Your work surface is extremely important. I find that working with your clay on a ceramic tile works best, but you can use marble or granite or even a piece of glass. This is great because the clay doesn't stick very easily. Plastic is okay, but it isn't the best.
Keep your work surface dust free. Dust is your enemy. It is everywhere! Before you work with your clay, give your work surface a nice big wipe with some paper towel and a bit of rubbing alcohol or get some of those alcohol wipes. This gets off any surface dirt that may be on the surface as well as the dreaded dust.
Your hands need to be as dust free as your work surface. What I do is wash my hands with dishsoap before I start, and than I either air dry my hands in front of my fan or I wipe them with paper towels. Don't use towels - they are LOADED with fuzzies. Keep a good supply of cheap papertowel. I use the "Green" papertowel that is made from recycable materials because it is better for the environment.
Your hands are dirtier than they look! Do yourself a favour and keep a white piece of clay on hand to wipe your hands and work surface with before you start. You can use this piece over and over again. You don't HAVE to use white, but if you do use white you can really SEE that it is working. You'll be surprised how dirty it gets after awhile.
Before you begin, you need some clay! I would recommend buying one pack of each type of brand and see what clay you really like. This way, you don't buy ten colours of one brand and figure out you don't like it. A lot of people find that Sculpey III and Fimo Soft are the best brands to start out with because they are easy to work with.
Richer colours stain your hands, such as blue, black, and red. When you go to use a lighter colour, this residue from the richer shades will discolour your lighter shades. To avoid this, you may want to do all your sculpting and shaping with the lighter shades first, and than use the darker ones. Or just wipe your hands down after each colour with some rubbing alcohol and paper towel and than give that scrap white piece of clay a little bit of a knead to get all that crud off your fingers.
Your hands and fingers are your friends. Look at all the beautiful work they do! Take care of them. All that clay handling and washing of the hands can take it's toll. When you aren't working with clay, give those hands of yours some nice treatment. Keep your nails maintained, keep your hands soft with some cream of some sort, and be nice to them and they will keep working for you for a long time!
The most expensive tools aren't always the best. In fact, I don't think I own anything spectacular. Things like toothbrushes, safety pins, and toothpicks are your best tools!
No matter how clean your hands and surface are, white clay always seems to attract the most dust. However, there is a way around this. Before you begin to bake your clay, get a cotton swab and dip it in some rubbing alcohol, and give the white a little bit of a wipe. The swab picks up all the dust and leaves the surface nice and clean!
If you hate fingerprints on your pieces, get yourself some of those surgical gloves. If they are too big and bulky or make the process more difficult, get yourself some "finger cots" to cover your thumb and index fingers. You use these fingers the most.
Liquid cay is great for smoothing out imperfections. Just put a tiny bit on the clay and rub it in. Another good way is to use rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to get a smoother surface.
A fantastic way to slice canes is with a thin piece of wire! Or a one of those wire cheese cutters. Heh.
I would invest in an acrylic roller for rolling out clay. Wooden rollers really stain up easily and aren't too smooth. Instead of rolling out clay on your surface, lay down a ziploc baggie, some tracing paper, or parchment paper to roll on. It won't stick.
When cutting canes, it is best to either put them in a freezer first and slice them when their cold to reduce distortion, OR you can bake a small piece of the cane at once, and slice it while it is hot right out of the oven. This completely gets rid of distortion since the clay is already set!
What do you think? Should I give more tips again sometime?
Want to see my work? Check out my website at MonsterKookies.com. You can look through my gallery to see my past work or you can check out my shop to see what's in stock. For those of you who don't use Etsy, you can also just get it directly through me. I am always taking commissions!