I've been playing with polymer clay for a while now, and am starting to tire of my run-of-the-mill selection of cutters. And while there are some enviable shape templates available now, they can be a bit on the pricey side - especially when you just can'tdecide on a favourite! Now, while I'm in work I'm as spendthrift as the next girl, but I've been on unpaid care leave for five weeks and am feeling the pinch. I'm missing the little polymer-related treats I'd buy myself from time to time. But there are lots of free ways to find interesting shapes for jewellery and other projects ...
Look closely at the packaging of toiletries, cosmetics and other household goods for shape ideas - companies spend thousands making the simplest things visually pleasing, and sometimes the cross-section of a bottle or profile of a lid can be a nice surprise! Search the Internet for magnified images of natural objects like egg cases, seeds, pollen and minerals ... look at the negative spaces between leaves and flowers. Play with a set of designers' French curves to invent your own shapes ... develop a doodling habit and over a period of time you may notice that you naturally favour a particular shape.
Meanwhile there are lots of free shape resources: one of the best is on Ana Belchi's website. Ana uses a range of attractive shapes in her work, and has been amazingly generous in making a file of her shapes, named after Bauhaus designers available to download
I'm a firm believer that before you give in to either temptation or despair, you should at least have a go at making the thing that you want; I think that's how real originality is born. It's especially true of custom templates you might make for a one-off project - but what about those elegantly simple shapes that seem to recur again and again in pendants, bracelets and earrings?
Even though I failed O-level Maths twice, I think even I've grasped the idea that there's a certain truth that geometrically-derived shapes are some of the most appealing and aesthetically satisfying, because mathematical rules govern the shapes that appear in Nature. So, doing a bit more research, I was intrigued to come across the Superellipse - the concept that produced the Squircle (a satisfyingly curvy square - or alternatively, a blocky sort of circle) and similarly-rounded triangles. If you Google "squircle", you'll find examples.
Even better, a click or three later I discovered procato.com, an online calculator to generate your very own super-elliptoid and other natural looking shape-oids by inputting co-ordinates! While having not the first idea how it works, it's easy to experiment with, and the results are exciting.
I said a while back that I wanted to share the making of this "cane" ... and then, among other things going on, my extruder broke. Now that I have a brand new extruder (a Fimo one this time) and a few spare minutes, it seemed time to revisit this idea.
I've called it a "cane", but unlike a conventional cane, you make slices lengthwise to get strips or stripes of a pattern that changes with each slice, creating interesting mirror images as you go. In its basic form, the yield is low but you could certainly try combining more than one to make a more conventional stack.
Closely related to the Retro or Klimt extruder cane and Julie Picarello's Lizard Tails, it's more of a development than an original idea ... I like the organic look and called it Spirogyra as it reminds me of cells under the microscope in school biology classes! More thoroughly twisted canes take on a marbled, mineral look. You don't need much of each colour and it's dead easy to do, so it's a fun way to use up leftover clay after a project. Here it is for you to play with : )
You'll need some leftover clay, an extruder and a blade.
1. Prepare some scrap or leftover clay, conditioning it well. These were about no.3 on my machine.
2. Proceed as for a pixelated retro cane; I stacked mine randomly, although I think a graduated stack a la Bettina Welker might produce interesting results.
4. Cut the extruded string roughly in half; leave one half as it is, and cut the other half more or less in half again. Roll and stretch the two shorter lengths until you have a variety of thicknesses - some each of roughly thick, medium and thin pieces. It doesn't matter if the strings are a bit lumpy, although of course you could use different sizes of extruder discs. At the end of the day, it's a freestyle cane and you can be as precise or as careless as you like - the result will be organic and random.
5. So now you have several extruded strings, in various thicknesses.
6. Group these into a bundle, and gently smoosh them together. It doesn't really matter how you do this, or even if your strings aren't all exactly the same length - just arrange them in a way that pleases you. If the strings happen to be grouped around one central one, that will tend to give a more defined central "spine", but it's hard to control this effect. And keeping them aligned straight along the cane isn't important, but it helps to give a more regular "pattern" if you do.
7. Twist, turning the stack in one direction, and working right to the ends. Again, there's no set number of turns - anything from four or five to ten or more. The more you twist, the flatter and more detailed and ... err, twistier, the result. I think I gave this one about 10 twists.
8. Unlike previous experiments this time I also compressed the stack slightly, from both ends and lengthways to make a more squarish shape. I did this intending to try stacking several canes this time, to make a bigger block - but then I got all excited about seeing what was inside, and I forgot!
9. Once twisted, cut lengthways through the centre to see the result! From here you can either join the two mirror images into a lizard tail, or
10. continue with 3 or 4 thin slices towards the outer side, with the pattern changing as you do so (11).
12. I think the pattern results from the outer strings turning horizontally around the central ones, which are less twisted.
The extruder ...well, I'm finding the Fimo one hard on my hands. Maybe I'll get another Makin's one after all.