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Tips to Help You Learn How to Sculpt Polymer Clay

Updated on October 21, 2012

Sculpting Polymer Clay is an Enjoyable Hobby

Let me preface this lens by saying that I am by no means a master at sculpting with polymer clay! However, it's something that I enjoy a lot and I've have built a business around making hand sculpted animal pendants (you can see them at CaterpillarArt.com), so I thought I would compile some of the tips and techniques that I find useful when I'm working with clay.

It's important to remember that learning how to sculpt polymer clay is an individual experience - we all have our own way of doing things, and some methods that work for me may not work for you, and vice versa. For example, most of what I know I learned by grabbing a hunk of clay and poking at it until I started to see the results I desired! So, let's get started shall we?

Tools You'll Need to Learn How to Sculpt Polymer Clay - Remember, you can make your own tools!

polymer clay frogs
polymer clay frogs

Tips for Learning How to Sculpt Polymer Clay

You'll only get better with practice!

1. Have a test piece of clay to use new tools on. This will give you a feel for how hard to press the tool into the clay and what angle to use it at before you use it on a project you like. Don't forget that most polymer clay tools can be used to make several different marks in the clay – it's all in how you hold them.

2. Keep alcohol wipes next to your work station. These have multiple uses – they can be used to smooth the clay, clean your tools and wipe your hands off so you don't transfer clay colors.

3. Put your piece down for a few hours before you bake it. If I have time, I like to leave my sculptures to sit over night so I can look at them with a fresh set of eyes in the morning. This helps me identify uneven areas and incorrect anatomy so I can fix it before the clay is cured; it's far easier to fix your mistakes before the clay is baked.

4. You don't need an entire box of tools to sculpt clay. I routinely use a total of three tools out of all the ones that I've purchased – the majority of my polymer clay tools have never been used more than once because after getting them I realized I didn't really need any more. In fact, you could easily create some pretty epic sculptures with just a tooth pick, safety pin and a sharp knife (and of course your fingers!).

5. Just get the pasta machine, your hands will thank you. I purchased mine at a thrift shop after putting it off for months. Prior to getting it, I was conditioning my Fimo polymer clay by hand, which really decreased the amount of time I could spend sculpting because my fingers hurt. Alternatively, a rubber mallet or wooden meat tenderizer works pretty well, too!

6. Clean your work area thoroughly, and ditch the dark colored clothing. One of the most difficult things about sculpting with polymer clay is keeping lint, dust and hair out of your sculptures. Although alcohol wipes can be used to clean off the clay if it gets dirty, it's a big pain to constantly have to dig hair out of your pieces.

7. Don't be too strict with yourself. Sometimes, polymer clay just has a mind of its own and your piece won't turn out anything like what you had in mind. That's okay! Just flow with it; resisting it will only make the sculpture look forced and you probably won't be happy with the end result.

8. Scratch an indent before cutting your clay. It ends up making a cleaner cut – don't forget to use a sharp blade, too.

9. Score pieces before you join them. This gives the clay a tooth to hold onto thus making a stronger union; for a better hold, use liquid polymer clay, too.

10. Use an armature for larger sculptures. You'll save clay and it will be sturdier.

11. Don't forget that you can bake in stages. This comes in really handy when you are working in a lot of detail and you don't want to ruin finished areas while working on others.

12. Bake the eyes first, and then put them in the eye sockets. I used to struggle with using raw clay for the eye balls, and I would always distort them when I went to sculpt the eyelids.

13. Liquid polymer clay is your friend. It works wonderfully to join pieces together, smooth out clay, and make hard clay softer. I was amazed that I had managed to get by without it for so long the first time that I tried using it. Now, I always have a bottle of liquid polymer clay at my desk because I use it for so many things.

Final Thoughts on Learning How to Sculpt Polymer Clay - Don't be afraid to make mistakes!

blue poison dart frog
blue poison dart frog

When I first started making polymer clay frogs and caterpillars, my biggest setback was the fear of making something that looked stupid - and I'm sure I'm not the only one with that hang-up! In fact, I still let that get in the way of trying to sculpting techniques sometimes. I embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out how an armature worked!

However, eventually I started to get the hang of how to angle my tools and hold the clay so that it moved that way that I wanted it to; that's when I really started to have fun because I could see my creations come to life in a three dimensional form. One of the best things I ever did was save the first few projects I made when I was learning how to sculpt polymer clay because now whenever I start to feel frustrated with a technique I can't quite get the hang of, or a tool I just cannot figure out how to use, I look back at how much I have progressed.

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Obviously you know what you are talking about! Hints like "bake the eyes first and then put them into the eye sockets" prove that. Pinned to my "crafts I love board" and blessed.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Absolutely beautiful work. Congratulations! Wish you the best.