What happens when you mix Iced Enamels Relique Powders with polymer clay? I was curious so I did a little experiment.
Last month I needed to make some “resin and enamel” jewelry for a design challenge. I don’t own a torch, so I sort of cheated on the enamel part and used Iced Enamels. Iced Enamels are powders that you combine with a proprietary medium and cure with a heat gun. Then you seal them under a layer of resin (Ice Resin, by the same manufacturer, of course).
They were designed to use on metals, but I decided to try them on some baked polymer clay. Curing the powders on some already baked beads worked about the same as on metal. But then I went off script and didn’t use resin to seal them. I used Liquid PolyClay Clear Medium. Because resin takes forever to cure. And I am impatient. And I also had a submission deadline.
I also didn’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the entire studio (aka my kitchen/dining room) for just two beads. So, I cured the Liquid PolyClay with my heat gun. The beads looked awesome. But as I was wiring them to the earrings, some of the Iced Enamel-Liquid Polyclay coating scratched off. I suspected curing them in the oven would have made them more durable.
I also wondered what would happen to the Iced Enamels in the oven. Would they get even more bubbly than they did when I got too close with the heat gun? (In hindsight, probably not. Because the heat gun can get the clay much hotter than the oven cure temperature I use for the polymer clay.)
I put the wonder aside, planning to conduct some tests in the fall when it wasn’t too hot to have the oven on. And then, as luck would have it, we had a string of unseasonably lovely days the following week. The high temperatures were in the 60s (Fahrenheit) and there was a light breezy rain. This is indeed lovely weather for June in the mid-Atlantic, where daily highs are routinely upper 80s to 90s.
Anyway, weather commentary aside, I decided to take advantage of the cooler indoor temperatures brought on by the brief cold front to conduct a little experiment. I mixed some of the Iced Enamels powders into some polymer clay and baked it. I also popped those cheater beads in with the testers.
How much powder did I add to the clay? Where’s the picture of the mixing happening? About a pinch per quarter block. And, I figured you know what it looks like when you mix stuff into clay. Besides, this isn’t a tutorial so I didn’t think step-by-step photos were in order. Plus, I was doing this in the evening, after a full day of work at my desk job. In between having fed the cats and cooking my own dinner.
After mixing the powder (I used Ivory and Amethyst Reliques) into the clay (I used translucent and white Premo) I shaped some test beads and chips (chips = pieces of clay rolled on thickest setting) and baked them at 275 F in a covered aluminum pan.
I checked on them at 15 minutes, hoping to find some powder bubbling on the surface. No such luck. This was when I started thinking I wasn’t likely to get bubbles because the oven wasn’t as hot as the heat gun. But I let them bake for another 45 minutes anyway. (I routinely cure everything, regardless of thickness, for an hour.)
When the testers came out of the oven, they looked like any other polymer clay into which I had mixed a powdery substance, including dried spices, fine glitter, mica, chalk, and embossing powder. In other words, they affected the color of the clay, but nothing else happened.
I will note that embossing powders can result in surface texture effects on polymer clay depending on how you use them. They are plastic resins designed to swell and fuse together with heat.
Since there was no bubbling, or even expanding, of the powders during baking, I wondered if maybe whatever is in that “proprietary” Iced Enamels medium is essential, along with heat, to getting the bubbly molten glass-like enamel-ish reaction. I’m thinking it is.
And here is where I remembered learning that vitreous enamels – the kind most people think of when they envision enameled jewelry – are glass that melts onto metals (at temperatures much hotter than my oven is capable). And that so-called “cold” enamels are actually epoxy resins that require no external heat source. (Random bits of craft trivia floating around my cortex.)
If I had taken a year of physical chemistry in college, I could probably hazard an educated guess as to what kind of reaction was going on, and hence the basic ingredients in Iced Enamels. I took sociobiology and genetics instead. No regrets. Just occasional flashbacks about counting mutant Drosophila (aka fruit flies to those who did not major in biology).
Whether it’s a kind of plastic resin reaction (like embossing powders) or some other kind of p-chem magic, the result of my experiment is that mixing Iced Enamel powders into polymer clay before baking adds color to the clay. The end. Oh, but wait. What about those cheater beads? Did baking them make the finish durable?
Um, not exactly. I was still able to scratch the finish off. Perhaps because I didn’t take the time to reseal them with another coating of Liquid PolyClay. The initial quickie coating I did for my challenge submission wasn’t very thick and was likely uneven. I’m fairly certain putting on a thicker layer, or several thin layers, and then curing fully, would make the surface of the beads as durable as any other polymer clay with surface effects sealed under liquid polymer clay. Which is to say, as durable as polymer clay in general. An experiment for another day perhaps.
While I was in the studio, I also made a batch of rustic beads. As long as the oven was going to be on for an hour, might as well make it a full load, right? I love making these beads. The technique, which is super fun and addicting, is in this great tutorial from The Blue Bottle Tree. You can get endless variations using this technique. Rarely do I step into my polymer clay studio for a project without adding on a batch of rustic beads.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back again. I’ll be here, doing more mixed-media experiments and jewelry design challenges. You can sign up to get my new posts via email or rss feed. The links are in the right column of my blog.