Friday, July 20, 2007

Do's and Don'ts of Polymer Clay

This is my non-exhaustive, alphabetized list of Polymer Clay Do's and Don'ts:

~ * ~ * ~ Do's ~ * ~ * ~

Adapt it

Add it

Admire it

Affix it

Anchor it

Angle it

Antique it

Applique it

Apply it

Attach it

Auction it

Bake it

Bead it

Beat it

Bend it

Blend it

Block it

Blog about it

Boil it

Bounce it

Box it

Braid it

Break it

Brush it

Buff it

Build it

Buy it

Calculate it

Campaign for it

Cane it

Cap it

Carry it

Carve it

Catch it

Categorize it

Chat about it

Chop it

Coil it

Collect it

Color it

Condition it

Confetti it

Conform it

Contort it

Coordinate it

Copy it

Cover it

Crack it

Crackle it

Craft it

Crochet it

Crumble it

Cube it

Cure it

Curl it

Cut it

Decorate it

Deform it

Deliver it

Design it

Develop it

Dice it

Dip it

Dismantle it

Display it

Distribute it

Divide it

Double it

Draw on it

Dream of it

Drill it

Dye it

Embrace it

Encase it

Encode it

Engrave it

Enlighten it

Experiment with it

Explore it

Expose it

Extrude it

Fill it

Film it

Flatten it

Flick it

Flip it

Fold it

Force it

Form it

Fracture it

Frame it

Freeze it

Give it

Glorify it

Gloss it

Glue it

Google it

Gouge it

Gradate it

Grate it

Grind it

Grip it

Group it

Grout it

Guide it

Hang it

Harden it

Heat it

Help it

Hide it

Hinge it

Hit it

Hoard it

Honor it

Hug it

Imagine it

Imbed it

Jumble it

Kaleidoscope it

Keep it

Knit it

Knot it

Lace it

Lacquer it

Leach it

Lengthen it

Level it

Link it

Log it

Look at it

Loop it

Love it

Lubricate it

Magnetize it

Magnify it

Mail it

Make it

Manipulate it

Mark it

Market it

Mass Produce it

Massage it

Master it

Match it

Measure it

Mirror it

Mix inclusions into it

Mix it

Mokume Gane it

Mold it

Morph it

Move it

Multiply it

Mush it

Nail it

Origami it

Pack it

Package it

Paint it

Pass it

Paste it

Patina it

Perfume it

Photograph it

Pile it

Pinch it

Play with it

Poke it

Polish it

Pop it

Popularize it

Position it

Pound it

Practice it

Print on it

Process it

Prod it

Proliferate it

Pucker it

Pull it

Puncture it

Purchase it

Push it

Puzzle it

Quadruple it

Qualify it

Quantify it

Quarter it

Question it

Ram it

Recombine it

Recycle it

Redo it

Reduce it

Reformulate it

Refrigerate it

Release it

Repeat it

Reposition it

Reproduce it

Reuse it

Revolutionize it

Ribbon it

Rip it

Ripple it

Roll it

Sample it

Sand it

Save it

Saw it

Scrap it

Scrape it

Screw into it

Scrub it

Sculpt it

See it

Sell it

Sew it

Shape it

Share it

Shave it

Shear it

Sheet it

Shine it

Shop for it

Shorten it

Shove it

Show it

Shred it

Slam it

Slice it

Slump it

Smash it

Smell it

Smoosh it

Smooth it

Sort it

Splice it

Split it

Sponge it

Squeeze it

Stack it

Stamp it

Stick it

Stockpile it

Stomp it

Store it

Stretch it

String it

Strip it

Stripe it

Study it

Subtract it

Swap it

Sweep it

Switch it

Synthesize it

Tamp it

Tangle it

Tangram it

Tap it

Teach it

Tear it

Tessellate it

Texture it

Thicken it

Thin it

Think of it

Throw it

Tie it

Tile it

Tint it

Toss it

Tower it

Trade it

Transfer onto it

Transform it

Transport it

Triple it

Truncate it

Try it

Tuck it

Tumble it

Turn it

Twist it

Undo it

Use it

Veneer it

Visualize it

Wash it

Wear it

Weave it

Weigh it

Wiki it

Wipe it

Wrap it

Write about it

Write on it

~ * ~ * ~ Don'ts ~ * ~ * ~

Burn it

Consume it

Flush it

Fry it

Melt it

Outlaw it

Smoke it

Sending out a special thanks to my kiddos for helping me create this list and for the hours of giggles that ensued as we speculated all of the Do's and Don'ts!

What did I miss? Can you think of anything else? If so, comment below . . .

What is Polymer Clay?

In my previous posts, I discussed how clay tokens led to accounting and cuneiform. Then I discussed plastic and its relative "value." Next, I'm going to discuss polymer clay itself - what it is, what its made of, and what it can do.

First, some definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary:

pol·y·mer (pŏl'ə-mər)

n. Any of numerous natural and synthetic compounds of usually high molecular weight consisting of up to millions of repeated linked units, each a relatively light and simple molecule.

[Greek polumerēs, consisting of many parts : polu-, poly- + meros, part; see (s)mer-2 in Indo-European roots.]

clay (klā)
n. 1.
--1. A fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet and hardens when heated, consisting primarily of hydrated silicates of aluminum and widely used in making bricks, tiles, and pottery.
--2. A hardening or nonhardening material having a consistency similar to clay and used for modeling.
2. Geology A sedimentary material with grains smaller than 0.002 millimeters in diameter.
3. Moist sticky earth; mud.
4. The human body as opposed to the spirit.

[Middle English clei, from Old English clæg.]

And here are more definitions for polymer and clay from

So, to rephrase...polymer clay is a synthetic compound of "many parts" that is plastic when wet [raw, uncured] and hardens when heated.

At my website I offer the following description of polymer clay:

Polymer clay is a man-made substance containing polyvinylchloride (commonly called "PVC") together with a plasticizer. It is a modeling medium that, when well-conditioned and properly cured, produces a strong, long-lasting, durable product. It comes in many colors and differing textures, is easy to work with, and can be purchased in most craft stores. Unlike earthen clays, polymer clay cures at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and does not require a kiln for firing. Polymer clay remains soft and pliable until baked so it is ideal for projects that may take more than one sitting to complete. Before curing, different techniques and substances can be applied-to and/or mixed-with it to produce different effects. Pictures can also be transferred to it. Once cured, it can be sanded, painted, drawn-on, carved, back-filled, polished, or varnished. Polymer clay is a phenomenal medium with virtually limitless possibilities for the experienced artist as well as the novice.

Below is a list of links that should get you started if you'd like to do further research on polymer clay:

Wikipedia's article on Polymer Clay

The Glass Attic's summary of Polymer Clay Characteristics

Polymer Clay Central's Polymer Clay FAQ

PolyForm's Polymer Clay Tips and Techniques

James Lehman's Polymer Clay FAQ and What is Polymer?

Sarajane Helm's Polymer Clay FAQ and Polymer Clay Glossary

The Polymer Clay Spot's Polymer Clay FAQ

Sue Heaser's
Polymer Clay FAQ

Next up...The Do's and Don'ts of Polymer Clay.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Just as our ancestors found an ideal medium in their environment to transform ideas into physical, long-lasting legacies that provided a story for future generations, we too, have a medium that is representative of modern times. Plastic.

There are those who would argue that the fact that polymer clay is a plastic lessens its value as an art form. There are those who would argue that plastic is cheap - the stuff of children's toys. Let us, for a moment, examine that argument. Look around the room you are sitting in. I'd wager that you could easily name 20 items that are made entirely out of plastic or incorporate plastics in one form or another. From the computer that you're looking at, to the switch plate that it is plugged into. Telephones, light fixtures, appliances, floor and wall coverings, paints, pens, storage containers, credit cards, remote controls, and the list goes on and on. Plastics have become a constant, almost inescapable part of our daily lives. Plastics have also opened the door of possibility to technological advances that were hitherto unheard of.

One of the reasons why plastics are all around us is because they are extremely versatile. From bubble-gum machine toys to spacecraft, from acrylic nails to artificial limbs, from Tupperware to digital media storage devices, from plastic fruit to plastic explosives, the possibilities and applications are virtually endless! As we can see, by way of comparison, the relative value of plastic lies within the dynamism of its appositeness.

There are polarities and dualities existing everywhere. Just as the invention and circulation of clay tokens as a system of accounting led to great technological advances for our ancestors, it also had its disadvantages. The elite and those holding positions of power used the tokens to set control systems into place that forever changed the life of the average villager. Society changed from agrarian to bureaucratic. Ancient traditions, customs, and cyclical ways-of-life were lost to modernization, progress, and linear hierarchies.

It is the same with plastic. Just as plastics have given impetus for advancement and improvement in many aspects of modern existence, its propensity for reduplication and mass-production combined with society's apparent willingness to fecundate its convenience has resulted in exceedingly complex global dilemmas, namely catchpenny disposability.


In the Summer 2006 issue of Polymer Cafe, on page 27, Natalia Garcia de Leaniz said:
"The main goal is to lift polymer clay up to the place it deserves among other, more established art materials. We strive to make the "it's just plastic" opinion disappear and show everyone that the art lies within the creation. This is one of the biggest and most motivating challenges we face everyday."
In the December 2000 issue of PCPolyzine, Debra Woodward asked Nan Roche, "...what is different now from when she first published her book in 1991?" She replied:
"There are dozens of books published now, [...] there is a wonderful heritage now, a community. There is so much innovation and excitement, and new people are recognizing what great possibilities there are for polymer clay. [...] Polymer clay is here to stay."
The following quote comes from a 2003 interview with Lisa Pavelka from the Los Angeles Review-Journal.
"It hasn't gotten the respect it deserves," Pavelka said, although she noted one polymer-clay artist recently was accepted into the Smithsonian Craft Show. She remembers one traditional sculptor who pointed out that polymer clay is essentially plastic.

"What they're working with," she said, "is dirt. I don't know how that makes them so much better than me." (emphasis mine)
James Lehman, epitomizing the essence of polymer clay, said:
"Polymer clay is not alive but it, and almost every other kind of plastic, is a human modified organic molecule made entirely of the-stuff-of-life."

If our ancestors were able to develop systems of accounting and written language through earthen clay, if humans have used clay to build everything from beads to megaliths, if plastics have opened the technological floodgates of science and industry, and if polymers are everywhere - we could not ask for a more advanced, innovative, and apt modeling medium for modern times than plastic polymer clay!

Great Beginnings

In the beginning there was clay. A sampler pack of Sculpey III to be exact. Thirty one-ounce bars, rich with color and gleaming with potential. If you've had a "Great Beginning" with clay, you can probably relate in one way or another. In those days, I knew very little about polymer clay. Yet, I was intrigued, fascinated and curious. Would this 'stuff' really turn out to be a malleable, formable, carveable, caneable, oven-curing plastic?! It seemed to good to be true...

Long before any of our adventures with polymer clay began, there was another "Great Beginning" in clay. Did you know that clay tokens have been in circulation for thousands of years? Archaeological evidence suggests that our ancestors created clay tokens for various reasons. Some ancient clay artifacts seem to represent artistic or religious expression. Other clay artifacts are of a utilitarian nature. Still, others represent a marriage of expression and utility - technological tools. It was these latter clay tokens that changed the shape of human history.

Ten thousand years ago, in Mesopotamia, civilization began to flourish. Our ancestors developed agriculture, livestock, and trade. Individuals and families began to network and form groups. Groups began to seek out information and goods from other groups. Eventually, networks of trade were developed amongst these groups.

We can imagine what some of these trades may have been like. Perhaps a sheep was given in exchange for bushels of wheat. Perhaps jugs of oil were given in exchange for furs. Perhaps information or knowledge were shared in exchange for labor of some sort. In time, our ancestors developed the need for accountability and proof of these transactions.

At this time in history, however, there was no form of written language. There were pictorial representations dating back tens of thousands of years. Still, humanity had yet to create a physical depiction of words.

In order to create a receipt of their transactions, our ancestors developed an accounting system that circulated clay tokens as evidence of their 'proof-of-trade.' This was done in a 1:1 ratio. One sheep equaled one token. Two vessels of oil equaled two tokens. And so on and so forth. In time the tokens became more and more complex. They created different tokens to represent different things. For example, tokens representing sheep might have been round; whereas tokens representing vessels of oil might have been conical.

As our ancestors gained experience with organizing, transporting, and storing these tokens, systems and innovations developed. Many of the ancient tokens were pierced so that they could be strung together. Thus, creating a representation of numerous transactions taking place within a certain time-frame or encounter. Eventually, this led to the invention of bullae. Bullae were clay envelopes used to seal, transport, and store tokens.

The word bulla describes a bubble-like structure. Whenever a transaction took place, a hollow vessel of clay would be formed. The tokens from the transaction would be placed inside of this vessel. Then, they would seal the bulla with the tokens inside. If the transaction ever needed to be verified, the bulla could be broken open and the tokens inside could be counted.

The problem that this presented was that the tokens could not be seen without destroying the original seal. So, our ancestors began to incorporate a most innovative technique during the course of these transactions. They would press each of the tokens onto the outer surface of the bulla before sealing them inside. In this way, the contents of the bullae could be 'read' without actually having to break the seal. It also created a convenient record of each transaction that could be transported and stored for future reference. The bullae would only need to be broken open if a dispute were to occur. In the case of a dispute, they could compare the impressions on the exterior of the bullae with the actual contents inside.

Eventually, the bullae were replaced with clay tablets. The tokens would be impressed onto a clay tablet and then this tablet could be 'read' as a means to verify the transaction. As you may know, cuneiform was the predecessor to written language. What you may not know, however, is that the word cuneiform means wedge-shaped. Our ancestors eventually developed an ancient form of writing through the process of impressing wedge-shaped objects into clay. At first they used tokens, then graduated to utilizing different types of wedge-shaped styli. ...And the rest is history!

Getting back to the beginning...

It was my desire to share the story of the history of clay tokens with you so that you could marvel over the rich history and vast potential that clay has to offer. Whether you are a beginner, opening your first package of clay, or whether you are master artisan having known clay for most of your life - know that each time you hold a piece of clay in your hand, you are holding a medium that has been utilized by humans since the beginning of recorded history! Indeed, clay tokens were the precursors to one of the foremost milestones of the human race - written language!


1. The picture shown above is my rendition of "clay tokens with bulla" modeled in polymer clay.

2. For more information regarding the development of written language, I recommend the book How Writing Came About by Denise Schmandt-Besserat

Impetus and Rejection

For the past few years, I have been developing some ideas, concepts, and methodologies related to polymer clay that I have wanted to share. I've been holding out for a few reasons: namely, lack of time and resources, the need for further development, and also the need for a appropriate venue for publication.

Recently, the National Polymer Clay Guild issued a "Call for Proposals" to give seminars at their 2008 Synergy Conference. I was drawn to the seminar/lecture format that they are planning because it would seem to be an ideal format for sharing polyclayology. So, the "Call for Proposals" got the ball of impetus rolling for me and I was able to organize and outline some of the material that I had collected while I created two proposals.

My proposals
were, however, summarily rejected by the NPCG's jurying committee.

Admittedly, I languished in defeat and despair for a few interminable moments... Not so much because of the rejection itself, but for the ball of impetus that had instantaneously screeched to a halt. But after the initial impact, the impetus soon picked up momentum again until I could no longer ignore it in excuse of rejection. So what do I do now?

Well, I could wait around in hopes that some day a Polymer Clay Manifesto of sorts will be gathered and published posthumously in my name. (Now, there's a plan!)

Or, I could utilize the impetus to blog about it for a while... If nothing else, it should provide a platform for further development and a groundwork of literary material. And on the plus side, I'm now freed from the pressures of a looming deadline!

So, thanks to impetus and rejection, here I am.

My tentative plan is to begin at the beginning, work from the material and existing outlines that I already have lined-up, and see where it leads from there . . .

Monday, July 2, 2007


Thusly, the blogging begins . . .