Archive of ‘Musings’ category

A Timely Mistake

The napkin ring seam failed after a three-month test drive.

The napkin ring seam failed after a three-month test drive.

For several months now, Tim and I have been test driving a couple of polymer clay napkin rings. The other day,the seam on the one pictured failed.

That was a timely failure. The napkin ring is the first project we’ll do in my Fall Lifetime Learning Institute class. In my prototype napkin rings, I depended on the joined clay pieces bonding as they cured. But the bond obviously wasn’t strong enough for the manly use of a napkin ring.

The problem is easily presented. We’ll just squirt a thin bead of Translucent Liquid Sculpey (TLS) on the edges before joining them and curing the piece.

As for Tim’s napkin ring, I’ll repair it with a little Super Glue.

Polymer Clay: Plastic With Class

Mica shift pins exhibit the essence of polymer clay.

Mica shift pins exhibit the essence of polymer clay.

As much as I like to play with the many embellishments that can be added to polymer clay, I love what humble, basic clay can do. Polymer clay, after all, is plastic, and let’s face it, plastic still has an image problem.

I think these polymer clay mica shift pins exhibit a beauty all their own. There’s no embellishment, just polymer clay manipulated to take advantage of the light reflecting properties inherent in metallic and pearl clays. After curing, the pins are sanded and buffed to a high shine.

The pins will be one of the projects I’ll teach in my Fall Lifetime Learning Institute class. We’ll use the soda bottle method when shaving the clay to reveal the magic of mica shift. This method is described in my post “Polymer Clay Mica Shift Tamed.”

Gilded Polymer Clay Napkin Rings

Gilded polymer clay napkin rings could double as scarf rings.

Gilded polymer clay napkin rings could double as scarf rings.

I like using cloth napkins. Mine are humble western bandanas to go with Fiestaware and southwestern decor.
For several months, Tim and I have been “test driving” the napkin rings in the photo to make sure the appliqued leaves and vines don’t fall off. I can’t report total success. One leaf fell off mine, but I’ll live with that.
The napkin rings will be the first project for my Fall Lifetime Learning Institute class, “Polymer Clay Explorations.” I’ve borrowed from the approach Zan Caperton brought to a class several years ago when we co-taught. The base clay gets wrapped around a short section cut from a 1 3/8″ diameter cardboard tube. This time I’m covering the tube with a light texture sheet, the same type I use to texture the back of the clay. It will keep the clay from sticking to the tube and preserve the texture.
We’ll make the vines and leaves by hand–no fancy tools, except needle tools for adding veins to the leaves. Which reminds me, I need to get busy making needle tools for participants. (It simply involves making polymer clay handles for crewel needles. See “Handles With Ease.”)

The clay stays on the cardboard tube for curing. The tube is placed cut end down on a ceramic curing tile.
I’m taking the easy way out for the next couple of posts, using material from my upcoming class. The reason is that Tim and I are moving. It will be a fun move as moves go, as we’re going to a renovated apartment with the same floor plan we have now. But it’s really putting a cramp in my polymer clay activities. Can’t wait to get back in the saddle.

You Have To Make More Than One

“You have to make more than one” has become a mantra with me and my clay buddies. A few years ago at a gathering of clay buddies, Nancy Snead got frustrated trying to sculpt a doll head. She planned to enter the Doll of the Year competition held by the Austin Doll Guild. She looked at her disappointing effort and said, “I don’t know how anyone gets good at this. I guess you have to make more than one.”


It’s a lesson I must frequently relearn. I’m always trying new techniques and often the result falls far short of my vision.

As for Nancy, you can see what she’s gotten really good at. She makes appliqued pendants that bring compliments to the wearer. How many has she made? Probably 75-100.

She likes to hang the pendant on a ready-made necklace with a magnetic clasp. For bails large enough to go over the clasp, she buys packages of play wedding rings at the dollar store. The rings are a bit large so she cuts them down a bit.




Nancy credits Randee Ketzel who taught the technique several years ago for Austin Polymer Clay Guild. You can see Randee’s PDF tutorial for “Lilliiput Gardens” on her Etsy site.

Lilliput Gardens

Lilliput Gardens

Why Not Try a Polymer Clay Swap?



I’m late getting into Steampunk. But now that I’ve been bitten, it’s in my blood.
I signed up for the Polymer Clay Adventure May Swap: make three Steampunk Flower Pins to swap. I’m ready to ship mine off today. I can’t wait to see what I’ll get in return.
I had so much fun dreaming up ideas and making the pins. OK, to be honest, the fun part didn’t come until I settled on some feasible concepts. Prior to that was a period in which I tormented myself with ideas that no one could possibly execute.
This is only the second polymer clay swap I’ve ever participated in. The first was years ago. I’m reminded that it’s a good way to get out of your comfort zone and expand your vision.

Want to try a swap? A Google search for polymer clay swaps is a good place to start.

"Pipe Dream"

“Pipe Dream”

"Steampunked Posies"

“Steampunked Posies”

Hooked by a Fish

Zan's Fish 1248If you took a class and made a fish with this much personality, wouldn’t you be hooked on sculpting? That’s pretty much what happened to Zan Caperton. She credits Ellen Kelsey, an instructor at the 2013 All Dolls Are Art Conference (ADAA) held in Austin, Texas.

Zan's Fish Profile 1249

The fish (alas, it has no name) started as a glass ornament core covered with a 1:1 blend of Sculpey UltraLight and Premo white polymer clay . Scales were made with texture tools which Ellen created. Zan says working with heavily textured white clay and applying alcohol inks with Aqua-flo brushes made the process of painting and blending color very forgiving.
Not surprisingly she got hooked on Royal Langnickel Aqua-flo brushes, which she bought at Hobby Lobby. Aqua flo brush pack They are designed for use with water colors but work beautifully with alcohol inks. The cartridge is filled with 91% isopropyl alcohol and the brush is dipped in alcohol ink.

Zan went back to ADAA for Ellen’s dragon sculpting class in 2014–more on that in a future post.

A Mistake? Or Chance for Embellishment

The fake grass is there for a reason.

The fake grass is there for a reason.

Ah, Spring. Reminds me of the four seasons (plus night and day) birdhouse project I created for Lifetime Learning Institute. We covered a wooden birdhouse with a polymer clay veneer.
Before the class began, I took great pains in making patterns for the sides and roof. The challenging piece was Spring, as it had a hole and wooden perch. I fidgeted with the pattern until I was satisfied it was a good fit.

Each week of class was devoted to making the veneer for one section.  In the last class we mounted the veneers with Elmer’s glue.

Well, when it came time for assembly, there was no consistency in how the pieces fit. The most problematic piece was–you guessed it–Spring. The holes in the polymer clay veneer didn’t always align just so with the holes in the birdhouse. What was most noticeable was exposed wood in the birdhouse entrance. It turns out that even though all the birdhouses were the same model and SKU, they had slight variations. What would fit one birdhouse wouldn’t fit another.

I’ve often quoted Lisa Pavelka to my classes: “A mistake is an opportunity for embellishment.” One of the class participants, Jeanne Schmidt, came up with a perfectly natural embellishment. She glued some artificial grass in the hole. That idea was far superior to my solution of painting the exposed wood to camouflage it. Jeanne’s embellishment reminded me that my job isn’t about having all the answers but more about creating the space for participants to discover the answers themselves. .

Fish or Cut Bait

While working on a tutorial for making sliding knots, I had a great idea. Even though a well-crafted knot is handsome and unobtrusive, why not embellish it by concealing it with a polymer clay bead coordinated with the necklace’s pendant or beads? I worked it all out in my head during one of those sleepless hours that sometimes intrude during the night. Normally being unable to sleep would drive me crazy, but not this time. I was excited and inordinately proud of how clever I was.

Even in the light of day what I envisioned actually worked. I made the cutest little orange/white Skinner blended beads. Picture this: I cut three heart shapes with a small cutter. I overlapped the hearts in a semi-circle. Then I picked them up, joined them full circle, and flanged the lower edge to look like petals. Where the points met I made a hole just big enough to slip over two cords but small enough to stop at the knot. It was the cutest darned thing. Tim said it looked like a fairy cap.

I cured two beads, slipped them over the cords, and made the sliding knots. Yes! Then I put on the necklace and looked in the mirror. That’s when my bubble burst. Instead of hanging like proper little trumpet flowers, the beads exposed their throats. Not pretty.

Undaunted, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a calla lilly design. Cured them, stuck them on the cords, looked in the mirror. That’s when it hit me. The knots are supposed to be unobtrusive so that at whatever length you wear the necklace they don’t beg for attention. Beads didn’t work at any length, especially when they sat on either side of my neck looking like growths I should get checked out.

Heap of Cords 6626

At this point I considered switching projects, maybe working on my southwestern tiles that have been on the back burner. But I didn’t feel like it. I was reminded of the wise fisherman’s adage: fish or cut bait. It was time to cut bait. I took all the necklace cords that snaked over a rack in my studio and organized them. I measured and coiled each cord, wrote the length on a little piece of paper, and taped the paper around the coil. They all went into a plastic bag now hanging on the pegboard in my studio closet. It was time well spent. Not nearly as clever as my camouflage beads, but eminently satisfying.

Furthermore, I gained a lot of respect for the humble sliding knot. It serves a function and looks good without trying to overachieve.

Purposeful Creation or Something Shiny?

Polymer clay scrap earringsThese earrings were a happy accident. I was making polymer clay beads and planned to build them around cores of scrap clay. But once I cut into the scrap I was smitten with the design it revealed. It looked to me like the fantastical marriage of petrified wood and a vein of turquoise.
I call these my five-minute earrings. All I did was cut two slices and cure them. OK, it took more than five minutes because I had to go out and buy a couple of turquoise nuggets.
The rationale behind this post has to do with the tension I often feel between purposeful creation and something shiny. Granted, the earrings didn’t drive me off track for long. But some tangents have a way of taking over, or worse, leading to something else. It can be weeks or years or never before I get back on track.
Right now I’m torn between moving forward with my polymer clay tiles project and a layered surface technique I want to try. The tiles are fun and challenging, but I’m practically hypnotized by the surface technique that combines opaque and translucent clays to create depth.
What nags at me is, how do you know when to drop what you’re doing and chase the shiny thing? I believe there must be some sort of balance to aspire to. Always pursuing purpose can result in missed opportunities, while pursuing the shiny thing as a way of life can result in prematurely abandoning a skill or technique or project.
I’d like to know which of the voices in my head to listen to. I’d welcome your thoughts.

Revisiting a Failed Pet Project

Tangram goose DSCN6578Polymer clay tangrams. One of my notable and favorite failed projects. So what are tangrams?

They’re puzzles that challenge you to arrange seven geometric shapes (“tans”)in figures, such as the goose pictured above, with only a silhouetted image as a guide. There are something like 6,500 shapes that can be made using all seven tans.

The seven tans are two large triangles, Tangrams DSCN6581two small triangles, one large square, one small square, and one parallellogram. I’m not very good at doing the puzzle. Mostly I cheat and use the solutions page.Tangrams 4 Solution
It is believed that the puzzle originated in China more than 1,000 years ago and was brought to Europe and America by sailors. It enjoyed several waves of popularity as a parlor game. Today it is sometimes used in elementary school math classes.

Tangrams have been historically made of natural materials such as wood or ivory. Why not polymer clay?
I had this grand idea of making tangram sets, complete with the tans, cloth drawstring bag, a page of silhouettes (and companion cheat sheet), and a faux Chinese take-out box to hold it all.Tangrams set DSCN6584I made a bunch of sets and attempted to launch them at a craft show. I didn’t sell a one. That’s the failure part. That’s OK. I had fun playing with different colors and surface techniques. And I had fun giving them away. That’s why it’s a favorite failed project.

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