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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
I have added pottery tool marks in the picture above.
Here I am adding small ball tool marks. I know it looks funky now, but soon all will be revealed!
I think for the last texture element, I will use a small circle cutter. Just for fun.
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.
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.
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.
Keep the scraps aside for later. We will be using them.
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.
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.
A completely new pattern is exposed!
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.
Give them a few twists.
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.
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.
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.
Using a large circle cutter, find a good place to in the pattern to cut the circle.
Using a small cutter, cut a circle near the top. Save the small circle piece that you remove.
Next, cut two small teardrops from the pattern. If your leftover pattern is just a single thickness (no marble backing) that’s ok.
Here are our pendant pieces above.
This picture above shows the back of the pendant. Pretty cool, huh?
I have taken an eyepin and carefully stuck it up through the small circle into the bottom of the large circle. This takes practice.
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.
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!
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!