June 22, 2010

Let's make rocks!

As you know, Blog, my friend Martha from Chicago is visiting this week for what she dubbed "Social Media Boot Camp."  And what summer camp experience is complete without arts and crafts time?  So, taking a break from lessons about Facebook (she's already addicted), we had a little seminar about polymer clay.  The theme?  "Let's make rocks!"

I have tried like 50 different things to do with polymer clay, which I swear is the most versatile art medium in the world.  But I'm finding I am best at creating abstract stuff with an organic feel.  You know, imitating themes from plant life, water, and rocks and minerals, some of which you can see in the header of this blog, Blog.  That kind of thing also goes well with the Prairie Style/natural decor in our house.

So, for my next project I'm going to try doing a small (12" x 9") mural on canvas.  I will reveal all about this later, but the thing is, I needed a lot of small rocks.  Happily, Martha is the only other person I know who is obsessed with rocks.  She's been curious about polyclay for awhile, so was the perfect person to be my Polymer Clay Rock Making Sous Chef.  We set up the kitchen with pretty much every polymer clay supply I own, and settled down to making rocks till we could make rocks no more.

It seems people out there are curious about how to make rocks from polymer clay.  So let's start with the basics of what you need for this most simple of polyclay projects.  Get yourself some clay from a place like Michaels or Joann.  Obviously choose rock colors.  You'll definitely what to get some metallic colors (silver, gold, copper) and some translucent (essential), along with white pearl and various neutrals (black, gray, white, browns, and tans).  A mossy green can work too in moderation.  You may also spot the "Granitex" kind of clay which comes with little flecks already in it, another great choice.  The more colors the merrier, obviously!  As far as brands, anything works, but Sculpey III is very easy for newbies to work with and although it's not sturdy enough for many projects, is fine for this.

Clay needs to be softened up when you start to work with it.  That means either just mushing a piece up on your workboard (plastic, ceramic tile or glass), or running it through a clay-designated pasta machine, folding, and running again till blended.

There are a few basic concepts happening in rock-making that you employ individually or in combination.

1.  Color blending.  Take two or more colors of clay and combine them.  You can roll out and stack thin layers of clay, fold and twist them, or just take globs of colors and smoosh and knead them together till it looks cool.  Blend a little or a lot and get totally different effects.  Then make into rock-like shapes.

2.  Texturing.  Add texture to your rock if you want.  I made ridged rocks by rolling them over the crinkles at the corners of my aluminum foil pans.  We also rolled some in kosher salt.  After baking, washing them dissolved the salt leaving little pits.  You can also texture rocks with rough tools like a scrubber sponge, or just poke them with a needle.  But for smooth rocks, remember to smooth out your finger prints!  (Sometimes we forgot.)

3.  Inclusions.  There is no end to the stuff you can try blending into the clay to get neat rock effects.  We used herbs (ground black pepper, oregano and paprika are great choices), plant matter (finely crushed bark, dried flower petals), Perfect Pearls embossing powder, craft sand, tiny unblended bits of clay, metallic leaf, and glitter.  What really worked well too was the scrapings of clay residue from the craft mat (which we dubbed "detritus," quite an accurate term).  Other possibilities are dryer lint, inks or paints, or pretty much anything of fine texture or good blendability that won't rot or stink.  (The "Rot or Stink Test" eliminates ideas like chocolate chips and used kitty litter, neither of which is fine enough texture anyway.)

After you've made your rocks, bake them on a tray, tile, or piece of cardboard.  Polymer clay is non-toxic, but it's still not advised to use utensils or trays with it that you will later use for food preparation.  Bake at 270 degrees.  The time is determined by the thickest size of clay; 15 minutes for every 1/4" is the recommendation but I did our batch for 25 minutes, and the thickest stones were like 5/8".

Translucent clay appears clearer if you go straight from the oven to cold water.  So we dumped our whole batch of rocks in water right away.  This also dissolved the salt we used for texture. 

Dry your rocks and then sit back and enjoy the many cool effects you achieved!  Some may look amazingly like real rocks, others more like something J.R.R. Tolkien might envision, but either way they will pretty much all be rockin'.  Sorry, Blog--you knew that pun was inevitable.

What can you do with your rocks?  Well, you can use them for jewelry by poking holes through them before baking, or drilling holes afterwards, or mounting them in settings of metal  clay.  You can tile them on other clay projects like my mural, or switchplate covers or coasters.  You can build little houses of them, or put them in the bottom of clear flower vases, or sprinkle them in the litter box for a festive look.  J/K on that last, Blog.  Let your imagination go, as we so often do here at Magic House, wild.

Any questions?  Post in the comments!


  1. Those are super awesome and sound like fun to make! I can't wait to see the big mural project that they will be a part of.

    Ya know, we were working in the yard on Sunday and I found this huge rock- well it "found" us by getting stuck in the tiller as we were tilling the ground for our food garden (a bit late but I'm hopeful). Anyway it was a really cool looking rock! (once it was removed from the tiller, in 3 pieces!) It was dark in the middle with some sparklies and a few lines throughout- of a brownish-yellow- maybe ocher color? (can you tell I took geology in college? Can you also tell I have forgotten most of what I learned? haha) was really unique and I thought of you when I saw it because I know you love rocks.


  2. Nice geology terminology there all right, Sam! LOL Anyway it sounds like an awesome rock. I bet I would have wanted to bring it in the house, myself!