Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I'm all for the newest and coolest in mixed media and craft supplies. But I'm a great advocate of thinking outside the box and expanding the realm of what's possible in the techniques and processes that already exist.

So I resisted the lure of resin for quite some time. Why coat a perfectly good surface in polymer clay-- one that you have sanded and buffed so carefully to achieve a subtle, glowing sheen-- in plastic? I have never loved the use of the shiny coatings that some polymer people adore to the point of making the Holy Grail of Polymer the ability to achieve a lampwork glass-like mimicry. Yes, I'm going to get flak about this but really, why not embrace the characteristic of the medium itself in its 'natural' state? OK, polymer is plastic but it has a unique ability to cure to the texture of kraft paper or really, to any other texture you want to apply. Its truly unique  ability is to take texture -- why cover it over? For instance, I give my clay pieces that will receive colored pencilling a subtle texture, some 'tooth' so the pigment will adhere better. “Exploit those Nooks and Crannies” should be a needlepoint wall motto in my studio!

So why turn to the Dark Side at all? Well, first I had to discover what resin could do for my designs that I couldn't do with polymer. After all, polymer clay has its own liquid form that cures to near-translucency. But it's very sticky and messy, so pouring it into a small space would be difficult. You can paint it on as a coating-- I've done this as a patina on metal with the addition of alcohol inks for color -- but it's a real bear to sand. And it drips.

Since I had an ICE Resin kit sitting here in my studio for ages, when my sister came to visit this past fall I figured, let's see what this baby can do! I dug out ALL my bezels, lots of tiny metal beads, my vintage books, many clay pieces with attractive holes that could be filled and then made several pairs of earrings that had holes straight through their forms. Of course, I have dozens of handmade silicone molds that I've made of anything that would hold still and I knew that resin could be used to fill molds and make objects.

I had very little specific information to work with-- I have just recently bought Sherri Haab's book "The Art of Resin Jewelry" but I didn't have it at the time. But I really like to work this way-- just puttering and playing and seeing what I can do with something I've never used before. I had no preconceptions and no expectations-- anything was fair game. I didn't edit myself at all. Playing off the things my sis was doing was very helpful as well. She is a very creative person and also had no prior experience with resin either so we both had no “can't be done” admonitions to overcome.

"Eye of the Dragon"
Polymer using the mokume gane technique, oil paint, pencil, gilders paste, coiled and patinated bronze wire, resin

Previously-made polymer clay pendant, applied resin, Objects & Elements bezel

"Imaginarium" earrings
Polymer clay, gilders wax, resin

"Rockport Sunday" bracelet
Picture jasper, African bronze beads, clasp by Objects & Elements, copper chain, resin bezel filled with collected sumac leaves, Fall 2009 and African brass spacers

"Song of Amergin" ring
Bezel ring from Objects & Elements, filled with bronze polymer
clay, bronze headpins and resin

Polymer clay with resin

"Theodora" pendant
Polymer clay with resin, metallic powders, gilders wax

Polymer clay with resin

Polymer clay with resin and acrylic paint

Polymer clay, resin

Resin experiments

In the few months since my initial experiments, I have made finished jewelry with some of the pieces I made and have done a few more pours. I've learned a few tricks and made many sketches of what I want to do in the future. All in all-- a successful encounter with a new material. What more can you ask?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Year, New Challenges

I don't like the idea of making resolutions for the New Year. As much buzz as there has been about major cosmological and spiritual changes in 2012, I feel that the term 'resolutions' is too much like an old school-blackboard writing punishment “I will not....” --fill in the blanks. I like instead the idea of taking on a task, a challenge, a quest. Of perhaps learning a new skill, exploring a new avenue of creativity. Make it positive and reject the negative.

I've got some projects that I've finally decided to take on this year and you'll be hearing about them in subsequent blog posts here. But I'm telling you today about one that's going to be fun and possibly very productive-- the 52 Earrings Challenge.

52 Earrings is the brainchild of Anke Humpert (Anart Studio), a mixed media and polymer clay artist living in Karlsruhe, Germany. She loves collaborative work and hopes that this challenge will bring her inspiration from working with others and with the wide range of artists who've signed up for this-- from all over Europe and the US-- she will get her wish.

Just around the holidays this year, I challenged myself to do 12 pairs of earrings for the traditional 12 Days of Christmas. I really had fun doing those earrings so when I learned about the 52 Pairs project, I decided to join. Yes, it's adding a bit of pressure to my schedule that I vowed (to myself) to keep clear. But it's also a great way to use up orphan or one-offs that consistently get produced through experimentation in the studio and then just sit around taking up real estate.

I'm behind two weeks but I quickly completed two pairs that came from ideas sketched during a free-association doodling session. One of my little tricks is to doodle a whole page of ideas at once, not judging or editing my ideas but simply working to fill a page with images. My trusty copier enlarges or reduces the designs and I combine different shapes in a multitude of ways. I print out the refined elements on copier paper, then cut them out with tiny scissors. The paper adheres nicely to the polymer sheet then it's cut out with a sharp scalpel blade, the shape is refined and then textured. I find that texturing after I cut out the shape helps to round the edges so there's less smoothing to do.

I'm starting a new series in my work titled “Heaven and Earth” and the earrings below are my first stab at that theme. Week 1 – 52 Earrings.

Raincloud Earrings, Heaven & Earth Series - 52 Earrings, Week 1
Polymer clay, Whim-Z Wire, vintage Japanese handblown glass beads, vintage celluloid spacers

 I liked the design and shape of this next pair-- Week 2-- but they needed something. I thought about resin, the newest tool in my design box, but I didn't want to mix up an entire batch without other pieces waiting to be 'resinated'. I just recycled some silver to Rio Grande (check out their quick turnaround on scrap metal) and removed some teensy diamonds from an old ring so I thought about using them. But then I remembered some vintage rhinestones I had and voila! that was just the perfect touch. Just funky enough to work with the polymer and keep the price range reasonable. I like the contrast between the textured and patinated clay and the old rhinestone. Just enough bling for me.

Tidepool Earrings - 52 Earrings, Week 2
Polymer clay, gilders paste, Whim-Z Wire, vintage rhinestones

 So I'm on to Week 3 and the ones I'm working on already have a name--Little Crazy Earrings. I'm using some very strange elements for these but hey, I'm having fun and that's really the name of the game. Check out 52 Earrings on Flickr, there's still time to play along.