I’ve heard many versions of this phrase ‘An artist will be more inspired to create art, when working with a piece of art in hand’.
As a miniature sculptor, tiny tools are essential to my craft. This includes small needles and an X-ACTO blade.
Well, with my original clay covered blade slowly chipping away, and my very first fish-cane tapestry needle nowhere to be found, I decided to create a new set colorful and inspiring set of miniature sculpting tools.
Tools and supplies to follow along:
You can pick these up at your local craft store, or purchase using my amazon affiliate links below. (If you go through my links I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you)
- X-ACTO Knife blades to decorate
- Tapestry needle to decorate
- Sewing needle to decorate
- Premo Sculpey or other polymer clay
- Thin wire to stabilize your tools
- Pliers to work the wire
- Rolling pin or Pasta machine to condition your clay and create your sheets
- Super Slicer blade to cut your cane
- Oven to cure your clay – I use the Deni Tabletop convection oven
Before you settle on a design, consider how you will hold and use your tools. I personally like to hold my tools very close to my eyes, and so I will opt for shore handles. If you prefer a larger surface area to hold on to, consider larger tools or sculpting longer handles to hold on to.
My chosen color palette is a rainbow of color including red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple.
This is where it gets really exciting. The colors and size don’t matter. With art you get a creative license. And so I chose random balls of Premo Sculpey Polymer Clay of approximately the same size.
After conditioning the clay I ran each ball through my Pasta machine to create a relatively uniform width sheet. This will allow for easy stacking.
It’s too bad clay isn’t edible. I love rainbow cookies, and this nearly looks good enough to eat!
Here’s a fun trick for rolling up a rainbow cane. Cut the front of the stack at a diagonal so that the color on the bottom sticks out the most, and the color on top is the shortest. This makes it easier to grab the bottom and start rolling up your cane like a jelly roll.
Consider your pattern.
There are many different styles of jelly roll cane. If you use a short stack your cane will not have too many ‘rings’.
Pro: Every color is clearly visible
Con: You don’t get a full ‘jelly roll’ ring effect
If you stretch your color stack so that it’s very long you will be able to roll and roll and roll.
Pro: You get a very colorful design where each color loops around again and again and again
Con: Your colors will be thinned out and harder to differentiate
I’ve made canes using both styles in the past. They both look amazing so determine which you prefer.
For this project I chose the ‘short stack’ route because I want the individual colors to be clearly visible on my tools.
Once rolled up, I reduced the cane by rolling against my work surface so that it became slightly longer, with the diameter getting slight smaller. This process ensures proper adhesion between the clay layers and helps eliminate air bubbles and general gaps.
Using my Super Slicer I chopped off the messy ends to reveal the rainbow within.
You may choose to stop and this stage in the process. But if you want an awesome crazy color pattern like mine – keep going.
I turned the cane Back into a short/fat cane by squeezing the top and bottom between my finger, then some more using the palm of my hand against my work surface.
Satisfied with my results, I cut in half, then cut each half into thirds. Kinda like cutting a small pizza.
This resulted in the 6 pi-like cane wedges pictured below.
Now for the fun part.
I oriented the pi slices head to tail to head, alternating the direction of each slice, and creating a linear instead of circular cane. See image below.
I squeezed the pi slices together to form a square shape, then elongated using a Rolling pin to reduce the width of the cane while increasing the length of usable rainbow.
I find that freshly reduced canes are warm, soft, and easy to ‘squish’ so I set it aside to cool. If you wrap your cane in plastic, half hour in the refrigerator will make it easy to slice and harder to distort.
While waiting for my cane to cool I prepared my raw sculpting tools.
Preparing the X-ACTO Knife
The x-acto knife blade has a decent size hole for attaching to the blade holder. You can try forcing clay into this hole to secure the blade in place, but I find that this comes loose over time giving you a wiggly tool. Tools that wiggle are no fun when a small shake will mess up your tiny sculpture.
To nestle the blade securely in the clay, you want to create more ‘bite’. I refer to ‘bite’ as anything that can be embedded securely by ‘biting into’ the clay.
My favorite choice is crafting wire. Cut a small length and pull it through the hole. Using pliers wrap it around and around, then squeeze the entire thing down to prevent any movement.
Condition a small blob of scrap clay. I chose to use the rainbow cane ends. Even if no one will see it, I WILL KNOW that there is art down to my tools’ very core. 🙂
Position the wired blade over the scrap clay and press down till it’s fully embedded. Use the clay on the side to wrap up and around, completely embedding the wire. Smooth out and set aside.
Preparing the Tapestry needle
Same thing for the tapestry needle. Alas my first needle has a small hole which I managed to break trying to force the wire through. Luckily I had a larger needle handy. If you cannot fit wire through the hole, it’s ok to cover the needle as is.
Once wired – prepare scrap clay.
Press down on the needle to embed, then cover and smooth out the seems.
Preparing the Sewing needle or Pin
My pin didn’t have a hole to secure with wire, but it did have a tiny pin-head. Instead of using wire, I pushed the pin through a small ball of clay allowing the pinhead to embed comfortably.
Smooth as needed.
Adding Rainbow Slices To My Sculpting Tools
By this time my cane had cooled down and was ready for slicing.
Using my Super Slicer I cut thin squares and wrapped them around the scrap clay. I positioned them at random shapes and angles, and added half-slices into gap areas that were otherwise not covered.
I smoothed the seems with a inkwell rolling pin to ensure a smooth and easy-to-hold tool.
Bonus Hole-Maker Tool
I had a few extra rainbow slices, so I created a bonus tool. I rolled a ball of scrap clay and covered with the remaining slices in a square-pillow shape. I then tapered the edges to form 4 unique shapes including a thin round ‘poking tool’ and a thicker poking tool, and 2 longer poking surfaces.
I find that weirdly shaped tools are ideal for poking holes when sculpting. From shaping a mouth or eye-socket, to blending seams on a multi-color sculpture.
Into the oven, allowed to cool, and ready for testing!
You can create any shape for your bonus tool. The photo above demonstrates the holes created by each of the tools. Small holes come from poking, and wider clefts come from pressing the tool into the clay sideways.
What about you? do you have a weird handmade tool that you simply cannot sculpt without? I’d love to read about it in the comments below.