Monday, April 3, 2017

Randomness vs Control

As artists, one of the most important things we do when we create is to edit. For instance, when faced with a stunning landscape, the impulse may be to capture it, so you take a photo and in that action, you are editing. You pick a focal point—a waterfall, an animal, an outstanding natural feature—and edit out the rest. You’ve exercised control over the final image. If you just went around snapping shots of pretty leaves and flowers in bunches without editing, you’d have a whole lot of colors and shapes without any coherent idea to make them interesting. Maybe it’s just a human impulse to try to have some control over our environment—we arrange flowers in a vase, we create a still life arrangement on a platter, we place images just so in a painting--we tell our story with the way we choose and organize the elements.
Paper, texture paste, Ranger Distress Oxides - random colors and textures on cardstock
"Earthwheel" - Pendant element - Paper, alcohol inks, modeling paste, polymer - edited shapes, layered
Raw polymer veneer-- Acrylics, Pan Pastels
"Emergent Series - Piercing the Veil" - polymer clay pendant - layered shapes, handmade texture sheets, opaque and translucent clays, Pan Pastels, acrylics, alcohol ink
I’m not against random colors and shapes per se but they don’t hold my interest or engage my mind without some intervention, some organization, some higher idea expressed by the exercise of creative editing. I’m told even Jackson Pollack had a plan to his (seemingly) random paint drips on canvas. This is the main beef I have with paints, processes or materials that ‘do it for you’. The Pebeo Fantasy Prisme line of paints and Swellegant are examples that come to mind. I love patinas as much as the next person but I prefer to mix the various colors myself and apply them slowly over time, choosing where to place them and controlling the reaction. I’m doing the editing. I’ve been making my own texture sheets for years and it’s something I teach in my classes. I just bought a Curio cutting machine not so I can make multiples but so I can make my own stencils. And what about colors—clay, paints, yarns, crayons, alcohol ink, etc—right out of the package? Somebody else is making the choice for you, is choosing the palette. One of the reasons I chose Premo clay when I first started with polymer was the fact that the colors were the same as a traditional painter would used to mix a custom palette from the basic colors—alizarin crimson, cobalt blue, phthalo green, etc. I kept meticulous track of all the ‘custom’ clay colors that I developed and used in my mokume gane mixes. As long as I could get basic colors of the clay, I could always mix the blends myself and not be dependent on some large company that might just decide to discontinue my favorite choice (as Premo eventually did with Cobalt Blue which made a lot of color aficionados very unhappy).

Alcohol inks applied to textured polymer -- handmade molds, pencil
Leaf earrings - polymer clay, handmade leaf texture, applied
patina using VerDay paint system
"April Fool" pendant - polymer clay, alcohol inks, modeling paste, acrylic, layered
Currently my method is to apply color to the surface of polymer clay but my philosophy hasn’t changed. If I’m using a product that I can’t easily make myself, like alcohol ink, I mix colors together to come up with my own blends. I layer paints and sand down to the base color and layer more colors. The result never looks like the original color and that’s the point! Over the past year I’ve been having a lot of fun with various mixed media products and techniques and this idea of randomness over control has cropped up more than once in my thoughts. It’s cool to drop alcohol ink onto a surface and watch it randomly spread out into circles but so what? What you do next with that clay veneer is really the whole point—that’s where intervention/creativity comes in. Give the same colored polymer surface to two different people and watch what happens. What choices do they make? How do they express themselves? What story do they tell with the materials? How much intervention is needed before you can call it ‘art’?
The point I’m making is—the more choices you make and ways you modify/enhance/control your materials, the better—this way, your finished work will reflect you and nobody else.
Alcohol inks applied over acrylic paints, technique from
"The Many Sides of Me" - polymer clay pendant -- Previous veneer sheet pieces applied to white base, crackled, textured and painted, added to translucent base layer


  1. Yes - I like this idea of mixing and changing, so that you end up with something much different than what you started with.

  2. The subtle variations of colors are all the more so interesting. Like you, I like a certain extent of un-constructed, but I want to see SOME kind of thought in there.

  3. Great discussion. I freakin love the many sides of me, what a fabulous piece! So you. xox