Can polymer clay dry out?
In the vast realm of art and crafts, this material stands out as a unique and versatile medium.
Unlike its traditional clay counterparts, polymer clay is not made from the earth, but rather is a type of plastic. This distinction brings forth an often-asked question: can polymer clay dry out? The simple answer is no, not in the way that water-based clays do.
However, its nuanced characteristics, its behavior over time, and the methods required to set or “cure” it make it a fascinating material to explore.
The Unique Nature of Polymer Clay
This material, despite its name, is not a traditional clay. It’s essentially a type of plastic, which means its properties differ significantly from those of water-based clays. When left exposed for prolonged periods, it doesn’t dry out in the typical sense.
Instead, over extended durations, spanning months or even years, it can become stiff. This stiffness might reach a point where the clay turns crumbly, making it challenging to manipulate.
However, there’s a silver lining: even if it reaches this state, it’s often possible to revive the clay. By introducing liquid polymer or fresh clay, one can restore its malleability to some extent.
Baking and Curing: The Essentials
The hardening process for polymer clay, often referred to as “curing,” necessitates baking. While there’s some variance among different brands, the standard baking temperature falls within the 250–270 degrees Fahrenheit range.
As for the baking duration, many brands recommend a timeframe of 15–30 minutes for every 1/4 inch thickness of the clay piece. A noteworthy aspect is that if baked at an appropriate temperature, extending the baking time, even by hours, doesn’t adversely affect the clay. In fact, it might enhance its sturdiness.
However, caution is required: baking at excessive temperatures can be detrimental. Not only does the clay risk burning, but it also releases unpleasant fumes and might adopt a displeasing gray-brown hue.
This discoloration is particularly evident in light-colored polymer clays, even when baked near the recommended temperature for shorter durations. A potential remedy to prevent darkening is enclosing the clay in foil or parchment paper during baking, although its effectiveness can vary.
The Delicate Balance: Temperature and Curing Outcomes
A crucial consideration is the trade-off between temperature and the clay’s final properties. While reducing the oven’s temperature might mitigate the risk of discoloration, it also hampers the curing process.
As a result, the finished product might seem hard but will be brittle and susceptible to breakage. Ideally, cured polymer clay should retain slight flexibility, especially noticeable when it’s fresh out of the oven and still warm.
If this flexibility is absent, it’s an indication of either inadequate baking time or a temperature setting that’s too low.
Achieving Precision: The Importance of Accurate Temperature Monitoring
Lastly, for those keen on working regularly with polymer clay, it’s essential to realize that standard kitchen ovens might not always provide accurate temperature readings.
An investment in a dedicated oven thermometer can be invaluable, ensuring the right baking environment for your creations. Even a minor temperature deviation of 3–4 degrees can significantly impact the end result.
Autor: Alfred Guinaroan
Sculptor, ceramist, writer
Modeling and creating from the infinity of the raw material captivated me since childhood, a few years ago now, in a small mountain village in Barcelona. My parents are not Spanish, but they fell in love with the beauty of the area and there I was lucky enough to grow up among nature.
I have been caught up in the world of sculpture and ceramic work for more than ten years now.
Art is my passion. To appreciate it and spread it is my vocation.