Make Faux Gemstones: Create Marbled Clay Cabochons and Faux Faceted Gems with Polymer Clay

My favorite feature about polymer clay is its ability to mimic so many other materials: wood, plastic, metal, paper, fabric, even gemstones. Ronna Sarvas Weltman's tips below on how to marble polymer clay are a great way to mix colors and create faux swirling or banded cabochons; then read on to learn how you can make faceted faux gems with polymer clay as well.

 

6 Tips for Marbling Polymer Clay
Add colorful handmade focals to your work
by Ronna Sarvas Weltman

(originally published in the October 2009 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine)

A student recently commented that when she sells jewelry at art and craft fairs, customers are asking for jewelry that is completely handcrafted, in which the artist has created each element. She came to my class so she could create one-of-a-kind pieces, starting with beads, disks, and other embellishments–all created by hand out of polymer clay.

I often compare polymer clay to paint. Artists the world over use similar paints to create myriad unique paintings, and polymer clay also lends itself to infinite variation, reflecting each artist's voice. The possibilities are endless, and mastering just a few basic techniques will allow you to add visual intrigue and refinement to jewelry. One of these techniques is marbling.

It's very easy to practice marbling with polymer clay since every time you combine colors, even just two, they will marble as you mix them. Marbling can be stunning and dramatic, perfect for a focal bead or element, or subtle and muted, lending itself as a background.

Polymer clay can be mixed in your hands, rolled with an acrylic roller, or blended with a pasta machine. Each pass through the pasta machine yields an increasingly complex blend of color. Polymer clay is also very affordable. If you're like me, you'd rather not talk about how much you've spent on beads in your lifetime, or how many of those beads have yet to be used in a piece of jewelry. Oh, the guilt! Making your own beads or focal elements out of polymer clay enables you to make them for a tiny fraction of the cost you'd pay for most beads. More important, you can make them exactly the size, shape, and color you want.

It's easy to get a fabulous marble if you pay attention to these six pointers:

1.       Choose wisely. Use colors that look good together. If the colors being blended are not harmonious, the marble blend won't look good.

2.       Include contrasts. If all the colors in a marble blend are similar, it may be boring. All of my marbled blends have either black or white in them, and most have both, providing an element of dramatic contrast.

3.       Know your clay. Pay attention to the saturation levels of different clays. A little black, for instance, goes a lot further than a little white. Use highly saturated colors in significantly smaller proportions to other colors.

4.       Go beyond opaque. Experiment with using translucent clay, which adds depth to marble blends, particularly if the beads are polished with shoe polish or wet/dry sandpaper after baking, or dipped in an ice-water bath to increase the translucent polymer clay's transparency.

Here's a look at several passes through the pasta machine with a mixture of warm-colored clays.

5.       Mix mastery. Pay attention to how colors will combine. Green and purple, for instance, can sometimes be fun together, but blend them together and you get mud.

6.       Blend and blend. Finally–and perhaps most important–keep blending. Yes, sadly, if you blend too much, you'll end up with a solid color, and it can be difficult to judge when you've passed the point of no return, but the vast majority of people will stop blending too soon. So take a risk and roll it or run it through the pasta machine again . . . and again. —RSW

 

Ronna's polymer clay marbling technique is perfect for creating faux gemstone cabochons and beads, mimicking the banded or swirling colors of pietersite, malachite, rhodochrosite, many jaspers and agates, and others. And if you'd like to make faux faceted opaque gems and beads, get Erin Prais-Hintz's video, Fabulous Facets. Erin's technique for making faceted polymer clay stones and beads is fun, artistic, and can create any "gemstone" you can imagine!

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