I think the true indicator that you've achieved a certain artistic maturity in your work is that your style is immediately recognizable. Before I began using polymer as my primary medium, I felt that I really didn't have a style, a signature creative presence. Looking back at my earlier textile work I realize that I did have one-- I just didn't hadn’t created a body of work large enough to be able to see it easily.
When you begin to dedicate substantial time to your artistic work, whatever it is, your style begins to emerge, no matter where your creative experimentation takes you. When I first started in polymer, I tried lots of other artists' techniques until I finally began to devise some of my own. But when I look at all the pieces I've created, I see something that is very distinctly “me”.
Another polymer artist – and good friend of mine-- who has this distinctive style is Claire Maunsell, of Stillpointworks. Over the few years I've known her, she has produced many, many beads of all shapes and styles and yet-- there is a distinctive “claire-ness” about all of them, an evident curiosity for color and texture and finish that is intriguing and different and special. I bought beads from her all willy-nilly, not knowing what I would do with them but also knowing that they were pretty much one-of-a-kind and would never be seen again made in exactly the same way.
So they sat in a box and waited for inspiration to strike. I would occasionally take them out and marvel over the colors and the tiny subtleties of them-- only if you are a beadmaker can you appreciate the intricacy of something so small and how many decisions are made in every step of the process of making them-- blending the clay, forming it, curing, painting, re-painting, applying coating after coating and the final finishing. And then it waits, full of energy and the artist's personality, ready to be made into something that has never before been seen in all the Universe.
So it's a bit daunting to attempt to do a set of pieces using all the various small marvels that you have collected, in an effort to pay homage to an extraordinary artistic vision while creating something that reflects the artist's unique style while simultaneously expressing your own.
Now if I had started this post in an organized fashion, I would have the before-and-after photos, so you could see the beads before I used them. But I just dove in as I always do! So..... I started by stringing a bracelet of many strands, using some beads that Claire had sent as a 'thank-you' for purchasing, one-offs that were all in the same basic colorway. Whereas my base antiquing color is usually burnt umber, Claire's is black so I used various silver chains and beads to tie her colors together, along with some repurposed pink beads from my sister's stash.
When Claire sent me the large pod she said “I'm sure you'll find a good use for this” and I did, as a ballast to keep the bracelet from slipping around the wrist to the toggle side. I made the toggle to coordinate, using only Premo clay and embedding the wire findings into them. I've worn the bracelet several times and have no doubt that the clay is sturdy enough to do its job.
As for the earrings, I decided to string the sweet little pod duo in a very minimal way--unlike some of the other interesting uses I've seen by others using Claire's signature bead-- so as to honor the perfection of her coloring and texture technique. I simply used annealed steel twisty wires with a bit of patina and silver earwires.
Then the big challenge-- what to do with the cunningly-created interlocking beads? I wanted to do something dramatic but understated, modern and yet somewhat organic. I've become very fond of dangles and tassles lately so I used lengths of an old silver chain and combined it with some minute silver beads and gemstone chips to weight the dangles. Next I dug into my stash for some African glass rounds in purple and gray and added some Czech glass rondelles with a Picasso finish, all complementary to Claire's palette, to top off the bead stacks. Then the whole composition sat for a few months while life and other projects had to be taken care of.
When I finally got back to my “Claire Project” as I had begun calling it, I had a brainstorm and went to my Mary Hettsmansperger book “Wrap, Stitch, Fold & Rivet” for a look at her project “Bead Shelf Necklace”. Although her tutorial uses metal sheet, my take on it used--of course-- polymer clay, which I have been using more and more lately to build connectors and toggles that customize nicely to my palette and are easy to fabricate. I textured and folded and cured and antiqued and colored and then began to attach my bead stacks. It took a lot of tweaking and fussing but I believe that I achieved what I was going for-- a modern and interesting way to stage Claire's beads that was still true to her organic style and colors. After crafting sterling silver squiggles to connect to the chain and the bead shelf, I declared the piece well and truly finished.
Thank you, thank you, Claire for providing the most challenging and exciting collaboration design I've ever done! I hope you like what I've designed with your beads. Isn't the palette just perfect for the snowy holiday season? I can tell you that I will cherish these pieces forever.