Polymer Colour Blending

Friday, January 25, 2013

Emma Ralph shows you how to add dramatic shading to polymer clay projects and millefiori canes with two different colour blending methods

Overlap and Skinner blends are two popular ways to create colourful blended sheets of polymer clay. Each technique is worth learning - the principles are broadly similar for both, but they each give very different results. The Overlap blend delivers narrow bands of colour which haze together almost electrically. More subtle, sunset-like graduated sheets of clay can be made using the Skinner blend method. Skinner Blends take their name from polymer clay artist Judith Skinner, who adapted the technique for polyclay from the world of screen printing. These blends are most easily made using a pasta machine, since you will be rolling out the clay multiple times. That said, it is certainly possible to produce either blend by hand. To hand roll, use an acrylic hand roller and rolling guides, taping the guides to the work surface to prevent the blend widening as you roll.


Step 1

Overlap Step 1

Form several clay logs and flatten them slightly with your fingertips. Lay the logs side by side, overlapping each slightly with its neighbour. Each log will become a band of colour in the finished blend - so the thicker the log, the wider the band it will make. Try to use colours that contrast well against each other but still form an attractive shade when mixed with their neighbour. 

Step 2

 Overlap Step 2

Set the pasta machine to its widest setting. With the logs running vertically, feed in the clay and roll it out. Fold the resulting sheet in half, top to bottom. You can mis-align the colours slightly for a softer finished blend or match them more closely if you prefer the blending between colours a little crisper. Run the folded clay through the pasta machine once more, starting from the fold.

Step 3

Overlap Step 3

Keep folding and rolling the clay in the same way, always rolling from the fold with the lines running vertically. After several repetitions the colours will start to blend together. Stop when happy with the blend's appearance. You can use shapes cut from the blend as a base for earrings and pendants. Alternatively, form shaded beads by wrapping the blend around a log of scrap clay and cutting it into sections.



Step 1

Skinner Step 1

Form right-angled triangles from two different colours of clay. Make each thin enough to be fed into the pasta machine. An easy method is to take each colour in turn and roll it into a rectangular sheet. Cut the sheet in half diagonally, stack the two halves together and then trim into a neat triangle. When both triangles are made, align their edges to form a two-toned rectangle as shown.

Step 2

Skinner Step 2

Carefully fold the rectangle in half top-to-bottom, so the fold runs horizontally. Set the pasta machine to its widest setting and roll the clay, fold first, into a sheet. Fold the clay in half again, folding top to bottom as before. Again starting from the fold, roll the clay through the pasta machine. Continue folding and rolling, always folding the sheet top to bottom and rolling it from the fold.

Step 3

Skinner Step 3

After several repetitions, the sheet will take on a banded appearance. Continue rolling and folding as before until the bands of colour start to blend together. When the sheet appears seamlessly blended, give it a few more passes through the pasta machine just for luck! You don't want to use the Skinner blend in a project or millefiori cane only to find it wasn't completely blended throughout.

Step 4

Skinner Step 4

If making millefiori canes, try lengthening the blend first. Select a thinner setting on the pasta machine. Fold the Skinner blend in half top to bottom as before, but this time feed it through the machine narrow end first. The resulting clay ribbon can be spiralled up for making bull's-eye and leaf canes. Alternatively fold it up accordion-style and compress into a block for use in geometric or striped canes.



Skinner Blends are difficult to control if you don't use enough clay. For the best results, use at least half a block of each colour and try to work to the full width of the pasta machine

Don't worry if the edges of your blends become uneven as you roll. Just focus your attention on the main area of the blend and trim away any raggedy edges afterwards

You don't need to be a colour addict to enjoy blending. Monochromatic blends of black and white clay are also incredibly effective



Polymer clay in various colours

Pasta machine or a hand roller and rolling guides

Tissue blade

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