2-Welcome to Polymer Clay|
3-Choosing & Mixing Clay
4-Conditioning Polymer Clay
5-Using a Pasta Machine
6-Using a Food Processor
7-Forming Clay Pieces
8-Firing Polymer Clay
10-Storing Polymer Clay
12-Using Stone Clays
13-Using Translucent Clays
14-Molding & Sculpting
15-Creating Surface Effects
16-Making Polymer Clay Jewelry
17-Safety & Cleanup
19-More Information Sources
Polymer clay is, as the name implies, a pliable, blendable polymer compound for artists and crafters. It's not a true clay - clay is fine particles of silicate suspended in water, whereas polymer clay is fine particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in plasticizer - but it can be used much like clay.
What makes polymer clay special is its versatility. It comes in dozens of colors, and you can blend clays together like paints to make your own colors. Since the color is inherent in the particles, you can also work two or more colors together without blending them, if you prefer, for special effects such as caneworking and marbling. The clay's pliability and ductility let you use techniques from glasswork, textile arts, and sculpture. And polymer clay doesn't dry out, so you can sculpt and form it without worrying about a time limit.
Firing - the process that fuses the particles into a solid - requires only low temperatures, low enough to use a home oven as your kiln. The colors and size are not changed during firing. When fired, the clay gets hard enough to make durable objects, and can be finished in various ways to obtain textures from glassy to stonelike.
You can cover anything (as long as it won't melt or burn at the low firing temperatures) with a veneer of polymer clay: wooden boxes, picture frames, mirrors, tableware. One popular application is jewelry: polymer clay can be used to make beads, pendants, bracelets, and neckpieces. Small sculptures and buttons are other possibilities. Clay artists have developed techniques to give polymer clay the appearance of granite, jade, amber, coral, turquoise, and ivory, and its flexibility means you can make pieces in shapes and sizes that wouldn't be possible using actual stone.
(Because the plasticizer in polymer clay may leach out even after it's fired, polymer clay is not suitable for objects in direct contact with food.)
Polymer clay is undergoing a surge in popularity and is more widely available than it was a few years ago. Look in local craft stores, art-supply stores, and bead stores. Some toy stores and general (sundries) stores also carry polymer clay, although the selection of colors is sometimes limited. You can obtain polymer clay via mail order, although some outlets require you to buy in large quantities and/or have a reseller's license.
Polymer clay is made by several manufacturers; each brand is a little different in softness, strength, and so on, and each one offers its own selection of colors. Polymer clay is generally available in small (about 2 oz.) and large (about 12 oz.) packages. In the U.S., a 2-oz. package usually costs between $1.50 and $3.00, depending on brand and location.
All you need to create polymer clay pieces is your hands and an oven. Clay artists use various kinds of equipment to make working with the clay easier and to create special effects for some pieces, but these are not really necessary.
However, there are some implements that are useful to the beginner:
Many other things can be used with clay, but these are good tools for the beginner. You can find or buy more equipment as you need it.
There are many pamphlets and books with instructions for all sorts of polymer clay projects - check your local bookstore or craft store.
If you want to start right away, here's a quick project that will introduce you to the basics of polymer clay: marbled beads.
Experiment, play around, and see what you get. As clay artist Tory Hughes told Jewelry Crafts magazine, "You can't do anything wrong except burn it."