Friday, May 29, 2009


Sometimes I visit my favorite “decay” photostreams on Flickr—Rot Squad or Rust Rules-- for a color/texture idea (I did tell you I was the Queen of Rust!) to jog me out of a design rut. Sometimes it's the creative promise in a big pile of brand-new Premo clay or a little forest of Ranger inks. Or bags and bags of silver beads from Jatayu, my current favorite go-to for silver components. It's the raw “potential” that gets me excited-- the “what-can-I make-with-this?” feeling, creative energy at its juicy best.

I love getting supplies in the mail-- which, living in rural Vermont, is usually the only way I can get specialized stuff. I always forget what I've ordered online so it's like Christmas in May when I grab my paring knife and slice into the packing tape. Yesterday my order from Whole Lotta Whimsy arrived with some new Ranger alcohol inks so I had to try them all out immediately. Color waits for no woman!

I'm still having fun with the ink/mica powders connection and came up with some work yesterday that has some potential. Not everything works out the first time but hey, if it did, it wouldn't be any fun and I would probably miss out on some interesting accidents!

"Quiet Spaces" necklace - available in my Etsy shop

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Celadon Dreams

Humankind has always sought ways to copy the stones that they mine using imitative techniques. When I was at college in a pottery program, jade and its many shades were achieved on porcelain and stoneware by the amount of iron oxide added to a glaze. Chinese potters discovered that at low amounts, shades of light jade called celadon were created, all the way to the darkest black/brown at maximum saturation called temokku by the Japanese, who borrowed the technique.

My jade adventures started when I was playing around with some translucent clay colored with a tiny amount of opaque color and started twining it around and around, ending up with a bead that to me looked like carved stone. After sanding, antiquing, baking to set the oil paint, sanding again and polishing, I liked the effect enough to try other colors and combined my experiments into a necklace with some of the ancient metal effects I showed you in an earlier post.

I was in the process of making some ivory beads in this carved stone technique to go with a project, and I found myself dabbling in faux jade. I love jade-- in all its many colors-- and started collecting magazine photos of it when I became interested in polymer clay so I could have examples of color variations and ways that the natural stone was used. Almost every book on polymer clay that you pick up has its own recipe for jade-- I used Carol Blackburn's from her book Making Polymer Clay Beads.

As you can see from these photos, I like making faux stone donuts! I find them very useful as connectors in bracelets and necklaces and there's some interesting tension between the round outside shape and the square interior shape, like Chinese coins. In this shot I included some carved-look colored beads that I made from leftover clay from a colorway I was using for some other beads.

After getting myself re-acquainted with my Dremel buffing attachment, ( I hate power tools!) I went on a buffing frenzy! I like my beads to have a soft sheen and usually don't power-buff them. But the colors and textures of this imitative stone really seem to pop with the additional buffing. Below is a piece made from a Japanese wooden mold I scored on Ebay-- it's ???--polymer clay in a big wad of marbled leftover clays that I used to test the mold. It sat in the back of my bench drawer for about a year when I found it and decided to use some rub-on metallic finish on it. With the addition of an etched bezel and a chain, I think it will make an interesting pendant.

As I was finishing up my morning photo shoot, it occurred to me that I had some beads that would look great with all this faux jade and ivory. Here's what I might put together later.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ancient Metals

I've been focused on imitative techniques lately-- faux ivory, jade and metallic effects. In working on my entry for the Art Bead Scene's May Challenge, to design a piece of jewelry using Claude Monet's “Waterlilies” as inspiration and incorporating art beads, I developed a clay veneer to apply to beads that incorporates the impressionistic colors of the painting. I got a pattern that I liked and could duplicate and baked up a batch. But then I started thinking it might be fun to make a second batch just a bit different in effect, although in the same colors, to add to the complexity of the design. I was planning to use only Bali-type silver beads as accents, a bit of a departure from my latest necklace designs, which have been a riot of semi-precious stones, mokume gane technique in polymer clay and faux polymer clay beads. Sometimes restricting your designs to just a few elements is an interesting exercise.

I had initially thought of mixing translucent clay and alcohol inks but decided instead on a technique called Ancient Metals. One of the earliest articles I tried when I first began working with polymer clay was this one, taught by Laurie Prophater in a magazine article in 2007. My way of judging the worth of a new clay technique is to see if I can push it to do more than the orgininal application in the tutorial. The author warned that the technique wouldn't accept too much handling but I had made large beads before with the technique and decided this time to make some smaller beads to add to the Monet beads I already had.

Ganymede beads

Lothlorien Necklace

Well, I had a lot of fun but my results won't be joining the Monet beads at the party this time. I need some different ink colors, I loved the blue but it wasn't the right shade, so I need to buy some more inks. I've never tried mixing different colors of these Ranger inks, maybe that's an experiment for today? Do I ever need an excuse to buy supplies? I believe that having your art materials close at hand makes the difference, you just have to reach for what you want and your creative process doesn't get interrupted searching. But after dumping a basket of beads yesterday (luckily in plastic bags) pulling my article binder from the bookshelf, my long-delayed workspace remodeling project is now in No. 1 position on my to-do list.

Sonnet beads

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Parable

I am a storyteller. Instead of posting about my adventures in faux jade today, I am going to tell a story about myself. In other times, in other places, this would be called a parable.

There was a young woman who loved color. She would hold colored yarns in her hands as if she held the jewels of an empire-- ochres, rust, burgundy, jade, crimson, lapis, azure, bark and verdigris. She loved to fashion those fibers into beautiful textiles-- sweaters, shawls, scarves. Her patterns looked liked the skins of exotic animals. She cared not if she received money for her labors, for they were labors of love-- love for the excitement of pure creation and the feel of working the bright wools and mohair. She felt as if she touched The Divine when she was at her craft.

Her work was new and different. People began to notice her pieces and urge her to sell her creations and she decided that, if selling her work would allow her to spend all her time at what she loved to do, she would do it, although she had no talent for the marketplace. But she couldn't think of anything she would be happier doing than spending all her time creating beautiful things that would become precious to others, and to be able to share her love of making in this way.

At first, she was successful in a small way but soon her reputation spread and she was urged to take her products to the wider world, to the City. She sought advice about this and was warned that, once out in the world, there were those who would steal her designs and copy them and undersell her prices. She was told that nothing could prevent that, it was just the way things were. The only way for her work to continue was to keep innovating, keep changing, keep being different.

How could she do that? Was there that much creativity in one person? What if she ran dry of ideas? What if she failed? So she gave up. She returned to her small town and pulled back from her dream of taking her love of colors to everyone. She let fear stop her. She let fear overwhelm her creativity. She let fear win.

This was a true story. Where do I get my ideas from? I read a lot, I think a lot, I listen to music, I go for walks in the woods-- it all feeds into my creativity, there's a synergy going on that takes all the things I see and read and hear and think and funnels that into what I make. When I'm done with it, you can have it. I don't want it anymore. I want you to enjoy it-- I just enjoyed making it, I have my reward. I only sell stuff because I have to buy supplies, eat, keep the lights on, etc. You know what my real wish is, in my heart of hearts? To be able to give you what I make, for free, just to see you love it. The Divine-- whatever you call this entity for yourself-- gave it to me and now it's yours. I'm grateful that I got to create it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Imitation of Life

The tradition of imitative technique goes back centuries-- ancient peoples heated semi-precious minerals to change their colors to resemble precious gems, wood graining can be found in the craft of many cultures, Victorian ladies wore paste diamonds while the real thing was kept safely in a vault. For thousands of years, whenever an original material was too expensive, not available or technically unfeasible, creative souls have turned their hand to imitating the real thing.

My first polymer clay book was Polymer: The Chameleon Clay by Tory Hughes and it is so chock-full of great techniques and projects I still turn to it as a reference when I want to play in the realms of faux. Here's my version of her Ivory Heart Brooch (mine will become earrings) and her Lapis Lazuli Bird Earrings.

Some of my fellow Flickr clay artists have been dabbling in faux lately, in everything from faux jade to beetle's wings, so I thought I'd join the fun and work on some ivory/bone beads. I spent several weeks on a project with faux coral when I first began working in polyclay and I really enjoyed trying to re-create the original and the fact that I could make my beads any size I needed. Also, coral is really heavy and the lightness of the clay, relative to the real stuff, makes it easy to work into projects—like earrings-- where the weight would rule it out.

I made up a series of beads in “bone” which was a bit darker than the ivory, that I used with some RTV mold putty (room temperature vulcanizing) molds I made from several antique buttons and some old earring components. I love this stuff, called Alley Goop and buy it from Clay Alley . I have to restrain myself from “gooping” everything in my house, especially my stash of Victorian metal buttons. I highlighted some of the molds with a tad of gold metallic rub-on paint for kicks. I love the knot bead-- I've done that a few times in ivory and also in a Bakelite faux apple juice color.

After I got these done and handsanded, I used Genesis heat-set artist's oils in Burnt Umber and an old toothbrush to work the paint into the depressions to antique the beads, baked them for an additional 15 minutes and did a final sanding to get the excess paint off and buffed them again. Then I started looking around for coordinating beads and began to build what became the Delphi Necklace. I made the Delphi mokume gane beads (named after a Japanese metalworking technique) weeks ago but never put them up for sale on Etsy-- I guess they were just waiting to be used in the piece. Other items-- like the ombre-dyed silk cord-- also were serendipitously available. Kismet, as they say.

Elements: 17mm polymer clay focal beads, faux bone rounds, faux ivory rounds, wrap beads, squares and large donut, green agate roundelles, agate chips, antique carnelian beads, no. 11 seed beads, silk cord.

Matching earrings: polymer clay, carnelian spacers, grooved brass spacers, wood beads, handforged earwires and tornado swirl beads.

I wore this around the house last night, as I do all my pieces to make sure they feel good, hang correctly and are sturdy. I needed something a bit more diaphanous and classical Greek as my background attire but the necklace felt good and my husband appreciated the look!

Hope I've provided some inspiration-- in an upcoming post: adventures in faux jade.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

Vermont is finally in spring mode and it's my favorite season for taking walks. Our 34 acres are a mix of field and woodland, with gurgling brooks running along two sides. We are lucky to have our very own view which no developer can ever destroy!

Although I make and use polymer clay beads in my finished jewelry, the stories that found objects lend to pieces have compelled me to use more and more of these lately as a complement to my own beads. Even in early spring I come across much during my rambles to influence choices of color and texture in my clay work—the palette is subtle but potent. I wanted to craft a necklace that would honor the spirit of the wild which inspired it.

I ended up with an eclectic mix of old and new, of metal and stone and polymer clay-- colors of leaf, colors of fern, of bark, of wildflowers, of granite, of moss, of water, of sun. Lots of memories here too-- the ferny green glass beads were from bags and bags of recycled goodies my sister gave me one birthday, the brown Tibetan silver bead came from a large tin of beads my husband gave me last Christmas, I bought the black Oxacan bird beads and the opaque amber chips in Berkeley when I lived there in the 80s, the teardrop bronze bead is part of an old brooch, and I made the stag element from an antique button and a stone donut, after making a good impression of the button with silicon rubber mold putty so I can duplicate it at some future time with BronzClay.

Tomorrow I hope to have some recent adventures in faux ivory and bone to show you. I also had a nice piece of faux jade but it's gone missing and I've been searching for it for days now without success! Well, maybe it will turn up during my spring cleaning.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Raising Cane

I'm just not a cane kinda gal. I'm talking about polymer clay canes, a term from glassmaking that refers to a collection of colored rods that are assembled and stretched and when cut, reveal a miniature version of the original, despite how narrow the cane becomes. I admire the work that others do with them but it's just not me. I hated geometry in high school (heck I hated math, period!) I finally figured out it's the regularity of them that's the problem for me. I like randomness in my designs-- chaos, mixin' it up, unpredictability. I like to deconstruct things. “Disintegration” is a concept I see turning up all over the world of art and design. One of my favorite sources for the Color Inspiration of the Day on my blog is the Rot Squad site on Flickr.

Speaking of disintegration, I am the Rust Queen, just ask my husband. He collects old, rusty barbed wire for me wherever he finds it on our property and on this old 1830s Vermont farm, there's a lot around. He also brings me old rusted wagon wheel rims, bedsprings, rusted pots, and odd pieces of aged metal. A favorite piece is a clinker donut, a completely random piece formed from the melding of molten scraps left in the charcoal of his forge. Accidental. One of a kind. I know, a beadmaker should be resigned to production, to duplication of their efforts but I find it very hard to knuckle down to that. Too many new designs out there to discover!

So I've been experimenting with canes lately, trying to duplicate some beads that were a happen-upon design gift from the Muse and this has led me to re-read some parts of Donna Kato's latest book on canes.The virtue of having to re-create something you discovered by chance and didn't fully document is that you now have unlimited opportunity for creativity and to discover an even better way to do it. The first cane I think I ever did, which I liked because it didn't look like a cane, I learned from Kathleen Dustin at a workshop and found that DK's version is called the “Starry Night” cane, named for Van Gogh's picture. It's made from scrap and has a very random, disintegrated appearance. But the cane I was looking to duplicate had a bit more structure.

Well, not to leave you with a cliffhanger, but I haven't found The Missing Cane yet. Here are some examples of recent work and what can happen if you leave yourself open to the possibilities. These will be up on my Etsy site this weekend.

Have a happy and creative weekend, even if you're spending it in the garden!