When I started thinking about my art work in terms of “products” for a shop, I thought about making prints, painting on tote bags, stickers, and pins. I liked the idea of having portable art...and personally, I love putting stickers on my ukulele case and having pins on jackets. Though I’m still working on turning my artwork into these products, I found myself a bit puzzled about pins. Several options include enamel ($$$), using a button maker with the metal backing and clear plastic covering, or clay. For a while, I researched the industrial button makers so I could make them for my shop, but also possibly making buttons for my band. When I worked at a science museum, I used to make buttons all the time for birthday parties. It was the kind of tedious work I enjoyed from time to time. Looking at reviews, however, I saw that these jammed often and the quality wasn’t always great. Plus buying materials was quite expensive compared to the price I would sell them for.
Clay pins have been pretty popular for the last few years. I see all the artists on YouTube making them. Though more time consuming, I like that each one is unique, even if they are the same design. I love that homemade quality that you don’t really get from enamel or button-made pins. So, I decided to buy a big-ass chunk of sculpey clay and give it a whirl. I have no idea why I thought it would be easy. Sure, I had never worked with clay before, but how hard could it be, right?
Well...technically it’s NOT difficult. But it does require a lot of time, patience, trial and error. So here is everything I have learned so far. I gotta say, I very much enjoy the process of sculpting, baking, painting, glazing and gluing. I hope to continue making the pins and continue to get better as I gain more experience.
Paint Pen or water-proof pen/paint/ink
Sculpey Glaze (I use the gloss glaze)
Pin backings (I use the small round ones, but I also purchased brooch badge latch 20mm for larger pins)
Clay tools for rolling/smoothing out
Small rubber stamps
Gorilla Glue Gel
Cup of Water
Small paint brush you don’t care about
Small baking pan
I initially purchased a small square of the sculpey at my local art supply store. They didn’t have pure white, so I got a gross yellowish-cream color with the idea I could paint it white after I bake it. I didn’t have any water or sculpting tools with me the first time, so I molded everything by hand. The first batch was lopsided, bumpy, too thin, and covered in my fingerprints. When I attempted to paint them with acrylic paint after baking, it was streaky and there was no amount of layering that made it fully coated. So, I decided to try gouache paint next. Though the coverage was better, it had a strange pulling effect that, unless I really gobbled it on, kept beading and coming off of the clay. When I finally did put enough gouache on the clay, it never fully dried and it seemed to feel pretty chalky.
These were my first batch ever. Paint just did NOT work here!
So, next I decided to order a large chunk of sculpey in pure white to eliminate the painting phase all together. The white clay was a much better result, but I still needed to paint a few small details after they baked. I used the gouache again since it wasn’t going to be full coverage. Unfortunately the results were kind of messy. When I applied the glaze, the paint ended up smearing.
Do not recommend using microns or really any kind of pen. Oil based paint seems to be the best option.
For my final round of ghost pins, I decided to poke holes before baking then fill in with a paint pen after they baked. This was by far the best results...The only issue being sometimes the paint pen leaks. Usually I can catch it, but a few drops have landed on the pins, and those will just have to be painted eventually since the paint pen is oil based.
As for glazing, this is another messy process, but I like to keep the pins on one of my disposable palette sheets. I put a gob of glaze on the palette, then put one coat at a time, letting about 30 minutes dry in between layers. So far I’ve just been doing to coats of glaze on each side and I absolutely love the results.
Once the glaze is dry on both sides, I dab gorilla glue onto the pin backings and place them on the back. I know there is a specific sculpey glue, but so far the gorilla glue works just fine.
I have found this process to be really enjoyable. Normally I just jump into making artwork without a lot of experimentation, but since there was so much to learn with a new medium, I liked making mistakes and trying something new until I created a product that was high quality and something I felt comfortable selling to people. If this is something you have ever wanted to try, I highly recommend it!
The Final Product! I still have a few things to learn, but I am definitely more confident each time I make a new batch.