Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Things I Can't Live Without

I've been working on lots of wonderful Halloween spooks this month.  It's time for a photo shoot so I can share some of them here with you.  I can't wait to hear what you all think!

Today I'm going to share a bit 'behind the scenes'.  I've shown you my studio, where I spend most of my days. Now I'm going to give you a peek at a few things that really make it happen in the studio...my favorite, can't-live-without-them tools.

Every artist has their favorite, go-to tools.  I'm no different.  There is nothing fancy here, just some basic utensils, but I use each of these items in EVERY PIECE I make. 
From the top:
ROLLING PIN:  This is actually a $1.00 glass bud vase I bought at Walmart.  I actually have about 4 of them.  It is tall and slender and smooth, and perfect for rolling slabs of clay.  Do they make rollers especially for clay?  Yes, they do.  But I started out over 20 years ago using a little juice glass and it worked just fine.  When I broke it and didn't have another, I went on a hunt and found these.  Even better!  It just proves that you don't have to buy specifically branded tools to do the job. 
NEEDLE TOOL:  You could also call this a stylus, or a dissecting tool.  It's just a tool with a sharp, pointed end.  I use it to 'draw' in details.  I've got 3 different ones, but this one is my very favorite because the needle is the sharpest and thinnest of the bunch.  If I lost this, I don't know what I would do!
FOAM TIPPED BRUSH:  This is my newest addition to the favorite tool list.  You can't see it well in the picture, but it's got a cone shaped tip that ends in a point.  It's actually a paintbrush I found in the doll making department.  It's 'real' use is to paint details on to doll faces without showing brushstrokes.  I use it to smooth out seams in clay and to get in to tight spots where my fingers won't fit--like under arms.  I also use it to sculpt and smooth facial features.  Very handy!  If you are looking for one, it is a Royal Sovereign Ltd. Colour Shaper, Firm.  It came in a package of 5 different shapes.  I use them all, but this one is my favorite.
X-ACTO KNIFE:  Again, I would be lost without this basic, handy tool.  I like the pointed end blades the best.  Because I only cut clay with it, the blades last forever. 
5" KAI SEWING SCISSORS:  My best friend, Marian, sent me a pair of these. I fell in love with them instantly.  They are the perfect size....not too big and bulky, but not too small either.  They cut both paper and fabric nicely.  To be honest, I lost the pair she sent me.  How, I do not know.  My only guess is that they accidentally dropped in the waste basket and I didn't notice.  I searched high and low for two days, then went online and ordered me another pair.  I love them that much! 
NEEDLE-NOSED PLIERS/WIRE CUTTERS:  Self-explanatory here.  I cut wire with them.  I like the pointed-ended ones because I can also bend and shape wire with them as well.  You can see they get used a lot because they have a lot of clay 'gunk' on them.  (Those of you who work with polymer clay know exactly what I'm talking about.)
Under it all, my CUTTING BOARD:  My family has a cabinet building business (my parents and brother).  This board is the cut-out for a sink in a bathroom counter top.  It's a Formica top.  It makes a nice surface to roll and cut clay on.  This one, however, is getting a little bit worn out, so I'm due for a new one.  The next one is going to be a scrap of solid surface counter top material.  It will be even smoother and more durable than the laminate.  I've had this particular board for many years though.  It's done its duty. 
STOVE:  Obviously, this is non-negotiable, since the clay can't cure without one!  I used to bake in a toaster oven when I was doing miniature figurines.  Now I use a full-sized oven because my pieces are too large for a toaster oven. 
OVEN THERMOMETER:  Critical to the process because all ovens heat up differently and tend to fluctuate in temperature.  I've burned many a pieces by not using a thermometer!
I have several other tools that serve their purpose in my studio as well.
BALL-TIPPED STYLUS: for adding details to eyes and sometimes for texture
4" FISKARS EMBROIDERY SCISSORS: were my favorites until I got the Kai.  I still use these to cut sticky stuff and very thin wire.
TOOTHPICKS: have lots of uses--painting dots, texture, curling wire around
KNITTING NEEDLE:  I use this to smooth clay, add details, even to stir paint!
TWEEZERS: for grabbing on to tiny things like little crystals
VARIOUS PAINTBRUSHES: for painting, brushing on blush, glue.  I even have a big fluffy one I use to dust my pieces off before their photo shoots.
COOKIE CUTTERS:  I have lots of sizes and shapes, but my most used are the circle biscuit cutters to cut the bases for my figurines.
These are my basic and most-loved tools.  There are others, but if you are just starting out working with polymer clay, the items on this list will be very helpful.  I know lots of polymer clay artists can't live without a pasta machine.  It aids in conditioning clay and in rolling perfectly even slabs of clay.  Personally, I've never used one.  When I was starting out, they didn't have one marketed to clay artists, and I just couldn't justify the expense of a kitchen model.  I got along fine with my hands and a rolling pin.  Now I can't miss what I never had.  That's a personal preference, and I'm sure many artists would disagree with me on that. 
Of everything I use daily, I  would say that my most important tools are my hands and my imagination! 
Are you a clay artist?  What are you favorite tools?  What can't you live without?  Do you have tools you don't use?  Is there something you don't have you wish you did?  I'd love to hear from you!
Those tools are calling my name!  Gotta go!


  1. Hi Lisa! Great post! Love all your tools and have them in my sculpting arsenal too. My favorite tool ... various sized paint brushes - not just for painting folks! I use them to smooth out my paper clay and to even sculpt with. I get them a little damp and they work like magic on my sculpts. Gotta have them! Hugs, LeeAnn

    1. How does anyone operate without paintbrushes?? I used to paint a lot, so I have about 4 jars full of paintbrushes of all types. And sometimes it's the handle that is most useful as a tool!

      Thanks for stopping and sharing, LeeAnn!

  2. Great post Lisa!! I have several tools that I can't live without too. My most favorite is a knitting needle, I use it to smooth areas of clay, to blend, etc...

    I am going to go out and buy one of those foam tipped brushes, I could really use one of those, and I think it will become one of my most used and favorite tools too!! Thanks for sharing your favorite tools with us!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Trina! I found those foam tipped brushes in the doll making department of Hobby Lobby. I love them!

  3. Great blog ! Nothing can save time and/or money and help us do good work more than good tools. Sometimes it's those items we use when we don't have the 'right' tool that turn out to be the most useful. I've learned all these lessons the hard way so it's wonderful when someone with your level of expertise in your field shares this valuable information!

    1. Oh, you are the QUEEN of buying the proper tool for a project! Your toolbox is very interesting and diverse.

  4. I'm surprised that you didn't mention that board you do ALL your work on top of...because you don't just work on the top of the table.
    Your studio has all the best tools, materials, etc. that anyone could ever want. It's probably the reason I only scrapbook at your house (though, I hope to change that!).

    1. Hilary, you obviously missed a paragraph! I did mention the board and how it's about worn out! LOL!!
      Now that you have a great space for creative work, you will be filling it up with your own stash in no time!