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Mica Shift Pendants, Earrings or Charms with Polymer Clay

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Picture of Mica Shift Pendants, Earrings or Charms with Polymer Clay
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The mica shift is a very simple technique that yields incredible results. It works with polymer clay that has mica in it,  first you align the mica particles in the clay and later disturb them to produce very interesting effects. My favorite effect is the 3D optical illusion that you get when you use a stamp; the clay appears to have depth, while being completely flat. It's a very interesting optical illusion that is fun both make and watch, and I'll show you how to do it.

I'm entering this instructable to the Play with Clay Challenge, so if you like it please don't forget to vote for me! I will really appreciate it.
 
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Step 1: Materials and Tools

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Another lovely thing about the mica shift technique is that it requires relatively few materials. Here's what I use:

- Polymer clay with mica in it. My favorite clay for this technique is Premo , it seems to have more mica in it so it produces better results. Premo in metallic colors works best, but anything from their Accents line will work (except, of course, the translucent colors). Premo Gold seems to achieve the best results of them all.

 - A stamp. Any stamp will work, but I prefer to use stamps with relatively thick lines to make it easier to notice the effect and pattern. The deeper the stamp, the better.

- A tissue blade. (Adult supervision is advised).
- A rolling pin or a pasta machine.
- A cutter
(optional)
- White (scrap) paper or wax paper.
- Corn starch or water in a spritz bottle.
- Wet/dry sandpaper.
- Old denim clothes.

Step 2: Prepare your polymer clay

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Cut a piece of clay and start kneading it until it becomes soft and pliable. This is called conditioning , and it prepares the polymer clay for work. What you are doing is warming up the clay to soften it, while also mixing the polymer and plasticizers to an homogeneous mix, so your clay will give you the best performance.

After a few minutes test your clay by bending it. If it doesn't crack at the bend it means that it's ready for work.

Step 3: Rolling

With your fingers, slightly flatten your conditioned polymer clay. I like to work in a scrap piece of copy paper or wax paper, but use whatever works best for you.

 

This step is very important because you will align the mica particles to achieve the mica shift technique. You want to choose a direction, I like to work (from my point of view) from the top to the bottom and viceversa. Everything you do in this step has to be done in the exact same direction, never change it! Always roll it parallel to the direction you chose.


1. Using your rolling pin or pasta machine, roll your clay in one direction. In my case, I roll it back and forth from the top and the bottom. Don't roll it too thin or it will become too weak.
 2. Fold your polymer clay in half in the same direction. For me that means that I fold it so the top and the bottom meet.
3. Roll again, fold again, roll again, fold again about 15 to 20 times. This is easier if you have a pasta machine, but I'm poor =D

After 10 or 15 times your polymer clay should have a very even color, if you see any change of color keep rolling and folding until it's perfect. You may notice that the sides have a slightly different color, that's mica that was aligned in a different direction from all the folding and it's normal, we just won't use the sides.

Step 4: Stamping

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First you have to prepare your stamp. We don't want the clay to stick to the stamp, so lightly dust it with some cornstarch or spritz a bit of water.

Position your stamp and press down firmly. We need a very crisp impression, so press hard but not so hard that it slides and smudges the impression. You will learn how to apply the perfect force with practice.

Admire your beautiful work! You can remove the cornstarch blowing on it or just run it briefly under tap water.

Be careful when you manipulate your piece of clay. Don't press it too hard or you will disturb the mica particles, ruining the effect. Hold it only from the sides.

Step 5: Slicing off the clay

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*WARNING: Tissue blades are extremely sharp. Take all the precautions you can.

I like to pick up my work for this step, I think that it makes the slicing easier. If you have shaky hands you may prefer to keep it steady in the table. Do whatever works best for you.

With your tissue blade, carefully slice off all the raised parts of the impression. I find it easier to do when I hold the blade almost flat against the clay. You can do it in small sections, and go over some parts if you didn't get enough clay off.

If you don't have a tissue blade, use the sharpest and thinest blade you own. VERY CAREFULLY. If you are underage, ask an adult to help you or at least supervise you.

Try not to get any of the depressed areas. Don't worry if you have some clay left, we will fix that later when we sand it.

Step 6: Cutting the shape

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Now cut your pendant, charm or earrings to the size and shape you want. I chose a rectangle with rounded edges, but you can use any clay or cookie cutter you want. If you don't have cutters, you can cut the clay with a blade and make triangles, squares, etc.

Here's a little tip: If your clay gets stuck in the cutter (which happens often) use a cotton swab to gently push it out. That way you won't distort the pattern or dent the clay.

Step 7: Pierce it or add an eyepin

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If you are making a charm, you want to add an eyepin or pierce a little hole for the jump ring.

I decided to make a little hola this time, I'm just using a thick needle. You can also use a toothpick, skewer or anything pointy you have lying around.

Step 8: Bake it

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Bake your clay following your package instructions. It's very important that you bake polymer clay long enough, if you underbake it will look fine for a year or two, but then it will become brittle and crumble. You don't want this to happen, specially if it's a gift or something you sold.

I use a regular toaster oven with an oven thermometer to bake my clay. Let it cool down completely before you proceed.

Step 9: Sanding

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To bring out the mica shift effect, you will need to sand the polymer clay. Some colors don't even show the mica shift until you sand them, so don't skip this step. I know that sanding polymer clay can be tedious, but it's worth it. If you have a dremel, use it.

I use wet/dry sandpaper, start from the coarser grit to get rid of all the remaining raised parts of the impression. Make sure the clay is perfectly flat before you proceed. Then build your way up to remove all the scratches and make the clay smooth. Don't sand the clay dry, you risk breathing the dust and I'm quite sure it's not healthy.

This is the list of grits I use:

320 - Coarser. After sanding the polymer clay will look opaque and the mica shift effect will be less noticeable. Don't despair, that's normal.
600
1000 - You can stop here if you want, and the clay will look fine.
1500
2000 - Softer. Going all the way to 2000 makes the clay really smooth and shiny. I love touching clay that is sanded with a 2000 grit, it's very smooth and soft.

Step 10: Buffing

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If you haven't tried buffing polymer clay before, you are going to love it. I was so surprised the first time I did it, and it's the perfect finish for the mica shift effect. Buffing polymer clay makes it look shinier, and the mica shift effect will be even bolder.

I use and old denim skirt to buff the clay, but you can also use one of those buffing files for nails. I've read that you can't use buffing paste (something about ruining the clay), but I haven't tried it yet. Make sure your clay is dry and start rubbing the denim or file against the polymer clay, I do it in small circles for no particular reason. It only takes 2 or 3 minutes of buffing and it's ready!

If you use denim, make sure to use a light colored or "raw" colored piece of denim. Darker colors can stain polymer clay (learn from my mistakes, don't do it). If it happens, sand your clay again to remove the top stained surface.

Step 11: Finished!

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Admire your little creation, pat yourself in the back. You can't really understand how amazing this effect looks until you see it in person, the photos don't do any justice to the beautiful optical effect this is. Practice, each pendant I make looks better and better!

When I show it to my friend they're always surprised, and they can't believe it's flat until they touch it. And then they start asking me how I did it and if I could so some for them. I was once accused of witchcraft.

I would also recommend using it to cover altoid tins, boxes, pens, etc. I plan to start some wiring jewelry around mica shift charms. Oh the possibilities! Have fun with your clay! If you liked this tutorial please don't forget to vote for me up there. ^
Thank you for your tutorial, it was great. I tried to vote, but I guess I was too late. You talked about the mica in the clay, can you add your own mica in clay? I have several colors or mica powder, and clay. I might just give it a try. Again you did a wonderful job with this. Thanks
talty (author)  CherylDunham3 years ago
Thanks! Yes the voting ended some months ago, still thank you so much for trying to vote for me, I appreciate it!

Yes you can add mica, I've tried it before and it works! If you do, use translucent clay so the mica shows better. The only downside is that you have to use quite a bit of mica, and mica is already expensive :(
Katzsta talty3 years ago
I think you can use old eye shadows. Most have mica in them, but the shiniest/glitteryest is best, not the matte kind. Everyone (well, mainly females) has old eye shadows they don't use anymore or one or two in a pallette that is just not for them. Crumble it to powder, add it until your clay is the color you want, and condition over and over until it's fully blended. Much cheaper than buying mica powders. This is a great tutorial on how to do the mica shift.
talty (author)  Katzsta3 years ago
That would probably work, good idea! But you'll need a really good quality eyeshadow, because cheap eyeshadows have little to no mica to cut costs :( Still, good tip, thanks for sharing!
Thoth3 years ago
By tissue blade you mean a microtome blade?
talty (author)  Thoth3 years ago
Yes, and no. Tissue blades is the name of the product made for polymer clay, and they are based on microtome blades used in biological sciences, I'm not sure how different they are because I've never tried using a microtome blade. For most crafters access to microtome blades is impossible, while tissue blades are readily available, so I prefer to refer to them when I'm talking about clay.
bluemoon63 years ago
have been wanting to try this---your instructions were great--thanks for sharing
talty (author)  bluemoon63 years ago
You're welcome, thanks for your nice words :)
mstyle1833 years ago
good luck.. looks great
talty (author)  mstyle1833 years ago
Thank you and thank you!!!
sunshiine3 years ago
Very pretty! Thanks for posting this. I think I am going to try making some clay stuff. It looks like fun.
talty (author)  sunshiine3 years ago
Thank you! It's a lot of fun, I hope you'll have fun trying it :D please let me know if you need help with something!
sunshiine talty3 years ago
Voted!
talty (author)  sunshiine3 years ago
Thank you! I'm sure it will help me a lot!
sunshiine talty3 years ago
I will! I probably won't do it until this winter. I have a lot of things coming up but in the winter I get a little bored. We have a lot of outdoor stuff going on. Anyway I will take you up on that offer! Thanks so much!
talty (author)  sunshiine3 years ago
It's actually a good idea to start until winter, when it's hot the clay can get too soft to handle. It's easier to work when it's cold, and you also get a bit less distracted xD

You are welcome!
scoochmaroo3 years ago
Beautiful!
talty (author)  scoochmaroo3 years ago
Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it :D