Working With Polymer Clay in Ceramic Art Education Projects

Modern materials make interesting and instructive ceramic art education projects easy and fun. Polymer clay is a new material, invented during World War II, which lends itself to many ceramic applications. Not a mineral clay at all, polymer clay is a form of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) with plasticizing agents to make it soft and workable until it is baked at low temperatures, such as those of an ordinary kitchen oven. As a rule of thumb, polymer clay objects should be baked at between 265° – 275° F (129° – 135° C) for fifteen minutes per quarter-inch (6 mm) thickness. Polymer clays are naturally translucent but can be made more opaque by the addition of white china clay or kaolin. Metallic or pearlescent type effects can be obtained by adding mica. Thus the basic material lends itself to many ceramic art education techniques.At primary school levels hand shaped sculptures can be created easily and fired in an oven for permanence. Younger children also enjoy making buttons, beads, and other jewelry items such as earrings, pendants, and barrettes. Not only can basic ceramic working skills be taught with these simple projects, but the children derive much satisfaction creating gift items for family members and friends with their own skills and imaginations. In addition to the traditional polymer clay which remains pliant until baked at low temperature, there are also polymer air dry clays which don’t even require an oven to harden.Middle and upper school students enjoy more advanced projects such as tile-making, and covering existing objects made of other materials, such as cardboard, metal, and glass. Polymer clay is easy to work with simple tools found around the house, such as knives, needles, rubber stamps, scissors; and the use of extruders makes it possible to create many interesting shapes. Some project ideas for making useful and gift items include vases, candy bowls, votive candle holders, cold drink holders, switch plates, jewelry boxes, knick-knack shelves, napkin holders, salt and pepper wells and shakers, chess and other game pieces, toy animals, picture frames, album covers, and many more. Small flat pieces of baked polymer clay can be used to make mosaics, collages, and basic reliefs as well as incorporated into paintings, since they can be decorated with paint, colored pencils, ink, chalk, glitter or foil, either applied either on the surface or as inclusion. Acrylic painting on the surface of polymer clay bonds with it upon baking. Polymer clay can pick up and preserve photographs and other images from magazine and newspaper pages. Pasta machines can be used in working with polymer clay to create unique color gradients in thin polymer clay sheets, which can be used in conjunction with slump, drape or hump molds to create serving platters, trays, bowls, and boxes.

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