Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ylluria's Guide to Making Faces

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make little polymer clay faces..?  When I first started making my own, I had -no idea- what to do, where to begin, or how to craft them, so I just shot from the hip.  Below, you'll find what I do to make my little polymer clay wall-hangings, ornaments, and other fantastical doodads- be they bellydancer, wizard, witch, troll, goblin or imp.

First things first:  Decide what you want!
In many other mediums, one can normally just kinda start scribbling or chiseling or working from scratch, w/o much of a pre-conceived idea of what they want to eventually create.  But when it comes to polymer clay, it's usually pretty wise to get a basic idea of what you want to make, so you can choose the right clays, colors, and tools you'll need.  So first, get an image of what you want in your mind.  It doesn't have to be super-clear, but it does have to have a few basic characteristics:  Namely; color, size, subject, theme (if any beyond the subject), and material(s). 

For example, for my Green Man, I pondered a vaguely two-tone creature, around hand-size, male (and pretty darned masculine), who'd have a green face that was ringed in leaves.  And to make him, I needed at least 2 colors of green polyclay, faux jewels for the eyes, a metal picture hanger for mounting on the back, some type of fixative, epoxy or adhesive to adhere the picture hanger to the back of the piece, and clear spray lacquer, for a protective, glossy finish.  As for size, it was pretty safe to say that this project would require at least half a "brick" of clay for the base (a brick being those little 4-lined portions they sell at most craft stores- in about 18 million colors ;)), and at least one other brick of another shade of green, to act as a contrasting accent color. J 

-But don't be scared by all that now! At this stage, you can start out with a SIMPLE face, and either make it bald, or give it pretty, simple hair.  (So fellow Virgos, stress not. ;))  Depending on your initial idea, you could easily start this project with 2 introductory colors; say.. a base for your face's "skin," and a color for its brows and/or hair. J  And don't worry about needing hardware or fixatives either.  You canjust plan a bit ahead, and make a place at the top of your creation where you can poke a hole in it, so it can be strung w/yarn, string, or wire- depending on whatever you have on-hand. J

So, imagining done?  Got your character in mind..?  Great!  Next, choose & condition your clay! 
Personally, I use Sculpey III, as it tends to be nice and soft already, w/o requiring too much conditioning (a process where you squeeze, roll and twist the clay over and over again, to get it nice & soft, so it can be molded w/o splitting, breaking or cracking).  Some people use pasta machines to soften their clay, but that can be messy and is wholly unnecessary for the beginning sculptor, so right now we're just gonna use our hands. J  Conditioning must be done first before -any- sculpting can be done, to every color that you use, so don't forget to mash, squish, blend, ball, and re-mash -all- your clay before you start. ;) 

In earlier years, I used to use Fimo, but that stuff practically bruised my hands to pieces (and I do not exaggerate here; this stuff -literally- used to bruise my palms, when I had to work with a lot), so eventually I moved to a new product, and I've found Sculpey III works quite well. J  It molds easily, has an even consistency, and fires evenly in the oven.  (Yep, that's right!  You get to harden these babies in your regular ol' oven, instead of needing some fancy kiln! ^_^)  But you can use any brand you like.  Just remember to start off w/the skin or base color that you need, or be prepared to hand-blend (i.e. mix to a color you desire) a new hue, 'cause polymer clays often come in colors- so they don't have to be painted. J

Next up, the bases of your faces.  ^_^ 

You can make your faces as small or as large as you like, but personally, I tend to make mine arooound palm-sized- so the final piece is roughly hand-sized; once the full piece is finished. J  This way, the work isn't too, too small, nor is it large and unwieldy for travel, hanging, etc. (as they can often be used as holiday ornaments). ;D  Plus, in the off chance that something goes wrong, w/a smaller piece you don't lose too much clay, which is always a bonus. J  So if you're going my way, get a ball of clay that's about an inch and a half in diameter, and be sure it's niiice and pre-conditioned, so it's good n' soft.  (And if you've hand-blended the color, make sure there are no striations in the clay- unless you want it to have a wood-grained or streaky appearance.)  

Next, begin to flatten the back- either with the palm of your other hand, or by -gently- tapping it against a flat surface. (Note:  Be careful here.  Conditioned polyclay often picks up -everything- it comes in contact with, so make sure your workspace is clean & free of debris like bits of food, crumbs, pet hair & the like.)  As you flatten, imagine the kind of face shape you want your character to have.  Is his face long and slender?  Or does he have a round, squat appearance? Does he have a pointy chin?  Or does she have a strong, wide jaw..?  As you flatten your ball, use your thumbs and the cup of your hand to try & guide the piece in the direction of your character's face shape, so you don't have to do as much work later. 

Once you've got your face's back relatively flat, you should have what's essentially a half-circle, or an ovular mound of clay.  From here, refine your face's outer shape by molding carefully, but don't bee too concerned w/the middle yet. Once you get it about where you want it, next, it's time for the eyes!  Look at your ball of clay and imagine your character's finished product overlapping the clay's surface" and map out where you want the eyes.  This should be somewhere between 2 to 3 fifths the way down your character's face, to even half way, depending on how much forehead you want your face to have. J Now take the sides of your index fingers (or your pinkies, depending on how big you want your eye sockets to be), and make indentations in the clay, representing your face's eye sockets.  Vary your pressure depending on how deeply set you want the eyes to be, but try not to push alllll the way through your clay. (Leave at least a quarter of an inch below each socket, so your piece is less likely to bend or break post-firing.)  You can use the tops of your nails to create a nice arch for your eye sockets, but leave things pretty basic, until after you're begun working w/the nose, 'cause things may change shape as your work progresses.

Next, contour the "bones" of your face by pulling the sides of your piece together.  Work slowly and gradually, so you don't have to "undo" later.  (Since with polymer clay, there is no "Back" or "Erase" function.  You can always smooth things over, mold features, and move things around, but if a piece -really- goes wrong, the only absolute Reset is squishing your piece up into a ball again and starting completely over- which STINKS.)  So go slow, and use your index finger and/or middle finger, along w/your thumb to "pinch" the face together, bit by bit. 

Once your character's features begin to take shape, it's time to start the nose!  At this point there should be a wonky, often double-edged ridge in the middle of your sculpture, from all that cheekbone-pinching you were doing earlier.  (At this stage, your face may look a bit like this.  Creepy I know, but don't let the "Beastmaster" Winged Creature look fool you.  You're closer to being done than you realize! ;D)  Fear not!  All you need to do now is smooth those ridges from the bottom up, pressing verrry lightly, going multip times over the same area (again, so you don't do too much), and stopping abruptly about 1/3rd the way up.  (TIP:  You can use one finger at the "bridge" of the nose to keep the rest of the clay from pushing too far upward on the face as you do this.  It often helps create the shape of the nose that much faster, too. J)  Once you've smoothed from the chin up a few times, you should see the nose more clearly now. J Here, just push gently on your face, just underneath that nose, to create an "upper lip."  You can pinch the nose in various directions to get the shape you want, being careful to narrow it by the corners of the eyes, and blend into the eye sockets.  (That is, depending on how aquiline you want your nose to be, how prominent the bridge and widely-set the eyes may be. J)  Once the nose has the relative shape you're looking for, you can create nasal folds (the outer edges of the nostril), by taking your fingernail and making a small indentation from the outer, bottom corner of the nose, and curling it upward and inward (so it makes a pinched "c" shape).  At this point you can lightly pinch the surface of the "c" you just made, to increase the dimension of the nasal folds, or pinch the sides of the nose a bit, to create depth above the nasal folds. 

Once you've done that, you can choose to push the sides of your face upwards -juuuust- a touch to make "cheeks," which will contrast in levels nicely w/your new nose, or leave it smooth, as you like. J  Or, you can change the texture of the nose here.  Wanna make your character a Bejoran?  Use your fingernail to notch tiny ridges in the bridge of the nose.  Wanna make your goblin look like he's had is schnaz broken a few too many times..?  Pinch the line of the nose in separate directions (again, GENTLY), so it has an uneven "S" shape.  Here, you can also softly press 2 fingers against the bottom of your nose and press up, to give it nostril indentations. J  (Or, if you want your character to "breathe," you can carefully poke holes into your face's new nose, using the end of a toothpick and wiggling it around a bit.) Or leave it flat, as you like.  J 

Once the nose is finished, you can move on to the brows of your face.  Here, you have a multitude of options.  You can either make small coils/worms/snakes out of polymer clay (being careful to keep them in proportion to your face) and shape them over the eyes using gentle pressure and placing them in whatever curve you like.  Or, you can take your fingernail again and roll it carefully from side to side, making indented eyebrows just above your face's eye sockets.  Or, if you'd like to use something like leaves or other matter on your face as a "brow substitute," now's the time. J  (For leaves, just flatten a bit of clay into a diamond shape, then round out the sides.  Then take a toothpick and draw a line up the center, and then use smaller lines branching out from that to create the veins.  -But again be careful not to go THROUGH the surface of the leaf- or it might come apart. ;))

Now that you're done w/the nose and the eyebrows, at this point you can also choose to use your fingernails to make indentations for the eyes.  Just press lightly to make a crecent shape above and below each eye- inside the socket, spacing them accordingly, however you like.  Some people like the corners to touch, while others dig leaving the eyes "open," so it looks like your character's eyes are extra wide- maybe to express challenge, or surprise. J  (Personally, I don't always use these, but I have found that these lines can be -great- guidelines for where to stop the "whites" of your character's eyes, should you eventually choose to paint your polyclay face later. J)

Next up, the mouth!  Here you have a few choices, so use whatever feels best to you.  Using either your nail or a toothpick (depending on the size, position and type of mouth you want) press the center line of your mouth into the clay, somewhere around the halfway point between your nose and the bottom-most line of the chin.  This is where your "lips" will meet, so start out small, and move gradually out to the edges, shaping the curvature of the line to your liking as you go.  (And again, as always, go slooowly, so in case you mess up or decide you don't want the mouth where you've put it, you smooth over your "woops" w/o too much effort.)  Once you've got the basic shape of that central line allllll figured out, you can use that toothpick to really deepen the mouth.  1. because we'll be using that depth to push excess clay up, giving us enough stuff to make the lips with, and 2., because a shallow mouth not only looks drawn on, but also leaves no extra "meat" for us to sculpt the lips with.  So go deep in the center (but again, NOT so deep as to pierce through the clay's back), and gradually go shallower as you near your mouth's sides.  Here you can take a popsicle stick, makeup stick or other flat, shallow tool to push your face's lips apart.  At this point you're not only shaping the inside surfaces of the lips, but smoothing out that inner surface, so it doesn't look like your poor character has a giant gash in his face for a mouth.  (Though if you're making a polymer zombie, this technique can be effective, if that's what you're going for. ;))  Push your character's mouth softly apart, shaping as you go, and being careful not to push too wide at the sides, where the corner of your character's mouth meet.  This should create a ridge on each side of your new mouth, from which you can work to shape and mold lips.    

Don't be too scared if your face looks a little out of shape at this point.  He might look like Bert from Sesame Street, a little wide and flappy at the mouth, with a hangy-ball chin.  But this will allll be corrected with sculpting and smoothing. Begin to pin inward like you did before, with the cheeks, starting at the outer edges of the mouth.  This should give your face a bit of an "oooh" expression, and tighten up the mouth's corners.  Next, bring the mouth together by pinching vertically below the nose and above the chin, on either side of your new "lips" and tilt the chin back up to level, so your mouth is as wide as you want it.   (But remember, since we didn't do teeth, you might wanna keep this gap relatively narrow.)  Once the mouth is in a more recognizably hinged position, slowly press on the lips' top edges, so you smooth them out and they're not as thin or jagged, from where you widened up the hole of the mouth at first.   Pinch, curl and taper your lips as you like, and try not to get too frustrated if this part doesn't look -exactly- like you want it to.  It's a small, fine area, so you should be able to mold and shape gradually until you get the precise shape you want, so long as you take your time and work slowly. J

And for that last finishing touch, once you've got the mouth pretty much finished, you can press a tinny indentation into your face; just above the top lip, where it meets the bottom of the nose n' nostrils.  This makes a baby philtrum, which helps create that Cupid's Bow effect. J  (I.e. that divot that we all have, just below the nose, that sits directly above the upper lip.)  Lastly, to add a little extra dimension, use your fingertip or fingertip's edge to push a little horizontal depression into your face, just below its lower lip, to emphasize the prominence of the chin. J  Now shape and round the chin as you like (or even use a fingernail or toothpick to make a cleft chin, and then smooth over to soften a bit- as you choose) and YOU'RE DONE!! ^_^

Since you're just starting out, at this stage, we won't worry about ears or horns or other attachments.  For now, we're just gonna give you one more option (a base for hair), work on that hair, poke a hole for hanging, and that'll be that. J 

At this point, you have one last option, before we get to hair.  If you want your hair to be grand and dramatic, sweeping far away from your new polymer face, it's wise to give it a base, so you have a surface to build the hair on, and so your polymer clay structure is more stable.  (If not however, you can go on to the next part, as this section is ENTIRELY optional. J)  For those who do want sweeping locks though, now's the time to  roll out some leftover clay, or maybe a bit clay scrap, in whatever color you like (it matters not, as you won't see it anywhere but on the back) into a sheet approx. 1/4 inch thick.  VERY gently place your new onto your new, thin sheet.  If you want your hair to wrap below your chin, leave space beneath your face so some of the base shows.  If not, match the lower edge of your face up with the lower edge of the base, and very slightly blend the back/bottom edge of the chin (NOT the front- this is the back- near the flat part, or where your "throat" would be) over the new base's edge. Then secure the face by pressing lightly, especially on the outsides of the piece (as you can tighten things up there if you need to- but not so much the finer details that you've just created toward the center.  Apply even pressure all over the sturdier parts of the face, but be super, SUPER gentle, so you SECURE your face to the new "mat," but do not distort it.  Lastly, once you feel the face is secure but not smooshed, cut out the general shape that you want your hair to follow, and move on to the next step. J 

And now, it's time for hair!  YYYYES!!!  *fistpump*  Get ready to be polymer stylists, y'all! :DFor hair, we can do a number of things:
·        You can picture your character's overall hairstyle, make a sheet of polymer clay in your second, contrasting color, then cut that shape out using craft scissors (NOT your kitchen scissors, as polymer clay may be non-toxic, but is NOT meant to be mixed with food or ingested), or tracing around it over and over with a toothpick to separate the clay.  From there you'd place the sheet of "hair" onto your face wherever you'd want it (like decorating a paper doll), press gently wherever it touches the base of your face, so the 2 attach, then use a toothpick or other tool to create striations in the clay, carving a bit of depth into the hair & mimicking the look & shape of natural strands. J  (In other words, press the "sheet" of hair down, then "draw" the hair in using lines of pressure with a toothpick.)  And if you've used the "base" option above, be sure to blend the edges of your 2 "sheets" together too, so the hair's not only stuck to your face's "skin," but is blended w/your base, in places where the hair meets the back.  You don't want to -see- the blending (unless you flip the piece over), but the blending helps secure one sheet to the other, thus making a much stronger piece of polymer clay. J
·        You can use coils, braids, and other shapes to adorn your face's perimeter, layering and shaping as you go.  (For example, making lots of little coils in curves or spirals, and one by one, placing them around your polymer face, framing it as you like.)  Regardless of whether you used the base or the stand-alone face method, be sure to use gentle but firm pressure on your coils as you place them, so you can be certain that they adhere.  You wanna make sure they stay in place before and after baking, for a long time to come!  If you like, you can also use a toothpick with this method to add extra texture, by drawing on strands. J
·        Lastly, you can "add attachments," as I call it, and make things like mohawks, sprouts of hair on either side of your character's head, or piece other random bits of hair on by sculpting a bit of 3D hair as you like it, then pressing it gently but firmly down onto whatever spot you want it.  (For example, for a Mohawk, you can craft a mini 3D hawk out of a fat coil, pinched to elongate in a ridge at the top, then press it down onto your character's face, gently but firmly, where you want it.)  And again, with either the base or the base-less method, it's encouraged that you take the back edge of your hair and blend it into whatever it's sitting on, for added structural strength.  Blend in back so it's not visible from the front, but so your hair has an "anchor" to the rest of the piece, beyond a shadow of a doubt. J
And with ALL 3 options, as you decorate, keep in mind that you'll need -somewhere- to poke a hole through the top.  So try and leave a flatter space, or sacrificable area for where there will eventually be a hole in your project.  Try and keep the saved space for your hole around half an inch to 2/5ths of an inch away from the edge of your piece, so you don't risk the weight of your sculpture causing the eventual hole to crack, split, or break.  Strong edges mean strong pieces, and strong pieces are ALWAYS a good thing. J

Now, it's time for piercing!
At this point, whether you used a toothpick or not to decorate your clay, you're going to need one to poke a hole through it. J  Note that spot that you allotted for sacrifice in the top of your design just a step or so ago?  Yep, right there.  Now, aiming carefully, poke that booger.  Place the tip of the toothpick in and geeently push.  (Don't just stab, or you might end up carving into something you just took half an hour to sculpt. ;))  Keeping the toothpick impaled through your piece, carefully pick up your piece (level it on your palm- don't just pick it up vertically like a dead fish, or verrrry bad things will happen to your new work of art), make sure your hole has gone all the way through.  Deeeelicately wiggle the toothpick so its entirety can travel through the hole (not just the point- so you can be sure your string, yarn, or other hanging implement will go through the hole), and then place it on a cookie sheet that you no longer use for food- if you can help it (as again, you don't want polyclay and food products to mix). 

Now bake according the manufacturer's instructions on the side/back of the polyclay wrapper, and you're golden!  Let the piece cool fully once it's done baking before you remove it from the cookie sheet (which should come right up w/o a spatula or other foreign implement), et voila!  YOU'RE DONE! ^_^


Overachiever's Corner
At this point, if you've decided to go further with your project, you can pretty much do anything you like to your brand new piece- within chemical and structural reason. ;)  You can paint it with acrylic paints, decorate it with jewels & rhinestones, or use other items like lace, found objects, fabrics, or other doodads to spice up your design (using epoxies or other fixatives like E6000 glue- which is what I use- as it holds well and doesn't tend to yellow or cloud jewels from their backs like some other brands can).  You can also use non-traditional mediums to adorn polyclay- even if it isn't in the Polyclay aisle. ;D  Puff paints, certain fabric paints, and other materials work on polymer clays as well, so long as they're acrylic/plastic based. J  (For example, I've used touches of nail polish on a few of my newest pieces, in lieu of paints when I was bereft of proper supplies.  They can be nice and sheer, blendable and glossy, but I'd recommend those -only- in tiny places, for things like highlights and touches of color.  -And ALWAYS with some kind of varnish or lacquer for sealing & protection on top.) 

And lastly, that brings me to my final tip!  If you like, you can choose to leave your piece with a matte finish (which is the way it -should- come out of your oven, unless something bizarre and questionable has happened). ;)  However, if you're like me, you can also choose to seal and varnish your piece q/some type of lacquer.  They make these in matte and gloss finishes, but personally, I -dig- shine, so most of my pieces have a glassy, polished finish. J  Generally I like to use spray lacquers (since they don't leave brush strokes), but brush-on kinds can work just as well, so use whatever you're comfortable with. J 

And that, my friends, is it!  I hope you've enjoyed the above wordy instruction-blog, and if you have -any- questions, feel free to comment here. J  Oh!  And if you do decide to make your own faces using the instructions above, won't you please let us see?  It'd be grant to observe what you've created, in response to may wacky, verbose, artsy-craftsy meanderings. ;)  All the best, and happy crafting!


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