Who Made Them Rules

04watersplash.jpgA wise man said “a rule obeyed is an opportunity missed.” When it comes to his work creating polymer products, Tony Aquino misses very few opportunities.

With more than 30 years of experience designing products for the arts and crafts field, Aquino is currently Technical Director for Van Aken International – a major supplier of polymer clay products. He compares the process of developing new colors and textures to fine cuisine. “If you want to create exactly the same dish, you need to follow the recipe, the rules, exactly. But if you want something fresh, something new, you’ve got to trust your instincts. As that great philosopher/chef Emeril Lagasse once said, ‘Who made them rules?’

Chef Legasse makes his reputation creating dishes and using techniques that other chefs the world over claim should not be done. Likewise with Aquino’s work. “Sometimes we just want to bend the rules a bit and do something a little different. That is my approach.”

The products Aquino has worked on range from adhesives and glazes through silkscreen inks, dimensional paints, fabric dyes and tempera. But polymer clay is, by far, his favorite. “Polymer clay is the most versatile art medium around. With it, the creative possibilities are endless. When it comes to versatility, nothing comes close and nothing ever will.”04framelo.jpg

As Aquino explains, there are a lot of similarities with cooking and mixing of paints and clays. His very first job in manufacturing was as a paint maker. “In cooking you have recipes, in paint making, formulas. In food production and manufacturing, as well as paint making, you must be exact with your measurements. All ingredients strictly follow an order of addition. Each and every ingredient serves a very specific purpose and adds its own uniqueness or flavor to the final product.”

“The same could be said for polymer clay manufacturing and curing,” he continues, “Wet ingredients are added to dry ingredients and it is kneaded into a dough-like compound. Color pigments add the spice.” In fact, some cooking processes and terminology have been adopted by the polymer clay world. Polymer clay artists use pasta machines, food processors, and cookie cutters, as well as treatments like tenting and ice baths. And, of course, baking.

“Making a polymer clay product is both complex and precise. Accuracy in weighing the raw materials is very critical,” Aquino says. “Production of polymer clay must be treated with extreme care from start to finish. For example, the machinery we use creates friction, which creates heat. To polymer clay, heat is a friend in curing and a foe in production.” It’s just like cooking. When a cake recipe calls for two eggs, you don’t use two fried eggs.

“On the other hand, how the artist manipulates and works with that product is an entirely different story.”

Aquino has been working in the technology of coatings and with art products since 1974. Along the way, he took the time to play and create with them and “to appreciate the products as the artist and consumer use them. Polymer clay is a uniquely interesting and different product. The possibilities are enormously unlimited, as is its versatility. There are countless untapped ideas and techniques with this medium.”

To say the least, Aquino enjoys his work.

Several years ago, Aquino read that you should never use acrylic paints to tint liquid polymer clay. Someone speaking from experience said the results were disastrous –the product bubbled upon curing.

His immediate reaction? “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Bubbles can be very useful to recreate a water surface or a variation of a raku finish. This method can even be used to make rough cut faux stones.04fauxstonelo.jpg

Aquino experimented with these techniques, mixing acrylic paints, Repel Gel and even a few drops of water to clear or tinted Kato Clear Medium. “Bubbled or bumpy textures can be found in many objects that we come across throughout the day. I even found myself observing an egg bubbling in a frying pan. I decided that I wanted to duplicate that effect in liquid polymer clay, just to see if I could do it.” And, as shown in the photo, he succeeded.

“Whatever we create is not going to be liked -- or understood -- by everybody,” he observes. “Each polymer clay or liquid version is unique. Take advantage of their different working properties. Thinking outside the box is good, but sometimes, like the curious child we all have inside us, simply shaking the box is a great idea. You might like what you find inside!”

Aquino sums up his philosophy simply, “There is creativity within all of us, so have fun with it and break them rules!”

04friedegg.jpgAll of the photos in this article are items containing Kato Clear Medium mixed with a small amount of water or a water-based product for a reactive texture.

Later this spring Kato Polyclay will have available Kato Liquid Colors in a set of 9 tubes. The colors included would be, transparents; red, yellow, blue, orange, green, violet along with black, white and clear. Tony Aquino can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.04rockyraku.jpg



Van Aken takes customer feedback very seriously. “We listen to the criticism from our customers,” Aquino says. “We record all the data about each batch, from how it was mixed to how it was wrapped.. When we receive a complaint, we refer back to that information. And we retain samples of each batch. For example, if the artist complains about crumbling I personally slice off a sample and work with it. Polymer clay artists spend their hard-earned money on our product. We want it to be right for them. By listening to the artists it helps us to correct or avoid problems in the future.

More about Tony Aquino

04southwest.jpgTony Aquino began his artistic journey as a charcoal portraitist. The medium is both exacting and emotive. And the time he spent in the Southwest provided a wealth of images and colors. Early on, he greatly appreciated the inspirational work of Vincent Van Gogh. “I felt there was so much more to the man and his incredible talent than one lost ear.”

When he first became involved with polymer, Aquino admits he was “absolutely clueless. I had no idea that I would soon be drawn in and consumed by its allure (some might call it addiction). Polymer clay is still in its infancy and there are so many discoveries to be made. I’m glad I found a comfortable seat on its bandwagon!”

Aquino sees himself as “somewhere between a chemist and an artist.” That inquisitive nature serves him well. “I had no idea of the complexities of making polymer clay when I started. I wondered why there was only one domestic producer. After working through several lab batches at Van Aken, I realized why – it’s incredibly complex.”

The artist community figures prominently in Aquino’s work. “I listen to artists’ ideas about new products, particularly if they are passionate about it because that is something that I share with them. I try to see things from their perspective and welcome the challenge of creating.”

Much to his delight, artists share their discoveries with Aquno. “It was fun seeing Gail Ritchey’s crackle texture and learning how she achieved it using a hair dryer. I enjoy playing around with techniques and sometimes that play requires me to look at the work from a different angle. That’s how I stumbled upon my liquid phantom technique. It wasn’t what I was trying to create, but it is a wonderful way to emboss with rubber stamps and liquid clay.”

04shawnjakob.jpgHis creativity is shared with his daughter Lisha, who studied art in London, and his grandson Shawn Jacob, who tests the limits in everything he does.

Polymer clay enthusiasts are truly fortunate to have such a talented advocate.

Editor's Note: Members can download this article as a PDF. You will find it in the POLYinforMER area of the Download page.