The Skinner Blend (named for its developer, Judith Skinner) is a very useful technique that allows one to create a sheet of clay with a smooth blend between two or more colors. It is possible to make a Skinner Blend using a brayer, but a pasta machine simplifies the process.
To make a simple Skinner Blend, select two colors of clay that you wish to blend together. There is a science to choosing colors that blend well. To test a blend, take tiny, equal-sized bits of each color and mix them together. The resultant color is representative of the type of shades you'll see in the middle of a Skinner Blend between those two colors. Analogous colors usually blend well. (Analogous colors are those that sit next to one another on the color wheel. For instance, red and orange are analogous, as are orange and yellow.) On the other hand, complementary colors (colors on opposite sides of the color wheel) tend to merge into brown.
Once you've chosen your two colors, the basic technique is as follows:
- Condition the colors of clay separately.
- Roll each color of clay into a sheet that is approximately 1/8" thick (use the thickest setting on your pasta machine).
- Cut across each sheet diagonally to create two triangles. Somewhat "skinny" or "tall" triangles are usually preferred. (You can cut the sheets separately or stack them, make a singe diagonal cut, and peel the layers apart.)
- Take one triangle of each color and fit them together to create a whole square or rectangle (depending on the shape of the triangles). Press the touching seams of the two triangles together.
- Blend the clay by rolling it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting or rolling with a brayer. After feeding it through the pasta machine the first time, fold the sheet in half, bringing the bottom edge up even with the top. Flatten the folded edge slightly to keep your sheet neat. Feed the doubled sheet into the pasta machine, folded edge first. (This helps prevent air from becoming trapped in the clay, which leads to unsightly bubbles.) If you are rolling by hand, try to flatten the slab of clay only until it reaches its original thickness (about 1/8").
- Repeat this process (rolling and folding) numerous times, being sure to fold in the same direction (bottom to top) and put the clay into the pasta machine folded side first. The first several passes through the pasta machine will not appear to make much difference in the clay, but if you keep at it, you'll begin to see a change. The magic number seems to be twenty, but it may vary somewhat. Stop when you are happy with the degree of blend.
There are many ways to modify the look of your blend. Try blending more than two colors, placing strips of white clay between colors, and varying the proportions of the triangles (long and skinny vs. short and fat). Visit some of the following links for more information and inspiration in technique variations and color combinations.