Creating a Polymer Clay Journal Cover
|28 min read
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By MandarinMoon   |   
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Artisan Crafts Week

Hello! My name is Chris Kapono aka MandarinMoon and I am probably best known for my work with polymer clay. I use it to make jewelry, mosaic and found object tiles, unique boxes, dragon eggs and journal covers.

If you have not yet worked with polymer clay, journal covers are a great first project. In this tutorial, I will guide you through the steps to make your own unique journal or sketchbook cover. After working with polymer clay you will begin to realize it's potential and versatility!

Let's begin with a list of tools and supplies you will need for this project:

  • Hardcover blank journal or sketchbook (the book I am using measures 5.5" x 8.5")
  • Black polymer clay (about 4- 2oz packages for a book my size)
  • Either an acrylic roller or clay conditioning machine (also known as a pasta machine) or even the side of a paint can
  • Rubber stamp(s) of your choice
  • Craft knife
  • Ruler
  • Paper for template
  • Pencil
  • Powdered pigments (or old eye shadow that you don't use anymore)
  • Craft grade paint brushes
  • Sculpey Gloss Glaze 
  • Weldbond glue (or similar white PVA glue)

Step One- Choosing a sketchbook or journal 

Step 1 by MandarinMoon 
Look for a book with a hard cover, meaning it is not flexible and will not bend. This is the journal that I will be using in this tutorial. It measures 5.25" x 8.75"

Step Two- Choosing your polymer clay

Step 2 by MandarinMoon

I think any brand of polymer clay will work for this project. Some brands of clay are more brittle and not suited for some projects, but this will be a basically flat object attached securely to a flat, inflexible surface so I believe any brand will work. I personally prefer Premo! brand. For a book, of the size I am using, it will take about four 2oz packages. Black works best with powdered pigments as it really makes the pigments "pop".

Step Three- Conditioning the clay

Step 3 by MandarinMoon 
You should not use the clay straight from the package. It needs to be conditioned before using. Conditioning polymer clay is a simple process that makes it easier to manipulate and makes it stronger after curing. When you first open up the clay, it will be a little stiff. Some brands are stiffer than others. There are ridges on the bars of clay that make it easy to break it apart with your hands. Break the bar into smaller pieces and roll each into a flat sheet. Fold each sheet in half and roll it out again. Repeat this until the clay becomes soft and pliable.

Step Four- Combining all together

Step 4 by MandarinMoon 
Begin to combine the conditioned sheets together. Put one on top of another and roll them out together. Add another sheet on top of this, roll it out and continue rolling, folding and rolling out again until all become one large sheet of clay. You will want the finished sheet of clay to be large enough to fit the cover of your journal and be about 1/8" thick. If it is too wide but not quite long enough, fold it in half lengthwise and roll it out lengthwise to stretch it. If you find little air bubbles that became trapped between the sheets of clay, use your craft knife to cut into the bubble and then flatten it with your roller to push out the air trapped inside. 

Step Five- Quick size comparison

Step 5 by MandarinMoon 
Lay your conditioned sheet of clay next to your journal. Does it look like it is long enough and wide enough fit the cover? You can also lay it gently over the journal to check the size. You may find that you need to condition more clay or, you can also choose not to cover the entire journal if you are short on clay.

Step Six- Creating a template

Step 6 by MandarinMoon 
I like to create a template from paper to use as my guide when I cut the clay sheet to fit my journal. This helps to ensure all sides are straight and the corners are square. Using a ruler, measure the length and width of the cover of your book. If your book has a crease on the bound side of the cover, as mine does, measure from the inside edge of the crease to the outer edge of the book. (You don't want to cover the crease with your clay design). You'll want your clay sheet to be slightly smaller than the book cover. My journal cover measured approximately 5.25" x 8.75" so I decided to make my clay design 5" x 8.5". This means that, when centered on the journal cover, there will be a slight margin, around the outer edge of my clay, where the book cover will show. Once you have determined the size you would like to make your design, cut a sheet of paper to this size.

Step Seven- Double checking your sheet size

Step 7 by MandarinMoon 
We're not ready to trim the clay yet. Simply lay your paper template on top of your conditioned clay sheet just to be sure your clay is large enough to cover the journal as you like. If the clay is just a little bit too small, you can stretch the clay a tiny bit or, you can trim your template down a bit instead. Trimming down the template will mean there will be a slightly larger border, of your journal cover, that shows around the outer edge of your clay design. Not necessarily a bad thing! Once everything has been checked and adjusted if necessary, set the template aside for now.

Step Eight- Getting ready to add texture

Step 8 by MandarinMoon
Rubber stamps are a quick and easy way to create textures and designs on the surface of your clay. You can choose any kind of stamps for your project. I chose three floral and leaf stamps for this project but you can use any number and design you like. Before you begin, place your sheet of clay on a piece of copy paper or parchment paper. This will make it easier to move around as you work on it. It will also be easier to remove, without warping, after it is textured and trimmed. You may want to lightly mist the clay sheet with plain water, or wet your fingers and tap them on the clay to lightly moisten the surface. This helps prevent the stamps from sticking to the clay.

Step Nine- Adding Texture

Step 9 by MandarinMoon

Press the stamp firmly into the clay for a nice deep impression. You may need to wet the surface now and again as you work on it. Continue until the entire surface is covered with texture.

Step Ten- Cutting the sheet to size

Step 10 by MandarinMoon
Once the sheet is completely textured, you are ready to cut it to size. Place your template on top of the sheet and position it where you like. Using your craft knife, carefully cut the clay around the template and set the scraps aside.

Step 11 by MandarinMoon
You can smooth down the cut edges by running your fingertip along each side to round them a little.

Step Eleven- Adding inclusions (optional)

Step 12 by MandarinMoon

If you like, you can add metal objects to your design. I had a cute little metal bee pendant charm that I decided to include in my design. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that it will have to withstand the heat needed to cure the clay. Metal and glass are fine but, if your item has anything other than metal or glass in it, it may be wise to test it first to be sure heat will not harm it. Choose the area you would like to put it and press it firmly in place so that it sinks into the clay. 

Step Twelve- Adding clay elements to the design

Step 13 by MandarinMoon
Another easy and simple way to add interest to your design is to add little "pebbles" of clay here and there. Before you begin, check to be sure the surface is free of any moisture that may remain from the stamping process. You can remove moisture by patting the surface gently with a paper towel. Once dry, simply take a pinch of your scrap clay and roll it into a little ball between your finger and thumb. You can vary the sizes if you like.

Step 14 by MandarinMoon
I placed mine randomly here and there between the stamped flowers. Place the ball of clay on the surface and pat it down gently so that it is slightly flattened and stuck well to the surface. 

Step Thirteen- Additional texture idea

Step 15 by MandarinMoon
Another easy way to add texture is to stipple the surface with the tip of a pencil or dried up ball point pen. I decided to do this to the areas around the flowers and my little "pebbly bits". Just tap the tip of the pen or pencil onto the surface to create little dents in the clay and continue until the chosen area is covered in these little dents as shown here.

Step Fourteen- Powdered pigments 

Step 16 by MandarinMoon
I like to add color by brushing powdered pigments on black clay. The pigments seem to glow on the dark color. They do work on other colors as well but I find the pigments to appear much more dramatic and bright on black clay. I use a brand called PearlEx but other brands will work as well. I have heard that old eye shadows will also work but have not tried them. If you decide to try them, make sure that they are ones you will never use again as makeup and test them on some scrap clay first. Powdered pigments must be brushed on the raw clay, before curing, or they will not stick.

Step Fifteen- Brushing on the pigments

Step 17 by MandarinMoon
Using a soft paintbrush, dip the tip into the powdered pigments and tap the excess off on the edge of the container. Gently brush the powder onto the chosen area until covered. Powdered pigments are an irritant and you may want to cover your mouth and nose with a mask before you begin.

Step 18 by MandarinMoon
You can also blend colors together if you like!

While you are painting on the pigments, you may want to pre-heat the oven. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package of your particular brand of clay. The correct temperature is important, and some ovens are not calibrated correctly, so you may want to use an oven thermometer and adjust the oven setting if necessary. Do NOT ever attempt to cure clay in a microwave oven. It will not work!

Step 19 by MandarinMoon

Step Sixteen- Curing the clay 

Once you have finished adding powdered pigments, and the oven is pre-heated to the correct temperature, you are ready to cure your design! It can be cured right on the paper or parchment you used to work on it. This way you don't run the risk of stretching and warping the raw clay. I suggest you cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil then place your clay piece, still on the paper, in the center of the covered cookie sheet. You don't want raw clay coming in contact with anything that will come in contact later with food.

Sometimes, the paper may cause the clay to warp a little while curing. This can be corrected later by removing the cured piece from the paper, while still warm, and weighing down the edges until the clay is cooled completely. Alternatively, you can avoid this from happening by carefully peeling the paper away from the back of the raw clay, before curing, and placing the clay directly on a ceramic or glass tile to bake it. Whatever you choose, be sure that the clay is on a flat surface.

Then bake according to the package directions. Baking a little longer is better that baking less than the recommended amount of time. Just be sure to set a timer as you do not want to burn the clay.

Step Seventeen- Sealing the surface after curing

Step 20 by MandarinMoon

Polymer clay does not necessarily need to be sealed but powdered pigments can be rubbed off, with repeated handling, if not sealed. Some sealants can react with polymer clay, causing it to become sticky and gooey, so it is best to stick with something made especially for polymer clay. The brand I am using is Sculpey gloss glaze.

Step 21 by MandarinMoon
Once the clay is cured, and cooled completely, you can begin to paint the sealant onto the areas covered with the powdered pigments. Just brush a thin layer gently over the pigmented area. It is better to add multiple thin coats that one thick coat of sealant.

Step Eighteen- Attaching the clay to the book cover

Step 23 by MandarinMoon
As with sealants, some adhesives may react with polymer clay and become a gooey mess later. I found that a good strong PVC glue such as WeldBond works well for attaching clay to book covers. It is a white glue that dries clear.
Step 24 by MandarinMoon
I cover the back of the clay piece with the glue all the way to the edges
Step 25 by MandarinMoon
Once the back is covered in glue, carefully place it on the book cover and position it exactly where you want it, press it firmly onto the book and hold for a minute or two. Wipe away any visible traces of glue you may see and then let it dry completely. You can also place something heavy on top, such as a stack of books, to help press the clay onto the book as it dries.

You now have a beautiful and unique journal or sketchbook!
Untitled by MandarinMoon

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wynters-darkness's avatar
wynters-darknessHobbyist Photographer


Amazing tutorial! Thank you! :D

MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter

Thank you very much!

Estherella's avatar
Great work! This tutorial was very easy to follow. :D
I've always been curious on how to make something like this...
Now that I see how easy it is, I'll have to try it for sure!
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks! Post a photo when you finish it!
l-the-maker's avatar
Simply beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thank you so much!
Lionnfart's avatar
LionnfartHobbyist Writer
:clap: :clap: :clap: you are so talented! thank you for such a detailed step by step. :)
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
You're very welcome :)
kiddomerriweather's avatar
kiddomerriweatherHobbyist General Artist
That's beautiful!
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
kiddomerriweather's avatar
kiddomerriweatherHobbyist General Artist
You're welcome.
33M's avatar
33MProfessional General Artist
this is really cool looking, would make a beautiful gift also..Thank you
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks and you're welcome :)
33M's avatar
33MProfessional General Artist
Very very welcome 
Flammenfeder's avatar
FlammenfederHobbyist Writer
Ooooh, so that's what you mean by "Journal Cover" xD
The tutorial looks nice, I would love to try it out sometime.
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks, I love working with polymer clay!
mrcrozier's avatar
mrcrozierHobbyist General Artist
Now this is awesome! Thank you for sharing this with us! :)
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
You're very welcome!
lecristal's avatar
lecristalProfessional Digital Artist
MandarinMoon's avatar
MandarinMoonHobbyist Artisan Crafter
You are so welcome!
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