For today’s post I thought it would be fun to update a classic hollow bead technique that I’ve used for many years by using the delicious new bright colours in the Souffle line. I was sent some of these to try (along with some other fun stuff – thanks Polyform!) and I think they are just the thing for me to use to step out of my usual rut with making veneers!

As some of you may know, I specialize in making hollow polymer beads with intricate and detailed veneers. However, that process does not appeal to everyone, so some years ago I devised a quick and easy method for students to make hollow geometric beads using cutters and a pasta machine.  I think almost everyone who works in polymer owns cutters of some sort these days. Since I posted that tutorial on Flickr there has been a virtual explosion in the variety of cutters that can be purchased online!

So here is all you need pictured below: pretty sure everyone has this stuff and I like to keep it inexpensive. If you don’t have the Alcohol Blending Solution 99% alcohol from the drug store works just fine. Any acrylic compatible with cured polymer will work fine. Test first to make sure that it dries properly and doesn’t remain sticky!

So, to start…

Make a veneer you like and select a cutter shape. You can go large here as the resulting bead will be hollow and very light. It will be easier with a larger form and will also showcase more of your veneer. Think focal bead…. The veneer is simple.

The first example shows tiny dots made by making a tiny cane from translucent white mix surrounded by some of the new Souffle colours.

The subsequent ones are all made from the Souffle colours by laying handmade snakes of colours on a base sheet of clay (thickness one or two down from the thickest on your pasta machine) in simple patterns. You could extrude the snakes if you like but I like the life and irregularity that comes from rolling them by hand.

The snakes are standing up from the surface and now we want to work them into the body of the base sheet in a very particular way. Press them onto the surface gently – then flip the sheet over. Press firmly with your fingertips around the snakes or dots.

It will look like this.. Do NOT use a roller or a pasta machine! Work the background around the pieces on the top with your fingers.

Flip the sheet to the other side and start stretching and enlarging the sheet in all directions. Then flip and flatten around the shapes again, ensuring that they stay connected to the base sheet. The stretching/enlarging serves the purpose of adding a line and gesture quality that you’d be unlikely to achieve by just laying snakes and dots by adding an unpredictable process!

Now if you look at these sheets closely you can see that there is a line and perhaps even a little polymer tearing texture around each of the elements you added to make the pattern.  We can use this to our advantage later – or not, as you like. This would not happen if you rolled it flat with a roller from the top side or put it through the pasta machine. We accentuated these spaces and lines by pulling and stretching by hand.

Now pick your cutter. Think larger as this will show off more of your veneer and will make removing the center portions to lighten it up worthwhile.  Begin to roll out thin layers on your pasta machine (4th or 5th setting from thickest) to make the ‘strata’ layers, use any colours you like that you think work well with your veneer. I say thin because stacking thicker layers can look like bits of toast lying on top of one another and is not very natural looking…
If your cutters are not high quality, so much the better as this can give a rough and ragged edge which makes the stack look even more natural!

Cut 2 pieces from your veneer for the back and front of your bead. If your cutter is asymmetrical cut the second one from the wrong side of the veneer so they will stack properly! The inside layers will be cut from solid colors.

Stack up your layers – stay as high or as low as you want, obviously the number of layers will determine the height of the bead. Do NOT stack perfectly! Imperfection works better here. DO NOT be obsessive, lol! If you have a nesting cutter, you can take a smaller cutter and cut out the interior to remove the weight of the interior polymer mass. I just used an x-acto  knife and you can see I wasn’t very tidy about it. You can cut out the interior of 2 or 3 stacked layers at a time and then stack the groups.

You can see that the cut layers are lying on the veneer which will be the back of the bead. If your veneer is thin, you can use an extra full layer to back it up to prevent sagging. If you want the bead to be really flat, you can cure just like this and add the front layer after curing and do a second cure. I like to do it all in one and cure them standing on their side.

Firm up the layers to make sure they are well attached to each other. Pay attention to how the veneer sheet is sitting on the layers also how the corners look.

Gee, those look kinda toast-like, don’t you think? Later I added texture to the side of this one to disguise how thick the layers were!

Make a tiny pin hole before curing to make sure any thin area does not collapse. Always follow this principle with hollow beads. You can add the main bead holes later after curing when you see how the bead looks.

Also, you can manipulate the beads quite a lot after you assemble them. I like to do this to take away the ‘cutterishness’ of them.  You’ll see some later that I made with an oval cutter and then twisted them to make a different shape.

So here are some completed beads. As you can see the set on the right with the blue background is unaltered. But the ones on the left have been painted, because…. I can’t leave well enough alone! Though I might leave the ones on the right as they are….

The first picture on this post shows you how they look right out of the oven. Too bright for my personal taste, which is why I wanted to paint them, but I knew that they would remain pretty bright even after painting because of the utterly glorious brightness of these new Souffle colours. Also, that line around each element I took such care to create would be a new line in paint in a colour of my choosing. Souffle’s suede-like texture also means that the surface retains a lot of paint in a way I personally like a lot. Basically, the acrylic paint is applied thickly and wiped off. If you don’t like the colour you chose, applying another colour will remove most of the first one (good to know) but you’ll never get it all off so think first. Or enjoy them without paint!!

It can be quite scary applying black. My students always freak out a little when I slather it on in front of them. Here is the first coat on the pink square bead:

You can see how dull it is. With the Q-tips and paper towels and alcohol you can brighten it up to how it looks in the previous picture. You can use your Q-tip like a paint brush to remove selective areas of whatever paint you applied.

If you want to remove even more use very fine steel wool and then rinse with alcohol.

This piece has orange and yellow paint washed on the front and black on the edges.
This bead has Viridian Green paint washed on it.
Black paint on the tops and assorted colours on the sides
Twisty beads with dark purple paint

Lots of possibilities with these beautiful new bright colours and all the other ones at our disposal too! I was not too adventurous with cutters as I have quite a soft spot for those rounded cubes, but I’d certainly love to see what you all come up with!

Please don’t feel you have to paint – you can stop with just the clay! And of course, explore mixing colours for custom satisfaction. Paint is my obsession and is obviously not for everyone.

In case you are curious, here is the link to the original tutorial on Flickr: