Are you conditioning your clay the right way? Like lots of artistic skills, there are more wrong than right ways….and it’s important to follow a standard and time-tested procedure. It’s important to distribute the ingredients in the clay as well as get it into a workable condition.
To condition polymer clay well, involves the use of a conditioner or pasta machine, which I talk about more in depth on an earlier post, and then there is the way most of us will start out, by hand. Your block of clay comes out of the package in just that – a block. It’s got ridges on the sides and is going to be very dense at the onset.
So we have to prime it, and if you’ve had a hard time before, this article may shed some light on what you can do differently. Shall we?
Preliminary Cutting of the Clay
Use your knife (a tissue blade, which is sharp and long, but also delicate, so be careful) and a protective object like a cutting board underneath it, slice your block of clay lengthwise – you should end up with about four slices, and they will be similar thicknesses, about 3 mm.
Yes, for a long time, I usually sliced clay around the ridged areas horizontally – because i thought that’s what those ridges were marked for! Did you do that too? If so, you’re in good company – well, knowing is half the battle.
I’m not saying you CAN’T slice clay horizontally…but if you’re planning to use a pasta machine, you have to have thin enough slabs which necessitates slicing it lengthwise.
Set the dial on your conditioner/machine to the thickest setting and insert your first clay slice and roll it through. Repeat a few more times, now it will be a little thinner, in which case fold it in half and insert (very important) the folded side first – open side last – through. The reason the folded side must enter first is to prevent trapped bubbles of air from interfering with the slab.
As the slab/sheet thins you can adjust the dial and put it on a thinner setting. Continue in this manner with folding, re-folding, inserting and rolling and examine the slab.Always insert the clay slab folded side FIRST to prevent air bubbles.Click To Tweet
As a rule of thumb, the slab of clay should be no more than double the thickness of the setting you choose for the pasta machine. Just something to keep in mind as you work. Notice how the slab/sheet looks at this point. One good litmus test is if the edges are fairly smooth. If they are crumbly around the perimeter, that’s a sign that the clay is still not yet in a workable consistency.
The dark green slab/sheet on the left appears to be well conditioned, unlike the others. If this happens, continue for a few more passes through the machine and then check again.
Conditioning Clay Manually
To condition clay by hand, you’ll also need a cutting board and the tissue blade from earlier, and then you’ll want to slice it in fourths Take your acrylic roller and start rolling out the first slab. Make sure your work surface is level, and continue using the cutting board, and a sheet of wax paper would be a good idea too.
Flip over the slab after the first rollout, and continue, as it gets thinner, fold it in half and commence rolling again. Follow the same checkpoints as you did above, examine the slab edges to gauge the condition overall.
Another thing, you’ll notice that well conditioned clay has a nice luster to it. That sheen is telling you all of the ingredients in the clay are mixing together nicely!
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Your future endeavors will thank you, and you’ll come away with a real sense of confidence, The time may come when you may be doing a project on commission, and don’t have room for guesswork. Good luck to you, and let me know how it goes as you work on your clay.
And if you’re ready to take it further, I suggest you take a look at my latest eguide, The Budding Clayers’ Toolkit. It explains everything, including clay conditioning, so if you’re starting from zero, you will be able to get a handle on your clay easily and avoid costly mistakes.
Now you! What have your experiences been like with conditioning clay? Easy, difficult, or in between? Let me hear from you in the comments below. Talk again soon!