Sunday, November 20, 2011


I love the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite school. They were actually considered 'avante-gard' for 1848 in that they rejected the prevailing style and aesthetic and embraced color, romanticism, the morality of the Middle Ages, spirituality and the natural world with enthusiasm and originality. I find their depictions of women are incredibly sensitive and sensual for (mostly) male painters in the mid-19th century.

Their color palette is rich, highly saturated and vivid, even when depicting dark woodland scenes and costumes, as represented in this month's Art Bead Scene's inspiration, the Renaissance-influenced work of Marie Spartali Stillman, called “Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni”.

Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni

I was immediately drawn to this painting, but not because of the theme-- as I usually am-- but to the colors-- bronze, sage, russet-- especially the bronze. In mixing this color in polymer clay, gold and black are mixed in equal amounts to create a metallic with great depth and opulence. So I started to create some textured elements that I planned to use to frame molded cabochons in polymer tinted with my other favorite colors from the 'Madonna'. I started with texture sheets and molds that had more naturalistic themes but added  some of my favorite abstract ones to change it up.

I found myself getting rather carried away with these textured frames and once they were cured and antiqued with burnt umber heat-set paint, I was conflicted-- had I strayed too far from the painting in my interpretation? Well, isn't that the point-- to use the work of art as a springboard to some completely new ideas?

My method is to re-do and keep working until I have exactly what I want, even if I have to do it over and over. I did just that in this piece-- the third time was the charm. My first attempt was to cut cabochons to fill the textured frames from very abstract pieces of scrap clay in a colorway from the painting but the result was wrong for the ornate quality of the frame. After I carefully chipped out the cured, glued clay with an X-Acto knife, I tried a mokume gane veneer but it was too busy and distracting. I finally went back to one of my favorite molds, made from a piece of Victorian picture frame that was the basis for my Jane Eyre cuff and recently was reinvented for the current issue of Handcrafted Jewelry magazine as the Shangri-la Cuff tutorial. I centered the cutouts for the cabochons on the leaf motifs, placed the clay slices to cure on an upturned metal palette so they curved and used my heat-set oils and gilders paste to color and gild the cabochons. I liked that they had a porcelain-like look to them. To delineate them from the frames I used some notched scarlet clay as an edging and lightly gilded it.  I used some reproduction Victorian bookchain to hang the elements, completed a set of earrings and I was finally satisfied with the results.

Now I've got a very opulent necklace to wear for the holidays and a new technique to play with. Not a bad investment of my creative time!

"Gilded" - detail

"Gilded" - detail


"Gilded" - earrings


  1. Exceptional work, Christine! The ornate frames are sensational! I am in complete awe of your mastery of polymer clay.

  2. Oh my Christine! I loved reading this post. What a wonderful story of you creative process. Big grin on my face, but also frowned eyebrows from concentrating on getting it all. I love the result also. Particularly the earrings. They are wicked, wild and beautiful. The great thing about the necklace is that your polymer beads/links look so wild and untamed. In opposition to the air of high cultivation in the painting. That is on the surface of course. I spoke about that in my own blog post about my piece. I think you have however managed to capture the inside sense of it all. What the pre-raphaelites sort of adored (oh, I can't find the right words in english this morning, sorry, hope you understand my intentions anyway). The contradiction between wildness and nature, and the human culture. Or, at least, that is how I see it.

    Always such a pleassure,

  3. I so love to come here and read about your creative process. I love that you persevered. I am working on a custom made stamp for my simple truths that I think I have carved 6 times. Hopefully this last one will be right. I need to get started on something for this challenge. Thanks for the reminder!
    Enjoy the day!

  4. Wow - that took some work! Loved reading your process and your piece is stunning! Awesome work!!

  5. I know you said you were focusing on color rather than theme, and perhaps this is a "wilder" piece than the woman in the painting would have worn, but look to the flowers in her hair. I think her freedom of spirit appears there, and your necklace reminds me of that part of her.

    I can't begin to comment on your making of the pieces. I have no experience in that. But the results, I can say, are remarkable and truly unique!

  6. Just awesome, Christine! I enjoyed reading your process and just love your creation of a holiday set that is so opulent but doesn't scream "Christmas jewelry!!!!".

    Your recent cuff article was great, too! Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. That is absolutely amazing. Having seen you in action, AND seen your jewelry in person, the word "impressed" just isn't good enough. You are a gallery person, you know?

  8. I read the story about you in Belle Amoire Jewelry. Your work is a real inspiration! And your piece for the ABS challenge is gorgeous.

  9. Completely gorgeous!
    Thanks so much for sharing your process and reminding us there's nothing wrong with "re-do".