Sculpey Souffle is a new polymer clay by Polyform advertised as being lightweight, strong, having a suede-like finish, and with 22 “fashion-forward” colors perfect for making jewelry. Polyform sent me a box of this new clay and I already gave a preliminary review earlier this week, where I discuss my initial impressions of the clay. I have had a bit more time to work with this new line of clay and now can report more about how it behaves when used for polymer clay techniques such as caning, blending, extruding. Here is a more complete review explaining what I found out working with Sculpey Souffle.
Painting with Sculpey Souffle
Did you know that you can paint with polymer clay? (I’ll talk about painting ON polymer clay a bit further down.) There are some artists who thin their polymer clay and then use a palette knife, or their fingers, to paint a picture. Just for curiousity, I grabbed a palette knife and found that even straight off the block, Sculpey Souffle can be used to paint in what is sort of like a thick impasto technique. If it were thinned with liquid polymer clay, I will bet you could make some really fantastic polymer clay paintings with this stuff.
Painting on Sculpey Souffle
Many of us like to add paint to the surface of our polymer clay creations. Some clays, Kato polyclay in particular, can present a challenge when it comes to making the paint stick to the clay. You’ll be happy to know that acrylic paint sticks very readily to Sculpey Souffle and once it has been heat set (baked in a low oven for a few minutes), it becomes almost impossible to remove or scrape off of the clay. I found the same to be true with Varathane sealer, too.
Sculpey Souffle and the Color Wheel
It seems that the biggest praise and also the biggest criticism I’m reading about this line of polymer clay is about the colors. Some people love the very usable and coordinating colors. Others are frustrated that there are no true primaries and the colors are muted and dull.
As you can see, the colors do blend well to create nice secondary and tertiary colors. But they’re not pure spectral colors. Because the yellow is muted and not very color dense, the resulting green and orange colors are almost pastel colored. The Souffle primary colors straight out of the package aren’t really all that muddy, but they are tinted (in the case of yellow, with white…in the case of red and blue, with black). This means that you can’t make them brighter, or more saturated. And because the red and blue are so dark, you can’t really see the color changes through purple there.
What does this mean? Well, if you’re the kind of person who uses clay straight out of the package with minimal color mixing, this isn’t much of a problem. But if you like to create all your own custom color mixes, the colors offered in the Sculpey Souffle line are severely restricting.
I did find the 22 colors in the line to be very nice and they worked very well together. It was easy to create attractive canes and mokume gane stacks almost by picking colors at random. The slightly muted, desaturated colors did tend to look sort of homogeneous if I wasn’t careful, though, because there wasn’t much tonal value difference between some of the colors.
Sculpting with Sculpey Souffle
First let me say that I am not a sculptor. You know how some people can’t draw a straight line? Well I can’t roll a straight snake. I am not the best person to evaluate things like how well the clay scribes, smooths, or blends with sculpting tools. It seems to work fine with sculpting tools and it does smooth easily because it’s so soft. But I can say that this makes really great figurines. I made a little figure, specifically to test how well the details stayed attached and how easily small projections could be snapped off. Remember I said I’m not a sculptor. (In fact, my husband told me he’d disown me if I posted this, but whatever, it makes the point.)
There is no armature or wire in this sad little alien miner elf. And yet his arms stayed outstretched during baking without support. His hammer arm did droop, but I expected that. I didn’t do any scoring or gluing, I didn’t use any liquid clay to bind pieces together. I just stuck his arms on, put a hammer at the end of his arm, and wrapped a sash over his shoulders. And I’m stunned to report that I cannot pull his arms off. I seriously can’t. The bond is so strong that I lose my grip on the hammer before it tears. The clay is so flexible that he can hit himself in the head with the hammer and use the other arm to scratch his chin (if he had one). The clay doesn’t break and it instantly goes back to its original place. See those skinny little antenna projections on his head (okay it was late, I was uninspired). Well they bend. And they’re on there good and tight. I was able to break one off – this isn’t steel. But it really is surprising how tough they are. If you make figurines, little cute sculptures, clay centers (for bows) or other whimsical 3-D creatures, you will be thrilled with Sculpey Souffle. Also, note that the color of his body is Sandcastle. Interestingly, it closely matches my pasty white girl complexion. Between Sandcastle and Cowboy (the nice chocolate brown in the Souffle line), you should be able to mix the full range of skin colors.
How does Sculpey Souffle Carve?
I baked a sheet of Souffle polymer clay and then used various carving tools to see how it behaved. Now I’m not a carver any more than I’m a sculptor. But I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the carving tools sliced through the baked clay. You can see here that the clay is soft, carves with good definition, and doesn’t suffer from much flaking and chipping. I think that making carved texture plates would be very easy with this clay. And it’s such a soft and flexible clay that I can’t help but think it might even be useful for doing linoleum prints. Please let me know if you try it. That would be cool.
Image Transfers with Sculpey Souffle
Image transfers are when you use a printed image and transfer it to the surface of unbaked polymer clay so that you can then use this in your creations. Optimally, people typically use specially coated papers and there are a variety of techniques that I won’t go into here. But it can also be done with a simple toner-based laser print. And that’s what I did. I found an image online and printed two copies with my laser printer. Both copies were laid face down onto unbaked white Sculpey Souffle and then burnished well with my finger. One was baked with the paper on it, then removed after baking. The other one was left to sit for 30 minute before removing the paper by wetting it and rubbing it off very carefully. I then draped the clay over the dome of the Sculpey Hollow Bead Maker, then baked it.
I was actually quite surprised at how well this worked. The transfers worked a bit better than when I’ve tried the same technique with Kato polyclay in the past. The one thing is that the water did cause a bit of gumminess in the Souffle clay. This is surmountable, though, by being more sparing with the water. And practice will help. But still, I thought the image transfers turned out surprisingly well.
Extruding and Caning with Sculpey Souffle
Curious how this soft clay would work in an extruder, I set out to make the very famous retro cane. Sculpey Souffle is so very, very soft, so it was hard to stack the circles without them going all wonky. Not a problem for this technique, though, so I put it in the Makins extruder and began cranking. It went super easily. My hands didn’t get tired, there was none of the usual squeaking. In fact it felt a lot like mushing Play-Doh through the Fun Factory. Actually, even easier. The clay went through so easily that I probably should have slowed down a bit because the sides of the “snake” were a bit crackly from going so fast. I cut it into pieces and stacked it into a cane quite easily. Then I wrapped the cane with a sheet of Lagoon.
When I tried to mush all the pieces together, the whole cane began to get distorted and uneven. The clay is so soft that it was difficult to make the elements fuse together without making the whole cane morph and flow between my fingers. I used an acrylic roller to square the cane up again and then began to reduce it. Well. It was like making a cane from Play-Doh. Or cookie dough. After some deep breaths and some patience, I was able to reduce the cane by about half. A couple of things to note. Souffle is so soft that canes will push out at the centers, not dent inward. And it’s going to be really hard to reduce a cane that’s not square or round.
I let the cane rest for an hour or so before I tried slicing it. This clay is such a contradiction in itself. It’s very soft and mushy and the cane distorted easily. But you’d think that the slices would be distorted. They’re not. This stuff cuts quite nicely without much drag at all. Now the action of cutting the slice does flatten the cane (yes, it’s that soft). So you’ll need to pull your slices back to the right dimensions before using them. Also, because the cane is so soft, it’s also easy to “unreduce” the cane, too.
As you can see, there is decent definition in this clay. I do think that it will make nice ‘beginner’ canes and simple decorative bulls-eye and flower canes. But this clay is absolutely not suitable for complex canes. You need a very firm clay like Kato or Fimo or even Premo if you’re going to make canes like that.
Sanding and Finishing Sculpey Souffle
To see how well Sculpey Souffle created a highly sanded and buffed finish, I began by making mokume gane. I picked a few pretty colors, made a stack, used a stamp on the stack, and then began slicing off the top layer. Wow, the colors were sure pretty. It seemed that no matter what colors I used, the effect was harmonious. The clay is very soft, it sticks to itself well, and it sticks to the ceramic tile work surface very well, too. There was no delamination as I worked with it (the layers didn’t come apart). Because the clay was soft, I was able to get very nice detail from the stamp that I used. The blade sliced through the stack nicely, with no drag at all. Because the clay is so soft, though, you wouldn’t be able to use it in many slicer devices, because unless the stack is quite thick it would be a bit like slicing a thin bit of brie cheese.
I smoothed my clay, baked it, sanded it from 220 up to 12000 grit. It did sand very easily. It was super smooth. Or at least it felt like it was. My first clue was when my husband asked me why it looked so muted and dull. He asked what the white coating was. Hmm…what white coating? And then I looked closer. Go ahead and click to enlarge the above picture so you can see what he saw. Sure enough, there was a sort of white haze. What the heck? Upon closer examination I could see that even though I had sanded this piece properly and had gone up to 12000 grit micromesh, there were tiny holes or pits in the surface of the clay. Now I’ve sanded a lot of clay in my time, and I’ve never seen this happen. Normally when baked clay is sanded to 12000 grit, it comes out super smooth and shiny. Sculpey Souffle comes out absolutely matte when you sand it. And it takes a bit of work with the buffer to get a shine on it. And even then there’s that haze. You can see the pits in the surface in the next picture.
Thinking that I had somehow screwed something up, I repeated the whole thing, taking pictures along the way to compare. And sure enough, it wasn’t me. It was the clay.
I said in my first review that there wasn’t a color shift when you bake Sculpey Souffle. But that’s not really true. There isn’t a color shift…the colors themselves don’t change. But the clay does get more dull. And the clay gets even more dull when you sand it. Sealing the clay with Varathane did restore the bright color to a certain extent. But when viewed against the light I can still see the pits in the surface after sealing, so the surface isn’t super glassy smooth. Liquid clay also worked to seal the surface and make it brighter. And if you needed a super glossy surface with this clay I’d recommend using an epoxy resin.
And wouldn’t you know, I saw that Lynda Moseley of Diva Designs, Inc. had the same observations about sanding Souffle with a high grit. Lynda is known for her impeccable finishing skills, so it is validating that she had the same results.
I think that whatever is making this clay lightweight and have a suede-like finish is also what’s causing the clay to look dingy when it’s sanded. I think the little particles come out of the clay during sanding, leaving behind tiny craters. So the surface is smooth to the finger, but actually has tiny pits.
- Sculpey Souffle, when raw, repels water. Left in water overnight it doesn’t dissolve. But it does become slightly sticky. It should be safe to use with water techniques like image transfers and backgroundless canes. But do minimize contact with water.
- Not all the colors of Souffle are equally sticky. I found yellow to be quite sticky, but the rest of the colors were much easier to work with.
- Souffle doesn’t produce surface “pimples” when a sheet of it is baked like Premo does.
- You still need to cover your clay when you bake it. Uncovered white clay baked at 275°F (135°C) for 45 minutes did discolor and the thin edges burned just like meringue.
- This clay does blend nicely and easily. But making a skinner blend was difficult because it was so soft. The sheet got quite distorted as it blended.
- If you could manipulate this clay well enough, I think it would be great for various filigree techniques. It’s strong, so it should hold up. But manipulating such a soft and often sticky clay makes such fine details challenging.
- This clay is very soft when cured. I can actually pick at it and sort of begin to make slices in it with my thumbnail.
My Thoughts on Sculpey Souffle
Wow, what a unique clay. It addresses some of the most frustrating struggles of working with polymer clay with its ease of conditioning and its absolutely impressive flexibility and strength. If all you want to do is open some packages of clay and lose yourself in playing and creating, then this clay is truly wonderful. It IS a lightweight, strong clay.
Sculpey Souffle does introduce problems that other polymer clays don’t have. Souffle is too soft for detailed caning. The color range is limited. And you can’t get a clear, high gloss finish on it.
Sculpey Souffle is a novelty clay, not a workhorse. It is fun, it has a lot of wonderful qualities. And for some techniques, I think we’ll find that it will turn out to be the best clay on the market. It is certainly the first clay that I will recommend for people who are making figurines, are just looking for a simple hobby, or who might have arthritic hands. Let them learn the ropes on this clay and if they’re interested we’ll help them move them on to more versatile clays when they’re ready. Souffle is a huge improvement over Sculpey III with its brittleness and tendency to break. Newbies are going to have more success with Souffle than they have had with Sculpey III in the past, and anything we can do to reduce the discouragement of failure is an improvement, in my opinion.
The polymer clay community is hungry for polymer clay to be taken seriously as a legitimate artistic medium. So when the first new polymer clay to be produced in years turns out to be a mere hobby clay, it is easy for that to be felt as a slap in the face. We can’t look at it that way. We still need high end artist’s level polymer clay. Staedtler is making strides with its new Fimo Professional rebranding of the old Fimo Classic. But this is still an incredibly fun material to work with and we just got a new toy. That’s gotta be good!
Should you switch to working with Souffle? No, not if you like your current brand. But I do think you might want to pick up a few packages and see what you think. It just might bring a new element of fun to your work. Or give you some new ideas. I know I’ll be happily using up the rest of my windfall of Souffle. Thank you Polyform!!
UPDATE: Read what Claire Maunsell is doing with her Souffle. It turns out the Souffle is the perfect clay for her hollow forms and surface embellishments.
NOTE: For even more information about Souffle, including a list of sources, please check my earlier post.