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Polymer clay pros and cons

Updated on June 4, 2012

Polymer clay vs. more traditional earthy clay

This article is about differentiating two classed of clay, polymer and newclay. I think this article is helpful because my opinion comes from experience. I have worked with both types to produce cartoon sculptures. To my surprise, Newclay is and has been my preferred choice in terms of quality and time spent on each of my sculptures.

cartoon sculptures
cartoon sculptures

polymer clay vs. earthy clay

Why I prefer earthy clay:

I was editing my website the other day and I decided to write something about me, in www.yourownsculpture. As I was writing why I prefer working with more traditional clay materials versus polymer clay, I realized that these modeling materials give two different end products!

I have made a few too many cartoon sculptures in my short life and I can tell you: with polymer clay, my cartoon sculptures have hardly ever looked like my clients! They look instead, like rubber dolls from some cheap manufacture. The reason why Polymer clay gives such discontent results is because Polymer clay is hard to manipulate hence it is hard to mold details of people's faces, hands, fingers..toes! Not only that, it feels sticky and gross in your hands. It also has a terrible shiny plastic finish!

More traditional clay materials like newclay have never failed me. The texture of this clay is soft and easy to manipulate. It also offers a very smooth, earthy finish. With Newclay I am able to satisfy my customers because they truly see themselves in my sculptures (in cartoon like form of course!). I am a successful story because I am able to personalize unique and original cartoon sculpture.

Turnaround times

Conditioning of polymer clay

For some reason, which in my opinion is to do with marketing strategies, many online art suppliers suggest that polymer clay is a great material to manipulate and create sculptures. As you guessed it, I disagree. Polymer clay isn't a soft or flexible material to work with. In some instances, it is necessary to conditioned it. What is conditioning and how do you do that? Conditioning means breaking up polymer clay into bits and then rolling each piece into your hand until the pieces become soft. If you skip this process your work will end up cracking or breaking after you bake it. Conditioning polymer clay is time consuming and also tiring. Most importantly, it is discouraging. This is so, because half of the energy you have to work on your sculpture will be spent conditioning the clay!

More traditional clays do require conditioning but of other kind. It is much simpler to condition earth clay with some water and a rolling pin. Clay already is soft when you purchase it but you can condition it with your hands in no time, if you so desire.

Tools

What we need and why we need these tools to work with polymer clay

Another thing you may consider when choosing to work with polymer clay and traditional clay, is the number of different tools you will have to use to shape and manipulate your sculpture. I learned the hard way that I needed to buy a pasta machine to condition polymer clay. There is no way around it, conditioning this clay by hand is really time consuming. Then I also realized I needed latex gloves and an oven just designated to bake polymer clay sculptures. Although polymer clay is considered a harmless material to work with one has to take every measure to avoid "ingesting it," or "breathing it." This is so because polymer clay contains both Polyvinyl Chloride and Phthalates. Polyvinyl chloride is what makes polymer clay hard. It can release byproducts (dioxins) that can cause cancer. These chemicals can be released when polymer clay starts to break down or when it is burned.

Phthalates are plasticizers that can induce birth defects or neurological damage if ingested, touched or inhaled. Hence the use of gloves is necessary to avoid heath risks. Materials and tools must not be used for anything else but to work with polymer clay.

With more traditional materials-earth clay materials-we can use our bear hands. We could use a fork from our kitchen and use that same fork for dinner because clay is just that, earth. If we want to bake our sculpture, we can do so in the oven we use to bake cookies. Working with more traditional clay materials is as safe as baking cookies!

Molding capacity

Advantage of working with polymer clay when molding is required

To add, sculptures should be considered pieces of art. A sculpture differs from any other home d├ęcor item in that are unique (can't be produce in masses) and show human flaw. With earthy like clay these two characteristics can be achieved: when making cartoon sculptures, for example, you are limited to work by hand and in most cases, can never replicate your work by putting it on a mold. Water based clay, like Terra cotta clay, is a material that can conform to molding equipment but people tend to shy away from this process because it is time consuming. Water based clays tend to dry out and crack easily so if one tries placing this material in a mold, one has to constantly cover the clay with a wet clothes, or spray the work with water.

The types of figurines made out of polymer clay can easily be replicated over and over again, by putting polymer clay in a mold. Polymer clay works better than earthy clays because polymer clay does not dry out or crack when left out in the open. In fact, polymer clay is great for molding because of its hardness. You can capture every contour of the mold and this in turn, allows your sculpture to be detailed.

The figurines are made out of polymer clay are pretty and flawless. You can even erase your fingerprints by using latex gloves, oil, or simply by sanding your piece of art.

Although polymer clay isn't my preferred choice when it comes to sculptures, I believe one can make great jewelry with it! I have many friends who make beautiful necklaces with this material. The reason perhaps lies in the lack of hand crafted details a necklace requires. Hard to make by hand shapes and patterns can easily be achieved by squeezing polymer clay in molds. Water based clay cannot therefore compete with polymer clay when it comes to jewelry making. Let us not forget the obvious, plastic is the preferred material to work with when it comes to jewelry.

Polymer clay is a material one can manipulate to create beautiful things, with the exception of sculptures. Polymer clay is not a material to consider when making a sculpture because it is inconvenient (takes too long to condition), difficult to work with (sticky, and requires many unconventional tools), and not good enough to hand craft a detailed work of art, unless one uses it in molds.

Are you an artist who has either had similar experience as me when working with polymer clay. Do you also don't the finished product when using this material? What kind of clay do you prefer working with? I'm open to hear anything good about polymer clay, when it comes to sculpting. I know it makes great jewelry, but has anyone tried it when sculpting?

My favorite links!

So far I can only give you my own but as I look around I will fill you in with interesting sites I've been to or heard of!

What looks better, cartoon sculptures done by polymer clay or reinforced nylon clay?

See results

Hi and thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to leave comments about my article or about my website or about anything you think I'm doing wrong, or right!!! Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you!

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    • Carmen Perdomo profile image
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      Carmen Perdomo 3 years ago

      @AnonymousC831: Thank you anonymous831! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

    • AnonymousC831 profile image

      AnonymousC831 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Great lens.

    • Carmen Perdomo profile image
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      Carmen Perdomo 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Any earth-based clay is as strong as polymer. This is true if you do not drop it on the floor, for instance! You can add regular paper to your clay (soaking it in water overnight till it's soft and breakable) to add more strength to your clay. You can also buy alternative earth clay like newclay. Newclay is earth-based clay mixed with nylon fibers. It's super strong stuff! I hope you find my answer useful, and thanks for reading my article!!!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      What kind of earth clay do you use that is a strong as polymer that you can bake in the oven?

    • Carmen Perdomo profile image
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      Carmen Perdomo 6 years ago

      @WildFacesGallery: Thanks WildFacesGallery! and thanks for inviting me to the forums: I will definitely check each and every one of them out once I get around my squidoo account!

      Are you also an artist?

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      Greetings and welcome from a Squidoo greeter. You art is very cool and you've added lots of great content. Feel free to stop by the forums for discussion and support for your squidoo experience. :)