If you make polymer clay canes and you’ve made rose canes and variants on the multi-petal canes like chrysanthemums or dahlias you’re familiar with the very cool effect that Skinner blend shading can give your canes. Those canes are made with two colours of clay, generally, and all detail is arrived at with careful placement of the shaded blocks, like you do with painting. It’s sort of an art form to make complex, effective designs with the simplest of combinations and materials.
Backing up in time a bit, I’ve made tulip canes a few times and they were clearly tulips. They weren’t great and they relied on “outline” or drawn elements to establish that yes, these were tulips. The shading was there but not used for definition.
I decided to tweak that a bit this week and, starting with the crocus, did a “drawn” or outlined flower to get the shape right. Then I, using roughly the same design, went with tulips using just the shaded blocks to get the definition and it worked! I got tulips out of it.
My mildly clay nerd week for you.
Let me preface this with: I am no sort of sports person. I initially made baseball beads because a customer wanted some. This tends to be the reason I make a lot of the stuff that wanders off from rose canes or little flower beads. This tutorial is a high level walk through of making the cane. It assumes you can do a Skinner blend and are comfortable reducing or working with odd shapes. The beads are what I call slice beads. Each bead is a slice off the reduced cane. I drill holes after baking, typically, but you can punch them before you bake. You can bake the cane and slice the beads while still warm as well.
To make the shade on your baseball, mix a very light grey. Skinner blend the light grey to white and then turn it into a plug. If you don’t care about the shading, skip right along to adding the red “cord”.
Shape your plug into a half circle with the darker part on one end of the half circle. Cut the half circle into 3 parts. The middle section will be where we add the stitching. Slice the section in half and line the inside with red rolled out to midway on the pasta machine (in my case, yours may vary).
This gets you the sandwich with the red in the middle. Cut that in 7 parts, without mixing it up (we want the shading to stay in it’s place). Line each of the sections with a little of the red and then reassemble. Roll the cane to smooth it back out to fit back into your half circle block.
Reassemble your half circle chunk. Reduce it until at least 3 or 4 inches in length. Cut that in half and assemble it into a full circle. Voila! Shaded baseball cane. Reduce and use for all your baseball needs. In my case, beads for a good customer!
I make a lot of canes to use in layered designs for beads, vases and so on. Most of those have backgrounds – often translucent in my case. On one hand, you want a good background because it keeps the delicately shaped elements of your design from deforming while you reduce the cane to a useful size. On the other hand you may not want too much background. Especially with translucent where you want the background to not show later. Experience will teach you which canes you can go lean with and which it isn’t worth the risk but here’s how I go about adding a background to a relatively simple cane: a rose cane.
I say simple cane because even if you bork the background on this – or skip it altogether – the cane looks good and is still recognizable for what it is. I start by rolling a sheet of clay, about a 3 (third thickest on my pasta machine) and then wrap the cane with that.
I make sure the first layer is on nicely by pushing it in the nooks with a tool and popping those dang air bubbles. Then I roll out a snake of clay for filling between my petals. I try to make the snake slightly wedge shaped, like the space between the petals. I lay a piece between each pair of petals and trim it. Then I smooth the wedges in with fingers and tools. This works best if the clay you just added is warm and relatively soft. Then I begin to reduce – I’m not a big fan of letting my canes rest unless they are absolute mush – the cane, trying to squeeze mostly along the areas with wedges to begin. This way I won’t flatten out the petals too much right off. Once the cane starts moving and warming up you can squeeze more around the whole diameter.
The edges still square off a little on my canes because I hate adding too much background clay. The techniques I use this type of cane for require the background to not show or to use sanding and layering to disguise it… less background is worth a little squaring of my petal edges. The flower itself is not distorted because I didn’t torq or twist the cane while reducing it and that can take practice. If you look back you see the original cane is about 2″ or 5cm across. This is about the limit of where I would use this little background material in reducing the cane. For larger designs or more complicated ones I might use more background or padding clay between the outside edge and where the design begins simply to give the clay more time to be evenly warmed in reducing.
The corollary to this is that if you make small canes you don’t need nearly as much background clay. And it’s true – many of my bead canes don’t use any at all.