Friday, July 29, 2011

Polymer clay collograph

This summer, since I've shut my shop, I've been spending my time focusing on learning new things without worrying about creating something "sellable". I've been messing around with my Bamboo tablet and enjoying the freedom I have to make as many mistakes as I want. I've also been dabbling in knitting, crochet, and polymer clay. All of them have been great past-times because I haven't been concerned with the outcome.

While experimenting with the polymer clay and using stamps to create textures and patterns, I began to wonder if anyone had ever used the material to print with. I thought that once the clay had been baked it would  still have some flexibility and therefore, would make it possible to be applied to a collograph plate and sent through a press without damage. I started to all sorts of possibilities and felt like a mad scientist when I created my plate. I had to create ant least thre different plates before I got one to print the way I wanted it to. I haven't seen anyone else use this technique so I thought I would list off what i learned and perhaps you would like to give it a try too.
I will be hand coloring these with watercolor

1. Once baked polymer clay has a slight texture and will print as a mid-tone grey. If you want to create whites or lighter greys you have to have to either adhere something smooth like plastic or varnish the area. Take note that the varnish doesn't stick well to polymer clay and it breaks down over each consecutive pull. I varnished my plate again half-way through the edition. I've been experimenting with various wet/dry sandpapers to create a smoother surface.

2.It's very easy to create a bevelled and level plate with the polymer clay.Unbaked polymer clay is so manipulative that it's very appealing in its' ability to be "drawn into".

3. The clay can hold very deep lines which can be advantagous or a problem when wiping the plate. If you don't push in enough ink the lines will appear white. It's surprising how little depth you need in your plate lines for them to print well.

4. This technique can be used to create relief  prints and/or embossed images.

You can see ink and oil that has accumulated under the plastic I used for the torso and face.

This gives you an idea for the depth of my plate pattern. Can you see the pattern I scribed into the plastic for the dress?


  1. Hello there,

    I just learned about printmaking. I have been using polymer clay for other purposes all my life now, but yesterday I thought of the brilliant idea of combining both techniques. I now googled, if I was the only one thinking of this and found this entry. I very much like your result and will work on my plate asap. I was just wondering how you got the face so white and the features so crisp and dark? Do I understand it right that you varnish the areas you want to be white? So how did you get the features so well?


  2. Thanks so much for finding my post. Nice to hear that I can be Googled.

    I was able to create the stark white of the face and part of the dress by adhering pieces cut from a plastic strawberry box. Shiny thin plastic works great for holding dry-point lines and keeping bright whites. You do have to be gentle with wiping though as the tarlatan can get caught on sharp edges.
    I usually use medium or varnish to create whites on my collographs but it can easily gets buffed off of the polymer clay. I had to re-apply varnish to the plate background half-way through my edition.

    Hope this helps and I would love to see what you come up with. : )