I am pretty sure that Skinner blends and Skinner blend plugs are one of the most used techniques in my polymer clay repertoire. I use them for canes, mostly, and beads but they make great backgrounds for pieces. You can use them to add the shading on sculpts if you don’t want to touch up spots with paint.
Why would you want a Skinner blend plug? They’re a great way to store blends if, like me, you make a bunch and don’t use them right away. I find they’re easier to store than sheets. Cane designs often call for shading blocks which is a plug (the shading goes side to side). You can take slices off the block and turn them back into sheets if you need.
The trick can be just the making of them. If you know how to do the Skinner blend bit, jump to step 8.
Making a Skinner Blend
Step 1: gather up 2 colours of polymer clay, a blade, a roller, and a pasta machine
Step 2: Condition / roll your clay enough to put each piece through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. On my Atlas, that is 0 or 1. Your machine may vary. You want a sheet of each colour, roughly the same size.
Step 3: Cut each sheet corner to diagonal corner. You should have two equal sized triangles of each colour.
Step 4: Stack same coloured triangles together. They don’t have to be perfectly the same but aim for close.
Step 5: Line your triangles up so you have a sheet like the diagram.
Step 6: Run this sheet through the pasta machine on the thickest setting.
Step 7: Fold the sheet in half, making sure you keep colour edge to colour edge. In the diagram, one side is magenta and the other side is white. Run the folded sheet through the pasta machine fold first. Repeat this step 15-20 times to get a Skinner blend.
- After you do the first pass or two on the thickest setting, put the sheet through – before unfolded – on the 3rd thickest setting to make a thinner sheet. Then resume folding and passing through the machine. Speeds things up.
- If you botch the blend by putting it through edge, rather than fold, first… stop blending and use it as is. Often cool just like that.
- Try to keep your edges matching – dark edge to dark edge. If they wander around too much while you blend, your shading will be flatter in the middle.
- Good, smooth, blends take a while. In my experience that’s 15-30 passes through the machine.
Making the Skinner Blend Plug
Step 8: You should have a nice blend sheet now with colours grading from one to the other. Instead of folding it and passing it through fold first… pass it through the machine one colour edge first, on a slightly thinner setting on the machine (I use 3 or 4 on my Atlas, the third or fourth thickest setting).
Step 9: Fold your sheet in half the length of it. One end should still be one solid colour and the other end the other. Put this folded sheet through the machine to make a longer piece.
Step 10: You should have a long – maybe really long, depending on how much clay you started with – thin strip of blend.
Step 11: Start accordion folding the strip. About every inch (25mm), fold the strip back. Keep folding, back and forth, the whole length. Try to keep from trapping air and try to keep your edges even on at least one side of the stack.
Step 12: Snug up and compress your stack or plug, popping air bubbles and trimming off the worst sticking out pieces.
Step 13: There we go! A Skinner blend ‘plug’ or stack to use in your own projects.