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Polymer clay textured pendant

Apply old-fashioned elbow grease to expose the mica shift at the heart of a textured pendant.
Close up
The gold mica-shift core of this textured pendant seems to glow from within thanks to two contrasting colors of polymer clay.

Back in my early days of working with polymer clay, I studied one of my favorite pieces in an effort to discover why it appealed to me. I realized it was the small areas of high shine interspersed in a rough, matte field that intrigued me. Many of my other favorite pieces also had juxtaposed textures — rough surfaces next to smooth, or tangible texture next to the illusion of texture. This project combines both of these features. 

Generally, I sand my polymer clay as little as possible. However, this project is an exception to the rule: Elbow grease is required. After some intensive and progressive sanding, the high points of a textured piece of cured polymer clay will be flattened and buffed to glass-like smoothness. If the core of the piece is a metallic polymer clay that is prepared so the mica flakes it contains are aligned, the shadows of the texture sanded away will still be visible in the mica particles below (a technique known as mica shift).

SUPPLIES

  • Polymer clay:
    • 1 oz. (28g), metallic 
    • 1 oz. (28g), translucent
    • 1⁄2 oz. (14g), opaque or metallic in a contrasting color
  • Cord or cable
  • Polymer clay toolbox
  • Metal knitting needle or wooden skewer
  • Cornstarch or baby powder (optional)
  • Signature stamp (optional)
  • Pearlescent pigment inkpad or mica powder
  • Baby wipe or alcohol 
  • Plastic wrap*
  • Thin polyester batting
  • Convection oven*
  • Drywall sanding sheet: 120 grit
  • Bench lathe with unstitched muslin buffing wheel (optional)
  • Polar fleece, ultrasuede, or felt (optional)

    *Dedicated to nonfood use design variations
INSTRUCTIONS

Condition the metallic and translucent clay. Use a tissue blade to cut 1 oz. (28g) of metallic polymer clay (I used gold) into thin slices, approximately 1/8 in. (3 mm) thick. Lay the slices on your work surface, and press the long edges of the slices together to form a rectangle. Repeat for 1 oz. (28g) of translucent clay.

Stack the metallic rectangle on top of the translucent rectangle. Condition them together by repeatedly folding them in the same direction and running them fold-first through a pasta machine on a medium setting until the clay is evenly mixed [PHOTO 1]. 

Run the clay fold-first through the pasta machine at its thickest setting at least 20 times, or until no cracks are visible along the folded edge and the clay has a uniform color and sheen [PHOTO 2]. This ensures the clay is smooth and well conditioned, and will prevent tiny cracks or pits in the sanded area of the finished piece.

NOTE: Uniformity ensures that the mica particles are aligned in the same direction; this is necessary to achieve the mica-shift pattern in the final piece.

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PHOTO 1
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PHOTO 2
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PHOTO 3
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PHOTO 4

Form the metallic ball. Use a tissue blade to cut a 2 1⁄2 x 2 1⁄2-in. (64 x 64 mm) square from the slab of clay. Use a circle cutter to cut two 1-in. (25.5 mm) diameter circles from the leftover clay [PHOTO 3]. Start at one edge of the square, and roll the square tightly into a cylinder, being careful not to trap any air between the layers [PHOTO 4]. Smooth the seam with your fingertip.

Compress the cylinder by standing it on end and pressing down on it gently. Use an approximately 5-in. (12.7 cm) diameter square or circular acrylic sheet to roll the cylinder on your work surface to maintain the smooth shape. Continue to compress it until the cylinder is approximately 1 x 1 in. (25.5 x 25.5 mm) [PHOTO 5]. 

NOTE: This slightly misaligns the mica flakes in the clay but does not affect the final outcome.

Cover the spiral pattern on the ends of the cylinder with the circle cutouts so that all surfaces are uniform in color [PHOTO 6]. Gently roll the clay into a smooth ball.

Make a tube. Condition 1⁄2 oz. (14g) of the second clay color (I used purple), and run it through the pasta machine on a medium-thin setting. Cut an approximately 1 1⁄2 x 1 1⁄2-in. (38 x 38 mm) square from the sheet. 

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PHOTO 5
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PHOTO 6
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PHOTO 7
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PHOTO 8
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PHOTO 9
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PHOTO 10

Roll the clay around a metal knitting needle or skewer that’s slightly larger in diameter than your cord or cable until all the clay is wrapped around the knitting needle [PHOTO 7]. Smooth the seam, and flatten the seam tube slightly by pressing it onto your work surface. Set the tube and knit-ting needle aside and save the remaining clay sheet for the next step.

NOTE: If you use a wooden skewer, twist it slightly to loosen the clay before setting it aside. Or, lightly coat the skewer with cornstarch or baby powder before rolling the bead so the bead can be removed easily after curing.

Make a signature piece (optional). If desired, roll a small ball of the second clay color and flatten it with the acrylic sheet. Impress it with a signature stamp inked with a contrasting color of pigment ink, and set it aside [PHOTO 8].

Cover the metallic ball.
Tear small, ir-regularly shaped pieces from the second clay color sheet, and apply them randomly to the surface of the metallic ball [PHOTO 9]. Avoid trapping air between the layers. If you see any bubbles, slice them with a tissue blade to release the air.

NOTE: Covering the ball in randomly sized, overlapping pieces contributes to an im-perfect finish with an organic look. 

Roll the ball in your palms frequently to smooth the clay. Apply the pieces in an overlapping pattern until you have covered all of the metallic clay. Set the ball aside for 10 minutes to allow it to firm up.

Texture the clay. Coat two complementary silicone texture sheets with pigment ink [PHOTO 10]. For the best results, keep the ink out of the recesses of the stamp. 

NOTE: Mica powder can be substituted for pigment ink. Use a soft brush or your fingertip to gently dust the high points of the texture sheets with powder. The mica powder won’t require sealing after it’s cured, as it will be worked into the recesses of the texture rather than sitting on the surface of the clay. 

SAFETY TIP: Always wear a dust mask when work-ing with mica powder.

Place one inked texture sheet face-up on your work surface. Place the ball of clay in the center of the texture sheet. Gently flatten the ball with the palm of your hand to keep it from rolling. Center the second inked texture sheet on top of the clay.

Set the acrylic sheet on top of the stack. Press down gently, and tilt it down toward the 12 o’clock position. Keep the edge of the acrylic on or slightly above the table, and texture the clay by continuously rotating the acrylic in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, applying slight downward pressure. [PHOTO 11]. The goal is for the clay to be domed in the center and gradually tapered down toward the edges.

NOTE: A square or rectangular acrylic sheet to form the polymer clay will result in a pendant with an irregular shape because the corners of the acrylic prevent a smooth motion while flattening the clay. A circular acrylic sheet will create a more uniform shape. A slightly irregular outline is more interesting than a perfect circle, so don’t be concerned if the perimeter is uneven. If the clay is flattening too quickly, let it firm up for at least 10 minutes.

Continue until the clay is approximately 3/8–1/2 in. (9.5–13 mm) thick in the center. If necessary, lift the edge of the top texture sheet to check the thickness of the clay.

NOTE: Practice the texturing technique on a scrap ball of clay without ink to learn how much pressure and how many rotations are needed to achieve the desired size and thickness.

Carefully remove the clay from the texture sheets and set the clay aside. Immediately clean both texture sheets with a baby wipe, alcohol, or soapy water.

Inspect the clay to decide which side is more interesting; this will be the front of the pendant.

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PHOTO 11

Cut the donut shape. Place the textured clay front-side up on your work surface. Gently flatten the edges of the clay with your fingers so the entire back of the piece is flat against your work surface [PHOTO 12].

Cover the clay with plastic wrap and use a clay cutter to cut out a circle from the center of the clay [PHOTO 13]. The plastic wrap softens the edges of the cutout and makes it easier to remove. If the edges of the donut lift from the work surface, gently re-flatten them with your fingers.

NOTE: If desired, pierce the circle cutout to make a matching bead (see “Design Variations”).

Use your fingertips to smooth the cutout area of the donut and the outer edges of the small cutout piece.

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PHOTO 12
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PHOTO 13
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PHOTO 14
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PHOTO 15

Bake the components. Place the donut and tube (and your signature piece and cutout, if applicable) on a thin piece of polyester batting, and the set the batting on a ceramic tile [PHOTO 14]. Place the tile into the oven, and bake the components according to your clay manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the tile and the components from the oven. 

NOTE: I prefer a convection oven to a toaster oven, because it typically pro-vides more uniform heat, reducing the chance of scorching the clay.

Remove the tube from the knitting needle or skewer while the bead is warm, and cut it in half with the tissue blade [PHOTO 15]. Allow the components to cool completely.

Refine the edges. Use 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper to wet-sand the inside edges of the donut and the ends of the tube beads. Work through progressively finer grits of sandpaper until you reach 1000 grit [PHOTO 16]. 

Sand the pendant. Place a 120-grit dry-wall sanding sheet on the ceramic tile with the roughest side facing up. Place the pendant face-down on the sanding sheet, and vigorously sand the domed portion of the pendant under running water (or rinse it frequently) in a figure-8 or circular motion [PHOTO 17]. Continue sanding only the domed portion until the top layer of polymer clay is worn away and the dome of the donut is flat.

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PHOTO 16
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PHOTO 17

Attach the tube. Turn the pendant face-down on the batting and tile [PHOTO 18]. Use liquid polymer clay and a small piece of raw clay to attach one or both tubes (depending on your design). If you made one, attach your signature piece onto the back of the pendant, as well. Bake the pendant according to your clay manufacturer’s instructions for at least 20 minutes. Allow the pendant to cool.

Finish the pendant. For a high shine, buff the pendant on a bench lathe with an unstitched muslin buffing wheel [PHOTO 19]. Observe all safety precautions. 

NOTE: Do not use a buffing compound on polymer clay because the compound is too abrasive and may work into the surface of the clay. 

For a softer shine, buff the pendant by hand with a piece of polar fleece, ultra suede, or felt.

String the pendant on a simple cord or cable, or use it as the centerpiece for a beaded necklace.

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PHOTO 18
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PHOTO 19
DESIGN VARIATIONS
  • If you string the donut as a pendant, create a bead from the center cutout piece by piercing it with a needle tool from front to back or side to side. Bake and refine the bead along with the rest of the components, then use the bead as part of the closure.
  • Attach two tubes to the back of the donut to allow more stringing variations
  • Make a smaller donut which can be strung as a bracelet.
Design variation 1
Design variation 2
FIND MORE: polymer clay , pendants , resin

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