01 of 08
Make Tiny Snails and Snail Shells From Polymer Clay
These dollhouse scale snails can be made to match a range of different snail (and slug) species. We've shown a humble garden variety snail destined for a dollhouse plant pot, but the same method can be used to make snail shells for escargot dishes or to mimic ocean snails and whelks.
We used waste polymer clay in various shades of brown and ochre to make my dollhouse scale garden snails. You will also need translucent (porcelain) clay and perhaps a bit of gloss acrylic varnish. Snails come in an amazing range of colors, so you could also use this technique to make a Victorian boxed naturalist collection of shells if you wish.
The best thing to do is to pick a subject from the wonderful Living World of Molluscs site and use the instructions on the following pages to make color blends of polymer clay that will mimic your favorite snail.
Larger snails for your plant pots or garden can be made from two-part epoxy putty using a similar shaping method without the striped cane. To hold the shell shape while the putty hardens you can use a support of crumpled aluminum foil.
Slugs are essentially snails without shells, so the instructions for making the snail body can be modified to make slugs for your miniature garden scene (or to add to potions, or jars).
If this is your first project with polymer clay, you may want to learn more about the basics of working with polymer clay for information on safe handling.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Making Fine Stripes From Polymer Clay
The striped snail shells are made by making small slices from contrasting stacked layers of thin strips of polymer clay. The clay for your snail shells will work best if your colors are blended roughly 1:1 between colored clay and translucent clay. The addition of translucent clay makes the shells more realistic and also makes your clay more elastic and easier to make into small miniatures.
We used scraps of ochre clay, mid brown, and straw-colored (pasta colored) clay along with very small amounts of black to make my snails.
Each color was blended 1:1 with translucent clay, then rolled into a ball and flattened into a thin sheet. The colors were stacked on top of each other to maximize the contrast between colors, then the layers were flattened with a roller to make them thinner. Take care not to flatten them too much, or you will lose the color definition between your striped bands.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Laying out Finely Striped Rolls of Clay for Snail Shells
The banded blend of clay from the previous step is cut into thin strips like those on the right of the photo on this page. These strips of striped clay are cut into small square sections and laid beside one another so the stripes will be across the roll or cane when you thin it for the snail shells. If your clay is very soft, gently squeeze the small sections together to hold the stripes in layers as shown, then leave the clay to harden before you attempt to roll it for the snail shell. Make your layers of stripes as small a sideways stack as possible, cutting the sections so they are just slightly wider than the thickness you want for your snail shell if possible.
When the clay has firmed up and will not blend easily when rolled, gently roll your set of square slices so you get a roll of polymer clay which is very narrow on one end, and slightly wider on the other end. See the instructions for rolling fine miniature pasta from polymer clay to learn how to roll very fine rolls for the tiniest snails.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Shaping the Spiral for a Miniature Snail Shell
Snail shells can be right or left handed, (dextral or sinistral) and are sometimes different even within the same family of snails. Use the point of a fine dressmakers pin to begin curving the center of the snail shell spiral from the narrowest end of your roll of polymer clay. This is fairly easy to do on a flat surface. As the spiral gets wider, begin to shape the spiral so the center lays slightly on top of the new layers you add in. This will make the shell more three dimensional rather than flat.
When you have the shell roughly the size you need, use a polymer clay blade or tissue blade to cut the clay roll neatly at the edge of the spiral. The first sections of the spiral should be sitting slightly on top of the section you cut free.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Make an Opening in the Snail Shell for the Snail
When you have your basic shell in a spiral, set it aside to cool, or harden slightly (or set it in a refrigerator). Take the slightly hardened clay and push the point of a dressmakers pin into the cut end of the shell. Make gentle circles with the pin to push an opening into the shell end by thinning the walls of clay around the pin.
If you want empty snail shells for a naturalist collection, for miniature decorations, or for escargot for a miniature gastronome, you can finish by baking your polymer clay shells. (see step 8 for hints on how to bake them so they are evenly finished). If you want to have snails in your shells, cure the polymer clay shells according to directions for your particular clay. If you want snail bodies to inhabit your shells, continue on to the next step while your shells are 'baking'.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Making Miniature Snails and Slugs
The bodies of snails and slugs are very similar. Most have at least one set of tentacles on the head end.
To make the miniature snail bodies, gather up bits of your waste snail shell clay and blend them into a slightly grey brown mix (unless your snail is some other color).
Roll a very thin roll of clay which is pointed on both ends if possible, and less than 1/4 inch (around 6 mm long). This is for a 1:12 scale garden snail, other snails or slugs may be larger or smaller.
Use a sharp pin on the pointed head end to divide the polymer clay into two sections, forming a short "Y" as shown. Lift the snail from your work surface with a clay blade and try to make the arms of the "Y", the tentacles, as rounded as possible. This only works well if your clay has a high proportion of translucent clay added, at least 1:1.
To Make a Slug
Use the side of your pin to flatten the edges of the snail / slug body and thin them out like the foot of a slug. Use a bit of fine sandpaper to texture the surface of your slug and pose it with tentacles extended.
To Make a Snail
Don't worry about making markings for the foot of a snail. Insert the tip of a pin under the snail at the point where the head will come out of the shell. Proceed to the next step.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Fitting the Miniature Snail Shell on the Snail Body
With the body of your snail lightly 'impaled' on the end of a pin, press the snail body up into the wide end of the snail shell. Use the head of the pin to press the bottom of the body up into the opening in the shell, or against the lower side of the shell. Take care to keep the tentacles free.
Check the length and position of your snail body and adjust it using the side of your pin if necessary.
Pose your snail head and tentacles, or move the body behind the snail into position to hang over the edge of a plant pot.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
To Cure Your Miniature Polymer Clay Snails
When you have your snail or slug bodies in position, set them into a small baking tray (used only for polymer clay) which has a layer of baking powder or baking soda set into it as shown. The powder will prevent the snails from touching the metal or glass baking tray which means they will have an even sheen on their bodies with no shiny spots where they touch the tray.
Bake the snails according to the directions for your particular brand of polymer clay.
When the clay has cooled, you can coat the shells with a thin coat of acrylic varnish or topcoat to make the shells have more shine.
For snail trails, you can use a bit of gloss acrylic medium or tar gel medium on its own or mixed with a tiny amount of pearl Jacquard Pearl Ex Mica Powder or a tiny bit of irridescent water color medium.
Site your snails where you would expect to find them on miniature plant pots, or plant leaves. Have fun!