Making imitation faience with polymer clay

My imitation faience beads, with a couple of fingers to show the size.

Today, I had one of those “why has no one done this before?!” moments.  I couldn't find anything, anywhere on the internet, about making imitation faience with polymer clay.  People use polymer clay for a vast range of stone, ceramic, and ivory effects, but nobody appears to be using it for imitation faience.  Surely I can’t be the first person in the history of polymer clay who’s ever decided to try faience?  Well, not to worry, I’m here to correct this oversight.

Before I start the tutorial, let’s take a look at what faience is.  Faience, or tjehenet to the Egyptians, is kind of halfway between a glass and a ceramic.  It was made with quartz and various colouring agents mixed into a paste and moulded, then fired in a kiln.  As the material was fired, the colouring agents effluoresced, meaning they underwent a chemical change that produced a coloured glaze on the surface of the material.

Faience came in a wide range of colours, but was most commonly somewhere in the blue-green spectrum.  It was produced as a budget-friendly substitute for lapis lazuli, but faience was a valuable material in its own right.  Ancient Egyptians regarded the process of making faience as a kind of alchemical transformation from the initial greyish paste to the final, brightly glazed product.  It symbolised rebirth and fertility.  The Egyptians were keen on these topics and the colours had significance too.  Blue was for the Nile and the afterlife, green was for regeneration, and red was for protection.

With these facts in mind, here’s how I produced the faux faience.

I’ve started with pieces of green, blue, and translucent clay and simply chopped them up with a knife.  As you chop the clay into progressively smaller pieces, the colours mix together.  You want the colours well mixed together, but you don’t really want to get a marbled effect.  If you look at faience artifacts, you'll find that although you get patches of different colours, you don't see marbling as such.  

I found it was best to carefully knead the finely chopped clay together, just to make sure the colours blended.  

In particular, you want the translucent clay to blend with the colours and give them some depth, but you don’t want large flecks of unblended translucent.  Finally, I rolled my coloured clay into a thin sheet.  This is a really thin sheet, you will note.  

Remember, faience has a thin coloured glaze over a greyish centre.  The “glaze” sheet gets wrapped around a core of grey clay, chopped into small lengths, and pierced through the centre with a wire.

Another method is to sandwich a thin layer of white clay between the grey core and the outer layer of "glaze".  This makes the colours a bit brighter and gives them a bit more depth.

I baked the beads as per the directions on the packet and coated them with polyurethane.  The polyurethane is important because it helps to create a vitreous glaze effect.  I don’t think the beads look all that convincing when they come out of the oven, but once they have a coat of polyurethane they look much more realistic.

For this project I used Du-Kit clay in Teal, Navy, Blue, Translucent, Yellow, White, and Stone, but the colours and type of clay you use aren’t particularly important.  You’ll want to try different mixes until you get a colour blend you like.  If you do a Google search for faience you'll see that the range of possible colours is enourmous, so it's really a case of working with the clay to get a shade that looks good.