Exploring the Watercolor Technique for Polymer Clay Beads

assorted watercolor effect beads and focals

The assortment of beads and pendants I made using the watercolor technique.

I tried a new polymer clay technique this month: the torn paper or watercolor effect.  I was inspired to make beads and focal components using this technique and the color palette for the February Art Bead Scene challenge.

This is my first time participating in the Art Bead Scene’s monthly design challenge.  I’ve followed their blog, and admired other artists’ interpretations of the various themes.  I’m not sure why I finally decided to jump in this month.  I almost joined in last month when Erin suggested I enter the Ultra Violet inspired earrings I created for the We’re All Ears monthly challenge.  But I didn’t get my act together in time to create an account for my submission.

When I saw the inspiration image for the challenge this month, I knew I wanted to create something using the watercolor technique.  The inspiration is itself a watercolor image. It’s an illustration for a Japanese fairy tale, painted by Warwick Goble.

Star Lovers by Warwick Goble with color palette

Star Lovers by Warwick Goble and the color palette for the design challenge.

The watercolor technique is simple, but labor intensive.  Which seems to be true of many polymer clay techniques.  In this case, it involves making a veneer, tearing it into teensy weensy pieces, and placing those pieces one by one over bead cores or pendant bases. (Incidentally, this is also a fun way to use scraps of any veneer for interesting effects, as I discovered with my “molten lava” beads.)

Although it is time-consuming, the results are worth the time it takes.  I didn’t get as much of the peach and violet (or is that indigo) from the palette into my veneer as I intended. However, the overall effect is very much in line with the wash of colors in the background of the painting.

strands of watercolor beads

The first beads I made with the watercolor veneer were round. I made two sizes (and as soon as I find my calipers, I’ll know what those are). I also rolled up some tube beads, using the same technique from making paper beads.

I didn’t realize how much veneer I would end up with when I started. Although I read/watched a few tutorials for this technique, I didn’t take notes on how much clay was being used.  I only intended to make a focal and some accent beads to be used in a necklace. I ended up with nine focals and enough accent beads to make several necklaces, plus bracelets and earrings.  And I still have a good sized piece of the veneer left over to play with.

watercolor pendant and hollow coin beads

This pendant has a jump ring embedded at the top. The hollow coin beads are double sided, with a black band around the center.

I experimented with shapes and sizes, including some swirled lentil beads which gave the most interesting effect.  The swirls of color in the beads evoke the movement in the inspiration image, which has a flock of magpies flying through the night sky, carrying a woman whose robes flow behind her.

Assorted swirled lentil beads and pendants

Swirled lentil beads turned the watercolor mosaic pattern into something ethereal. I flattened some of the lentils into pendants.

One of the tutorials I saw used graduated round cutters to make circles that were layered on top of each other and then smoothed. That process is far less time consuming than tearing a sheet of clay into confetti and painstakingly placing those pieces of confetti onto base beads.  It gives an interesting look, but the swirled lentil is still my favorite.  At least as far as interpreting the inspiration image for this challenge.

concentric circles water color pendants

These two pendants are made with concentric circles of the veneer layered and then smoothed. I cured the left pendant over a convex form, and left the right one flat.

I am often hard-pressed not to be too literal when interpreting a jewelry design challenge.  I think it’s partly my lack of formal art training.  But mostly that’s just the way my brain works.  Because the inspiration image has birds, a lantern, stars, and some butterflies (on her robes), those were things I initially thought to use for a jewelry design. I still may. But because I haven’t yet decided how to incorporate those things into a piece of jewelry with my watercolor beads, I’m submitting my beads for the challenge while I ponder how to use some of them in a design.  

It’s highly unlikely I will use all of these beads and components in jewelry designs for this challenge.  I am tempted to hoard them all because each one is unique and cannot be duplicated due to the nature of the technique.  However, I recently decided to offer some of my polymer clay beads in my esty shop, and that’s what I plan to do with most of these.  You will find them in the Bead Shop section.

6 thoughts on “Exploring the Watercolor Technique for Polymer Clay Beads

  1. Deborah Apodaca

    I have been wanting to learn to use polymer clay for ages. Have everything needed, just other things always came first. AND I am a bit intimidated. Your pieces have really inspired me to sit down and learn the clay and how it can be fashioned. For many years I have also thought about making color palettes to use some of my photographs as inspiration for jewelry. Is there a place to start researching color palettes that you would suggest? It really makes the watercolor pop with the palette underneath.

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Deborah, I am so glad this post about my beads has inspired you to play with polymer clay. It is a very forgiving medium and there’s so much you can do with it. A good place to go for basics, and more advanced info, is The Blue Bottle Tree’s website. Ginger has very comprehensive reviews on just about anything you’d need or want to know about working with clay, and she does a fair bit of myth busting that takes a lot of the trial and error out of working with pc. I also highly recommend her Rustic Beads tutorial (and really all of her tuts) if you’re looking for a fun and easy to use technique that gives spectacular effects.

      As for color palettes, I can’t take credit for the one with the inspiration image. That was provided by the folks over at Art Bead Scene. I haven’t tried to generate my own, but I’m sure there are any number of apps out there.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *