Creating with polymer clay has had a definite learning curve for me - particularly because every maker has their own way of doing things. When I was researching best practices and tips for making with polymer clay, I was getting tons of conflicting information.
In all honesty, my journey with polymer clay has been a lot of trial and error. A lot of experimenting. A lot of ruined pieces and wasted clay. I still have a lot to learn, obviously. The difference is that now I am very confident in the quality of my creations and I truly believe that the jewelry and accessories I create will last. I know that they are beautiful and have value.
If I could somehow go back and tell myself 10 things that I know now creating with polymer clay - this is what I would say:
1. Buy quality polymer clay. It is important. In my opinion, all polymer clay is not created equally. Buying quality clay is worth the investment (in both time and money). During the pandemic, polymer clay has been extremely hard to find. I finally had clay delivered in early March 2021 that I had been on a waiting list for since August of 2020. I just got creative with color mixing and used the colors that I was able to get. Personally, I enjoy using Sculpey Souffle, Sculpey Premo, or Cernit.
2. Baking time is important. Polymer clay breaks almost always because baking time was incorrect. Polymer clay is actually a plastic (similar to PVC, polymer polyvinyl chloride) and will bend before it breaks if it is baked for the correct amount of time. The clay packages have suggested baking times on them and they vary slightly for different brands of polymer clay. However, I have learned that it is pretty difficult to overbake clay and the longer that I bake the clay - the more durable my pieces are. I make sure that my oven is fully pre-heated and I bake my clay pieces for 60-90 minutes at minimum.
3. The Lucy Clay Machine is a good investment. I invested in a Lucy Clay Machine in September of 2020 and 100% wish that I would have done it sooner. The Lucy Clay Machine is a hefty investment (more than $600), but it completely changed the way I create with polymer clay. First of all - it is a quality piece of equipment and will last for a very long time. I have not had a single problem with it so far. It is easy to clean and so easy to use. It can condition an entire bar of clay at once, which is something that other pasta machines could not even come close to accomplishing. This has reduced color-mixing and conditioning time so much - which has improved my enjoyment of the entire process. It is also so smooth - I never get ripples or waves in my polymer clay, which is a huge issue with other pasta rollers. I definitely wish I would have invested sooner.
4. Invest in quality cutters. Good quality cutters are so worth it. I have had the most success with 3D printed cutters, as they have the sharpest cutting edge. A sharp, clean cutter will leave a smooth edge that requires little to no sanding later. You can definitely use any cutter - it just increases your sanding time so you can still get that smooth edge! A lot of other polymer clay earring makers have started designing and printing their own 3D cutters and the quality has been great!
5. Buy a micro-dremel for drilling. When I first started making polymer clay earrings, I was poking my holes into raw clay with a toothpick. The holes were not consistent in size or shape, which not only looked unprofessional, but it also made assembling earrings more difficult. The moment I purchased my micro-dremel and began drilling holes into baked clay pieces - my earrings looked a million times better.
6. Sanding is essential. I literally cringe thinking of all of the months that I was selling earrings that were not sanded. You HAVE to sand your edges (but never the top). The finishes are so so important to achieving an earring that looks finished and professional. I use my micro-dremel with a wool buffer attachment to sand all of my clay pieces. I also wear a face mask so that I don't breathe in all of that clay dust!
7. Save every piece of scrap clay. This tip is especially important due to the pandemic-fueled polymer clay shortage. I save every single scrap of clay that I can. You can get the most beautiful, muted colors by mixing the most random pieces of scrap clay. Some of my most beautiful custom colors have been from mixing my scrap clay. NEVER throw it out!
8. Take quality pictures. I primarily sell my work through my website, so quality photographs are so important. Taking beautiful photos is the only way that I can elevate my jewelry and convey its beauty and value to my customers. I am not a professional photographer, but I have learned a few tips. I always make sure to take photos in good lighting, usually by a big window or outside in a shaded area (if weather permits). I use simple props to create beautiful flat lays. I use eucalyptus branches, ribbon, and ceramic coasters the most often. I also always edit my photographs to make sure that they look finished and professional.
9. Price your work appropriately. In the beginning, I was under-pricing my work compared to other polymer clay artists. However, the quality of my work was not great either. As I continued to learn and become more skillful, I gradually increased my prices. I struggle with having my work remain at a price point that is accessible, while also honoring its value. I believe my work is valuable and beautiful and I am working to price it that way. I need to price my work in a way that is sustainable - a way that honors the investment made in materials, my time, and the value of the work.
10. Be creative. Don't be afraid to try new things! Try new techniques. Play with shape. Experiment with texture and color. One of my favorite creations to date came from my playing with polymer clay and dried flowers - a little bit of experimentation led to my dried floral polymer clay hair clips.