Have you ever heard of the “Skinner Blend” and wanted to try it? What exactly is it, by the way? Well let’s take a look at that now, shall we? The Skinner blend is a polymer clay color blending technique that got its name from the artist who perfected the approach, Judith Skinner, in 1996 so it is a relatively “new” (or new-ish?) technique in the polymer world.
The effects can be really amazing when executed right. You can create gradients of two or more colors and go subtle or dramatic. It all depends on your level of experience working with clay and your own preference.
From what I’ve seen, the clay sheets area arranged in circle or triangle shapes strategically so the colors will blend together effectively. It’s a good idea to use a pasta machine so the colors will fuse smoothly (although it may be doable without one.)
In this video you will get to see the process up close. This is definitely a technique that just writing about does not capture all the nuances of the Skinner blend – it’s important to see it in action.
Two methods were shown, the first was Judith’s original approach and the second one had a little bit of a shortcut.
So the long and the short of the Skinner blend, for those of you more into the “Cliff’s Notes” style of learning, follow these main pointers :
Use a firm brand of clay for this – Sculpey Premo! would be a great choice for Skinner blends.
Make sure you shape your clay sheets into squares to begin with, so you will be able to cut the triangles evenly. Each color is from a 2 oz brick, so each color sheet should be the same volume, which is important – the squares must be equal in size and thickness to do this.
Don’t cut triangles starting at the corners of the sheets. When you go to arrange them together, having that squared-off triangle will preserve the “purity” of the original red, yellow and blue you start with.
Now arrange your triangle shapes together, the way they are normally in the spectrum (red, yellow blue). When lined up they will kind of be rectangular. Unless you’re only using two colors, as in this example below, in which case they’ll be square. Use your fingers to smooth the seam between the triangles together. Fold them over and make sure they are color-to-color. Red meets red and so forth.
Run the tri-colored clay sheet through your clay conditioner just as you do when you condition your clay, by setting the dial to the thickest setting on the pasta machine. Fold the sheet in half and re-insert it with the open, non-folded side going in LAST (this is to prevent trapped air bubbles) then repeat, repeat, repeat, about 15-20 times. Watch how the colors disperse and blend together as the sheet is passed through.
You can also use clay sheets cut into rectangles rather than triangles. When one sheet is folded over with the seam not evenly lined up (second approach) it helps to create the gradient very effectively.
With enough passes through the clay conditioner/pasta machine, the primary colors blend into each other to create the secondary colors. You can see from the video how starting out with red, yellow and blue can produce a beautiful rainbow gamut.
Also, not just rainbows….you could create an ombre effect with just a single color like orange, blue, or yellow and white – that would look really pretty, too!
Not everyone masters the Skinner blends on the first try…it does take a little practice and experimentation to get good at it. I know those little clay bricks don’t come cheap, and if you mess up, it’s not like you can “start over” with that clay sheet.
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So it’s a good idea to pay attention and start off with the right approach first. Choose good colors that will combine well, and cut the shapes correctly.
Have you ever tried to master Skinner blends? What was your experience like? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.