Recycled Polymer Clay

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For a while now I have been distressed that polymer clay is plastic and questioning whether I should be adding more of it to the world. While looking for eco friendly options for polymer clay, I found this article by Wendy Moore where she discusses her own considerations on the responsible use of polymer clay. Even though I don’t rely on my creations as a livelihood (as the women of Samunnat do), I have discovered that making things is vital for my mental health.

I have considered whether there are alternatives that I would find equally satisfying, but I haven’t thought of anything yet. Making lampwork glass beads would require constant burning of fuel while I’m working and I would no longer be directly in contact with the pieces due to the high temperatures. Earth clays would dry out and be wasted due to my erratic availability of time (not to mention requiring a furnace to cure). Even wool felt can be considered to have a negative ecological impact when considering the manufacturing of dyes (I don’t know if natural dyes could get the bright colours I’d want).

There does not seem to be a perfect solution, just relative improvements. Since I already have a stock of polymer clay, it seems better for me to focus on using it without creating waste until there is a more sustainable option. Unbaked clay is no problem (sometimes I don’t have enough) as it can be infinitely reused as a base with decorative veneers on top. However there are techniques e.g. carving that I really like which result in baked polymer clay scraps. (I also collect the scraps produced when drilling beads.)

I have previously used the baked polymer scraps decoratively by rolling them into the surface of unbaked clay to make “frit” beads. I have also used scraps as inclusions in thin sheets of clay that I bake and use for creating mosaic pieces. Since making the mosaics results in more tiny offcuts I decided to test how far I could push the cycle. I used tiny pieces to make stud earrings and then used the offcuts from that to make a new sheet ready to use in future mosaics. Since I need to use fresh polymer clay to use up the offcuts, I hope people will like the studs!

The other place where I have concerns about the waste produced, is the sludge left behind after wet sanding beads. I’m not very keen on sanding so I don’t always do it, but some components just look better when sanded. I have started collecting the dust and working it into raw polymer clay as you might do with mica powders. Because I’m often sanding beads with mixed colours this can result in some neutral shades. I decided to make some of my favourite patchwork beads using these shades of neutral*. I even ended up mixing them with some more colourful pieces because I wasn’t very keen on the colourful mix on it’s own. I don’t sand the beads when I use this technique, so this method closes the loop instead of making more.

With all these techniques, I think it’s important to make something appealing. After all if it doesn’t result in something that someone will treasure it’s going to end up in landfill.


* Of course if I didn’t like the colour of the dust mix, I could also use it in the same way as unbaked scrap clay with a decorative veneer on top.

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Wraptious Design Competition

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In April I decided to work on some designs for the Wraptious Competition. I already had some kaleidoscope designs printed as cards but I thought they could benefit from a little more texture and complexity. After working on one of the kaleidoscope images for a while I thought it was interesting but still missing something, so I layered on one of my abstract florals that I had digitally painted years ago.

  • Kaleidoscope design
  • Turquoise flower bud on purple background
  • Kaleidoscope design with turquoise flowers

I really liked the combination so I worked on a few more images. Here are the ones that I have entered into the competition. You can buy these designs on cushions or as art prints until 30th June 2022. You can also vote for free by clicking the green thumbs up on each of the individual product pages, or like and share this facebook post (before midnight 30th May 2022).

So that’s what happens when a kaleidoscope design and a flower painting have a baby! I really enjoyed making these and I’ve already got another one in progress. I hope you like them too. Would you be interested in seeing these as art prints or cards?

What’s a wishpot?

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will have come across my wishpots before. I created the first wishpot when my daughter was born and we were planning a family gathering to welcome her. I was inspired by the fairy tales where the fairy godmothers give blessings to the newborn baby. Everyone spoke a wish for her future and I sealed the lid closed. Since then I have made a few different versions as I have been refining the way that the stopper bead is attached.

Selection of polymer clay wishpots

This current method of stringing allows the wishpot to be worn as a pendant on a necklace, or stand alone as an ornament. Here’s a little video clip to show you.

I now have a few of these listed for sale on my website with more colours on the way. The wishpots come in a recycled paper gift box with a little scroll that reads:
“This is a wishpot. The idea is to use it as a focus for your own empowerment and gratitude. It can be worn as a pendant or stand alone as an ornament. To use it: open by pulling the bead lid upwards. Speak your affirmation or imagine your intended circumstance and blow into the open wishpot to add your wish. Close it by pulling the thread on the side (the one that’s shorter when open). When your wish is complete, open the wishpot to release it and say “thank you” as it goes.”

I have a couple of these wishpots myself and I wear one nearly every day. Speaking of things to be grateful for – I have just discovered it’s a Bank Holiday on Monday. What a lovely surprise! I hope you have a great weekend and that your wishes come true.

Tutorial Video – Sheep Components

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Here’s another video tutorial. In this one I’m making polymer clay components with embedded wire. I was on the struggle bus with this one and I had to alter my plans because the cane I was using was too old and brittle. I left some of the disasters in the video because my problem solving might be useful to someone else.

Since doing the original stream I have stumbled across some other techniques which work slightly better to recondition old canes, but I’m still testing these. If you have any good tips for working with old canes, please put them in the comments!

Mica tip video

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I’ve just realised that I never put a link here on my blog to a little video that I made a while ago showing how I mix mica powders with water to highlight textures in my unbaked polymer clay. Once added the mica sinks to the bottom and the water evaporates leaving the mica just in the dents.

*I like to use a brand of mica powders that includes a built in binder so I don’t need to varnish the finished beads. I have found that once baked it takes concerted effort to scrape off the mica and since the mica is mostly in the indentations it will be protected from casual wear and tear.

You can find links to all my other free tutorials on this page.

P.S. I got a better camera after making this video. You can see it in action during my streams on Tuesday mornings (10am UK time).

And now with more ‘shrooms

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Last year I worked on a red mushroom cane using the colours from my Red Palette. I started off by creating a vector image of my design so that I could test how the pattern would repeat. It took me ages to get the cane built as I wanted to follow my sketch quite accurately, and I was pleased with the finished result.

Here are some finished earrings that I made using my mushroom cane. I’m still tweaking the sizing for some of these components and refining the domed stud attachment but I am happy with them as prototypes.

Red mushroom themed polymer clay earrings by Cate van Alphen

This year I have decided to choose some pieces of my art to get printed as greeting cards. While my mushroom vector sketch had enough detail to be used as a cane, I thought it was a little bland when enlarged to the size of a card. Therefore I decided to add in more details and some texture to the background incorporating scans of monoprinted paper. I didn’t particularly intend to make it psychedelic, but I suppose stereotypes happen for a reason! What do you think – is it fun or bonkers?

Fly agaric by Cate van Alphen

By the way, I have done a lot of the work on these projects during my Tuesday morning livestreams. You are welcome to join me for a chat or you can watch the videos on catchup (they remain available for 2 weeks).

On why I’m streaming

I have started doing a live stream every Tuesday morning at 11am UK time. My camera is aggravating because it keeps changing its autofocus and my mic is not great. I don’t think I’m the world’s expert in polymer clay (often I’m figuring out what I’m doing during the stream) and I’m probably not all that entertaining. So why am I doing it?

I have a couple of reasons.

Mostly I want to talk about beads and polymer clay and, during lockdown, I discovered that the members of my household are not interested. I figure if I want to chat about these things then someone else does too, and maybe they will find me one day.

The other reason that I’m continuing to stream, which has been more of a discovery than a cause, is that it gives me a fixed time where I have to sit down and make something. During lockdown I lost all motivation and sat in my house and sulked. Left to my own devices I procrastinate and avoid starting projects. By having a scheduled time, I have to plan what I’m going to make and even prepare some of the boring parts like conditioning clay so I can just sit down and do the fun bits. (It also helps alleviate the guilt I feel when I’m making beads instead of cleaning the house etc).

Another lovely perk is that my sister, who is in South Africa, usually joins in to watch my stream, so we get to have more regular contact. She’s a watercolour artist and I’m including some of her art in this post for you to enjoy. You can find more of her work on Instagram.

So if you are interested in polymer clay tutorials or would like to chat, please join me on a Tuesday morning. If you can’t join in live then the videos are available for a couple of weeks afterwards. Let me know in the comments if there is something you’d like to see me make and I’ll see what I can do.