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 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:

This link will take you to her post: "The Color Blind Paint Salesman and the Workshop Imposter" for a dose of reality:

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.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Snow-- if you live in the Northeastern United States, it's a fact of life. People actually live here who hate snow and all that winter brings-- why do they stay? To me it's beautiful stuff, cleansing, pure, elemental. It creates quiet and a space for contemplation. I get my best art done in the winter, away from the hurley-burley of the warm season (as short as it is!) that demands all our time and busy effort for its brief shot at life and growth.

 Raku-effect beads-- "Oil Slick" -- part of a
new Etsy collection

 Sometimes people feel stuck in a physical or emotional place, a personal or working situation, stuck in a way of making their art. It happens to all of us at one time or another but you don't have to stay stuck, you have a choice. Unlike our inability to change the weather, we do have the power to change what's not working for us. It takes commitment and a willingness to give up what's comfortable, known, predictable. It's only when we choose to venture out on the "skinny branches" do we find fulfillment, joy and freedom.


"Gray as the Sea in Winter"

All I put on my wish list for Christmas this year were books and teaching videos. What could be a better gift than one of exploration, of new ideas, of inspirations, of ways to break out of a stuck situation and fly?

Here are a few examples of what ended up under my tree. They point to directions that I plan to take in 2014.

Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3- Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life by Chris Kresser

A Field Guide to Fabric Design: Design, Print and Sell Your Own Fabric by Kim Kight

Simple Soldering: A Beginner's Guide to Jewelry Making - Kate Richbourg
So I wish you every happiness in the New Year but most of all, the courage to swing out and make changes, seize opportunities and be bold in your choices.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Living Color - Reflections on ArtBliss 2013

Life is never black and white when you dream in living color”-- Terah Cox

Student work - ArtBliss 2013

Stacie Florer gifted me a greeting card with this message along with a pair of her sinuously modern earrings at this year's ArtBliss. Although Stacie and I don't live anywhere near each other, when we re-connect each year at this retreat, it's as though we were sisters who koffee-klatched every day, sharing artsy gossip and new creative discoveries. That's the feeling throughout this vibrant  mixed media/jewelry/metals retreat that Cindy Wimmer and Jeanette Blix have created on the outskirts of Washington, DC.

Stacie Florer earrings
I know that Stacie and I will collaborate on some pieces in the near future-- her designs always get my creative wheels in motion. And that's what an art retreat is all about-- jumpstarting the dusty ideas that have been rattling around your creative attic, languishing because you don't have the time/money/energy/confidence or whatever to bring them alive in full, living color.

I'm an admitted tv junkie and love my sci-fi and action/adventure shows. Even now I'm watching reruns of “Game of Thrones”, in anticipation of next March's season debut. But real excitement is hard to come by these days and too often we zone out in fantasy worlds that do nothing to nurture our creative and spiritual selves.

An art retreat is about creativity and community. It's not a hermit's cell of intense work and reflection, rather a joyful getting-together of like minds and creative interests. It's a place to try new, sometimes scary, methods with the reward of seeing your skills grow and having a classroom of like-minded explorers to root you on when you think you can't do it or will never make that pesky project come together in a coherent and pleasing piece.


So at the end of each day, when I look out over a classroom of workstations covered in chalk dust, spilled paint, used brushes and applicators and polymer clay scraps-- to see happy students who have spent a day discovering new techniques and pushing the boundaries of their imaginations, I know my work is done.

Cindy and Jeanette have already selected a stellar line-up of instructors for next year-- their 5th anniversary event-- including Stacie Florer, Mary Hettsmansperger, and Stephanie Lee. I have been generously included, for which I am very grateful. It's a long trek down to DC but how many opportunities do you get to spend a weekend in living color?
Go to to get on the mailing list and be the first to register for next fall's classes. Put the dates on your calendar right now-- September 26-28, 2014.