Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When Something is Nothing

The phrase ‘you can’t get something for nothing’ refers to the idea that it’s unlikely you can reap a reward or achieve some sort of value from something that's offered with no investment of effort on your own part. In artistic terms, you could compare this to discovering a new ‘free’ technique or method and then using it without devoting any time to develop an idea for its unique use in your own work or customizing it with your own tweak or spin.

I’m wary of the practice of posting instructions for a new technique to the general art community without providing a structure to demonstrate its potential use. For instance, “here’s a cool idea for a polymer clay veneer”. I’ve seen entire books on this topic with very few real examples of what to do with your cool veneer once you have it. The default seems to be to cut it out with some commercial cutters, poke a hole in it and string it. I’m not trying to be insulting here, I’m trying to inspire a sense of play and exploration before you move on to the next new thing. I’m trying to get you to ask ‘what if’. I’m inviting you to think outside the box and then actually start to work out there. I’m implying that a whole whopping-load of potential is being short-changed if you just move on to the next freebie without working into the possibilities and innovations that are before you.

"Colors of the Canyon" - polymer clay, acrylic paint, handmade
 texture plates, annealed steel earwires

You may have guessed that this is not how I teach at my Art on the Farm workshops. Yes, I have a lot of innovative techniques for surface coloration, texture and structure to teach students. But first we work on building a foundation for the techniques that are introduced afterwards, starting with form, layering and texture—the actual sculpture that lies under the surface techniques.
Study in building complexity and color
You’re going to go home with the foundations of a system for your own personal explorations, not just a technique or series of them. I need each day of this 3-day-long workshop to do this. I won’t short-change your artistic soul by teaching a technique that will produce one result only. This workshop will build your confidence in telling your own unique story in your work--to tap into your own experience to produce art that is meaningful, powerful and expressive.

"How shall my heart be unsealed unless it be broken?" - quote from Kahlil Gibran - polymer clay, copper wire, acrylic paint

Will you walk away with a finished piece of jewelry? Maybe, maybe not. That’s not the goal. I think it’s more important to walk away with a new skill in your toolbox—perhaps the most important tool—the skill of how to think about your style and your artistic direction and how to steer your work in that direction by being able to move confidently, step-by-step, along that path even when you get home to your own studio without an instructor to look over your shoulder.

"Twilight" necklace - polymer clay, crayons, handmade textures and forms, hand-knit wool cord, Woolywire embellishment

If this post has made you excited about the possibilities for your own work, here’s the link to the Workshop and Teaching pages on my website:


  1. You put much thought into your workshops and really want the artists to come away with cultivating their voice using what you have taught. If I could travel, I would be there in a heartbeat! Your art is so very inspiring.

  2. How I wish you could have your classes online. I'd be the first to sign up! I admire you and Connie Fox for your approaches to teaching - not just how to make the 'veneer' rather how to use the veneer to uncover and develop one's own artistic voice.

  3. I think your style of teaching is perfect! It is all about the discovery process, the journey. Your pieces are amazing and nothing I've seen!

  4. this is a wonderful style of teaching that appeals to the art and craft - i am so very glad (though not surprised) that you are leading in this moving away from 'producing' a finished 'x'. it is all about process. and sometimes in the process, we don't know what we are going to end up with. we might have in initial idea - but how many wonderful surprises and side tracks often lead to something even better - if we stay open and can rely on the foundations. brilliant. you are brilliant.