Monday, October 6, 2014

Cracking the Code to Making It Your Own

Every once in a while a new polymer clay technique makes a big splash and Flickr is swamped with images from the dozens of artists trying it out. Unfortunately, many just follow the steps in the published tutorial, shape a simple focal and hang it from a chain. And then they abandon a potentially work-transforming design tool for the next 'pretty face' in the ongoing parade of step-by-step instructions for free or for sale that are available from Etsy, the Internet or a new polymer book.

While I love a new technique to play with as much as the next artist, I usually spend a significant amount of time testing it out, adding my own interpretation and experimenting with all the ways that it could be used. If those initial tests are interesting and I think the technique has real merit, I continue on and make a whole range of pieces and art jewelry elements, sometimes spending months trying one thing and another, combining the new with my old, tried-and-true methods. As Professor Guttorm Fløistad of the Slow Movement says, "In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal."

Usually I apply a new method to a shape I've been working with that I really like--a standard, like pods or donuts. I always encourage students to do a simple exercise-- see my blog post "Working in a Series" -- to develop original shapes as one of the easiest ways to imprint their style on a piece. Loving circles and round shapes as I do, when I draw them they just naturally morph into an altered round with a void in it, known by jewelry designers as a 'donut', an unattractive name more reminiscent of a snack than a piece of art!

Lately several techniques for cracking the surface of the clay to create fine to large textures have been making the rounds. I used this technique in creating one of the pieces that I did for Cindy Wimmer's book The Missing Link, published last year. I believe that one dimension of an element's construction--be it bead, pendant, or whatever-- should not overshadow any other in the overall design. Whether it be shape, surface, texture or color, all should work together in harmony. I tried to make sure the color and form were equally as important as the surface treatment- 'cracking'-- in this pendant and beads.

"Molten" necklace - polymer clay, acrylic paint, 
mammoth bone beads, handmade copper links

I've been playing with lots of pod shapes lately so my experiments just naturally strayed in that direction with the crackles. Some of them ended up with a raku-like feel to them.

"Summer's End" - polymer pods with acrylic and crayon, spiderweb jasper, yellow jade, vintage chain and dangles, repurposed toggle and handforged brass washers.

My bargain-hunter husband frequents the local hospital auxiliary store for discarded treasures and found this silver cuff that proved to be a great base for a polymer donut (after liberal sanding with a kitchen scrubber pad to dull the blinding shine). I used a tutorial by Rena Klingenberg for the instructions on how to attach the donut to the metal cuff shape. She has lots of interesting ideas on her blog.

"Aurora" cuff - polymer clay with acrylic and crayon, purchased metal cuff, sari yarn

I like to think that my teaching methods are more about ideas than techniques. Using what you have around you in your environment or sitting on your bench to inspire your designs is something I always recommend. The wire embellishment on this focal grouping was a left-over from a previous project and caught my eye as I was composing the elements for this piece. With some prodding and pushing, it fit the bead perfectly and then I continued the wire styling to create loops for attachment to the chain. It reminded me of tidepools and beachcombing so I named it after my favorite Northern California beach.

"Point Reyes" necklace - polymer clay, acrylic, crayons, handforged wire, vintage chain

I'm moving into a more subdued palette as fall is officially here in central Vermont. On Wednesday my students arrive for Art on the Farm, ready to spend three days working together to forge their own style in polymer clay. I really look forward to meeting them! It's always so nourishing to spend time with other artists in an environment where ideas spin around like falling leaves and are allowed to flourish and deepen. Check here for the next blog, all about our discoveries and insights.