Intro: Zentangled Polymer Clay Earrings
These earrings are really pretty and quite easy to make. Zentangle is a fun way to create beautiful images using structured patterns, usually lines, squares, squiggles, dots, or whatever strikes your fancy. The idea is that the process of creating a Zentangle "increases focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well-being," (Source: https://www.zentangle.com). I started out by learning the basic designs on the Zentangle website, practicing on paper (or those printed agendas one receives during staff meetings), and soon I discovered that the completed "doodles" are quite beautiful - art in its own right! I bought a Zentangle kit and haven't looked back since. It's a very relaxing and satisfying art form!
Step 1: Materials List
Now, for the earrings.
- White polymer clay - I use Sculpey's Premo
- Translucent liquid clay - I use Sculpey brand
- Clay-dedicated rolling pin - I use an acrylic rod
- Optional: clay-dedicated pasta machine
- Round or shaped cookie cutter - your choice
- Plastic wrap or old plastic grocery bag
- Black permanent marker - I used FaberCastel Pitt Artist Pen
- Heat gun
- Oven or polymer clay crafting oven
- Ceramic tile or sturdy cardstock for curing clay in oven
- Earring findings: hook earwires, jump rings
- Chain-nose pliers
- Dremel or hand drill for drilling holes in clay after baking or toothpick to pierce clay before baking
- 320, 440, 600, 800, and 1000 grit wet-dry sandpaper
- Optional: Felt buffing wheel for Dremel - I make my own following directions on THIS SITE
Step 2: Shape and Bake the Polymer Clay Beads
- Condition the white polymer clay by hand or by machine.
- By Hand: Roll 1/2 of a block into a long log, fold it in half, repeat until the clay is soft and smooth.
- By Machine: Use the rolling pin to roll 1/2 block flat and then roll through the clay conditioning machine on its thickest setting. Fold the resulting sheet in half and insert clay, fold first, into the machine and roll again. Repeat 10-20 times until clay is soft and smooth.
- Roll a flat, smooth sheet about 1/8" thick or on the thickest setting of the clay conditioning machine and set on smooth work surface. I use a marble tile that I picked up from a local home improvement store.
- Cover the clay sheet with a piece of plastic wrap or plastic grocery bag, smoothing out any wrinkles.
- Using a cutter of choice, cut two earring shapes, pressing firmly into the plastic and down to the work surface. The plastic will stretch a bit, making nice curved edges. The cutter might cut through the plastic, but that is OK. Just make sure to remove the plastic before curing in the oven.
- Using your fingers, carefully smooth the edges of the clay, removing any wrinkles the plastic may have caused. You will be sanding these edges later, but the smoother they are now, the less sanding you will have to do later.
- Carefully transfer your two earring beads to a baking tile or piece of cardstock. Place the tile or cardstock on a baking sheet.
- If you prefer to make the holes for the jump rings before baking, now is the time to do this. Use a toothpick or needle tool to pierce a hole in the bead. Try to position the hole so the bead will dangle evenly and not tilt to one side.
- Preheat your oven to the temperature listed on the polymer clay's package. Cure (bake) your pieces in the preheated oven for the amount of time recommended on the package. Every clay brand is different, but Premo recommends 265 degrees Farenheit for 20 minutes per 1/4" of material. While polymer clay is certified non-toxic, it is recommended that you ensure adequate ventilation and that you don't breathe any of the baking fumes. I usually don't notice any fumes unless I have over-baked the clay or baked at a too-high temperature. Set a timer and use an oven thermometer and you won't have this problem. But do check your oven for accurate temperature. Temperature spikes could cause the clay to scorch, so be aware of that. All this to say: Use common sense and enlist the help of a "Grown Up Helper" if you need one, and you'll be fine.
- Remove beads from oven and allow to cool.
Step 3: Wet-Sand the Polymer Clay Beads
Once the cured polymer clay beads are cooled, it's time to wet-sand any imperfections and create a smooth surface for drawing your design. This step is optional if you prefer a matte finish, but I like the smooth, glassy feel of sanded polymer clay. I think it looks more professional, too.
- Polymer clay can be sanded, but it needs to be done with water, in order to avoid breathing "polymer clay dust." Set up your sanding area with a towel, a small bowl or container for cool water, a sponge, and your various grits of wet-dry sandpaper. (See picture)
- Wrap the 320 grit sandpaper around the sponge and dip it into the water to get it wet. Dip your bead in the water to wet it too. Now, set your bead on the sandpaper-wrapped sponge, and very gently, rub the bead on the sandpaper in a circular motion, without much pressure. Tip: Sandpaper works better with a light touch rather than with pressure. This seemingly counter-intuitive tip actually has some science behind it. By allowing the grains of grit on the sandpaper to "roll" on the polymer clay, lubricated by the water, the grit has a better chance of catching the surface bumps and scratches and smoothing them out. You don't have to spend a lot of time on this step, either. You will know that the sandpaper is working when you see a light-colored film gathering on the sandpaper. That's the sanding dust of the polymer clay!
- Dip the bead in water again, and gently sand the curved edges made by the plastic wrap before baking.
- If desired, sand the back of the bead in the same way as the front.
- Now, replace the 320 grit sandpaper with 440, and repeat the process outlined above, dipping the bead in water to keep everything cool and lubricated.
- Repeat this process with finer and finer grade of sandpaper, ending with 1000 grit.
- This whole step should only take a few minutes, and very little elbow grease.
Note: You can skip the sanding step, but your finished bead will not be very smooth and glossy. If you prefer a matte finish, then by all means, skip the sanding. It is entirely up to you. You are the designer!
Step 4: Draw Your Design on the Beads and Heat-set the Ink
Now for the fun part! Draw your Zentangle design! A few things to keep in mind:
- You may want to drill the hole in the bead now if you didn't do it when the clay was uncured. I drilled my holes after I drew the designs, and I had a little bit of smudging.
- Make sure the bead is completely dry and free of any grease or oils. A quick swipe with some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball would do the trick if you want to be absolutely certain.
- Wash your hands before completing this step to avoid greasy fingerprints on the surface.
- Use good light, a comfortable chair, and a fresh pen.
- Try to avoid touching the drawing surface after you have drawn your design. Even though the ink is permanent, it can smear at this stage.
- When you are finished drawing, set the ink by either curing in the oven for 5 minutes on the same temperature you cured the clay, or use your heat gun. If using a heat gun, hold the tip about 2" away from the bead and keep the gun moving in small circles. It's easy to scorch the clay with the gun. Heat for about a minute with the heat gun. Allow the beads to cool.
Step 5: Seal the Ink Drawing With Translucent Liquid Polymer Clay
Almost finished! Even though you heat-set the ink in the last step, it may still smear with wear, so I recommend a thin coat of translucent liquid polymer clay. The clay becomes clear when cured, and protects the drawing permanently. Again, this step may be optional, if you feel the ink will not smear or you are not bothered by minor smears here and there. Alternatively, you could varnish the clay beads with Varathane Clear Polyurethane varnish. That's the brand I recommend for polymer clay, the water-based brush-on kind, not the aerosol spray kind. However you finish your beads, it's entirely up to you!
- Preheat your oven to the recommended temperature listed on the liquid clay bottle. The liquid clay I used required 275 degrees Fahrenheit. (It's OK to bake beads more than once).
- Squeeze out a line of translucent liquid polymer clay on top of your cooled, beautiful bead. Don't use too much liquid clay. A little goes a long way. Too much will spill over the edge and not look very good on the finished bead.
- Spread the clay to the edges with your finger, making sure all of the ink areas are covered.
- Try to keep the liquid clay as smooth as possible. Liquid clay is somewhat self-leveling, but it's always good to smooth out any obvious ridges. Your finger is the best tool for this job. The liquid clay easily wipes off your finger with a paper towel. It is virtually impossible to remove from a paint brush, so if you choose a paintbrush, dedicate it to liquid clay from this point forward.
- Place your coated beads back on your baking surface and cure in the oven for 15 minutes or the required time listed on the liquid clay bottle.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Step 6: Add the Earring Findings and Enjoy!
When the beads are cooled (or dried if you used varnish), it is time to add the earring findings and proudly wear these beautiful works of art!
- With your chain-nose pliers, twist open a jump ring and insert it into the hole in the bead. Bend the jump ring back together.
- Connect a second jump ring - it can be larger or smaller, or be decorative as you wish.
- Connect the ear wire and use the chin-nose pliers to ensure there are no gaps in the rings, or the earring may come apart. I am paranoid about this, so sometimes I solder the connections closed with some lead-free solder and my trusty soldering iron. If you do this, just be careful not to burn the polymer clay. (It happens, believe me!)
Taking it Further
There are lots of possible variations on this idea, and I'm sure you can think of other designs. Here are some suggestions:
- Use different colors of polymer clay. Pearl, gold, or even black clay would work!
- Use a different color pen to draw the designs. The pens I used for this project seem to work best for me, considering the coverage and the amount of smearing I experienced. I've heard of others using Sharpie pens, but some have said that Sharpies eventually "feather out" on the clay, creating a blurred image. I don't know why this happens, but I've read that it has something to do with the chemical make-up of the clay and the ink in the Sharpie pen.
- Try using a white Signo Gel Pen on darker clay, especially black.
- I've seen Zentangles drawn on rocks, and I think it would be easy to substitute polymer clay for the rocks!
- Color the white clay with alcohol inks, bake, but don't sand, and then draw on the designs with the ink pen. Ooo, I think I will try that one next.
- Other suggestions???