Before starting with tips and tricks of polymer clay, I would like to tell you all that I am no way a "clay expert".All these tips and tricks are learned through my experience and researches that I made to learn about clay techniques. My clay journey started before even knowing the basics of clay. I started playing with polymer clay when I wanted to make a candy crush inspired pen holder. I don't even know that clay sticks to the glass and it can be baked safely in the oven. Instead what I did was to bake the clay pieces separately and then stuck to the glass with epoxy glue. Even though that is not a wrong way of doing it if it can be done easily why to chose the tough way, right? So, I am sharing some of the things that I learned and some basics for the beginner to know.
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What brand of clay to purchase and why?
As me being a normal human being like you, the first time when I when to buy clay I was pretty shocked to see that one Sculpey III 2oz block of clay costs $2.29 and Premo sculpey little higher than sculpey III. So I decided to stick with sculpey III. (Those where the days I was totally new to the craft stores in the USA and unaware of sales and coupons).Later, I had many failed projects with sculpey III, that is the time I started to learn more about clay and came to know that sculpey III is not suitable for beginners. So if you starting to work with clay better look for sale (you will even get $1 deals during Thanksgiving) or use coupons to purchase.
Next thing to look while purchasing is to look for the manufacturing year/month/date. I don't know whether all the companies have their details printed but polyform products have it printed.
Acrylic roller: This is the primary tool you should own if you are starting with clay. If you find this tool expensive you can use anything that is round like a roller.I was using a plastic box which looks just like an acrylic roller. I got mine at A.C.Moore (Just in case if you wanna know :))
Knife/blade: There is long blade available especially to use with polymer clay but alternatively you can also use Xacto knife.
Conditioning Machine: This is a must-have if you are working with bulk amount of clay or if you have decided to choose clay as a hobby. I am pretty sure you will not regret buying this. I would recommend this machine for two reasons, one is for easy conditioning and two is to get flat and even pieces.
Needle tool & dotted tool: These tools are used to put holes in the clay pieces and also to add textures. You can easily DIY these tools with some clay and needle.
Cookie cutters: You very well know these from the name. These are used to cut various shapes in various sizes however there is another set of tool called "Dottie tool" which is used to cut small circles of clay or put some holes(Like I did for my Embroidered clay rings) or add textures.
Use found items as tools: There are some great tools for clay around your house such as toothbrush, tooth pick, back of a paintbrush, Aluminium foil (for textures),sponges(makes great texture), etc. Use a zip lock bag or any plastic wrap above the clay piece while using a cookie cutter to give clean and domed edges
Some basics to start working with clay :
The first step you have to do once you take the clay out of the package is conditioning. Before actually using the conditioning machine, slightly warm up the clay with your hands and knead for some time and then fed them into the conditioning machine. When folding the clay sheet to feed through the machine the next time, note that the folded side has to go inside the rollers first to avoid air bubbles.
Whenever you cover any material with clay or doing a project with clay itself, make sure your project doesn't have any air bubbles. If you happen to find any, simply pop them with a needle and smooth it. It is advised to do this because when the clay is baked with air bubbles the result will be unexpected with cracks and distortion .must-have(Nobody wants that, right??)
When baking flat clay piece (For example: a fridge magnet, use a normal paper such as a copy paper under instead of placing the clay piece directly on the baking sheet to avoid glossy patches on the flat side of the baked clay piece. You can also must-have the flat piece in between two paper and sandwiching them with two tiles to get really flat piece. (Does not apply for clay pieces with work above the surface on one side).However, you have to bake them for long time compared to the normal timing. May be 60 to 90 mins.
If you are not sure , how your oven works(Some oven go crazy high temperature even though you set a particular temperature), it is always good to test out a small clay piece before actually baking your project or if you can afford oven thermometer then it is well and good.
When you find the clay pieces giving burnt look after baking, make a tent by just folding a cardstock into half place it like a tent above the piece while baking, that helps to avoid scorching.
If you want to bake odd shaped pieces like a flower or something, bake them in a bed of corn starch(preferred for sculpey clay). Some also use baking soda but that depends on the brand of clay you are using. So, do some research before trying it.
If you want to glue your baked clay project (For example :A Pendant) to any metal pieces like a bezel or glue a magnet to clay piece to make it as a fridge magnet use E-6000 or super glue.
Some may like the matte finish of the baked clay piece but if you want to seal the clay project, check whether the finish/sealant/glaze you use is clay compatibility as some to finishes are not recommended.It is also advised to not use clear nail polish as glaze for polymer clay as it may damage the baked piece in long run though you will not notice as the change in a short time.
Techniques to try :
These are very few of the many techniques you can try once you are good at the basics.
Simple cane making using clay extruder shapes