Oolong's Zoo

Polymer Clay Critters and Other Sculptures

A string of pearlsSeated critterSeated critter (front view)Spirit of FrankieSpirit of FrankieSpirit of FrankieSugru cat 2We don't make good wives

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How I Make Cats

Before I start: Bear in mind that everyone is different; nobody ever taught me how to use polymer clay; and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you… or even for me on a different day. Experimentation is key, and if I ever had to stop messing around when I’m making my critters, I’d probably stop altogether.

All that being said, it can be helpful to get a glimpse of how other people do what they do, so here goes…

Make a ballWith almost any sculpture I’m making, I begin by kneading the clay into a ball. I squish it and roll it and warm it till I’m happy with its consistency, then I make it spherical and work from there.

Pull out appendagesThe next thing is to pull out the various appendages: Four more-or-less equal legs, a longer tail and a fatter head.Keep sculpting till it's a plausible cat shape Give the head a couple of ears, and it should already be starting to look a little bit like a cat. It might even have some personality – if so, you might like to work with it.

Get the whole thing into a shape you're happy with, paying some attention to body languageEither way, keep making the tail more tail-like, keep making the head more cat-like, and hopefully personality will emerge, whether through design or of its own accord.

The next thing is the eyes, and for me they are the single most important part of almost any critter I make. It’s amazing how much they can express, and how different that expression can be made by a shift of a millimetre or less. So take care over the eyes, but be prepared for them to surprise you.

Make a tiny sausage for the eyeballsI start by rolling out a sausage of clay, because it’s easier to divide a sausage evenly. Split the sausage into two equal parts and roll them into ballsI tend to use glow-in-the-dark clay for this, because surprise cat eyes glowing in the dark amuse me, but obviously it’s down to personal preference. Divide the sausage into two roughly equal parts, and roll each one into a ball. Affix the eyesUnevenly sized eyeballs give an air of derangement, which is fun when you’re in the mood, but not always desirable. Attach the balls to the front of the head, and presto! You now have a cat that can stare at people.

Repeat the procedure to make two tiny pupilsNext up are the pupils – each one half of a very small black sausage. Attach the pupilsThis is one of the fiddliest bits of the whole process, because the amount of clay involved is so tiny and black; I sometimes resort to using a tool to attach them to the eyeballs.

Now the eyelidsOnce the pupils are in place, I usually add eyelids. Sometimes I give a cat upper and lower lids, but most often I stick with just upper lids, each of which is made from a semi-circle of clay, created by forming a ball, then squashing it and halving it.Shape the lids into rough semicircles and carefully fix them on The precise angle at which the lids are attached can easily make the difference between a critter which is sweetly looking for affection, and one which is brimming over with malevolence – great care is called for!

Now just make any finishing touches, and it's ready to bake!Once the cat has eyes in place, it is time to concentrate on the details of its body language – a tail is a beautifully expressive thing; the set of a cat’s ears and the angle of its head can tell you a great deal; the way it’s standing is crucial too.

That’s about it; if the texture of the piece is okay and there aren’t any niggling mistakes, it’s time to stick it in the oven! Sometimes it is worth laying a cat on its side at this stage, or supporting it around the middle, because polymer clay legs are flimsy things at the best of times – and can turn downright floppy while they’re being baked.

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posted by frm at 1:58 pm  

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Different Kinds of Polymer Clay

There are many types of polymer clay available, if you know where to look, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. Many people will argue passionately for one variety or another, but I have noticed that some of the major brands are surprisingly inconsistent between colours, and possibly between batches – so sometimes I see someone dismissing Premo Sculpey in favour of Fimo Soft, on the grounds that the latter is too soft and floppy, but sometimes I see the opposite.

Sculpey III and Fimo Soft are the varieties I see for sale most often in the UK; Fimo Soft has largely supplanted Fimo ‘Classic’, probably because most people – kids especially – can’t be bothered with the extensive kneading the latter requires. However, the Soft kind is sometimes too soft, failing to hold delicate shapes or support the weight of a sculpture on legs. Sculpey III is if anything even softer, while in my experience Premo Sculpey is slightly firmer, but still a good deal less work than Fimo Classic. How firm you like your polymer clay has a lot to do with how hot your hands are, your patience, and the delicacy of the sculpture you are trying to achieve.

Much more significant than the differences between these mainstream brands is the leap from them to Super Sculpey or Super Sculpey Firm. These are far better at holding delicate shapes and fine detail, making them much more appropriate for some kinds of work. They do take a lot more kneading to make them pliable, but I find that only a minute or two of squashing and rolling gets them ready to use. Their big disadvantage is in the colours: Whereas the more common brands of polymer clay come in a dizzying range of attractive colours, standard Super Sculpey is always roughly the colour of northern-European skin, while the Firm variety is a sort of granite-grey. Obviously that’s great if you happen to want to make something in one of those colours, but otherwise you’ll be looking at a paint job at the end of it; of course some people are very happy painting their sculptures, but it’s not for everyone.

Achieving quite similar effects are Puppenfimo, also known as ‘miniature doll Fimo’, and Sculpey Living Doll. Aimed chiefly at the ‘art doll’ market, these are slightly softer than Super Sculpey, and the latter is available in several different fleshly colours. They retain a slight softness when cooked, and make for tough little sculptures which are slightly translucent, like human flesh.

Many other kinds of polymer clay are available – Creall-Therm, Cernit, Kato and Makin’s all have their own brands, about which I have heard good things, while Fimo and Sculpey have a range of other varieties which I haven’t touched on here. New products are devised on a regular basis – polymer science is very much a living field, and the polymer clay companies are spurred on to ingenious new applications by current high levels of interest in polymer clay as an artistic medium.

posted by frm at 12:10 pm  

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