Nov 12, 2011

Farewell, Fingerprints!

I was wondering how you manage to keep your fingerprints out of your clay! no matter how much I smooth and flatten out my finished product I can always spot fingerprints in it! ~ GahBlah, DeviantArt

This is probably one of the most common questions amongst those who work with polymer clay, and I have decided to present you with TEN tips on how you can avoid or lessen fingerprints in your work. Of course, if you have your own tips, don't forget to comment and let everyone else know so that they may benefit from your knowledge, as well!

1) Start with smooth hands.
The more rough your hands are, the more likely you are to leave fingerprints in the clay. By exfoliating your hands on a regular basis and using a decent moisturizer will leave your hands (and fingers) soft and smooth. If you work with polymer clay on a regular basis, taking care of your hands is very important. Over time, the plasticizers in the clay, constant kneading, working, and sculpting and washing your hands will leave your hands quite dry, anyways, so it's good to keep them moisturized for more than a few reasons!

2) Work with a firm clay.
The more sticky and soft your clay is, the more likely it will be to leave fingerprints behind. There are certain brands that are notable for being firm, however any clay can be soft depending on how fresh it is. You may pick up a block of Premo and it's as tough as a brick, but another time you may pick up the same colour and find that it's as mushy as a tepid block of butter. If this is the case, leeching the clay is a valuable technique. Leeching gets rid of excess plasticizers and makes the clay much more firm. I often use this process in most of my metallic clay based work. Check out my blog entry on Sticky Soft Clay for pointers on how to leech polymer clay!

3) Keep it cool.
Keeping your polymer clay cool definitely makes it less likely to leave fingerprints behind. If you find that your clay is getting warm, set it down and walk away for a few minutes. You may also pop it into the fridge or freezer to cool it down for a few minutes. Another valuable tip is to keep your work surface cold. In the Summer months, I like to put my granite slab in the fridge or freezer or run it under ice cold water. If you have naturally warm hands, you may also dip your hands in cold water, as well.

4) Apply a delicate touch.
It is quite easy to really grab onto the clay as you work with it. You'll especially notice this when you are working on something completely three dimensional - as you work on one side, you may happen to squish the other. It took me a long time to develop a light touch, but if you think of your clay as something delicate and fragile, it may help. As you learn, it is a good idea to work closer to your work surface just in case the piece you are working on happens to fall because you're holding it so loosely. Holding the clay lightly will diminish fingerprints quite immensely.

5) Try finger cots.
One size doesn't always fit all. If you've ever tried wearing latex gloves as you work with clay, you might know what I mean. Sometimes latex gloves have a texture to them that may reflect onto the clay surface and the fingers aren't always the most snug fit, which will leave you awkwardly fumbling around with the clay. This is where finger cots come in. Think of them as finger gloves (or for those with minds in the gutter - finger condoms)! They fit quite snuggly, and are thin enough that you still have good control in your fingers. You can find these at almost any drug store in the first aid section.

6) Rolling and flattening it out.
Quite often you will roll the clay out with with your fingers or flatten it with your palm, but this quite often leads to many fingerprints. Try getting a piece of glass from an old picture frame or a square of acrylic to roll and flatten your clay. It is perfectly smooth, keeps the clay quite uniform, and you avoid fingerprints.

7) Keep some water on hand.
Quite simply smoothing the clay with cool water and your fingers will get rid of fingerprints in a pinch. Even if you don't use water, using your fingers to smooth the clay works wonders, as well. Yes, I know - using your fingers to get rid of fingerprints sounds a little ironic.

8) Smoothing with powders and solvents.
Most polymer clay artists have an old standby for the inevitable fingerprint. Powders can be things like talcum and corn starch. A little goes a long way - just dab a little bit on your finger or on a brush, apply to the clay and smooth it out with your finger. Notable solvents, which can be applied with your fingers, brush, or cotton swab are clay softener/diluent, rubbing alcohol, acetone, baby oil, vegetable oil, mineral oil, etc. Keep in mind - a little goes a long way! These methods are to be used after the piece is completely and ready to be baked. I wouldn't recommend trying to re-sculpt the clay after you do this. Another good tip is to keep alchol wipes on hand - they are great for smoothing out imperfections!

9) Sanding, buffing and polishing.
Sanding, buffing, and polishing your clay gives the final product an amazing shine and gets rid of any imperfections on your clay. If you'd like to learn, all it requires is a few materials and a little bit of time to get an amazing looking clay surface. Many polymer clay artists use this technique, and the result is very professional looking. Check out my blog entry on Sanding, Buffing, and Polishing Polymer Clay!

10) And, when all else fails...

Just make yourself a Fingerprint Pendant. Hah! :)

Nov 11, 2011

No Good At Random

It's been quite awhile since I wrote a blog entry, mainly because I have been feeling sort of un-inspired lately.

When I feel un-inspired and un-motivated, I like to look at the artwork that other people are creating. All sorts of mediums, actually - not just polymer clay. It usually revitalizes my creative spark, so it seems, and when I see all the neat things that other people are creating, it makes me want to make something neat, as well. Although they aren't usually related. I could be looking at a photo of a flying pig and have an overwhelming urge to make a flaming cupcake.

I was looking at my own work today, and I realize that I have a lot of trouble in being random. The art of taking objects and assembling them into a pattern or design that works, but isn't necessarily perfectly placed.

I think my perfectionism honestly gets in the way of being random. I need things to be perfectly place or for them to be symmetrical. Or placed perfectly and purposely asymmetrical. I've never been good with overlaying and layering. I'm not sure if this is something that can be learned and that I can work on, or if it is something that just comes naturally.

Here is a perfect example of RANDOM:

This is the work of ValerianaSolaris of DeviantArt.

See the placement of the objects? It's random. Not symmetrical or carefully placed - but beautiful, because the design WORKS.

So what do you think? As an artist, how do you usually create? Are you random?

Jun 23, 2011

Looking for Jewellery Displays?

Craftshow season is upon us, and if you're as tired as I am when it comes to the standard jewellery displays, this article is definitely for you. I'm talking those ugly plastic trays that are mass produced in China... lined in black velvet that get dirty and dusty at first touch.

I dealt with these nightmares for a few years, until I went on a full-fledged hunt to find a set of jewellery displays that I could be proud of and would last for years and years. My search finally ended when I found John of Wudls Woodshop on Etsy - a woodworker with over 40 years of experience. What a craftsman! He is located in Western PA in the United States and ships his wonderful hand-crafted items worldwide.

When you're like me and don't have a vehicle, or you're forced to travel to a craftshow on foot, what you need are jewellery displays that are LIGHT and COMPACT. John has definitely thought this through when it comes to his work, and that is why he specializes in craft/jewellery displays.

Take this piece of work for example. This necklace display box is made from a lightweight pine and folds in half to make it easy to haul and thin enough to be stored flat. What's really cool about it is the fold-out legs that allow it to actually stand up on it's own. And when you aren't using it, the legs fold back to make it extra compact. Very cool!

Or how about this sectioned jewellery tray? The great thing about it is that you can store your jewellery items inside of it, as it comes with a handy cover that slides into the top, thus keeping everything inside safe and secure.

Every display is fully customizable. You can ask for custom measurements, and he can even paint it if you so please. I even ordered myself some displays with removable back panels so that I can line them with fun fabric! If there is something you'd like that you don't see in his shop, John also takes custom requests. And if prices are a concern - he's got the best bang for your buck that you're going to find - hand-crafted AND affordable? You can't beat that. To save you on shipping, he also offers to ship your display un-assembled (with instructions) so that it can be shipped in a smaller box. Nice!

I'll be posting photos soon of my customized displays. If you visit John's shop - tell him I sent you!

Apr 23, 2011

The Perfect Frosting

I have gotten tons of questions over the years regarding how I can get my frosting so darn smooth and creamy looking. I wrote a blog entry quite awhile back about the use of liquid clays to create pliable polymer clay frostings, icing, slime, blood, etc... but I thought that I would go more in depth about frosting in this entry.

Simply put, frosting is just a mixture of three different mediums - raw polymer clay, liquid clay, and oil paint. This will give you the most fluffy and opaque result, ideal for brightly coloured icings and frostings. And this is what we will create.

First - the raw polymer clay. In this case, super soft clays definitely come in handy. Personally, I need to work with a firm clay to get the shapes I am looking for without being too soft (I use Premo), but in this case, having a package of Sculpey III or Fimo Soft is the best. Because we are going to be mixing liquid clay with the raw clay, you need the raw polymer clay to be as soft as possible. Knead it in your warm hands for a few minutes to really get the clay soft and gooey - almost like chewed chewing gum.

Next, you will want to break the clay into tiny pieces. The more small, the better - it makes it much easier to mix with the liquid clay. Break it into small thin pieces on your workspace of choice - the best possible options would be a little container for mixing your icing, or on a porcelain/glass/marble tile. I use my marble workslab - I'm not sure if it is real marble or not, it could be glass or granite, but any of those are good.

To the raw clay, add a generous squirt of liquid clay. For this purpose, TLS (Translucent Liquid Sculpey) is the best choice. It is definitely a lot more cheaper than the Fimo version of liquid clay (Fimo Decorating Gel) and comes in much bigger bottles. You can find HUGE bottles of TLS at Polymer Clay Express for a decent price. Using the back of a spoon, or the handle itself, mash the raw clay into the liquid clay, stirring, mixing, and otherwise doing anything you can to get it evenly distributed.

This is the point where many people get discouraged. Sometimes it can take a LONG time to mix frostings, especially when you are doing it in large quanities like I do. If you are finding it really hard on your wrists, it generally means that you need to add more TLS. By the end of the mixing, you should have a very thick frosting. To further bring out the colours of your frosting, add a matching colour of oil paint. Just a tiny dab. So if you were making pink frosting, you would use a tiny bit of raw pink polymer clay, liquid clay, and a dab of pink oil paint. This will increase the opacity of the frosting. You can buy oil paints in sets of small "sample" tubes for rather cheaply - and they will last you for YEARS if this is all you are using them for.

In regards to proportions, it's really hard to say how much you will need to make frosting. Just keep in mind, start with a very small amount of raw clay (under the size of a small grape) because the more raw clay you start with, the more frosting you are going to have at the end... because it will take A LOT of liquid clay to make that raw clay into frosting. Try starting with just a few pea sized amounts of raw clay at first. If you decide that you need a lot more frosting than what you come out with, add more raw clay to the frosting and keep adding liquid clay to the mixing process until you get as much as you need.

To spread the frosting, try using a toothpick (for tiny cupcakes) or a popsicle stick for larger cupcakes. Spread it onto the cupcake, putting on a nice big dollup in the center of the cupcake and spreading it towards the edges. At this point, you may add any toppings you like or perhaps a cherry. Bake for atleast 20 minutes. If the cupcake underneath the frosting isn't baked yet, it won't hurt the frosting to put it in for the full baking time that is required to bake the rest of the polymer clay.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Go ahead and make a comment!

Jan 22, 2011

Artist Interview: Beat Black

If you've been loitering around the Deviant Art community or in the handmade selections on Etsy, you may have stumbled on the creations of Sarah Norton, the owner of Beat Black.

We had chatted a few times online, but I actually got to meet Sarah when she had a booth at Fan Expo in Toronto, Ontario, last year. She happened to be at a booth in the aisle behind mine. It was a three day event that kept us both busy, but on the last day I finally had some time to check out her creations up close and personal. I have to say, though, that even though her photos are well taken, vivid, and bright... they certainly don't do the real thing justice!

If I didn't have to be back at my booth, I probably could have spent all day staring and just going through each and every piece, touching it and seeing all the little delicate details that go into every creation. The bases of her designs are well shaped and thought through, the colours are vibrant and fun, and the details really pop with the application of a black acrylic patina. And they're so small!

After she got some time to peel away from her booth as well, she got over to my booth to check out my wares. We had agreed on the spot that at some point we must do a trade, and a few months later - we did!

I now have the pleasure of owning two pieces of Beat Black jewellery - and both of them in Monster Kookies colours! How that made me smile. I got a one-eyed mutant cupcake in purple and green, and a lovely grenande in a bright lime green - the little pin (made from a jumpring) is just the perfect little detail that finishes it off. As you can see above, I took a photo of them in my hand.

These were a trade for one of my Mechanical Birdies - she ended up naming him Nutmeg. I'm sure he's got a good home with her.

In addition to owning a few of her pieces, I decided to ask a few questions so that I could post the photos of my newly aquired Beat Black wares along with a look into what she does as an artist. I asked her several questions, but I am going to share some of my favourites.

Where did you first discover polymer clay? What inspired you to use it?
On Etsy, directly after I signed up. I saw these incredible little food pieces that I couldn't get enough of. Little steaks and cupcakes and ice cream! At first I didn't know what they were made of so I would search "mini food" over and over again then just eeeee and awww at them all.

There were SO many ideas I'd been carrying with me for years that I had no idea how to make. I'd tried modeling clay and those plastic sticks you melt in hot water but nothing was cutting it. If I only knew of polymer clay in high school... Nothing was going to stop me from using it after I learned the name.

Describe a day in the life of Beat Black. Do you have a routine?
Every day is different but I generally start by stumbling to the kettle/coffeemaker for a hot drink and turn on some music. Lately its been Petty or The Distillers to wake me up. If I'm really stoked about something I was working on before I went to bed I'll pick it right back up again before I even have a drink in my hand. From there it may be time to take and edit photos. After I'm fully awake I might walk to the post office. From there I usually find a place with wireless and sit with my laptop for an hour or so answering mail and such. If I'm not feeling very social or didn't bother blow drying my hair (or washing any paint off my hands) I'll pick a library otherwise its a cafe or friends house. Once that's taken care of its free time or home to work on finishing some pieces. When I have a show coming up its always straight home. Nearly all of the clay work I do is very late at night when there are less distractions. I literally fall asleep to the buzzing of the toaster oven as it bakes the clay.
What is your favourite/least favourite colour of clay to work with?
My favorites have always been orange and yellow but I don't get why. If I could get paid to make bananas all day I'd be in heaven. Least favorite is white because of all the dust and cross colour contamination.

Is there something that you want to make in the future, but haven't yet? What would it be?
Oooo yes. A ton of things from many different mediums. I've been planning out and researching ways to create a stop motion film. That's probably one of the more exciting up and comers... for myself anyways.

What is your favourite claying tool to use?
I have two tools that I use; a refill blade for a box cutter, and a pin. The pin is my favorite. I do have other tools for clay, but I guess I like keepin' it ghetto.

Where does your inspiration come from?
Absolutely everything in my day to day life, present and past. The anatomy theme comes from growing up with a nurse for a mother, a combination of the movies I love with the plants in the garden have inspired my newest figures, books, tattoos, the stupid time management games I play too much of, photography, food I eat, dust balls, sketches that end up taking on a look I wasn't going for... literally everything.

If you could give a polymer clay beginner any wisdom, what would it be?
I often get asked for tips or secrets by people who are just starting out with clay. I almost feel like they're disappointed with my answer, but it remains the same. You really have to practice and keep at it to be really good. I was the suck when I first started but practice made all the difference. If you don't want to waste your clay, even just sculpting and re-sculpting the same piece without baking is a great way to learn.

If you would like to see more of Sarah Nortons creations, I suggest that you take a look at the Beat Black Gallery on DeviantArt. Make sure to take the time to visit her Website and browse her Etsy Shop, as well.