Heather has a passion for writing and drawing and maybe a slight addiction to anime and video games.
So You Want to Play With Clay?
Polymer clay has gotten extremely popular thanks to videos on social media and stores like Etsy where you can buy handcrafted creations. Whether you're intending to sell or make things for yourself, everyone has to start somewhere!
Before starting, you need to set yourself up a craft area and of course supply yourself with proper tools. But you don't know what the difference is between clay brands, or if that fancy press machine is really necessary. It truly comes down to preference, so let's dig in and start discussing the differences so you can decide for yourself what is on your supply list!
Polymer clay is not a craft you want to just pull out and do anywhere. Some brands are really soft, and their oils can be absorbed into wood and papers. In fact, that's actually a method of toughening your clay: laying it between papers so that the excess oils are absorbed. Not only can it leave things behind, but wood grains and any imperfections in your surface could end up on your piece. I suggest using a smooth glass cutting board. Sculpey also makes a crafting mat that you can work on and bake directly on.
Most importantly, polymer clay collects any and all dirt it comes in contact with. If you're working with colored clay and have no intentions of painting the projects yourself, this can become extremely tedious. You will want a clean work surface and clean hands. Some even use gloves to avoid fingerprints and dirt attaching to their work. Others keep a piece of "garbage" clay to play with before working, using it to pick up any unwanted dirt and putting it aside. Whatever you decide to do, you've been warned!
You don't need to go crazy with a lighting arrangement, just a decent well-lit room should suffice. This is another one of those personal preference things; you'll have to decide based on your environment if you need more or not.
There are tons of different tools out there with different uses. Metal-tipped tools are better for cutting and making more precise marks. Rubber-tipped tools are great for smoothing edges and creating gentle curves. A lot of people would probably start out with one or the other and assume getting metal would be the better option. However, this can limit your abilities, especially as a beginner.
I highly suggest investing in a kit that includes both: for one because there's a lot of sets out there that are very affordable, and second because just starting out I feel it will give you a better and less frustrating experience. You're more likely to set this stuff aside and never play with it again if you keep messing up something another tool could have done simply for you. I picked up the Arteza Pottery & Clay Sculpting Tools and was very happy with it.
Sculpey sells a basic rolling pin that you'll find extremely useful for projects. As a beginner I highly suggest going with that over the expensive clay press. While I'm sure it's great for crafters who sell and put out a lot of projects, or make their own ombre-colored clays, it's not really necessary starting out.
Colored Clay or Paint?
Before even talking about brands you have some more decisions to make. You can choose to buy colored polymer clay or plain clay that you paint yourself. Or you can even use colored clay and only paint details. Regardless, that's something you should consider before purchasing. Sculpey makes a great starter set with a ton of colors if that's the option you'd like to go. Personally I choose to paint, because it's way cheaper and consumes much less of my storage space than keeping a ton of different clay colors. What you'll need, again, depends on the scale of your projects. If you're making tiny jewelry pieces you might want fine brushes for details, and medium to larger to cover areas.
To start off, I'd pick up a cheap set of acrylic water-based paints. Do not use oil based paints with polymer clay: it will not end well. You can also use acrylic markers if you would prefer (again, stay away from oil-based).
Types of Clay
The differences in polymer clay brands relies more so on their softness before baking than their strength after. I've heard many stories about many different brands and how they were better than another and really what it comes down to is proper baking. The biggest mistake crafters make with polymer clay is under-baking. Your pieces are far more likely to break if they are not fully done and personally I have never had a piece come out over-baked regardless of how long I left it.
Starting off, I suggest you work with a tougher clay. Fimo Professional is a loved brand that won't drive a beginner crazy with impression marks. If you really want something super soft, Sculpey III is one that I personally dislike working with because I just don't have the patience for how delicate it is. Sculpey Premo is not as firm as Fimo Professional but is a decent starting clay as well.
Baking and Sealing
Polymer clay is not safe to come in contact with food. I keep a cheap baking sheet I picked up to bake directly on; however, I would still use one of these under the Sculpey mat if you're using one. Keep your clay and kitchen utensils separate! Remember that under-baking is a huge common issue: the thicker your pieces are the longer they will need.
Some will make a tent out of aluminum foil to help the pieces cook more thoroughly in a larger oven. Polymer clay can leave behind a smell, one that I personally haven't noticed with how often I use it for that, but you can very easily pick up a toaster oven for the purpose of baking your crafts if you're concerned about it lingering.
Once your crafts have cooled you need to sand and seal. It's best to do this with a fine, wet sandpaper. Once you have sanded, you can paint if you intend to or move on to sealing.
Sculpey sells a gloss glaze for polymer clay crafts. This is what I've been using and personally I've found no issues with it. No chipping or discoloring on any of my older things. However I've also heard great things about using polyurethane for floors as well. This might be a more costly initial investment but definitely gives you more over time if you intend to use that much.
Odds and Ends
Don't forget to pick up any odds and ends for your project! If you're making jewelry you might want to grab some eye hooks for beads and charms. Earring studs, necklace chains, keychains. If you're planning to do a sculpture you may want to grab some aluminum foil, which can be used inside your creations to help keep them sturdy and save you some money on clay! Not to mention it will make certain objects much lighter. There's tons of possibilities, and now that you know where to start get out there and make something unique!
Heather Lengel (author) from Cleveland, Ohio on July 19, 2019:
Happy to help!!!
Loretta from United States on July 18, 2019:
My son is getting started with some clay sculpting and asked me about supplies, baking, and sealing ~ I had no idea what he'd need, which is how I ended up here reading your overview ;-) Now I have a shopping list and a better idea of what we're going to need and where to start. Thanks a bunch
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on June 08, 2019:
Clay is so fun to play with.