How to Lift Polymer Clay from Your Work Surface

Learning to work with any new art medium can be frustrating, and polymer clay is no different. Because we learn by watching little snippets of video or reading comments on a social media post, it’s easy to misunderstand processes. This is even more true for things that are so “easy” or “basic” that they’re never shown. The ability to lift polymer clay from a glossy work surface is an important and necessary skill. Here’s what you need to know.

Yes, Work on a Glossy Surface

If you’ve ever tried to roll out polymer clay onto parchment paper, you know how frustrating it is when the clay sticks to the tools and the paper rolls up. The solution is to work on a smooth, glossy work surface, such as a sheet of tempered glass or a large glazed ceramic tile. This way the clay sticks more to the work surface than the tool, making the clay easier to handle. Please don’t use any sort of mold release such as cornstarch or water. Handling polymer clay does not require the same strategy you’ve learned from baking cookies or bread. Sticking is good! But then, of course, you need to release the polymer clay from the work surface.

Sheet of blue polymer clay laying on glass work surface.

You’ll Need a Long Blade

To release the clay, you’ll need a long, fairly rigid blade. (Some people refer to this as a tissue blade, but that’s actually something slightly different.) You’ll find a long (6 in or 15 cm) blade to be easiest, and you’ll probably want a blade that’s more rigid than flexible. You will slide it behind the sheet, or pieces, releasing the suction of the clay sticking to the work surface. You can then easily pick up the sheet or the clay pieces. Some good sources of these blades are Sculpey (Affiliate Link – learn more here), Kato, and Cernit. Here’s a source of many types of blades.

Clay Consistency Matters

Optimal polymer clay consistency is, to an extent, a personal decision. Nobody likes clay that’s too crumbly to stick together and too hard to mix colors. But soft clay is even more of a challenge to work with because it’s impossible to handle without stretching, marking, taking fingerprints, and distorting out of shape. If you can’t lift your polymer clay from your work surface without distortion, it’s likely that your clay is too soft and sticky. The solution is to leach it. Cut pieces of polymer clay should hold their shape when lifted rather than drooping. Think cheddar, not American singles.

This cutter is courtesy of Phoenix & Spruce.

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Lifting Polymer Clay without Distortion

If you try to lift polymer clay from your work surface like you would pick up coins from a table, your fingernails will dig into the edge of the pieces, and they’ll stretch and distort as you lift. This is true if you’re lifting a sheet of polymer clay or pieces you’ve cut from a sheet using a cookie cutter. Instead, you need to release the clay from the surface, and then you can pick up the clay. Here’s a video demonstrating the process of lifting polymer clay from your work surface.

Tips for Lifting Polymer Clay

  • Always work with firm clay. Soft clay distorts, making this a challenge.
  • Make sure your surface is stable and won’t move. This is why many clayers use a large glass sheet or place their ceramic tile on a non-stick mat.
  • Use both hands on your blade, one on either end.
  • Hold the blade at a 45 degree angle. Not too flat to the surface, and not vertical.
  • Approach the sheet or clay pieces in a slight sliding motion, not straight on.
  • Slide the blade behind the sheet or pieces and do not stop. If you stop, the clay will stick to your blade.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. This is a skill!
  • You can often pick up smaller pieces on your blade, making it easy to transfer them to another surface or baking sheet.

Carrying Polymer Clay Sheets and Pieces

Once the sheet or pieces of polymer clay is lifted from the work surface, you can pick up the pieces, gently, by sliding your blade behind them, lifting a bit, and sliding your fingers under them. Always lift your clay by supporting underneath it rather than grabbing it in a pinching motion. Holding polymer clay pieces between your thumb and fingers is how fingerprints get pressed into the clay. Always support and carry your cut clay pieces from the bottom, using the flats of your fingers to pick up and carry your clay.

Just as when learning any new skill, this way of handling polymer clay will feel awkward and foreign at first. That’s especially true if you have a background in cookie making or baking. The tools are similar, but handling the material is very different! Try these tips and spend some time practicing and perfecting your skill. Soon it will be second nature. Have fun!

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Graphic from The Blue Bottle Tree that reads "Lifting polymer clay from your work surface" above an image of blue polymer clay being lifted by a rigid blade.
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