Project: Folk-Art Birds

Sculpt these folk-art inspired birds using polymer clay. By Emma Ralph


Emma is a project designer passionate about polymer clay. She has authored two books on the subject and numerous articles. She also owns EJR Beads, providing tuition plus beads and polymer clay supplies by mail order.

Polymer clay is the perfect material for making beads. These stylised birds borrow from traditional folk-art motifs, updated with subtle shimmer, thanks to luscious mica powders. Cernit polymer clay comes in fantastic colours and is very strong when baked, but the project works equally well with other brands.


  • ¼ block fuchsia Cernit polymer clay 
  • ¼ block turquoise Cernit polymer clay 
  • Cosmic Shimmer pale gold mica powder 
  • 1 pair ice blue anodised niobium ear wires 
  • 1 pair yellow anodised niobium headpins 
  • 1 pair green anodised niobium 6mm jumprings 
  • Clay compatible varnish 
  • Ceramic tile or other suitable work surface 
  • Metal ruler
  • Clay cutting blade or craft knife 
  • Clay modelling tool or knitting needle 
  • Wooden toothpicks 
  • Pasta machine 
  • 22mm and 18mm small teardrop metal cutters 
  • Soft medium paintbrush 
  • Flat nose pliers
  • Round nose pliers
  • Wire cutters

Designer Tips

  • If the clay is too soft, layer it between sheets of clean paper for 10 minutes to absorb some of the oil, then reknead well. 
  • Use a protective dust mask when using mica powders and wear eye protection when cutting niobium wire. 
  • Wrap a little sticky tape around the jaws of your pliers to protect the anodised surface when working with niobium findings.



Knead the fuchsia polymer clay well to condition it ready for use. Working on a ceramic tile or other suitable work surface, roll the clay into a log approx. 10mm in diameter. Lay the log against a metal ruler and with a craft knife or clay cutting blade, cut two sections each 3cm long. Roll both the sections into round balls.



Flatten the balls between your fingertips to shape them into plump discs, approx. 5mm thick. You don’t need to get the discs perfectly smooth – any fingerprints or lumpy areas will smooth away as you work the beads further. Just try to ensure they are nicely circular and match each other in diameter as closely as possible.



Fold each disc in half and pinch the meeting edges close together. Don’t squeeze out any trapped air from between the folded surfaces. Just concentrate on nipping the edges close together with your fingertips until the seam gets smaller and you can eventually smooth it away with your fingertip or a modelling tool. The folded discs should start to look a little like fortune cookies at this point.



Pinch one corner of each clay piece between your thumb and forefinger to form a short, stubby tail. You can shape and position the tail in any way you choose. Smooth and shape the clay with your fingertips and ensure both pieces match. If the clay gets too soft, pop both pieces in the fridge for a few minutes to chill the clay and stiffen it up a little.



Pinch and stroke the opposite corner of each clay piece outwards to make the bird’s head and neck. Slowly coax the clay out into a tapered point, smoothing the clay as you go. Work on both birds before proceeding to ensure their necks match. Bend the first 5mm or so of the tapered point down back towards the body to make a stylised head for each bird.



Roll out a sheet of conditioned turquoise polymer clay using the thickest pasta machine setting. Lay the sheet on the work surface and cut out four small teardrop shapes using the smaller sized metal cutter. These simple shapes make ideal wings! Apply a wing to each side of both birds, placing them in any position you choose.



To make the leaf charms, cut four larger teardrops from the remaining turquoise sheet. Sandwich a closed niobium jumpring between two of the teardrops. Hide the jumpring’s opening between the clay layers and be sure to allow at least half the ring to overhang the clay to create a generous hanging loop. Repeat to create a second charm. Carefully lift each charm and pinch the clay together lightly to secure.



Add some textural pattern to each leaf charm – this not only adds visual interest, but ensures the clay pieces are well bonded and secure around the jumpring. Use the end of a knitting needle to push down the clay by the jumpring and the end of a wooden toothpick to crimp a pattern around the edge of the charm. You can adorn your charms in any way you choose.



Pierce a vertical threading hole in each bird using a wooden toothpick. Keep the birds in place on the toothpicks and indent some decoration using another toothpick or suitable modelling tool. Adorn the birds as you wish; I’ve chosen simple lines and dots, typical of folk art. Add patterns to the wings and tail if you wish and don’t forget to give your birds some eyes!



Make two small turquoise accent beads. Brush the charms and beads with mica powder using a soft paintbrush. I’ve used pale gold, but any translucent or interference powder works well, allowing the clay colour to show through the shimmer. Brush off any loose powder and bake the clay pieces following the manufacturer’s instructions. When cool, varnish the pieces to protect the mica powder and allow to dry.



Wrap a little sticky tape around the jaws of some round nose and flat nose pliers – this will protect the delicate oxide layer on the anodised niobium findings as you work. Form a loop in the end of a niobium headpin and attach one of the leaf charms, closing the loop after using both pairs of pliers. Repeat with remaining headpin and leaf charm to form a matching pair.



Snip the head off each headpin with wire cutters. Wear eye protection whilst cutting niobium as it is a hard wire that can ping off in any direction! Thread on the bird beads, and the small turquoise accent beads before turning a hanging loop in the remaining headpin wire. Attach the completed earrings to a pair of niobium ear wires.


Make a necklace and earrings



Make larger birds and extra charms to create a necklace. Using a lark’s head knot, attach a leaf charm to the centre of a metre length of 2mm diameter cord. Attach jumprings to the remaining leaf charms and knot them and the bird beads along the cord following whatever spacing you choose. Knot on accent beads to create tie ends for simple fastening.



Create matching earrings using leaf charms and accent beads with anodised niobium findings.




Laurel Guilfoyle, Emma Ralph

Article Details

  • Date 21st March 2017
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