Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned clayer, there is always something new to learn; so in some respects, we are all beginners, so take heart and get stuck in to your new challenge.
Here are some tips to help you on your way…
Experiment, practise techniques, make yourself a colour reference chart or blank bases and components – there are lots of ways to get those creative juices flowing - and practise, practise, practise! You may have a masterpiece in mind (or not) but just play without any expectation and just see what happens. If that’s not for you, get together with a friend, find a local group you can join or book in some time with someone with more experience or a tutor.
If you can’t get out and about, follow our YouTube channel as well as those of other clayers, such as the Polymer Clay Tutor, and also read our past blog posts for some simple techniques. For those with more experience, there are some fabulous free and paid tutorials online. The British Polymer Clay Guild also have a friendly members-only Facebook Group where we share ideas, tips, techniques and showcase our makes. Over the next few months, we will be adding new projects to the website. We also have a monthly members’ raffle to win all sorts of goodies, from books and tools, to clay and tutorials.
When you are feeling more confident in your skills, we recommend going along to workshops, where you will learn more than just the project or technique being promoted, but also tricks and tips for working successfully with polymer clay. In the UK, Cara Jane Hayman runs Polymania every March. In 2019, we are looking forward to seeing Christi Friesen on 25th & 26th May at the BPCG's Kidderminster branch; on 4th, 5th & 6th October at the Anglian Polymer Clay Guild we will see Cara Jane Hayman from the UK, Tina Mezek from Slovenia, and from the USA, Ginger Davis Allman. The London Polymer Clay Group also hold regular workshops.
Getting started doesn’t have to be expensive. There are lots of tools you may already have around your home that can be used with polymer clay. Whilst we know that the quality brands of clay are non-toxic, it is always advisable to have dedicated tools for clay and don’t reuse them for food; cookie cutters, for example.
Quality polymer clay – as tempting as it is, don’t buy cheap clays from brands you haven’t heard of. They’re often not very strong, the ingredients could be dubious and untested, and the quality can be inconsistent. Stick to brands you’ve heard of and ask around if friends have leftovers you can ‘play’ with. Clay warmed up to body-temperature is much softer to work with than cold clay – just sit on it (covered!) or squeeze it in your hands for a while. Remember that it doesn’t dry out, so you’re not committed to any design until it’s ‘cured’ and even then, you could cover with more clay or paint it. There are lots of things you can do with ‘mud’ coloured clay!! Clay can be mixed together like paints to create new colours, so start with some basic colours, plus lots of black and white.
Worksurface – a smooth surface is the ideal. Most people use a large ceramic tile or smooth glass chopping board. Smaller tiles are handy too for pieces that need to be turned as they are worked on, and the tiles can also be popped straight into the oven.
Cutting tools – you can start with just a sharp knife or scalpel, but if you’re enjoying working with polymer clay, it’s worth investing in at least a rigid and flexible tissue blade to start with. They are thin and VERY sharp.
Roller – ideally you need one that the clay doesn’t stick to. A smooth-sided jar or bottle works okay, but we find an acrylic rod works best. If the clay is sticky, put a piece of greaseproof paper on top and roll it out that way.
Oven – clay can be ‘cured’ in a regular oven but getting the temperature right can be critical and in our experience most kitchen ovens lie! Digital thermometers are worth the investment to avoid baking disasters and are relatively inexpensive. We’ll be covering more about curing in the next blog post.
Other tools – Greaseproof paper is handy to keep clay to hand and foil for creating armatures and covering up work in progress and while curing. There’s a ton of tools lying around that can be used, from rulers to knitting needles, old (clean) toothbrushes to old credit cards, and a whole host of things to make textures - you’ll have quite a collection before you know it!
Question: I’ve seen a lot of people using pasta machines – do I need one?
No. At least, not until you think you want to dedicate more time to claying. Pasta machines are useful because they can take some of the hard work out of ‘conditioning’ the clay (kneading it to a usable state), but also for making sheets of clay at an even thickness and mixing colour blends. But all these techniques are possible without one, they just take a little longer. For even thicknesses, stack playing cards either side of the clay to get the thickness you want (make thickness samples so you have them for future reference). We’ll cover colour mixing and blending in a later blog post. If you want a pasta machine, ask friends and neighbours if they have one gathering dust or check flea markets, car boot sales and eBay for inexpensive options.
For more excellent top tips and free advice, check out the Blue Bottle Tree's website by Ginger Davis Allman:
Have any questions? Do you have any handy tips for beginners? Let’s share the love of polymer clay!