Monday, April 3, 2017

Randomness vs Control


As artists, one of the most important things we do when we create is to edit. For instance, when faced with a stunning landscape, the impulse may be to capture it, so you take a photo and in that action, you are editing. You pick a focal point—a waterfall, an animal, an outstanding natural feature—and edit out the rest. You’ve exercised control over the final image. If you just went around snapping shots of pretty leaves and flowers in bunches without editing, you’d have a whole lot of colors and shapes without any coherent idea to make them interesting. Maybe it’s just a human impulse to try to have some control over our environment—we arrange flowers in a vase, we create a still life arrangement on a platter, we place images just so in a painting--we tell our story with the way we choose and organize the elements.
Paper, texture paste, Ranger Distress Oxides - random colors and textures on cardstock
"Earthwheel" - Pendant element - Paper, alcohol inks, modeling paste, polymer - edited shapes, layered
Raw polymer veneer-- Acrylics, Pan Pastels
"Emergent Series - Piercing the Veil" - polymer clay pendant - layered shapes, handmade texture sheets, opaque and translucent clays, Pan Pastels, acrylics, alcohol ink
I’m not against random colors and shapes per se but they don’t hold my interest or engage my mind without some intervention, some organization, some higher idea expressed by the exercise of creative editing. I’m told even Jackson Pollack had a plan to his (seemingly) random paint drips on canvas. This is the main beef I have with paints, processes or materials that ‘do it for you’. The Pebeo Fantasy Prisme line of paints and Swellegant are examples that come to mind. I love patinas as much as the next person but I prefer to mix the various colors myself and apply them slowly over time, choosing where to place them and controlling the reaction. I’m doing the editing. I’ve been making my own texture sheets for years and it’s something I teach in my classes. I just bought a Curio cutting machine not so I can make multiples but so I can make my own stencils. And what about colors—clay, paints, yarns, crayons, alcohol ink, etc—right out of the package? Somebody else is making the choice for you, is choosing the palette. One of the reasons I chose Premo clay when I first started with polymer was the fact that the colors were the same as a traditional painter would used to mix a custom palette from the basic colors—alizarin crimson, cobalt blue, phthalo green, etc. I kept meticulous track of all the ‘custom’ clay colors that I developed and used in my mokume gane mixes. As long as I could get basic colors of the clay, I could always mix the blends myself and not be dependent on some large company that might just decide to discontinue my favorite choice (as Premo eventually did with Cobalt Blue which made a lot of color aficionados very unhappy).

Alcohol inks applied to textured polymer -- handmade molds, pencil
 
Leaf earrings - polymer clay, handmade leaf texture, applied
patina using VerDay paint system
 
"April Fool" pendant - polymer clay, alcohol inks, modeling paste, acrylic, layered
 
Currently my method is to apply color to the surface of polymer clay but my philosophy hasn’t changed. If I’m using a product that I can’t easily make myself, like alcohol ink, I mix colors together to come up with my own blends. I layer paints and sand down to the base color and layer more colors. The result never looks like the original color and that’s the point! Over the past year I’ve been having a lot of fun with various mixed media products and techniques and this idea of randomness over control has cropped up more than once in my thoughts. It’s cool to drop alcohol ink onto a surface and watch it randomly spread out into circles but so what? What you do next with that clay veneer is really the whole point—that’s where intervention/creativity comes in. Give the same colored polymer surface to two different people and watch what happens. What choices do they make? How do they express themselves? What story do they tell with the materials? How much intervention is needed before you can call it ‘art’?
The point I’m making is—the more choices you make and ways you modify/enhance/control your materials, the better—this way, your finished work will reflect you and nobody else.
Alcohol inks applied over acrylic paints, technique from Joggles.com
 
"The Many Sides of Me" - polymer clay pendant -- Previous veneer sheet pieces applied to white base, crackled, textured and painted, added to translucent base layer

Monday, October 3, 2016

When the Photos Say It All

Taking an art technique-- in this case, one for polymer clay-- that you've developed and then translating it so others can learn it is always a crap shoot. The method seems so clear to you because you've spent weeks or months working with it. It's like a lover that you know well-- how it will respond, what will work or not work, its sensitivities and peculiarities. In order to teach it, you have to think backwards to try and remember how it was when you didn't know how to do it at all, what the first steps were, the first explorations. That's the hardest part-- not merely teaching the steps that lead to the finished project but putting yourself in the students' shoes, back at the beginning, where it's exciting but scary.

So when your students begin to produce results that go beyond your expectations, all the hard work that went into developing that technique is worth it. Not only are they experiencing the joy that comes from creating pieces that express their individuality but they are validating your vision, the one that came to you in the hazy half-light time between night and morning. They see what you see, they get the power of the creative spark that spawned it. Heady stuff.

I made sure that at this past session of Art on the Farm I took a lot of pictures. Sometimes in the aftermath of a 3-day class I'm so drained that I think maybe this will be the last class. Time to move on to something else. Then I look at the photos and they say it all.


 
Polymer clay veneer sheet by Janis L.


Polymer clay veneer sheet by Karen K.
 
 
Polymer clay veneer sheet by Terri K.
 
 
Polymer earrings from veneer sheet by Janis L.
 
 
Leaf elements - polymer clay - by Karen K.
 
 
Veneer earrings by Janis L.
 

 
Jewelry elements from polymer veneer sheet - Terri K.
 
 
 
Earring elements from polymer veneer sheets - Janis L.
 
 
Polymer clay veneer sheet from Terri K.

 
Polymer veneer elements - Corrine G.
 
 
Polymer veneer headpins - Kim R.


Polymer veneer sheet - Corrine G.


Polymer veneer elements - Kim R.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Art on a Different Farm-- Fletcher Farm


Last summer I began teaching at a very special venue in Vermont, Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts.
Fletcher Farm reminds me of the summer camp my sister and I went to in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for a couple of summers. I learned to swim and shoot and make lanyards and do ceramics. We were strictly segregated from the boys’ side of the camp but they could have been on the other side of the moon for all I cared--at the still innocent age of 11. We all ate in a big dining hall with a lofty ceiling and after lunch went off for boating or crafts or nature hikes. Some nights we got to stay up late and sneak off on a trip to the local hamburger place up the road, accompanied by our counselors.

So, if you’re nostalgic for a simpler time when the world outside seems far away—even just for a few days—Fletcher Farm is the place to be. Established as a family farm in 1783, it’s been run as a foundation since 1948 dedicated to teaching craft skills, both old and new, to children, teens and adults. My own medium—polymer clay—is one of the newest, although my friend Lisel Crowley teaches precious metal clay classes. The offerings run the gamut from rug hooking and ceramics, to traditional jewelry making, basketry, watercolor and folk art painting. Classes begin in late June and run through August and there are even some in fall and winter—here’s the link-- www.fletcherfarm.org . The classrooms are in rustic buildings scattered around the spacious campus, some cottage-y and some in old barns, with a a beautiful post and beam ceiling in the dining hall.
I had two classes there this year—one for my new polymer veneer technique and another for that technique paired with forged wire. The students were all enthusiastic and a few were well-versed in polymer and wire-working techniques, so we could just get on with the business of making things and having the life-changing experience of seeing the creations of our hands come to life. Below is a selection of their work. Thank you, my wonderful students!

Forged wire and polymer veneer earrings by Marti A.
 
Polymer veneer elements for pendants by Wendy K.
 
Earring elements by Anne P.
 
 
 
Necklace elements by Marti A.
 
Polymer veneer elements by Anne P.
 
Polymer veneer pendant by Marti A. - forged wire and metallic
 
Anne P. working in The Corn Crib at Fletcher Farm
 
 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Polymer Clay: A New Way at Art on the Farm, 2016


In announcing my Art on the Farm workshops for 2016, I’m naming them ‘Polymer Clay: A New Way’ for two reasons. Not only am I teaching a surface design and coloring approach to polymer—as I have before—but I’m employing a new method this year for students to use to discover their own style. I’m also seeking to learn more about each student—their experience, artistic preferences and expectations-- before they come to my studio, using a ‘tell me about yourself’ survey so I can plan the class structure to be more effective. I don’t teach single techniques so I don’t want students to be disappointed that they don’t go home with a completed ‘project’. There are plenty of tutorials online and other workshops at bead shows and polymer retreats that do that. That’s not how I teach. People have seen the constant evolution of my style in polymer and they want to learn how to do that in their own work. They also want to learn how to move on from artistic blocks and how to turn their vision of their own style into reality.
"Terrazzo" earrings - polymer veneer with Pan Pastels, acrylics and crayons
 
"Blood Moon" pendant - Polymer veneer with Pan Pastels, acrylics, layered and textured
 On the first day we cover form and how to transform and personalize shapes with texture, layers and morphing. Day 2 covers surface techniques— textures, veneers, applied surfaces and molding. The last day covers color methods, types of products and their uses and how they act in combination with each other. We also cover attachments and how they inform the design process.
Valentine's Day pin - polymer veneers with Pan Pastels, acrylic paints

"Summer in the City" earrings - polymer clay, acrylics

If all this sounds rigorous, it is-- but it’s also a kick-butt load of fun! I think problem-solving and creating from a personal vision is the best kind of artistic stimulation and doing it in the company of other creatives is life-changing and is meant to send you home with a super jolt of inspiration and energy to kick-start your own creative process and projects.
 
"Point Reyes" necklace - polymer clay, acrylics, wire

Multi-layer beads-- polymer clay, oil paints, acrylics
 
Even if you’re not familiar with polymer, this workshop will work for you. I’ve worked with metal artists, wire designers, potters and painters. This method works for anyone delving deep into the creative process with a yen to discover their own style. I’m giving you a foundation process to take home and keep improving and growing. I want you to play, experiment, explore and have insights into how to work and expand ideas into new, exciting areas.
If this sounds like something you've been looking for and feel you’d benefit from, visit my website www.storiestheytell.com and click on "Workshops" to view the registration information.

Art on the Farm – May 25-27, 2016 in Braintree, VT

Dates in Fall, 2016 TBA

Friday, November 6, 2015

Idiosyncratic


“Idiosyncrasy” – a mode of behavior or way of thought peculiar to an individual:
It’s been an interesting few months. Notice how people use the word ‘interesting’ when they don’t know exactly how to define events, people and situations that defy categorization. When your perception of the world is rocked, ‘interesting’ is a place-holder expression, useful until you can finally sort out what’s really happening.

I spent most of the summer and fall severely questioning my perception of myself as an artist and teacher after this Spring's Art on the Farm class sessions at my home. Several of my students were cantankerous (to say the least) and others just didn’t seem to ‘get it’. A couple of them actually wrote me e-mails telling me how I should have improved or changed the class. I feel I have a modest reputation out there in the polymer clay world and when students come all the way to Vermont to learn from me, I expect they may have certain expectations about the instruction. I welcome positive (emphasis on positive) input and always want to improve my classes and teaching. But I was very careful to explain in several pages on my website what it was that I was teaching, as well as the philosophy behind the techniques and processes. I’m not just teaching pretty ways to color clay. I don’t want to send you home with exact copies of what I make. There are already plenty of teachers out there who are teaching classes featuring stand-alone polymer techniques and that’s fine. It’s just not me.
Every day I read a feed from Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, marketing genius and culture analyst who always gives me a fresh perception on the world of business and how it and our culture are rapidly changing in the 21st century. Today the post was called “Idiosyncratic” and he talks about how “the people at the edges, the people who care, are drawn to idiosyncrasy, to the unpredictable, the tweakable, the things that might not work.” He mentions that perfection might just be boring.

I totally agree. I started applying surface design and paint to polymer because I was bored with smooth surfaces and then applied texture because I wanted a more sculptural canvas to embellish. I wanted more 'art' in my jewelry approach. I wasn’t sure it would work, any more than I am sure every time I step into my studio that I will find success with any innovation or new tweak to a familiar process.
And I have come to realize, in these past few months, that this is what I have to teach—idiosyncrasy or, actually, how to express your individuality. Making it your own. It’s really what defines an artist. I don’t see myself as a polymer rebel—I don’t want everyone to change the way they make art or overturn the status quo, but I do want to reach the people who are craving innovation and want to step out on the ‘skinny branches’ to discover what may or may not work. People who are ready to challenge themselves to change up how they have been working before, to seek the true expression of their ideas, to learn to love what they create, even if the world may not.

So I’m looking for a few good students who are ready to do amusing exercises as homework when they sign up, to free up their perceptions and get their brains ready to work. People who will arrive without expectations about what they will be taught and how, who will take responsibility to create value for themselves. Explorers who will embrace the word ‘idiosyncratic’ and not feel it’s a dirty word. Seekers who will fully engage in the work and not expect to be spoon-fed all the answers.
So if that’s you, visit my website www.storiestheytell.com, read the pages concerning my teaching philosophy and then contact me and I’ll send you an application for next Spring’s Art on the Farm workshop. You’ll read all about me and then I’ll also know all about you and what you intend to get from the class. Maybe we’ll find our idiosyncratic way together.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Recovering Your Imagination—Lessons from Art on the Farm

Earlier this week, Sage Bray, editor of The Polymer Arts magazine said some very nice things about my work on her blog. I wrote her to say that I really appreciated it when someone takes the time to look closely at the work and then offer an informed analysis of what they see, rather than merely stating that they like it. It's much more helpful to me as an artist to know that what I’m trying to express is actually getting through to others.

But what struck me later as interesting about Sage’s comments was that she said “Christine’s work is really very fascinating. I have no idea where her forms might come from–they are quite original”…Hmmm, I thought. Why, they come from my imagination, of course—where else?
 
 Cathy's bead - Polymer, Pan Pastels, crayon


Pondering, I began to consider that, because of the widespread dispersal of information, ideas and designs on the Internet, much work we see today is derivative and not really the product of our imaginations. A lot of talk goes around polymer and jewelry circles about how it’s impossible to come up with anything totally original, that we are just unconsciously recombining the myriad things we see in our rambles through the interwebs into what we then think is an original concept. I disagree.

We all are born into a human culture and pick up cues about that culture with our mother’s milk, as it were. My Celtic Studies professor at Berkeley many times proposed the theory that we learn ideas, concepts of right and wrong, mannerisms, language, definitions of beauty, what art is, etc. before we’re even able to speak. Inspirational author and thinker,Simon Sinek, talks about how we choose what we buy using the pre-language, limbic center of the brain. He posits that we choose the ‘why’ of something, employing feelings rather than logic, and then reinforce this choice with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.


  

Susan's work - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon
 
All theories aside about whether or not any work can be truly original, exposing ourselves to other cultures and their art can serve to inform our choices and enrich our design ‘palette’. There are potent ways to stimulate our imaginations and I endeavor to teach them as the central part of the curriculum at Art on the Farm. Sure, I provide plenty of new techniques for polymer surface design but sending people home solely with a bag of new tricks is not my goal. I want to send them home with a method to discover their own way of working. Introducing tools to develop their imaginations is the best way to do that.
 
I’ve come to realize that my Art on the Farm course is actually about developing your personal design style and polymer is merely the vehicle. I could be teaching cookery, music, rug hooking, or sculpture. It wouldn’t matter—the principles are the same, as are the steps to achieving the goal of ‘making it your own’.
 
 
 
Jan's element - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon
 
So of course I was mightily pleased with the results produced at the first session of this Spring’s Art on the Farm. After three days in the studio, everyone’s take on the instruction and techniques was different, everyone worked in their own style and the work seemed, to me, to reflect the unique personality of every individual there.
 

 
Ruth's beads - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon

Thinking about all this has made me decide to make some changes to my basic course. I’ve expanded it to four days in the studio and I’m limiting the class size to four students at a time. I’m also creating an application so that potential students can identify their goals and reasons for coming to Art on the Farm. I’m not here to pour information into people’s heads—people need to ‘create value’ for themselves and I want to assist students to take responsibility for doing that.

Ruth's bangle - Polymer clay, Rub n' Buff - completed after returning home after the class

I’m really looking forward to our second session, being held for 4 days, from June 17-20, 2015. If you’re interested in joining us, there’s one seat left. E-mail me at cdamm1@myfairpoint.net for information.
 
Mary's beads - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon
 

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Design Competitions—Sweet Dreams or Nightmares?

One of the benefits of growing older is that you tend to be philosophical about a lesson learned rather than bummed and depressed.

Lately I entered a piece of mine—a necklace I titled ‘Molten’—in a well-known jewelry design competition. There was a hefty entry fee, so I did my homework and viewed the work of previous winners, then decided that I would make an entirely new piece. I planned to incorporate my latest techniques, newest handmade texture plates and work from a total concept so all the elements would enhance and illustrate it. I love volcanoes and the idea of deep processes at work within our planet, so I wanted my polymer elements to reflect those colors and forces. I chose the tektite stones as spacers because they are said to contain microscopic remnants of the meteorites that caused them to form when they hit the Earth.
I happily set to work.
'Molten' - polymer clay, acrylics, Kroma Crackle, tektite stone chips, steel wire

Since my body of work consists mostly of experiments that help me develop my teaching methods, I don’t have a huge resume of past exhibitions for my polymer clay work or wins in other competitions. I’ve mostly chosen to showcase my work in others’ books or in jewelry magazines. I have been, however, included in a few shows and events in past years that will always make me feel like I was a successful artist, from the days when I was doing textiles and pottery. For me, to have the award have any meaning, I have to first respect the work and expertise of the person or organization doing the judging or making the choice to include me.

One thing I’ve learned—it’s a big world out there and if you stay true to yourself and your vision, not everybody will understand or validate it. Primarily, it’s your own self that you have to please. Ask yourself --does this reflect my aesthetic, my ideas, my original thought and concept? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you are a winner, despite what the world says.

Although I was pleased enough with my piece to pay the fee and submit it, I wasn’t chosen for final judging. I wasn’t too surprised—I’m not trendy, my work is complex technically and intellectually and the stories I tell do not resonate with everyone. If I had to exist off the sales of my work, I would probably starve!

But I made the decision many, many years ago to do only one-of-a-kind and that has kept my work fresh and growing. I don’t want to be picked up by a major retailer or make a million of the same piece. I show my esteemed customers respect by making them a singular piece of work each time.


So if you want to compete, just know that acceptance or rejection by others—a competition, a gallery, a website, an exhibition—doesn’t mean anything in the total scheme of the lifetime of your art. It’s art, not sports. The ‘best’ work doesn’t win because there’s no agreed-upon criteria for art that’s as cut-and-dried as who jumps the highest or gets over the finish line first. It’s somewhat subjective when it comes to craftsmanship but very subjective when it comes to choosing ‘best’ over ‘also ran’. The question becomes “what is ‘best’ anyway”?

Enjoy the process, dig deep to express yourself and don’t try to please others—be authentic. Don’t cater to what you think others will like. At the end of the day you will be happier and more self-fulfilled than if you try to please a panel of strangers.