Over the years, I have been asked a lot of questions about the way that I make things. I can sometimes be vague or tight-lipped. Not because I'm stingy, but because the way that I make something might be very different than the way someone else makes it and not all the results are consistent or work for every application. Sometimes, I'm also troubleshooting or inventing my own methods or techniques and I want to give it time and wear before I officially say anything to make sure that I'm not spreading misinformation. And most importantly, I believe in the power of exploration and finding your own recipes unique to your own work. Try new things and be creative! You might surprise yourself!
One of the technique questions that I get A LOT is about how to treat polymer clay after it has cured. And this is sort of a complicated question, because again, not all things work for all applications and there isn't one universal answer.
I thought that I would share my Top Five products for Protecting Polymer Clay. Keep in mind that everyone has a different opinion and rarely do most people agree. I've seen people get really bent out of shape about product reviews, and it is perhaps one of the reasons that I've been reluctant to share my findings. So, if you read this and feel the urge to hop up and naysay, try to do so in a constructive manner... as these are products that I use on a nearly daily basis and are ones that I personally like.
Before I begin, I should mention that not all polymer clay pieces need to be sealed or finished. Polymer clay is a miraculous product and when worked with properly can be nearly indestructible under normal wear and tear conditions, it's colorfast, and it's relatively lightweight. So... see if you like the freshly baked surface and ask yourself if it's right for you.
1. Wet/dry Sandpaper. If the finish of baked clay just doesn't do it for you, you might want to step up your game by polishing your pieces with wet/dry sandpaper. Use the lower grits for shaping and removing material. Use the higher numbered papers for polishing. And if you use multiple grits, start with the lower numbers and work your way up. Another important note is to dab or dunk your pieces in water as you work. This will keep down the dust (so you know, you don't have issues later on from breathing in particulates) and the mixture of polymer clay dust and water creates its own polishing compound. This technique creates a satin-finish akin to hand-oiled wood. This is great for flat objects or pieces that do not have a lot of recessed areas.
2. Polyform Sculpey Gloss Glaze. I can feel the eye-rolling from some polymer clay artists from here. Marketed as a child's crafting supply, this material often times gets overlooked, but can be wonderfully useful. When working with this glaze, stir the container gently and do not shake the contents! Shaking makes bubbles and can create pockmarks. Also, work in a dry, warm environment. Work in thin, even coats. If you want a thicker look to your glaze, wait for each layer to dry before adding new ones. This material is great for adding gloss accents and has the shiny look of nail polish when cured. The best part is that it can be cleaned up with soap and water, without needing a special cleaner.
3. Kato Liquid Polyclay. This product is quite versatile and has a lot of applications. I might do some future video tutorials on it, as I am a smitten kitten with it. I have found that this has one of the best translucencies of the liquid clays and can be used in a lot of faux techniques. This material has a glossy finish, but not as glossy as the Gloss Glaze or resin. It has a softer feel on the hands as well and creates a wonderful cold enamel look (think of those pins that are making a resurgence in popularity)! The one drawback is that it can be straight up messy if you're not careful. Because it never really dries until it cures, it can be quite sticky and will drip if you're not mindful. This is good for flat surfaces or cured in sections, applied in thin coats.
4. Swellegant Clear Matte Sealent. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Developed by polymer clay artist, Christi Friesen, this product works in tandem with her line of patinas, tints, and oxides. When shiny and glossy won't do, use this matte sealant. It's great for sculptural pieces and can be applied with brushes or misters. (And when I say "misters" I'm not talking about dudes, but the spray bottle variety.) When using this product, as with most, it's important that it is mixed thoroughly and that you work in light, even coats. If you allow the product to puddle, it can create little chalky areas in the recesses. If this happens, just go over it again and it should take care of that.
5. Renaissance Wax. This is another product that is much beloved in our household. It is a petroleum based wax that was developed by the British Museum to take care of their armor collection and replaced beeswax, which can be sticky at times. This is great for metal, ceramic, and polymer clay. This is delightful for sculptural pieces and can achieve several different finishes. Again, work in thin layers and try not to cake it on. Use a soft cloth to apply it and to buff it. The more you buff the piece, the more lustrous and satiny the finish will get. One of the drawbacks is that since it is petroleum based, it can be a bit whiffy and can cause some folks to get headaches.
Now... here's a sticky subject... sometimes quite literally! Not all sealants are created equally and you should be thoughtful of this as you try new things. For me, I have found that most spray sealants just don't work. The fun chemicals that allow the spray cans to not clog up and make it all misty also break down polymer. They might be lovely at first, but then overtime, as the clay breaks down, the surface can become tacky and straight up cat hair magnets. (I have heard a rumor about a spray sealant specifically designed for polymer, but I have used it yet.) Also, nail polish. While it might be tempting, as there are so many colors and effects and it is more readily available than a lot of the specialized surface treatments, it will also break down the polymer. So don't get tricked into it!
Now that I've shared some of my favorites, what are some of your favorite sealants and surface treatments for polymer clay?