1. Stay Tightly To Scale!
To take your polymer clay miniatures to an artisan level, stay accurately to scale! Start with the right habits, measure the real item you are attempting to imitate, and make your poly clay replica as close to the size and shape of the original within your chosen scale.
When people first begin making miniatures, they are thrilled that their friends and family recognize the big identifying features (what a cute chocolate cake!) but as you keep expanding your skill, the main thing that separates quality from average is the fine attention paid to scale and finishes. When you buy polymer clay miniatures from experienced artisans, every piece you buy in future years will look in scale with all the other pieces in your collection, and with slight variations, colors for particular items (breads, cake icings, pastries, fruit and veg) will all stay consistent from year to year. As you work on your skills, try to reach this same level of consistency.
Experienced artisans stay tightly to scale for all the pieces they make. Buy a scale ruler, the small Figrule works well for three dolls house scales. Measure, and record the size of items in real size, and translate them accurately to your scale.
2. Choose the Best Brand for Your Location and Working Style
Brands of polymer clay handle differently and some are better for particular tasks, caning, dollmaking, than others. Experiment with Brands of Polymer Clay to find the one that works best for your working environment and projects. You can blend different brands, and create greater strength and elasticity in weak clays by adding in more 'translucent' or 'porcelain' clay, but you will need to keep track of the proportions of each that you add to your mix, so you can reproduce a blend if you find one that works well for you. Pay attention to curing (baking) temperatures when you mix brands of clay, try to mix clays which need curing at similar temperatures. Test any mixes to see how the colors are affected by baking. Some color blends will change considerably.
3. Set up a Clean Work Space
Dust free is tough when working with polymer clay. Try to set up a work space in an area with little dust and away from furnace air circulation. Use a clean porcelain tile or a piece of tempered glass as a work space, so you can keep your work area free of dust and imperfections. Use silicone tipped clay shapers and wooden or plastic modelling tools instead of metal tools whenever possible. If you must use metal tools with polymer clay, clean them with an alcohol wipe before placing them against your clay, to make sure the tools are clean and don't transfer marks to your clay.
Use alcohol wipes, or isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to clean tools and wipe your hands and workspace between handling clay colors.
4. Blend Your Own Colors And Make "Recipe" Cards
To make your polymer clay miniatures unique, blend your own clay colors whenever possible. Basic clay colors are available to everyone, use your own artistic eye to create the most realistic colors possible with custom clay blends to set your miniatures apart from the pack. The reference book Polymer Clay Color Inspirations is a great handbook for learning to blend and work with polymer clay palettes to create a custom color library for your work. Keep a series of reference or 'recipe' cards on file with the custom color recipes you create, so you can make your favorite colors over and over again.
5. Use Quality Artist's Pastels for Surface Coloring
Surface shading of polymer clay for realistic food colors is easiest when done with high quality artist's pastels. Use pastels which have a fine pressed powder formulation and which blend easily, Pan Pastels are one, or grind quality pastel sticks into fine powders for custom blends. Avoid scrapbooking "chalks" in favor of quality artist's pastels, and learn how to use spray fixatives to hold your pastel coloring on your polymer clay work.
6. Practise Basic Techniques
Practise basic techniques like rolling clay paper thin, creating crumb textures and bubbles, and making basic canes. Basic Techniques for Polymer Clay once perfected, will extend the range of miniatures you will feel confident to reproduce.
7. Use Reference Photos
Whenever possible, work from good quality photos of real items you wish to turn into miniatures. Examine the photos to see how 'bloom' sits on a fruit, how the colors blend, where there is texture, and what is the 'finish' and work out how to recreate that for your miniature.
8. Avoid Copying, Develop Your Own Personal Style
Learn techniques for making your own custom tools for working with polymer clay, like custom miniature cutters and easy to make texturing tools. Experiment with two part silicon mold putty to create repeat versions of your original designs. As you experiment, you will develop original techniques which will set your work apart from the pack.