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.

Is polymer clay colourfast? Follow-up

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Back in May I wrote a blog about my experiment to see if polymer clay was light fast. After that I wondered how the colours would fare directly in the sun. If you remember, I had cut three strips from the same spectrum gradient blend of Fimo Professional “True Colours”. This time I used the strip that had been on my wall in a North facing room as the colours had not changed much (I wanted to preserve the control strip which had been stored in a drawer, and compare to the strip that had been sitting inside on a South facing windowsill). This time I left the piece on a South facing windowsill outside for the summer.

Rainbow blend of polymer clay.
From top to bottom: Strip left inside on windowsill for a year, strip kept in a dark drawer, strip left outside for the summer

As you can see, this time there is a definite colour change. The strip has faded overall, but the yellow seems particularly affected. The orange and green (when blending with the yellow) have particularly changed while the others have mostly kept their hue but have become paler.


I am a little disappointed that the colours do fade, although the strip is still nice and colourful when not compared to the original colours. I have seen some lovely garden ornaments made from polymer clay and they withstand the elements very well, but it would probably be best to stick to earthy colours when making something intended to go outside. This way a slight shift in hue would not make a big difference. Perhaps there’s a UV protective varnish that can be used to preserve the bright colours?

Since I’ve only tested one brand of polymer clay here: please let me know in the comments if you’ve had any experience with colours changing (or even better – not changing!).

I’ve finished my 24 samples

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About 2 weeks ago I finished all 24oz of my polymer clay sample challenge. I unpacked all the beads I had made on a Twitch live stream if you are interested in all the details. Here’s a photograph to summarise.

Mixed polymer clay beads.
Variety of handmade polymer clay beads.

Now there are so many beads to choose from I’m struggling to know where to start, but I have made a few of these beads into earrings. (If you are subscribed to my newsletter you may have already seen these.)

What was good about this challenge?

It was really helpful for me to have preselected colours to work with. Often I find myself overwhelmed with the unlimited potential of polymer clay that I end up dithering when trying to decide where to start so I don’t actually do anything. I tried to experiment when making some of the beads by thinking that I have already allocated the clay to be used so I may as well use it (actually this is true for any polymer clay since things that are not working out can be squished into scrap). I had to be creative and find different ways to finish some beads as I couldn’t add more clay to do my first idea.

What was not so good?

When making canes I had to keep things smaller than usual as I had an imposed limit to the amount of clay I could use. It would have been better to start with larger canes so I could keep different sizes aside as I reduced. I struggled to find enough scrap clay for the inners of my beads so I didn’t get as many beads as I could have from a finished cane (i.e. by putting a thin decorative slice onto a thicker layer of scrap). There were some beads where I thought it would be nice add contrasting caps or edge the outside of a cane but I had already used up the colours I wanted to use so I couldn’t do that.

What will I do next?

I found it really useful to have a specific goal in mind to keep me motivated so I’m intending to define what I’m going to work on next. Unfortunately this week gone I was completely disabled watching the news of violence and looting in South Africa so I haven’t been able to make any decisions. I’m planning to continue with my colour palette reruns, so there’s still time for you to choose a colour in my survey.

Till next time, stay safe!

Sample Challenge – beads in progress

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I am continuing to work through my 24oz sample colours and I’ve nearly finished so I decided it was time to use up the scrap cane ends that I had created previously. I used a cane design by Fiona Abel-Smith which creates a colourful pattern that reminds me of crochet Granny Squares.

Multicoloured polymer clay cane

I made this cane and a few headpins and beads on a live stream earlier this week. If you are interested in how I made them there is a video still available. I haven’t even baked these yet (I like to fill the oven before I do so), so photographing them was a little tricky and is the reason there is glass in the background rather than my usual photo setup.

Polymer clay and wire decorative headpins/earring components

Of course I didn’t take into account that making a new cane from my scrap ends would result in new scrap cane ends! I think the last beads I make will end up mud tone that I need to texture for interest and add some colour with mica powders or paints.

Anyhow, I think I will soon be finished and able to show you the collection of beads I have made. Let me know if you are doing your own sample challenge as it would be great to share. Stay well, bye for now.

Is my polymer clay colourfast?

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The short answer is “Probably not and I’m definitely not a scientist!”.

Years ago I did a polymer clay painting that I was really pleased with. I even had it framed and it was on display in an art gallery for several months (possibly over a year). However when I got it back the colours looked strange to me. Sure enough when I took it out of the frame there was a definite colour shift visible where it had been under the mount card. I don’t know if it had been in a window or if it was due to the bright shop lighting, but I was really distressed. I was so distressed that I didn’t take a photograph before trying some remedial actions.

Polymer clay painting by Cate van Alphen

To try and save the picture, I carefully scratched off the surface to blend the hard line where the colour changed. You can still see that the foreground is much more yellow at the bottom. I couldn’t do too much of this as I would have lost all the shadows and details added to the surface. You can see more clearly in the next image where I have layered the front and the back of the picture together (both photos taken in the same lighting right after each other).

Comparing the front and the back of the picture to show colour change.

Because it takes me days to make these paintings, I decided I didn’t want to do any more of them until I could check that the colours would remain as I intended. I couldn’t find any information about the colour fastness of polymer clay, but I did find an article for checking if water colour paints are colourfast. The suggestion was to paint a swatch and then leave it in a sunny place for a year to see if the colours change.

So I made a sheet with a spectrum of colours and cut it into three strips. I made the line wavy so I could fit the pieces together later. I kept one strip in a drawer, one strip on the wall of a room with north facing window and one strip on a south facing windowsill. I don’t know what brands of clay I used for the painting (especially the browns because I blended several scraps to make the colour), but for the test I used Fimo Professional (which at the time was a new product).

I couldn’t see any change for the strip that was on the wall, but for the strip that was on the windowsill there was some slight fading of the yellow where it mixed with the red (it’s now less orange) and the green seems to have faded overall. The colour change is a lot less that that which was suffered by the painting but it occurs to me that the double glazing of my window may have had some UV protection that the shop window didn’t. I think I need to put the “wall” strip in the garden for a year and see how that goes.

Unfortunately my process was a bit too chaotic to make this a nice (and accurate) scientific test. For a start I didn’t write down the dates for when I started and finished and I think there are several other variations that are worth testing. For example:

  • Different brands of polymer clay
  • Colours mixed with white
  • Black polymer clay
  • Clay exposed directly to sunlight (outside)

So in conclusion there was definitely some colour fading of the yellow and green. Was it significant enough that I don’t want to make any more paintings? Is it unreasonable to expect no change? Was it less faded than before because it’s a new formula or a different environment or because it’s fully saturated colours?

I don’t know!

I told you I wasn’t a good scientist, but I thought I’d share with you what I have found out so far anyway. Maybe in another year I’ll have some results for how the colour strip fares directly outside. In the meantime please let me know if you’ve done similar tests or if you have better information.

Sample Challenge update

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I am still working through my 24 one ounce blocks of polymer clay. Here’s the next stage of my progress.

My primary reason for doing the challenge was to give myself a starting place to get making beads again. Unfortunately I was finding that trying to record the steps as tutorial videos was hindering my progress, particularly when the children were home due to lockdown (again). They are very noisy during the day so I’d have to wait till the evening to begin and by that point I wasn’t feeling very sparkly for chatting while I make. Also it was discouraging me from just experimenting as it’s hard to explain what you are doing when you don’t know yet!

Instead I have decided to crack on with the making and show you my progress as I go. If you are really interested in any of the beads I make, let me know in the comments and I may try to do a dedicated tutorial for that. I have at least one video still to edit, so that will turn up eventually.

I’ve got more beads to show you but I’ll save those for another day. I hope you are well and making progress with your projects.

P.S. If you’d like to set yourself a sample challenge, here’s my earlier post with the guidelines I’m using.

Kaleidoscope Cane Video Tutorial

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I have finally finished editing and uploading a tutorial for making a kaleidoscope cane. I have the footage where I used this cane to make beads, but as you can tell I’m pretty slow at the editing phase so I’m not sure when that will be complete.

This is part of the sample challenge that I set for myself. If you’d like to join in too, get yourself 24 different colours of polymer clay that are 1oz each and use them all up. You can use an actual sample pack or use what you’ve got and mix up your own colours (that’s what I did). Tag what you make with #24ozPolymerClay so that we can find each other on the socials.

Enjoy!

Dusting off my online shop

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Recently I have been dusting off my online shop. Since creating the initial listings I have changed to a different computer monitor with more vivid colours and it became obvious that the colour balance of the photos was off, they were far too yellow. Therefore for the past few days I have been readjusting all the photos. It has taken ages but I think they look better now. You can see the colour difference down the centre of the photo below.

Zigzag earrings showing difference in colour balance.

So far I have only relisted earrings and I haven’t been able to add new items for sale just yet but I thought it was important to have photos that better portrayed the colours. Since some of these earrings are now a few years old, I have put in increasing discounts based on the year that the earrings were made. The older the item, the bigger the discount. Have a look, perhaps you will find a pair of new earrings to pep up your day. I know the earrings would rather be worn than be stuck in a drawer!

My “Sample Pack” Challenge

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I have set myself a challenge, and I have finally finished editing a video for you to watch with the details.

In summary, the challenge is to get yourself a “sample pack” of polymer clay: 24 blocks of different colours that are only 1oz in size. Then use up all the clay, and only this clay (don’t supplement with favourite colours from your stash).

I’m going to stick to simple additions like glitter or metal leaf, and possibly add touches of acrylic paint to highlight texture. The idea is to work with the different colours, even ones that I don’t really like. I’ve also got different effect clays like “marble” with inclusions that I have never used before.

If you’d like to join in, and I hope you do, please let me know in the comments, or tag your posts with #24ozPolymerClay.

Have fun!