When I stumbled across friendly plastic in 1990 in my local craft store there was no information on how to use it.
It was a new product and everyone was trying it. The stores were pushing it and it had a big marketing machine behind it. You could buy it in non-metallic colours as pellets in plastic jars. You could buy it in 3" sticks, or 7" sticks. And you could buy it in 4" squares. Now I can only get 7" sticks.
Friendly Plastic was advertised as non-toxic. (We'll see. I am sure I have accidentally ingested 1 or 2 7" sticks in my 17 years of working with it.) Perfect for toddlers, day cares, kindergartens everywhere. It was re-usable/recyclable (still is) as you can just re-heat/melt what you made if you don't like it. So little kids could take the pellets, or the sticks, melt them, mold it with their little hands, and then melt it again. Melting was done in hot tap water. It's true. It'll melt under the tap. And it cools down like when a candle drips and the drip hardens.
For adults I remember it pushed as "jewelry for your frying pan".
There were a few years where the really bright plastic designs were all over. I call this type of friendly plastic "traditional friendly plastic".
Book from 1990
Book from 1993 -- A great example of traditional , abstract, friendly plastic work
Book from 1994
Here are my thoughts of what's contributed to drive this stuff into obscurity.
1) After the first wave of crafters who like to make things found it, they followed directions and made the traditional abstract designs, just delighting in the bright fanciful colours. They cut and pieced and molded to their hearts content. Same with the kids. They did the same. Or rather tried to. There is one big thing with this plastic that makes it much much harder to work with than they let on, especially when you do it in hot water. Once it melts it is like melted wax, but with a little more body. the metal foil layer, which is the colour on the surface, holds the stick together but just barely. It's actually very very critical to remove your plastic at the exact right time or it's flowing all over and that great colour on the surface? It's slid right off. Or the stick has bent over onto itself and you're left with a blackish gray, blue, peachy-pinky-beige, red or white blob of plastic. In those days you also had yellow. (sigh. oh how I miss yellow... and orange.) So once they wanted to make something more complicated it became much more difficult to control your shapes. It's just not an easy medium.
2) FIMO clay was introduced at the exact same time. The makers of FIMO encouraged the grass roots users who adopted FIMO early on and groups sprung up to support each other and to encourage its use and to explore its possibilities. It was immediately recognized as a craft medium that could be used as art. It had the notion of "clay" going for it too, but it is PLASTIC. Not clay.
I tried FIMO, but didn't get seduced by it. The colour of friendly plastic still holds me. FIMO couldn't compete and I always wanted to make long thin arms or legs and FIMO things needed to be big and heavy and clunky to support those shapes. It just wasn't for me. But where was the support for Friendly Plastic as an art medium? Nowhere. Even though it had been introduced as a sculptural material it just never went further than that. It never got adopted and people moved on.
3) Think macrame. Think fad. Think the next new thing.
Craft sales tapered off. Stores limited their ordering. Then they stopped ordering altogether and sold off their remaining stock.
Over the years several colours have been dropped by the manufacturer, including my beloved yellow and a colour called gold cobra. It was perfect for making giraffes. Great gold snakeskin pattern on a metallic brown background. Sometimes I wonder if they'll stop making it altogether.
Oh and how can I forget this? It's plastic. Lowest of the low in the hierarchy of art materials. Plastic. Hated and despised, long time mimic of other more worthy materials. Think bakelite and how it looked like tortoise shell or ivory. Plastic. Evil foe of the environment. Plastic. Cheap, mass produced, no quality of its own.
My favorite anecdote
In 1991 I was asked to bring my samples to the National Gallery of Canada to meet with the buyer for their bookstore. I showed her my work and she made an order and seemed genuinely delighted with it. I know I was thrilled to have my work at the National Gallery. Who wouldn't be? After the business part was over we chatted briefly and she told me that she was buying my items "inspite of the medium". I understood what she was saying but it irritated me. Still does. My work looked like it did because it was made of friendly plastic not in spite of it. The material dictates the handling, no? Yes.
Last year I participated at an art show in a comic book shop. I made reproductions of two classic comic book covers using only friendly plastic. I posted my work in my blog.
Most of the crowd didn't care, didn't notice, weren't interested. They were looking for something else. Next to me was a man who was showing his own action figures. He was fascinated with my stuff. He said to me, " Your work is really unique. Don't worry about this (motioning to the room). It's hard to be a pioneer. Just keep going." You know, this guy, who was really in the same boat as I was at that show, he could have just said that to be nice but I was really touched by his words. A pioneer. Perhaps. I am searching for a way to elevate this material, to make it Art with a capital A. I'm a full time art student right now, partly to further equip myself, to give me more skills and ideas for making art. I've been slack about using FP ever since I started school which is understandable. I will return again to it. I haven't abandoned it at all. But sometimes we have to walk away from something for a while. I know my subconscious is working it through. I trust it.