Category Archives: Inspiration

Book Review: The Art of Polymer Clay – Creative Surface Effects

5 StarsRating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Buy from Amazon Surface Effects Book

Yes, another 5-star book. Are there books I don’t like as much? Yes. Have those been published lately? No.

It has been a decade–yes, a decade–since Donna published her first book, The Art of Polymer Clay. This second book takes us to Donna today. Her style is elegant, her techniques are innovative, and her instruction makes her projects accessible. I’ve taken two classes from Donna. In fact, I joined my local clay guild when I first started claying just to take Donna’s class–and I haven’t looked back.

Donna’s book is like a portable Kato class. Donna taught many of these techniques in the classes I took from her. However, having this indispensable reference book enables me to review the class at my leisure and further experiment with her techniques. She approaches each technique in a straightforward manner–teach techniques, then apply them to a project. This enables us not only to complete a sample that masters the technique, but also a very beautiful finished piece that will get people talking.

Donna splits the book into seven different sections:

  • Polymer Clay Basics
  • Mica Shift Techniques
  • Transferring Images Onto Polymer Clay
  • Creating Texture
  • Paints, Inks and Pigment Powders
  • Special Effects with Liquid Polymer Clays
  • Sculpture and Mold Making

I love Donna’s techniques. They are the result of hours of experimentation and development on her part. The book details both how to do something–and why. For instance, Donna makes a mold from her rubber stamps using polymer clay and THEN uses that mold to create her pieces. She goes into detail about why she does this, and what the results are molding directly from a stamp versus taking an impression from a polymer clay mold made from a rubber stamp. It’s something I never considered, but it makes great sense.

The twelve beautiful projects are accompanied by step-by-step instructions and photographs that walk you through each major component. While some projects are simple, others teach you techniques in constructing complex pieces like her coveted Japanese Inro boxes.

Peppered throughout the book are awe-inspiring inspirational pieces, including the pieces submitted for two of Kato Polyclay’s artists contests/exhibitions–one focused on shoes (Feat of Clay) and one focused on boxes. I was honored to be the 2nd-place winner in the box contest, and my “Donnelly’s Sampler” is included in the book.

The only small issue I had was that one of the products Donna uses in the book, Kato Clay Concentrates, is not available yet. However, given the beautiful colors of mica shift clay she’s achieved, I don’t mind waiting–much.

Aug 3, 2007 UPDATE: Kato PolyClay Color Concentrates are HERE! I spoke too soon!!! They are now on the Prairie Craft website and other Internet stores! Yay!!!

This is yet another book that will stay in my permanent library. I love having a Donna class on my shelf, ready for me at any time.



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Book Review: Making Polymer Clay Beads

5 Stars Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Buy from Amazon Making Polymer Clay Beads

Why do I love polymer clay books? I learn well from written instruction. In fact, most of what I’ve learned has been through a combination of books, experimentation and discussion. I have only taken a few classes over the years, and while each class has given me a huge infusion of techniques and ideas, books fill in the gaps on a daily basis–inexpensively, and at my own pace.

Carol Blackburn has authored a real winner here. It’s another book in my library that I will go back to over and over again.

Why do I like this book? Part of it is the actual design of the book. The subtitle to this book is “Step-by-step techniques for creating beautiful ornamental beads.” This is a true and accurate description of the book. From the basic information that we see in all polymer clay books (clays, equipment, conditioning, etc.) to the techniques, the exceptional photography and clear, concise instructions make this book both a visual feast and an excellent primer for both people who learn best by visual stimuli as well as those who learn best by detailed instruction.

This is a technique-oriented book. If you’re looking for a book that focuses on finish pieces complete with design ideas, this is not the book for you. While there are finishing ideas and instructions in the back of the book, the core of the book is about learning and using a variety of techniques to make polymer clay beads. Techniques are laid out in a single- or double-page spread. On the top of each page, photographs of the beads made using the techniques are artfully presented. Below, descriptions of the technique, a tools and materials list and then the step-outs of the process used to make the beautiful beads are presented in a flowing, easy-to-follow manner. Each step is chronicled using clear, professional close-up photography, and is accompanied with detailed instructions to complete the step. If warranted, tips are presented with a specific step; for instance, when a tip about sealing silver leaf to prevent tarnishing accompanies the finishing step for a mokume-gane bead. On the bottom of the page, references to other useful information are cited, including page numbers for the helpful techniques.

What I also like about this book is that the techniques and accompanying beads are approachable by beginning clayers as well as inspirational for experienced clayers. It’s an excellent reference book for techniques, and inspirational book for jewelry artists, and a visual feast for all.


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Product Overview: Rubber Stamps

Rather than a product review, I’m writing an overview regarding the use of rubber stamps with polymer clay. I started my artistic journey eight years ago with a single book and a rubber stamp store. I married into a large family, and I got the bright idea to make greeting cards myself to “save money.” *snort* Eight years and many, many stamps later (no, I’m not going to say how many I have), I am incorporating my love of stamping with my newest love—polymer clay.

So, what stamps are the best for polymer clay? Well, all of them, of course! :-) However, there are some things to consider when you’re buying images.

Mounted vs. Unmounted

The first consideration is whether to use mounted or unmounted rubber stamps. While there are considerably more images available mounted, unmounted stamps are much more versatile:

  • You can run (thinner) unmounted stamps through the pasta machine with your clay
  • You can bend and peel the unmounted stamp off the clay, making it easier to remove when impressing into the clay
  • You can use a roller to impress the clay much more easily than with mounted stamps
  • Unmounted stamps, on average, are half the cost of mounted
  • Unmounted stamps are easier to store and transport
  • There are some techniques that require the use of unmounted stamps (e.g. Sutton Slice)

Now, if you have to have an image that’s mounted on a wood block, you can easily remove the stamp from its mount. Either microwave the stamp for about 10 seconds and peel the rubber off the mount, or use Un-Do to remove the stamp from the cushion. Use Goo-Gone to remove any residual adhesive. Voila! Unmounted stamp! :-)

What Unmounted Stamps Do I Like?

First, I like medium- to deep-etched rubber stamp. What this means is that the stamp rubber is fairly thick, and the recesses between the lines of the image are fairly deep. This enables a deep impression of the stamp into your polymer clay; in the case of techniques like the Sutton Slice or some of Donna Kato’s surface design and impression techniques, it makes the technique easier to accomplish.

Second, I like a fairly large “background” image. Rubber stamps come in all sizes, but stamp companies have created images specifically to cover an area the size of a regular stamped greeting card (4 ¼” x 5 ½” – ¼ of an 8 ½” x 11” sheet). These background images make it quick and easy to apply a pattern or image over a large area. They also make excellent texture stamps for clay.

Third, I like pattern images. I use fine “picture” images for clay when these images will be stamped ONTO versus stamped INTO the clay. I like using the patterned image (dots, squares, swirls, florals, vines, squiggles, etc.) to create depth and texture on my piece.

What Brands of Rubber Stamps Do I Like?

What don’t I like is more like it! However, there are certain stamps that I continue to go back to for my clay. Clearsnap and Polyform/Sculpey make stamp sheets expressly for use with polymer clay, as does Donna Kato and Lisa Pavelka. I just got some great large background stamps from Stamp Camp that are great and very deeply etched. JudiKins makes some fabulous background images, and I’ve unmounted quite a few in my quest for perfect polymer clay. Hero Arts also has some great images, but unfortunately, Hero Arts is NOT an Angel company.

What’s an Angel Company?

An Angel company is a rubber stamp manufacturer that allows you to use their stamps to create items for sale. Each company has a separate Angel policy, so if you’re going to use an image in your art for sale, you need to check the company’s policy. For instance, Clearsnap is an Angel company, but only “barely” so. Their images are supposed to be for personal use, but they do allow their images to be hand stamped to make one-of-a-kind items (no mechanical reproduction) for sale. Hero Arts is not an Angel company—you cannot use their stamps to create items for sale. JudiKins is Angel, but you need to give image credit/copyright when you do use their images for items for sale. Other companies give you free reign to use their images. If in doubt, check. has a page where the Angel policies for many companies are posted, but always check the stamp company’s web site to see if that policy has changed.

What Do I Do with Stamps?

There are many ways to use stamps. Here are 10 to get you started:

  1. Texture. Stamp in to the clay to create a texture. Highlight that texture using mica powders, acrylic paints, etc.
  2. Molds. Stamp into some scrap clay, bake it, and use it as a mold. This creates a raised surface of the stamped image in clay.
  3. Images. Use the image of the stamp either as a background or focal image of your piece. You can also stamp over surface designs to create additional patterning and texture. Use either a permanent ink (e.g. Staz-On) or a heat-set ink (Crafters, Brilliance, pigment inks). You can also use other media to stamp with, such as acrylic paint and even metallic powders.
  4. Faux Cloisonné. Use the stamp to create your barriers and image for a faux cloisonné using liquid polymer clay, mica powders and other coloring agents.
  5. Faux Brocade. Donna Kato has a lovely technique where she stamps into clay, fills the recesses with acrylic paint, and highlights the raised areas with a contrasting color of acrylic paint. She lets it dry, then runs it through a pasta machine. It looks like brocade fabric. SO very cool! Donna is coming out with a new book this summer, The Art of Polymer Clay – Creative Surface Effects that will detail this and other great techniques.
  6. Sutton Slice. Lisa Pavelka’s friend, Pete (?) Sutton, came up with a technique in which you embed clay in the recesses of a rubber stamp. You shave off any clay that has stuck to the image/top surface of the stamp. You then lay a sheet of contrasting clay on top, press to adhere the clay in the recesses to the “backing” layer. You peel the stamp off the clay, and voila—the pattern made in the recesses are now raised. Here’s an example using this technique.
  7. Mica Shift. Impress your metallic clay with a rubber stamp, then take shallow slices off the surface to remove any raised areas. Run the resulting sheet through a pasta machine, and you have lovely “ghost” images in the clay—but the clay is smooth!
  8. Image Transfer. Debbie Anderson makes lovely faux porcelain beads by stamping on plain copy paper, coloring the image with waxy colored pencils (e.g. Prismacolor), and directly transferring the image to clay by placing the image face-down onto raw clay.
  9. Backfilling. You can stamp into clay, and fill the recesses with a contrasting color of clay. Bake, then sand smooth.
  10. Mokume Gane. Create a stacked layers of contrasting colors of clay, press a stamp (and other texture tools, if you desire) into the clay, then shave off the top layers to get a cool, multi-colored image. Use slices of the mokume gane to decorate a sheet of clay and to make beads or other objects.

This is just a basic primer on what stamps can do for you in your artwork. There’s so much more you can do…just use your imagination!





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Book Review: Polymer Pizzazz: 27 Great Polymer Clay Projects

5 Stars Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Buy from AmazonBuy Polymer Pizzaz at

Polymer Pizzaz is a new publication from Bead & Button magazine that compiles 27 (not 25 as the picture posted on Amazon shows) projects that were published throughout the years in Beat & Button magazine. For those of you who are long-time subscribers of the magazine, you already have these projects in your back issues and can easily access them from your collection. However, those who don’t have access to these back issues are lucky to have this compilation of excellent projects from superb artists.

If you’re familiar with Bead & Button magazine, you know that the articles are well written, the project instructions are highly detailed, and the photography is professional and beautiful. The wonderful thing about this book is that even though some of the articles may be older, the unique techniques detailed in the projects and resulting pieces of jewelry are timeless. For instance, Mike Buesseler has moved on from polymer clay to other arts, but his impact on the creation of metallic Skinner blends and his locket construction live on.

The book’s projects are placed into four categories: Beads, Canes and Chains, Pendants and Faux Techniques. Each of the categories has four to nine projects created by nationally recognized polymer clay artists including Donna Kato, Nan Roche, Sarah Shriver, ChristieFriesen, Deborah Anderson, Grant Diffendaffer, Patricia Kimle, Dotty McMillan and Karen and Ann Mitchell. There is a brief introduction to clays, tools and techniques in the front of the book, but it’s clear that this book focuses on projects for intermediate clayers–not for novices. However, the projects are infinitely approachable and the results are achievable. I took Dotty McMillan’s “Painterly Polymer” painted lentil bead and combined it with Mike Buesseler’s locket construction techniques to create a lovely locket. I still have wonderful left-over painted polymer for use with another project thanks to Dotty’s clear instructions and really simple but effective technique.

Polymer Clay Locket

I am going on vacation soon, and I think I’ll bring this book with me for inspiration. Every time I look at it, I see more that I can apply to my own work–and that’s one of my hallmarks for a great polymer clay book!


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Book Review: Polymer Clay–Creative Traditions

5 Stars Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

belcher.jpgBuy From Amazon

Books have been my main source of instruction and inspiration for polymer clay. I learn well from many forms of instruction, and books give me the opportunity to try things at my own pace–without distraction.

There have been many books published on polymer clay (I’ll be writing about some of them through this blog), and while most have something positive to offer, there are a few stand-out publications. “Polymer Clay: Creative Traditions” by Judy Belcher is one of these stand-outs.

You’ve probably seen Judy on HGTV’s Carol Duvall Show. She’s an incredibly talented artist with an eye for color and style. With this book, she applies her unique style and techniques used in other art forms (other creative traditions, as the book is titled) to polymer clay:

  • Glass: Lampwork, mosaics, fused/slumped glass
  • Metal: Mokume gane, enameling
  • Fiber: Ikat fabric, Bargello, Kente cloth, mudcloth, batik, quilting
  • Painting/Drawing Styles: Georgia O’Keeffe, Gustav Klimt, M.C. Escher, Georges Seurat, Jackson Pollock
  • Stone, Bone and Wood: Chatoyant stone techniques, bone simulations, wood simulations, intarsia
  • Sculpture and Ceramics: Sculpture, Ceramics (e.g. Raku), printed decoration

There are 21 technique demonstrations that range in difficulty from “beginner” to “intermediate” clay skills. My favorite is the two-color testellation, which Judy also demonstrated on a Carol Duvall Show appearance. The demos are filled with step-by-step color photographs–a must for the more advanced techniques. The book is filled with examples of both the original art form as well as clay pieces that mimic or adapt the original technique.

What sets this book apart? It is both inspirational, with a huge gallery of beautiful art in each section, as well as instructional, with detailed instructions and photographs of each piece. While there are gallery items for each technique demonstration, the focus is on understanding the technique and how it can be applied–not on creating a specific project. This may turn some beginning clayers off, but what I like about this approach is that it gives you ideas to use within your own artwork–a jumping ON point for you to enable new design techniques to energize you and spur your creativity. This book is eye candy, it’s fuel for the creative soul, and it’s one that I have read over and over, each time gaining some new insight to infuse into my work.


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