Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tales of The Heart

In my workshops I always begin with a discussion of form. I wish I could throw all the shape-cutters and templates being sold for polymer clay into the ocean. Don’t get me wrong—I have templates for certain earring shapes that I designed myself that are my go-to when I have a clay veneer that will become an earring or element. But they are not cookie-cutter shapes, they reflect my aesthetic, not that of some manufacturer.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, your piece will become truly unique only if you address every single aspect of its design and source or design it yourself. That means devising your own shapes and forms whenever possible. The ‘quick sketching’ method works for this—for instance, choosing a heart shape—and spending a minute or two sketching that shape very quickly in your notebook. Don’t worry about size, just let your brain and all its accumulated input stream out through your pencil. Don’t edit. Your can use your copier to alter size later to suit your purpose for the element. One exercise that’s fun is to choose a few sketched shapes, make larger and smaller sizes of each using the copier and then combine them into one piece, say—a necklace, keeping the same colorway
for all the elements.

Now that my work is finally in a gallery—the
Art of Vermont Artisans Gallery in downtown Randolph, Vermont-- I’ve been working to change out my inventory to reflect the seasons and jewelry-gifting holidays. Valentine’s Day garners an enormous response from shoppers in search of the perfect gift so it’s a great excuse to obsess a bit with the ubiquitous ‘heart’ shape. Every year I do a sketchbook page full of heart shapes and this year my page looked like this.

This Valentine’s Day I’ve broadened my experiments to include pin/pendant options, as well as cuffs, bookmarkers and barretts. One of my first polymer projects was a French clip hair barrette and I still wear it a lot. For some strange reason, I haven’t made another, although every time I reach for my old stand-by I think “why don’t I make more of these in other colors?” Well, I plan to remedy that soon.

I find there’s something compelling about the traditional heart shape—it can morph and mold into so many variations. The basic shape, I think, is so well-balanced in its simplicity that it lends itself to abstraction and innovation. It’s got semiotic overtones as well--semiotics being “the study of meaning-making, the philosophical theory of signs and symbols” according to Wikipedia—so the shape itself means something to us culturally and anthropologically on a subconscious level. This is a good thing for the jewelry designer because it means that the heart shape is appropriate in any season for adornment, not just for a sweetheart-themed holiday in February, unlike a snowman pin, for instance.  It’s also a very universal symbol.

Organic heart - 2015 - polymer clay,
acrylic and oil paints, Prismacolor pencils
Not necessarily 'Valentine's Day' earrings - polymer clay, acrylic paint, crayons, Lillypilly slate veneer, handmade copper earwires
 'Landscapes of the Heart' - pin/pendant of 
polymer clay, acrylic paint, Kroma crackle medium
 Primitive heart cuff - polymer clay, acrylic and oil paints, Nunn Designs copper cuff base
 'Helter-Skelter' heart element-- older work using mokume gane technique
Valentine bookmark - polymer clay, acrylic paint,
crayon, Jan's Jewelry metal bookmark form
Textured heart earrings, 2015 -- polymer clay,
acrylic paint, crayons, handmade texture
plate and earwires
So even if you don’t get around to making hearts for Valentine’s Day this year, don’t despair—the shape is something that will work for you year ‘round. And what you can do when you add in color, texture and connectors! Have fun! XOXOXO



Wednesday, January 7, 2015


“Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we really know if there’s room for improvement.”
                                                            Simon Sinek

I’ve always thought that curiosity is the best characteristic of our brains. It’s the ‘what if’ that expands our world in any endeavor that requires innovation to thrive and grow—art, science, cuisine, philosophy, whatever.
Most of my best ideas come out of a curiosity to know what would happen if I combined this with that or tried this process differently from what everybody else is doing or used a product that nobody else uses on polymer clay. I’ve just never been a follower of trends. If everybody else is doing it or wearing it or buying it or listening to it, I probably won’t.

Sometimes my curiosity prompts me to think “if everybody is doing THAT, what would happen if I do it this way?” That’s how I got started painting on polymer. It also helped that Sculpey decided to discontinue some primary colors in their Premo polymer clay range, so you couldn’t count on your blending formulae always being consistent. So thinking that the only consistency is the one you create yourself, I started using Genesis heat set oil paints on polymer, which I still use to this day. I’m not sure what got me started on applying texture but flat and super-shiny was never my thing. I hate sanding! Early on I set up a bead polishing system that involved a vibratory tumbler and plastic media which I learned from Grant Diffendaffer’s book.

So maybe innovation is a combination of curiosity and personal preference (or aversion). You hate sanding so you find some way to do your art without having to sand. Your supply chain is compromised so you find a way to get consistent color without having to depend on the whims of a manufacturer.
2014 may be remembered in the polymer clay community as The Year of the Hollow Bead Tutorial. Everybody seemed to be creating their own unique method of making hollow beads. Given how light the medium already is, I couldn’t see changing the way I made large beads using aluminum foil cores. Polymer beads are practically weightless so I just kept doing that. I was more concerned with what you do with the surface of the enclosed void (hollow bead) that you now have—how do you make THAT interesting? After covering a number of beads with veneers made with my newly-created, ‘super-textural’ texture sheets, I asked the ‘what if’ question and decided to make molds of some my most-favorite shapes. I’ve always done one-of-a-kind beads but I wanted to see how the same bead shape looked with different colors of base clay and a different color palette.

I’m still working on perfecting the technique but it mostly worked. I made a necklace up with two identical beads—one with a black clay base, one with white—and used them together. In the piece below they are the beads closest to the wire rings connected to the chain. They add a bit of symmetry to an otherwise very asymmetrical piece. And I’ve once again progressed a bit through the exercise of my curiosity.
'Attitash' -- polymer clay, acrylic, crayon, African copper beads, vintage copper chain, carnelian chips

 Azo Gold Bead - Polymer, acrylic, crayon, heat set oil paint - same bead as above with a textured layer sandwiched between the halves
Azo Gold bead, flip side
'Planetfall' - polymer clay, found amber piece, acrylic, heat set oil paint
If any of you have had a similar experience, I’d love to hear from you about something you did last year that curiosity caused you to discover about your art.