Mad in Pursuit Notebook

polymer clay figurines

Polymer Clay Lessons: "Toby" and "Clara"

Jan 12, 2018. Determined to gain some mastery over the polymer clay medium, I downloaded a book that promised to teach me how to make critters. Lesson 1 is bear cub wearing a Santa hat and sitting in a mug. Lesson 2 is a female figurine of the faceless genre popular now in gift shops. I wanted to have a "beginner's mind"* and just do the damn lesson for the learning. You know, quit editorializing. But, it's my time, my art. So I deviated.

The bear "Toby" (abt. 7" tall) was built on an aluminum foil armature. Christmas was over, so I made my own blue and purple palette, which I then doused with pearly mica powder because the colors were too somber. Ah! Winter! I stamped him with a snowflake pattern. He turned out lumpy--like a bear--and I gave him some claws. A scarf cut from the hem of an old sweater gave him a little panache. He is sturdy and cheerful.

"Clara" (abt. 6" tall) went almost immediately off the rails. I wanted her smaller than the lesson called for. And she had to have a face. The face was successful because I managed to make it minimal but cute--an elusive skill up to this point. Then I decided to use a mini vodka bottle (wrapped in floral tape) for an armature. What else could I upcycle? Earrings? I found a wonderful polymer clay earring from the '90s that seemed like a perfect bodice. It gave me inspiration for the color palette and motivation to try a little caning for the rest of her. I engineered the arms okay (tape-wrapped wire as armature, then covered with clay) but made kind of a mess of attaching the head and earring-bodice, using a big glop of Apoxie Sculpt, yet not really engineering a secure fit for the head. So she looks like she's wearing a cervical collar.

The checkered, square canes, cut into "tiles," were wonky, but okay for a first effort. My color matching was off--what turned out to be 1980's "dusty rose" should have been more orange. I didn't take enough time to do it right.

The finish is matte and rough. I should experiment with sanding and buffing. But I'm aiming for a folk art feel--God forbid it should look mass-produced.

Clara turned out to be prim and dutiful.

The real lessons

1. I'm okay at this. I can manage to achieve some expression while learning.

2. Color rules. I need to get mastery over color mixing to achieve the palette I love--sophisticated but not gloomy. I'm committing to Sculpy Premo (easy to condition, hard but not brittle when cured) so I can be systematic about the color mixing.

3. Sketch. Plan the parts and the connections better. Baking parts as you go along is helpful as the project can otherwise get unwieldy (and full of fingerprints and dents). But then it's hard to veer off in an inspired new direction.

4. A rough-hewn finish is okay, but it can't look half-assed. It has to be wholehearted--emerging from a deep sense of what is important and what is beautiful. A goal!

Ars longa, vita brevis. [Art is long, life is short.] -Hippocrates


*"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki


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All pages in this website by Susan Barrett Price are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. [The snowstorm image at the top of this page came from Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons license.]