For a while now I've been wanting to experiment with polymer clay. I've never been a sculptor, but it looked like fun and there are so many fun things I could make! I started out with the absolute basics. Two blocks of brown clay, a hat template, some gears that I planned to embellish the hat with once it's done, and a rolling pin (which I scrubbed after using b/c you're not really supposed to use food stuffs with clay).
I did a whole lot of reading on working with polymer clay before I actually started. The Blue Bottle Tree has some really great tutorials and tips for beginners.
I used Kato Polyclay, which is really tough. I initially thought I might have gotten a hold of some old clay, but after kneading it for a while it became pretty workable. I rolled it out to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut around my templates (I used this Mad Hatter template) using an exacto knife. I baked all 3 pieces laying flat at 275° in 10 minute increments (I went by The Blue Bottle Tree's recommendation rather than what the Kato package said). I did this incrementally because I was afraid of burning the clay. I also needed to shape the pieces, but they were too flimsy unbaked to expect them to hold their shape in the oven. As it turns out (after a bunch of reading) Kato is actually one of the most moldable/pliable clays after baking, you just gotta do it quick. So after taking the pieces out, I layed the brim over a coffee cup to get the curve. I had to shape the crown by hand. This was pretty difficult since it was SUPER hot, but once I got it the right shape I ran it under cold water to cool it and get the shape to hold.
The hard part, now that the pieces were the right shape, was attaching them to each other. I had to trim the crown to get it to fit into the hole in the brim. Using a toothpick, I dabbed a bunch of Poly Paste on the underside of the brim between the hole and the crown. I set this in a small metal bowl and filled it with a combination of cornstarch and baking soda (I used both because I didn't have much of either) to help the pieces hold shape while I cured the glue. After cleaning the powder off the top edge of the crown, I put on some Poly Paste, then put on the top of the hat.
I baked this according to the Poly Paste instructions on the bottle. The powder stuck to the glue and made it very white (where it didn't stick it was more opaque), but I was planning to do some painting so no big deal.
After this final bake there were several cracks in the crown. I'm not sure if I did something directly wrong or if it was just the nature of the piece. But based on my plans for decorating the hat, I decided the cracks were perfect for the project and did not equal failure.
At this point I decided I had enough leftover clay to do some additional pieces. I created a band for the goggles. This was slightly complicated for me to get it to fit perfectly. I made pieces to go on either side of the goggles that fit into the edge of Basil's ears, then I rolled the clay out and cut a strap to attach around the back of his head. After I got it shaped I carefully removed the clay and baked it. As soon as it was done (and super hot to the touch), I carefully pushed the pieces into place on the sides. The strap just sort of naturally formed to the back of his head. I used painters tape to help hold it into place while it cooled. This isn't glued at all, it's just shaped to stay in place. I also made a little band to go around the hat and a patch.
Once everything was done cooling it was time to paint! I painted the band the dark soft black color I had used for the inside of the goggles. Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I painted the goggles since they're obviously not the original blue. Blue wasn't going to match the whole steampunk look, so I painted the goggles a goldish color with the inside edge soft black to look more like leather.
Using the soft black paint mixed with a smidge of gold, I dabbed a paper towel in the paint then dry rubbed it around the hat. This gave it a good old worn look. I used a paint brush to paint inside the cracks then rubbed the excess paint off the edges. I had made a little really thin patch and shaped it to the edge and one of the cracks while it was hot. I painted it teal, used a thin-tip Sharpie to draw some stitches on the edges, then rubbed some soft black on it to dirty it up. I glued this to the hat with some E6000.
I also made this bow tie. Basil was obviously missing something and this was a super quick and perfect addition. It took less than 10 minutes to roll out and shape, then 30 minutes to bake. I used this tutorial.
I'd love to eventually make a tail-coat for him, but that's a little above my current experience level with polymer clay. I'd also like to make him a pocket watch, but until he has a coat I'm not sure how that would work.