This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
I'd never heard of polymer clay and I don't consider myself an artist, but art interests me and has done more so since I started this childrens' picture book series of mine, so anything out of my experience zone tends to attract my attention.
For the most part, this book was well-written and very informative, colorfully illustrated and explained in detail where necessary. This 'clay' is made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The water that comes into your house and the waste you flush away more than likely runs through PVC pipes, and the electricity you use more than likely runs through cables insulated with PVC. Polymer clay is treated in various ways with 'plasticizers' to render it into modeling clay. You will need to work it to get it soft and ready to mold into whatever shapes you want, but once it's 'loosened up' it's just like clay. When heat-treated though, instead of melting or drooping, it hardens and retains its shape; it's rather like baking ceramic or pottery. It also retains its color. This makes it perfect for making items you want to keep and even use, such as jewelry. You could make buttons for your clothes and other useful items such as, for example, the pieces for a chess game - and even the chessboard itself!
The author shows many techniques and steps the reader through making a variety of items, some of which look good enough to eat - such as fake chocolate chip cookies and a fruit flan that, when done properly, looks very realistic. Polymer clay comes in a variety of bright colors and it mixes readily with other colors to blend shades. There are also varieties you can get which make for a semi-translucent or a pearlescent finish. You can, as the author explains, add other materials to the clay to change appearance, and make a more matte finish to your project. The clay remains workable until 'cured' by heating at relatively low temperatures in an ordinary oven, but perhaps a dedicated oven might be a better bet, or an alternate heating technique. Here's why.
The author doesn't mention this, which for me was a big no-no, but there are certain health risks associated with long-term use of certain types of polymer clay - specifically those which contain more than 0.1% of any of a half-dozen specific chemicals known as phthalates. This is why polymer clay isn't a good material for making children's toys or for making items which might be used as food containers. I understand that the manufacturers of this clay have sought to remove such plasticizers from the clay since 2008, but it's always a good idea to be fully aware of what it is you're working with and what the risks are, which is why I would have preferred at least a mention of this in the book.
I found this an inexcusable omission in that this was not mentioned at all. I also understand from reading around on the topic, that the clay doesn't necessarily need to be baked - it can be heat treated with a hair dryer, dryer for example, or put into very hot water and left for a time to harden that way. Given that some formulations of polymer clay could exude hydrogen chloride gas when heated, the water idea seems like a safer bet to me, but maybe more modern formulations of the clay do not have this problem.
The fact is that I don't know, and the author made no mention of this in this book. I think this was a serious omission and which is why I am not recommending this book. The author also neglected to mention pricing, which can vary and change over time, I know, but a rough price-range would have been nice as a guide. A dedicated oven (an old toaster oven will do) might cost around $70. The clay itself costs about a dollar an ounce, or perhaps more from a brief survey I did, and a hand pasta roller - which you can use to work the clay and make it malleable prior to modeling, will be around $30, although you can work it by hand or even with a rolling pin, I guess; then you would not want to use that rolling pin for food, so a dedicated roller is also wise.
So while this book did offer hints, tips and advice about getting started, the lack of any sort of pricing or safety warnings made it a fail for me, and I cannot commend it. It may well be that safety concerns have been reduced with newer formulations of this material, but still a note of caution would have been wise I felt, especially if (for all I know) there may be 'cut price' older formulations of this material out there. Hopefully there are not!