Polymer Clay Techniques Taken from other Art Forms – Mokume Gane

A very interesting and beautiful technique used by polymer clay artists is Mokume Gane (pronounced moe-koo-may gah-nay). This technique was developed by Japanese metal work artists during the 17th century. It was first used on swords but then was refined and used on other objects. The literal translation is “wood grain metal”. It involves layers of different metals, or colors of metals that are then manipulated to create a wood grain effect. As the technique evolved, different patterns were developed. This photo is of a gold/silver alloy pattern.

 

Mokume Gane

 

Mokume Gane and Polymer Clay. Wow!

It’s wonderful that we can take this idea and apply it to polymer clay. The ways to use the technique is endless. It’s basically about layering colors of polymer clay, manipulating the layers and then slicing it to reveal magical patterns. One of my first attempts at Mokume Gane was these pendants and earrings.

 

I get so many compliments on these! It was easy and fun. The depth of colors from the layering is amazing. It is not difficult to learn and we can look at different ways to achieve awesome effects.

It’s one of my favorite polymer clay techniques because there are no rules! If you can make layers of clay, you can make mokume gane pieces. You can use anything you want to create textures and patterns. You can use any colors you want, although it works best with a dark color, a light color and an accent color. Starting out with just black, white and a bright color of your choice makes a dramatic color scheme.

Here are some other examples from fabulous polymer clay artists! You can add more colors if you like, but starting out, three is a good number. You will learn how they react with each other.

mokume gane
Credit: wonderwomangypsygurl

 

mokume gane
Credit: TheLScreations

 

mokume gane technique
Jewelry pieces made here at Peace, Love & Polymer Clay!

Basic Mokume Gane Polymer Clay Technique

What you need:

  • Three colors of polymer clay of your choice. I recommend that one be very light, one be very dark, and one contrasts or accents the other two. A good place to start is black, white, and something bright like yellow, bright green, blue or pink. Choose what you like. I am using dark blue, white and a fresh green for this tutorial. I used about 1/4 of a 2 oz. block of each color.
  • An acrylic roller
  • A pasta machine. You don’t absolutely have to have this, but it helps a lot.
  • Tissue blade
  • Texture tools. These can be just about anything. Pottery tools, ball stylus, toothpicks, you name it.
  • Tile or glass as a work surface.

Let’s Get Started!

First, you will want to condition your polymer clay. If you need instruction on conditioning, go here.

mokume gane

You will now layer the three colors. You can layer them however you like. The pattern will change with how the colors are layered. Once you learn the process, you can experiment with different color placements. I layered blue, then green, then white this time.

After stacking your clay, run it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. Cut it in half and place one stack on top of the other. Run it through the pasta machine again. Repeat this process on more time.

mokume gane

 

You will soon have a nice layered stack. I think nine layers of color (the original stack cut twice and restacked) is the minimum of what makes a nice mokume gane effect. You can do more and this will lead to a more intricate pattern later. This is what I love about the mokume gane polymer clay technique. It’s all up to you!

mokume gane

 

 

Now Comes the Fun Part!

We will now begin to texturize the slab. I will be using some basic tools but you can use whatever you want. You will always get an interesting and unexpected result.

Before beginning, you will want to gently press the slab onto the work surface so it sticks. Start from the center and work your way out getting any air out of the stack.

I am starting with a ball stylus. You want to press deep into the slab. The object is to drag the layers down through the slab.

mokume gane

Next, I’m using a curly tissue blade. If you cut all the way through the clay, that’s ok. Just keep the pieces together. We will squeeze it all together later.

Make cuts however you like. We are doing a random pattern, so go wild!

polymer clay

 

I have added pottery tool marks in the picture above.

polymer clay

Here I am adding small ball tool marks. I know it looks funky now, but soon all will be revealed!

polymer clay

I think for the last texture element, I will use a small circle cutter. Just for fun.

mokume gane

Okay, so above is our cool random pattern. The next thing we want to do is squish the slab inward from the sides to fill in the spaces.

mokume gane

Working on the sides, then top and bottom, squeeze the slab inward. We want to close up the spaces. Your slab will get thicker as you press the sides inward.

polymer clay

Your slab should look something like the one above. It’s not pretty now, but give me a minute. Gently press your slab down to stick it to your surface. You don’t want it to move while you are slicing it.

Using your sharp tissue blade, you are going to very carefully slice the top of your slab. You can slightly bend your blade to slice away small pieces to reveal the magic underneath!

Go slowly and don’t slice too deeply. Just small bits a time.

mokume gane

Keep the scraps aside for later. We will be using them.

mokume gane

As you can see, a beautiful pattern will emerge. Continue slicing until you like the result. The more you slice, the more the pattern and colors will change.

mokume gane

Now let’s try something. To show how different the patterns can be, turn your slab over to the other side. Slice some layers to reveal a totally different look! This is just to show you how things change.

mokume gane

A completely new pattern is exposed!

mokume gane

I like the other pattern better. But I just wanted to explain the cool, unexpected things that can happen with the Mokume Gane polymer clay technique! Now, let’s make something fabulous with our piece of clay art!

Mokume Gane Pendant

Pendants are easy to make. I will be using circle and teardrop cutters to make this pendant. I like to make my pendants a little thicker, so we will use the scraps from earlier to make a backing for the pendant.

First, run your Mokume Gane slab through the thickest setting of your pasta machine. Then grab your scraps from the slicing and any left over from when you made your original stack and squish them together.

polymer clay

Give them a few twists.

polymer clay

Roll this log out with your acrylic roller. A neat marble look should appear. Run it through the pasta machine once to smooth it out.

polymer clay

We will use this a backing for the pendant. I like to do this because it creates a unique back side that still matches the colors of the front side. You will then lay your Mokume Gane sheet over the marble sheet.

polymer clay

Remember this, whatever side of the marble sheet that you like best, place this side face down so it will appear on the back of the pendant. Cover it carefully with the top sheet to avoid air bubbles.

mokume gane

Using a large circle cutter, find a good place to in the pattern to cut the circle.

polymer clay pendant

Using a small cutter, cut a circle near the top. Save the small circle piece that you remove.

polymer clay pendant

Next, cut two small teardrops from the pattern. If your leftover pattern is just a single thickness (no marble backing) that’s ok.

polymer clay pendant

Here are our pendant pieces above.

polymer clay pendant

This picture above shows the back of the pendant. Pretty cool, huh?

polymer clay pendant

I have taken an eyepin and carefully stuck it up through the small circle into the bottom of the large circle. This takes practice.

polymer clay pendant

I’m going to attach the teardrops to the eyepin after baking, so I made small holes at the top of each one with a needle tool.

polymer clay pendant

So here are the components of my Mokume Gane pendant. I will bake it, sand any rough edges and put a clear sealer on them. Then I will add jump rings to attach the teardrops to the eyepin to make little dangles. I will use either a satin cord or hemp for the pendant. Done!

mokume gane pendant

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on the fabulous Mokume Gane polymer clay technique! I will be adding more variations on this technique later. Look out for those. Please leave a comment or question below!

Peace!

Leslie

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16 thoughts on “Polymer Clay Techniques Taken from other Art Forms – Mokume Gane

  1. Carole

    Wow very nice tutorial ! I had no idea about the Mokume Gane polymer clay technique. I just bookmark this page and I will come back to it…great Job…thanks for this tutorial!

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Thanks Carole! My goal for this site is to enlighten people to the fabulous world of polymer clay. There is more to come!
      Have a great day!
      Leslie

  2. Craig

    Wow, thanks for the incredibly detailed information breakdown above. This is super interesting and I’m going to try it this weekend with my wife as she is super into crafts and I’m kind of a dunce when it comes to them. I honestly had no idea something like this could be done at home, looking forward to trying it out!

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Hi Craig, I’m glad you like the tutorial. Yes, give it a shot and let me know how it goes! Happy Sunday
      Leslie

  3. Jessica

    Hello Leslie,
    My husband and I watched a TV show where they make swords and other metal items through traditional blacksmithing. They discussed how mokume gane Japanese swords were made. My husband thought they were so beautiful I wanted to find him a mukumo gane wedding ring. I would love to try making these clay pieces. Thanks for the great instructions.
    Jessica

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Hi Jessica, It is a very interesting technique. And when working with polymer clay, you just never know what kind of pattern you will get. It’s always a surprise! Thanks for the comments. Have a great day!
      Leslie

  4. christopher

    Wow! I literally had no idea what was going to happen when I first saw the article, I have very little knowledge of clay. I had played with modeling clay a little bit in my high school Spanish class, but nothing like this.

    I am not sure what a pasta machine is, but I imagine it cuts and smooths pasta, or in this instance, clay?

    It seemed that when you had 9 layers, they were all visible. But once you started it seemed really flat, is that just from pressing it?
    I really like this, I may have to go out and get some polymer clay myself!

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Ha ha Christopher! Yes! A pasta machine rolls out pasta dough into smooth sheets. You can see it in action at https://peacelovepolymerclay.c…  I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial! If you do go out and get some polymer clay, come on back and make some stuff! Have a great weekend!

      Leslie

  5. Prachi

    Appreciate your lovely work Leslie. I love polymer clay jewellery , they are so light weight and you can be so creative with it. Nice detailed step by step explanation of Mokume Gane polymer clay technique.

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      I agree Prachi. Polymer clay is very versatile and fun to create with. Thank you for the nice comments!
      Have a great weekend!
      Leslie

  6. Luis Loor Jr.

    Great step by step info for making these accessories. I really like the end result of your necklace pendant, nice job and thank for sharing.

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Thank you Luis! I appreciate the feedback. Have a great day!
      Leslie

  7. Eric Cantu

    Very cool step by step instructions here. I like this. You’ve taken your time to teach us how to create a masterpiece. Thank you!

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Thanks Eric!
      I appreciate your comment. I hope to help people learn and enjoy a little known art medium.
      Have an awesome day!
      Leslie

  8. Ray

    Thank yo for this tutorial. My daughter love to do stuff like this. She will be thrilled to learn this technique. I will pass this on to her. I know she will be looking for more posts like this. I will be following myself as my Aunt loves original jewelry designs and would mean alot to her if it were handmade.

    1. Leslie Shimasaki

      Thank you Ray! I appreciate that you are passing this tutorial along. Please keep me posted if your daughter makes anything with it. I would love to see pictures!

      Have a great day!

      Leslie

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