In the first part of this article Helen White of Helenka White Design showed us what essential tools are needed to create beautiful jewellery with polymer clay and shared an easy tutorial for beginners. In the second part she shares with us some of her own work and explains the techniques behind each piece.
When I started out working with polymer clay I had some tools, a couple of books and clay. I wasn’t sure how to start and felt overwhelmed, but then I remembered an article by Alison Gallant of The Millefiori Studio I read in Making Jewellery magazine. Alison, who now is also a friend of mine, mentioned that she teaches one-day courses from her own home. So I booked myself in for a course and also told her what I wanted to learn – making a Kaleidoscope cane and Mokume Gane. A Kaleidoscope cane is a cane which is constructed by several canes and made into a Kaleidoscope – so the parts are mirroring each other. These canes can start fairly simple, but some polymer clay artists such as Carol Simmons create massive canes which are carefully crafted and take several days to make. This year when I was going through my clay I found this original cane I made in Alison’s workshop and made a few pendants and earrings with it.
Mokume Gane is an ancient Japanese technique normally found in wood and metal design. The beauty of this technique is the randomness of each slice of cane – no slice looks the same. These are also the perfect canes for beginners. In a nutshell you stack sheets of clay in various colours together (you can also lay foils in between if you want) and then you use texturing tools and cutters with the stacked clay in a random fashion – or just use one texturing sheet which is deep enough to leave indents going through all sheets of clay. Then you carefully slice the cane revealing a pretty pattern and choose the slices you like the look of.
This is one of my favourite techniques – I just love the randomness of it. Each teacher seems to have their own way of creating a Mokume Gane cane. The pendant below is made from a Mokume Gane cane taught by Carol Simmons during the Polydays 2012.
Another interesting variant of the Mokume Gane technique is to use stacks of thin sheets together, roll it into a log and then use a ripple blade to create a beautiful pattern. You can find an example of this technique in the first part of the article – I used it for the heart pendant.
A great thing about working with polymer clay is that you can use a lot of mixed media – inks, foils, pens, chalks, Gilder’s paste, acrylics, even oil paints. You can also add beads, cabochons and charms to create an unusual design. The following two examples are made with acrylic paints, charms and Gilders’ paste. To keep the paste from rubbing off the pieces also have been varnished.
One of the most basic and essential techniques you can learn is creating a Skinner blend (named after the inventor Judith Skinner). A Skinner blend can be created with two or more colours and creates a beautifully gradated sheet of polymer clay, which can used as a sheet, or you can roll it up and wrap it with black or another different colour. Mastering this technique first is a good start and often the basis for lots of other canes. One of my favourite and most popular designs, the Nautilus pendant, is made with this technique – I also have a variation of the Nautilus which is simpler to make as it just involves long thin sausages in different colours which get twisted and then shaped into the Nautilus.
Some people love all things sparkly. When I saw the glitter in one of my supplier’s shops I had to buy it – I just love the colours. Be aware that working with glitter can be very messy and that you also have to make sure it’s not some cheap plastic that can melt, but that it’s made with glass. This is one of my glitter cats.
Working with extrusions is something I started only last year and my husband bought me the LC Extruder (which costs a small fortune, is longer and can be used with a drill, as extruding can be tough on the hands). It has been recommended by a lot of clayers and Lucy Clay Tools sell an amazing variety of different discs with all sorts of patterns you can extrude your clay through. Their UK distributor is Clayaround. I used my old Makins extruder for this Klimt cane bangle. When working with an extruder I recommend using Premo, because of its softness. I tried Fimo and it just came out very brittle around the edges. Of course you can always make sure that you warm and condition your clay thoroughly.
One of my favourite makes is this faux dichroic inspired pendant. It’s made with artificial gold foil, translucent clay and lots of alcohol inks. The back is textured. I love this pendant as it reminds me of a planet.
Last year I taught myself to make leaf canes – they take time to make and I haven’t been able to reduce them (not even sure if you have to), instead I used them mostly for bangles. This is a bangle I only made recently and I think the colour combination of purple and gold works well together. Bangles are carefully constructed and are baked several times.
My final favourite piece is this cat pendant which consists of two canes. I learnt to make these canes from my friend Cara Jane Hayman during the Polymania 2015 workshop, which she organised. This is made with Kato clay – and was the first time I have used it. Kato is very strong clay and often it hardly needs much sanding, which suits me well as I don’t like sanding much. It’s beautiful to work with - once you get over the conditioning bit! I adore cats and they feature a lot in my work, so I had to make a cat with the remaining cane.
And this is it – some of my favourite designs. I am currently venturing out into sculpting and journal cover making, which to me is a welcome break from making jewellery.
And if you fancy learning from the best – you can take part in next year’s Polymania, which will be held at Bristol’s Mercure Hotel. You can find more details here.
For more information about polymer clay - visit the British Polymer Clay Guild. The Guild has several branches in the UK including Cardiff, which is run by me.
Helen's website and social media site: