What's the deal with polymer clay and home oven ceramics firing?
December 28, 2022 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I looked into taking a ceramics class or buying some studio time and everything near me is currently booked up. I've never played around with "home oven fire" or "no fire" clay options before, like polymer clay, but now I'm curious about this as a low-key option I could do at home. In high school I had a ceramics class where they just had a big ol' bin of clay and a locker of glazes and we just freestyle made whatever we felt like (no instruction, no throwing wheels) and the teacher would fire it in a kiln. I'm looking for a similar vibe, buy some clay and just spend a few hours on a weekend playing around making fun stuff.

Currently looking for any ideas or inspiration for playing around with some home-fired or no-fire options!

- Do you use polymer or no fire clay? What kinds do you use and like?
- What are options for coloring, painting, glazing?
- Any YouTube channels, books, social media accounts from artists that you love?
- Any other tips for getting started with this type of material?

*I am a renter with very little outdoor space and cannot have any open fires or a kiln on the property
**Not looking for paint-your-own-pottery options - I want to make the actual pieces myself
posted by forkisbetter to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think the main thing to know about polymer clay is that it's not recommended for eating or drinking out of/off of, so it's not a substitute for pottery in the kind of traditional, useful object sense.

I also personally don't find it holds larger shapes well, so it's nice for small things (figurines and beads) and anything larger in my experience really needs an armature.

In my house people use polymer clay for small-scale totally imaginative art, or raised images. For colour I've always mixed the clay itself for colour all the way through but you can paint it after it's baked. Sometimes the clay is really hard and you have to soften it up, unless you're sculpting in - to me this is a feature as it's very tactile, but Fimo in particular seems prone to it where the later Sculpey products go a bit more easily.

You also only glaze polymer clay after it's baked, so it's not really the same process (I could be wrong but this was true the last time I was still into polymer clay.) There are a variety of seals and finishes, including resin (but be careful, it can yellow.)

For me, polymer clay is a different product and process than traditional ceramics or pottery. No wheel work, etc. But it is a lot of fun to play around with!
posted by warriorqueen at 11:50 AM on December 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

You might consider asking your local pottery studios if they provide a kiln firing service for a fee (also check your "paint a pottery" place too). They'll talk you through whatever restrictions they have, usually, you need to buy clay from them or a certain type of clay. You can also check out kilnshare.com to see if there are any potters renting out space in their kiln.
posted by ellerhodes at 12:22 PM on December 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Jisu Im, Meg Wang and Paloma the Peach are artists that have vlogs about making stuff from polymer clay.
posted by Sar at 2:57 PM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for a similar vibe, buy some clay and just spend a few hours on a weekend playing around making fun stuff.

Your mention of (no) throwing wheels led me to find out about mini pottery wheels, which might be very fun to just play around with. Supposedly air dry clay works fine.
posted by trig at 4:05 PM on December 28, 2022

I have done both polymer clay and ceramics, albeit not for several years. Ceramics is NOT something you just do casually at home, you need to have a full on kiln setup and your own home for that, so I would not remotely compare poly clay to ceramic work. I don't have specific references/books to refer you to, I just went off what the package said for poly clay.

Poly clay is not remotely like working with ceramics other than you can build stuff. You don't make delicate vases and pots out of poly clay. Ceramic clay can be fussy and picky and needs to sit around and dry for like a week, then you glaze it, then that sits around to dry, then you bake it in the kiln properly.

Poly clay you can open the packages, build whatever you want (it's intended for kids, I suspect), stick it to whatever you want in whatever color you want, and bake it in your oven at home. The only caution I'd say is (a) do not use cooking dishes to bake it, go out and buy special dishes dedicated to poly clay cooking only, and (b) don't bake it TOO long or else you may turn it black. I baked a large dense unicorn horn once in purple and it came out black. There should be instructions on the packages as to how thick your object is and how long to bake it for depending on thickness.

I can't recommend any specific "this is what I'd buy" brands because I've just used whatever I found at the art/craft store. Never had any issues with any particular brands, it all seems like kinda the same thing. Poly clay usually comes IN colors so you should not have to paint/color/glaze it (you can't glaze poly clay anyway as far as I know), I would just buy the color you like and do it. Mixing/mingling colors varies as to the results.

It's basically like, making kid sculptures, cooking them, and then you can use them for whatever you like. Fun, simple stuff and much more instant gratification than ceramics, by far.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:10 PM on December 28, 2022

Best answer: That reminds me that one of the things that polymer clay does lend itself really well to is caning; you can get some really complex effects. And in general there are a lot of interesting polymer clay techniques to try out.
posted by trig at 4:34 PM on December 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

(This bowl is kind of incredible)
posted by trig at 4:40 PM on December 28, 2022

Best answer: I use Marblex for this. It's an air dry clay that mimics the texture and workability of traditional fired clay. You can paint it or 'glaze' with different acrylic mediums and pigments. It is not food safe, and cannot be made so even with urethane coatings. It is, however, quite satisfying to doodle around with.
posted by ananci at 5:03 PM on December 28, 2022

I occasionally dabble in polyclay. I would not use it for large eating/drinking vessels, as discussed above. I use it for small sculptures and jewelry projects. I bought a toaster oven at a thrift store to bake my pieces, eliminating the need to use/contaminate my kitchen oven.
posted by sarajane at 12:31 PM on January 2

Best answer: Nth-ing all the people saying polymer clay is not the same as ceramics! But it is a huge amount of fun and you don't need too many things to get started.

I'm new to polymer clay and I've just started making fairy/hobbit doors about 10cm tall. Hopefully this link works: doors

Things I've tried personally:
- mixing coloured polymer clay to make different colours/shades
- painting baked polymer clay with acrylic paint (and then re-baking it after adding more clay)
- hand creating textures such as stone and wood
- applying UV nail polish to colour the surface of baked clay
- using UV resin and mod podge to seal baked clay
- embedding mosaic glass before baking

I'm currently experimenting with liquid watercolours, gilding and embossing techniques.

That list barely scratches the surface of what you can do with polymer clay (yes, you can do sculptural work, use a wire and aluminium foil armature and choose the appropriate clay). Most can also be carved, drilled and sanded after baking.

I use Sculpey brand clay. Most brands have several different formulations so you might need to read up/experiment to work out what you like. I prefer Super Sculpey because it's firmer and less squishy in the heat, but it only comes in a couple of bland colours so it needs to be painted. If I want pre-coloured clay I use Sculpey III and turn the air conditioner on. There's also Liquid Sculpey and Sculpey Adhesive which I use to stick bits to other bits.

Basic safety:
- Wear a dust mask if making dust e.g. when sanding
- Don't overbake; fumes can be released if you burn the clay
- Line your baking tray with paper so nothing sticks

Basic tools:
- Smooth piece of glass or tile as a work surface (helps keep the clay cool)
- Tools for shaping/cutting/moulding the clay (most art and craft places will have a set that's cheap; look for a "sculpture set" or something similar)

Cool tools to make your life easier:
- Pasta machine to condition the clay before working with it (this will really save your hands, especially if you like a firmer clay)
- Tissue blades for slicing very thin pieces off canes
- Cutters, moulds and texture sheets for fancy shapes and finishes
- Clay (or icing) extruder (again, to make fancy shapes)

Plus whatever paints etc you decide you need.
posted by eloeth-starr at 6:40 PM on January 2

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