Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Transferring your design to polymer clay for paper casting

I used to love the "acetone transfer" method. It is so efficient - you simply take a recent photocopy, lay it down on your clay, and rub a cotton ball soaked in acetone over it. (A cheap container from WalMart's hardware/paint department lasts years) This releases toner and viola! your design is right there permanently on the clay, all reversed for making a mold, easy to cut away all the black. Very simple to make a copy the size you want and with all the detail. Well, every year or two they get new copy machines, fancier and fancier, and now you never know if the copies will work for this process. You can try - one way is to go someplace with old machines (like our public library) or try a laser printer (not inkjet - you need toner). This process works best with fresh copies - within a couple of days is best. It does not work outside in very cold weather (outside is usually good because acetone has fumes).
I had no luck the last time I tried, but this week, fresh copies from the local copy center worked just fine. This method is really great for large and detailed designs. Not only do you clearly know what to cut away, it automatically reverses your design to avoid confusion.
Roll your clay to the desired thickness (preparing clay) and have it on waxed paper on top of cardboard or another other hard surface.Its safest to tape the waxed paper to the cardboard so nothing slides off as you go in and out.  Have a fairly fresh photocopy of your design ready with excess paper trimmed out of the way, bend one corner up (to grasp the paper since it tends to stick). Lay it carefully where you want the design and rub lightly for it to adhere slightly. Go outside if you can to keep the fumes outdoors.
 Soak a cotton ball in acetone and rub over the design. It is the chemicals NOT pressure that releases the toner so  you don't need to push down. Occasionally a dark image may smear if you use too much.
Carefully lift one corner to see if it has transferred - if so lift it off right away. If not, try more acetone. If your surface is not smooth it will not transfer down in depressions, but still might transfer enough to tell where to cut. If it doesn't transfer at all, you will need to try another method (see below) or try a different copy machine or printer.
Leaving the acetone on too long affects the clay texture more. If you look closely, you might be able to tell the clay around the dragonfly has more roughness on the surface due to the chemicals being left longer. The K was lifted almost immediately. If a really smooth surface is important to you, you might want to use the next method. The roughness doesn't show much in the casting and can be smoothed out a little with gentle finger friction. Until you  make a casting its hard to say if it will show at all.

Thankfully, there are more sure alternatives, of which the best was discovered by the Utah calligraphy guild during an early workshop there. Simply trace it all in pencil (fairly sharp and not too hard, mechanical one is good),

 lay it face-down on your clay, rub gently and leave a few minutes. It helps to have a corner turned up to grasp if the paper is smaller than your clay sheet.

Whichever method you use, it's helpful to include a border. Even if you don't want any border-type edge in the mold, you need a guide for making your deckle when you cast it. You will be able to see the line after baking the clay and use it as a guide, even if its just a guide to draw a new line further out or in. You may not know for sure what edge looks best until you actually make a test casting.

Remember, if you want live help, workshops are available see teaching information on my website

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