Creative people are notorious for trying a bit of everything or, heck, a lot of everything. Diverse and unfinished projects litter many a studio. And I’m no exception. In fact I got into polymer clay initially to make interesting artist beads for my jewelrymaking hobby!
These days, the jewelrymaking hobby is strictly second place and the polymer clay habit rules the studio. Dozens of colours of clay in custom blends, base beads, canes, sculpts in progress… What? Not sure what I’m talking about?
Let me back up a bit.
Polymer clay is an oven bake modelling material. Unlike high-firing ceramics, it doesn’t require a special kiln – you can use a toaster oven or your own home oven and the material is baked at 130°C/275°F. And, until you fire it, it stays workable. It has a long shelf life when kept out of the sun and dust and you can literally come back to a project years later.
Many of the brands of polymer clay – Kato Polyclay, Premo!, Fimo, Sculpey 3 – are available in a wide range of colours. From these colours you can mix your own custom blends for a variety of effects. The techniques for this are as simple or as complex as any enthusiast could want.
From your palette of colours you have a variety of options – you can sculpt figures. You can create beads. You can form vessels. Or, in my case, you can cane.
Millefiori borrows from the glassmakers art – the process by which glass was extruded into long rods and then sliced thickly or thinly. These rods could be a single simple colour or have a complex picture made up of many smaller rods. When heated, the rods could be pulled and stretched into a much smaller diameter but longer piece and the images would remain the same throughout. Magic!
The rods were then cut, faceted (or not) and polished to form beads. To this day the glass bead making process is still similar.
Polymer clay allows the artist the same opportunity. A cane can be made large, of dozens of rods of colours and blends and then, with patience and skill, reduced in size until the artist has many meters of smaller but identical cane. Some canes can be several pounds and 20cm across to start and become half inch beads!
Slices from these canes can then be used directly as beads, buttons, mosaic tiles or applied to other objects to create a further complex finished object. The possibilities are endless.
* About the time I started writing this site up I noticed that I was still using ‘millefiore’ everywhere. So I looked it up in the dictionary. And the dictionary says ‘millefiori’ is the correct spelling. However, I notice the clay community uses the other. So if it looks like I’m spelling it randomly, I’m sorry! The same with the Canadian vs. American spellings on some words.