Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sculpey Souffle: a review

I've been working on and off with Souffle (the brand new clay from Polyform) this last month, which was very kindly provided for me by Polyform.  I was really excited when the 22 colours arrived as I had spoken briefly with Ginger Davis Allman from the Blue Bottle Tree about it - and subsequently read her review post - and suspected from what she told me that it might offer some huge advantages for the kind of work that I do.
I'll just say before I start that I'm so glad that Ginger reviewed all the possibilities in her comprehensive report, because I (selfishly) am only going to concentrate on the qualities in the clay that relate to my work - I don't cane, I only mix colours when it suits me, nor do I polish work till it gleams - so those perhaps challenging qualities of Souffle don't bother me.
When I opened it up, I was entranced at how easily it conditions in my hands as I do have some arthritis in some joints (legacy of 18 years of glass blowing).  I don't enjoy having to fight with clay to get it into the condition I want that works for my techniques.  Having said that, I do often associate clays that are easy to condition with less than optimal strength and flexibility after curing.  Not so in this case - and more on that later!
I quickly made a hollow bracelet and a large round hollow I told Polyform, I got very excited because it was so easy to manipulate into hollow forms because of its unique way of stretching. (My heart started to race....lord, I really am a material junkie!)  I haven't encountered a clay quite like it before!  It is possible to make very thin forms with this clay that are quite unbelievably strong and flexible, and as Ginger had noticed, very easy to colour after curing.  This simplifies several ideas I've been working on for a while, and makes my regular work substantially easier.
                IMG_0912                       IMG_0923
I've included some photos of some things I've made with Souffle - all hollow - so you can see.  There is, of course, a learning curve with hollow work, but I'm fairly experienced with it by now...
The bracelets are unbelievably flexible.  They are tight on over my hand and have to be eased on gradually.  Souffle allows this very readily with its strength and movement.  A personal one of my got  dropped in a parking lot and got driven over by a car (I was so upset with myself).  But when I looked at it, it was only cracked in a couple of places and I was able to repair it with some clay of the same colour. It was hollow, got squished and cracked, and bounced back!
                           IMG_0913           IMG_0916
Since I mostly work with a white base, at first I was a bit disappointed to have all those colours and only one white brick.  But to my surprise, I have enjoyed working with these 'fashion' colours as I go on to alter them anyway.  Lots of fun to work with a base other than white, and to break the strangle hold of one's habits once in while.   Many of the colours are quite luminous under paint and distressing - I do just love that Robin's egg shade!  Even the bright pinks and maroony reds were fun to work with - gotta love a challenge!  To be honest, I started with the pink for testing because I thought I would hate all those shades. but when distressed and other wise altered, they were quite lovely….
Just one thing I noticed in curing - be careful in curing times with Souffle, especially when you have a piece buried or half buried.  I cure most pieces for 45 minutes and the one time I disobeyed that rule the piece cracked.  But I do think it bears further investigation as I think the curing was uneven due to being  buried ( and therefore making uneven temperature gradients in the curing piece).  If you do bury your piece while curing, I recommend that you gently uncover it once it has had 15 minutes to semi cure into place.  Be very cautious, it's fragile at that stage.....
Also re curing - I left one of my bracelets in the oven overnight by accident - the loooong cure!  It seems just fine and as flexible as all the others and as Ginger noted in her review - no colour shift!
                          IMG_0929              IMG_0930
Those are the pros for this clay for me - now the cons!
It's summer and this clay does get sticky.  But, I found that if I abandoned my habit of putting the conditioned clay in a plastic bag in my bra (to maintain the clay at body heat) which was my habit to get other clays to work well in most seasons ( but particularly the winter) then things were much better.  Or, I just put the work-in-progress into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.  I'm pretty certain that this won't be a problem in the winter as the first morning I played with it, the weather was very cool. Also, please bear in mind that I like working with clay that moves a lot and is not stiff at all - some users really hate this and find it difficult.
It is quite floppy when thin, which is not a problem with closed forms like hollow beads, but more of a problem with open forms. (Like the ribbon bracelets photographed in this post...) However, this is very manageable using a combination of freezer (to get it where you need it to be before curing), adjustment after chilling, and then using supports to cure it. ( I bury/support it in a bed of corn starch and baking soda or on polyester fibre - I've even used kleenex nests when I don't have anything else handy!)
I do actually carve work on occasion (areas) and I don't much  like the way Souffle carves.  It is certainly easy, but rubbery - if that makes sense - and the gouge mark is not as clean as it is with harder more dense seeming clays ( remember that Souffle is lighter by 15%) - but this is nit-picking.  The carving process is certainly easy and this observation just reflects my personal taste and what I am used to!  Also, I'm truly not skilled with carving tools.
So that's really it for the negatives.....but remember, every clay has its challenges and I have tried them all. I freely admit that I am not faithful to any one clay!  Before this trial,  I used Premo most of the time and Cernit, Kato and Pardo for special uses.  Also, surprisingly, the Original Sculpey (sort of a dead white, and very cheap in quantity) for some very unique uses!  
So, based on my experience with Souffle, I would view it not as a hobby clay, but as a very unique specialty clay that perhaps needs to find the right user.   You should definitely try it if your work involves any forming by stretching or moving of the clay body.  Or post curing surface painting of any kind, as it has a tooth on the cured surface that is very ready to accept paint.  Also try it if you just want a break from really stiff clays – my hands appreciate it!  It’s a clay that gets working quickly after you handle it, even when you’ve let it rest for a long time…
ME. I am definitely that user.
I really think I could be faithful to Souffle for hollow work!  Great job, Polyform!


Marian Hertzog said...

Thank you for the informative review. I am definitely going to try Souffle! Love your work!

Anvil Artifacts said...

Sounds like a fabulous new product for what you do. I am so looking forward to what you'll create with it.

K.L.Richardson said...

I was already excited after reading Gingers review but you have pushed me to definitely try it. I too have painful hands so this will be a plus. Also after reading Global Perspectives I wanted to try the hollow form you show directions for and this clay seems like a natural.
Thanks for a great review!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I'm looking forward to learning how to do hollow work and will give it a try. Love your work, too!

Marcia Simpson said...

I think your work is amazing! I just bought some of this clay on sale at AC Moore and I am excited to try it out, thanks.

michele said...

May I ask? What kind of paint do you use and can you mix soufflé with other clays? Thank you so much for the review!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you heaps for your review. I'm a sculptor who likes to work with soft clay (because of both preferred technique and RSI). I usually mix sculpey III with premo to make it more durable but still soft enough to use as I want. I'm so excited that there's a new clay on the market that does both. I definitely don't think this is a hobby clay and will be using it. Cheers!

Jeanne Dumond said...

For your carving issues, have you tried sharpening your micro chisels? The Dockyard ones are "real" tools and you could use a leather strop with some rouge on it to sharpen the edges. Sometimes a softer wood is harder to cut with tools that are not sharp enough. I work in both mediums, so just a thought.

T&L said...

Just discovered your Blog today. I've so enjoyed reading about and looking at your work. Inspiring! I've had packets of Souffle tucked away (i'm a nervous beginner) but now I think I will get them out. I shall read Ginger's review too.
Thank you for a pleasure-filled couple of hours!