Saturday, 2 August 2014

Sum geometry, and a bit of recycling No. 2

Having discovered a whole new world of magnificent shapely possibilities (Sum geometry ... No.1) , I printed superellipses and other shapes in a range of sizes to make paper templates.  But positioning is a problem when you can't see the pattern on the clay. I thought about tracing paper. But paper of any kind tends to leach the clay and there isn't much substance to prevent your blade from nicking the edge. I've sometimes had to make several replacement templates when cutting repeat shapes ... and card gives only a few more uses.  Something a bit more durable, and ideally transparent, or semi-transparent, would be better ...

... I'm not by any means the first to attempt a solution to these problems. Earlier this year Giny showed how she uses a laminator to make great reusable templates and a while back Sabine Alienor shared her genius method of creating a very durable template from shrink plastic. Both methods impressed me enormously, and I've got some shrinky plastic to try Sabine's method. But I lack a laminator at home and suffer from an allergy to arithmetic - even the simplest calculation of shrinkage is outside my comfort zone. So, hoping to avoid mental exertion this afternoon if possible, I wondered whether there might be a really quick-and-dirty alternative. So that's what this is - just another alternative, using the materials to hand.

Experimenting with various types of plastic packaging, some of which proved surprisingly hard to cut (and probably weren't polymer safe), I eventually arrived at the idea of using the side of a square (squircular?) plastic milk bottle - the type of food-safe plastic that's also polymer safe. It proved easy to draw on with a marker, and delightfully easy to cut. (Note: As far as I know this type of plastic isn't biodegradable or otherwise liable to disintegrate, but time will tell - and in the meantime any templates or stencils you make with it will be perfectly safe to use with polymer clay.)

These templates (and, if you use a blade or fine scissors this plastic will support some detail, so stencils are also a possibility) are reusable and firm enough to lean your blade against without too much fear of slipping. The plastic adheres well to the clay; this stickiness means it needs to be peeled off carefully, but there are some advantages. It's flexible and you can use it to support thin layers of laminate, peeling off the template once in place. I wonder whether this might even be helpful when insetting shapes into a sheet of clay.

You need:

A plastic milk bottle - the sides of a 2.7l bottle gives two decent sized flat pieces, but smaller is OK too.
A largish pair of scissors (kitchen scissors ideal)
A smaller, sharp, cutting tool - a small, pointy pair of scissors or a craft knife or scalpel. Those sharp little nail scissors with curved blades are great for going round curves, and the point helps you get into the shape with minimal damage; if using a craft knife or scalpel, please use a cutting mat!
A Sharpie or other marker

(Excuse the state of my big scissors - they've been in service 30 years!)

This is what you do:

Rinse out the bottle with cold water (hot could distort the sides) and drain; Peel off the label.

Using the bigger scissors, trim out the flat surfaces, removing any curved bits. Discard any that have a seam or other markings, as these could mark your clay. Give the remaining, flat bits a wash on both sides with cool water and washing up liquid to remove any leftover grease or stickiness, and leave to dry. 

Pick your shape, and place a section of plastic over the top. Choose a piece that's large enough to cover the shape with a decent border around. You could use double-sided tape to hold it place, but unless your shape is very complicated you probably won't need it.

Trace carefully with a Sharpie or other marker. Try to keep your marks long and clear, rather than short, sketchy strokes.

If your shape has a corner, begin there, and using the small, pointy pair of scissors - or alternatively a craft knife or scalpel - push just the very tip into the plastic, snip, and begin to follow the line round. Don't hesitate to turn the shape around, or even reverse the plastic, if it gives you a better cutting angle.

The plastic is soft, so you won't damage your nail scissors   : )

So now you have two shapes, a positive and a negative template. Have a look at both and trim away any rough or jagged bits. If you can still see marker markings, you'll want to keep this away from your clay, so keep this side up when using. Having said that, I used Sharpie and it seems to rub or scrape off fairly easily, but you might want to experiment with wiping or washing off any remaining marks, maybe with a dish scrubbie, at this point.

Lay your template on the clay, marker side up, and smooth it down gently. Provided it's flat it should stick nicely to the clay with minimal extra help to hold it in place while you cut round, keeping the flat part of your scalpel lightly in contact with the edge of the template for an accurate line.

If you try this, let me know what you think!

Scotty dog pattern by Jenny B. Harris,

Monday, 28 July 2014

Cracks aren't always a bad thing

... unlike paintbrush hairs in the clay

And this rubbish bit of freehand cutting was what made me think, I really need some templates!  l'll share how I made some great shape templates in the next post.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sum geometry, and a bit of recycling No. 1

I've been playing with polymer clay for a while now, and am starting to tire of my run-of-the-mill selection of cutters. And while there are some enviable shape templates available now, they can be a bit on the pricey side - especially when you just can't decide on a favourite!  Now, while I'm in work I'm as spendthrift as the next girl, but I've been on unpaid care leave for five weeks and am feeling the pinch. I'm missing the little polymer-related treats I'd buy myself from time to time. But there are lots of free ways to find interesting shapes for jewellery and other projects ...

Look closely at the packaging of toiletries, cosmetics and other household goods for shape ideas -  companies spend thousands making the simplest things visually pleasing, and sometimes the cross-section of a bottle or profile of a lid can be a nice surprise!  Search the Internet for magnified images of natural objects like egg cases, seeds, pollen and minerals ... look at the negative spaces between leaves and flowers. Play with a set of designers' French curves to invent your own shapes ... develop a doodling habit and over a period of time you may notice that you naturally favour a particular shape.

Meanwhile there are lots of free shape resources: one of the best is on Ana Belchi's website. Ana uses a range of attractive shapes in her work, and has been amazingly generous in making a file of her shapes, named after Bauhaus designers available to download

I'm a firm believer that before you give in to either temptation or despair, you should at least have a go at making the thing that you want; I think that's how real originality is born. It's especially true of custom templates you might make for a one-off project - but what about those elegantly simple shapes that seem to recur again and again in pendants, bracelets and earrings?

Even though I failed O-level Maths twice, I think even I've grasped the idea that there's a certain truth that geometrically-derived shapes are some of the most appealing and aesthetically satisfying, because mathematical rules govern the shapes that appear in Nature. So, doing a bit more research, I was intrigued to come across the Superellipse - the concept that produced the Squircle (a satisfyingly curvy square - or alternatively, a blocky sort of circle) and similarly-rounded triangles. If you Google "squircle", you'll find examples.

Even better, a click or three later I discovered, an online calculator to generate your very own super-elliptoid and other natural looking shape-oids by inputting co-ordinates!   While having not the first idea how it works, it's easy to experiment with, and the results are exciting.

Images from Wikimedia commons

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Spirogyra cane, B&W

I experimented with a black & white version; beads emerged in various patterns. They all had an odd, kind of beetle-y quality.

Spirogyra (part 2)

I said a while back that I wanted to share the making of this "cane" ... and then, among other things going on, my extruder broke. Now that I have a brand new extruder (a Fimo one this time) and a few spare minutes, it seemed time to revisit this idea.

I've called it a "cane", but unlike a conventional cane, you make slices lengthwise to get strips or stripes of a pattern that changes with each slice, creating interesting mirror images as you go. In its basic form, the yield is low but you could certainly try combining more than one to make a more conventional stack.

Closely related to the Retro or Klimt extruder cane and Julie Picarello's Lizard Tails, it's more of a development than an original idea ... I like the organic look and called it Spirogyra as it reminds me of cells under the microscope in school biology classes! More thoroughly twisted canes take on a marbled, mineral look. You don't need much of each colour and it's dead easy to do, so it's a fun way to use up leftover clay after a project. Here it is for you to play with : )

You'll need some leftover clay, an extruder and a blade.


1. Prepare some scrap or leftover clay, conditioning it well. These were about no.3 on my machine.

2. Proceed as for a pixelated retro cane; I stacked mine randomly, although I think a graduated stack a la Bettina Welker might produce interesting results.

3. Extrude.

4. Cut the extruded string roughly in half; leave one half as it is, and cut the other half more or less in half again. Roll and stretch the two shorter lengths until you have a variety of thicknesses - some each of roughly thick, medium and thin pieces. It doesn't matter if the strings are a bit lumpy, although of course you could use different sizes of extruder discs. At the end of the day, it's a freestyle cane and you can be as precise or as careless as you like - the result will be organic and random.

5. So now you have several extruded strings, in various thicknesses.

6. Group these into a bundle, and gently smoosh them together. It doesn't really matter how you do this, or even if your strings aren't all exactly the same length - just arrange them in a way that pleases you. If the strings happen to be grouped around one central one, that will tend to give a more defined central "spine", but it's hard to control this effect. And keeping them aligned straight along the cane isn't important, but it helps to give a more regular "pattern" if you do.

7. Twist, turning the stack in one direction, and working right to the ends. Again, there's no set number of turns - anything from four or five to ten or more. The more you twist, the flatter and more detailed and ... err, twistier, the result. I think I gave this one about 10 twists.

8. Unlike previous experiments this time I also compressed the stack slightly, from both ends and  lengthways to make a more squarish shape. I did this intending to try stacking several canes this time, to make a bigger block - but then I got all excited about seeing what was inside, and I forgot!

9. Once twisted, cut lengthways through the centre to see the result! From here you can either join the two mirror images into a lizard tail, or

10. continue with 3 or 4 thin slices towards the outer side, with the pattern changing as you do so (11).

12. I think the pattern results from the outer strings turning horizontally around the central ones, which are less twisted.

The extruder ...well, I'm finding the Fimo one hard on my hands. Maybe I'll get another Makin's one after all.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Indigo hoops

George has decided to be my assistant  supervisor, and seems always to be around during photography sessions. While I'm making things, she's very understanding of the creative process and takes a paws-off approach, often sitting behind me on the chair (uncomfortable, perhaps, but clearly neccessary).  She does like to have some input in the photos, though - and while Chess will sometimes watch from a distance, George clearly feels that composition (and sometimes lighting) is her forte.

Monday, 5 May 2014


A discovery ... at least, I think I might have discovered it! An interesting, freestyle "cane" with lots of potential. Spirogyra cane - how-to to follow.

The pattern of broken cells immediately reminded me of botany class in school ... looking through the lens of a 1930s microscope at plant cells. 

I tried a few different versions and they all turned out with the same unpredictable, organic look.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Things to do with a cupcake wrap No. 1 Texture Stamp

Despite appearances, I'm not a massive fan of cupcakes. But these pretty wraps were on offer in the supermarket after Easter, and they were too good to pass up! Some ideas immediately came to mind ...

Rough & ready texture stamp

What you need:

A pack of laser cut cupcake wraps with a fairly open pattern
2-part silicone moulding putty

First, clear a bit of space on your worksurface. I used a silicone product called Hiflex for this, which just happens to be food safe (you can use it for moulding chocolate and sugar decorations and the like), but if using one of the others, I'd recommend you work on a tile rather than your kitchen counter, just in case.

Now, depending on how deep you want your texture, you can either separate out the cupcake wraps or leave them stacked; I used the stack of 6 and left the end in the pack to help stop them shifting during the moulding process ... if I'd been a little less impatient I might have used a stapler to hold them firm. Lay them flat on your surface.

Working quickly, mix up some moulding putty according to the instructions on the pack. Flatten it a little in your hands and drape it quickly and evenly over the stack of cupcake wraps. Again, quickly - because this stuff sets fast - apply even pressure over the surface to ensure the putty reaches all the nooks and crannies. Now leave it alone, and - WAIT. It's best to give the putty the full amount of curing time indicated in the instructions, because some of it will probably have latched onto the minute indentations between the paper sheets, and tiny bits of the design could break off if you peek underneath too soon.... wait some more ... remove nosy cat from worksurface ........... remove nosy cat from worksurface again

.... When you're sure the putty is fully cured (test it by gently poking the tip of a fingernail into the upper surface; if it springs back without leaving a mark, and the putty has a rubbery feel, it's done), carefully lift the edges first, and gently separate it away, holding the wraps down flat as you go. If you're careful, the paper wraps will still be virtually unmarked, and you have a lovely stamp or sheet of texture to use for polymer clay, or anything else you like!   Trim the texture sheet if you like tidy edges.


If you don't have moulding putty, you could still make a texture stamp with scrap clay, or try pressing the wraps directly onto your clay. But this way you get to keep them intact to use another time; plus the moulding putty makes a flexible sheet. Some types are more flexible than others; the one I used sets a bit firmer than some, which I think is better for texture ... but any sort will work fine.

The straight sides of the cut paper make for a very crisp impression. Cupcake wraps are easy to find and inexpensive, but there are lots of other lasercut card and paper items to experiment with: doilies, favour boxes, gift cards, stationery ...

As ever, I was impatient, and I made a small, rough-and-ready texture stamp, which is fine for me. If you're a perfectionist, or want a bigger sheet, you could theoretically lay two or more repeats of cupcake wraps adjacent to each other, make a shallow frame to contain the much larger amount of moulding putty you will need, and use your acrylic roller to roll the putty over the wraps, making a tidier and more professional-looking job.

Finally, having hopefully retained your pack of cupcake wraps reasonably intact, it's probably not a good idea to use these particular ones for cupcakes now, but there are some other things to try ... more later!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014