Polymer Clay Sculpture for Beginners

Are you looking to be creative but can’t draw or paint well? You’ve come to the right place because I may have the answer for you! Polymer clay is fun and easy to work with and the possibilities are endless. Join me as I take you on a journey of creative inspiration.

Polymer clay isn’t clay

Polymer clay isn’t actually clay, it’s plastic. It’s much easier to work with than clay. You can make all kinds of different things from polymer clay. Pendants, action figure prototypes, Christmas ornaments and more! Different polymer clay artists have different methods of working with polymer clay. There are many inexpensive sculpting tools readily available and they’re easy to find.

Polymer Clay Sculpture for Beginners

Other tools consist of common household items such as a toothpick, wooden match, and lollipop stick.

My website is full of polymer clay tutorials.

As you can see, I like to make fantasy inspired sword and sorcery action figure prototypes and Christmas ornaments. Soon, I’ll try my hand at creating polymer clay pendants.

What are some of the limitations of polymer clay?

While the ideas for creating polymer clay are limitless, such creations do have their limitations. I make action figure prototypes, not action figures. In other words, a child cannot play or rough-house with my polymer clay creations without the risk of breaking them. That’s not to say that I don’t have any used for such purposes, though it wasn’t my original intention. I created a Brontosaurus for my son several years back and caught him playing with it along with his other plastic dinosaurs. The Brontosaurus still exists today although he has a small crack where the bottom of his neck joins with his body. It’s a good thing I made that one extra thick and used plenty of glaze. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend allowing children to play with polymer clay.

One shouldn’t eat, drink, or smoke anything through or with a polymer clay creation. These are for your visual enjoyment and if taken care of properly, they will last many years. Here are the general rules for working with polymer clay.

  • Don’t eat polymer clay. This stuff is great, but it’s not edible neither before or after baking. This is why kids need adult supervision when working with polymer clay.
  • Don’t eat off it and don’t drink out of it. Don’t smoke anything through it. Smoking isn’t good for you anyway.
  • Never use tools for food preparation with polymer clay. Don’t use the cheese grater or a dough roller with polymer clay. Instead, use the tools made specifically for polymer clay sculpture and design. Leave your items for preparing food in the kitchen.
  • After polymer clay sculpture is complete, it has to be baked to properly cure. Once it’s baked one has the option of painting or glazing it. Never rebake a polymer clay creation if it has already been painted or glazed. Adult supervision is needed when working with the oven. Follow the directions on the product label when baking polymer clay. Do not overcook polymer clay.

Baking polymer clay

I bake my polymer clay creations in the same oven that I cook food in. After the figurine is done baking, I leave the oven door open to allow it to completely air out. Make sure the room has adequate ventilation. You can leave the oven fan on or open a window for faster results. The oven is turned off during this time. I have found the clay to have little odor. Allow all polymer clay creations to cool down for a few hours after baking. Don’t get burnt!

If you’re uncomfortable baking your polymer clay creations in your kitchen oven, you can bake them in a toaster oven alternatively.

Gloves

Wearing gloves is optional. If you have sensitive skin or severe allergies you may need some kind of gloves. I don’t wear gloves when I use polymer clay. This clay does have somewhat of a greasy residue which sticks to your hands and fingers but it’s nothing that can withstand a good hand washing session. Hand soap is also highly effective after polymer clay sculpture is complete for the day/night. It’s best not to touch your face or any other body parts when your hands are stained with polymer clay residue. I use the word “residue”, but it sounds a bit melodramatic. Such residue is minimal. Also, keep unbaked polymer clay away from your mucous membranes. Polymer clay is generally safe to work with as long as you follow the directions exactly as the product label states. That along with some common sense is all it takes.

How I use polymer clay

Everyone has their own preference for sculpting polymer clay. I use a combination of my hands and various tools. It really depends on my mood at the time of sculpting as well as the size of the sculpture. Small, tiny details require the use of tools while it’s easier to hand-sculpt certain larger projects. Detail is very important in polymer clay sculpture but don’t allow it to intimidate you. Adding detail to a polymer clay sculpture is simple and easier than you think. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of one or two quick strokes.

Success! Our polymer clay witch is as good as new!
Here’s an example. As you can see, this witches hat has some indentations around the base, this is to make it look more real. I simply use a blunt-edged tool and within a few seconds, created a few simple indentations for effect.

You must be careful not to overdo it. Sometimes less is more. Watch some of my YouTube tutorials for further details on this. You’ll see how I add definition and detail to my polymer clay creations.

Inspiration is everything

Polymer clay inspiration can come from anywhere, even from something like a shape you see in your bowl of oatmeal in the morning. If you can make shapes out of the clouds you see in the sky on a partly cloudy day, you’ll most likely be able to work with polymer clay. Inspiration comes in many ways but I find nature as my biggest form of inspiration. I also enjoy fantasy, sword and sorcery, and various forms of mythology. Perhaps you’d like to create a religious icon or effigy. That’s definitely food for thought. Maybe there’s a certain kind of animal you admire, or you have an idea for creating a charm or pendant. There are many options, the sky is the limit.

What you can do with the polymer clay sculptures you create

Polymer clay figurines are eye-candy for the most part. They are mainly for viewing purposes only. If you’re really good at it, there’s no reason you couldn’t sell the creations that you make through various online outlets. If you do decide to go that route, pack polymer clay figurines safely before shipping them out. Mail insurance is generally cheap so I’d ensure the package for the exact amount you sold the figurine for. Delivery confirmation is also a good thing to have although I found out otherwise.

Selling on eBay

I once sent a few CDs I sold through eBay to a potential customer who claimed he didn’t receive the package. Even though the package had delivery confirmation, PayPal said it didn’t matter. Luckily, I scared the guy telling him I already contacted eBay and had proof it was definitely delivered at which point he claimed his girlfriend picked up the package and didn’t tell him. While that might be true I sincerely doubt it. I was a power seller on eBay from 2004 to 2008 and I had people lie about not receiving packages a few times a month.

When eBay took away the sellers ability to leave negative feedback to deadbeat buyers, I knew it was my time to move on. The first week the new rule took place, I suddenly had several people claiming they didn’t receive their package. This isn’t to scare you from selling your products online, just know that many people like to get something for nothing in cyberspace.

How to make polymer clay stronger

Glazing polymer clay figurines make them slightly stronger. Glazing may also make them last longer but it depends on the situation. I don’t glaze all my creations, I’m just careful with them. You don’t have to seal them if you choose not to.

Is polymer clay waterproof?

I’ve already spoken against putting polymer clay creations in a fish aquarium or drinking/eating out/off them. That’s to prevent the plastic from leaching into the water. Let’s take a look at another scenario. Let’s say you want to start an outside garden gnome collection; you want to keep what you make outdoors. This is definitely a project with lots of potential. Some people say that polymer clay is water-resistant with or without sealing it with a glaze.

You can try it both ways. I wouldn’t advise keeping polymer clay gnomes out in the ice and snow. Instead, I would take them back indoors during the worst of winter returning them in the spring. After all, you’re not going to see your garden gnomes while they’re covered in snow anyway. Also, as with anything else, I wouldn’t leave the gnomes in direct sunlight for an entire day.

Sealing and stickiness

You may notice that certain glazes leave a sticky residue. Basically, the idea when glazing a polymer clay creation is to apply the glaze lightly in a total of three coats. Admittedly, sometimes they come out sticky no matter how careful you are. Glaze also provides a glossy effect if that’s what you’re looking for. This is actually why I don’t glaze most of my creations. Certain paints designed for polymer clay sculpture also have a glossy effect to them. It says on the front of the package of paint whether it’s glossy or normal.

Let’s take another example. Say you have a garden gnome who needs an orange shirt with purple pants and you want to paint it instead of using the appropriately colored clay. Be sure to check that both paints are either glossy or not glossy. You could end up with a glossy shirt with pants without the same effect. There is a quick hack for this if it happens to you. Simply use a glossy clear glaze on the pants to match the shirt. That’s an easy way around it. If I find myself in a situation where I plan to keep a polymer clay creation outside, I would definitely glaze it. In fact, I have a garden gnome project coming up soon for this website. Think of it as an experimental tutorial.

The bones that keep polymer clay sculptures together 

When making a new action figure prototype, Christmas ornaments, or a garden gnome, you need to create a skeleton for your creation. You can’t make these things without one. Don’t worry, it’s easy and makes the job easier because it gives you an idea of where everything needs to go. First, you need some craft wire. It’s cheap and readily available. Take a pair of tin snips and cut enough wire for your project. It’s okay if you run out before you’re done, you can always add more until you’re completely satisfied. Be careful with the craft wire around bends and when tightening an area, the two ends are sharp. I get cut all the time. 

Once you’ve created your skeleton caricature, take tinfoil and completely wrap the skeleton until you no longer see any of the craft wire. The more tinfoil you use, the less clay you need. You can also be generous with the amount you use. I like to use the tinfoil from the cookie sheet I bake my last project on and recycle it into the figurine. This way, nothing goes to waste. Please refer to my tutorials for further and more specific instructions. 

Summary – Think hand/eye coordination

This website has everything you need to get started in polymer clay sculpture. Ultimately, there are different ways to arrive at the same spot. You’ll find your special way of creating polymer clay creations. I basically use whatever tools I’m in the mood for at the time of sculpture although I also have a specific routine that I follow. From your eyes to your hands, the point is to do whatever works best. You have many options when it comes to painting, glazing, and what project you decide to tackle. You may have a bad day, it happens to all of us. Don’t get frustrated, simply pack everything up and start again when you feel up to it. Polymer clay sculpture should come naturally, it’s not something you force.

Polymer Clay Sculpture for Beginners

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