In any workshop with any art or craft there are always those objects which we rely on so heavily that we don’t even realize that they’re an indispensable tool. In my studio, that would most certainly be the lowly ceramic tile. I have a dozen of them and I use them for every single project I make. Every one! Here are some of the ways I used ceramic tiles with polymer clay.
Why use ceramic tiles with your polymer clay?
- Ceramic tiles make an excellent, durable work surface.
- Because clay sticks to shiny surfaces, it’s great for keeping your clay stable while you work on it.
- Ceramic tiles can go directly to the oven, with the project on it.
- They make great palettes for paint or messy materials because they clean so easily
- Tiles can also be left in the oven to lend it some heat stability. (Check out my tutorial here for an in depth look at baking polymer clay.)
- Ceramic tiles are available cheaply from any home improvement store.
Using Ceramic Tiles with Polymer Clay in the Studio
What is so great about a ceramic tile in the artist’s studio or craft room? Well I’ll tell you! Here’s how I use mine:
I use a ceramic tile on top of my table when I’m working with polymer clay. I roll out snakes and sheets of clay on it. I lay down clay and the tile has just enough “grab” so that my clay doesn’t scoot out from under my tools when I’m working with it. The surface is completely smooth and doesn’t transfer a texture to my polymer clay piece. The hard tile cannot be damaged by my cutters or knife. And I can easily use a long flat blade to lift up a sheet of polymer clay without damage because the blade slides against the smooth tile and under the clay.
Chopping up clay for faux stone techniques becomes easy. And best of all, I can make a real big mess with paint or alcohol ink without ruining my work surface. Try that with Formica or a wooden surface! (You should see the top of my work desk…yikes. I’m messy.)
And when you work with polymer clay, there is always the concern that the plasticizers in the clay will leach into the surface you’re working on, or leach out of the clay making it dry and crumbly. This isn’t a worry for ceramic tile. It’s completely impervious and I can leave clay on it indefinitely without harm.
Unbaked polymer clay is soft and that means you run the risk of making marks or distortions when you move it from place to place. I like that I can create my clay object right on the ceramic tile and then transfer the tile to the oven (here’s an article on why you should keep your oven out of drafts).
I can also set aside one phase of a project while I work on another phase. I just pick up the tile and put it aside. I commonly have tiles with bits of clay on them sitting on bookshelves in my studio. Sometimes an idea will need to “incubate” for a while. This way I can clear my desk easily to work on something else.
Yes, you can bake your polymer clay items directly on a ceramic tile. It’s the ultimate table-to-oven tool! You can set the tile directly on the oven rack or you can set the tile inside of a covered pan and put the whole thing in the oven. Because the surface of the tile is shiny, I use a plain sheet of white copy paper to prevent shiny spots where the clay touches the tile. Yes, you can put paper in the oven. Even at 325°F (163°C) the paper does not burn. The tile is perfectly safe in the oven, too. But remember to bake longer because tiles take a while to heat up. If you’re struggling with baking polymer clay, or if you have breakage or burning, this inexpensive tutorial will fast-track you to solutions.
A ceramic tile can be placed in the bottom of a toaster oven (all about ovens here!) to help keep the heat even. Because the tile itself holds heat and releases it steadily, it helps your toaster oven to maintain a more consistent temperature.
I always bake polymer clay on a ceramic tile, covered, for the same reason. It helps hold the temperature steady as the heating element cycles on and off.
Ceramic tile is also heat resistant for the times when you need to use a heat gun for embossing, flash curing liquid polymer clay, or partially curing the surface of clay to be used in crackle techniques.
When using acrylic paint, I just squeeze a little puddle onto a ceramic tile. I can paint directly from there. It also works great when I need to mix colors. Once the paint dries, it’s super easy to scrape it off with a razor blade. I find this to be a better option than using paper plates or a sheet of plastic or aluminum foil. And as often as I use paint, I really can’t afford artist’s disposable palette paper, either!
The same property that causes shiny spots when baking polymer clay can also be used to an advantage. For some polymer clay techniques, it’s preferable to use a smooth surface, such as glass, so that the clay will adhere to the tile for better handling. I use this property in making the small circles in my Graduated Colors Tutorial. Sculptors often “stick” their wad of clay to the work surface so that it stays in one place.
Or you can use the smooth surface to give a glossy surface to your clay after baking. You can make window clings by drizzling liquid polymer clay onto a ceramic tile and baking it directly on the tile. Ceramic has all the benefits of glass for this purpose, but is much more durable.
Working with Resin
Resin can be a messy, frustrating material. It’s imperative that your piece is completely flat so that your resin cures flat. Ceramic tile is great for this. And when I make the inevitable spills and drips, it’s easy to remove cured resin from ceramic tile with a scraper blade. But perhaps the best feature is that I can easily pick up the tile and move my resin-filled items to a new, dust free location while they cure, leaving my desk free for another project.
What Kind of Ceramic Tile Do I Need?
Your ceramic tile must be glazed with a glossy, smooth glaze. Textured tiles will not work. Nor will unglazed tile such as quarry tile or terra cotta. The tiles sold for use in shower walls work well. These types of tiles are also used in restaurant kitchen walls and in industry clean rooms.
Ceramic tiles come in a variety of sizes. I use both 8 x 10″ (20 x 25cm) tiles and 6 x 6″ (15 x 15cm) tiles. Make sure you pick white or cream tiles, also. That gives you a clean visual surface on which to work. You want them big enough to work on, though, so the most common 4 x 4″ (10 x 10cm) ones aren’t really big enough.
Where Can I Get Them?
Your local hardware or building supply store will have ceramic tiles for sale, usually able to be purchased individually for less than a dollar each. My favorite place, though, is to get them at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore center. It’s like a thrift store for building supplies, and a great resource for crafters and homeowners alike.
How to Take Care of Them?
You can clean ceramic tiles by scraping residue off of them with a razor blade or scraper blade. For more thorough cleaning, I like to use isopropyl alcohol (Rubbing alcohol to those in the US). You could even put your tiles through the dishwasher without harm. I keep my tiles stacked in a desk drawer, so I always have one on hand when I need to move things aside as my desk gets crowded.
This article on Ceramic Tiles in the arts and crafts studio is the third in the Indispensable Tools Series. Have you been using ceramic tiles with polymer clay or other crafts?
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