Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Springfield ram

As in Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

I saw ram's skull pendants for sale last time I was in town, and I couldn't help thinking they'd be better with three eyes.  So I made one out of Du-Kit brand polymer clay.

And then, because as we all know the ram is sacred to the god Amun, I wrote an inscription on the back to turn it into an amulet.  It says "Amun Ra, most perfect of all perfect things that have come into being, give your follower all life, health, stability, prosperity."

Friday, 26 April 2013

Another way to make faux ivory with polymer clay

This method is slightly simpler than the last one I talked about, and it gives a different result.  In my opinion this method gives a more bone-like appearance.  I'd use this method if I wanted a faux bone effect, or for imitation boar's tusk like the sample below.

Close up of the bone effect.

As before, I mixed up some off-white clay using white, grey-brown, and a small amount of yellow, but this time I mixed in some translucent clay.  My ratio was one part off-white to one part translucent.  Then I rolled this translucent/off-white mix into a snake, and I rolled a thinner snake of plain translucent clay.

Two snakes.  Smaller snake is translucent; larger one is off white.

I laid these two snakes beside each other and folded them up, accordion style, so they looked like the picture below.

A snake accordion.
Then I rolled them lengthwise, until I had just one snake.  I folded that up accordion style and rolled it out again, and repeated that a couple of times.  This process gave me a snake with thin translucent striations running though it.  I made it into a block that I could cut slices off the way I did with the previous method.

Here you can see a cross section through the clay block.

This is quite an attractive effect too.

And here you can see the block after it's been sliced lengthways.  If you don't plan to use the block all at once, you can store it wrapped in cling film.  

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Polymer clay faux ivory

This is a tutorial showing one way to make faux ivory with polymer clay.  Next time, I'll discuss another method you can use.

Close up of the faux ivory effect.

Faux ivory test batch

I started by mixing some off-white clay by mixing white with a tiny bit of yellow and a light grey/brown colour called "stone".  This is one of those things where there isn't any exact recipe, you just use your best judgement about what looks like a nice off-white ivory colour.  I formed my off-white clay into a snake and a flat strip the same length as the snake.  Then I made another snake and another flat strip out of translucent clay.

Off-white on your left, translucent on your right.  There really isn't that much colour difference.

I wrapped the off-white strip around the translucent snake, and the translucent strip around the off-white snake.  I rolled both my snakes nice and thin and laid them beside each other.  Then I cut them in half, so now I had four snakes stacked on top of each other, and I gently stretched them out so they were longer and thinner.  The trick here is to make sure the snakes stay parallel with each other.  You don't want to twist them round at all.

Two snakes.

Four snakes, stacked on top of each other and carefully stretched out thin.

When you've repeated this process a few times, you have a log with tiny, thin stripes of off-white and translucent, which resemble the fine grain line found in ivory.

The ivory grain line is subtle, especially with  quite a light off-white colour like this.

I've then cut that log into sections and stacked them against each other so I have a block of faux ivory clay.

Here's what my block looks like from the top.

Here's what it looks like from the side.

I've then used a knife to cut slices off the faux ivory block.  You can also cure the block as is and carve it afterwards.

See that nice ivory grain line?

For a more in-depth look at this process Nora Jean Stone has a YouTube channel with a lot of polymer clay tutorials, including a series on how to make faux ivory.  There are probably other YouTube tutorials on faux ivory, but I recommend this one because it contains a Lexx reference.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Du-Kit review

I bought some Du-Kit recently for the purpose of making faux ivory.  I haven't worked with it before, so I thought I'd review it and let you know if you should consider getting Du-Kit next time you buy polymer clay. 

Four packets of Du-Kit: white, translucent, yellow and stone (the greyish beige one)

Du-Kit is a brand of polymer clay much like FIMO or Sculpey.  Here in New Zealand it's usually cheaper than other polymer clays, because it's manufactured here and retailers don't have to pay import costs.  Other than that, it's basically the same product.  

However, Du-Kit does have some unique features.  For starters, it seems to bake quite hard compared to other clays.  It's a stiff clay; it takes a fair bit of effort to condition it and it keeps its shape well while you're working with it, which I like.  But more importantly, the translucent colour available in the Du-Kit range is probably the best translucent polymer clay I've come across.  If you've worked with translucent Sculpey, you know that it has a kind of beige tint to it.  Du-Kit translucent clay really is translucent.

Du-Kit doesn't seem to burn in the oven the way Sculpey does, and that could be either good or bad depending on the effect you want.  I suspect you could burn Du-Kit if you put your mind to it, but you won't do it by accident.  Sculpey, on the other hand, burns easily even when you don't intend to burn it.

So in conclusion I'm very happy with my Du-Kit and highly recommend it.  If you're in New Zealand and would like to buy some, I suggest you go to Hobby Bazaar.  Their prices are good and so are their delivery times.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Chilean alien hoax

I love a good hoax, don't you?

I've been enjoying this one, which has been doing the rounds on the internet lately.  Supposedly, this is a 6 inch high mummified extraterrestrial found in Chile's Atacama desert.  It is known as the La Noria ET.

Picture from

This video includes some good images, including x-rays.  The narrator talks excitedly about how the specimen's DNA doesn't resemble any known earth species.  Yeah, right.  Citation please.

Creating a gaff that will pass muster in the modern age of high definition TV and CT scans is a very tall order, and whoever is responsible for this one has done a pretty good job.  This article from has an interesting discussion of the specimen, and suggests it may be a human fetus.  Another possibility mentioned in the article is that it may have been made from bird bones.  The writer of the article rejects this second hypothesis, but I disagree.  The head is certainly somewhat suggestive of a fetus; notice that it has no teeth.  However, in the close up of the head below you can see the skull's nasal structure looks a lot like what you see on some types of bird skull.  Underneath this structure the sculptor has added a more human-shaped nose, but it doesn't line up particularly well with the existing nose bones.  I think this is a shame, and a missed opportunity.

Picture from  I've highlighted the bird-like nasal structure.  

If you look closely at the first picture I showed in this post, you can see that some of the limb bones appear to have been cut off at the ends.  They don't have rounded, shaped ends like bones normally have.  From what I can see in the pictures, I would say the Atacama alien is made from pieces of bone (and possibly some dried tissue) stuck together with what looks like bitumen.  Someone may really have recovered DNA from a sample, depending where the sample was taken from, but I'd be surprised if it was unlike any known animal.

Overall I'd give this one a score of 7 out of 10.  It's a good, solid effort and it looks compelling, although it doesn't stand up well under close scrutiny.  The sculptor was definitely talented.  I would have liked to see more attention to detail in regards to the limbs, especially around the knee area, and in my personal opinion the sculptor would have been better off to work with the existing nose bones, rather than trying to modify the nose area to make it look more human.  But that's just a personal preference.  All things considered, I'm impressed, and I'm not the only one - the La Noria ET hoax is a resounding success.  Plenty of UFO enthusiasts are convinced this little guy is the real deal.

Why is it 6 inches high?  Well, aside from the obvious fact that small things are easier to transport to the "discovery" location without attracting attention, I suspect the inspiration here may have come from Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad novels.

For the record, I do think it's more than likely there is extraterrestrial life out there.  But I seriously doubt it visits the earth, or that it looks like the characters from a popular science fiction series.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Adventures in bas relief

Well, I made a start on it.  I'm definitely doing a bas relief in paper on the subject of "what public transport means to me".  I scaled up the template the council provided and drew it out on paper.  It's about six inches high and nearly four feet long.  It's not an ideal shaped space to work in, as it's basically a frieze with blank bits where the train's doors and windows go.  However, I'm fairly happy with how it's shaping up so far.

I read on the train.  A lot of people do.  This gave me the idea to use newspaper for the relief.  I've painted the newspaper train tracks, but I've allowed the text to show through, so it's still possible to see the text if you look hard.  The stones in around the track are made of unpainted, balled up newspaper.  I'm very pleased with these stones.  I like the colour and texture that they have.  I'm also very pleased with the flax leaves at the bottom right.  They're just paper painted green, but they curl nicely and have a stiff texture that's very much like flax.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Public transport design scribbles

UPDATE: you can see me make a start on the project here.

Remember how I talked about entering my local council's public transport art competition?  Yeah, I forgot all about that too.  In my defense I have just been made redundant, so I have a lot on my mind.  But I did put a bit of thought into this and came up with some ideas that might look nice on a train carriage.

The council thoughtfully provided train templates for me to draw ideas on.

I think train tracks will be an important design element, because they offer lots of opportunities to screw around with perspective.

The council clearly expects to get pictures.  After all, the winning entry will be painted on a train carriage.  But I'll be making a kind of bas relief on the template and then photographing it.  I'll be sending in the photograph for my entry.  This will give my entry the appearance of three dimensions even when it's viewed as a flat photograph.

I don't know if I'll get this project finished, my life being what it is at the moment, but I'd like to do it and I'll give it a shot.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Colouring cold porcelain: the fresco method

Cold porcelain has one particular quality that guarantees it will appeal to me: it's cheap.  I won't lie, this is primarily why I use the stuff.  But it also behaves in some quite interesting ways when you colour it.  People often colour cold porcelain by kneading ink or paint into it, and this works very well.  However, I prefer to colour my cold porcelain using the fresco method.  This method takes advantage of the fact that, unlike other polymer clays, cold porcelain is water-soluble.  When you make a fresco, you apply paint directly onto wet plaster.  The pigment gets absorbed into the plaster surface and colours the plaster itself.  And you can do exactly the same thing with cold porcelain.

I made these therapod claws to demonstrate what the fresco method looks like when finished.  You can see how it's possible to get a rich colour with plenty of depth and variation.  The translucent clay base helps to give this effect, but you can also use the fresco method on coloured clay to get different effects.

You start by making whatever object you want to make out of the clay.  You then take a soft paintbrush and use it to apply watered down ink or acrylic paint to the clay surface while it's still wet.  This dissolves the clay surface and allows the pigment to bind with the clay.

I like to start with lighter tomes and build them up gradually.

Here you can see a mixture of burnt sienna and burnt umber paint.   I finished off with some charcoal colour.

Getting a smooth colour without brush strokes takes a bit of practice - fresco isn't the easiest painting method out there - but I think the results are worthwhile.