Introduction: Let's Make a Nudibranch From Polymer Clay!

About: Hello, my name is Josh. I am a chronic skeptic, and constant tinkerer, and an expert at failure.

My name is Josh. :waves hello: I am a biologist and decidedly amateur crafter.  I have lived on the Atlantic Coast my whole life; as such, sea life fascinates me no end.  I chose the Play with Clay Contest as a way to share one favorite animal of mine: the nudibranch, sometimes called a sea slug.  Nudibranches are gastropods with soft bodies, often brightly colored, and are found in many parts of the world.  The Big "W" has a pretty good run down on them if you would like more info.

For this project, I am using Nembrotha cristata (that's the species name) as my model.  I love this species because it looks like some kind of mutant cross between a stegosaurus and Slurms MacKenzie.

I used the first two images above (not mine) found on: (the upright pic) and flickr ("face" view)
The third picture is the final product of this instructible.

Now that the intro is done, let's get started.

First, a few notes about health and safety. 

Be smart, use common sense (don't eat the clay, things like that).  Follow manufacturers instructions when baking polymer clay... seriously, nothing sucks more than burning your clay, and the fumes are probably not too good for the lungs. 

Aside from that, be care when working with sharp tools.  Craft blades, clay cutters, etc. are all sharp and pointy and stabby.  Let's not lose any fingers or draw any blood during this project.  Some artists believe in suffering for their work; I do not hold to this point of view.

Onward to materials!

Step 1: Step 1. Materials and Tools

For this project, we need the follow:

-  2 packs of navy blue polymer clay (I used a blue granite, because I hate it and wanted to use it up)
-  1 pack of glow in the dark polymer clay (could us a neon-looking yellow green, but you won't get the neat effect later on)
-  Copper tubing or something similar to use as a "backbone" -- even though it's an invertebrate (science be damned!).
-  A small weight of some kind, like a pebble, pennies, or the inner part of a skate bearing.
-  Mineral oil or X-brand clay conditioner (optional, only if your clay is being a jerk, like mine was)
-  Water-based sealer
-  Toothpicks (for emergency support)

-  Needle-nose pliers
-  Ruler
-  Pick/something pointy (comes in handy)
-  Sharpie
-  Hacksaw (I recommend a plumber's hacksaw, which is much smaller, but uses a regular-size blade)
-  Sheet metal shears (if you get sick of sawing... like I did)
-  Sand paper
-  Something to roll your clay (pasta machine, rolling pin, etc.)
-  Clay cutter
-  Craft Knife
-  Work Surface
-  Wax paper and tape to hold it down
-  Small paint brushes
-  Patience... lots of patience.

Step 2: 2. Cut and Bend Copper Tubing

1. Measure a length of copper tubing, about 8cm (Yup, metric, I'm a scientist) or so, mark it with a sharpie and then cut. 
2. Sand the ends of the piece of tubing, to remove any of the sharp bits.
3. Grip the copper tubing with the needle nose pliers, about 2/3 down the length.
4. Holding firm in the pliers, use your free hand to pull on the longer length of the tubing until you have a nice angle for the "neck" of the nudibranch, not 90 degrees, but say about 60 or so.
5.  Readjusting, use the pliers and your free hand to bend a small "head" shape into the shorter side.  See picture for clarity.

Step 3: 3. Preparing Your Glow in the Dark Clay.

1. Wash and dry your hands; fingernails too.  Seriously, you need clean hands for this, especially for the lighter-colored clays. 

2. Condition your lighter clay.  Take your time to do this the right way.  Roll it in your hands to warm it up, form snakes with it, bend them over, roll again, etc.  Then roll them out with your roller, fold it up and knead some more.  It's important to get the clay to the right consistency, otherwise it starts to flake and brake and make a mess of your project.  Not that I am speaking from experience or anything (looks around nervously).

3. Form a tree shape about 1cm thick, and, oooh, say, 5cm tall.  Pictured below (sorry for the blur... I have no idea).  Put aside for a few.

4. Form a thin snake with the remaining light colored clay and cut off a few pellets, pea-sized and smaller.  Roll the rest of the clay into a flay sheet and cut strips out of it.  Put all that aside for a few.

5. Take a break for patience's sake.

Step 4: 4. Preparing Your Dark Blue Clay.

Remember, we're working on something that looks like a living thing, so some finger prints and minor creases are ok.  You'll see, trust me.

1. Condition your navy clay as you did in Step 4.

For the body of our nudibranch:

2. Form a tapered snake of clay (snake?  I thought we were making a nudibranch!?!), about 3cm at one end and 1.5cm at the other.  Total length around 10cm, more or less.  Eyeball it, it's ok. 

3.  Cut your claysnake down the middle lengthwise, 2/3 through, separating slightly. Basically we're making a slot for the copper tubing.

4. Positioning the clay so your seam will be on the bottom, wrap the clay around the tubing, forming our stegosaurus shape.  Put aside for a while.

For the leafy-looking "fins:"

5. Roll out some of the remaining dark clay, cut in 1cm wide strips, and wrap your glow in the dark tree with it.  Then fill in with more dark clay until you have the medallion pictured.

6. Gently squish and rotate your medallion to smaller diameter and longer length, until it's about 1.5cm in diameter.  This is creating a clay cane, btw, and it's a core technique for polymer clay (or millifiore glass work, if your into searing hot glass).  Let this cane sit for a little while to firm up.  We'll be slicing 2mm slices from this in due time using the clay cutter.

Step 5: 5. Make Dino Special!

1. Press some strips of glowing clay around the perimeter of the base of your nudibranch, and up the center of it's neck, and on it's chin.  Try to press the edges so that they are flush with the blue clay.

2. Grab your glowing dots and press them onto your nudibranch, randomly, but well covered.  Leave some space on the back for the leafy fin things, and some space on the head for "antennae" and "eyes"  (that's not what they are in real life, but they sure look like 'em!).

3. Make some simple antennae with leftover blue and glowing clay, along with some eyes.  Attach when ready, Gridley!

4. If you haven't already done so, cut some 2mm thick slices from your cane.  Press them a bit thinner, then cup them together like they are flower petals.  This was the only way I could think of to attach them to the back of our nudibranch.

5. Add any more glowing dots or strips of clay you think your nudibranch needs.  Set aside to firm up.

6.  Baking.  Hmmm, well, baking.  I didn't bother.  I just coated mine in a thin layer of water-based sealer... three times.  This would be a hard one to bake in a standard toaster oven.  If you have a regular oven devoted to crafting, go for it.  If I make this again, I might try to use a heat gun on low to bake the outside, but, meh, maybe not.

7.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Play With Clay Contest

Participated in the
Play With Clay Contest