I can’t believe we’re already a week into the New Year!
For a long time now, hubby and I have written out goals we want to achieve during the coming year, rather than resolutions we want to stick to.
Over the course of 2015, I have felt that Bizzi Zizzi has become more than a part-time hobby, and grown into a blossoming micro-business. So with that in mind, for the first time, I have written myself some business goals and planned out the year ahead.
I won’t share all of my goals with you, but I will tell you that I want to make blogging a regular feature as I am just so passionate about polymer clay, and want to share it with anyone who will listen! I also want to share items made by well-known polymer clay artists who have inspired me, and learn how to make YouTube videos, so I can share with you some of the tools and techniques I have learnt in the last few years.
Although I have been working with polymer clay seriously for the last 4 years, I was actually introduced to it as a pre-teen. Back then, there was no internet to look up ideas, no YouTube video tutorials, and in the UK at least, it was very much seen as a product for children, akin to plasticine or Play-Doh. I had to rely on my own imagination and the occasional project in craft magazines.
But that was – *ahem* – 35 years ago, and polymer clay was already a teenager itself! In fact, the oldest brand of polymer clay, FIMO, turns 50 this year! Can you believe it?!
HISTORY OF POLYMER CLAY
Polymers were discovered in the 1930’s in the form of Bakelite, which was popular with designers, but some of the uncured ingredients were flammable and so it was eventually discontinued and polymer ‘clays’ were formulated as a replacement.
Käthe Kruse, a German Doll maker, came across the clay in 1939, but it wasn’t suitable for her factory and so she gave it to her daughter Sophie (known as Fifi) who used it as a modelling clay. She developed it further and called it ‘Fifi Mosaik’. In 1964, she sold the formula to Eberhard Faber, who tweaked the recipe, renamed it FIMO and sold it in stores across Europe from 1965. Fifi continued to write instruction ‘primers’ for the brand with a range of tutorials for jewellery, sculptures, puppets, pictures and more.
By the 1970’s, polymer clay started to make an appearance in the United States. Clay illustrator, Gordon Swenarton, used a vinyl dough formulated by his chemist father. Elsewhere, the Zenith Products Company ‘accidentally’ created its own variety of polymer clay, which it wasn’t able to use in its industrial capacity, but which later became 'Polyform' after a young visitor to the factory demonstrated its possible use as an arts and crafts medium and is now known as ‘Sculpey’. Staedtler bought out Eberhard Faber in 1978.
Most modern polymer clays are based on polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and contain very few if any natural clay minerals. Liquid plasticisers are added to dry particles until it achieves dough-like working properties, and similar to mineral clay, is put into an oven to harden, hence its colloquial designation as clay.
I was extremely fortunate to be able to visit the factory in Belgium in 2014, where Cernit clay is made, thanks to the links I made through Facebook, with particular thanks to Anne Roncalli of Le-boudoir-dAnne-Roncalli and factory owner, Georges Desmaré at The Clay and Paint Factory.
I was astonished at the complexity of ingredients, some of which, with the minutest tweaks, can have a dramatic effect on the character of the clay. I also learnt that newly-made clay needs to 'rest' for a number of weeks or even months, for the formulation to develop properly. You can check the age of your clay with the batch numbers. Also, whilst we as artists may consume polymer clay in what we consider to be large quantities, the suppliers of ingredients consider polymer clay manufacturers as a relatively small customer in their business, so very often, the quality of the ingredients may not be consistent from batch to batch. And so, despite rigorous testing and tweaking of every batch, sometimes there are variations between batches. I was particularly impressed with the automated packaging machines: the clay is 'extruded' onto a conveyor, weighed precisely (so don't worry if you get a bubble of air in your clay, you still have the correct amount!) and cut to size, then seemlessly wrapped and a sticker applied, all within a matter of seconds. It was quite mesmerising!
Today there are several brands of polymer clay and new ones making an appearance on a regular basis as new techniques and speciality clays are requested. Well known ones include:
FIMO – of course! A popular brand in Europe, especially with their new ‘Professional’ range
Cernit – a quality clay popular with doll makers made by the Darwi brand in Belgium
Friendly Clay – developed by AMACO
Pardo – a high quality clay, made by German company Viva Décor, particular popular for its translucency