December 2001
Volume 2, Issue 12
Elements of Polymer Clay or
Tips for the Artistically Challenged

by Jeannie Havel

Editor's Letter | Letters to the Editor | Beginners' Corner | Artist Interview: James Lehman | The Tools We Use | Video Review: Judith Skinner | Holiday Wish List | Using Paper Punches | Easy Greeting Cards | Christmas Candy Canes | Elements of Polymer Clay | Polymer Covered Push-Pins | Issues in the Crafting World | Email Us! | Home Polymer clay is a labor of love, right? All the rolling and kneading and cutting is worth every minute when we see the results the artist in us imagined.

Well, after 10 years of working with polymer clay, I am still waiting for the artist in me to emerge. Sure, I want my Monet Cane to look as good as the next clay goddess, but the thought of making all those strips of clay, having to stack them "just right," and then reducing them without too much distortion, makes me wonder why I ever picked up my first pack of Sculpey.

But polymer clay is an addiction. And while I shudder at the thought of working hours on end to produce a decent looking cane, I just can't give it up. The solution? If you can't be genuinely artistic, then get really good at cutting corners. That I can do! I call it "elements of polymer clay," and here's my trick:


  • Clay, well-conditioned (your choice of brand and colors)
  • Nublade® or tissue blade
  • Play-Doh Fun Factory® ($4 at Wal-Mart in the toy section) –OR—
  • Play-Doh One Stop Playshop® (Deluxe work station - $19.95 at Toys 'r' Us)
  • Fiskars Two-Sided Cutting Mat® ($6 at Wal-Mart in the quilting section)
  • Cling Wrap® or plastic wrap and containers for storage

Play Doh
              Fun Factory Step One:
Purchase a Play-Doh Fun Factory at Wal-Mart or other discount store for approximately $4.00. There are two extruding plates in each box that make a total of 10 patterns.

The Fun Factory sets are mostly the same except for slight variations in packaging and colors of Play-Doh inside. (Play-Doh One Stop Playshop is the deluxe model).

              extrusions Step Two:
Condition clay as usual and form small sections about the size of a decent meatball. Place one extrusion plate in the slot on front of the Fun Factory, choosing the pattern you wish to create.

I make a lot of tubes, square logs, flat strips, and stars. (These are very handy for checkerboard canes, Monet Canes, Navajo designs, lace canes, and simple flower designs that all look as if they took hours to make).

              shapes Press down on the Fun Factory handle and watch the clay ooze out in long, perfect (and I mean perfect) shapes. Each one is identical in size and shape. No rolling, no reducing, no kidding! Cut clay from Fun Factory with blade.

Step Three:
Practice good time management skills by making "elements" while sitting in front of your television or
talking on the telephone. (Note: Try to avoid family dinnertime, operating a moving vehicle, and special moments with significant other, although this may not always be possible).

Let the elements rest to restore the clay's firmness.

Elements Step Four:
Assemble elements into a pleasing cane design. Mix 'n match elements with sheets of clay, or use elements to form ready-to-cut face canes. . . OR . . .

Wrap elements in plastic wrap or parchment and store in plastic containers. (I have some elements that are several years old and just as fresh as the day I made them). The parchment will not stick to the clay, and the plasticizer will leach just enough to give the elements a workable firmness.

Step Five:
Look through your collection of clay books and magazines or check out back issues of pcPolyzine for projects that use geometric shapes in their design. I think you will be surprised at how many you can find.

Then, on some cold, snowy night, get out your elements and dig into your project. It's fast, it's easy, and the results speak for themselves.

Special Note:
Cleaning the Fun Factory may appear daunting, but here are two quick tips:

1. Place tools in freezer for 15-20 minutes. Clay will pop right off.
2. Pay your children to clean them, like I do.