Documenting Your Color Mixes

Taking some time to make and document color mixes is the best way to learn how to mix colors instinctively.  Playing scales on the piano trains the ear, making color mixes trains the eye. Color scales are my favorite way to record my color mixes but I encourage you to come up with your own system for keeping track of your color mixing experiments.  Here are a few ideas from my studio drawers to get you started. 

Color Swatches


I started documenting my mixes with 2″ x 2″ swatches and ended up making a series of fan decks with two primary mixes for all the Fimo primaries.  The top photo shows the Carmine, Burgundy, and Red Fimo fan decks I made by mixing the reds to yellows and to the complementary green.  After baking the swatches, I wrote the formula on the back, drilled holes in the corners and used a head-pin to hinge the swatches into fan decks.  The second photo shows the Fimo swatches that I used as the palette for the Fable Vessel series.  The third photo shows a collection of the different types of swatches I’ve used over the years to document colors mixed with white.  The first batch is Fimo, the second is Premo, the third is Premo using the Watercolor Technique. I keep these swatches loose and stored in wooden boxes so I can pull them out when I need color inspiration.

Color Templates



Before I switched to color scales, I sometimes documented mixes by inserting the colors into holes punched in templates made from gray clay.  To get the lines and the patterns for cutting holes, I drew up the templates on the computer and made copies to transfer the design to the raw clay.  I then cut out the holes with a circle cutter and baked the template before adding the color mixes. This technique proved to be way too labor intensive for me . . . but it might be right up your alley.

 Color Scales


Color Scales came about when I needed an easier way to organize my mixes and see all the possibilities at a glance.  The top photo with the round beads shows some of the first color scales I ever made.  They were made in Fimo around 1994 and each scale was strung on wire so that I could mix and match them for different primary combinations.  I ended up with over 40  two-color scales that could be interchanged to get the palette I wanted.  The second photo shows some of the Fimo color scales going to white and black. The third photo shows a few bead strands that I made for project palettes; the bicone bead strand was made with Fimo, the other two are Premo. The last photo shows three bead strands that I made to document double primaries in Premo. The  orange scales were made from Cad Yellow, Zinc Yellow, Cad Red and Fuchsia.  For the green scales, I used Cobalt, Ultramarine, Cad Yellow and Zinc Yellow. The purple scales used Cad Red, Fuchsia, Cobalt and Ultramarie.  

As you can see, I never bothered to come up with one perfect way to keep track of all the test mixing I do in the studio.  The important thing is to do it – document it if you can – and move on to the next project!

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Mixing Color Scales Video


The idea for the Color Scales came when I was struggling to keep track of all the test mixing I was doing when I first started using polymer clay in the mid ’90’s.   I decided there had to be a better way to organize all the little bits of clay and tried all kinds of systems before hitting on this one.   I’m searching in my studio for some of those early attempts at organizing color samples and I’ll share them with you tomorrow.  For now, have fun mixing scales!

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New Twists on Pivot Beads

pivot beads - new twist

The Polymer Penguin’s pivot beads take the idea in a whole new direction.

Pivot Beads - Zjet

Zjet’s Flickr site has some gorgeous collages and shows more of her many colored pivot beads.  The color coordinated caps add a beautiful finishing touch.

Dora Arsenault strung multi-colored pivot beads into an eye-catching necklace.

 pivot beads - dora

Dottie McMillan, author of Artful Ways with Polymer Clay, and Creative Ways with Polymer Clay, combined her elongated version of the pivot beads with beads inspired by Cynthia Toops bobbin beads on page 32.


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Project #3 Pinched Petal Necklace

Jeanette KandrayThere are many ways to play with this project.  Jeanette Kandray sent a photo of her  necklace on the collage that inspired it.   Its not a rainbow skinner blend. Instead it is more of a value study from the dark purples though the pinks with the yellows of the collage captured in the yellow used for the center cane.   Note that Jeanette chose not to give her cane a final wrap.  This gives the cane slices a softer feeling more in line with the overall appearance of the collage.

pinched petal terje in estoniaTerje in Estonia photographs her pieces on white tableware.  Her pinched-petal necklace looks as if it is crawling over the plates. Very fun!


Weekend Extra Exercises

1. Try changing with the composition of the cane by using different colors for the center of the cane and for the wraps or try not using an outer wrap at all.

2. Make a skinner blend using a variety of colors from your collage – not just your version of magenta, yellow and blue.

pinched petal113. Experiment with stringing the petals in a variety of ways. Here is one of my necklaces from the book restrung  in a different way. Instead of trying to keep the petals in the order of the rainbow, I purposely split the petals into seven color piles and rearranged them so they were not in rainbow order. Then I strung the petals by picking up one from each pile in a repeating pattern. The color flow is gone. Its a very different project!


If you have a light colored collage and  made your rainbow skinner blend from pastel colors you may want to flip the value contrast in the center cane by putting a darker color in the center and wrapping it with a light color.

If you have more petals than you need for a necklace, remove every fourth or fifth petal along the line. You may have enough extra petals to make earrings or a bracelet.


1. In the instructions you say to use “your” black and white. What does that mean?

Sometime black and white are too harsh for a palette and we recommend making a custom “black” and “white.”  For my palette in the book,  black is a dark purple brown and my white is cream colored.

2. Why are my cane slices cracking when I pinch them?

Sometimes this is caused by cutting the slices too thick. Try cutting very thin slices and see if cracking is still a problem.  Some clays are more brittle than others before baking and it doesn’t matter how thin you slice it.  If your petals are  still cracking, it helps to warm them up before pinching them. If you have warm fingers, you can do this by squeezing the cane slice between your thumb and forefinger for a few seconds before pinching. Just don’t do what I did when I wanted to hurry up the process. I decided to lay out my flat slices on a food warming tray, which baked them all  before I even finished cutting all the slices from of the cane!

Another reason the slices might be cracking is that you waited too  long after making the cane to cut the slices. Each clay sets up at a different rate. Its better to try slicing too soon than too late. If the cane is still too “squishy” to make clean slices just wait a little longer.

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Call for Photos: Pinched Petal Necklace

nora pero's pinched petal necklaceI’ve seen some wonderful images posted online by artists who have already made the Pinched Petal Necklace project in Chapter 4.  Here’s a gorgeous one from Nora Pero’s flickr site. I especially love the tomato red centers!

I would like to post a sampling of Pinched Petal necklace photos on Saturday for the Weekend Extra. If you have photos you would like to share, email them to me at If you can also send a photo or scan of your necklace with your collage that’s even better!

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Exercise # 5 Instinctive Mixing

Instinctive MixingWhen you are instinctive mixing it helps to imagine  the direction that you want to move the color.  Once you know the direction,  you can find the path. 

The “path” is the imaginary line that runs between the color you have and the color that you want.  If you extend this line across the color sorter, any color along that line can be used to move the color to where you want it to be.   This is especially true when you are mixing the desaturated colors that fall on the inside of the color sorter.  Here’s the example from the book diagrammed on the color sorter.

Color 1 shows  the first step –  mixing green from yellow and blue.  Color 2 shows  moving the color toward blue by mixing it with a little more blue. Since the color that you want has more mud in it, you need to move it toward the center of the color sorter. Color 3 shows the color moved toward the center by mixing it with “mud”, in this case a brown mud.   

Imagine the other choices that fall along the same path for moving Color 2 toward the center. You could mix Color 2 with gray, with brown, with brick red, or with cherry red (the complement of emerald green) and it would move into the same place. The only difference would be in the proportion of Color 2 used in each mixture.   

Weekend Extra Exercises

1.  Make a small amount of emerald green and divide it into two pieces.  Mix one piece with with a brown mud to make a spruce color. Mix the second piece with a cherry red to make a similar spruce color.  How much mud did it take to move the emerald to spruce?  How much cherry red?

instinctive mixing22.  There can be many paths to get to the same color.  Mix three versions of olive green by following three different paths:

          1. Lemon Yellow to Blue Violet

          2 Emerald Green to Yellow Orange

          3. Lime Green to Ochre

3. Try mixing some of the other earth colors by following different paths.

4. Cut your instinctive mixes of earth colors in half. Add white to one half.  Compare the pastel versions to the original  earth color. Can you see the mud?



  • Use small amounts of clay to practice instinctive mixing.  Once you get the hang of moving colors along pathways you can start using larger amounts of clay with greater confidence.
  • If you are not sure of proportions, start with a half and half mix and then adjust as you go.
  • You don’t need to keep track of proportions in instinctive mixing but if you want to remember what you did in each step you can make small reference piles like the ones shown in the book.
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Using the Tasting Tiles

tasting tiles 3The rally was lots of fun. Pioneer Courthouse Square was filled to the brim with people carrying 350 banners. I love my city!

Here are my Kato tasting tiles, including four muds made with equal parts of the various three primaries. The set-up for the muds is different from the book. I cut the squares of each primary color in half diagonally.

Note that even though I am taking these photos under full spectrum lights, they are not totally accurate. The blues are especially hard to capture.


Analyzing the Tiles 

I can tell just by looking at my collage that I probably won’t be using Magenta. It doesn’t appear in my collage and doesn’t make the secondary mixes I need.

Just for fun, I cut up a copy of my collage that appears in the book.  I was curious to see how much of each primary and secondary hue there would be. It turns out tasting tiles4that in my collage there are some slightly muted greens, a larger section of blues, lots of red orange and oranges, and a very large section of yellows with a good amount of ochres. There are no clear purples.  Instead of purples, there are many dark eggplant browns that match the Kato purples made with Kato Red.


Choosing Primaries

tasting tiles5If I was going to use Kato clay to match colors to my collage, I could rule out using Magenta very quickly.   The Red will give me the oranges and the eggplant purples that I need so its the better choice.  Since there is only one yellow, the big question is – which blue should I use? I would choose Kato Blue instead of the Turquoise because the greens I want are a little bit muddy.  I also like the dark brown mud that results from using the Blue. The tasting tiles helped me confirm that the Kato primaries for this collage are the traditional Red, Yellow, and Blue.  The colors I mix with these three primaries will give me a palette that matches my collage.

Weekend Extra Exercises

1.  Make a color copy of your collage and cut it up into color swatches. Don’t be too picky – stick to just the six hue families and one or two mud colors.

2. Sort the swatches into hue families and glue them onto a piece of 11″ x 17″ poster board. Because you will lose some of the collage as you cut and because you’ll end up overlapping some of the piece, you will probably only cover about 3/4 of the board.

3. Look at all the variations in each of the hue families. How much hue, value and saturation range is there?


If you use more than one brand of clay, be sure to mark your tasting tiles with the brand.

If your white clay is crumbly out of the package, cut a slice of white that is the same thickness as your tasting tiles. Then you don’t have to make a snake. Just use the circle cutter to cut pieces from the slice to mix with the pieces cut from the center of the tasting tile.

Look at both the untinted and tinted parts of the tasting tiles to determine which primaries make the colors that match your collage.

When I was cutting up my collage I used small envelopes for each of the hue families. This kept all the little pieces from flying away or getting lost on the table in my studio. (Easy to do given the mess!)


1. Why limit the clays to just three primaries?

We suggest starting this way so that you can learn how to mix colors using the fewest package colors. Sometimes you need more than three to get the colors you need and sometimes its just easier to start with a package color for each of the six hue families. That’s OK.

2. Can I use black if its in my collage?

I like to use a mixed black instead of a package black but if you have lots of pure black in your collage then you can use package black.

3. What should I do if I can’t decide between two primaries?

You can mix the two primaries together or you can choose to use both for your palette. There are no fixed rules. The goal is to be able to mix colors to match your collage.  A little exploration goes a long way toward making color mixing much easier.

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Kato Clay Tasting Tiles

tasting tiles2 Here is the first step in making the tasting tiles using Kato Clay.  I used Yellow, Blue, Turquoise, Magenta and Red.

Greens:  The first mixture of Yellow with Blue came out slightly muted. That is due to the Blue clay’s bias toward magenta. The Yellow with Turquoise  came out very clear.

Oranges: The mixtures of the Yellow/Magenta and the Yellow/Red both came out clear. That’s because there is no blue bias in either the Magenta or the Red.  You will often hear that magenta is a red with a blue bias. That is not true. Magenta is a true primary. Red is actually a magenta with yellow in it.

Purples:  The first mix is with Kato Blue. Kato Blue has a magenta bias, so it mixes with Magenta to make a clear purple. Kato Turquoise clay is a true primary blue. It doesn’t have much of a bias to either yellow or to magneta so when it is mixed with the Magenta , the Turquoise also makes a clear purple. But look at the mixtures with Kato Red! They are both brown instead of purple. That’s due to the yellow in the Red clay.  Remember that yellow is the third primary.  It combines with the other two primaries to make mud. If you need a clear purple in Kato clay, be sure to use Magenta as your primary, or buy the package Purple.

Today is the International Day of Climate Action and I am off to the rally in downtown Portland.  When I get back I will use the Kato Tasting Tiles that are now in the oven to show you how to find the best primaries for mixing the colors in your collage.

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Studio Tool #1:Tasting Tiles


This is the first of two Studio Tool exercises in the book.  We originally had more of them, including a fan deck of Skinner blends, but due to space limitations we had to cut them out. I will try to add instructions for the missing tools at the point in the book where we wanted them to be.

The Tasting Tiles are designed to be part of a reference set of color samples that you keep on hand to check when you are deciding which clays to use to make a palette.

A few years ago I posted instructions and a form for test mixing secondaries that was based on mixing all the secondaries using equal parts of the primaries. (Download PDF Test Mixing Handout (for Premo and Kato) or (for Fimo)

For the book, Lindly and I decided to use different formulas for each the secondary colors:

Violets: 1/2 blue:1/2 magenta

Greens: 3/4  yellow: 1/4 blue

Oranges: 15/16 yellow: 1/16 magenta

Muds: 1/3 yellow, 1/3 blue. 1/3 magenta

NOTE: The diagram of GREEN on the bottom page 56 is incorrect. It should show 1 part blue:3 parts yellow. (I am much more understanding of mistakes in books now that we have published ours!)

Tasting Tiles are all about undertanding hue bias, and hue bias is all about MUD. Here’s an excerpt from the same post from a few years ago about test mixing and mud:










Traditional theory says R+Y+B =Black, and Modern Theory says C+M+Y=Black.  Reality is Three Primaries = MUD. I define MUD as the color you get when you mix primaries in equal amounts. Depending on which primaries you pick MUD can be many colors.

Traditional MUD 

If you have been mixing colors using the traditional Red, Yellow, Blue primaries then you are familiar with the reality that MUD is in the middle. MUD in the RYB system is usually closer to a brown than a gray.

Modern MUD cmyenvelope1_edited-1.jpg

This diagram of the CMY color space shows that the mixture of C+M+Y is somewhere between black and white. MUD in the CMY system is more gray than brown.  Note that this diagram is misleading because it shows the primaries all at a middle value and we know that’s not true!



 Understanding Primaries Undertone/Bias

There are no perfect primaries. Each of the colors we think of as a primary leans a little (or a lot) toward one of the other primaries. This is called the color’s bias. See page 25.

When you try to mix a secondary color from two primaries you need to know how far away your primaries are from the imaginary perfect primaries. For example, Ultramarine Blue is really Cyan, or primary blue, with quite a bit of Magenta. Golden Yellow is Yellow with just a titch of Magenta.

If you mix Ultramarine Blue with Golden Yellow expecting a bright green you will be disappointed. The magenta in Ultramarine and the magenta in Cad Yellow will get together and steal an equal amount of primary blue from the Ultramarine and also grab some yellow from the Cad Yellow.

The combined B+M+Y will make a MUD that is close to gray. That gray will mix with the green to make a gray green instead of a bright green.

To successfully mix colors, the first thing you need to know is how much Blue, Magenta and Yellow are in each of the colors. One way to find this out is by mixing tasting tiles.

Time to start mixing colors! Be sure to label as you go . . .”

Weekend Extras Exercises

1. Make the tasting tiles in clays other than Premo.

2. Try using orange reds, such as Premo Cadmium Red, Fimo Soft Indian Red, or Sculpey Tomato Red instead of magenta/fuchsia/cherry red versions of the primaries.

3. Change the formulas for the secondaries based on the results you get using our consensual formulas.

4. Make a set of tasting tiles using mixed primary colors instead of primaries out of the package.

5. Customize/mix your primary colors so that you get the secondaries you like the best.

6. If you haven’t watched Beau Lotto’s  TED video that Cynthia posted on Polymer Clay Daily yesterday – watch it! Its very fun and shows lots of what will be covered when we get to the chapter on “Playing Games with Color.”



You can choose any primary from the chart on p. 138  to mix tasting tiles.

Make a chart similar to the one shown at the top of the post and label each square with the clays and formulas you are using to make the tasting tiles. Bake the samples on the chart so that you can keep track of what you are doing. 

If you don’t want to make the pie chart labels you can label the tasting tiles using a Sharpie.

When tinting the center of the tasting tiles with white, try to keep the mix close to 1/2 color/1/2 white.



1.  Why are some reds in the primary section of the chart on p.138 and some reds in the secondary section? 

There is so much yellow in Orange Reds that they cannot be used to mix clear violets. If you don’t mind muddy violets feel free to use orange reds as primaries.

2. Tasting tiles are a lot of work – why bother? 

In the process of making them you will learn a huge amount about how colors mix, plus you will have the tiles on hand for future reference. Just do it!

 Which colors have the most MUD? Which the least? Can you figure out why?

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Tracking Peak Color


 I live in the Pacific Northwest.  We don’t have the same kind of fall leaf season that I grew up with in the Northeast.  I remember as a kid coming up over a hill and seeing a panoramic view of mountains lush with color. The colors were so bright I remember thinking, “The leaves are all the colors of Fruit Loops!”

In Oregon, our mountains are evergreen – with just occasional spots of autumn color. We don’t talk about the leaves the way someone on the east coast talks about the leaves.  I don’t ever hear the words “peak color.” Thankfully our neighborhoods  put on a quite a show – at least until the rain knocks all the leaves into the streets.

I’ve been traveling on the East Coast for the last two weeks and wondering when I would see some gorgeous fall color. It finally happened as we drove through the mountains of western Pennsylvania. It was stunning! Just like I remembered.

My anticipation of finding peak color led me to a few fabulous websites for tracking fall foilage.  The Foliage Report has leaf maps for the Northeast, Southeast and regions. The WeatherBug site has a leaf tracker map and an article on the science behind peak color.  Its interesting to know that orange, yellow and brown leaves come from the pigment carotenoid and red and purple leaves come from pigment anthocyanin but I prefer not to think of the science of it all and just be awed by the amazing beauty of our world.

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Project #2 Ruffle Flower Spiral Brooch












Middle Value Muddle

To make this project, we ask you to pick a light value clay and a dark value clay based on colors from your collage.  If you are having trouble seeing the values, try making a black and white copy of your collage using a color copier. The grayscale will be better than on a black and white copier. If you have Photoshop, you can scan your collage and then change the mode to grayscale. Here’s one of my collages in both color and grayscale. Its easy to see that the darkest colors are on the underside of the apple on the table, the lightest colors are on the pitcher, and that most of the collage colors are in the middle. 

 Checking Value

Middle value colors will not work as well for this project as a dark and a light value.  Use your value sorter from Chapter Two to check the values of the clay you are thinking about using. If you haven’t had a chance to make a value sorter, here’s an even more basic version of a value sorter that will help you pick a dark and light clay.

Materials : 1/2 ounce of black clay, 1/2 ounce of white clay, 3/4″ square cutter, 1/2″ circle cutter, clay colors from your collage to test

Value Checker1_edited-11. Sheet the black and white at the middle setting on the pasta machine. Cut out one square of black and one square of white. Mix the remaining black and white clay together and sheet it at the middle setting to make a backing sheet.  Place the black and white squares on the backing sheet and cut a circle out of the center of each square.  Trim away the backing sheet. Bake according to the manufactures instructions.

Value Checker2 2.  Sheet the clay you want to test at the thickest setting on your pasta machine. Cut out two circles and put them into the holes of the baked sorter. Squint your eyes. Does the color pop out more against the black or the white? If it pops out more against the white – it is a dark value (blue). If it pops out more against the black – its a light value clay (yellow). If it pops out from both sides then its a middle value clay (green).  To make the skinner blend  for the project be sure to use a light and a dark clay – not  middle value clays!

Value Checker3Value Checker4

The Importance of Value

Value is sometimes referred to as “luminosity.” In her fascinating book, Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing,  Margaret Livingston gets down to the cellular level to explain why value is so important in art. Livingston says, “Understanding luminance (value) is important because our perception of depth, three-dimensionality, movement or lack of it, and spatial organization are all carried by part of our visual system that responds only to luminance (value) differences and is insensitive to color.”

What does that mean? In simple terms: the parts of the eye that send information to the brain about value are different from the ones that send information about hue; and its this important information about value that our brain uses to percieve depth. Variations in value add depth to your work.


Lindly is a master at using value to enliven her pieces. Imagine the ruffle brooch made out of solid color clay – boring! If you don’t want to make a brooch, you can play with your dark and light Skinner cane in other ways. Here’s a close-up of some of Lindly’s beads. She used the same technique as the project in the book  –  adding depth to the necklaces by simply playing with the value variation of each of the different hues.

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Exercise #4 Color Inspiration Collage

first collageI began making color collages when I moved into my first out-of-the-house studio in 1996.  I finally had lots of wall space and decided to pull out the basket with postcards, greeting cards, clippings, art catalogs, and memorabilia that I had saved over the years and get them up on the wall.

At first they went up willy-nilly, but when I stepped back I realized I had to take them all down and sort them into groups according to color.

This is the first collage of the five that I sorted that day and I’ve been making color collages ever since.  Lindly and I have made hundreds of collages over the years. Have fun making yours!

Weekend Extra Exercises

Make lots of collages!


The more clippings you have the easier it will be to see ” color themes” in the clippings that you like.

Remember that you are not designing a color scheme – you are documenting one.

Work quickly and intentionally.

If you are struggling to see a “theme” – pick one of the clippings you like the most, and then audition the rest of the clippings. Do they feel the same? Do they have the same colors?  Do they “hang with” that clipping.

Don’t settle for “it almost goes.” Find more magazines and look for clippings that really do have similar colors and are similar in feeling.

Try to divorce your preferences for texture and imagery from your preferences for colors. Its hard to do – you may have to resort to the old trick of turning the clippings upside down.


1.  Do I have to cover the whole board? Yes – the background will shift the colors so cover it all up.

2. Can I use just part of a clipping? Sure, feel free to cut away anything that is not working for your collage.

3. Does it matter what size the clippings are? No – you can use a full page from a magazine if that is what you are responding to – or you can use just a corner of a small photo if that works well with your collage.

Here’s the first (and maybe the last!) video made in my studio. You can just make out the first set of five collages in the background.  It was done in one take and its a little bit dark. I was hoping to edit it and brighten it up a bit but I’m afraid the video editing software is currently way beyond my skills! With any luck I will be able to get my nephew, Joey, to come down to Portland from Seattle sometime soon and give me a tutorial.  There are few parts that make me cringe (who picked that music??) but I want to share it with you anyway. One warning – color collaging can be addictive!

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Watercolor Technique Tutorial


I am having trouble with my camera but here’s a quick and dirty tutorial on using the watercolor technique to make “torn paper” beads similar to the bead on the lower left.


1. Mix a palette.  I always start a project by mixing a set of colors that “hang together.”  Make at least one color in each hue family and add a mud color to create a palette that you like. You don’t need much clay – 1/2 oz of each color is plenty. 

Option: Add a little bit of aluminum leaf to each of the colors. This adds a slight sparkle similar to mica in stones. I use aluminum leaf because it doesn’t tarnish.


2. Mix top colors.I like to marbleize three pea sized colors from my palette to make the top colors.  I often include my mud in the mix. This mutes the starting colors so that the final watercolor sheets are more natural – not too  “easter-eggish.”  Run the  clay at the thinnest manageable setting on the pasta machine to make a very thin sheet  that is no bigger than 2″ x 3″.

Option: Do not mix the clay all the way – leave it a little bit mottled. This will add variations of color to the final sheet.  


3. Add black and white.  Sheet white and black at the thickest setting, stack them together, and then place the top color on the white.

There are many variations of this step. The basic idea is to “wash” the very thin top color over a thick sheet of white.  This spreads the color so that it becomes lighter and brighter without actually mixing it with white clay.  The black sheet is added to the bottom for contrast when the sheet is torn.

 Option: Use an off-white such as ecru for the white layer, and a deep dark for the black layer. This option is often used by Judith Kuskin to make her beautiful jewelry

Watercolor55. Wash the top color.  Run the stacked sheets though the pasta machine starting with the thickest setting.  Go  progressively thinner until the sheet is very thin (and usually fairly long!) Mix different proportions of your palette colors to make many variations of watercolor sheets.

 Notice how much lighter and brighter the washed color is compared to the original top color.

Option: If your colors are coming out too bright,  add more mud to the top color.

Watercolor6_edited-1 6. Select a color scheme. Looking at all your watercolor sheets, use your instincts to decide which colors to put together. Audition each color with the other colors and adjust proportions until the combination looks good to you.

Before going on to the next step, lay the sheets out next to each other to see where there is lots of value contrast and where there is little. Don’t assume that all the colors will look equally as good against each other.


WatercolorPrep2_edited-1  7. Make mud. Because the sheets go lighter and brighter I usually use a dark color for my background. I keep my scrap clay sorted into three bins – blues and purples, greens and yellows (including oranges which are really just yellows with a little bit of red!) and reds and magentas. This makes it easier for me to mix clearer colors when I don’t want mud. When I do want mud,  I pull a little bit from each pile taking more from the blues/purples if I want a gray mud, more from the green/yellows if I want an ocher mud, and more from the reds/magentas if I want a brown mud.

WatercolorPrep8. Make base beads from mud. To make base beads, mix some mud from scraps until it is all one color.  Roll it into a ball while pressing all the air out. Roll the ball into a log and cut off chucks to make  smaller balls.

Option: If you want all your beads to be similar in size, measure and cut the same amounts off the log.

Watercolor7_edited-29. Collage torn sheets.  Tear off small pieces of the watercolor sheets and collage them onto the bead blanks. I like to leave some of the dark background color showing for contrast. Gently roll the collaged sheets into the base bead and then form the bead into a shape you like. Pierce the beads before baking if you don’t want to drill holes after baking.  Bake according to the clay brand instructions.

Option: Roll the beads with some cornstarch to make them smooth. Bake the beads on a bed of cornstarch to prevent flat spots.

Note: The beads and pendents at the top of this post are all older variations of the watercolor technique. The pivot beads from Chapter 2 are a new variation that uses a black, white and gray striped cane as the white layer.  Play with making watercolor sheets using:

  • A stretched out cane slice for the top color.
  • Crumbly old white clay for the middle layer.
  • A Skinner blend for the top color.
  • A textured white piece for the middle layer.
  • Mokume gane for the top layer.
  • A dark color for the middle layer.

The possibilities are endless!

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Project #1 Pivot Bead Strands

tricksy_gnomeThis pivot bead strand is up on tricksy_gnome’s Flickr site.  A beautiful combination of colors!

The idea for the pivot beads came when I started using canes as the underlayer for my watercolor technique.

The original watercolor beads were made for the silent auction at the second Ravensdale conference in 1998. Lindly and I were teaching a three day color workshop together and the first evening I showed her some of my early color washing experiments. At the time I was using a pre-mixed palette of Fimo colors that had foil leaf mixed in. We didn’t have any Fimo white clay so we grabbed some Sculpey II and ran very thin sheets of the Fimo over thick sheets of Sculpey. The resulting sheets looked very much like watercolor on paper so we tore them into bits to cover balls of scrap clay. 

waterbeadssm Since I needed something to donate to the silent auction, we very quickly made a collection of beads and sent them off to the auction coordinators. They were a big hit! The next night a few friends came down to our studio to help make more beads. The crew included Pier Volkous, Elise Winters, and Cynthia Toops, plus Lindly and I.  As you can imagine – the beads were gorgeous!

I am thrilled to announce that some of the original Watercolor beads from Ravensdale will be in the Racine Art Museum’s polymer clay collection. Elise Winter’s and her dedicated team of volunteers have worked endless hours to create a place for polymer clay in the museums around the country. This is an amazing step for polymer clay!

You can help make the permanent polymer clay collection at the RAM a reality by donating to the fundraising for the project. For more information go to Polymer Art Archive and read all about it.  In addition to this latest post – go back and check out some of the previous posts about putting the collection together. Fascinating!

Kudos to everyone in our community who is working so hard to place polymer in museum settings. It helps legitimize the medium for all of us – artists, crafters, hobbyists, and professionals.

crafty-goatI am working on a photo tutorial covering the basics of the original Watercolor Technique. It will also  include some tips and new ideas for making more variations of the pivot beads. In the meantime, check out a review of the book by CraftyGoat.

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Exercise #3 Playing with Saturation: Pivot Tiles


The concept of saturation is a tough one. The terms tinting and shading usually have to do with changing the value of a color but they also have to do with changing the saturation. Tinting is mixing a color with white, shading is mixing a color with black (or mud, or the complement.) The term “tone” is used when a color has both white and black in it. In strict color theory books – a tone is a grayed out version of the original color that still has the same value of the original color.

Instead of the standard terms “tint, shade and tone” we chose to sort colors into saturation families. Colors are either rainbow pastels, earths or earth pastels depending on how much the pure color is mixed with white, with black/mud, and with both white and mud together.

As soon as you start mixing a color with black/mud, or white, you are changing the saturation as well as the value and the hue. It doesn’t matter if you call the shifted colors muted or desaturated,  tints or rainbow pastels, tones or earth pastels,  shades or earths, the fact is that the new colors are no longer 100 % pure. 830PastelHueFamiles2

Pastel Color Sorter. All the colors on the pastel color sorter have  been desaturated with just white, or white and mud together. Notice that they have a very different feel from the colors on the Classic Color Sorter which have no white in them at all.

Saturation Zones or Families

faberbirrentinttoneshadeOur illustration for saturation families is based on Faber Birren’s “Tint, Tone and Shade” drawing. This classic diagram appears in many books on color. It shows a color modified by adding white to get tints, gray to get tones and black to get shades.

The pivot tiles you are making are designed to show all these variations of colors. The more variations you make the better you will understand the subtle differences that are available to you when you start putting colors together.

Weekend Extra Exercises

1. Any color can be pivoted. Try making pivot tiles with colors that are not pure package colors. Mix up a beautiful earth color and then make a warmer and cooler version of that color.  Tint each of the three variations with white, tone them with grey and shade them with black.

2. Make at least one tile using variations of white and black. For example, use Premo Ecru as a white,  Burnt Umber as a black, and a 1:1 mix of Ecru and Burnt Umber as the “gray”.

3.  Intentionally mix a dark mud to use instead of a black. There are many ways to make dark muds – try mixing a cool blue with a brown (Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber.)

4. Later on in the book, once you have mixed colors to go with your collage, make more pivot tiles to go with “your” colors.


jeanette sclar's pivot tileUse a Sharpie to label the back of your pivot tiles with the names and proportions of the warming and cooling colors you chose and with the black and white you used.

Jeanette Sclar sent in this photo showing her variation on pivot tiles. She keeps track of the colors added and the proportions used by adding stripes to the top and side of each of the sections. In this sample she used Cobalt and Zinc Yellow Premo to pivot Cadmium Red.  The proportions on the left are:  half blue/half red and 1/4 of another square of either white, gray or black. She wrote: ” This is the perfect illustration of your statement  that cad red with any blue results in muddy purples!”


Keep track of which black and white you are using.

Jeanette Kandray is doing a new blog just on the exercises from the book. She emailed me about the difference in the strength of the Kato clay vs the Premo blacks: “I started out working with Kato and learned that adding the black made an intense change in the color properties.  I switched to Premo and there is a big jeanettekandraypremopivotsdifference.  Now I know that I have to go very easy on the black with Kato but not so with the Premo.”

If you look at the comparison chart on page 33 , you will see the differences in the strengths of the black and white package colors for the various brands of clay.  The black and white of the Polyform clays are fairly balanced in strength  – a half and half mix (1:1)makes a middle gray. The black of Fimo Classic is a little bit stronger than the white – it takes 6 parts of white to 2 parts of black  (3:1) to make a middle value gray. The black of Fimo Soft and Kato clay is lots stronger than the white – it takes 7 parts of white to 1 part (7:1) of black to make a middle gray. That is a big difference!


1. Why doesn’t your saturation diagram use the terms “tints, tones and shades?”

Our diagram was designed to show large saturation shifts – from pure to earth color for example. These large shifts put colors into groupings that have a similar feel. We think the names we chose reflect these different feelings. Tinting, toning and shading are smaller shifts that can be done to any color, regardless of the saturation family. Picture a terra cotta (an orange with both mud and white = an earth pastel ). It can be tinted, toned, and shaded the same way a pure orange can be tinted, toned and shaded to make many variations of the same color.

2. I added green to my yellow in the proportion you show (4:1) and it turned the yellow a bright green. Can I change the proportions?

Absolutely. The idea is to get slight variations – not change the color entirely. Yellows are wimps. Instead of adding 1/4 of a cool color to the yellow, you may want to add less because your green is a bully.  Just be sure to label the tiles, expecially if they vary from the directions in the book.

Jill Kollman leftovers from pivot tiles3. What to do with all the little bits leftover after making your pivot tiles?

They can be used for the Pivot Bead project or  Jill Kollmann sent me this wonderful photo and said, ” I had so much fun making my pivot tiles!  And all these wonderful swatches of clay left over.  So I made these additional “reminder” charts to reinforce the mixes in my mind.  Each of the mixed colors is in a square, and underneath each mix are dots of the 2 or 3 colors I used to make each mix.  It’s not proportional – I drew a square at the bottom so I would remember how I “got there”.  It’s raw, and covered in plastic.  So this will also help me to remember which colors shifted during baking.  Eventually I’ll “just know”, but for now this is going to help reinforce the learning.  I love color school! “

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