Thursday, April 27, 2017

Embracing a New Paradigm

Some earthshaking discoveries in science sneak into the public consciousness slowly, and many are never even widely known. The same thing happens in the science of the art world from time to time. Unless you work in a certain medium, you may never be aware of significant changes in the things artists have available for creative expression.

Polymer clay was this sort of ‘earthshaking’ discovery. Most people outside the art world have no idea what it is or that it even exists. It’s a synthetic clay that never dries out, takes color from many different sources and in any hue you desire, cures at a very low temperature, holds its form while curing with very little support, can be formed into very thin sheets without breakage, and is stable for millennia, as far as we can predict. All things that traditional earth clays do not. I think it’s a hoot that what I use to make jewelry is the same material, engineered into pipes, that carries bathroom waste and water through our homes out to the sewer, or in my case, out to my septic field. I often wonder what Leonardo Da Vinci would have made with PVC in the form of polymer clay?

"Apocalypto" extruded beads, placed in Bead Dreams competition

One of my earliest polymer mixed media pieces - mokume gane polymer disk,
steel, brass, textured polymer donut

"Little Bumble Beads" - shown in a tutorial published in Stringing Magazine

Soon after I began working in polymer, tired of my inability to control the interaction of colors in the extrusions and mokume gane I was blending, I started texturing the clay and applying color to the surface of it, rather than blending factory-supplied colors. At first, the only medium I knew about that could be used to color clay was heat-set oil paints. My go-to technique was to apply color deeply into the texture and then sand it back so that the texture was highlighted and there was space to add more color. I happily worked like this and taught this technique for years in my classes.

'Ruffle' beads, colored with Genesis Heat-Set Oil Paints

"Tuareg" - Translucent Premo and Genesis heat-set oil paint - published in Designer Showcase article in Belle Armoire Jewelry, Sept/Oct 2011

The Emperor's Nightingale" - Mixed media piece - polymer, wire, acrylic paint, handmade textures - private collection

"Everglades" necklace - polymer clay, heat-set oil paint - private collection
Well, I’ve been called a ‘mad scientist’ since any and all mediums are fodder for my experimentation when coloring polymer clay. In my artistic life I’ve dabbled in most crafts, from pottery to fiber, rughooking, knitting, professional dressmaking, papermaking, furniture painting, etc. My brain seems to enjoy asking ‘what if?’ a lot and I never reject an artistic idea, no matter how loony it sounds at the time! Having a background in many craft processes, I can see how unusual combinations of things might be serendipitous artistically. This is how innovation happens.
The medium that most mimics polymer for me is handmade paper. In its liquid state, it is infinitely shapeable, taking the form of any mold into which it’s poured. I loved the work I did with this medium when I lived in Berkeley, CA back in the 80s and took classes at Fiberworks with Nance O’Banion. So it doesn’t surprise me that I have lately been exploring the marriage of polymer and paper in my work. The new Distress Oxide paints that I’ve been exploring from Ranger really love paper, were made for it but all the coloring media that work on polymer also work on paper.

Paper clay donuts - Ranger Distress Paints
"Clovis" - Paper, Distress Oxides Paint
"Kali" - Watercolor paper, acrylics, pen
"Can-can" - Watercolor paper, crayon, pens, Distress Paints
I’ve never been a polymer purist, thinking of myself as more of a ‘mixed media artist working in polymer’. All the common wisdom of the artistic (and art-as-a-business) community says I should stick with one idea and squeeze every ounce of creative and financial juice out of it before moving on. I say, listen to The Muse and let your intuition steer you out onto the vast waters of the creative sea. Shift your paradigm and see what shows up.

"Purple Study" - Paper, Scratch Foam, Distress Oxide Paints, pen, acrylic
"Emergent" series - Paper, polymer, acrylic, alcohol inks, pen, Distress Oxide Paint


  1. Great article Christine. Your pieces are amazing!! Love the colors and shapes and the surprises you come up with in design and shapes. So glad you got them together here in one place!!

  2. J'aime énormément. Super. Merci pour l'inspiration.

  3. Your pieces are so lovely and inspiring -thanks!

  4. Very interesting to read an article about the development of polymer clay over time and the artistic phases you have gone through.

  5. Really cool pieces from beginning to end, some I've had the pleasure of seeing.....keep it up. xox

  6. I love the idea of being a "mad scientist" as that is a moniker that I have used from day one! I like the exploration of possibilities. I like texture and color and not paying attention to the rules of what can and can't be done. Lately I am doing abstract acrylic painting and finding that same fluid painting style is showing up in my polymer clay work in unexpected ways. Lovely evolution and wonderful pieces all. Enjoy the day. Erin

  7. Do you sell your beads to the public?

  8. Which issue of stringing magazine were the little bumble beads published?