How to Revive Old Sculpey

(or other polymer clay, but I only tried this with sculpey brand)

I recently revived 9 different blocks of 10-year-old sculpey found in the back of my old desk. Here’s the method I developed, after working the first 4-5 blocks, that I believe will work with any color, type, or age of sculpey.

Add Oil

From what I’ve gathered in my (very) un-scientific research, Sculpey is made of PVC, colorings, and fillers and plasticizers to soften the material. When those softeners have lost their effectiveness through age, sculpey becomes brittle and unworkable. Most softening methods include re-adding some sort of softening agent so that you can yet again mold the clay. I settled with using Baby Oil, mainly because it was the cheapest recommended substance, and also because it was readily available in my house. Mineral oil is the same thing, and also acceptable.

To add the oil, the best method I found was to put the block of clay on a generous piece of parchment paper, and drizzle the oil (about a tablespoon, or however much it takes to cover the surface) on top of the clay. Then, let it sit for 12-24 hours. If you try to kneed the oil into the clay right away, you’ll end up with a partially sludgy substance with the potential to thickly cover your hands. (if you are impatient and this does happen to you, I recommend paper towels and lots of soap)

Work the Clay

After the oil has had a chance to soak into the clay, use a tool to chop your block of sculpey into many smaller pieces. It may still be crumbly and brittle inside – that’s okay. Then, take all of those small pieces and smush them together, in order to start re-forming them into one big ball of clay. I recommend keeping the pieces within the parchment paper at this point so that you don’t have to get the oil all over your hands.

The next part is going to take a little bit of time: you’re going to want to keep manipulating, stretching, and re-balling the clay until it begins to feel more elastic and new-clay-like. I’ve noticed some colors of clay take more time, with metallic clays (any color that looks shiny or glittery) often taking a long time or remaining slightly brittle. Temperature can also be a huge factor in this step. I had the best luck with all of my clays when I attempted to work them in around 85 degree heat. (It wasn’t the most comfortable sculpey-making situation, though)

Make Something Simple

Your newly rehydrated sculpey is never going to be 100% the clay it was before. So, I recommend using your zombie sculpey to make something that doesn’t require too much molding. I decided to create coasters by marbling the colors together and rolling it out into circles. Any other project that involves super simple shapes should also work out just fine.

Presenting at a Digital Research Symposium

This past Thursday I had planned to present a research poster for the first time – at the University of Illinois’ Undergraduate Research Symposium. Then the pandemic happened, and, well, I suppose it’s lucky that I had yet to design my poster.

In lieu of my inaugural in-person research presentation, the poster session was organized into a forum, with presenters recording short videos of themselves talking about their work. While I’m disappointed not to be able to speak directly to the symposium attendees, it was fun to dust off my video editing skills and put them to good use.

The research I am ‘presenting’ (currently, as the symposium started on Monday the 27th and stretches through this Friday) is my senior thesis: Visualizing Curriculum Commonalities and Prerequisite Chains Through Metro Maps. It is a project that began as an idea to artistically illustrate the course paths of majors in Illinois’ College of Engineering, and which turned into a saga of scraping poorly formatted websites for data, searching out graph drawing papers, reading almost the entirety of a dissertation from 2008, and implementing my own metro map drawing algorithm.

Unexpectedly, I have still found presenting digitally and asynchronously to be rewarding. I have been able to have Illinois students and faculty from across departments view my work, have had intelligent discussion through answering thoughtful questions about my design choices for the map and how I thought the visualization might impact students as they create their class plans. I’ve also been able to receive an evaluation of the comprehensibility of the (admittedly rather technical) project to academics in non-technical fields, and my friends were able to support me by logging on and leaving encouraging forum comments.

My advisor and I plan to release an interactive visualization of the map, my thesis’ true final product, in the next few weeks. In that time, I’m hoping to put the feedback I’ve received to work making the web-based version of the project the best it can be.

Hello Again!

Hi, I’m Tamara.

A long time ago, in 2014, I had a book blog under the name ‘Tamaraniac.’ I wrote book reviews, and created recommendation lists of young adult novels, and took a lot of book pictures in my then twinkle-lighted bedroom. I worked for two independent bookstores (the lovely Red Balloon Bookshop and Subtext Books) writing shelf reviews, helping with order lists, working special events, and getting to meet many great authors.

Then, I went off to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I decided to study Computer Science. I still read as much as I could during breaks, and I still took pictures of those books for my instagram, but I essentially stopped writing book reviews. I took down my blog and replaced it with a professional site. I spent less time on social media, and I lost touch with the book world.

Next fall, I’ll be beginning my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I’ll be doing research in computing education: a field that seeks to understand topics such as how people learn computing, why they learn computing, and how we can help them learn and understand computing better.

In short: my interests have changed and broadened. While I still love reading, (I’ll soon be living a 5-minute walk from Ann Arbor’s independent bookstore!) I also want to talk about what is happening in my field and research, about the art projects I’ve picked up during the pandemic, and probably about plenty of other things in the future. On this (new) blog, I plan to chronicle my life as a graduate student, my research, and my thoughts about what is going on in the world of Computer Science; as well as write about the books I’m reading and things I’m creating.