Here’s a list of some quick tips for sculpting with polymer clay. I hope this list will be ever growing. Also in the works is a list for painting your sculpts too.
1: Keep a wet washcloth or wet wipes (baby wipes) on hand to keep you hands clean while sculpting. Any little piece of dirt of pet hair your hands pick up will stick to your sculpt.
2: Get a lazy susan, it’s a simple thing but being able to turn your sculpts easily is really helpful. I found a great 14″ diameter bamboo one for $10, so not a big investment.
3: Mirrors are your friend. A great way to tell if you have something lopsided is to look at it reversed in a mirror, it really brings out any problems.
4: Smooth out your polymer clay by brushing it using isopropyl alcohol. 90% will smooth more aggressively than 70%. I keep both on hand to use depending on what I need. You can find it in any drug store around the first aid supplies.
5: Get a pasta machine. They are the perfect tool for mixing clay and of course rolling out sheets of clay. Mixing clay by hand takes forever and leaves your hands too sore and tired to actually be able to sculpt.
6: Wet wipes are also useful for keeping our pasta machine clean. Just run one through on the smallest setting a few times until the rollers are clean. If you don’t have wet wipes a piece of folded paper towel wetted with window cleaner also works quite well.
7: Make/find your own tools. Sculpting tools can be expensive so I only buy what I can’t make or find. A few examples are:
- Knitting needles
- X-acto knives
- Sewing needles can be glued into the end of pieces of dowel (tapestry needles come in the perfect sizes)
- Steel guitar strings are perfect for homemade loop tools. One package comes with 6 sizes of music wire for around $4 and it’s enough wire for literally dozens of tools. Just glue a loop of the wire into a hole drilled in the end of a dowel.
- Dowels can be easily carved with a multi tool x-acto knife and fine sandpaper into endless shapes.
- Anything that has an interesting texture can be made into a stamp. Just press a blob of epoxy putty (such as ApoxieSculpt, milliput, hard setting plumbers epoxy) onto the object you want to make a stamp of. Some examples would be an orange, cantalope, bark, basketball, etc.
8: Save your eyes. If you are sculpting a lot of fine detail get a magnifier of some sort. I have a desktop on on a bendable arm but a lot of sculptors prefer wearble magnifiers.
9: If your clay isn’t the consistency that you want there are a couple things you can do. If it’s too soft you can leach the clay, roll out thin sheet of the clay, place it between two sheets of white paper, and stack a couple books on top. Leave it there checking the consistency ever couple hours until it reaches the firmness that you want. If the clay is too hard or dry, you can use either sculpey clay softener (previously called diluent) or fimo mix quick to soften the clay.
10: Bake your clay thoroughly at the temperature indicated on the package. Underbaking can leave your sculpture weak and in some cases it make actually break down due to uncured plasticizers. The process I use is to ramp bake, this was originated by Katherine Dewey who’s a genius. This means I first bake for 15-20 minutes at 225, 15-20 minutes at 250, then depending on the thickness of the sculpt for between 20 and 60 minutes at 275.