PolyClay Appliqué, and Beaded Bezels

The folks at Art Bead Scene Studio feature awesome artwork every month, and challenge their readers to create art beads, and art-bead-incorporating jewelry, inspired by the artwork. March’s inspiration is a piece, Red Water Lily of Southern India, by Marianne North.

ABS Challenge Mar 2018 - Inspiration

Now here’s a piece of art that captured me in more ways than one. A beautiful, colorful nature scene; set in Southern India from where I hail; painted by a respected female biologist and botanical artist. That’s just too much inspiration! 😉

I allowed a few days for my initial excitement to settle down, and chose the colors, the flowers, and the Indian-ness to work with. I decided to make a large Polymer Clay bead with flowers created using the appliqué technique, and depending on how it turned out, use it with some beadwork.

The flowers and dragonflies in the picture capture our attention, but it would be a dull scene without the reedy background. So I made my background have a texture akin to reeds, using a texture plate. I brushed some chalks and Perfect Pearls over it for accent.

ABS Challenge Mar 2018 - Polymer Clay Appliqué Pendant with Beaded Bezel

I then crafted some layered flowers using the appliqué technique. Wow, it’s been a while since I’d tried it, but I love how it turned out! It also becomes better with practice. Can you tell which my first flower is and which my last one is? 😉 I added some reddish Perfect Pearls to accentuate the flowers as well. As expected, it doesn’t show up much in the pictures I clicked. (I only managed to capture the background shine with some difficulty.)

I baked the bead, and felt it would look good as a small pendant with a beaded bezel around it. I made the bezel using right angle weave this time, rather than peyote stitch which I’d usually go for. I used 8/0 beads for the bezel. Of course, I had to fill in the gaps in the stitch with smaller (11/0) beads.

The bezel looked a little too ‘strict’ and un-fun, so I risked adding a branched fringe aligned with the flower bunch. I also added another outer layer of independent right angle weave stitches for a funner touch. 🙂 I love the traditional/modern vibe that it gives out. Keeping with the theme, instead of adding a traditional necklace, I opted for a metallic-silver bead sideways to double as the bail, and a matching chain. Love the result! ❤

How do you like my attempt? And how does the picture inspire your art?

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More Mokume-Gane

Continuing with my trials and experiments, I thought of giving mokume-gane another go, making sure I don’t accidentally use Sculpey III like last time. 🙂 I also thought I’d work in some foil with the clay.

I layered sheets of green and black Premo clay, interspersed with a couple of sheets of silver foil, and pressed down a grid stamp on them. This is one of the deeper-etching stamps we own, but I still didn’t find it deep enough to produce a viable ‘mokume look’ after a slice or two. However, trying to stamp more after slicing only results in the layers getting smooshed and thinned down more and more, so after a while, the effect is dominated by busy layers, and the pattern is barely visible. Well, this is definitely not what I want!

Hollow Pendant in Polymer Clay using Mokume-gane

I made a hollow pendant from the ‘more effect-showing’ slices, and a hollow cabochon from the slices that looked busier. I covered both pieces with translucent clay to aid in sanding and buffing. The pendant accidentally got flung during my sanding efforts, and its bail shattered, but no worries, I can use it as a cabochon now. 😉

Hollow Cabochon in Polymer Clay using Mokume-gane

As you can see, there is a whole lot of plaquing — those pesky bubble-like entities — on both pieces, so much that it obscures the mokume-gane pattern. From my research of this plaquing effect, these are not air bubbles, and they mostly occur in translucent clay. (Or maybe they can just be seen better in the translucent clay…) And unfortunately, no one really knows what causes this. This unintentional effect is fine for the items that I made this time, but what about times when I don’t want the bubbly look? There are baking processes that people have suggested to reduce the plaquing effect — like increasing the temperature gradually — and yet, they’re apparently not foolproof. I have a feeling it’s got something to do with the age of the translucent clay, and  sadly, only old clay stock is available in my country. 😛

Back to mokume-gane — I’d want to work more on the technique to get better at it, but each practice session results in many mokume gane veneers, and I don’t really think I can keep coming up with uses for them. 🙂 Any ideas to help me out?

Finishing and Machines – DIY Sanding Drum

Encouraged by the success of my DIY buffing wheel, I’ve now made a DIY sanding drum, with sanding attachments! Okay, it’s not exactly a drum proper, but it gets the sanding done. And that’s what matters, right?

At first, I tried to find stuff that could substitute as drums on drill bits, but without much success. I ended up using a tightly wound cloth as a first-attempt drum. However, I couldn’t really attach sandpaper to it very well. My brilliant sis, who has a lot of experience with glue and tape from her craftsy hobbies, reminded me of the velcro strips that we own. She has this great-quality double-sided tape, and she came up with a clever idea involving them. So I attached sandpaper to one velcro strip using double-sided tape, and fixed the companion velcro strip onto the cloth drum using a rubberband. I now have detachable sanding units! Thank you, Sis!

DIY Sanding Attachments for Polymer Clay

(Pictures in this post are of poor quality because I clicked them indoors in the evening; I might not find the time to click reasonably good pictures this weekend either, anyway.)

I was originally afraid that the gaps and overlaps in the velcro would inflict wounds on the clay surface while sanding, but found that these sanding units actually work great. I guess at the speed that the drum rotates, the surface inconsistencies of the drum don’t matter much?

I’d made a square cabochon from the earlier crackled effect veneer, and I used the DIY attachments to sand it. I guess I need to get used to this mechanized process, because I totally chipped away part of the edge while sanding! No worries though, I’ll just bead-weave around the cab to hide the entire border. 🙂 I buffed it to high gloss, though not as glossy as I made the cab that I used to test my buffing wheel.

Glossy Crackled Effect Polymer Clay Cabochon

So now, not only do I not have to strain my arm during sanding, but the sandpaper also doesn’t disintegrate as quickly, probably because most of the friction is uniform and in the middle of the strip, resulting in less pulling and tearing of the abrasive coating.

Now that I know that both DIYs — sander and buffer — produce great results, I might just improve them by (a) using something sturdier than plastic for the bit, and (b) buying a lighter power tool so the finishing becomes even more easier on my arms. (Or maybe just a stand and a motor for the drill I own right now.)

Crackled Effect Cabochon (or DIY Buffing Wheel Results Part 2)

The gloss! Woah, the incredible gloss! I can almost see my reflection in here. 😛 You can’t tell (or maybe you can), but I’m dancing a little jig right now. My DIY buffing wheel is definitely a superstar, isn’t it?

Buffed Crackled Effect Polymer Clay Cabochon

Crackled Effect Polymer Clay Cabochon

One of the items I’d made from the crackled effect veneer is this hollow cabochon, with the main purpose of testing my buffing wheel on it. I hadn’t been able to fully smooth out the crackled pattern on the veneer without it getting enlarged, and I’d added a layer of translucent clay over the cab, so that sanding and buffing would work on a non-bumpy surface. In hindsight, that was a good move, since sanding directly on the pattern would scrape away the clay in the pattern and possibly change it. That would be interesting too, just not this time. 🙂

Post-bake, the translucent layer had a lot of ‘bubbles’, though they seemed to mostly disappear sometime during the sanding / buffing. They’re still visible, though. This is apparently called plaquing, and is a different topic altogether that I’ll need to figure out.

Buffed Crackled Effect Polymer Clay CabochonI buffed for only slightly less than 10 minutes this time. If I want to go lower, it’ll be at the cost of increased sanding time. I don’t think I’ll go any lower though, because I’m happy with this buffing duration. I’ll not want a super-high gloss on all my projects, so I’ll probably buff for around 5 min most of the time.

To ease the sanding itself, I’d like to own more grits of sandpaper. The ones I have — (240,) 400, 1000 and 2000 — are too far apart, gunk up a lot during the sanding and require constant cleaning, and get discarded too quickly. I’ll keep looking for intermediate grits.

DIY sanding tools

So with my buffing wheel DIY turning out super-successful, my next project is to make a DIY sanding drum, obviously! That would make the finishing process more mechanized, and I hope easier. It’s gonna be a tad more difficult to make than the buffing wheel though — it’s not like I can bind the sandpaper with thread, plus it’ll have to last through the wet sanding.

Please wish me luck to figure out this next DIY! 🙂

DIY Buffing Wheel Results

I used the little slices from my earlier mokume gane attempt to make a veneer, and sat down for a session of testing my buffing wheel with pieces made from the veneer.

Attempt #1

I made a hollow earring pair. Then I buffed and I buffed and I buffed for what seemed like ages, and… there’s only the tiniest bit of sheen. What the…?! It’s supposed to buff up more quickly than that! I’ve even used the same tee shirt that I use for hand buffing, so the only change is the addition of the tool. Could it be the clay piece that’s the problem?

Buffing difference

So I hand-buffed the other earring, and there’s zero sheen on it. The only other time this happened to me was when I tried to buff a Sculpey III piece and discovered that it likes to stay matte regardless of how long you buff. Don’t tell me I used Sculpey III for the colors in my mokume gane! (I know for a fact that the white is Premo.)

Attempt #2

I do really want to use the mokume gane slices before they dry up and become difficult to use — I had old veneers tear on me on more than one occasion when I tried to work with them. So I sparingly added the mokume gane slices over more Premo white than earlier, and tried buffing again. This time, I made three similar cabs to use up the mokume gane sheet. These are not hollow, though — they have a Sculpey Original base. I baked, sanded and buffed them, and the sheen is much better on these!

Buffing - sheen with more Premo!

Miscellaneous

As for the hollow earrings from my first attempt, I applied a thin layer of Kato liquid clay and waved a heat gun over them for a quick sheen.

Hollow Mokume Gane Earrings

I also ended up making other (mostly stud) earrings from the remaining tiny mokume gane slices.

Miscellaneous Mokume Gane Earrings

I still have a thick sheet of the mokume gane block left, and I need to figure out soon how to use it up. In the worst case, I’ll make a Natasha bead from it.

What Next?

For my next buffing trial, I’ll make some ‘fully Premo’ pieces and try for a higher gloss, and I’m guessing the results would be better. 🙂 If they do turn out better, I’ll want to buy a lighter tool since the drill I’m using is pretty heavy to hold over extended periods of time, even when it’s partially supported on a table top.