Lanin Thomasma designs an adorable polymer clay figure, modeled after his teenage daughter, to embellish a picture frame.
Comic book lover Lanin Thomasma has cartoons on the brain. Thomasma has been creating cartoon-like characters since he was a child. One day, the idea struck him to create a figurine or maquette of the characters he'd created. While visiting his local craft store he decided to create his characters out of polymer clay because the colors were so vibrant. His wife described his finished work as "cartooning in 3-D." He tried various polymer clay objects including creating cartoon caricatures of his family and friends. Thomasma designs an adorable polymer clay figure, modeled after his teenage daughter, to embellish a picture frame.
Materials and Tools
polymer clay: white, blue pearl, gold, red
pasta machine or clay roller
16-gauge aluminum wire
needle nose pliers
4"x 6" picture frame
3"x 8" wooden slat
Future floor wax
oven or toaster oven*
small baking tray
online service tin or breath mint tin
*An oven thermometer is helpful when using a toaster oven, as they can tend to fluctuate widely in temperature.
1. Condition the clay by kneading it thoroughly.
2. Preheat the oven to 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
3. Roll out a ball of clay about two inches in diameter. Using your fingers, form two depressions for eye sockets and draw out the nose and the chin underneath. Manipulate the clay until you have a head shape.
4. Roll out two tiny balls of clay and flatten for ears. Attach the ears about the same level as the eye sockets and blend into the sides of the head. Carve out the folds of the ears with a toothpick. Roll two tiny balls of gold clay and attach to the ears for earrings. Tip: Small snakes of clay work as dangly earrings as well.
5. Carve out a smile using the toothpick.
6. Roll out a snake of clay about 1/2 inch in diameter for the neck. Flatten one end, and attach that flat end to the bottom of the head. Blend into the head using the toothpick, and flatten the rough marks with your finger. Work the other end of the neck to give the head an overall bust shape.
7. Split a toothpick in half and slowly, with a spinning motion, sink one half, point first, up the neck into the head.
8. Roll out two quarter-inch balls of white clay. Flatten the balls and place them into the eye sockets.
9. Roll out two slightly smaller balls of blue, flatten the balls and place them on the white circles for the eyes.
10. Roll out two smaller balls of black, flatten the balls and place them on the blue as pupils.
11. Roll out a very thin snake of black for eyelashes. Using the toothpick, separate a 1/4-inch long section and, using the toothpick again, place it carefully above one eye. Work it into place with the toothpick. Repeat for the other eye.
12. With more of the same snake, separate a 1/2-inch section, and using the toothpick again, place it above one eye for an eyebrow. Work it into desired shape and press it into place with your finger. Repeat for the other eyebrow.
13. Rollout a very thin snake of white clay, and separate a 1/4-inch section. Using the toothpick, place it inside the mouth for teeth. Work it with the toothpick for desired effect. Combine a small amount of red and white clay, using the same procedure, to form lips.
14. Place the head on a small baking tray, online service tin or breath mint tin. Cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Note: This will limit the spread of fumes from the clay (not a problem unless you plan on baking a lot of clay). Bake the head for 20 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees.
15. Clip off two 3-inch segments of aluminum wire using the pliers. Make sure they are straight, as it will be used to strengthen the legs. Set aside.
16. Make two 3-inch snakes of clay, about 1/2 inch in diameter. Taper one end of one of the snakes, and then work it into a foot shape. Using the toothpick, score out four spaces between the toes (remember that toes vary in size and length). Start the scoring on the top of the foot and work it around the end to the bottom. Work the foot into a pointed position, as a foot would be wearing high heels.
17. Make a slight depression in the middle of the leg to shape the calf. Press and widen the top of the leg for the thigh.
18. Carefully insert the end of one of the three-inch wires into the bottom of the heel. Now, slowly insert the wire up the leg while rotating the leg–not the wire. This insures that the wire will be centered in the leg.
19. Once the wire is completely inserted into the leg (you may push it a bit further with the toothpick once it's completely inside the clay), straighten out any twisting in the leg that might have occurred. Then pinch slightly on the sides of the heel to anchor the wire inside the leg.
20. Repeat with the other leg. Remember to make this second leg a mirror image of the first, with the big toes in the middle.
21. Roll out a 1/2-inch ball of white clay. Work into the shape of a high platform shoe. Carefully place the shoe on one of the feet, adjusting the shoe to fit. Stand the leg up and make sure that it stands flat.
22. Roll out a very thin snake of white clay to use as straps for the shoe. Add the straps in a desired pattern. Tip: Check designer shoe catalogs for ideas.
23. Repeat with the other leg.
24. Roll out a 3/4-inch ball of black clay. Pinch the ball into a roughly triangular shape. Attach the tops of the legs to the small sides of the triangle, and work the whole shape into the hip and pelvic area. The top should come to a point. The actual waist will be fashioned later when the body is added.
25. Stand the legs up to make sure they are even and that they stand straight. The feet should be roughly at a 45-degree angle, with one heel slightly behind the other. Tip: Think game show hostess or beauty pageant contestant.26. Stand the legs up on the online service tin or breath mint tin. Press firmly onto the tin to make certain the feet stay in place. If you are using a toaster oven, there should be enough clearance to fit the legs upright. Tent a piece of aluminum foil over the legs to shield them, and bake for 20 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
27. Clip off a two-inch segment of aluminum wire and bend it slightly in the middle. This will help bolster the extended arm.
28. Roll out two snakes of clay about 3 inches long and a 1/2-inch in diameter. These will be the arms. Taper one end of one snake and flatten it for a hand, with the end slightly squared. Score out three spaces between the fingers, starting with the back of the hand, and working around to the palm. Remember that not all fingers are the same length.
29. Take a 1/8-inch ball of clay from the other end of the arm and roll it into a small snake. Attach to the heel of the hand on one side to form the base of the thumb. Blend in the clay with the toothpick, and shape the hand as desired. Remember that the fingers normally curve progressively, with the pinky finger curling the most.
30. Make a slight depression in the middle of the arm for the elbow, and widen the other end of the arm slightly for the shoulder and bicep.
31. Repeat for the other arm, remembering to make it a mirror of the first otherwise you will wind up either with two left or two right arms.
32. Carefully sink the 2-inch wire into the end of the left arm, using the same procedure as in step 18. To redo the arm, repeat step 28.
33. Set the arms aside while you remove the hot legs from the oven.
34. Roll out a two-inch diameter ball of blue pearl clay. If you notice a lot of blue color getting on your fingers, take a 3" to 4" ball of Super Sculpey and mix it in with the blue clay to reduce the amount of pigment in the clay. This will prevent any blue marks appearing on the head or legs.
35. Flatten the ball, and make a depression in the middle. Pour a small amount of body glitter into the depression and close the clay around it. Knead the clay until the body glitter is worked through.
36. Set aside two-thirds of the glittery blue clay for the skirt. Using the rest, make a 1-1/2 inch wide cylinder. Flatten the cylinder slightly so that the diameter is more oval than round.
37. Attach the head and neck onto one end of the cylinder. Slowly work the blue clay up around the edges of the bust to create a smooth, even neckline for the dress. Shape the cylinder into a body shape, giving it a waist, a bust line and shoulders. Tip: If you have too much blue color still on your fingers, it will transfer to the head; so keep your fingers clean.
38. Trim off excess clay below the waistline using the hobby knife.
39. Make a small depression at the bottom of the body and carefully attach it to the top of the legs. Carefully press the body down on to the hips, trim off excess clay below the waist and blend the clay smoothly onto the hips.
40. Stand the figure upright to see if she's standing straight. The back should arch and the shoulders should be directly above the hips.
41. Roll the remaining blue glittery clay through the pasta machine. The setting should be set at 4 or 5, resulting in a 1/16-inch thickness. Trim with the hobby knife into a skirt shape. Design the hemline as desired–straight, high on one side or overlaid.
42. Drape the skirt around the hips of the figure, overlapping the blue clay on the body. Arrange the skirt so that seam runs along the side of one leg. That way, as you blend the seam together, it looks more natural. Blend the top of the skirt into the body, using a toothpick and your fingers to smooth. The result should be a one-piece dress, rather than a blouse-and-skirt look.
43. Stand the figure up once again to check body posture and balance, lay it down once more and let the clay 'rest' for an hour. Note: The body will not be baked until the arms are attached.
44. Attach the arms carefully at the shoulders. The left arm should be extended to support the frame from the back. Be certain that the wire is not sticking out of the clay at any point. Bend the right arm in front of the body with the right hand supporting the front of the frame.
45. Stand the figure up and place the frame next to it to get an exact fit of the hands and arm to the frame. Once you have it in place, place a piece of slightly crumpled aluminum foil on a baking tray. Carefully lay the figure, along with the frame, on the crumpled foil, taking care to keep it in the same position. If the figure and frame do not remain in position, adjust the foil to support the figure exactly. If there is no movement, carefully remove the frame. Cover the figure loosely in foil, and bake for 25 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
46. Mix 1-1/2 inch ball of gold clay with a 1/2-inch ball of white. Combine the mixed clay with a one-inch ball of Super Sculpey for a lovely blond color for the hair. Tip: Experiment with other colors for different shades: Sweet Potato for red hair, Burnt Umber for brown, etc.
47. To apply the hair to the figure, start with a one-inch ball of the hair color. Flatten it out and carefully apply it to the back of the head (neck is still fragile). Work it in behind and above the ears and up to the top of the head to form a basic hairline.
48. Roll out and flatten a 1/2-inch snake of the hair color. Twist the flattened snake lengthwise, and roll it up to make a hair bun. Place the bun on the back of the head. Roll out smaller snakes and flatten and twist them to form tendrils of hair. Arrange the tendrils around the bun, to fall loosely down the back of the head. Do the same for bangs on the forehead, and a couple strands of hair by the ears. Add additional details as desired.
49. Rest the figure carefully on the foil-covered baking tray, and bake once more for 20 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
50. For the base, roll out a two-inch ball of red clay and mix it with a one-inch ball of Super Sculpey to thin the pigment. Roll out a wide cylinder, and then run it through the pasta machine at a setting of 3 or 4 (some pasta machines have different settings–this assumes that 1 is the widest setting). The resulting piece should be long and wide enough to cover the 3"x 8" wooden slat. If it isn't, add more clay, and make it larger.
51. For the base, lay the clay out on top of the wooden slat. Starting from the center, press the clay firmly into the wood. It won't stick right away, so you'll need to do a lot of pressing. Bring the clay down around the edges of the slat and trim off the bottom. Before baking the clay, set the base right side up and position the figurine and the frame on it. Press the figure and the frame firmly into the clay to create an impression, then remove the figure and frame carefully, so as not to remove any clay with it. Bake for 10 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
52. If bubbling has occurred when removing the base, set the base upside down to cool and to flatten the bubbles. A bit of warping might have resulted too, but that will be resolved in the next step.
53. Prepare another layer of clay using step 50, and place it on the bottom of the base. Trim off the edges and bake for 20 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
54. Using the red clay, make two small triangular pieces to help hold up the frame. Set the figure and the frame on the base, and position the triangular pieces to fit behind the frame. Press the pieces firmly onto the base. Carefully remove the figure and the frame, and bake the base once again for 20 minutes at 275-degrees F (130-degrees C).
55. Put a spot of instant glue on the impressions left by the figurine and glue the figurine to the base. Tip: Break off and re-glue the triangular supports for added sturdiness as desired. Do not glue the frame–you want to be able to take it out when you wish to change pictures.
56. Once the glue has dried, use a paintbrush to cover the frame holder with a layer of floor wax. Once this layer has dried, add another layer of floor wax, and a third if preferred. Note: The more coats applied, the shinier the frame holder becomes. When you've finished coating it and it has dried completely, reduce the heat on your oven to 200-degrees F (93-degrees C), and bake the completed frame holder for 10 minutes.