Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monster Cane

I had a bit of a polymer clay adventure last weekend and I thought I should share it with you.

I have been working with polymer clay for twenty years now. I started out using Fimo which was stiff and needed tons of "conditioning". Polymer clay is not ready to use straight from the package, you have to squish the clay in your hand until it is soft and pliable. I got the strongest hand muscles from doing that! The stiffness of the Fimo clay made it good for making "canes". Canes are logs of clay with a picture running through them the whole length. When you cut a slice off the end of the log, there is an image or pattern in it and the next slice will have the same pattern. Using stiff clay limits distortion when a clay cane is "reduced" which means that you start with a larger shorter log and roll it out or stretch it until it is longer and thinner but the image stays intact inside.

I don't use Fimo anymore, I use Premo which is not as firm, but a good quality clay just the same. There is less conditioning required and some of it can be done by running the clay through a pasta machine dedicated to that purpose.

Here is an image of a square cane I made to use on an egg:

And here is the egg I made by placing the slices over an eggshell:

I belong to a guild of polymer clay artists that also sell on Etsy, the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Etsy or PCAGOE. Every month we participate in a creative challenge with a theme. I try to enter every month as I find the challenges cause me to stretch outside my normal ways of creating and the items I make for the challenges are often my most interesting work.

Some past items created for challenges:

The challenge theme for March is Animals. I decided to make a cane using my handsome cat, Chester, as a model. I took a picture that showed his face well and simplified the image on photoshop. I got it down to 5 colors (reminiscent of a paint-by-numbers picture, which I collect) and chose my palette:

Well, it's been a while since I have made a pictorial cane, mostly I have been making geometric canes for my eggs and they are not very big, maybe an inch and a quarter across, four or five inches long. When I started this cat cane, I started too big and kept going! It took me two whole days and a lot of clay to tame the monster cane and the results are quite interesting. This was a difficult process! I swore and threatened to toss the cane in the canal, but my husband (known as D to my faithful readers) kept encouraging me to finish. His interest and reassurance gave me the energy I needed to see the project through regardless of the outcome.

And though the outcome is not what I expected, I am quite pleased with the results. I am a firm believer that in art, you can start with a plan, but what makes it art is what happens along the way that you do not expect. And that if the result is exactly what you intended, well that is fine, but if it is not, then that is where things get exciting.

Click here to view a slide show of the process of making the monster cane.

Here are the earrings I made to enter in the PCAGOE challenge:


  1. It has been so much fun to read your blog and look at the slide show. I know how difficult all that was, but so worth it. You came up with interesting demonstration photos, which polymer clay artists of all abilities and experience will find interesting. And the rest of us will too. Love, Mom

  2. Liz, great post! I have also found the challenges so inspiring, and have been thrilled with the new things I've come up with because of them. Your "I started too big" story is all too familiar, too. Once I made an elephant cane. It reduced to about 8 feet long and was a total disaster. I ended up squishing it and having a huge pile of teal in the end :) Your cane turned out to be fabulous (unlike my poor elephant).

  3. Wow, that's totally awesome :)

  4. Thank you so much for including the slide show so we can see how this process works. Both of these canes are wonderful, but the cat one is just wow! I have never seen anything like that. Brava!

  5. You always amaze me! And look at how those drops are shaped like tiny eggs! You are a true craft master.

  6. Thanks mom! I bet you were dying to know what I was up to :)

    Divadea, your story gives "elephant cane" a whole other meaning, the size of an elephant! It's so hard to put all that time and clay into something that doesn't work out. I've done it, believe me :)

    Amber, thanks!

    Cozysister, thanks, I am glad you enjoyed the process shots :)

    Kari, yer makin' me blush! Thanks doll :)

  7. that was a seriously monster cane! i love how the earrings came out in the end, too - when i saw them the other day, i knew it was a cat right away. :)

  8. Wow, That's fantastic, you must have a lot of patience!

  9. All I can say is Wow! and what lucky cat to me immortalised in clay!

  10. Your talent is awe-inspiring! Holy cow :D WOW

  11. This was so educational! I knew about the "log" with pattern, but I didn't really think about how it was really made. And I just can't get over the beauty of your square cane that you used on the egg- and how brilliantly you attached it! It's seamless! I'm amazed. Great stuff. Hope your kitty earrings win :)

  12. Oh wow - I admit to never having been a fan of polymer clay. Memories of a fimo course I took ages ago abound. But WOW! Your work is just stunning!

  13. Wow! That is so cool!!! I don't have the patience or planning skills you do - and great photos documenting it! Congrats ☺

  14. I love the Chester earrings! He must be so proud. :)

    Being a fiction writer and not an artist, I had never heard of that kind of clay or the process. Amazing!!

  15. Liz! Chester looks *awesome*! Really, really cool. Excellent job! Loved the description of the process too...

  16. I'm so glad you pointed me in the direction of your blog. it's truly inspirational! I have a lot I need to catch up on as far as your blog goes :D. I could never wrap my head around how artists make canes! So much to inspiration now!

    I also wanted to comment your work with the mint and brown. It's sincerly eyecatching!

    I'll be watching your blog and store from now on! I hope your having a great weekend! :D

  17. Amanda, thanks, you rock!

    Fibre, thanks! I do have some patience, although I lost it a few times during this process :)

    Sally, and Chester thinks it's his due! Little prince.

    field notes, very kind of you :)

    cicada, many thanks, I LOVE your work and am humbled that you enjoy mine

    nicole, hahaha! I can certainly imagine being turned off the clay, it can be very frustrating at times.

    tatsuko, thanks, I'm glad you liked it :)

    Cynthia, thanks! So glad you enjoyed it, now you can write about a crafter ;)

    Kristin, you still have credit in my shop! You should pick something out, a Chester hair pin perhaps? Ooh, I should go make one I guess :)

    Porkipine, thanks! Your blog is great too, and thanks for the props on colors, these are my fave, inspired by vintage paint-by-numbers of which we have a vast collection.