Translucent Polymer Clay Hollow Bead Experiments – Part 1: Core Materials

Dried papier maché clay and paper pulp patched with it (some sanded)
Dried paper, papier maché clay and paper pulp patched with it (some sanded)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fascinated with some of the jewelry I’ve seen online that uses translucent polymer clay, especially when it looks like sea glass or glass glass.

After a lot of poking around for answers to how people like Kathrin Neumaier, Barbara Fernald  and other clay artists, like those featured on The Blue Bottle Tree blog create their pieces, I had some idea of what to do, but was still a bit fuzzy about how to create the effects I was after. There were hints here and there, but nothing that really gave me the complete picture.

There were plenty of tutorials available for a price, but I had no way of knowing whether they would tell me what I wanted to know.

It was time to set up the la-bOr-a-tory (mwah, ha, ha!) and try some experiments.

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Happy Accident – A Recycled Storage Case for DIY Alcohol Inks

Alcohol ink storage from recycled floppy disk case
Alcohol ink storage from recycled floppy disk cases

Sometimes it pays to clean out your closet, even if you’re avoiding something you should be doing instead (preparing tax info).

So, I’m pretty sure what possessed me to do my more-or-less annual computer/office supply closet purge and reorganization. If it hadn’t happened just after I made the alcohol inks from Sharpies, this idea would probably never have occurred to me.

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Make breakfast last a little longer

Always looking for ways to recycle household packaging (and a huge fan of my sacred morning ritual), one of my favorites is the plastic lining in cereal boxes.

cereal box liner They get a lot of use during gardening season, being a great way to store greens like lettuce, kale and arugula.

Liner bags can be rinsed out easily, closed with a chip clip and seem to keep produce fresh for a fairly long time.

The kitchen is always well-stocked with them, but after a certain point, the line between saving and hoarding gets a little blurry. Throughout the winter months, it seems like a such a shame to throw the liners away. Kale and arugula grew through November, but in the last few months, you wouldn’t be able to find them under the snow if it survived.

Today they got a chance to stay out of the trash a while longer.

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Using Alcohol Inks to Color Translucent Polymer Clay

Polymer clay test beads colored with alcohol inks
Polymer clay test beads colored with alcohol inks

The reason I made all of those alcohol inks from Sharpies was to color translucent polymer clay. Now it’s time to put them to work.

I had no idea how much ink to use in proportion to the clay, other than hints online that it didn’t take very much at all. The translucent clay was also new to me and I wasn’t sure how translucent it would get. So…it was time to call on my inner mad scientist.

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DIY Alcohol Inks from Sharpies – experiments and tips

DIY alcohol inks from sharpies

It all started with a love of sea glass, and all things “frosted” looking.

On Pinterest, I came across translucent polymer clay being used to mimic it. Katrin Neumaier’s jewelry caught my eye again and again. Her work takes my breath away.

After researching this (and wandering off the beaten path a bit), I found that the clay can be colored with alcohol inks to create a more lasting color and preserve the translucency in a way that adding colored opaque clay doesn’t.

So… off to look for a starter kit of alcohol inks. This wasn’t working out for me. The popular Adirondack inks come in 1/2 ounce 3-packs, with names like Bottle and Mermaid.

I’m a pushover for a great name, and YouTube tutorials with Tim Holtz have helpful tips and techniques, but since I taught Color Theory for years, I’m picky about my colors and am pretty thrifty. I didn’t want to buy colors in a 3-pack if I only wanted two of them.

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Patching Papier Maché Clay Bowls

Papier maché clay balloon bowl
Papier maché clay balloon bowl

When you work with papier maché clay, it can take awhile to get a feel for how thick you’re spreading the mixture over the mold. Too thin and it’s fragile, most likely with weak areas and pinholes. Too thick and you lose some of the delicacy of it.

A thickness of about 1/8″ (.125 cm) is sturdy yet not clunky. The photo above was taken before patching, when the sides were a bit too thin and there were pinholes in the bottom from flattening the base.

No wonder there are issues… it’s like spreading really wet tuna salad! Thankfully there’s an easy fix.

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Patching Cast Paper Bowls with Papier Maché Clay

Cast paper bowl gessoed and sanded
Cast paper bowl gessoed and sanded

Cast paper can be pretty lumpy, depending on the type of paper you use and how well you “puree” it. The papier maché clay recipe I altered for my bowls makes a smooth, sandable, easy to apply patch material to fill in the ruts.

I recently used it on a couple of different bowls – one made from cast paper and one made from the same maché clay.

Cast Paper Bowl Surface Finishing

The bowl in the photo above has been around for awhile. I love the finish on the other side, but the craters on the outside didn’t seem to “go” with it.

I sanded and sanded with a multi-function tool and only got so far. The results weren’t very satisfying after a lot of work.

Enter maché clay…

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New Papier Maché Clay Recipe for Making Bowls

bowls made from the new papier maché clay recipe
Bowls made from the new papier maché clay recipe

Cast paper bowls are fun to make and I’m a self-confessed container and paper lover. I’ve been making them for a few years, but was sometimes disappointed in the strength of the finished product, especially with larger bowls.

Then one day, I came across ultimatepapermache.com, which has a wealth of wonderful information. Jonni Good offers recipes, clear, helpful videos and the site has an active forum full of even more ideas.  It’s obvious that she’s always coming up with ways to improve her techniques.

For my purposes, the recipe needed some tweaking, but it transformed how I make my bowls (and how satisfied I am with them).

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