Monday, September 5, 2011

Making Swirly Polymer Beads

This post is not about gender, but it has to be mentioned as something that has surprised me working with adolescent boys. My general approach to working with individuals is to begin with their interests and let the art therapy kinda organically just happen. Unless someone is stuck, I don't suggest or provide directives outside of group work. Interestingly it appears with my guys, creative interests know no gender. Regardless how they identify, no matter how "male" they might appear, they want to try things like knitting and for now beading has been all the rage. I never would have suggested knitting or jewelry making nor did I provide supplies that suggested such pursuits until the guys starting making requests. This week, I have been challenged with figuring out how to do this...

Image stolen from

I'm not there yet, so in the meantime, this is what I made this week, which came from working with the guys. This turned out to be a successful intervention I think.


Swirly Bead
This is a pretty simple technique for bead making. The bare minimum you need is 2 or more polymer colors and something like a toothpick or needle for poking a hole. However, this is some of my clay stuff that I can use for bead making.

pasta machine, bead roller, baking rack and baby oil if clay is old and dry
First, roll some clay around in your hands or through the machine to get it nice and soft. Smash two or more layers together for multicolored beads.

You can twist this around and smash it up a little more. I squished a bead at a time so I got swirls rather than risk over-working it and getting a whole new color.

If you want evenly sized and uniform beads, a bead roller is a good idea (you could shape by hand also if you prefer).

Measuring clay (about the size of a pencil eraser)
Place clay in roller and glide back and forth.
Here's where some of the therapy metaphor may come in: rolling is fun, but if you don't want to stop, the clay crumbles and the bead cracks in half. Granted, it's clay so that's easy to fix, but I have enjoyed watching kids figure this out, especially kids who have trouble with moving from one activity to the next and knowing when to stop. 

Poke a hole through the center.
Bake as suggested.
If you want, you can also paint on a little glossy varnish to make them shiny like so...
Currently, I have one kid working on bead manufacturing and a couple who are into stringing. The manufacturing develops fine motor skills, knowing when to stop and has been building interaction because we are working as a team. The stringers are learning how to slow down and practice mindfulness. Also, these repetitive acts seems to relax the guys so they can open up and we can talk about some of the tougher stuff they're dealing with.

1 comment:

  1. It is wonderful to see you working with polymer clay in your art therapy groups! I found you today because I am doing research on a book my husband Doug and I are writing on Polymer Art Therapy and how working with polymer clay has changed people's lives. If you have any input on your experience with polymer clay and art therapy that you would like to share with us, that would be wonderful!

    We have seen polymer to be very therapeutic with our members who struggle with all kinds of physical and mental challenges in their lives ranging from boredom and depression to MS and Cancer.

    When we first started out teaching online polymer clay classes 3 years ago, we thought it was about teaching beginners how to make great polymer clay beads. Over the years we found however, it was much more than that. Polymer for many people had become a way to escape the pain and suffering that they were experiencing in their lives.

    We were surprised by the number of stories and comments that have come into our blog and email telling us how polymer had changed their lives. It was these stories that inspired us to write this book. (It is in the final stages and will be on Amazon early 2012.)

    Anyway, sorry if I've used up too much space on your blog, but I got excited to see that you were working with polymer clay in your art therapy groups. Let me know if I can be of any help. ~Cindy