Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I love shapes-- ones from nature, from pottery, from architecture, from sea life, from archaeology-- there are so many forms out there that can be starting points for polymer work.

One of the exercises I suggest to my workshop students is to do a very short (3 minutes or so) series of drawings focusing on a common shape-- circle, square, triangle, etc. I do this myself once a year when I make Valentine's Day hearts. I want to work with a heart shape that is fresh and uniquely mine so I get a plain piece of paper or a page from my journal and start to sketch hearts, as quickly as I can and try not to edit myself or attempt to make them perfect. These line drawings come straight out of my right brain and after I fill a page or so with them, I can then choose the ones that most appeal and tweak the shapes a bit if necessary.

Lately I did a page of rectangles and triangles, both of them finished in under three minutes. Each of these little sketches could spawn a whole series by themselves.
 Triangle-morphing page
Rectangle-morphing or "20 Rectangles in 3 Minutes or Less"
With the aid of my trusty Canon copier, I can size the shapes up or down to create elements that fit the scale of pieces that I want to create. And they are similar enough that a few could be grouped together as elements to form a necklace or hang from a lariat.Of course they transform even more when I add texture and color.
Landscape Earrings in process - truncated triangles
Morphed faux Bakelite rectangle earrings with
distortions and voids
Triangle morphed into a clamshell shape with organic extension added
One of my favorite, signature shapes comes from a primitive clothespin that my friend Renate found at a flea market in Germany. I've gotten so much mileage out of that simple outline.

Machu Picchu Earrings- polymer and copper metal clay
Cave of Dreams Earrings - Polymer and Copper Metal Clay

Sage Bray, editor of Polymer ArtsMagazine, is doing a series on morphed forms this week. She calls this post "Pushing the Triangle". http://www.thepolymerarts.com/blog/pushing-the-triangle/ Seems summer brings us out of our caves and into the light where Nature is dazzling us with a vast display of shape and color. Play around a bit this week while you're watching the kids at the playground or having lunch al fresco. I promise your work will take on new energy and what you come up with will be all your own.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inspired by Reading: The Interpreter of Maladies

It's been a while since I've participated in the Inspired by Reading challenge but this time I got a jump on the reading and obtained a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's book of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies a month or so ago. I've always been a fan of the writing of Indian women-- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Mistress of Spices is one of my favorites and was made into a great movie, by the way.

I love the short story format and was looking forward to reading this book but after reading a few stories, Lahiri's generally pessimistic characters and plots I found too depressing. She does have fine insight into the maladies of modern relationships, which apply universally and not just to Indian society. But how to translate this angst into a piece of jewelry?

I decided to meld elements from a few different stories into my design. In the story of the same name as the collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, the main character is a tour guide in his spare time but also works for a doctor as an interpreter for the numerous Indian dialects of his patients-- hence the title. Most of the story takes place as he drives around an American famiy of Indian heritage, visiting temples and places of interest. My imagination was captured by the author's description of an historic temple built in the shape of a gigantic chariot with elaborately carved stone wheels so since these could also represent the shape of a mandala, I decided to make that my primary shape and build the rest of the piece around that. I found this image of a wheel from the Konark Sun Temple, built in the 13th century. This ornate beauty is an impressive 10 feet high and is one of twelve pairs in all.

Another one of the stories focused on a character who moves into a home and finds in the attic a large statue of the Virgin Mary which offends her Indian husband but she becomes obsessed with it and at the same time, the goddess Kali. Kali-- such a rich source of imagery-- to me she represents an entire culture more than any other religious symbol. She is the goddess of time, change and distruction-- basically, entropy--we're born, we live, we die. From Wikipedia: “In spite of her seemingly terrible form, Kali Ma is often considered the kindest and most loving of all the Hindu goddesses, as she is regarded by her devotees as the Mother of the whole Universe. And because of her terrible form, she is also often seen as a great protector.” I love Her multiple arms so I determined that my focal must have some too. I decided on the 10-armed incarnation and included a turquoise and red palette as in traditional interpreations of the goddess.

"My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is Akhanda Satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same; The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali."
        -Sri Ramakrishna

Inspiring, huh? In college I had a real love affair with the writing of Rabindranath Tagore, a 20th century Indian mystical poet who was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky”

But I was still searching for an idea for the interpreter portion of my design when inspiration struck and I decided to mix up my cultural symbolism and use milagros, traditional Mexican metal charms used for shrines and as personal amulets as a focus for prayer and healing. Luckily I found a 10-piece set on Etsy with just body parts that was perfect.

So I mixed up some bronze polymer, set about making the mandala/chariot wheel, backed it with some textured turquoise clay with red antiquing, added a spiky red halo to represent ones I've seen painted around Kali's head, then ten arms antiqued to match the pewter milagros charms. They spill through the mandala in a river of supplication to the Goddess. The arms could be angel's wings, carrying the prayers of the supplicants to Heaven where Kali can hear them. Write your own story about it.

Here's a list of the other participants-- be sure to check out their fine work.

Sarajo Wentling http://sjdesignsjewelry.blogspot.com/
Jeanne Steck http://www.gemsbyjeannemarie.blogspot.com/
Mary Harding http://www.maryhardingjewelrybeadblog.blogspot.com/
Karin Grange http://ginkgoetcoquelicot.blogspot.fr/
Ann Schroeder http://www.beadlove.wordpress.com/
Mary K McGraw http://www.mkaymac.blogspot.com/
Rachel Stewart http://www.bluefinchjewelry.blogspot.com/
Andrew Thornton, Laurel Ross, Alison Herrington, Terri Greenawalt, and Karen Hiatt http://andrew-thornton.blogspot.com/


Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring on the Farm

Gazing out on several feet of slowly-melting snow from my studio window, it's hard to imagine that Spring will ever be here. But the signs are there-- robins hunting for worms in the muddy ground, the steam coming from sugarhouses all over my neighborhood, smelling like the world's best maple syrup, our chickens laying more eggs, allowing me to make my absolutely favorite treat in the world-- tangy lemon squares.

After such a long winter and months of light-deprived days, our minds are seeking a re-awakening, something to tease our senses and creativity into new and exciting territory. For polymer clay artists, our medium is gaining enthusiasts, among them my own students from the Art on the Farm workshop last year. When your students continue to grow and develop their own ways of working, and even organize times to work and share together -- a teacher can't ask for better than that!

Here are a few photos of work done by students in my class last Fall. Both these ladies were completely new to working with polymer clay.

Sharon Nodelman

Sharon Nodelman

Mary Harding

Stories They Tell & Christine Damm announce

   Art on the Farm: A 3-Day Polymer Clay
Intensive Workshop
New Ways with Construction, Texture & Color

   Bonnybrook Farm – Braintree, VT
May 14-16 & October 8-10, 2014
and at
ArtBliss in Reston, VA - September 26-28, 2014
This course was created to teach my signature techniques but also to provide insight into my method of working, with an emphasis on nurturing each participant's exploration of their own artistic expression and development of an individual creative voice. We all want to make art that is meaningful, emotional and that tells a story. My intention for this course is to facilitate that ability.

We'll begin this 3-day intensive class using my multi-stage method of working with polymer clay. Starting with a discussion of form, we'll use layering and other construction techniques to make our jewelry elements, then introduce texture, utilizing molds and everyday objects in unique ways as tools for impressing designs onto polymer.

Color will be considered using a wide variety of surface-coloring techniques, demonstrated on the completed polymer forms using oil and acrylic paints, chalk, texturing media, pencils and inks. In addition to studio time devoted to instruction and demonstrations, students will have ample time to apply the coloring techniques to their own pieces.

Then we'll explore innovative ways to use wire and other metal findings to create integral connections and explore different stringing techniques and designs.

In consultations with individual students we'll discuss personal style and how the techniques taught can enhance and broaden their work.

This intensive is suitable for beginners in polymer clay, as well as advanced polymer users, as the technique I teach involves a completely different approach from traditional color blending-based polymer applications such as cane-making and mokume gane. Artists from any discipline may benefit from this class-- mixed media and collage, painting and watercolor, stoneware clay and jewelry arts, to name a few. All that's required is curiosity and a well-developed artist's or crafting skill-set. Class size will be limited to 8 students.

Participants will have access to all my personal coloring supplies and my extensive collection of handmade silicone molds. Basic supplies-- clay, blades, scalpels, heavy medium, heat-set oil paint for antiquing, sanding pads and molding putty-- will be available for purchase. Upon receipt of class fees a list of useful tools and items needed for the class will be sent.

For more information about tuition, registration and all the other fine print, e-mail me at cdamm1@myfairpoint.net. The class size is capped at 8 students so that everyone will receive the maximum of personal attention and instruction. I'm very excited to invite you all into my studio. I think we can do great things together.

Friday, March 7, 2014


It's an interesting feature of the English language that so many words have both positive and negative connotations, depending on their context. “Void” is one of these.

“The Void” is used to describe the endlessness of Space, the trackless nothingness between the planets--at least in the language of sci-fi and PBS Nova specials.

But a void can also be an opening into a mysterious universe not easily seen from the outside; for instance, the space within a geode that's a fabulous interior crystalline mini-world. Or the multiple voids between the cells of a honeycomb, their totality an amazing geometric insectoid palace. It suggests mystery, the unseen, the hinted-at possibility.

Design has an affinity for voids. I hesitate to call them spaces, as that reminds me more of a defined and enclosed human-made entity, like an empty spare bedroom. No, voids are special and organic, not mere holes and when used in design they help to define texture and shape by their very lack of content, which is the potential for discovery of something beyond the obvious.

I went back through my Flickr gallery to find examples of voids for this post and I'm amazed at the number of times I've used them without actually being consciously aware of their power.

"Bad Moon Risin' " earrings

 "Imaginarium" earrings - polymer with resin-filled voids

"Distortion" earrings

"Roots" necklace - pods with voids

 "Delineated" earrings

"Kali" necklace

"Tuareg" necklace

I did consciously use voids in this last piece, submitted for this year's International Polymer Clay Guild's Progress and Possibilities competition, called "Midnight in the Temple Garden". I don't know the results of the judging yet-- it's one of those voids in life that holds possibilities. I'll keep you posted.
"Midnight in the Temple Garden" - detail

"Midnight in the Temple Garden"
Polymer clay-- vintage chain, brass button, and Japanese glass beads

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

There's No Magic

The process of making art is a lot of work. There's no magic in it. I'm not saying that imagaination or the source of inspiration isn't magical, I'm saying that the day-to-day, getting up and going into the studio, cleaning up your bench, putting in the hours, doing the research-- that's work. Even though it's work you love, your craft is not going to improve by posting on Facebook what you had for breakfast,or by spending hours on Pinterest. Nope.

When people take a class from me that they will be learning from someone who has put in considerable time in the discipline of polymer clay, someone who knows a lot about what techniques are out there and what resources are available. For example, after last year's ArtBliss retreat, I put together a very comprehensive color resources chart for my students, listing all the media we used in class, and appropriate uses for each. I don't simply teach a way to use a technique-- I teach a way of thinking about that technique, a method that-- hopefully-- will lead you to your own artistic way of using it, of expanding your skill-set as well as your imagination.

The person that's copying my workshop (see previous posts this past week) has no idea of the thought process behind the technique. She merely sees the results and likes them-- likes them enough that she wants to teach them too. She wants to use my work to enhance her teaching reputation. But she's an impostor-- I originated the content and I know the thought-process behind the technique. I put in the hours and days and weeks of work it took to create the technique that she will now go and blithely take perhaps 10 minutes to throw at her students. After all, she's only got a few hours to teach what it takes me twice as much time to do in my class. Because I know why the technique exists, what it's really meant to do (besides color polymer), the philosophy behind it, the reasons why it will enhance your work, the best ways to use it, all the stuff that's listed on the chart that my students get at the end of the class.

So workshop imposters aren't offering any magic, no matter how the class description reads. What you're getting is diluted content, the husk of the technique. The person that originated the concept, that tapped into the magic of their imagaination to create it, the person that can tell you why you're using it and how, that's the person you should seek out. And that would be me.

(Christine is teaching two new classes at ArtBliss this September-- stay tuned to AB's website for the announcment in early March)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Imitation-- Not the Sincerest Form of Flattery

You may have heard the phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. It's not. It's unethical and usually illegal. I'm not talking about an individual who sees something in a tutorial or on a website and tries a technique or copies a colorway. That's how we learn, as we grope our way to our own authentic voice.

I'm talking about an individual who deliberately took original content she learned in my workshop and then shoehorned into a mixed-media class that she then shopped to a major jewelry venue, with nary a change in that content (right down to using the same phrases used in my class description!) and most certainly not the significant amount that the US Patent Office would deem necessary to claim that a true innovation had been made.

And the thing that's most appalling is that the way many people choose to deal with this is to let the imposter get away with it. We are so averse to confrontation in our society these days that we would just let people steal our ideas, ideas which were so hard-won, that we birthed from our creative souls and nurtured so they could grow to eventually inspire others.

Things people have said to make me feel better: “Artists XYZ used to send “Cease and Desist” letters-- now they just laugh” (really? What's funny about being ripped off?) “Ms. Artist-Well-Known said people copy her all the time so she's just decided to 'let it go'--the implication being “better artists than you just 'let it go'-- why are you persisting?

Because it has to stop. And it won't by itself. It will stop because we, as a culture of artists, demand that original content cannot be used without permission. If I teach you a technique, you can use that technique for your own work but you may NOT teach that content, under any circumstances—not to your guild or to your niece or to your neighbor and definitely not to workshop participants at a national jewelry venue. I love that you were inspired by my class but what are you adding to the content to make it really yours?

As Harriete Estel Berman cautions:

If you haven't made a significant leap, not a stepping stone but a leap onto a new path, then you're teaching derivative content and run the risk of being a “workshop imposter”. And if you don't really surpass the “workshop master” into new territory, everyone will see you as a “workshop imposter".

Here's an article from the American Crafts Council called "Ali Baba and the Copycat Thieves"

Lots of food for thought here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Copycats: It's not a Good Thing

If you happened to see my post on Facebook yesterday, you know that I'm having an issue with  a former student who is teaching a technique of mine in a workshop at a large jewelry venue.

I'm going to direct you to a website that I have found truly eye-opening and informative about copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property. I became aware of Harriete Estel Berman's website "Ask Harriete" after her keynote speech--"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the Age of the Internet"-- for the International Polymer Clay Association's 2013 Annual Meeting, where it raised quite a bit of controversy. Check out the video of her presentation and you'll see why: http://www.slideshare.net/Harriete/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-in-the-age-of-the-internet

This link will take you to her post: "The Color Blind Paint Salesman and the Workshop Imposter" for a dose of reality: http://askharriete.typepad.com/ask_harriete/2013/04/workshop-copying-gets-ugly.html

After her presentation, Ms. Berman says that people just came out of the woodwork and shared their stories with her. Copying and teaching what's not your own orginal content is more widespread than you know and you may think "so what"? -- until it happens to you.

In the next post I'll share my personal experience with this and the impact it's had on my life in the last few weeks.