Just starting? What you need

If you are just now starting on the polymer clay journey, I have tried to put together a few pieces of information for you.

First, you need to know about the materials and tools you will need. Do not get scared. Even if you can spend a fortune to get all the tools and gimmicks out there, you do not NEED all those tools and gimmicks. I will give you a list of must haves though, and also what you can start with and then complete as you go.

 

  1. Obviously, polymer clay. Click on that link to read of my experience with various brands.

  2. Even if in the beginning you might not want to invest in a pasta machine right away, you will discover that you do need one in the long run. It's much easier to work the polymer clay, not just in the conditioning area but also when it comes to making certain thicknesses of sheets and when making blends. There is a plethora of pasta machines out there, some are just that, pasta machines that you can use also with clay, some are actually made to be used only with polymer clay. You do not need to start with an expensive one. You can find one in the $20-$25 price range that will do the trick just fine for a long time. I still have the cheap Amaco pasta machine I bought about 16 years ago and if it weren't for someone who tried to “help me clean it” with a knife and messed up the fenders, it would still be an excellent machine. As it is, I use it mainly for conditioning clay and for making skinner (gradient) blends. You must learn though how to clean your pasta machine. Yes, go ahead and click that link too. It will bring you to my video tutorial on Youtube on how to do that.

  3. Roller. As in a “roller pin” style. You will not need one in the beginning. You can use a beer bottle, or anything that would not stick to the clay or get destroyed by it. Polymer clay does not do good with certain plastics, it will react to them and you will get a gooey, sticky mess. Once you are more on your way you can purchase an acrylic or lucite roller – there are many brands out there and many shapes. I can tell you though that even if you would want to have one of the acrylic rollers that are thicker and flat-ended, as they can be used to make deeper imprints with rubber stamps or texture sheets, the Sculpey ones are not very durable and the ends will chip if you drop them or if they hit corners or hard objects, and they can also get scratched easily. For your every day use look for an Amaco one or try to get one of the acrylic rollers from the Tree House Studio, they are not clear transparent but purplish transparent, and thinner than the other clear ones, but they are way sturdier. Always keep your roller clean (use alcohol to clean it) and you might want to use a swipe of Armor All to avoid stickiness to the clay.

  4. A small food processor – like the ones used to make small amounts of salsa or dressing. This will be very handy for conditioning hard and old polymer clay. All you have to do is to crumble the clay, put it in the food processor with a few drops of clay softener and give it a few pulses. You can find those for around $10.

  5. Clay softener, of course. You will find a lot of information online on how you can use baby oil, vaseline and other substances on softening the clay, but I wouldn't recommend it. All of those actually change the texture and consistency of the polymer clay and thus not only the aspect will be worse looking but also the durability and flexibility after baking is influenced. Just buy a small bottle of Sculpey clay softener, it will last you for quite a while, you'll only use a few drops at a time.

  6. Cutting blades. You can start with the blade from a box cutter, but in the long run you will have to invest in special blades. Here you will need at least two: a rigid blade and a flexible blade. Most beginners will go for Sculpey's "superslicer" – it comes with 4 blades – a supposedly rigid one (it's only semi-rigid), a flexible shorter one, and two wavy ones. It also comes with detachable handles – careful with those, they are designed so poorly that you'll be in danger of slicing your fingers while trying to put them on a blade. Unfortunately the quality of the blades in this set is very poor. They will get dull very fast – and be very hard to re-sharpen by “traditional” methods. Go instead for Amaco brand blades (Polyblade), even if you have to pay separately for the flexible and the rigid ones. They get dull very very slow, and you NEED a very sharp blade when working polymer clay, be it a rigid blade for cutting cane slices or a flexible blade to shave off in a hidden magic or mokume gane. You may still want to buy later the Sculpey set just for the wavy blades.

  7. A good working surface. You don't have to invest a bunch of money on glass cutting mats and such. Just go to your local home improvement store and get one of those marble tiles, they come in 12” to 18” and are absolutely great for the purpose. Do NOT use non-tempered glass. You don't want it to break while you're working just because your pressed a bit harder on your roller or your stamp.

  8. Now we got to this, stamps, texture sheets, texture rollers, etc. These can bring you to spend tons of money. Start with making your own, first. There are many tutorials online on how to make your own texture sheets and stamps - I have a few out there myself. But as you start completing your "stash" for the long run, consider this: a good investment are the Makins sets. They are cheap (anywhere from $4 to $8 for a set) and you get 4 texture sheets in a set. Because they are double sided and they can go through the pasta machine with the sheet of clay they are very versatile and easy to use. You might want to invest into buying a Sculpey Bake and Bend kit. You will get 10 packets of Bake and Bend clay that you can use to make your own texture sheets. And there are lots of textures all around you! I even used some Bake and Bend to get a pretty texture from an... oven mitt. It had these raised flowers that made an absolutely gorgeous texture! You will use the texture sheets in the beginning mostly for nice backings to your pieces. But you can start really cheap and small. A low-grit sandpaper makes a great texture! You can take the end of your paintbrush handle and poke many holes in a sheet of scrap clay, bake it, and you have a texture! Spread some rice over another sheet of scrap clay, gently press it in with your roller, bake it, and when it cools off, remove the rice, and you have another texture! You can slowly build your stash of texture sheets and stamps.

  9. Alcohol. Get some alcohol that is at least 90%. Plain rubbing alcohol will not do it. You can find it really cheap in the pharmacy department of supermakets. You will need alcohol to clean your work surface, your tools, and even the clay. And you can also use it to make your own alcohol inks.

  10. Taking about that, get a small spray bottle – you can find them in the cosmetics department of supermarkets for around $1.

  11. Armor All. Some people prefer to use water or talcum powder as a “release” - that is, to ensure that the polymer clay will not stick to stamps. You can start with that and then get some Armor All. I find it a much better release agent than water and I also do not like the gritty feeling talcum powder leaves on clay.

  12. Aluminum foil, cling wrap and wax paper. Yes, you need all of these. I usually go through a roll of each a month- I just buy them at the Dollar store for $1 a piece though. The aluminum foil you will use to wrap various baking supports to prevent the clay from sticking – and you can also texturize the clay with it. Cling Wrap is excellent to store canes and pieces of clay, and also to do smoothing and dome-cutting your clay. Wax paper is good to work on, and to put on top of the clay before you use your roller on it, especially when trying to get a texture impression – it will prevent the clay sticking to the roller and lifting off.

  13. Cutters. Like cookie cutters. Start small. I actually started by buying regular metal cookie cutters from the thrift stores and re-shaping them using pliers. You can slowly build your stash. Essentially, try to get first a set of round ones and a set of square ones.

  14. Xacto knife. This is almost as important as the blades. You don't need a brand one, a cheapo one from the dollar store will be just fine.

  15. Now that we talked about it, baking supports. You can use a lot of things to bake your polymer clay on: lightbulbs, ceramic/glass bowls, glass jars, ceramic tiles. It is a good thing to get two very straight tiles (look for the glass ones) from your local home improvement store. Usually it's hard ot bake a sheet of polymer clay perfectly straight – it will have the tendency to curl up at the thin edges and corners. Placing the sheet piece between two straight tiles, sandwiched between two sheets of regular paper first (to avoid “shininess” on the contact surface) will do the trick beautifully.

  16. Talking about baking. You can start by using your kitchen oven. Just make sure that you wipe the inside really good after baking polymer clay before cooking food in that oven. You will find though that regular kitchen ovens do have temperature spikes and you may risk burning your pieces. In time invest in a toaster oven or even better, a small electric countertop convection oven. Nowadays you can get those for under $50. The convection ovens especially eliminate the risk of burning your clay.

  17. Acrylic paints. Invest in a few colors of acrylic paints, especially for creating faux patina effects. They are very cheap, much cheaper than the various gimmicks and gadgets used to create faux patina on polymer clay. Please read my blog post and watch my tutorial about how to do that. $10 should get you all that you need.

  18. Mica powders. Do you need them? Honestly not really, in the beginning. Just use some cheap shimmering eye shadow. Later you can start building your stash. Go for small jars, you will use very little at a time, and they will last a long time. For the same money, you can get more colors than if you'd buy bigger jars. A good investment are the color kits from Jacquard Pearl-Ex.

  19. Varnish. This is a must for most pieces. A very special note here: use only varnish that is water or acrylic or polymer based. The simplest – and fairly cheap – with beautiful results is the water-based Minwax floor finish that you can get at your local home improvement store. Get a small can. As a piece of advice, pour the varnish from the can in a jar. It will be much easier to handle, you won't run the risk of toppling it, or the risk of not putting the lid on properly and find your varnish all dried up. Later you can build a stash of various more expensive varnishes, but this is the best start.

  20. Now when it comes to applying the varnish, and here it is, unfortunately, where you can't get skimpy if you want good results: invest in a good quality paintbrush. You will need a fairly fluffy round one, with natural hairs (squirrel hairs is the best). Otherwise you will get a lot of streaks and air bubbles and your varnished piece will not look that good. Look for the paintbrush in the painting supplies area in your local craft store. Make sure that after use you place the paintbrush in a container with water, to avoid the varnish drying out on the paintbrush. Later you can clean it by running tap water on it, then dry it with a paper towel. It is better when you start applying the varnish with a dry paintbrush – that is, one that doesn't have any water moisture in it.

That is it. A lot to start with, but on each point I marked what to start with and how to develop. I will be very honest with you, when I got back into polymer clay, 10 years ago, after a few years of taking a break, I didn't have any more supplies. So I started from scratch, with 3 or 4 packages of polymer clay, a needle and a toothpick and a cuticle cutter as “sculpting tools” and the blade from a box cutter as cutting blade. I made a few pieces and sold them and got the money to invest in tools and other stuff. So I just went from there. You don't need a big investment to start. $20-$30, including the clay.

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