My first introduction to polymer clay was through a bead making class at a bead show. I then joined a polymer clay guild in my area and discovered so many other things to create with this medium but I still enjoy making beads the most. I've since developed my own style and now use a variety of methods and techniques. I will show you the basics on how a bead is created to give you an idea of the work that goes into them.
Most of my beads involve some sort of cane work. I shared earlier ("Building a Cane") what a cane is and how it is created. Here I have a tiger cane I made for some tiger print beads. For some of my beads I will make a decorative clay "sheet" first to cover them. Cane slices are carefully laid onto some clay that I have rolled out smooth in my pasta machine.
Here is my finished clay sheet that has been rolled out and smoothed. I then proceed to covering my beads from this clay sheet. Each bead is measured out so are the same consistent size and then shaped by hand. I need to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped inside and make them as smooth as possible (unless textured) so they will sand much easier after baking.
Instead of making a clay sheet, I will also place my cane slices directly onto my clay background. I pre-measure my clay first so each bead will be the same size and roll each one by hand into a smooth ball. Using a super sharp blade, I arrange thin slices from my canes onto the clay ball.
I roll the clay ball in my hands again, working and blending the cane slices in until it is smooth. I can shape my bead however I want and then pierce a hole. If I want larger holes, I can use these holes as a guide and then drill each one by hand after baking.
Here are some beads ready to go into the convection oven I use to bake. All my clay pieces are fired at a precise temperature and observed closely with an oven thermometer. The oven has to be hot enough for them to cure properly but not too hot or they will burn.
After baking, the beads are cooled and then sanded for a smoother finish. We sand each bead by hand using multiple grits of sandpaper. The beads are then buffed by hand for a matte or satin finish as in the tiger print beads above or buffed with a machine to make them shiny like the ones in the photos below.