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Polymer Clay Lesson Plan Two

Polymer Clay Lesson Plan 2: High-Contrast Colors

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Note: The polymer clay lessons I've written will make the most sense if they are completed in order. If you have not tried Lesson 1, please at least read over the polymer clay safety information it contains before starting this one.

In Lesson 1, I referred to a method of working with polymer clay called cane work. Polymer clay canes are long tubes or logs of clay that have designs running through them that show up in each slice that is taken from the cane. You can make your slices thick and poke holes in them to make them into beads. Or you can make your slices thin and use them like little mosiac tiles to create surface patterns on other pieces of clay. The term "cane" is borrowed from glass working. Glass pattern canes are sliced up and used to decorate glass objects such as millifiore paperweights. They have been made since ancient Roman days - polymer clay cane work is an old idea adapted to modern materials.

Many people who see polymer clay cane designs are amazed that anyone could make such intricate arrangements of clay colors at such tiny sizes. The secret is to build the cane much larger than the finished product will be, then shrink the diameter of the cane by rolling it or squeezing it. This process is known as reduction.

In this lesson we will learn how to mix contrasting colors while we build simple cane patterns. One common problem people notice when first working with polymer clay cane techniques is that the design does not show up as distinctly as expected after the cane is reduced in size. Your designs will be more vivid if you juxtapose colors that are high in contrast. High contrast is not necessarily better for all designs, but it is good to know how to get it if it suits the design you want to do.

1. Materials Needed:

Polymer Clay:
Sculpey III assortment
Waxed paper: for work surface and for storage
Pieces of cardboard: To be covered with waxed paper for work surface
Tape: To fasten waxed paper to cardboard
Paper towels and hand lotion: For cleaning hands when finished

Blades and knives for slicing clay: Old paring knives and Nu-blade for detail work
Rolling tool
Plastic trays and old cookie sheet
Wooden skewers (can be found in grocery stores) for making holes in clay
Portable oven for baking the beads
Extension cord, tray and folded paper for oven
Disposable rubber gloves
(Note: All tools that have been used for polymer clay are forever unsuitable to use for food purposes.)

2. Process

Step 1: Select two clay colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Here is a diagram I made of a color wheel. I have indicated the primary colors, red, yellow and blue, by circling them in black. You can use any two colors you choose as long as they are opposites. Click the graphic to access a larger PDF version of the color wheel.

Step 2: Take a look at the two colors you have chosen. Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are high in contrast in terms of hue, or color. Decide which is darker and which is lighter in terms of value. White is the highest value possible - black is the lowest value possible. In this excercise we will try to increase the contrast between the two pieces of clay even more by making the light color lighter and the dark color darker.

Step 3: First we'll mix a pinch of white with the light color. Mix in enough white to make the color noticeably lighter than the original. When I'm planning on mixing several colors in a session, I mix the light colors first to avoid contaminating them with crumbs of darker color that tend to accumulate on the work surface and under fingernails.

Step 4: Next we'll alter the dark color. You can use black to make a dark color darker, but you'll often get a much more pleasing color by using dark brown, dark blue, or a dark version of the color's opposite, or complement instead. Experiment with different color combinations and see if you like the effects.

Step 5: Flatten each color into a sheet, using the rolling tool to make it smooth. Trim the edges of each sheet to make identically sized rectangle shapes. Now you have the parts you need to make many basic cane patterns. Try one or all of these patterns (PDF).

The illustration below shows what happens to the colors when you reduce the canes. The top canes are made of complementary colors from the color wheel that have not been altered. The canes on the bottom are made of colors that were altered as described in Steps 3 and 4. All of the designs are distinct at the large size. With the possible exeption of the purple - yellow combination, the patterns in the high contrast canes are more distinct at the reduced size.

Step 6: Reduce your canes by rolling them if they are round, or pressing the sides in if they are square.

Step 7: Cool the canes in the refrigerator if necessary. If the clay is too warm, the designs will smear when the canes are sliced.

Step 8: Slice the canes into beads.

Step 9: Poke holes in the beads with wooden skewers.

Step 10: Bake the beads.

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