6 Expert Tips for Creating Marbled Polymer Clay Beads

It's my pleasure to welcome Ronna Sarvas Weltman, contributing editor to Step by Step Wire Jewelry and a polymer clay and wirework instructor.  Ronna will be teaching classes at Bead Fest Philadelphia and Bead Fest Portland this year.  She is the author of the new book Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry.  Her book covers a range of innovative techniques to help you create wearable art jewelry that is both organic and sophisticated.  Not only does the book include step-by-step instructions for specific jewelry projects, it's also packed with helpful design tips.  Plus, don't miss the new polymer clay bead design challenge at the end of this newsletter.–Michelle Mach, Beading Daily editor 

Creating Marbled Polymer Clay Beads

by Ronna Sarvas Weltman

Bead Guilt 

If you’re like me, you’d rather not talk about how much you’ve spent on beads in your lifetime or how many of those beads have yet to be used in a piece of jewelry. Oh, the guilt!

Making your own beads out of polymer clay enables you to make them for a tiny fraction of the cost you’d pay for most beads. More important, you can make them exactly the size, shape and color you want. 

6 Tips for Creating Marbled Polymer Clay Beads

Polymer clay’s marbling properties enable you to achieve sophisticated and nuanced effects in your beads, disks, spacers and embellishments. There is no mystique to marbling polymer clay. You simply put different colors together and blend them by rolling in your hands or using a roller or a pasta machine. It’s easy to get a fabulous marble if you pay attention to these pointers:

1.  Always use colors that look good together. If the colors that are being blended are not harmonious, the marble blend won’t look good.

2.  Be sure to include dramatic contrasts. If all the colors in a marble blend are similar, it may be boring. All of my marbled blends have either black or white in them, and most have both.

3.  Pay attention to the saturation levels of different clays. A little black, for instance, goes a lot farther than a little white. Use highly-saturated colors in significantly smaller proportions to other colors. 

4.  Experiment with using translucent clay, which adds depth to marble blends, particularly if the beads are polished with shoe polish or wet/dry sandpaper after baking, or dipped in an ice-water bath to increase the translucent polymer clay’s transparency. 

5.  Pay attention to how colors will combine. Green and purple, for instance, can sometimes be fun together, but blend them together and you get mud.

6.  Finally – and perhaps most importantly – keep blending. Yes, sadly, if you blend too much, you’ll end up with a solid color, and it can be difficult to judge when you’ve passed the point of no return, but the vast majority of people will stop blending too soon. So take a risk and roll it or run it through the pasta machine again…and again.  

You'll find many more tips in my book Ancient Modern, including how to create your own organic-style jewelry from polymer clay and wire, unique texturing techniques for polymer clay and wire, and design considerations to take your necklaces, bracelets, earrings and pins into the art-to-wear realm. I've arranged the projects in order of difficulty, so it's easy for you to continually expand and perfect your wirework and polymer clay skills. Although I’d rather not talk about how much I used to spend on pricey beads and gemstones, I do love to talk about designing your own beautifully-unique and affordable beads from polymer clay and wire. I look forward to chatting with you about polymer clay, wire, and jewelry design.

If you have questions or comments for Ronna, please post them on the website.

New Bead Challenge! 

To celebrate Ronna's new book, we're holding a polymer clay bead design challenge.  Create your own polymer clay bead, send in a photo, and you could win one of two handcrafted set of beads made by Ronna herself.  Deadline to enter is June 5, 2009.  Read the full contest rules.

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Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at beadingdaily@interweave.com or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  www.michellemach.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/beadsandbooks Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

13 thoughts on “6 Expert Tips for Creating Marbled Polymer Clay Beads

  1. I’ve long been intrigued by the possibility of making my own faux “gemstones” w/polymer clay, especially as I often can’t find what I want for a certain project. My last experience w/clay was so painful, however, that I haven’t picked it up for years. Is there anything to make it easier to work for hands getting more arthritic as they get closer to 60 than 50?

  2. You make polymer clay sound very intriguing, and as soon as I can I’ll have to give it a try- and not just as a remedy for “Bead Guilt”.
    But then “Bead Guilt” isn’t always a bad thing: once the gulilt gets too much it forces me to pick out those old beads and make something- then usually it works out great as I re-discover the reason for buying them in the first place!

  3. Wow ! I love what I see. I have been making jewelry for a number of years & have sold much. However I do get bored & I have been buying clay & have a shoe box getting pretty full. My husband bought me a toaster oven BUT I have been unable to find a book or magazine that starts you out from scratch. Anything I have seen so far makes it sound like I know what I’m doing. I need some very basic advise to just get me started. Is your book for real beginners? Heather

  4. Hi all. What fun to have an opportunity to connect, chat … and help. So let me just jump in and answer your questions …

    Ellena, who is no doubt a sweet young thing but whose hands keep reminding her she’s closer to 60 than 50, wanted to know about working with polymer clay without getting stiff hands. Ellena, have you tried working with Premo clay? It is softer than most of the other clays. Studio by Sculpey is the very softest polymer clay, but it is so soft that some people find it frustrating — every little fingerprint shows up. Also, the more you condition the clay (squishing/rolling it with your hands or with a roller or pasta machine) the softer it gets. Finally, warmer temperatures yield softer, more malleable clay. Hopefully, these tips will fix it, but if your hands are particularly sensitive, maybe you want to save your clay play days for summertime?

    Heather asked whether my book is suitable for beginners. Although I wrote it intending it to be a guidebook for people looking to make art jewelry with clay, it certainly includes the basics, and the projects start with basic techniques and then move on to more advanced techniques. I was chatting with a woman the other day who got an advance copy of my book, even though she had never used polymer clay before. She said that although she was just looking at the book out of curiosity, she ended up running to her local craft store and buying polymer clay, and was able to not just get up and running, but was thrilled with what she created (and was already percolating about her next project). I think one of the happy byproducts of my style being primitive and organic is that most of the techniques are also quite simple.

    That being said, if you still find yourself reluctant to jump in, consider taking a polymer clay workshop, searching “polymer clay” on youtube or buying a polymer clay DVD. Sometimes just watching someone doing it can give you the jumpstart you need. Watching someone else do it gives you the “scaffolding” that enables you to then easily digest what you read and see in how-to books (and that goes for any medium)

    Let me know if you have any more questions! All the best, Ronna Sarvas Weltman

  5. Point 4 is interesting ! At what point do you put the translucent clay into the ice water…..?Do you have more on this in your book?Hmmm need to try this!

  6. Hi Lindy. There is more in the book, but it’s really simple. After the clay has been cured (baked) you can put it in ice water. You can do it while the clay is still warm, or wait for it to cool — it doesn’t matter. It will make the translucent clay more transparent.

  7. Any tips on adding gold or silver leaf? I hear opposing opinions, i.e. it burns away during baking, it bakes up brassy or tinn-y (?) but I think if it is safe to use, it should blend in and make beautiful marbled effects. Anyone tried it yet?

  8. I love using gold and silver leaf. It needs to be sealed or it will wear off. My favorite technique for capturing gold or silver leaf on polymer clay is to put it on a sheet of polymer clay (whatever color you wish), then cover it with a sheet of translucent clay that is rolled on the thinnest setting of the pasta machine. Then I run it through the pasta machine again or roll over it with an acrylic roller, so the translucent clay gets even thinner (and therefore more translucent) and the leaf gets a crackled effect.

    Using leaf in a marbled blend is more problematic, because as you’re marbling it, it will break up. It can end up looking like little pieces of glitter. If that’s the look you’re going for, then go for it. But you’ll also need to seal it or the leaf will wear off eventually.

  9. I just atarted working with polymere clay… My daughter & I took a class at JoAnn’s. We are both hooked! She is awsome at createing the two-domed beads(?!?!) I cant get the nack – so i give her the clay & let her make those.

    I have been looking into more sculpted beading ideas.
    1) I have searched my local library for books… if I really like them I write them down on my ‘wish list’ or go to my Amazon account & put it on that wish list… more likly to find it again there. LOL
    : Just snagged some ‘bead magazines’ for .50 cents each at a yard sale & always check out the thrift store book shelf!
    2) I too have arthritus in many of my joints. On days my hand just will not cooperate I sew or read or design ideas.
    IF I am just itching to get to a project, I warm my clay (sitting on it works great – really LOL Remember to sandwich bag it – of course). LOL
    3) OR I have my kids kneed it a bit for me.
    4) Just purchased a pasta roller to do the work for me! Expecially when they are not around & want to create.

    See inspiration in everything – I found the clay to be rather forgiving… so just go for it!