Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold hands and slowing down

Susan and I both have incredibly cold hands. This trait is useful for exactly two things in life:

1. dating (especially in high school):
"Ooh, your hands are so cold, let me warm them up for you!"
"Why yes, please hold my hands for the next three hours, that would be lovely."

and 2. working with polymer clay on a fine scale.

The ideal working temperature of polymer clay is generally when the clay reaches the consistency of stiff chewing gum. Colder clay tends to crack or split when you try to form it into small shapes. Cold clay, however, is easily warmed up by rolling it between your palms.

Clay that is too warm is a much more common problem, and one that can be especially frustrating for beginners. Particularly those that have warm hands, since the heat from your hands will transfer quickly to the clay and make it overly sticky. Clay that is too warm will take on your fingerprints, and stubbornly refuse to hold fine details or sharp lines. For example, if you try to slice a pie when it is still too warm, the blade will mush the pie instead of create a clean cut.

If you're finding that your clay is very warm, and not holding the shapes you want, the absolute best advice we can give is to slow down, set aside your project and let it cool off between steps. We realize this is tough advice, especially when you're excited, but it will yield the best results! For example, if you're making an apple, and the shape keeps mushing into something oblong instead of spherical, try rolling the apple into a ball, then setting it on your tile for 10 minutes or so to cool down. The sphere will be firmer, and you can then move on to shaping it.

Set it aside again, then insert the headpin when the clay is cooler. Headpin insertion in particular is much easier when the clay is cool. When it's too warm, the headpin tends to drag a lot of clay along with it when it exits the charm, and this really distorts your piece.

One way to allow enough time for the clay to cool is to make a couple of projects simultaneously (or more than one of the same project). If you're making three apples or cupcakes at once, for example, the two that you're not actively shaping at any given time will be gradually cooling off on your tile between steps.

Another trick is to cool down your hands by washing them with cold water. This technique has the added benefit of keeping all kinds of dust and color residue from getting onto your clay.

We'd love to hear your tricks for working around your warm hands!


  1. Bought your Polymer Clay Cookbook yesterday and... I totally love it! :D
    And this made my eyes open about heat and cold! Thank you for the tips :D

  2. Awesome! I'm so glad this was helpful! Let us know how the sculpting goes. :)