Sunday, October 31, 2010

Polymer Clay Horns

EDT’s Countdown to Halloween!
This tutorial is brought to you by Alternatevisions. Creator of the most adorable Trick or Treat print you have ever seen.

A Basic Guide to Making Polymer Clay Horns

Ever see a pair of horns at a renaissance festival, costume party, LARP or Halloween event (even some in movies, TV & magazines?) and wonder how in the nine hells they were made? Well if the answer is “yes,” then I prithee you believe me when I tell you that they are almost sinfully easy. ;D

Despite what some might think, you really don’t need to have stupendous amounts of innate creativity, be super-crafty, keenly artistic or even super well-learned to make your own neat pair of spiffy, string-on horns. (Although of course none of those wouldhurt. ;)). You just need some good old-fashioned imagination, a little time, a steady hand, some attention to detail, a teeeeny bit of elbow grease, and maybe a dash of ingenuity.

First, decide which type/style of beastie you'd like to portray! Will your horns be for a satyr? A devil/demon? Perhaps a pixie, troll or sprite? Maybe a succubus, or a goblin..? How about a unicorn..? For the purpose of this tutorial, we're just gonna make 1 pair of simple, versatile little curved horns in white- to go with almost any theme. :)

(But if you'd like to do something different, go with it! Play! Choose any sort of curvature or color you like- and have fun! After you bake them, you can even paint them if you wish. :))

To make your own horns, you'll need:

  • 2 toothpicks

  • 2 – 3 feet of satin cord, relatively narrow ribbon, or clear sewing elastic

(Enough to go around your head and leave at least 6-8” leftover on either side to ease tying. Of course color is entirely up to you, but for more natural looks I'd recommend either black or med. to light brown, depending on your hair color. Clear, 1mm. Stretch Magic elastic cord can also work for making smaller horns like these.)

  • 1 cookie sheet (Not to be used again for food after using with polymer clay. I'd recommend using an old tray you might want to re-purpose later, or one which you could devote it entirely to your future clay-baking purposes. :) You could also simply line a cookie sheet w/tinfoil if you'd like to use the tray again. One of those cheap disposable trays they sell at most grocery stores would also work nicely.)

  • Clear spray lacquer or varnish (Optional.)

  • Your choice of Acrylic paint(s) (Also optional.)

  • 1 brick of Fimo, Sculpey, or your chosen brand of polymer clay

(Each brand has their own slightly differing firing temperatures and firmness levels. If you have any problems with your hands, or would just like something more easily conditioned, you might prefer something like Fimo Soft; which doesn't take quite as much force to knead during the conditioning process.)

Step 1. Condition the Clay

Break off half of your poly-clay brick, and begin to press the form into a ball. Do just like you did in kindergarten, and work with it until the clay becomes soft, mailable, and easy to shape at the touch. Make cylinders and as they thin out, bend them into a “U” shape, then twist the tines of the “U” together to make a spiral or braided-looking effect. Twist and mash it all back up into a ball again until the clay becomes readily pliable. (Some brands take longer than others to condition, so keep working at it until you feel the clay moves well, does not crack upon bending, and pretty much acquiesces to your will at the slightest of your whims. This may take time, but it will eventually happen. Reincorporate any crumbles or crumbs that may fall off of your brick as you go. They will eventually obey!

Option: If you'd like to create the basic shape of both horns at once (some do this to ensure that the horns appear more even), you can also condition the full brick all at once. When the clay is fully conditioned, just shape the clay into another short, fat log and bend it into a “U” shape. Note the middle point of where the “U” curves and bend the clay back in the opposite direction. Unless you have super-soft clay, the “U” should break at the half-way point and give you a nice clean divide; leaving 2 pointy-headed cylinders from which you can work. (If you have softer clay, follow the steps above but then pinch the clay at the middle point and continue with the next tip.) If upon comparison one's a bit larger or taller than the other, just pinch off a small piece and keep adding until they look even. :) When they look right, set one cylinder down and continue to follow the steps below.

Step 2. Basic Shaping

Make a ball as neatly and seamlessly as possible. Roll it around in your hands until you cannot see any divots, seams, crevices or divides. Once the ball is uniform in texture, begin to roll out a short, squat clay cylinder. The width of this cylinder will be the the width of your horns at their wides point, so don't make this little clay log too narrow. (You don't need to have a super-smooth, perfect cylinder at this point, but try to at least make it relatively uniform. -because soon we begin to taper.)

Note: Begin considering the size and shape of your desired horns here. You're closer to finishing them than you think! ;D

Step 3. Tapering and Refining

Now comes the point where you'll really start to see your horns take shape!

Using a gentle rolling motion (just like making a coil in ceramics or a clay snake from grade school) begin to press down lightly on one side of your cylinder as you roll the form. Keep one end wide and uncompressed, as this will eventually make the base of your new horn. (Your horn needs somewhere stable and sturdy to rest against your head. Otherwise it'll just fall over or be all flopsy.) Continue to taper the other end of your burgeoning horn until it's near your desired length, with a smooth and uniform surface. (Depending on your design, it may look like a short wide cone, or a long, graceful fluted shape.) Make sure the form is as smooth as you can get it, because next, we twist!

Step 4. The Curl

At this point, aside from baking and piercing so it has a place to be threaded, your horn's nearly done!

Very, very carefully, begin to bend your coil, turning carefully to create your horn's ideal shape.

Depending on how long your horn is, begin between the middle and the base (so you don't overstress your clay and cause it to crack & break). Slowly twist and/or curl it, while thinking of how and where you want the horn to sit on your head. Curl your clay slowly & easily, moving outward until you reach the tip of your new creation. Refine any angles or bends you like as you go, and occasionally set it on a flat surface to see how it looks, and gauge how well it stands up. To flatten the bottom end, try holding the widest part lightly w/two fingers and tapping your horn gently on the counter/cookie sheet. This'll help create a nice flat surface, & will eventually be the place where your horn will rest on your head.

Note: Before placing on the cookie sheet for baking, take the pad of your thumb or part of your fist and gently make a small curve in the bottom center/base of your horn. (The place that you just flattened on the counter in the description above.) As peoples' heads are not table-flat, this little trick will help your horns sit on your melon more evenly. :)

*For a spiral shape, begin bending the horn in one direction with one hand, while using the other to gently turn it bit by bit as you go. You can create a simple spiral in this way, a graceful “S” curve, or even loop your horn back in on itself to make a cute curlycue if you desire. Remember, there are no real rules to designing your own pair of poly-horns. Use your imagination, and have fun!!

Note: If you mess up at any time; if your horn cracks or snaps in half at some point (Heaven forbid- but sometimes it happens to everyone), or if something else occurs and you just don't like the direction your horn is going, it's okay to scrap it and start over. Yes, it kinda sucks that your work just went down the pooper, but the glory of polymer clay is that it's still workable until you fire it- so don't lose heart! Keep working at it if it takes you multiple times to get the kind of horn you like. Eventually you'll get it, and there's nothing cooler than seeing the finished product and being able to say “yep- I made this!” ^_^

Once you're done tapering, bending and shaping your piece, it's time to add some heat!

Get out your toothpick, and gauging about 3/8 inch up from the bottom of your new horn, pierce it! ;D Eeeease your toothpick through the center of the base; right through its diameter close to its fattest point. (Don't go tooo close to the bottom, though. You don't want your clay to collapse in the oven or give once you've threaded your cord through once you some tension on it in the process of tying your horns on.) No need to get too paranoid. Just be careful. :) Once poly-clay is fired, it's tough to make any changes or dents in it w/o some kind of carving tool or drill. (So now's the time for fixing any booboos, or smoothing over any rough spots.)

When you have the base of your horn adequately pierced, keep the toothpick inside the new hole and gently set it on your cookie sheet to be fired.

To make your second horn, repeat steps 1 – 4.

Note: If you have a simple “C” or “S” curve in your horns, you can simply make the exact same horn, and mirror its position to the first one you made as you string it onto your cord or ribbon. However if you've made a spiral or other twisty creation w/your first horn, don't forget to turn your horn in the opposite direction as you bend it- if your desire is to make symmetrical horns. (I.e. if you spiraled clockwise as you made your first horn, don't forget to turn your second horn counter-clockwise as you bend it.) Otherwise your horns will come out roughly identical.

If you're like me and like to make things as symmetrical as possible, don't be afraid to pick up your second horn gently & line it up w/your first horn on the cookie sheet, to see if they match up well. If you'd like them as close to identical as possible (though there may be some drooping in the firing process), handle them gingerly and delicately make any final changes you need. (But don't try to change anything too drastically now, as your clay has had a chance to stiffen up a bit over time and too much manipulation at this point may cause your horn to crack- or even break.) -Besides; they say the best artists are tho ones who know exactly when it's the right time to stop. ;D)

Now might also be a good time to begin preheating your oven. :)

Step 5. Bake

According to your brand's specific instructions, preheat your oven and bake horns (standing up on the cookie sheet if possible). Some settling and shrinking occurs in the oven, so this is why keeping your toothpicks in their holes to maintain open channels for threading is a good idea. Also, making sure your horns can stand up will keep them from falling over, thus creating any odd smooth, flat patches on them after the baking process.

Do NOT over-bake your horns! Excessive baking can cause color-change, singing and even burning (yes, we mean actual FIRE)! So please, please take caution as you make these.Accidental over-cooking of about 5-10 mins. should not be terribly detrimental, but do NOT attempt to over-cook your polymer clay creations in the attempt to harden them further. Just likeHamburger Helper, --the clay will stiffen as it cools.--

Once your horns are good and done, let them cool completely.

Step 6. Threading

Once cool, cut one end of your ribbon, cord or elastic at an angle, so it ends in a long, tapered point (much easier for threading, as it's less likely to hit an errant edge inside the clay channel and cause fraying). For this first horn, it doesn't really matter which direction it faces, as long as you don't tie the cord for placement until the other horn is on. Thread your cord or ribbon through your first horn, and position it about half way down the length of the material.

Next, thread the other horn on. Do you want your horns to face toward each other, or away? Once you have them in the right order, hold onto the string loosely around your head (for these introductory fittings I usually just run the string behind my ears & hold it together w/one hand under my chin to keep it taught), and position the horns where you'd like them.

Mark the place of your first horn by holding onto the ribbon/cording and your horn simultaneously and slip the headband off. (It's okay to let the other slip a little- just try to keep it from hitting the floor if it comes all the way off.) Tie 1- 3 knots (depending on how thick your cording is) on the outside of your horn to make sure the knot won't slip through the threading hole when a bit of pressure is applied.

Note: If you know you're going to keep the position of these horns for some time, feel free to tie a knot on the other (inner) side of your horns if you wish. If you'd still like to have some play of movement however, you can keep the inner sides of your horns untied and just know the outer sides, to make sure they don't slip.

Repeat this last step with your second horn to place it wherever you like on your head. Hold the string and the horn at the same time and run a knot down the material to keep the final horn in place. Tie as many knots as you need (as above) to ensure your horns won't slip off if a moderate amount of pressure is applied. Et voila!

Congratulations! You've just made your first pair of polymer clay horns!

*** *** ***


Between Steps 5 & 6, you may choose to paint or apply a clear lacquer or polish to your horns.

  • If you're happy with your creations' color, simply apply a clear spray varnish or lacquer in 1 -2 even coats (OUTSIDE or IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA) until you achieve your desired level of gloss or sheen.

  • If you'd like to try something new & different (or just kick your horns' color up a notch), you can apply acrylic or certain 3-D paints to your new creations. Do so after Step 5, and before you lacquer your horns, if you choose to clear-coat them.

Some ideas for painting your horns might be:

  • Adding darker (black, brown or your chose of hue) tips to your horns, to create a faux bovine effect.

  • Giving your horns stripes (vertical or horizontal).

  • Paint 2-D or 3-D swirls on your horns (for a more whimsical, maybe faerie effect).

  • Coating your horns in an all-over hue.

  • Putting dapples (like a pinto horse) or polka dots on your horns.

  • Simulating an animals' natural coloring extant on its horns (like striations, veining, rings, cracks, browning, or even trompe l'oeil tufts of hair coming up out of the base).

  • Plus you can put any patters you like on there- like plaid, paisley- anything you desire!

When you grow more comfortable with making these, you might try different shapes, sizes, variations, etc. The only limit is your imagination! So go have fun and-

Happy Hallowe'en! ^_^

I'm a visually-impaired singer, artist, and general crafter who loves just about anything magical, mystical, or wonderful about this world and the universe around us. Fantasy and portrature are my first loves, as are drawing and singing for me- where the Arts are concerned. I adore learning, exploring folklore, mythology, spirituality & nearly all cultures' languages, beliefs and music, and would love to speak every language on the planet if I could- past, present, AND future.

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1 comment:

BlacknickSculpture said...

Great tutorial Alternatevisions! Thanks for sharing your horn technique with us :)