This page contains member-supported content and the full articles are only visible to Blue Bottle Insiders. If you are a member, please log in here. You can become an insider by purchasing a membership here:

Category: Insiders Library

Learning to See

Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Polymer Arts Magazine. Right now, while you’re holding this magazine and reading the words on the page (or screen), I want you to play a little game with me. Without moving your eyes from these words, shift your attention to the rest of the page. Can you see the page number in the lower corner? Even if you can’t entirely focus on it, you can see that it’s there. Until I mentioned it, however, you didn’t see it. Because you focused your attention on reading these words, you weren’t taking in anything else. I’ll bet you didn’t notice what was beyond the page, either. Now notice, again without moving your eyes, exactly how much you can see of your surroundings. You didn’t see all of that a moment ago, but it’s obviously there. Isn’t it stunning how much you can see with your peripheral vision? The information from our five senses continually bombards us. Notice how many sounds you can hear right now. Feel the pressure of the chair cushion, the tightness of your clothing, the temperature of the room, the smell of your shower gel. If we brought all of these sensations to our full attention, we’d be overwhelmed and stressed, unable to separate the relevant from the extraneous. Can you imagine the cacophony inside our minds if we perceived everything at once? Our brains, ever so helpfully, allow us to focus our awareness on the sensations which are most

Read More »

Writing on Polymer Clay

It’s common to write on ornaments, perhaps with a child’s name or the year that it was made. (And this info will be relevant for anytime you need to write on polymer clay.) There are three basic strategies: letter stamps, pens or markers, and image transfers. Letter Stamps There are lots of letter sets out there, in various sizes and fonts. Most are a single letter on a single stamp. Some are rubber stamps on wooden pegs, others are metal pegs used to stamp metal. The basic idea with letter stamps is that you press them into the raw clay and then accent the depressed area, either by antiquing or backfilling, after baking. You can also dip the stamp into pigment or mica powders before pressing into the clay, making a colored impression. The drawback with letter stamps is that they’re typically monotype, with each letter being equally spaced, which can look less polished than printing that has natural spacing (such as with the “i” being narrower than a “w”). It’s also really hard to get the spacing level, straight, and neatly lined up. Letter stamps are pretty small, typically, and it’s really easy to tilt the stamp slightly, making the stamp background impress into the clay. If you can find them, I think it’s worth it to use letter sets that snap together so that the characters line up neatly. That doesn’t work very well for names with multiples of the same letter. And of course, most number sets

Read More »

Mixing Primaries in Various Clay Brands

As mentioned in the Color Mixing Challenge, to get the brightest, purest color mixes (that you can then tone, tint, or shade however you want), you’ll need primary colors. Primary colors are ones that don’t contain any other color. They’re a single hue. As we’ve found, the primary colors for mixing colors are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow (just like printer ink). Now in the real world, there aren’t always “true” primaries. Clay colors aren’t always, visually, a pure primary. They might lean toward another color, or they’ll have white or black included (which means the color will never be fully intense/saturated). Also, the base materials of polymer clay, itself, might have a color that shifts the hue. The Premo Primaries Colorist Maggie Maggio has done a lot of work with the various brands of polymer clay, trying to find “true mixing primaries”. She’s found that three colors of Premo make a good, true-color mixing primary triad that approximates the CMY mixing paradigm. In Premo, look for Cobalt Blue Hue, Fuchsia, and Zinc Yellow Hue. Those are going to be the most primary of their colors and work pretty well in color mixing all the other colors. You’ll notice that the blues on this page aren’t very “cyan” looking. They don’t look like Windex. But that’s because they’re fully saturated. You’re used to seeing cyan in printer ink on a page of white paper. Imagine that same hue more concentrated and you’ll get the nice medium blue you see above. But

Read More »

PanPastels – An Overview

We’ve already learned about using pastels with polymer clay, then we explored the types of pastels there are out there. Now I want to give you some more info about one specific brand of artist’s quality pastels, PanPastels. While you can still have phenomenal results with regular student quality pastel sets, polymer artists often want to invest in PanPastels. So here’s more info about them, helping you buy them with a better understanding. Remember, pastels are a general type of art material, but PanPastels are a brand name for a specific pastel product by the ColorFin company. Why PanPastels? If all artist quality pastels are good enough, why would I want to splurge on PanPastels? Because they’re SO easy to use for our purposes. Polymer artists don’t apply sticks of pastels to a rough surface the way that pastel painters do. We’re applying powdered pastels to our unbaked polymer clay, usually using a brush or sometimes a sponge or finger. PanPastels come in a flat pan, just like blush or eye shadow, that load onto a brush in just the same way. The pan is also quite soft. That makes it super easy to load a lot of pigment onto the surface of the clay with ease. I have to admit that I tend to avoid trends and I dismissed the popularity of PanPastels as a cult craze. But you know what? Using PanPastels changed my entire polymer clay experience. It was a total game-changer. I’ve never been much for

Read More »

A Focus on Pastel Quality

Pastels are an artist’s and crafter’s material that is incredibly useful and versatile for use with polymer clay. I discussed them first in this article, so make sure to read that one first. But I wanted to give you an idea of the types of pastels out there and which ones you should buy. Artist’s vs Student Quality Historically, artists have created their paints using a single pure pigment and a carrier such as linseed oil for oil paints or gum arabic for watercolors. (Pigments are particles of pure coloring material. You can learn about them here.) Because artists need to have consistency with their materials, each color of paint (or pastel) contains a single pigment. You’ll recognize the names of the pigments on the paints, with words such as yellow ochre, viridian green, phthalocyanine blue, etc. Some pigments are natural and some are lab-created. High-quality artists paints contain high “pigment load” without fillers or other extenders. They’re essentially pure pigment with just enough carrier added to allow you to use and apply the paint. Pigments are expensive, so artist’s quality paints are quite expensive. While you can buy them in sets, they’re also sold individually. Yes, you can buy one single stick of cobalt blue pastel! When someone is just learning to create, however, there’s no need to use expensive art materials. That’s where “student quality” paints come into play. This tier of paints (and pastels) use fillers and extenders so there’s not as much density of pigment. Student

Read More »
A variety of artist's pastels

Working with Pastels and Polymer Clay

Pastels are commonly used with polymer clay, and for good reason. They’re very versatile, and we can use them in many ways with our polymer clay work. Here is summary of what pastels are and how they can be used with polymer clay. This article is part of the Discovery Challenge #2 in the Community. What are Pastels? If you apply pigments to the surface of a canvas, they will easily be washed or brushed off. So artists use various binders to create paint that will stick better to the surface. Oil paints use linseed oil. Watercolors use gum arabic. Acrylic paints use acrylic medium. Tempera (originally) used egg yolk. But there’s another type of painting that doesn’t use a binder to adhere the pigment. Pastel painting relies on the “tooth” of the paper to hold the pigment that’s applied. The paper fibers, themselves, hold the pigment particles. When the pastel painting is finished, a fixative is typically sprayed on to fix the pigment in place. Because of the way pastels are applied to paper and fixed later, the pastels are very nearly pure pigment. They contain just enough extra ingredients so they can be pressed into a stick, similar to chalk. These pastel sticks are what artists hold, like a pencil, when they apply the colors to the paper. Oil Pastels vs Soft Pastels There are two types of pastels, oil pastels and soft pastels. Oil pastels have an oily base, similar to lipstick but less creamy, and aren’t

Read More »
assortment of small vials and jars of nail powder

Nail Powders and Pigments

In recent years, nail art has become quite a trend. Not only do people go to special salons to have creative nail decorations applied, they also buy the materials to create these colorful treatments at home, themselves. These days any color is available and it goes far beyond simple nail polish. There are resins, acrylics, tips and stick-on nails. You’ll find stickers, decals, and crystals. There are stamps and brushes and fancy templates. With some creative repurposing, we can use all of these materials in our polymer clay art, of course. But there’s one trend that’s particularly fun to use with polymer clay… nail powders. What are Nail Powders? Nail powders are powdered pigments, mica, or other powders/particles that are applied to slightly tacky/sticky nail polish to make a colored layer. You can use either regular nail polish or gel polish to create this effect. The general process is shown in this video using chrome, holo, and mermaid powders, but there are many types of nail powders (see below), each with its own effect. While I love a nice manicure as much as the next girl, that’s not what this article is about. You see, you can apply these powders to any slightly sticky/tacky surface. Such as…yes…unbaked polymer clay. Yes, nail powders can ALL be used to great effect with polymer clay. This is a whole new world of fun. So let’s get busy exploring. I’ll describe the various types of nail powder below and then we will explore them

Read More »
Shiny spray gloss varnish on Premo polymer clay test tile.

A Spray Varnish that Works!

Spray gloss varnishes nearly always become sticky when used on cured polymer clay. This spray varnish doesn’t seem to turn sticky. It has a beautiful glossy shine, too.

Read More »

Mica powder can’t be layered

Mica powders can’t be layered, and they don’t necessarily need to be sealed. What? What is this madness? Yes, there’s more to the story. Same goes for pigment powders.

Read More »

Foredom Bench Lathe for Buffing

In one of our Studio Drop-In sessions recently, we talked about things that were game-changers that we waited too long to buy. This was mine. I should have bought this long ago. Buffing polymer clay to a high gloss can certainly be accomplished by using a Dremel. But it’s hard on your hands to hold the Dremel and the small wheel diameter means that it’s all too easy to gouge or burn the surface that you worked so hard to sand perfectly smooth. If you’re doing a lot of buffing, or you just want to invest in quality tools, this one is worth it. Meet the Foredom Bench Lathe. From what I can tell, there’s only one model of the Foredom Bench Lathe. Different listings only differ with the types of accessories that are included. Here’s the listing that I bought over on Amazon. Oops, it looks like the price went up a bit since I bought mine. Still a bargain, though. You can also order directly from Foredom. You can attach lots of things to this bench lathe. With the spindles, you can use felt or floppy muslin wheels. There are also attachments to allow you to attach a grinding stone wheel or flap wheel. The chuck fittings allow you to use tools with a 1/4″ fitting (like your drill uses). Or you can use the fitting that allows you to use collets and Dremel accessories. If you like the idea of using a Dremel, you can also use

Read More »
Scroll to Top