Poly Clay: Where to Start??

I received a wonderful comment to my last post from The Sick Chick, "I've just bought some poly clay and a bead roller to try making some little round things for the first time. Any tips for the absolute novice? I've worked with real clay before but never polymer and I'm hoping it will hit several of my clay itches that I haven't been able to scratch due to lack of kiln..."
And since I'm kinda feeling like I'm starting all over again, this is a great opportunity to address this question, for myself too. I will start a series of posts to this end.
The first tip I would say, is to look around for inspiration. Yeah, that's a lame tip, there are always tons of great sites to look at for inspiration, whatever the media. But in the case of poly clay, part of the inspiration is figuring out what you want to do with it. There are sooooo many things you can do with it, you could get bogged down if you're not sure which way you want to go.
From my perspective, there are three basic ways you can work with the clay, and millions of subsets of ideas. Let's start there.

  • Sculpture: using the poly clay like any other clay, using your hands or tools (including push molds) to make the clay look like what you want it to
  • Millefiori: like millefiori in glass making, putting tubes of color into a log, slicing the log to show the design in each slice, think cookie dough with a design in it
  • Changing the Clay: adding things into the clay, to make it look like stone, or wood, or just not look like clay, &/or subtracting layers from the clay, with metalworking mokume-gane techniques, I would also put into this category any/all new techniques that people are constantly creating, or looking to other mediums to borrow from

These, again, are just my categories, and they cross over, and work together, but to me, these are the three basic methods. And if one interests you more than the others, emphasize that one, or work in it exclusively. Each method is a complete art form in itself.
Of course, just starting out, you may want to try a little bit of everything, and to that I would recommend a comprehensive book like The New Clay. This book first came out the same year my younger son was born* and I purchased my copy that same year. I went through most of the techniques as the book showed them, practicing techniques just for the sake of practicing. This book has history of the clay up to that point, and the history of the techniques it presents, and is one of my all-time favorite books.
I'll delve into each of these categories, and share some of the projects I made from the book, in the next few weeks, with links to inspiration. Now, since this is the week the kids are gone, I'm going to get all my clay stuff out all over the kitchen table!! Yay!

*He just turned 15 on Easter, so a couple interesting facts: you probably know that when Easter falls is determined by the cycle of the sun and the moon, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, and March 23 is the absolute earliest it could be, April 25 being the latest. Easter hasn't been on this early date since 1913, and won't be again until 2160.
/trivia lesson

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