Got scrap?

Anyone who’s worked with polymer clay, or any medium, or even cooked for that matter will be familiar with the concept of leftovers or scrap. If you’re not, I applaud you, you’re amazing! I’m most definitely not one of those people, with clay or cooking, but the cooking is a different story. Today, let’s talk about clay.

When I first started using clay, my scrap clay lot was usually larger than all the fresh clay I had (this was before I started obsessively stocking up clay as though I was preparing for a clay draught). Eventually I started trying out some techniques that use scrap clay like Natasha beads and swirly lentils. And I discovered more techiques. And then some more. My scrap clay stash kept diminishing and the box became smaller and smaller. Now all my scrap fits in a baby food box!

With all my experimenting, I’ve found that certain techniques are more suited for certain “types” of scrap. What do I mean my types of scrap? Well here’s how I categorize scrap.

1. Distorted cane or cane end with fairly graphic design and good contrast

Make Natasha beads! I know many clay artists go through a phase where they accumulate tons of these and then stop altogether because they don’t know what to with them. I went through that phase too and I have many orphan beads sitting in my bead bucket. But they make wonderful pendants, and would make a matching focal piece with beads made from the same cane. The larger ones also make nice key chains. Take a look at the hand drills Ginger Davis Allman made with Natasha bead handles.

(Random fact: I collect key chains almost as obsessively as magnets. I have over a hundred key chains of all types and sizes, some of which are over fifteen years old.)

Also, a note on why I called out graphic design. If the cane pattern is too fine or busy, there’s a chance that the resulting bead won’t have the cleanest pattern. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t care for this type of result very much. You can see what I mean in the picture below, the lot on the left are all Natasha beads. The one on the left has a nice bold pattern highlighted by the contrast and is the best example of the technique according to me. The others are too busy or too blobby for my liking. To some extent you can control how fine grained the design gets by twisting the clay less (watch the tutorial to know what I mean). But I don’t bother, since there are so many more things to do with scrap clay!

Oh and Julie Picarello has a “lizard tail” technique in her book that’s a fun spin on a Natasha bead. The lot on the right were made with this technique. Here’s a lovely example of the technique by 2 Good Claymates.

Natasha beads and lizard tail pendants

Natasha beads on the left and lizard tail pendants on the right

Also, lentil beads!! Here’s a video where Cindy Leitz demonstrates how to make these. I’ve included a picture here of a slice from the original mandala cane and Natasha beads and lentils from the scrap, just to give an idea of what I started with. Any technique from this post didn’t work out? Swirl it!

Original cane slice with Natasha bead and lentils from cane scraps

Original cane slice with Natasha bead and lentils from cane scraps

2. Distorted cane or cane end with lots of colors

This can also make a cool Natasha bead, but try this stripes pattern sheet (alternate tutorial here). The sheet in turn can be used to make beads like this and this. Or you can manipulate the sheet to make a chevron pattern, bargello, or a fabric like pattern. Ooh or use a combing technique (the link suggests the Sculpey tool, but any comb works)! Or make two sheets with different colors alternate between strips from each like so. Here’s another tutorial that starts with a sheet and manipulates it to make a sheet of faux Peruvian fabric.

Beads with striped sheets

Beads with striped sheets

Scrappy stripes make excellent torpedo beads. I follow Cindy Leitz’s method for rolling these, but there’s a nice free tutorial here.

Okay this category seems to warrant a blog post by itself, but I found the pieces below when I was putting together torpedo bead samples for this post. The stripes sheet makes fabulous Ikat patterns! The same sheet that was used for the multicolor torpedo beads was used to make an Ikat block. And check out Cindy Leitz’s scrappy hearts tutorial. You can see the front and back of a heart I made in the picture with blue pieces.

   Torpedo beads made from scrappy stripes  Ikat and torpedo beads

Ikat pieces and torpedo beads made with scrappy stripes

The swanwalk cane is also a good candidate for any kind of cane scrap. You need a fair length of the cane for this though, the effect isn’t very interesting otherwise. I had a fair bit of trouble with this, and I’m still not happy with my results. The effect is gorgeous if done right! Here’s a fun assembled kaleidoscope project that covered wooden beads from Teresa Pandora Salgado.

Ikat, lentils and scrappy heartsSwanwalk cane pieces

Scrappy hearts, ikat and lentils from blue scraps; Swanwalk cane pieces

3. Flower cane ends or petal cane ends

I recently was in a mood to make a flower cane and generated a bunch of scrap. Now most flower cane will involve making a petal cane and then assembling a flower. Don’t discard the petal trimmings! If you can manage to get a few petal slices, assemble them together to form a flower, like Katie shows here. You can also assemble the flower as shown in this tutorial. Oh and those tiny cane ends with the center sucked in? They look so dimensional and pretty! Make them into earrings, or pendants.
Assorted pieces made from flower cane scraps

Earrings and pendants made with flower cane ends and scraps

4. Imperfect cane slices

These can usually be used to fill in gaps in a patterned sheet or bead. But if you do have some left over, don’t wad them up and toss them in the junk pile. Stroppel it! Now I admit, I tried this only very recently, and now I’m wondering why I never did before.

Make sure the black clay is very thin so that the cane slices are highlighted nicely. In other words, don’t do what I’ve done here! I still kind of like the pattern, so I thought I’ll include the picture here. Here’s how it looks when done right. You don’t have a make a cane. Piecing together random slices can still look pretty great.

Remember how I said anything can make great lentil beads? See my swirled Stroppel earrings and pendant here! This was made from some imperfect slices I got when I was covering up the bangle. The earrings were made from a single lentil bead that was cut in half using a fun trick I stumbled across when making samples for this post. I’ll write about that in another post.

Stroppel bangle Stroppel lentils

Stroppel bangle and lentils

5. Remaining part of any sheet

If the sheet is a blend of some sort, you can use Cindy Leitz’s method of combining the scraps to make a smaller whole sheet. The oval beads below were made from trimmed bits off a multicolored blend, you can see how I lost some of the yellow in there, but these have a nice painterly effect I think. Such scraps would make great stripes as well. But here’s another cool thing you can do with a patterned sheet. Grab a bunch of itty bitty cutters and cut out as many little shapes as you can. Then you can assemble these into some great post earrings by just smushing the cutouts together in any formation you like! I’d made a big bunch of these actually, but they turned out to be pretty popular, so I’ve given away the others I made. I apologize for the bad picture, I haven’t come up with a good solution to prop up these earrings to photograph them together.

Skinner blend scraps reblendedCutouts assembled into post earrings

Post earrings made from pattern sheet cutouts

You don’t have to go the post earrings route. Slightly larger pieces make pretty dangles. The smaller ones can be used for nice mosaic beads or flat pendant pieces. This mosaic pendant uses tiny glass tiles, but you could absolutely use prebaked clay tiles.

6. Trimmings from a striped stack or block

Okay that striped block might be getting manipulated for the most fabulous mokume gane or bargello of some sort, but you know what, the trimmings make pretty great beads too. Here are some fun simple striped beads. The mica clay ones were made from the most wispy scraps you can imagine. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of what they looked like when I started, but believe me, no one would have believed the little tendrils of clay came together to make these gorgeous beads. I just laid the bits n pieces out on a sheet of scrap clay and ran it through the pasta machine through thinner and thinner settings till the sheet was smooth. As long as you keep rolling in the direction of the stripes, there won’t be any distortion. Striped block scraps

Beads made from scraps of striped blocks

7. Left over mica clay

Ooh this is a fun one that I just tried. If you have a wad of mostly mica clay with different colors all together, grate it. You heard me, take a (dedicated) grater and chop ’em up. Then gently gather the grated clay and form a sheet with it. I don’t recommend many passes through the pasta machine, you don’t want the mica particles all aligned. The variation produces a lovely shaded effect. Here’s some of mine from mica shift experiment leftovers. Trust me, the pictures do not do the effect justice (though I tried with creepy close up where my fingers look huge). Each little bit of color has such depth to it! These were custom colors that I mixed up too, so it’s extra special! Well to me anyway!

You just can’t go wrong with mica clay, it looks fabulous no matter what you do it. After two lots of grating scraps, I got bored and smushed all my leftovers together. I really liked the effect, so I made  the orange pink piece on left simply by rolling out the lot and cutting out a piece. I tried mica shift on the green scrap and that came out pretty well too! The mica pattern doesn’t stand out as much as it would with a solid color, but it’s a fun variation. When I got bored of that as well I just blended all the clay to form some pretty colors. I rolled that into a thin snake, coiled that randomly, formed it into a log and cut off slices. I love the 3D effect this makes!

Grated mica piecesGrated mica pieces

                                         Smushed mica scraps

Remaining mica shift rolled out and with Mica shift (left); leftover blended clay manipulated for a 3D effect

8.Chunks of solid colored clay

If you can rescue even a bit of your original clay, it’s definitely a good idea to try that and add it back to the main clay stash. It may not seem like a lot, but eventually these scraps add up to a fair bit of clay. It’s a good idea to periodically go over your work surface and “reshelve” any spare bits of clay you find. These rescued solid scraps are also great for some project down the road that requires a “pinch” of some color, like this chrysanthemum cane. You won’t have to break open a fresh block of clay for that.
A popular recommendation for this kind of scrap is to try mixing custom colors. Now I like to have a reasonable amount of clay when I try this and use precise amounts of clay that I can record and replicate later if I fall in love with a color. But it is fun to come up with new custom shades. Katers Acres has a good example of using scraps to mix custom colors. Another illustration here. I did smush up some leftover mica clay and make the lovely pale pink and bronzish color you see in the picture on the bead on the left.

New colors mixed from scraps

Custom colors that were made by mixing scraps

9. Clay scraps that form color groups

If you have a bits of clay that are too small to be bundled back with the original color but can be separated into reasonable color buckets like red, green etc, there are some tutorials that use this. There’s a free magic swirls cane tutorial from Deb Hart on CraftArtEdu. That technique is based on Donna Kato’s starry nights cane (tutorial can be seen in her book) that also uses chopped clay (see a sample here). Now I hadn’t tried this for ages, thinking it needs too much clay. After writing the first draft of this post, I mixed up some different shades for a retro cane and had some left over color. I didn’t want to reshelve the new colors or store them separately, so gave the swirls cane a try. I made a pretty decent sized cane with between 2oz to 3oz of clay in total (including black!). So do give this a try, even if you have only a little clay. The effect is lovely and dimensional looking.
Magic swirls cane earrings and pendants

Magic swirls cane pieces

There’s also a lovely kaleidoscope cane that can be made with this type of scrap. Another variation  is to use chopped clay instead of solid colors to form a complex kaleidoscope cane. If you’re a bit wary of making larger complex canes, this is a great way to try one without breaking open shiny new packets of clay. The chopped clay creates a fabric like effect that adds dimension to the cane.

9. Random blob of clay that looked terrible at first, but looks kinda cool after a pass through the pasta machine

That’s a big name for a category, but it happens to me all the time! A fairly homogenous bit of clay that looks hopeless for all the techniques I’ve mentioned so far kinda looks cool when you pass it through the pasta machine. What can you do with it? You can use it as is as a base for bezel of some sort, or a fairy door.
If you feel it’s too plain by itself, stamp, texture, color, or ink it! Treat it as a blank canvas and go to town with all those texture tools you’ve been dying to use.
Ok you did all that and have a cool looking distressed sheet, now what? Cut out shapes for jewelry, make buttons and other scrapbook embellishments (this is a new favorite of mine, more on why I suddenly need these in a later post). Or, if the sheet is fairly thin, you could make sturdy jewelry display cards that are works of art themselves! See the samples below. The one on the left even stands up by itself.

Earring cards from scrap clay

Earring cards from scrap clay

10. Scrap of scraps etc

Ok so you worked through the list here and now all you have left are Natasha bead trimmings, striped sheet leftovers and sheets that are so full of holes you can barely roll it into a wad. Don’t give up yet! This feather cane can still be made! A variation of the feather cane uses old canes. The feathers I made below used a swanwalk cane gone wrong. This scrap Mokume Gane can take some muddy clay, though make sure you pick a contrasting color for the top layer. If there are some decent colors in the scrap, it’d be great in a Sutton slice project. I used the leftover scraps from the Ikat pattern I showed above over white clay and got this lot.

Sutton slice Feather cane earrings

Pieces using Sutton slice technique and some feather cane earrings

Too muddy for that? You can still make distressed sheets for various uses. Once that clay is covered with mica powders, paints, foils and what not, no one will ever see the original color. Or try this cool faceted bead technique, especially useful for hard crumbly clay. Mixed it all to a uniform brown color? Dress up a vase with the sheet!
This kind of stuff can be used for bead cores. Bangle blanks use up tons of clay, so that’s another good candidate. Why not try a texture plate or two? If you’ve been looking into making some tools of your own, you’d use quite a chunk of clay in some cases. I made some piercing tools with toothpicks to get consistent holes in buttons (I got the idea from Ginger’s article here). I eventually covered these up with some Sculpey III cane slices I wanted to get rid of, but body of the tools were formed with scrap. Same goes for the needle tool as well as little stand I made for holding my bead pins. This is also a good way to get rid of weaker clays like Sculpey III or Bake Shop.

Clay tools

Assorted tools formed with scrap clay

Tutorials that use scrap clay

Now most of the techniques I talked about so far are popular techniques that are frequently discussed and I’ve tried to point to free tutorials or guides for each. But there are a couple of tutorials that I’ve bought that use scrap clay. An excellent one is the rustic beads and components tutorial from The Blue Bottle Tree. I reviewed this in detail, but it’s definitely worth a mention here. The treatments will completely cover up any muddy icky colors, so this is a great candidate for the scrap of scraps category.

Another fun tutorial that uses solid clay bits or color group scraps is the controlled marbling tutorial from Lynda Moseley. Here’s a picture of earrings made from scraps, I think I like these more that the planned pieces!

Randee Ketzel’s Crazy Heart tutorial is another favorite for scrap. I have this tutorial, and made this lovely set of beads, but I wanted to try the technique with metallic clay, so used fresh clay out of the box. But it’s still an excellent tutorial to try!

Necklace made with crazy hearts tutorial

Necklace made using the Crazy Hearts tutorial

All the things I’ve covered here are popular, well known techniques for using scrap. But I hope it’s helpful to see it listed in one place. I had ever so much fun trying out some of these for the first time. Please note the categorization is entirely based on my point of view. Different people will use the same methods in their own way and make lovely things. With experimentation, I’ve found this to work the best for me. Feel free to mix and match and do some trial runs. If it doesn’t turn out well, I’m sure you can find a way to use that clay!

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Bead shapes and the Relief Beyond Belief technique

When I first started making jewelry with clay, I made all sorts of round beads. I used canes, translucent clay, mokume gane veneers and everything else and rolled lots and lots of beads. Looking back, I think it was just a subconscious association I had with jewelry = beads = round. It wasn’t until I started looking around a bit more that I noticed jewelry could be made out of anything! Round beads, cabochons, organic shapes, flat pieces, domed pieces… you get the drift.

I went through phases with each shape. First was the round bead. Cindy Leitz’s tips on rolling perfectly round beads really helped. I follow the exact method she shows in this video, except I like to use gloves for that final smoothing roll. This works nicely for graduated bead sizes. I can manage hand rolling only with a medium or large sized bead though. For tiny spacer type beads, I have lots of bead rollers! I like this round bead roller. It can make beads of 5 different sizes and has a channel for piercing.

Ikat patterned necklace
Necklace with round beads with Cindy Leitz’s Ikat pattern tutorial. The spacer beads were made using a bead roller

I also went through a phase with hollow beads after this tutorial. I love the gentle curve of these beads and how light and airy they are. I have the Sculpey Hollow bead maker as well as a couple of metal palettes. The hollow bead maker is great for graduated sized; the medium large one is my favorite for a pendant. The palette is good when I want to make a bunch of beads the same size, like for earrings for instance. I like the domed shape for mokume gane veneers because there’s more surface area to show off a good amount of the pattern that’d be lost on a round bead.

Hollow domed beads
Hollow lentil beads with reptile pattern on one side and mica shift on the other.

I also discovered flat pieces somewhere along the way along with cookie cutters and templates. Oh the possibilities!! These are also great for mokume gane pieces and anything else that will be finished with a layer of resin. Lynda Moseley makes lovely flat shapes with gently curved edges that show off her veneers. I’ve found that it does work very well for her faux techniques and marbled veneers. I like the cutters from Poly-Tools, they’re quite organic and different.

P1010389
Assorted flat pieces

P1010549

Recently, I started getting obsessed with puffier cabochon like shapes for simple chunky pendants or earrings. I looked into Melanie Muir style dimensional pieces which are beautiful but weren’t puffy enough for me (I do have my eye on her CraftCast class though, it looks like fun!). I had played with CaBezels as well but it wasn’t quite what I was picturing in my head. I wanted something that was generously domed, preferably hollow. I toyed with making rough cores with Ultralight, but I wanted to be able to make the same shape again if I wanted.

While searching for a good technique, I came across Dan Cormier’s Relief Beyond Belief (RBB) eBook. Now these beads seemed to be exactly what I wanted. But I wasn’t sure if it worked only with his templates and I wasn’t sure how easy it was to do. The combination of the book and a couple of template sets wasn’t a cheap one; I wanted to know more before I took the leap.

I had a chance to pick Diane Bruce‘s brain during Carol Simmons’ workshop and she mentioned she had taken a workshop with Dan. She also showed me some of the Cutting Edge templates she had and told me the RBB technique was pretty adaptable. That was all the encouragement I needed!! I ordered the eBook and a sample set of dies as soon as I was home.

I think this has to be my favorite clay book! The fact that it’s in electronic format allows nice links and indexing which makes it easy to revisit specific sections. But more than that, I love the precision of the instructions. I’ve never been “a pinch of this and a dash of that” kind of person and I love how there are very precise explanations for each step with a clear picture illustrating the point. The process is quite simple, but there are many potential mistakes, all of which Dan makes sure to mention and warn against. He also has some great tips for sanding and finishing, some of which were quite a revelation for me.

I’d planned to read through the book a couple of times while I waited for my dies to come and try it out with some scrap clay. But then I found a Natasha bead that I’d shaped and packed away that had gone all wonky. Rolling it through my pasta machine produced a nice swirly design. I saw a CoolTools template lying nearby and thought, why not try it? I did the first couple of steps from memory without paying very much attention. When I got to the actual forming step, I sat up a little, mindful of Dan’s warnings, but still without much hope. To my amazement, the clay shaped up, exactly the way he explained! At this point, I sheepishly went back to the book and reread the instructions to finish up properly. Pretty soon, I had my first bead!

First RBB bead
My first RBB bead from mokume gane scraps

I did some experimenting with dies and cookie cutters, and love the results! Trying the technique with cookie cutters is a little fiddly. My first experiment came out well, but the second bead collapsed a bit. I’m not too fussed since these were made from scraps (does anyone else ever run out of scrap?! With the multitude of ways you can use leftover clay from a project, how does one save scrap to use as cores and things?! More on this topic later). I also messed up a little with the longer bead: I kept changing my mind on which cookie cutter to use and that left some marks on my sheet. The striped veneer is so thin, I didn’t want to sand it away. But the bead is still nice I think.

First batch of RBB beads
First batch of RBB beads

P1010458

The mica stripes come from trimmings off a Carol Simmons mokume gane stack. Isn’t it yummy?! My mom always says the pieces I make out of scrap are the best; in this case I’m kind of inclined to agree.

I’ve been scouring all online store for more templates I can use with this technique, and also looking into ways to make my own templates! I still haven’t found a perfect solution, but I’m going to keep trying. In the meantime I did make some nice shapes with the Cutting Edge dies and some templates from Melanie Muir. I pulled out some old canes and things that I had on hand and covered my RBB blank beads. The green and yellow ones turned out especially great I think. The pattern is from Meg Newberg’s gemstone cane. I also added some 3D mica shift and faux abalone. Everything looks better on a nice puffy bead!!

RBB beads with cane slicesRBB beads with faux abaloneMica RBB shapes

Hollow Relief Beyond Belief beads make using cookie cutters and assorted templates.

Now I had all this made and the blog post written up to this point and was planning to publish the post last week. But then, I got my peeler kit and holes and lines tutorial in the mail, and I just HAD to include some RBB style beads I made with those veneers. So I spent all of last week mixing some new mica shades and experimenting with some slabs. Now I used my Lucy slicer to take slices off my slab. But I’ve been using the peeler for stamped mica shift and it’s so much better than using a blade. I might cover more details in a separate post on mica clay experiments, still trying to get some samples and information together.

I’ve included a sideways shot of a set of beads to try and illustrate how puffy they are. But so light for the size! One thing on my list to do is make a solid bead and hollow bead using the same form and weigh them to find the actual difference in the weight. Also, you can see some cuts on the surface in the large gold oval bead. Now with almost all the others, I made a core with scrap clay and layered a super thin veneer over the baked form. This took longer with the multiple stages, but gave me much more control over the final piece. There were some cases where I didn’t join the seams of the veneer on top and back neatly (see the orange bead in left photo). Now all this could have been avoided with some care and patience. But I was in such a hurry to get all this done this week, I didn’t pay much attention to all that. Of course it bothered me like crazy when I was taking these pictures, but I wanted to include it as a reminder what NOT to do!

Mica RBB beads
Mica RBB beads

Mica RBB shapes

The remaining pieces from the experiments were combined together into a hasty mokume gane stack to cover some more blank beads. And it turned out nothing like I expected. But I love them! The colors seem to reflect the colors of the leaves right now. And fall is my very favorite season! I wish I knew how to replicate these colors to make a fall themed leaf necklace of some sort. There’s something so satisfying in using new and different colors. It really sets each batch of jewelry apart.

Mokume gane RBB beads
Mokume gane RBB beads

So that’s my bead shapes post! Hope you enjoyed looking through it. Tune in next week for ideas on how to use scraps from such projects!

Tutorials from The Blue Bottle Tree

I’ve talked about Ginger Davis Allman from The Blue Bottle Tree before. She’s one of my favorite artists and a treasure trove of information about polymer clay. Her website has many reviews and informational posts. I really wish I had her articles for beginners when I started out. If you’re thinking about getting your feet wet, don’t miss her articles on a good starter kit, tips on baking clay and her series on essential tools. And she has an excellent article on the different clay brands.

She also has a bunch of tutorials where she provides in depth instructions for specific techniques. I own all of them!! This blog post is a sort of all in all review.

First things first, her tutorials are laid out very, very well. I’ve bought loads of tutorials from other artists and while all of them have good content, Ginger’s tutorials have a real professional touch. There’s a neat index, sections and chapters that flow logically from one to another. You won’t find yourself going back and forth or needing to take additional notes. And trust me, that’s huge!

The first tutorial I tried was the graduated colors one. I had just bought some Pardo clay and wanted a project that wouldn’t waste a whole lot of clay. I ended up using Premo to try the technique and really liked the effect, so I made these two necklaces and some matching earrings and such. I think this is a great technique for projects where you want a simple two toned effect where a single color is the star. There’s a multi-color blend section as well, that I hadn’t tried until I started writing this review.  It was so fun!! I need to experiment more with that.

P1000349 Purple graduated beads necklace

Rainbow graduated colors necklace and earrings
Above: Graduated beads necklace and matching earrings in red; Purple graduated beads necklace, graduated colors and sizes for kick Below: Rainbow colored necklace and earrings

I had lots of questions about tinting translucent clay at this point, so Ginger suggested the Glass Effects tutorial for specific color recipes. This tutorial is just bursting with information! The faux Czech glass and beach glass are my favorites. I made a bunch of faux beach glass with good intentions of trying some organic wire wrapping, but the beads look so pretty in this bowl, I haven’t done that yet!

Faux beach glass
Faux beach glass

I also love the yummy Czech glass beads. I’ve made some with Premo, Cernit (my new favorite translucent) and Pardo, I love them all! You really can’t go wrong here. There are incredibly detailed instructions on how to make faux Roman glass as well. I made a a pair of earrings with some shards and really liked how they turned out.

Faux Czech pressed glass beads
Faux Czech beads and faux Roman glass earrings

Faux Roman glass earrings

I bought the Holo Effect tutorial to make some Christmas ornaments, they looked so pretty! It was the first time I’d put up a Christmas tree, it was a great feeling to see a handmade topper. Next year I’ll be making more Holo ornaments. Ginger includes a mini lesson on making these if you purchase the tutorial around Christmas time.

Holo effect ornaments and pendants
Holo effect ornaments and pendants

The Holo Effect also makes some lovely jewelry. I made a pendant (right corner in the picture above) when I was experimenting and wasn’t too happy with it. I happened to wear it to work one day because it matched my top. Almost everyone who saw me asked about it! No one would believe it was made out of some sort of clay. Inspired by that, I went off and did some experimenting with colors and veneers and made these…pendants?! Looking back, it’d have made sense to make these in matched pairs to make into earrings or something, but I was having too much fun to think of all that!

Holo effect experiments!
Holo effect experiments

While I was experimenting with all this, I kept seeing lovely rustic beads cropping up everywhere. I traced them back to Ginger’s excellent tutorial and just knew I had to have it. Working with this proved a little more challenging for me. It’s a freeform technique that requires some practice and care and the rustic style isn’t something that comes naturally to me. After lots and lots of trial and error and endless email conversations with Ginger, I finally made some beads that I liked! Once I got into the groove I couldn’t stop! This is an excellent way to use up scrap clay. And just look at the variations!

Rustic beads
Rustic beads

Rustic bead earrings

Rustic bead earrings
Rustic bead earrings

I want to take a moment to really appreciate the patience and detail in Ginger’s replies. I asked endless questions that were pretty much how exactly do You do this step? She always answered with plenty of detail. And there were emails were I attached about ten pictures and asked, where did I go wrong with each of these? Those email threads have a wealth of information, most of them not related to the tutorials, but still generously shared. I have these stored away carefully, I’m sure I’ll go back and read them again.

Finally I got to the tutorial I really had my eye on all this time: organic beads! Just take a look at this spread here. There’s an amazing variety of shapes, colors and textures. Not just ordinary color either, but shimmery glowing colors that I had no clue how to create. So after weeks of drooling over the beads, I finally have in and got the tutorial. And I spent the next 4 hours just reading and re-reading the whole thing.

Believe me when I tell you that this an incredibly detailed tutorial packed with lots of information; it’s practically a book! You’ll learn how to create textures, shapes, oh-so many ways to color them. What I like the best (this is true for all of Ginger’s tutorials) is that although there are suggestions on how to make these techniques your own, Ginger very clearly states what she uses to make a huge variety of beads, end to end. This is a great starting point for you to practice the technique. I was thrilled when I made some really cool beads on my first try.

Initial batch of organic beads
Initial batch of organic beads

Now I’m a little design-challenged, so I’m still thinking over how to make these into jewelry pieces. I may just keep them in my bowl and admire them from time to time! But I made my favorite beads of the lot into nice teardrop earrings.

Bowl of organic beads
Yummy organic beads

Organic beads

You can find all Ginger’s tutorials on her site here. If you want to see a sample tutorial, you can take a look at this excellent mica leaf pendant tutorial. She shows how to use leaves to impress textures into clay, how to color them using mica powders and how to finish all this up nicely with a clay frame and bail to boot! I did some experimenting with this and was really pleased with the results.

Mica leaf pendants
Mica leaf pendants

Whew that was a long post! But it’s proportional to the amount of time I’ve spent with these techniques. I keep circling through all of Ginger’s tutorials, I’m almost always working on one or the other on the side. I hope I’ve inspired someone else to go try them. You won’t be sorry!

Hidden Jewels Workshop with Carol Simmons

A few weeks ago, I attended my first ever polymer clay workshop with Carol Simmons in Nanaimo, Victoria BC. It was an amazing experience! I haven’t made it to my local guild meetings, so I’d never actually met another clay artist in person. Thanks to modern technology, I’ve never had a dearth of information; there’s always one new blog post to check out, or an update on a Facebook group. That said, it’s quite an experience to look across a room and see a bunch of people bent over pasta machines and hearing clay jargon flowing freely.

Most people will be familiar with Carol’s work: she does lovely kaleidoscope work and these beautiful mokume gane pieces in jewel tones. I got to attend her Hidden Jewels workshop. And it was so fun!! I’m now obsessively hunting for other clay workshops I can attend in and around Washington state.

Back to Carol’s workshop, the main project we worked on was making a domed pendant with a jewel toned pattern. Here’s the ones I made, aren’t they pretty?! I can’t believe I made this, from scratch, with my own texture to boot. I still need to work a little on my finishing, but Carol shared lots of tips on how to do that without distorting the pattern. This took a lot less sanding that I usually need. We used a Foredom buffer to polish the piece as a part of the workshop, and I finished up at home with my Jooltool and some Renaissance wax to add the final touch.

Domed pendants made during Carol Simmons' mokume gane workshop in Nanaimo
Domed pendants made during Carol Simmons’ mokume gane workshop in Nanaimo

I really liked how well the workshop was laid out! There was no sitting around and waiting for anything. While the first stage was baking, we were working on the next; by the time that was done, we were ready to use it. There was also wonderful food arranged by Paula Beltgens to go with all this. My biggest regret at the end of the workshop was that I couldn’t go to the kaleidoscope one in Vancouver that was on the following weekend. Especially after I saw some of Carol’s pieces in person! I really hope I get to attend that sometime soon, and I’d love to do her master cane workshop!

I came back from the workshop with my head exploding with ideas! I got back on the late ferry from Victoria at 9.30 pm, but stayed up that night till 1 am, trying out a new texture plate. I cleaned up my work surface of all other canes and colors and pulled out my mica clay and started playing. All of that madness resulted in these beauties (if I do say so myself!).

I really love paisleys. It’s a very popular design for henna decorations and works well there. Some of the sample veneers that Carol showed us were like sheets of silk with the shimmering colors and delicate thickness. They reminded me of the cheery silk sarees I’ve seen in India (like this and the ones here), many of which have beautiful paisley patterns. Once my mind made that connection, I knew I had to try a paisley pattern. So I did!

GIANT paisley pattern veneers sliced super thin using my Lucy slicer
GIANT paisley pattern veneers sliced super thin using my Lucy slicer

I knew a giant paisley would make a giant sheet of veneer and that would be impossible to make into beads. I knew that, but I still couldn’t resist! And now I have 4 inch square paisley patterned sheets that I don’t quite know what to do with. But they sure are pretty! I did make another pattern with what I thought were tiny shapes but are actually quite big! I couldn’t get more than one paisley on the first few beads I made, so I got bugged and made a giant bead! The pattern is pretty clear, but I’m not sure what to do with this one either. It’s much larger that what I usually wear.

Smaller paisley patterned pieces
Smaller paisley patterned hollow beads and post earrings

Paisley patterned hollow beads and earrings

Fun random fact: where I’m from, the paisley shape is referred to as “maanga” which means mango! The shape does look like a skinny mango doesn’t it? I didn’t realize this was the same as paisley until a couple of years ago. (When I was searching for a good picture of a silk saree with these patterns, I found this page that had some details on the origin of the name “paisley”. Did you know that Paisley is a town in Scotland?!)
I’ve always loved mica clays the most (they’re so SHINY!) and now I have so many things I want to do with them!! Carol shared some tips on mixing custom mica colors and showed us many many sample color chips. The light blue you see here is a custom blue color that I like so much that I used it in all my stacks. I’m still on the quest for a perfect red pearl, but in the meantime I found Tina Holdman’s color recipes in the Mile High Polymer Clay guild newsletters. The April 2013 newsletter in particular has some lovely pearl recipes.
I’m off to go experiment!