What is Polymer Clay?
Strictly speaking, polymer clay is not clay. Clay is a natural product made of dirt. Polymer clay is a synthetic product manufactured from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), resin, plasticizer, and pigments. Raw, it is malleable and can be worked much like clay. Fired, the PVC particles fuse together (polymerize) and become hard and rigid.
It is manufactured in a variety of colors, which can be mixed together much like paint. It can be molded and sculpted just like natural clay. It can also be used in ways that earthen clay cannot.
In polymer clay canework, the artist borrows mille fiori glass techniques by combining rods and/or sheets of clay to produce canes with a patterned cross-section. The artist reduces the diameter of the cane and slices it horizontally to produce patterns, which can be applied to clay or other objects. Polymer clay canes hold an almost infinite amount of complexity and detail.
Because the color is in the clay, no glazing is required.
A Short History
Fifi Rehbinder first invented and marketed a polymer clay product ("Fifi Mosaik"), for making doll heads. In 1964 she sold the formula to Eberhard Faber, which used it to develop Fimo, one of the most common brands of polymer clay on the market today.
Originally the clay was used for dolls and miniatures for doll houses. As its market grew, it was sold in German toy stores. A group of innovative artists lifted the clay out of the world of toys and into the world of art. Pier Voulkos first purchased Fimo from a toy store in Germany in 1970 and began to make beautiful jewelry. Tory Hughes took the clay further into the world of sculpture.
At the same time that American artists were discovering Fimo, an American company was developing its own brand of polymer clay. Mike Solos sold Polyform/Sculpey on a small scale beginning in 1967. By 1976, he was marketing his product at craft shows and demonstrating its use to small retail shops.
In the late 1980's interest in the clay blossomed, and the art world has never looked back. Prominent artists include: Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford and David Forlano, Jamey D. Allen, and many others.
Polymer clay is now available in a multiplicity of brands (Fimo, Sculpey, Premo, Cernit, Kato Polyclay and others) and a full range of colors.
Caring For Polymer Clay Artwork
Polymer clay is both stronger and more brittle than china. If you drop polymer clay, it is less likely to break. On the other hand, it is easier to break off small pieces of polymer clay (such as ears, beaks, and noses). Polymer clay may be scratched with a bread knife or a determined fingernail.
If the sculpture is mounted on a base, lift it by the base. If not, pick up and hold the piece by the main body.
Like fine woodwork and paintings, polymer clay suffers from too much direct sunlight. Left on a sunny windowsill, its colors will eventually fade. The extreme temperature variations in unheated garages and storage units may damage polymer clay artwork.
If the piece becomes dirty, wipe it clean with warm soapy water. Do not use abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals.
If you do break one of my sculptures, contact me. I can repair many damaged pieces by making new parts and refiring them.