The Cure

The POLYinformer welcomes letters from members, and we are pleased to post those that educate, inform or otherwise impact the polymer community.  The article below was submitted by Denise Graham, P&P 2007 winner, and we believe you'll enjoy her perspective on polymer clay as an artistic medium.

Julie Picarello, interim Web Content Editor 

From my first encounter with polymer clay in 1997, I was hooked, and this enthusiasm developed into an all-consuming addiction.  Sleep was not even a time of respite from this obsession.  A sketchbook at my bedside positioned to capture the ideas that wandered into my mind.

As my skill in manipulating polymer clay and expressing my creativity in this medium grew, I took the bold step of exhibiting and selling my work.  When customers asked about the construction material often I heard in a disappointing voice, “Oh, you mean that Sculpey stuff my kids use in school?” or “Play Dough for grownups”. Nine years later, despite polymer clay's visibility on television, video, books, and magazines, I often sense a lack of respect for the product as a serious artistic medium.


In an effort to elevate the image of polymer clay I describe the clay as a low fire medium composed of polyvinyl chloride, pigments, and plasticizers, which keep the clay, flexible until curing is complete. Each clay brand (Premo, Fimo, Kato Polyclay, Cernit) has specific color palettes and qualities.  The clay is available in translucent, metallic, fluorescent, and liquid forms.  A polymer artist can customize their color palette to augment the uniqueness of their work.  Paint, dye stains, inks, wax, mica powders, stamping, and inclusions of various materials can be incorporated into the clay before and after curing. The clay can be carved, sanded and buffed after curing.

Consider describing an imitative technique as “polymer dichroic”, or “polymer abalone”.  The use of the word “faux” conjures the idea of an item that is inferior to the “real thing”, sub par, or fake.  In the creation of a polymer cloisonné piece, many techniques, multiple steps and a series of curings are necessary to achieve a remarkably authentic appearance.   Questions also arise regarding the strength of polymer clay.  When polymer clay is conditioned and cured at its optimum temperature and duration the clay is strong and some brands afford a degree of flexibility. Polymer clay is stronger than ceramic clay and glass, which are composed of natural earthen materials.   As with any valued art, care should be taken when handling to prevent damage. 

Description of the tools used in our medium can be presented in an artistic way. The moment an item is dedicated to polymer it becomes a clay tool.  The pasta machine transforms into a clay machine.  Wire, mesh wire screen and foil become armatures. The toaster oven or convection oven are morphed into a kiln by lining the bottom of the unit with ceramic tiles. This helps to maintain temperatures during the on/off cycle of heating. Installation of a foil ceiling below the top heat element helps prevent scorching of light and translucent clays. We do not "bake" or "cook" the clay - it is cured at a temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit, which evaporates the plasticizer component of the clay.  When cooled the clay has been cured to a hardened state.

Reference to composition of work by using power words such as; value, texture, surface, balance, edge, subtle, blending, pigment, pattern, sculpting, edge, repetitive design, element, component, unique, one of a kind, limited edition or series etc.   The use of artistic terms in describing characteristics, tools, and techniques can increase polymer clays value as an art medium.   Through an artistic language we can cure the misconceptions about this versatile artistic medium.

Denise Graham