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Creative Fun with Polymer Clay!
Polymer Clay : What is Polymer Clay?

What is Polymer Clay?

How Does it Differ from Other Types of Clay?

By Chris Dunmire

What is this polymer clay stuff? You'll find that most people are familiar with the traditional organic clay described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "the plastic earthy material used in making pottery that consist largely of silicates of aluminum and becomes permanently hardened firing." Clays like terra cotta have been utilized since the beginning of time by ancient and modern civilizations for hand-built and wheel-thrown pottery making.

Some people are less familiar with the colorful plastic-based clay known as polymer clay easily found in popular chain craft stores marketed under the brands of Sculpey and Fimo.

So what exactly is polymer clay? One clay expert, Kellie Robinson of Kellies Clay describes it like this:

"Polymer clay is one of the most exciting, versatile, colorful artist's medium today. It is a plastic based clay, made up of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in a plasticizer. When cured, it fuses into a very hard plastic. What makes Polymer clay exciting is its versatility. It can be sculpted, carved, stamped, textured, and even sanded and buffed to a high shine."

I discovered polymer clay a few years ago in a local Michaels craft store. The instructions on the box indicated that the clay could be cured (hardened) in an oven at a low temperature, so I decided to buy some to experiment with. My first project was a red rose with delicate curled petals and a green stem. I followed the baking instructions on the box and was amazed at the results I got. The rose turned out pretty nice — for my first baked polymer clay project, that is.

It wasn't long after that I found a whole community of polymer clay enthusiasts online. I was also thrilled to meet Joshua Burkhardt, a young polymer clay artist who I was pleased to interview for the Creativity Portal in 2001. It's amazing what people make out of polymer clay: jewelry, character sculptures, and coasters, to name a few. You can find some truly cool polymer clay sites in Creativity Portal's polymer clay section

All of this talk about clay makes me remember the different kinds of clay I've had over the years. Enjoy my anecdotal reminiscing and comparison of polymer clay to other types of clay: 

Play Doh®

As a child, I had several sets of Play Doh®, the colored capped cans of blue, red, yellow, and white "dough" that had a distinct fragrance and would harden if left out too long. The appeal of this clay to parents is that its non-toxic and easy for children to work with. Play Doh® is available in many more colors and variations now than when I was a kid, and it has a whole line of themed toys and accessories to go with it. The classics I remember include a barbershop and a shape-maker fun factory.

Modeling Clay

As I got older I moved on to non-hardening modeling clay, the kind that came in long rectangular sticks wrapped in cellophane. It lasted forever, but took some time kneading to get it pliable enough to make something. And if you did create something you wanted to keep forever, there was nothing you could do to make it harden. Works of art were temporary at best. I still remember the disappointment I had after combining all the different clay colors together — I think the resulting color was a mucky brown.

Polymer Clay

Later on I found another kind of clay. It was a non-hardening modeling clay that could be baked in your own oven at a low temperature. It had special polymers added to it to make it more elastic than regular clay. It was called polymer clay.

Polymer clay is fun to work with. There are over 90 brilliant colors available, and it is a perfect medium for making long-lasting projects with. You can find it at almost any craft store.

If you want to learn more about this fun and flexible art medium, I recommend visiting Sculpey's Web site, a major manufacturer of polymer clay. Sculpey not only has an abundance of polymer clay information, but has dozens of free projects, tutorials, tips, and other clay-related fun. •

© 2003, 2007 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

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