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Dollmaking 101: Selecting a polymer clay
Hi, I'm Tea Rose Broadway, author of Needle and Clay's Weekly Doll Art Review, and this hub is part of my series for beginning dollmakers. Here, I'll cover the pros and cons of each brand of polymer clay commonly used by dollmakers.
1. Super Sculpey and Sculpey III
Commonly found in the polymer clay section of most craft stores, Sculpey is often a new dollmaker's first clay. Super Sculpey is available in one-pound blocks of "beige" and is probably the most economical choice, as well as the best choice for those who prefer a very soft clay. When I started sculpting, I wanted a soft clay because harder clays take a long time to condition, and I was impatient to get to sculpting! However, over the years, I've moved away from Sculpey in my own work, because as my skills improved, I found that Sculpey was too soft.
Another problem with Sculpey is that it suffers from "plaquing" or "moonies," which are strange crescent-shaped marks that appear in the clay after baking. All polymer clays are susceptible to moonies, and the debate over what causes them has yet to be settled, but unfortunately, Super Sculpey has the worst problem.
Sculpey III is the brand name of the little 2 oz packages of clay that are usually displayed above the Super Sculpey. Sculpey III comes in a wide variety of colors with names that sound like they were inspired by Crayola. Sometimes Sculpey III is the only kind of polymer clay available at a craft store, and for that reason some people use its "beige" color to make dolls. Unfortunately, Sculpey III is both more expensive than Super Sculpey and more brittle, making it worth your trouble, in my opinion, to get some Super Sculpey online rather than struggle along with Sculpey III.
Premo is the higher-end brand made by Polyform, which also makes Sculpey. Premo is marketed to artists, rather than "crafters," so it comes in colors designed to remind you of your favorite palette of oils or acrylics. You can also buy many shades of Premo in one-pound blocks, although you usually have to order them from the Internet. Premo is my clay of choice, being harder than Sculpey and less prone to moonies, but still softer and more economical than other clays. "Beige" is the color you want for a Caucasian skin tone, but you can easily mix your own shades if you want to. I often mix my beige with a little ivory or translucent, because I find the beige color tends to darken a little in the oven.
3. Fimo and Fimo Soft
Fimo was one of the first brands of polymer clay and remains very popular. Fimo is a very hard clay; so hard, in fact, that a few years ago they released a new brand called "Fimo Soft." I still find Fimo Soft to be a very hard clay. There are benefits to using a hard clay, however, in that it takes detail very well and is very hard after it's cured. Fimo comes from Germany and is called PuppenFimo in Europe.
Cernit is another European variety and was originally developed for dollmakers. As Cernit is too hard for my taste and a little expensive, I haven't got much experience with it personally, but my friends who have used it report that it is very hard to condition, and then after it is conditioned it becomes very soft. The benefit of Cernit is that it is a very translucent, waxlike clay that gives a lifelike glow to your work. Many artists mix Cernit with another brand in order to make it easier to work with.
ProSculpt is an American brand developed by dollmaker Jack Johnston and is the clay of choice for many American dollmakers. One of the priciest brands available, ProSculpt comes in a variety of pre-mixed flesh tones, ranging from very light to very dark and from yellow to pink, and is only available in one-pound blocks.
I have recently had a chance to try ProSculpt for myself and, unfortunately, my experience was not good. The batch of clay I got was softer than Super Sculpey and leaching it (soaking up the liquid part of the clay, called plasticizer, with paper) didn't do any good. A friend of mine, however, recently acquired his first package, and found it to be as hard as a rock. It seems Prosculpt might have some problems with consistency in their product. Nevertheless, many dollmakers swear by it, and I will admit that it has a unique -- and very pleasant -- feel to it when you're working with the uncured clay.
6. Kato PolyClay, Studio, and Modelene
These three brands are not frequently used by American doll artists. Kato PolyClay is prized by jewelry makers, but rarely used by dollmakers, possibly because it doesn't have a premixed color that makes a very good Caucasian skin tone. Polyform's new brand, Studio, is sponsored by Donna Dewberry and marketed to the home-decor crafter. I have worked with it a little and found the rubbery feel of it to be very pleasant, but as it was only released late last year, it's too soon to know if it'll catch on among dollmakers. Finally, Modelene is another brand of polymer clay which is widely available in Australia, but I have no experience with it and don't feel qualified to comment.
Mix and Match
Many doll artists work with a mixture of brands for one reason or another, so feel free to mix and match to find the best consistency, color and finished effect for you. Just remember to pay close attention to baking times (some brands bake at a slightly lower temperature than others) when you mix clays.
Stop by my blog, Needle and Clay, for a weekly doll art review, links to tips and tutorials, and news from the doll scene. Good luck and have fun dolling!