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How To Clean And Smooth Your Polymer Clay Ooak Sculptures

May 16, 2008
It's not easy to have a "perfect" OOAK sculpture, meaning that the work is good, it is clean, smooth and free of lint, dirt and spots. As a matter of fact, in my experience, it cannot be achieved by itself. Even if you use a tent or latex gloves, there is always that particle in the air that is going to stick to polymer clay.

First, there are several things you should do to make the best of what you have. Always use clear clothes like a white t-shirt and shorts. Think of it as a uniform you'll use to sculpt. It's easier to see lint in a white shirt that in a green one. Keep your "uniform" always clean. You can buy white cheap t-shirts and use them just for sculpting and painting your piece.

Never sculpt in a place where there's a lot of lint circulating, such as the AC or furnace ducts. That is a huge source of all kinds of lint and dirt. The moment you see a piece of dirt, lint or a spot in your raw clay (Clay that has not been fired or cured) take it off immediately with any kind of tool that will allow you to do it without ruining your sculpture.

Once you have done all this and before baking, you must smooth your piece. There will be multiple finger prints, minuscule marks and your sculpture will be uneven from sculpting.

There are several ways to smooth raw clay:

Softening Oil is one of them. This is a special oil that you can use to soften your clay. you can put a drop on your fingertips and smooth only on one direction, for a short time. If you smooth in both directions, you will only create more flaws by carrying the clay from one side to the other and the time you do it is important too. If you keep smoothing very long, the clay will become mushy and then you will have to wait until it settles to smooth again.

Alcohol. You can smooth your sculpture with alcohol as well but the same principle applies. Move your fingers only in one direction and for a short time.

Cold water. Put your piece under the cold water tap and smooth in one direction only. With cold water, it doesn't matter if you take longer, because the cold water will not allow the clay to become mushy.

Refrigerator or freezer. You can place your sculpted raw clay piece inside the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Same thing with the freezer and then take it out and smooth with your fingers and with softening oil or alcohol. Although you will not need any of these things. Your sculpture is going to be very hard and you can smooth it easily, again, in the same direction always.

When you have smoothed the piece it will start to look shiny and really even. Then you can start the baking process to clean your piece even more.

Set you oven at 265 Fahrenheit, with and oven thermometer. Once the oven is at the set temperature, put your piece in a dish that has some polyfill underneath. You don't want your piece to come out with a flat and shiny spot. Then cover the sculpture with more polyfill and put it in the oven to bake for only 10 minutes. Not more, not less.

Once your sculpture has been baking for 10 minutes, take it out and let it cool. This is very important. If you don't let the sculpture cool, you will only ruin it by scratching and sanding.

Now your sculpture is cold and ready to go. When we sculpt, even if we wash our hands many times, the clay will get dirty, no matter what. So, take a utility knife and start scraping, combing or sweeping the sculpture only in one direction in a steady motion. Do it very gently. You will see very small layers of clay coming off the sculpture, but they are so tiny, you will not damage it in any way. You will see as well, the clay appear clean under the surface and in its original color.

When you are done, you will sand your sculpture. I use black sanding paper number 350 or 400. Remember that with the sanding paper the higher the number, the finest the sanding paper is and the lower the number, the coarser it gets. This time you can sand your piece with a steady motion, under the cold water tap in both directions, like up and down or side to side.

Don't sand up, then to one side, then down, etc. If you sand this way, you'll leave minuscule scratch marks and It will be more difficult for you to polish them off. If you sand in opposite directions but only up and down or side by side, your marks will be practically invisible and you will be able to polish your piece to a pristine look. Open the faucet so that you can have a drop of constant dripping water and sand. When you finish you'll see that the clay has like spotting or marks that are darker and lighter.

This means that the piece was still a little uneven and the sanding will take that off. Concentrate on the places where the clay is a different color and keep sanding softly until they disappear and the sculpture is one even color.

Open the faucet and rinse your sculpture. At this point you can use some dish soap and a very gentle brush to take off all the dust you created by sanding. Make sure you brush the crevices and folds so that you don't have any sanding dust. When you finish, dry your sculpture with a paper towel.

Finally, I use a 1000 black sand paper, to polish and I do the same technique all over again, but this time, you will see that your piece will achieve a "porcelain" texture and look. If you sculpted a very old person or a baby that have lots of folds, just be careful when you sand over them, You don't want to take those character marks off of your sculpture. Do it under the dripping water faucet and when you're done, rinse your piece thoroughly, use your soft brush and soap to take off all the dust. Dry your piece with a paper towel and let it dry completely.

The results of a clean polymer clay sculpture are amazing and the clay has a "porcelain" even clean look and it's soft to the touch. Now you are ready to paint.
About the Author
Arts 'n Dolls is an online community where you can buy, sell, or trade arts, crafts, OOAK and reborn babies. You can also see our free tutorials and visit our arts, dolls, & crafts forum .
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