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Old 06-05-2006, 03:37 PM
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rue d'oak rue d'oak is offline
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Polymer Clay Mask WIP

This mask project was initially posted in the Watercolor Forum Daily Wash. Others encouraged me to post it here as well....

I am making a theater mask with polymer clay as a gift for a retiring theater teacher.

I really admire the masks in Venice. Quick look online gave me an overview to masks in the theater world...traditional Greek and Italian characters, etc. My daughter tells me that the classic Greek masks had a rounded mouth which functioned like a megaphone. With the acoustics of the ampitheater, the actor could be heard!

Polymer clay has the ability, like hot glass, to keep proportions and clean edges when stretched. Pretty amazing.

On names of the clay: “polymer clay” is the generic. Brands include Fimo, Kato, Sculpey and Preemo.


A few starting ideas...


Cane design…

Two canes I've started with. These designs will then cover the base in a thin layer.

The base - also polymer clay, with mesh armature.



I initially molded the face on an existing $3 plastic mask, which of course melted when I did the first baking. For this kind of shaping I prefer a pretty loose, flexible mesh, and couldn't find any until after I had used the plastic mask. The clay softens when reheated - you can heat it over and over as needed - so some kind of support is needed. Boy did I ever learn that the hard way....

I run the clay through a hand crank pasta machine, dedicated to my clay work. Once a tool is used for polymer clay it should not be used for anything edible. We have a two oven old stove, and YEP, one side is for clay...

Photo of the wire mesh:


I push the clay and mesh together, so that it is stronger. In this case, I added the mesh after the first baking. I simply used soft clay like "tape" and rebaked. Normally I do the mesh at the start. But as I said earlier, I was all out of this gauge. I just cut it with a pair of scissors.

This is a "sheet" of sliced canes. As it progresses, the edges connect and smooth together. The goal is to make it as seamless and even as possible. I started with this cane design, but now am holding off on using it. I may go with the blue instead. Or maybe I'll put them together. Sometimes I follow a set plan, other times not. This is one I am feeling my way through.

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Old 06-05-2006, 03:38 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

This pattern includes gold colored clay. It uses mica for the sheen. However the mica aligns as you roll it -- the shiny gold parts -- but looks dull, dark when cut across the grain. When these qualities are used deliberately WOW it is cool. But this sheet is mixed, and for this project that is not the look I want. It will simply be saved and used...my daughter is making vases for teachers.

More than you EVER want to know about polymer clay no doubt.

OK here is the hard core basics, for those uninitiated to polymer clay.
Remember all those snakes and logs you rolled out of clay as a kid? That was Snakes and Logs 101. Here is Snakes and Logs 201.



Does this make sense? Look to the middle of the completed blue "slice" - literally cut from a complex log (or cane, as the technique is derived from Venetian glass work). You can see the squished version of the original snakes. This technique is wonderfully creative and a bit unpredictable, and rather like starbursts and tie dye. My friend for whom this is a gift is a creative soul, who dresses in flowing clothes with folk art touches of color. This kind of log seems in line with her personal style, so that also influences my thinking.

Anything can be constructed into canes, rolled and stretched to reduce down, sliced and used to cover things. Great for buttons! We lost our Mancala pieces, so I quickly sliced some from an old cane. Here is the curtain pull on my office shades.


But eggs have long been my signature project.


I’ve made baroque shoes for 3 foot puppets, and a mini- Mac laptop , as well as a couple dancing for a wedding cake topper. Some are truly sculpture, some are more like 3D graphics. Anything is possible.

Back to the canes….
You get the small size by lots of rolling, pulling, pinching.


In fact on this mask I decided to go for really small, fine lines. So I am starting with canes about 1 to 2" across and then taking them down to 1/2" or smaller. Or down to , hmm, 1-1.5cm?

And the slices I cut are about 3mm. I use a tool to mark the cane for even cuting. Well, as even as I can. this is art, not science.

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Old 06-05-2006, 03:39 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

OK back on track:


Slices that I have started to piece together:
Yes, as all you quilters out there know, the design decisions are similar. Canes can really change when you get the overall pattern going. So I am trying out the pattern.



Right now I have three patterns I am starting to layout. The one shown above is larger -- Don't want to be draping it over the nose! I've decided to go asymetrical. Often I lay the pieces symmetrically, forming the pattern to the contour of the object or animal I am making.

This blue bigger cane is based on the starburst one that is part of the steps I outlined earlier. As it gets really small, detail is lost or becomes very subtle. Amazing what we can see.

Now that I have made a few design decisions and gotten my starting set of canes going, the pace should pick up. It will easily take me a good full day to cover the mask. This time I want to piece as much together flat, and then lay it on. It will make the later sanding and fine finish easier and faster. It is hard to get the soft clay smooth when I apply it directly to a form like a face.

My final set of pieces. The yellow geometric one I decided at the last minute not to use...you'll see the progression below.


Beginning to lay out the patterns, thinking about blocks of color...YES composition!


Creating a sheet to work with. I often assemble on a piece of vellum. Like the paper placemats in a cafe, vellum gives a clean surface, and sticks less and wicks the oil in the clay less than regular paper.
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Old 06-05-2006, 03:40 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Close up: notice the flower on the cheek....


...because now I flipped it. Funny, as much as I sketch out or mentally map a project, inevitably it changes. I had deliberately positioned the flower on the cheek. But later I liked the orangey circles under the eye, and the two competed.


If you notice mesh, it is the holder I quickly made to support the project as I work. I've had too many tragedies over handling the clay, especially as it gets more complex and heavier. So now I try to anticpate what will be needed to hold it in position while working and baking, and make little structures out of wire, mesh, jars, etc. Anything other than plastic, as the clay (being a petroleum derivative) will soften many other plastics. Not to mention what happens in the oven to plastic when the heat hits it!

Many times I will construct parts, which then get glued on. This has been useful with flowers and animals, which are created out of sheets of canes. The project is not as vulnerable to cracks and breaks.

Coming down the home stretch.

The front, with a slice out to insert a strand of blue contrast.


The front, now baked. It has lost the shine, and color tends to darken with the heat.


And the back.


The back is covered with scraps run through the pasta machine. My daughter and I always laugh -- why not just do this from the start?! hee hee often we like it better...

Before putting on the back layer, I trimmed and sanded in order to make it thinner and to give a smoother finish. On this, I took out the mesh, as it was not fully imbedded in the clay, and its support function was no longer as critical. I have a preference for thinner, lighter pieces.

Final Steps: Sanding.
All by hand...maybe someday I'll get a bench buffer.

I use three different degrees of wet/dry sandpaper (320, 400, 600). Sanding with water is important, in order to prevent breathing in the dust.

I then use a piece of crumpeled paper bag (trick learned from a woodworking friend) and then final buffing with a soft rag. Probably will pop it in the oven again -- helps in getting a better shine
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Old 06-05-2006, 03:42 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Ok, I'm done. Well, haven't added ties. The ties can be a part of the beauty as they hang. As this is a decorative mask, just for the art and fun of it, I will use colored ribbons.





Detail




Finishing the back side.
I put an inscription in by carving out the existing clay, and putting in some fresh clay. I forgot to do the inscription earlier. Rubber stamps work well in polymer clay. But before stamping, I brushed the uncured clay with some powdered pigment. Then after baking, I sanded, so only the imprint remained.

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Old 06-05-2006, 03:43 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Here is the mask with its ribbons:




Final Notes:
As the project progressed, the mask became a little heavy for my mesh support used while baking -- so I started using our son's roller board "wheel" -- really, I just needed an empty Quaker Oaks container. The result was a little cracking, especially because as the clay gets soft again with each baking, it can shift. I actually had it in a great shape , but when baking the inscription, forgot to use the mesh on the roller, so it drooped and cracked. AKKKKK But there is a liquid polymer product that works as an adhesive, and as it is clear, the bond is nearly invisible.

OK, folks that it! THANKS for keeping me company on the journey.

Give it a try!
For those with old clay sitting around, unless it has gotten partly cured sitting in a warm spot all this time, you can revive it. Try some drops of mineral oil or the special polymer clay dilute. Messy at first, but it does soften it. Takes some elbow grease though. That's why I use a pasta machine. Many clay artists use food processors as well.

Send me a note if you ever want to try this stuff, and need moral support.

Other projects to tease your imaginations…
Leaves falling down our 3 story stairwell. Made like the mask.


Shoes for a 3 foot tall puppet. Made, hmm, about 8 pair for an Renaissance French opera. And a vase shaped like an apple.



A frog and a jar.



And for my neice's wedding cake...



That’s it, folks!
Jen
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Last edited by Yorky : 06-06-2006 at 06:36 PM.
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Old 06-05-2006, 04:46 PM
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Mary Woodul Mary Woodul is offline
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Jen I am just dumbfounded with this. This is so good it should be an article for WC. Since you have the demo it would just be a matter of publishing for an article. If you want to give it a try, take a look at the Article Publisher in case you want to do that.

Your work is outstanding and very creative. What a wonderful rememberance for the teacher.
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Old 06-05-2006, 07:18 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

I don't know what made me open this post, as I don't work in clay, but I'm so glad I did. I love the mask!!! It was fun to see how you did it, and you explained the process very well.

Michelle
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Old 06-05-2006, 08:21 PM
Monrea Monrea is offline
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Your work is amazing!!! I love polymer clay, though I've never been brave enough to try anything with it myself. But the possiblities I see in your work are so inspiring! Gorgeous mask.
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Old 06-05-2006, 10:26 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Thank you thank you one and all.

Doug, the moderator over in the Watercolor forum, encouraged me and coached me in reposting here. He also suggested I think about an article. So I will take your suggestion and look at some of the others. I would be pleased to reformat/edit into an article.

This material is so much fun and so adaptable. I know there are several excellent sites on the internet for the polymer clay community. However, it would be a great subcommunity here, too. I encourage more serious artists to look at its possibilities. I've had ideas of combining it with watercolor, rather collage like, as well.

The mask has been a treat to do...now my husband wants one for our wall. Hey! Maybe I'll do a family, and give each mask canes that represent each person. AHHHH why do I think of these things!

Jen
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Old 06-06-2006, 07:03 PM
gingery gingery is offline
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

Hi Jen,
Thanks for the great journey with the creating of the marvelous mask. Your friend should be thrilled to receive such a lovely gift! I loved the backside of the mask as well as the front. Your documentation was great, as well as showing some of the other polymer clay things you've made. Wonderful stuff! Thanks so much for sharing!
gingery
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Old 06-08-2006, 03:13 PM
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Sonia Sonia is offline
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

An exceptional explanation about using polymer clay and a really stunning mask!

Definitely a top rating for this one!
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Old 06-08-2006, 10:33 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP



Unbeleivable!!!
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Old 06-09-2006, 08:03 PM
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Re: Polymer Clay Mask WIP

This is wonderful! I'm just now discovering the fun of polymer clays and I love your mask and all the useful info! certainly know in which direction to yell for help

Meisie
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