Polymer Clay Bead Making: Expert Advice from Lisa Pavelka

I am quite happy to report that I had so much fun with my last polymer clay bead making project, it appears that I have overcome my fear of bead making using polymer clay! I've been playing with all kinds of tools and techniques for bead making using polymer clay, and thanks to the tips and advice from the awesome readers of Beading Daily, I almost know what I'm doing.


One thing that I've discovered about polymer clay is that you can use it to make beads and jewelry making components of pretty much any style. Whether you like your handmade jewelry to be modern, classic, romantic, or even steampunk, you can use polymer clay beads to enhance the look of your finished jewelry.

After my first adventure in polymer clay bead making, I was contacted by none other than the award-winning clay artist Lisa Pavelka, who not only offered me some great words of encouragement, she offered to share her top ten tips for working with polymer clay! I was so excited to get this kind of advice from a polymer clay bead making expert that I wanted to share them with everyone at Beading Daily! So, without further ado, I'm pleased to present Lisa Pavelka's Top Ten Tips for Working With Polymer Clay!

Lisa Pavelka's Top Ten Tips for Working with Polymer Clay

1.  Always, always, always bake your clay with at least two thermometers! Why go to all of that work to create a thing of beauty only to find out your oven is running too hot? Buying a second thermometer for your oven is the best few dollars you'll ever spend. It's also great for making sure a class or friend's polymer clay oven is correctly calibrated before use.  I personally use two or three, especially when traveling.  If you notice that one thermometer reads at a different temperature and the other two match, you'll know that you have a damaged thermometer. And preheating your oven is a good way to prevent problems with baking your polymer clay beads.

2.  Use a smooth ceramic tile for your work and baking surface. They're nearly impossible to scratch, they're easy to find and inexpensive. Ceramic tiles can go straight from your worktable to your oven.  It can be handy to have several on hand, and in different sizes.

 3.  Deli sheets or parchment paper are wonderful to have on hand when you don't wish your clay to stick to your work surface. These are commonly found at warehouse grocery stores and restaurant supply stores, and are referred to as "waxies" or "patty paper". These papers also make great stamping and powder masks on your clay. When handling a piece of uncured clay, tear a small piece of deli sheet and use it to hold your clay to avoid leaving a fingerprint. These also make turning your work around easier — you can easily spin the paper around on your work table.

4.  Always begin conditioning and working with the lightest colored clays first, whenever possible. Starting with the lightest colored polymer clays first will help prevent color contamination. Clean your hands often between colors with a baby wipe. For stubborn residue, rub a dab of hand sanitizer on your palms and fingertips before wiping with a baby wipe. For final clean up, wash with a pumice-based waterless hand cleaner followed by soap to remove all traces of clay residue.

5.  Use Armor All or STP Son-of-a-Gun automotive protective spray to prevent clay from sticking to molds, rubber stamps, plastic texture plates and acrylic rollers. Spray a small amount on the clay and spread with your fingertips and not directly on the stamp. This also ensures a fine, even coating on the entire surface of your clay for better results.

6.  Keep your clay blades sharp and extend their life by sanding with 800 grit (automotive grade) wet/dry sandpaper. Fold a small square of sandpaper in half (about 2" x 2"). Hold the folded sandpaper inside of a piece dish washing sponge for safety, and slide the paper back and forth over the edge of the blade to clean and sharpen. Make sure to turn the blade over and repeat on the other side. Sanding the blades will clean residue from the blades while sharpening it at the same time. Safely dispose of old blades by covering them entirely in scrap clay and bake before throwing them in the trash.

7.  Camouflage surface defects such as fingerprints and nail marks by stippling clay with a texturing tool. Very coarse sand paper is one of my favorites texturing tools! You can also use a ball tip styluses to create a spoon-carved look. Try other items such as the end of a retracted ball-point pen or coffee stirrers for interesting circle patterns. Rummage through your junk drawer for interesting items like buttons, screw heads, screw threads, and many more objects that makr surprisingly interesting textures, even when you're not hiding surface imperfections. Try highlighting textured surfaces with mica pigments or dabbing on acrylic paint with a cosmetic sponge to get unique surface effects.

8.  Separate the ends of millefiori canes by color families (i.e. purples, blues, greens, etc.). When you've accumulated a large amount of polymer clay in these colors, mix them together through the pasta machine to create new colors. I like to save these for when I'm watching television. You don't have to concentrate too hard to blend your scrap clays into new colors!

9.  You can cover almost anything with clay and bake it: metal, paper, chipboard, wood, glass, and even some plastics. If you're unsure if an item is safe for baking, make a template of the surface to be covered. Build the clay veneer on a ceramic tile and use the template to trim the finished clay piece to size. After baking and cooling, carefully slide the clay blade under the veneer to remove it from the tile. Attach to the surface to be decorated using a two-part epoxy. Your glue will adhere better if you give one or both surfaces being bonded some "tooth" or texture for the glue to hold on to. Use an awl or needle tool to gouge the surfaces to roughen them up. Remember, when using any glue, less is more! Too much glue may not cure due to lack of sufficient oxygen. 

10.  Recycle old jewelry findings by removing the existing stones or cabochons from the metal settings. Make a new piece to glue into the old settings for a completely new and updated look. Many centerpieces can easily be molded into scrap clay and used to make a new polymer clay centerpiece.

Use Polymer Clay Techniques to Reflect  Your Personal Style

Are you ready to explore new ways you can use your own polymer clay beads to express your personal style? Join other jewelry making experts like Jean Campbell, Katie Hacker, Kristal Wick, Danielle Fox, and Leslie Rogalski in Beads, Baubles, and Jewels TV Series 1600, now on DVD! You'll find all thirteen episodes, each one with a different focus on jewelry-making style, including bohemian, classic, romantic, trendy, whimsical, and colorful! And since polymer clay beads can be used for just about anything, you'll have plenty of new jewelry-making projects for them all. Get your copy of Beads, Baubles, and Jewels TV Series 1600 today and see how easy it is to enhance your jewelry making style — or adopt a new one!

What part of polymer clay bead making do you enjoy the most? Personally, I really love making my own color mixes and exploring new shapes using polymer clay. And making beads with polymer clay is so easy! They're finished and ready to use in just minutes! Leave a comment and tell me how you use your bead making skills to express yourself!

Bead Happy,


Lisa Pavelka is an award-winning artist, author of four books on polymer clay and instructor.  She has worked professionally with polymer clay for over 25 years and is recognized for her work as an Art Clay Silver Master, SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS as an official Ambassador, wire , resin and more. Lisa is a regular contributor and columnist to numerous magazines. She has appeared dozens of times on programs including HGTV's Carol Duvall Show, DIY Network's Jewelry Making, Discovery Channel, and more. Lisa teaches creative workshops and cruises throughout the world. Her signature product and button lines are distributed in over 2000 stores, in over 40 countries. To learn more about Lisa's work and classes, visit: www.lisapavelka.com

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