Plastic Clay is the Literal Translation of Polymer Clay In Russia

How To Say Polymer Clay In Russian

So Does That Mean They Make Plastic Beads and Plastic Jewelry?

You may not realize it, but this blog gets a lot of web traffic from all around the world. I guess the language barrier prevents a lot of you international visitors from commenting too much. Occasionally though, some people like Larissa Metsker (lameta) come along. She’s from the Russian polymer clay community and fortunately her English is very good.

Here is a recent article I posted about Lameta: Russian Jewelry And Bead Artist Brings The World Closer Together

In the comments section of that post, I’ve been learning more about what is happening over in Russia with polymer clay. Larissa has indicated that…

Much interest has been drawn to polymer clay recently in Russia (last 5 or so years).

But when we try to organize shows, it appears that people know nothing of this medium, it takes time to explain what it is. The reaction is different: from surprise to neglection: Plastic :(

The problem is that polymer clay is new for Russia and there is no such word. We use word-for-word translation, as it sounds good. But in most cases people call it just ‘plastic’ and I don’t like it, because there is even a grammar mistake in the word.

From what she has shared, it is obvious that Larissa has a bit of a dilemma on her hands. Not only is the medium so new that they have to explain it all the time. But the translated name for polymer clay gives the impression that the material is cheap and tacky. Unlike the true artists medium that it really is.

So how do you think these Russian artists should handle the situation? Stumble along trying to convince the public that plastic really is a great artistic medium? Or should they reinvent its image somehow? Maybe call the clay by its brand name like Fimo or Premo? Or use the scientific name for its ingredients or something?

In English we don’t call Acrylic Paint, ‘plastic paint’ even though that’s what it really is. So maybe they could come up with something that gives polymer clay a classier image.

What do you guys think? Any ideas for Larissa (lameta) and her colleagues?

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

  1. squash, 09 February, 2009

    We have the same problem here, in Romania. This medium is known for about one year, maybe two. We have translated “polymer clay” in two words ’cause we have two words for clay meaning the same thing. Just like French people, they are calling it “pate polymere” and also “argile polymere”. Sometimes we are refering to it as Fimo, that’s the brand the most popular here, the suppliers also bring Cernit, but it’s not so used. We are not calling it plastic even though we state that this is what polymer clay becomes after baking.
    Indeed it takes time to explain the properties of the clay and many of my customers are convinced that I paint the beads, the millefiori concept doesn’t seem to be understood even when I explain it.
    I’m very curious about what other readers have to say about this problem.

  2. Janine K, 09 February, 2009

    Yes, I not the problem also in Germany. Everybody knows Fimo, but this is a “kids product” nobody would think that we prepare a kind of art with this or a similar product.
    The German translation makes it cheap because it is associated with plastic. The people means “this is cheap and comes from China” (very bad connection)
    Sometimes I tell the people that I work with “Artist Clay”. the germany words for Artist (Kuenstler) and synthetic (kuenstlich) have a similar pronunciation in german.
    Have a great day

  3. Lindsay Weirich, 09 February, 2009

    Definetly re-brand it. Call it clay, sculpey or fimo so it will be appreciated for the medium that it is. Sorry to cross post but I have a question.: I made some clay covered silverware over a year ago and it has been used a lot and last night it just cracked apart. It was so brittle! I cleaned them in the dishwasher and they were made with sculpey 3. What do you think?

  4. Maria, 09 February, 2009

    I encounter the same problem here in the US! I am Russian-American and work as an RN in a adult day health center that caters to elderly emigrant Russian Jews. A group of the ladies have become what I affectionately call my “bead-groupies” and are always checking to see what design jewelry I am wearing for that day. (Need to make more stuff! ;) I find it hard to explain to them that this is clay (“gleena”) in Russian because that means pottery clay. Saying it is “plastic” does connote a “tackiness” and the concept of millefiori really eludes them – they are convinced my stuff is painted! Maybe the Russian artists can call it “polimeriya”?

  5. Cindy Lietz, 10 February, 2009

    @squash: Excellent comment! As you can see by the comments below yours you are not the only one with this problem. I think you are right not to refer to the clay as plastic, which almost always has negative connotations.

    @Janine: Great advice for dealing with this issue by calling it ‘artists clay’. Thanks for your insight on this!

    @Lindsay: I agree it needs to be re-branded. In regards to the clay cracking on the silverware, first of all don’t use Sculpey III. It is the weakest of all the clays. Use Premo or Fimo instead. Next, I would hand wash them since dishwasher detergents are very hard on most things and I suspect they may be breaking down the integrity of the clay. Thanks for your comment!

    @Maria: Love this comment! You have given an excellent suggestion to this issue for our Russian readers! Thank you so much!

    To everyone… Keep on bringing the ideas and stories regarding this issue. Together we can come up with some excellent solutions to educating the public on the value of what we do.

  6. Larissa Metsker, 11 February, 2009

    @Cindy: thank you for the wonderful idea of this posting and for the chance to discuss it internationally! :)
    @squash: I know what you are telling about, nobody ever seems to understand millefiori. Even if they understand after a long explanation :) they ask: “why take pains and do all thi stuff instead of just painting?” 8)
    @Janine: “Artist clay” sounds good but not in Russian, I am afraid. Besides, then it resembles “art clay” which is completely different thing
    @Lindsay: those who know all about it understand the brand-names, those who don’t, in any case require explanation, after which they call it plastic. This is just a matter of attitude towards man-made materials in general and polymers also
    @Maria: ??????? ?? ????????????? ???????????!(Thank you for your wonderful ideas!) ;)
    To everyone: the problem, as I see it, is not in the word (or finding the right word) but in people’s perception. Besides, polymer clay is a new medium, very attractive and giving good quick results (compared to usual clay or lampwork or whatever that takes much more time and effort). That is why many people try it for just having fun. We have a joke in Russian that only the laziest haven’t tried to make orange slices. So people see these funny-made-by-everybody-designs and don’t treat polymer clay seriously.
    So my idea is to rise the level of artiness :) (if I can call it so), that is the quality of idea, design, of the beads themselves.
    And it was really a pleasure “talking” ;) to all of you!

  7. Larissa Metsker, 11 February, 2009

    @Maria: sorry for those question marks. I didn’t notice them. My little daughter helped me :)

  8. Cindy Lietz, 11 February, 2009

    Wow Larissa you addressed everyone! What a fantastic comment, I really appreciate it!!

    I understand the need to elevate our medium to the level of ‘artiness’ it deserves. If we take our time, do high quality work and try our best to describe to people what a fantastic medium polymer clay truly is, its perception will change. It may just take a little while. :-)

    (Was the question marks from trying to type something in Russian? Cause sometimes the word processors in these blogs don’t do so well with unknown characters.)

  9. Monique Spencer, 12 February, 2009

    I vote for Art Clay. It’s lighter than heavier mud clay. It’s cleaner for artists to work with and produces much finer results.

    As a brander, I can tell you that’s the explanation people are looking for. They’re not looking for a chemical breakdown, but if you offer one, they’ll take it.

  10. Cindy Lietz, 12 February, 2009

    That is a better way to describe it than plastic clay for sure. There could be some confusion with Silver Art Clay which is a clay that becomes 99% pure silver when fired.

    One option could be to call it ‘Colored Art Clay’ or ‘Pigmented Art Clay’, that might help.

    Thank you for your comments Monique! This discussion is good!

  11. Jamie, 13 February, 2009

    Maybe they could refer to it as “low fire clay” as I have seen it called that in quite a few places. Then they could explain further if the person wanted details. Just my 2 cents worth. :)

  12. Cindy Lietz, 15 February, 2009

    That’s a good idea Jamie! When you say ‘fire’ instead of ‘bake’ it gives a classier impression. Like it could only been done by an artist in a studio as opposed to just a lady in her kitchen.

  13. Debbie McLelland, 28 February, 2009

    I have a very good friend that speaks many different languages, one of which is Russian. He also works with different advertising media. I am going to show him these comments and concerns and see what he can come up with that may help. He writes a great deal of editorial copy on a free lance basis.

    I will keep you posted. It is so sad to hear that artists around the globe are losing credibility through language barriers.

    Debbie McLelland

  14. Cindy Lietz, 03 March, 2009

    That would be fantastic Debbie! I would love to hear what your friend suggests!

  15. Cindy Lietz, 13 November, 2009

    **FYI: A Spotlight article featuring Zuleykha McMillan has just been posted. She is a Russian polymer clay artist currently living in the UK. The link by my name will take you to the post.

  16. Marta, 25 November, 2009

    Well, I can come up with three more names. First, direct translation of ‘polymer clay’, as all the words are quite known for everyone and have equivalents in the Russian language: ‘polymer’ will tell the listener about the essence of the material, ‘clay’ will explain what designers can do with it. Here some people also call it ‘thermo-plastic’ which is also ok, but a bit confusing for those who don’t know about it.
    Moe experienced artists here call it ‘bakable polymer clay’, probably, that’s the best way, though a bit too long :)

  17. Cindy Lietz, 11 December, 2009

    Thanks for the info Marta!

  18. Christl Pelikan, 21 May, 2011

    Hi, Cindy: As I have mentioned I live between the United States and Germany for decades, discovering Polymer Clay around 20 years ago. I was shocked to find out that in Germany whenever I have an Exhibit everbody loves my creations until they find out they are made from FIMO or other Polymer Clays. They say, oh, my children played with that and walk away. Now I sometimes just say my creations are made from POLYMER CLAY or from a fantastic “Modelliermasse” in German, or in English POLYMER MODELING COMPOUND. They seem happy with this. Or, how about ARTIST MODELING COMPOUND (AMC)?? I also heard many Polymer Clay Artists discuss to perhaps drop the word Clay and just refer to Polymers.
    Millefiori I explain by comparing it to making a black and white rolled cake they love here in Germany and they immediately understand. In the States I mention Sushi rolls and they get it. IN THE END, I BELIEVER OUR BEAUTIFUL CREATIONS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES. BUT A NEW NAME, NOT TRANSLATED, USED WORLD-WIDE, WOULD CERTAINLY HELP. HAPPY CLAYING …

  19. Donna, 21 May, 2011

    There is a product in Australia called low fire clay. Interestingly enough I don’t get negative feedback when selling polymer jewellry at the local Artisans. I am always asked what polymer is and I do explain the plastic component.

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