DIY Marbled Polymer Clay Beads

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I’ve seen a lot of really beautiful marbled objects lately—from the gorgeous marbled leather clutches from Scout & Catalogue, to Leah Ball’s marbled porcelain vessels, to this colorful garland from A Subtle Revelry. Marbling looks just as great in monochrome or in a riot of colors, and, with a little ingenuity, can be done on an astonishing array of surfaces and with a wide variety of media. Its subtle swirls and spots had me itching to make marbled pieces of my own!

So, when I saw this beautiful necklace from Fog and Cedar, I set out to learn how to make my own marbled polymer clay beads. Surprisingly, however, I couldn’t find a good, simple tutorial anywhere—no diy blog posts, no youtube videos. Nada. However, I remembered making similar beads as a kid—I loved working with polymer clay as a youngster—and I thought I could probably figure out the technique again through good old trial and error.

First, here’s what you’ll need:

  • At least 2 colors of polymer clay—2 oz blocks will do, and, if you’re only making a few beads, like me, then you’ll have plenty of clay left over for other projects.
  • wax paper
  • bead mandrel, or round toothpick (for my smaller beads I used a darning needle)
  • thread or cord
  • needle
  • closure (optional)
  • knife or razor for cutting clay (optional)

 

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Begin by laying down a piece of wax paper to protect your work surface, and to provide a texture-less surface on which to roll your beads. Break off a chunk of clay slightly smaller than you want your final bead to be in your primary color—I used black. Condition the clay, kneading it and rolling it between your palms until it becomes pliable. Break off a smaller chunk of your secondary color—in my case, white—and condition it as well.

Divide our secondary clay into small pieces—you can roll it out into ropes, pinch pieces off, whatever. Then, stick these pieces to the outside of your primary clay. Roll between your palms, then use your work surface to roll the clay into a log.

Twist the log, so that a swirled pattern begins to appear. Then, pinch and pull the clay to vary the direction of the swirls. This is key—this is how the clay takes on a marbled look rather than a simply striped look. The hallmark of marbling is that the swirls often turn back on themselves and create irregular shapes. Repeat these steps until you are satisfied with the pattern of your bead.

Roll the bead into its desired shape, then, using your mandrel or a round toothpick (or a thin piece or wire or a needle for smaller beads), poke a hole through the center of the bead. Bake according to the directions on the clay package.

Finally, simply thread your beads and voila! A lovely marbled necklace. I closed my necklace using a double fisherman’s knot—there’s a handy tutorial here.

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Project design & photography by Sarah Joy Nikkel, all rights reserved.

Faking it and making it

Recently, a friend of mine posted a link to this article on her facebook page. It resonated with me so much that I just couldn’t resist saying a few words here.

As I try to build up to having a blog of my own (a daunting task, as I am realizing more and more that a blog is just as much an artistic and painstaking creation as a short story or a well-executed body of drawings) I spend a lot of time thinking about how un-perfect my everyday life is, especially compared to the brilliant, beautiful, idyllic lives I see displayed on some of my favorite blogs. Here are some of the picture-perfect highlights just from this past week:

  •  A trip to France on Oh Happy Day!
  • Totally chic guys and gals having a blast on A Beautiful Mess.  And this is where they work.
  •  I don’t know which is prettier, the cool mint bike or the California beach in this post from Lovely Indeed.
  •  Delicious dessert on A Subtle Revelry.
  •  And basically take your pick of anything that has ever been posted on The House That Lars Built. Seriously, anything. It’s all so ridiculously pretty.

My life is not pretty—mind, it’s not bad either, just not, you know, elegant or cool or sophisticated or good-looking. Especially not recently. This past week has been a blur of misery for me. Last Saturday I came down with a mysterious skin ailment, cause still unknown, which caused a swollen, red, itchy rash to break out all over my arms, torso, neck, and yes, face. I had itchy spots on the backs of my ears. I had them on my eyelids. Yeah. Talk about unpleasant. To make matters worse, the medicine I’m taking to reduce the inflammation makes me groggy during the day and a wide-eyed insomniac at night. Add to that the fact that I live in an un-airconditioned house in a converted attic room and a string of sunny, 80+ degree days without rain. I’m sure you get the picture, and I’ll spare you any actual photos of the sweaty, itchy mess I make as I type away on my bed.

Even when I’m not sick, though, my existence is very ordinary. I don’t eat particularly healthy or good-looking food. I own some pretty clothes, but I usually opt for an easy college t-shirt and shorts combo instead. My legs could use a shave (I’m fibbing a bit—I should have shaved days ago.) Make-up? Only when someone else does it for me. My nails are bitten-down, un-varnished stubs. I don’t have parties. I don’t have a significant other. I don’t have a pet. I live in a cool, urban area with plenty of trendy coffee shops and vintage boutiques and a farmers’ market, but I hardly ever venture out my own door except to go to work. My main hobby appears to be drinking pepsi while watching tv.

The worst part is, I feel as though I should be able to do better. The difference between the lives I see on other people’s blogs and facebook pages and Instagram feeds and my life seems to boil down to a deficiency in me. If only I could pull myself together, clean the bathroom, shave my legs, do my hair, cook a decent meal, have outings. If only I wasn’t so lazy. If only I was more awesome. Then I could have a life worth sharing.

Now, it would be a lie to suggest that I can’t do better; I can. We all can. I really should put more effort into cleaning, eating right, spending time with the people I care about. And yes, shaving. But that isn’t all that separates my life from the lives I see online. As the author of the aforementioned article points out, the lives that get displayed on the internet are all, to a certain extent, feats of fakery. We choose only the very best images and isolated moments to represent us, when in reality these fragments may bear very little resemblance at all to our actual lives. Sometimes we go to ridiculous lengths to make our lives look the way we feel they should—when, on the other side of the screen, they’re just the same as always.

At this point, it would seem that I am about to pass moral judgment on this staged, airbrushed, and selectively-cropped version of life—but not so! I know that the photos I see on lifestyle blogs are purposefully conjuring up a reality which may or may not actually exist—and I’m okay with that. In fact, I would say that’s part of why I visit these blogs in the first place. I want to see those perfect photos of glamourous parties and pretty, happy people in places I’ll never visit. Partly, it’s wistful longing. But deep down, these blogs give me some small sense that if these people can find moments of beauty and wellness in their own lives, then perhaps I can too. They encourage me to slow down, to look around, and to see things I hadn’t noticed before. And, wherever possible, to create small spots of joy, both in my life and in the lives of those around me.

My takeaway: As I build this blog, I want to keep in mind that my life will never be perfect, onscreen or off, and that’s okay, because that’s not what I’m shooting for. Instead, I want to focus on appreciating what I didn’t know I had, and encouraging others to do likewise—all while being open about life’s messiness.