, but I think it's more like 15,000.......which represent lots of "getting stucks".

That said, I think that Chris' color sample formulas have TOTALLY EXPANDED my color palette by adding small amounts of colors into formulas I never would have thought to try and producing new awesome colors. The fact that the colors coordinate with Pantone's color forecast is a huge added plus. To purchase: craftsbychris at Etsy

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Angel Cat Christmas Ornament, faux Terracotta and Turquoise with Sedona Red Rock Dirt in Polymer Clay matrix

We're decorating our Christmas tree this year in a "Celebration of Sedona Arizona" theme utilizing Terracotta, Red Rock and Turquoise as the color scheme. I shared the Southwestern disk mini-scenes Christmas ornaments that are on the tree in my recent blog post, but the tree needed an angel on top. At our house that means an angel CAT. This smiling and whimsical newest addition to our Christmas ornaments fits right into the Southwestern color scheme. He's made from polymer clay with a touch of "magical" Sedona Red Rock Dirt included in the matrix. He has a golden halo and wings for a touch of holiday glitz and whiskers made from brush bristles.
Mr Southwestern Angel Cat and some of his matching Red and Green Angel Cat friends are available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

While we're on the subject of the fast approaching holidays (and  your gift list!), I'd like to remind you about my husband's book called "Life Is a Hammock". This photo-illustrated humorous Cat Book tells the stories of two traveling cats who take adventurous journeys throughout the USA while camping with their adopted parents. Written as a fundraiser for libraries and animal shelters, it is told in the first person by a very endearing cat. It makes for delightful light reading and is the perfect gift for any animal lover.  

The book can also be purchased at MelodyODesigns at ArtFire and MelodyODesigns at Etsy. Sy has made the book available on consignment at cost to Humane Societies and animal shelters around the country to use as a fund raiser. For information on this program please click on:  Life is a Hammock  and read down the right side of the home page.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Southwestern Christmas Ornaments from Polymer Clay with Sedona, Arizona Red Rock Dirt in Matrix

This Holiday Season we decided to decorate one of our trees in a Southwestern theme using polymer clay ornaments in a faux red rock and turquoise color scheme. To honor the Sedona area where we live each of the ornaments has a tiny bit of "magical" Sedona Red Rock Dirt embedded in the matrix. I thought it would be fun to make a series of ornaments that have tiny Arizona scenes appliqued on them, some embellished with hand painting using liquid polymer clay mixed with heat set oil paint.

Roadrunner chases a dragonfly amid blooming yellow prickly pear cactus and a lonely coyote howls at the moon under a Christmas star.
Kokopelli plays his heart out on his flute and a coal black horse frolics under the desert sun near a blooming saguaro cactus.

The set of four ornaments in addition to other unique handmade Arizona, Sedona, and Southwestern ornaments and jewelry are available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Monday, October 8, 2012

Part 2: My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools + Gadgets + Glues

 ..........continuing our countdown of "My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools, Gadgets and Glues Pt.1 from the previous post. If you missed PART ONE please click on the link directly above...............

Genesis Heat Set Oil Paints mixed with TLS
#12 Genesis Heat set oil paints produce vibrant colors and a shiny jewel-like surface when mixed with Kato Liquid Polyclay or TLS (Translucent Liquid Sculpey) and painted onto poly clay. I think the colors on pieces painted with Genesis mixed with Kato are more shiny and jewel-like after curing than those mixed with TLS. Both Polymer Clay Express and Clay Alley both sell jars of Genesis as well as a much more economical sampler pack that contains small tubes of some of the popular colors. You may need to scroll down a little to find the sampler packs listed at both places and there could be some important colors missing. I keep the mixtures in small metal screw top jars they sell for organizing little scrapbook treasures (see first photo at top of this article). I find that KATO Liquid Polyclay settles, so if using Kato make sure it is mixed well first by inverting the container several times (top well screwed on!) and letting it sit for 5 minutes each time time before adding the Genesis....... and the mixture will also need to be mixed well again if it sits for any length of time.
 Soft Plastic lid tops are safe for use with Polymer clay
#11 Soft Plastic food container lids (HDPE recycling code #3, from yogurt containers, etc.) are safe to use with uncured PC and help me organize my work table to hold each specific component as I work on a piece. I also use them as a paint palette for TLS mixed with Genesis heat set oil paints, "corral" storage for beads so they don't fall on the floor as I'm working, "trays" for jewelry findings etc., glue catcher, etc.

D.R.E.A.M. Machine (pasta-like machine) from Polymer Clay Express
#10 D.R.E.A.M. brand "pasta-like" machine from Polymer Clay Express is terrific for conditioning clay, rolling out sheets of clay, mixing color formulas, making Skinner Blends, etc. I LOVE IT!!!!! It's such a solid and strong workhorse. It makes very flat sheets and is able to make very thin sheets, as well, much thinner than I was able to make on my Atlas. It is able to tame slabs of clay that are quite a bit thicker than a #1 on an Atlas. The thickest setting on the D.R.E.A.M. machine (#1) makes a sheet approximately 1/6" (3.556mm) thick. It's so powerful that it's easy to crank by hand and unlike the Atlas, this machine doesn't leave tiny ridges in the rolled out sheets and doesn't leave black streaks on light colored clay. Plaquing on my PC sheets appears to have diminished a lot, too. I think that might be because there is much less slippage and abrasion to the clay. The machine also has adjustments so one can easily make very narrow Skinner blends.

I did eventually get the matching motor for it from Polymer Clay Express and love it, too. It's such a heavy workhorse that I expect it to have a long life.

For simple "in between" scraper cleaning I use a dry paper towel folded over a number of times so it's just a bit thicker than the width between the rollers when set on #1. I do this whenever I change colors, as recommended by Wilma at Polymer Clay Express. I only actually take it apart to clean the scrapers every few weeks, or when I want to work with very light colors.  Compared to my "OH SO EASY to clean" Monafied (modified) Atlas pasta machines (that I still use from time to time and HIGHLY recommend as a mid-price pasta machine),  I found that removing the scraper blades from the D.R.E.A.M. machine to clean them was not particularly easy, especially if one follows the written directions that come with the machine, however.........

EDITED: Sue C. shared a MUCH simpler way of cleaning the scrapers than what is described in PCE's  directions. First do the complete operation on the front side and then do it on the back side. Simply remove the 3 hex nuts (PCE may call these "screw heads"?) that hold the long black scraper blade in place, clean the scraper blade with a paper towel and replace it.  I  find that for ease in applying the hex nuts it's helpful to follow this specific order: Insert the center screw through the hole,  add the screw head and barely tighten just enough so that it grabs,  then do the same for the other two. Once  all three are gently tightened then FIRMLY tighten all three (but not tight enough to risk stripping the threads).  Repeat on the back side. It's a bit tricky, but once you've done it a few times you can even accomplish this without even having to un-clamp the machine. I still find that maneuvering the scraper blades back into place and manipulating the screw heads takes finger dexterity, good vision and is not really easy, but this method is SO much quicker than following the directions that come with the machine. Thanks Sue C! 

To remove the scraper hex nuts that hold the scrapers in (i.e. scraper retainer nuts) I used to use a 2 1/4 inch (6cm) long mini flat wrench the size of the hex nuts. Clearance was a problem if trying to use a wrench with a handle any longer than that. Then I discovered a 5/16 inch  "deep socket wrench"with a 3 1/2"(9cm) short handle that fits the hex nuts and it works well

The more firmly you tighten the screw heads, the less clay gets stuck underneath the scrapers and the less often you need to clean it with anything other than a dry folded paper towel. However, don't tighten so firmly that you risk stripping the screws. I believe Wilma recommends one turn past where it it grabs when tightening by hand. 

That said, I really LOVE my D.R.E.A.M. machine and compared to IT, all the other pasta machines I've had in my studio seem like children's toys!

"Magic" Tissue Blades from CarolynsClayCreations
#9 CarolynsClayCreations tissue blades make it so easy to slice canes that even I have FINALLY been able to make super thin clay slices. Look for it at Carolyn's site listed under "tools". EDITED 1/2016. Carolyn's blades are no longer available, but I'm keeping this on the list in her memory until I locate another source I like. She will be missed.

I protect the sharp edge of the tissue blade when it's not being used by sliding it (via an open end) inside the colorful triangular shaped plastic edge of a "slide bar report cover" from Office Max, the kind you use in conjunction with a clear plastic folded-over page to protect and hold thin document pages together. I cut it to a bit longer than the length of the tissue blade using a sharp kitchen shears or a jigsaw. I suggest making it a bit longer than you need it to be to begin with, because the cut end often needs a bit of extra trimming to make it smooth. Make sure when you slide the blade in that there is plenty of clearance between the "business" edge of the blade and the plastic, so as not to dull the blade.

Kemper and Wilton cutters
#8 Cutters: I use the Kemper mini cutters (called pattern cutters) in a number of sets and sizes. I primarily use them for easily cutting out uniform polymer clay embellishments and for measuring the amount of clay to put in a bead roller. They come in ten sets of different shapes. My favorites are the square, round, heart, teardrop (useful for making petals), flower and stars. They are available at many polymer clay supply venues. I purchased mine from Marie Segal’s Clay Factory because it is one of the few mail order clay stores that carry the cutters in open stock rather than in sets, so one can purchase single cutters if they wish. They also carry them in sets, including one complete Set of 55 Pattern Cutters.

In order to get a nice tapered edge to the cutout piece of clay when you use a Kemper or other type of cutter, you can place a layer of Saran Wrap (plastic food wrap, but I prefer the Saran Wrap brand) between the top of the clay sheet and your cutter before you cut. Press the cutter FIRMLY into the Saran Wrap and move it slightly back and forth, up and down a few times. It gives a nicer edge to the cutout. The cutter releases easily from the wrap and it's usually easy to peel the PC cut shape off the Saran Wrap. I especially like the nice plump and rounded hearts that this cutting method produces.

Some of the cutters are quite small and I have them in many sizes. It's not always easy to tell the sizes apart, so I wrote the size on the cutter with a Sharpie Fine Point. Once the ink was dry I put a piece of clear tape over it to make it more permanent.

I have found that the larger Kemper cutter sets, like the Kemper Rose Cutter Set or Leaf Cutter Set, have edges that are too dull to work well on polymer clay, though sharpening the cutting edges with a file does help a little. I like the nesting round set of cutters I have  from Ateco.
Wilton Cutter with "empty" Rubber Stamp mount to use for pressing on cutter.
I use a set of sharp square Wilton cutters to measure out clay when assembling a large batch of a certain color recipe that utilizes, for example, 1X of one color and 5X of another, etc. I have some smooth and ergonomically shaped wooden mounts left over from rubber stamps after I removed the rubber dies to store them in an unmounted form. I find that after using the Wilton cutters to press through thick clay the hard metal edge of the top part of the cutter digs into my hands and hurts. I found that if I put the wooden stamp mount on top of the cutter and press directly onto the stamp mount it makes it much easier to use the cutter with a firm and even pressure and it protects my hands.
Pen Tips to apply colored TLS
#7 Once the ink supply of a Micron Pigma, Sakura MicroPerm, or Sharpie Fine pen is used up, the "spent" pen is super for applying tiny lines and dots of liquid polyclay mixed with Genesis Heat set Oil paints when decorating faux lampwork-type pieces. For wider lines I use the "used up" ink refill cartridges from various other brands of traditional ball point pens that I've forced into a large wooden bead for a handle. I particularly like Dr. Grip refills. Clean up between colors is as easy as a wipe on a paper towel.

Crafter's Heat Gun 
#6 I find a Crafter's Heat Gun is so valuable for setting liquid polyclay prior to curing so that it doesn't smear and very helpful to give a preliminary curing to delicate regular polyclay pieces prior to curing. I think that the key to successful use is continually moving the heat gun and keeping it at least 6" away from the clay surface. Otherwise it can scorch the PC. It can also be used on cured Kato Liquid PolyClay for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven to increase the shine a bit.

Bead Piercing Pins
#5 Bead hole-making "stuff": I find that if I initially attempt to make too large a hole in the raw beads (even in chilled beads) I tend to produce squished beads, so depending on the relative size of the bead I'm piercing, I use the smallest appropriate pin to effectively make the “starter hole” that will be eventually be enlarged with drill bits after curing. My piercing “stash” includes re-purposed new injection syringes, pins used for sewing, bead piercing pins and needles set into polyclay handles. For average sized beads (like #8-#10) I use a dressmaker's pin to make the initial tiny channel hole in the raw bead (coming in from one end and then the other) and then enlarge the channel hole with a pin the diameter of a corsage pin or poly clay piercing pin, also coming in from both ends.

Once the bead is cured, the holes are hand drilled to make them wider. I use drill bits embedded into ergonomically designed poly clay handles, cured, and then permanently glued into the handles using two part epoxy. I use bits ranging from a tiny #78 wire gauge all the way up to a jumbo 9/64ths. I prefer the control of hand drilling over power drilling, especially for smaller beads. I generally start the drilling process with #54 drill bit (a bit smaller diameter than 1/16”) and progressively work my way up through increasingly larger diameters.

In order to make LARGE diameter holes that are tidy, strong, and resist tearing when ultimately drilled to 1/8” diameter I add an extra step to the initial bead channel process in the raw clay by using the tip of a wooden skewer in a screwing motion to enlarge both the edges for about 1/16”.

Knitting Needles
#4 Knitting needles: I use them in several sizes, from the very thin #000 sock needle to the big #10 1/2. The little #000 and the slightly bigger #4 are great for inscribing vein lines on leaves and making channels in cherries so that the stem wire can be inserted. The #6, #8 and big #10 1/2 are perfect for wrapping with wire to make my own jump rings.
X-Acto Knife Handle and #11 blade
#3 I would be lost without my X-Acto brand X 2000 with #11 Classic fine point replaceable blade. I can no longer find the replacement blades for sale by themselves locally without having to buy a collection of various other numbered blades, so I now mail order them directly from one of my favorite companies

Large Vintage Farberware Convection Oven
#2 My vintage Farberware Convection Oven is big and beautiful and keeps a very steady temperature when lined on the bottom  with terracotta tiles. I buy used Farberwares  from eBay and currently have 4 in residence in the garage. Some people stock up on food and water in case there's ever a disaster, while I........

My favorite model of Farberware is a T 4850 and the remainder are the woodgrained 450's and 460's. If one is purchasing a Farberware that will be shipped I recommend making sure that it is insured. Unless they are packed VERY well with a lot of cushioning between the oven and the carton, the glass can break in transit. I've had two experiences with a lot of glass to sweep up after I unpacked the shipping carton!

An important hint about using the Farberwares that was shared with me by Laurie Prophater, “If you do find one...Be sure to use a power strip to turn it on and off! I cannot emphasize this enough. The on/off knob will be the first thing to go. There is a “stays on” set that and forget it.”

Ta-da........................and NUMBER ONE on the list:
1/4" x 6 "Magic Wand" acrylic smoothing rod roller
#1 The "Magic Wand", a 1/4" diameter 6" long clear acrylic rod that is fabulous for just about any clay smoothing application. I LOVE this acrylic rod for rolling across the surfaces of my jewelry pieces to smooth them and it's SUPER for smoothing down thin applied cane slices and appliques.  Polymer Clay Express is now carrying the smoothing rod. They also carry the 1/2" diameter version for working on larger pieces. For further smoothing rod info and availability please see this more current smoothing rod blog post.

You also might enjoy reading my  tute:Varnishing Polymer Clay with Rustoleum Varathane ©

If you'd like to see the finished pieces that were made using the tools listed above, I invite you to visit my shop MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools + Gadgets + Glues Pt. 1

I saw a TV program on the History Channel where the editors of "Popular Mechanics" came up with their choice of the “101Gadgets that changed the world”. I thought it would be fun to come up a list of my favorite 25 polymer clay studio tools, gadgets and glues that changed MY world. I discussed it with my husband, trying to figure out what I would include on the list. He happened to be holding his camera at the time and he told me to hold up my hands. HUH? Click, click...........and he then proceeded to photograph my 10 fingers and told me, "Now you've got your first 10 items on the list done!" Moving on........

I plan to divide this into two separate blog posts over the next few weeks........................and here's the countdown starting at #25

Ball bearing tools 

#25 I made one of my favorite tools from ball bearings purchased at our local hardware store and glued with epoxy to the ends of a pieces of dried bamboo-like plant material that was growing locally. I have a variety of sizes and use them for sculpting, softening angular lines and making eye sockets in my cat jewelry.

Epoxy 220 

#24 I use two part epoxy to glue my silky cords into cord-ending findings and also to adhere anything metal (like bails, wire hangers and pinbacks) to polyclay. So far I have never found it to fail, except on Kato clay (which may need the surface roughed up a little and/or a brief alcohol wash with a cotton-tipped swab). I use the "Epoxy 220" because it’s ultimately stronger than its counterpart, "Epoxy 320", even though it takes longer to dry to full strength. It needs 24 hours to be fully cured. I found these directions and hints for mixing/using the two part epoxy very helpful. (located near the bottom of the home page). Fire Mountain Gems also carries it.

Zap-A-Gap glues 
#23 Zap Glues are a family of cyanoacrylate glues (like Super Glue), but they have a special formula designed to efficiently glue pieces that may have gaps and not fit tightly together. I find that they are not as strong as Epoxy 220, but they do dry to the touch very quickly. The more common Zap A Gap CA+ is a medium thick glue which allows for positioning for 7-10 seconds, though it doesn't reach it maximum strength for 24 hours. The less common Slo-Gap CA is a thicker formula that allows 30 seconds for positioning, and cures in 60 seconds. I use both, but in the dry humidity of Arizona I find myself really appreciating the longer window of open time for positioning that the Slo-Zap CA provides. The longer window also allows me more time to clean up any "oopsies", too. I use the Slo-Zap to glue brush bristle whiskers in my cat pins, to adhere thin polyclay covers over pin backs and to glue on glass embellishments. Hobby Lobby stocks both via mail order, but they usually only stock the Zap A Gap CA+ at their bricks and mortar stores. Shops that cater to fishermen who make their own flies also often stock it. Note: I had read that though cyanoacrylic glues dry to the touch very quickly, they also take 24 hours to reach their ultimate potential strength.
Crafter's Pick "The Ultimate" glue 
#22 I use Crafter's Pick "The Ultimate" waterbased PVA glue for many of my gluing needs. It's non-smell, non- toxic and strong, still strong even on pieces glued 15 years ago. A big PLUS to me is that it's also removable if one really works hard enough at case of those inevitable oops. I use it to adhere the components onto the macramé base of all my collar type necklaces.

I live in a dry climate and have finally figured out a way to prevent the glue in the bottle from drying out so quickly and to also make working with it more manageable. I never use the applicator part of the glue bottle, but unscrew and screw the entire applicator top instead. I keep a wooden skewer inside a weighted empty plastic bottle and use the skewer to take out more manageable glob of glue on the skewer tip to work with. If I need to use a lot of glue I use the skewer as an applicator. If I’m gluing tiny areas I usually apply the glue with a toothpick, taking off tiny bits of glue from the glob on the skewer as I work. This way I have to open the bottle much less often. The nice thing about using the wooden skewer is that I can use my utility scissors to cut off the gunked up end many times before it needs to be discarded and replaced.
Ott Lite CFL full spectrum replacement lights bulbs in ceiling fan
#21 In December, 2011 we replaced the regular CFL light bulbs in the fan/light fixture on the ceiling of my studio with with 25 watt Ott Light full spectrum and "true to color" replacement light bulb. They have made a HUGE difference to my vision-challenged ability to clearly see details as I work. I find that I need to use my magnifier a great deal less. --> --> Check out the photos at the following ink that visually demonstrates the difference in the clarity, glare, and brightness as compared to using regular CFL's or traditional incandescent bulbs. We also now use our Ott Lite bulbs in our 3 gooseneck lamps when photographing my jewelry and the positive changes in the quality and true color of our photographs has been amazing. All full-spectrum, color corrected bulbs are not the same and after testing a few brands I'm so glad that we made the change to Ott Lites.

Deli Sheets

#20 Deli Patty Paper sheets (greaseproof, waterproof and non-absorbent) easily provide a non-stick, non-leaching surface to any polyclay work area. I tape them around tiles or self healing mats for a strong and non-stick work surface. I like to use them so the pieces I'm working on won't get stuck to the tiles on my work surface. I used to use plain paper, but it leached the clay if the polyclay pieces sat on the paper too long. I also sometimes use deli sheets over trays of work waiting to be finished to protect the pieces from dust and also sometimes use them to help smooth polyclay surfaces as I work. While I currently use "Quicksheets" that I purchased several years ago from Polymer Clay Express, they are now stocking Papercon CP-8 (and scroll down) instead and I have heard good things about the brand.

Amazing mold Putty
#19 Amazing Mold Putty is my favorite molding compound. Even though it is relatively expensive, I find that it makes excellent detailed molds and it has the added plus that it can withstand the heat of curing, so that polyclay and liquid polyclay can actually be cured IN the mold.The green frog on the left was sculpted using PREMO polyclay. I then made a AMP mold of the frog, that's the yellow piece in the picture above. Then I poured liquid polyclay into the mold and cured it in the bakeable mold. I have had some unfortunate experiences that seem to indicate that perhaps AMP and the new "no phthalate formula" Kato clay are not compatible,
--> both to make a AMP mold FROM and to use to make a mold pull. AMP Stated shelf life of 6-8 months (Sarajane says hers is still good after 2 years). At least some Michaels and Hobby Lobby stores in the USA carry it.

#18 ArmorAll spray protectant is intended to be used to lubricate and protect rubber, plastic and vinyl and is primarily used on the interior of autos. This product is also very effective as a mold release when a very small amount is applied to a mold with a cotton tipped swab. Polyclay mold-pulls just slide out.

Colour Shapers

#17 Colour Shapers are rubber clay shaping tools from "Royal Sovereign, Ltd. They are usually available in sets of 5, but I only ever use the flat chisel and the taper point. While they do come in FIRM, I prefer the kind labeled SOFT because they leave less marks behind in the clay and in the smaller 1/8" wide mini size #0's because much of my work is detailed. I find they are invaluable for shaping and smoothing clay.

Olive Oil

#16 Olive Oil (I use extra virgin organic) in a dropper bottle. A TINY VERY SMALL bit rubbed into a finger tip and then almost all blotted off with a tissue is all you need. It helps lubricate the finger for more effective finger tip smoothing of a polyclay surface. I also apply some olive oil to my hands before I start working in my studio. It helps keep the hands soft, isn’t expensive……..and I love the faint aroma associated with PIZZA that it imparts!

Self Healing Cutting Mats

#15 Self-healing craft or rotary cutting mats provide a flat cutting while protecting the sharpness of a the cutter. The Fiskars brand comes in several sizes and they are usually available in craft, quilt or sewing stores. I have a large 18" X 24" one that is on the center of my work table. I also use two smaller 9"X 6" ones that I use I use when I cut out clay pieces or use Kemper cutters. I wrap in a sheet of deli wrap around the small mat and anchor it with drafting tape.

Ceramic or terracotta tiles on curing tray covered with plain paper for curing
#14 I use ceramic or terracotta tiles in two sizes as flat small work stations covered with deli wrap (held in place with ma king tape) while I work on a piece so that the clay doesn't stick to the work surface. I cure my pieces on tiles (WITHOUT THE DELI WRAP) because the tiles tend to help moderate the temperature and diminish hot spots. When I use the tiles for curing I cover the tile with a piece of white printer paper so that the back side of the PC pieces doesn't get shiny. One can usually purchase single tiles very inexpensively from tile-floor covering stores or home improvement centers. One big box  store even cut my tiles to size for me. The entire bottom of my oven is also covered with thick terracotta tiles to help moderate temperature.

Cocktail straw hole punch
#13 Tiny plastic cocktail straws are invaluable to punch clean jump ring holes into flat pieces of polyclay. I find that using the cocktail straw in a screwing motion forward and backward a few times makes for cleaner and more round holes. Each time I use the straw to create a hole I, snip off a short length of the straw the contains the little round bit of clay and discard it and then I'm ready to punch a new hole.

EDITED:After I published this blog post I read a clever blog post about using a coffee stirrer (shaped much like a cocktail straw) to punch out the holes and a skewer to push out the extra clay pieces by BJ of Knightwork Studio. So, now I'm using a very thin knitting needle to push out the pieces of clay from the cocktail straw. Thanks BJ!

I'm going to leave you hanging at #13. For the remainder of the list please check out the oh so creatively titled, Part 2 My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools, Gadgets and Glues .

You also might enjoy reading my tute:Varnishing Polymer Clay with Rustoleum Varathane ©

If you'd like to see the finished pieces that were made using the tools listed above, I invite you to visit my shop MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Faux Chrysoprase, Chalcedony and Translucent Polymer Clay Test Results

This Faux Chrysoprase and Fuchsia Chalcedony Necklace that I made from polymer clay is now available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy
I love the look of mint green and fuchsia together. Considering that these colors are expected to be popular colors for spring and summer 2012, I decided to include them in my palette this season in the form of faux Chrysoprase (also known as Chrysophrase) and faux Fuchsia Chalcedony gemstones. They are made by hand from scratch using artist quality polymer clay. These two colors make me think of spring flowers and summer watermelon (not to mention pistachio nuts!)

In making the original prototype for the necklace I used Fimo Soft Translucent 014 as the neutral mixing base for the green chrysophrase, to which a a tiny amount of green and turquoise PREMO clay was added. I loved the sense of depth of the inclusions and plaquing with the Fimo Soft. Alas, the old Fimo Soft Trans is now discontinued and the new Fimo Effects 014 replacement is not the same formula and produces different results. In trying to find a permanent replacement for the Fimo Soft Trans to use in making faux chrysophrase I made dozens of samples over the span of a month, utilizing various brands, product lines, and vintages of translucent clays, trying to replicate the color and depth of my initial prototype necklace. I kept 29 of the best samples and I thought it might be interesting to show the results. Except for the three samples that are marked with color formula changes, all of the samples pictured below use an IDENTICAL COLOR FORMULA. The only variants are the brand/vintage of translucent clay and the curing temperature. My goal with the samples was to replicate the results achieved in an extra teardrop sample from my initial Fimo Soft necklace (marked with a red heart on the samples photo below).

Sample Test Result photos utilizing many brands and vintages of translucent polymer clay for making faux chrysophrase.

As a long time PREMO user I was surprised at my seeming inability to achieve sufficient plaquing in the two versions of PREMO Trans. I know that other people have reported success, but I have not yet figured out how, at least not when I WANT it to plaque. I seem to sometimes be able to get decent amounts when I DON'T want it to plaque!

I was amazed to see how much color variation there was even BEFORE curing just by changing the brand and vintage of the translucent base. The PREMO Frost (5317), and Fimo Effect produced a blue-green. The PREMO 5310, Fimo Classic, and Kato produced a yellow-green. What really blew me away was the EXTREMELY different color sample results between those I made from the old Fimo SoftTranslucent 014 in MY stash as compared to those made from the old Fimo Soft Trans 014 from Carolyn of CarolynsCreations (who generously gave up some of her clay stash so that I could make a 2nd necklace). Mine resulted in a lovely mint blue-green. Carolyn's resulted in a pretty yellow-green.

TEST RESULTS: The no longer available Fimo Soft (014) seems to have created the most visual depth, deep plaquing, and ability of the colored inclusions to delicately merge into the matrix. This was followed in order of increasing opaqueness by Fimo Effect, PREMO Trans (5310), PREMO Frost (5317, also known in the 2 oz size packages as PREMO White Translucent 5527), Fimo Classic (OO), and the nearly opaque Kato. I chose two Fimo Effect 014 samples as producing results that were the closest to my original Fimo Soft Trans prototype. They are grouped together and marked with a "BEST REPLACEMENT" with a yellow smiley face on the samples photo above.

To coax the most depth in the "fractured crackle" and plaquing out of the Fimo Effect samples, I initially froze the formed pieces and then immediately cured them in a pre-heated oven for a total of 30 minutes at decreasing degrees of heat:10 minutes at 290F., 10 minutes at 280F. and 10 minutes at 275F. The Fimo Effect Trans "winning sample" produced results that are not identical to those in my initial necklace#1, but it's still a winner. The old Fimo Soft Trans from Carolyn's stash produced very different results from the old Fimo Soft in my stash, but I think it will make a fine yellow-green jade sometime in the future.

For those readers who work with polymer clay and experience frustration trying to replicate the results with custom mixed colored clay formula recipes I have one more observation to share. In comparing the color of clay fresh out of the package of two 56g packages of Fimo Effect Translucent I noticed that there is clearly a difference in color, with one being slightly darker and slightly more yellow. I assume that the 8 digit number located away from the UPC code is the dye lot code, and the two packages have the identical code. Clearly, the results from custom mixing color formulas will vary if the neutral mixing base coming from the manufacturers isn't even identical.

FYI: The teardrop beads were created by starting with a carefully shaped and smoothed teardrop-shaped tinted polymer clay base bead. Tiny amounts of grated curls of colored clay (Raw Sienna and Ecru) were applied to the surface, one at a time, and then smeared into the surrounding area by hand to create the presence of small and realistic inclusions. The round faux chrysophrase beads were each also hand shaped and then inclusions were applied to the surface in a similar manner. Once the various components were cured, each was hand sanded with various grits of sandpaper (#360, #500, #1000, #2000, #4000) and then hand buffed, first using denim and then unbleached muslin.

I designed the following earrings to coordinate with the necklace (but they're not in my Etsy shop, please contact me if interested in purchasing.)

Coordinating earrings

Thanks go to Rob of Polymer Clay Express who patiently helped me understand the correlation between old and new stock numbers of both Fimo and PREMO trans, when the formulas changed, and how to identify the new formulas from the old in my stash.