Thursday, June 20, 2013

Enter the Dragon

Dragons abound in literature from the earliest written records and leads us to wonder—if they appear in the folklore of so many diverse cultures, might they really exist? I suppose I was bitten by the dragon bug when I first read The Hobbit back in college many years ago. Smaug was the product of the awesome imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien —and what a magnificently-fearsome dragon he was. Jewel-encrusted breast, lying on a priceless hoard of dwarves’ precious gold, prone to livestock-and-villager-hunting rage on any given day—he remains one of the great creations of imagination in all literature.

When designer Andrew Thornton proposed a new jewelry challenge, Inspired by Reading,  based on a monthly book to be read by the members, I knew I couldn’t resist. After just a few paragraphs of May’s selection, A Rumor of Gems by Ellen Steiber,  I was hooked. Ms. Steiber creates an amazingly realistic world in the city of Arcata and her characters are nicely flawed and endlessly fascinating. Her prose is beautifully poetic as well.  But despite the precious gems that continue to turn up in every alley of the city’s streets, the scene is constantly being stolen by a small jade dragon that goes from an inanimate statue to a vibrantly alive creature in the blink of – well, a dragon’s eye. From the moment I began to read, I knew I wanted a dragon to star  in my jewelry piece.

Over the past year I’ve bought a few dragon-themed books to use as inspiration for a dragon pendant or sculpture since I like scary and scaly dragons, the real fire-breathing type. Like the medieval ones in The Book of Kells, kind of fantastical (are there really any other kind?) and mysterious. I had a design that I used for the body of a snake in my “Serpent” necklace so I recycled it with the addition of head, feet and wings for my pendant, using attachments for a bit of 3-D and a faux jade mix of polymer clay for the body.

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“Wyrm” – Polymer clay, heat-set oil paint, acrylics
But all the extra body parts made him too big for my intended necklace. I dug out some faux jade beads that had been sitting around and liked the technique that created them so I used the extra jade polymer mix to craft a pendant in the same style and some heavily textured dangles for it. Then I remembered a brass dragon stamping that I had purchased from my favorite Vermont Etsy seller, You Are Not the Boss of Me. Mounted on the front of the pendant I think he looks right at home. I added some honey tourmaline, African brass rounds, a handmade wire-wrapped copper bail and some copper chain and it was complete. I could definitely see the main character, Lucinda, wearing it.

“Rumor of Gems” – Polymer clay, heat-set oil paint, acrylics, copper, honey tourmaline, African brass

I highly recommend this book. And if, by the end of it, you haven’t quite had your fill of dragons and gems—the author is in the process of writing a sequel to Rumor of Gems. If you love to make jewelry and you love to read, check out the Inspired by Reading Book Club on Andrew’s blog,

Friday, June 7, 2013

Making Your Mark

There are so many polymer artists out there these days, doing a lot of very innovative work. It's natural to worry that you can't make your mark in this eclectic and ever-changing marketplace, create something truly distinctive that's all your own. According to a trends and marketing expert, Seth Godin, you really have to keep innovation and uniqueness in your work, as more and more people are looking for just that.

I've been noticing that a growing number of people are making headpins and jewelry components out of polymer. I've made my own components for years, usually with embedded wire so I can string them easily in my larger jewelry pieces. It seems as more and more people are making their own jewelry, they are seeking unique and unusual components for necklaces, bracelets and earrings and enterprising artists are jumping in to fill the gap.

I liked much of the work I was seeing-- always dangerous because it leads me to think that whatever I design won't be that different. Silly me! The minute I sat down to work my hands just left my critical thoughts behind and my little headpins came out totally in my own style and completely different from anyone else's work.



So if indecision stymies you, just sit down and start playing. That's what art is all about-- letting your subconscious work through your hands. Let the ancient part of your brain do the thinking, the part that controls emotion and inspiration. With polymer clay, rolling and squeezing the clay, forming and molding it is very freeing and if you don't like what you've created, just recycle it and start over. Don't get precious with the results-- watch what the clay is doing and try to work with it. Also remember-- some days you're hot and some days you're not. Some days everything you do is brilliant and some days you need to just step away for awhile -- go garden or do something else completely different. “To everything there is a season...”



Fiddlehead pins – Polymer, watercolor crayons



Hidden Meanings -  Folded bead pendant, polymer, Pan Pastels