Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring is in the air . . .

. . . and I've got flowers to share! And then, it's back to the tax tables for me.

Flowers are a recurring and popular theme in most types of art and polymer clay is no exception. There are so many different ways to bring a flower to life using clay. These are just a few of my favorites. Not a lot of words, just a lot of floral goodness to feast upon!

This cherry blossom cane is from Olga Ostapenko, who lives in Russia. Her cane work is incredible (check out the geisha cane ) and she makes some wonderfully delicate necklaces, as well, using sculpted roses.

Pittsburgh's Marla Frankenberg used some of her incredible cane slices to make this dimensional pansy, complete with it's own personal ladybug. These were originally made for embellishments on a beautiful box she created for Kato Polyclay's exhibit at the CHA show a few years ago. Marla, you should make more of these!

Leigh Ross, of New Jersey, made all the flowers, including the bouquets and centerpieces, for her daughter's wedding. But, she made them out of polymer clay! Incredibly beautiful work and I don't even want to think about how many hours she spent on these. What a lucky daughter Leigh has!
Another artist who's doing some amazing life-like sculptures of polymer clay flowers is Gloria Spruiell of Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to this stargazer lily, she has several arrangements on her Flickr site that you'll swear must be real flowers. While you're there, look at her polymer clay food, too. She's got an awesome talent!

No post on flowers would be complete without a photo of the wonderful things that Barb Fajardo is doing. She uses various surface designs to create amazing sculptural-like flowers. Barb has an interesting post on her blog about the progression her flowers have taken over time. She is truly an original and innovative artist.

When I started writing this post, I had no plans at all to include these photos but, mentioning Marla's box for the CHA exhibit made me remember my own rather "unique" entry, the "Bloomin' Butthead". It has flowers (sort of) and I had a lot of fun making it. This box is about 9 inches tall and it's all clay. As I've probably mentioned before, I'm definitely not a sculptor but even so, I'm still trying to figure out WHY I didn't win. Hey Donna, I think I was ripped off!

Hope all of you are starting to see the first signs of Spring!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crossing the Pond, Polymer Cafe, and TMI

After several years of doing the Clay Carnival in Las Vegas, it's time to head across the pond! The "Euro Clay Carnival" is set to take place August 1-3, 2008 in Nottingham, England. This event will be a bit different since we have added 2 instructors from England and 1 from Spain. There will be a total of nine different classes included in the package and you can read more about all the details on Donna Kato's website here. I've never been to Europe and I'm really looking forward to meeting all the wonderfully talented artists there who work with polymer clay. Sign ups are starting to come in quickly so, if you'd like more information, visit our good friend Helen Cox for all the registration details. I've already heard from several of my online pals from Spain and France and it's going to be a fabulous time! My class, shown in the picture above, is "A Pigment of Your Imagination", also known as "life's too short to eat cheap ice cream". According to many of the people who've taken this class in the past , it's highly "addictive". To me, the best thing is that it's fun and stress-free with wonderful results.

Speaking of wonderful results, I hope that you've had the opportunity to see the April 2008 issue of Polymer Cafe. Connie Donaldson, the new editor, has done an amazing job with this issue. After
talking to her and hearing what she has planned for future issues, I'm certain it's only going to get better and better. Be sure and give some thought to being a contributor, if you haven't already. The guidelines for submission are on the magazine's website and Connie has offered her help to those who are a little unsure about how to get started.

A couple of weeks ago I was "tagged" by two friends on the same day. I didn't really even understand what this meant until I did a bit of research. Basically, I was supposed to list 6 or 7 (depending on who was tagging me) unimportant or little-known facts about myself and then "tag" three other bloggers to do the same thing. The friends who tagged me made it clear that there was no pressure and it was just for fun if I wanted to participate. So, I've decided I'm going to "kind of" participate just this once. I'm not going to tag anyone else but I'll list thirteen (because I like odd numbers and they both asked) little-known and incredibly boring facts about myself. The two wonderfully talented ladies who tagged me were Debbie Tlach (her work is above) and Linda Peterson (see her work below). I highly recommend visiting their blogs and checking out their artwork. Love you both and my apologies for not playing exactly by the rules!

Here are my 13 things:

1. I think people who abuse children and animals are the lowest life forms on the planet.

2. When I was a kid, my mom had to force me to go outside and play because I only wanted to read books all day long.

3. The places I want to see most in the world are New Mexico, Arizona, Egypt, and Spain.

4. When I was in Jr. High school, I was madly in love with Elton John and named my oldest son after his song, "Daniel."

5. I think about my dog Buster (he died almost 2 years ago) every single day and sometimes I still cry.

6. My career goals have fluctuated wildly throughout my life and have included being a librarian, a writer, a geologist, a lawyer, a teacher, and an artist. I wonder if it's too late for law school?

7. I have a really sarcastic and wicked sense of humor which sometimes gets me in trouble.

8. My favorite comedians are Jerry Seinfeld, Kathy Griffin, and George Carlin.

9. My favorite TV show is Project Runway.

10. I prefer white chocolate.

11. The first thing I ever made with polymer clay was a carrot nose for a fabric snowman.

12. I need music to live. Some of my favorite bands are Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews, U2, and the Beatles.

13. I LOVE chai tea, pomegranate juice, and Bailey's Irish Cream, but never in the same cup!

I won't be around for the next week or two. My kids are on spring break and I want to spend some time with them, I have lots of projects I need to finish , and, as usual, I still need to get the dreaded income taxes together. In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, "carry on." I'll see you soon!

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's All About the Monkeys

And maybe just a little about the clowns, too!
Jim Sheely's artwork is weird and wonderful and he has quite a following, not only in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but all over the world. His wood carvings and drawings come from a place that most of us can't even imagine. Since I'm partial to monkeys and have no clown phobias, this is definitely my favorite piece. If you'd like to see more, you can check out his photos on Flickr, too. I'd love to get some clay in his hands and see what kind of magic might happen.

Speaking of magic, there's nothing quite so magical as seeing Leslie Blackford creating something/anything out of clay. She's one of those rare people who don't have to think much about the process. It just seems to come out of her hands all on its own. I love this green monkey mask which I believe has found its way into Hollie Mion's polymer clay collection.

Chris Henry, my guildmate here in West Virginia, is still making wonderful bottles of hope. You may remember her cool red art deco cat that I showed you a few months ago. I wish I could give you a link to more of her work. She makes fabulous dolls, as well. Since she has no web presence or even a Flickr site, I thought that with your help, we might be able to change that. I've written her a little note and if you have a free moment or two, here's what you can do. Copy the highlighted text below and click here for an email form addressed to Chris. Paste the text into the email, sign your name or Oprah's name or really any name you'd like and send it on. I'm hoping she'll receive so many emails that she'll get the hint. She has a wonderful sense of humor but I'll be sure to let you know if she's still speaking to me after our next guild meeting.

Dear Chris,
You probably don't know me but Kim said I should write to you and let you know that I really enjoy your work. A Flickr site is so easy that anyone with a camera and a computer can get one started. What are you waiting on?

I just wanted to say how much I appreciated all of the comments and emails that I received after my last post. It's a wonderful feeling to be part of such a supportive community and although I know that not everyone agreed with what I had to say, I appreciate that your opinions were presented with dignity and a sense of respect for all the readers of this blog. Thank you for that.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What I feel the need to say . . .

I apologize for the absence of a photo to go along with this post. Somehow, nothing seemed quite right. If you're reading this blog right now, I'll going to assume that you spend some amount of your leisure time online. It follows then, that at some point, you've probably become aware of a subject that, to some extent, affects all art-related groups and every medium, polymer clay included. Okay, I can sense the rise in blood pressure already. Just bear with me, please. I've spent days on this post and I'd prefer that it be read without any type of emotional investment. At the risk of sounding extremely pompous, I feel that as a student, an instructor, an author, and someone who simply enjoys using polymer clay as a means of personal expression, I have a somewhat unique perspective to offer. We are all a product of our individual experiences and those experiences are what has led me to write what follows.

This subject has been rehashed so many times and terms such as ownership, stealing, infringement, copying, borrowing, derivative, originator, originality, etc., have been tossed around to the point that many of us are just tired of hearing about it.

How do we, as a community, put this to rest once and for all? As much as some of us would like to turn this into a battle over some specific incident that affects you, your best friend or your favorite pal on a message group, that needs to stop. It's about so much more than any one person or incident and it affects each and every one of us in some way.

The Internet is an amazing thing - efficient, timely, influential, and so very powerful. I'm so glad Al Gore thought of it! There's no doubt that it's had a huge impact on the development and growth of polymer clay. So many of the issues at hand have understandably intensified as our usage of and our comfort level with computers have risen. The relative anonymity of the Internet, the instant gratification it provides, and the lack of accountability that's often present, have all contributed to this progression. How best to balance the positive and negative aspects of a sharing community? To me, the answer is both simple and obvious: RESPECT.

When we, as students, take a class or workshop, what should we expect? We should leave with new knowledge, we should leave inspired, we should be brimming with creative energy, we should have increased confidence in our abilities, and a feeling of having experienced something wonderful. That's what I try to provide when a teach a class and that's what I expect when I take a class. When we spend our hard-earned dollars on an art-related workshop, a book, or a magazine, do we have the right to use the techniques or projects that are presented and incorporate them into our own work? Of course we do. It would be insane to pay for something and not be expected to use it. Can we make something that looks like the instructor's work? Of course we can. Can we sell these pieces? Of course we can. When we paid for the information, we gained the right to do that. I'm not encouraging you to imitate someone else's work. However, I believe that, for some people, this is an important part of the creative process and I have no doubt that as we incorporate what we learn into our own artistic point of view, our work eventually evolves and changes and will become something that is uniquely ours. If an instructor or author feels uncomfortable with having students or readers imitate their work, they're probably in the wrong business. If you plan to sell work that came about from a workshop or a book, it's nice to give the instructor or author a mention. This enables them to continue to sell books and teach workshops to all those people who are now admiring and buying what you've made. In addition, give some consideration to the fact that you're not the only one who's taken the class or bought the book. You may not want to present work to sell that looks so similar to what lots of other people are making.

For an instructor, there's no better advertising than to have a student return to their guild and share their enthusiasm and excitement for what they learned during class or for that student to post on an online forum pictures of the things they made. You should feel perfectly comfortable sharing these things. Is it okay for you to return home and give a step- by -step demonstration of what you learned in class to your guild members who weren't able to attend? It's nice of you to share but think about it from an instructor's point of view. If you do that and 10 other people do the same thing, there are now 11 guilds with hundreds of potential students who have just been taught, for free, the process that instructor is depending on to earn a living. How many of those guilds will want to bring the instructor in to teach that workshop now? Maybe some of them will. But, there will be lots of others who feel that they've learned that process and would rather move on to something else.

The process of developing a workshop is a long one. It takes weeks, months, or even years to refine and develop this process into a format that's teachable in a classroom setting and results in a successful outcome for many different skill levels. In a one-day workshop, especially, the instructor's entire process may be able to be demonstrated in just a few steps. If you take photos of the process during class, keep in mind that the information that's presented in the classroom, including handouts, is only meant for those who have paid for the class. The process that you learned is yours to use but it is NOT yours to share. There's no doubt that most workshops are far more than just a handful of pictures but, posting step-by-step photos on the Internet in the spirit of sharing is not fair to students who have previously paid for the information and it's not fair to the instructor who is currently teaching that workshop. This type of sharing, which is usually done with the best of intentions, can lead to problems you may never have even considered. The dozen friends who reply to your post and thank you for "sharing" are not the only ones who see these photos. Thousands and thousands of people now have access to something they can make use of in whatever way they'd like. Here's just one scenario. If someone decides they want to try the process, take their own photos, rename the process "Kathy's Krazy Kane", and post a free tutorial on their website, what type of effect will this have on the person who worked so hard to develop and teach this process? Their name has been totally removed from the equation, they receive no benefit for their hard work, their future earnings can be adversely affected, and, if they cry foul, they're often chastised for it. So, in our excitement and eagerness to share, we should always be mindful of sharing more than we have a right to and what the consequences may be.

Our community consists of many talented artists but not all of them have a desire to teach. Some people are producing work to sell, while others create only for themselves and the personal satisfaction they receive from the creative process. If you admire someones artwork and are not able to take a class from them or purchase work from them, for whatever reason, is it acceptable to try and duplicate their work for yourself? No one can stop you from doing that and this type of "reverse engineering" can be a wonderful learning experience. If you decide to share this piece with others, give credit for your inspiration to that artist. Don't "forget" where it came from or try to convince yourself or others that you magically came up with this on your own if that's not the case. It's really not painful to acknowledge that you were inspired by someone else's work. We're all inspired by other artists and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Don't think it's acceptable to write a tutorial to share with all your friends online if this was not your original idea. Just because you were able to figure out another artist's process doesn't give you the right to share it. Let the originator decide how and when to share this information as they see fit. Use good judgment. If you know this artist is selling their work through an online store, for instance, do you really feel it's right to make pieces that look just like theirs and compete with them? Of course it's not and one day, you could find yourself in a similar situation where those roles are reversed. Anyone who has had this experience can tell you it's not a pleasant one.

I believe that any medium requires a sharing and an open environment to grow but, it also requires artists who are willing to invest time and effort into developing techniques and work that will move the medium forward. I don’t think there are many people out there who can afford to or are willing to do that for nothing. We need to balance respect and courtesy with our eagerness to share what we've learned. Even if you disagree with me, I hope that everyone who's taken the time to read these words can understand and appreciate my dream for the polymer clay community: Respect for students who have taken classes or bought books and have a right to use what they have learned in their own work. Respect for instructors who have worked hard to develop workshops that enable them to earn a living and have a right to expect that details of their process will not be shared outside of the classroom. Respect for our fellow artists whose work inspires us to create new work of our own and who have a right to sell their designs and share their process as they see fit.

This hasn't been an easy post to write and it's been even harder to make the decision to put it up here for everyone to read. I feel as if I have much invested in the polymer clay community. I've spent more than 10 years concentrating my energies on this medium and teaching, writing, and selling my work is now my "job". I am not the "polymer police" and I have no right to tell you how to live your life, creatively or otherwise. If these words have changed your opinion of me, then that's something I will have to live with. Ultimately, we are all responsible for the personal choices we make and this was mine.

Comments, as always, are welcome. But, please stick to the topic at hand. I don't want this to turn into something it was never meant to be.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getting it off my chest with no desire to look at hers

No, not me! I'm talking about YouTube! I followed a link to a polymer clay video that was posted there and I had this idea to do a blog entry about some of the really wonderful things I found. But my enthusiasm for that idea soon gave way to disgust after a few more clicks of my mouse. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful polymer clay related videos on that site. At the risk of offending the ones I don't name ( I just don't have the time or energy to hunt down all those links), I was impressed by Cynthia Tinapple's caning demo, Maggie Maggio's color mixing info, Suzanne Ivester's extruded cane, and the polymer clay butterflies made by the British ladies were absolutely charming. I could listen to them talk all day! There's lots of good things on YouTube!

But, one set of videos in particular, made me cringe. I won't link to them but, if you've ever done a search for polymer clay on YouTube, I'm sure you've seen them. They're short, less than 30 seconds long, and it's hard to believe that so much misinformation can be packed into such a small time frame. I only watched two of them and here are just a few of the things (with plenty of extra sarcasm added by me) that caused my head to spin like Linda Blair in The Exorcist:

1. Polymer clay can be pretty pricey so it's best to use the clear clay in the middle of your beads and save the colors for the outside.

Now that's interesting! I wasn't aware that anyone was making "clear" clay so she must have been referring to translucent, right? And since when is translucent clay so much less "pricey" than the colors?

2. It's perfectly acceptable to spread out uncured clay all over a wooden table while you're working with it.

All I could think was if you're planning on refinishing your furniture soon, this is a great way to strip off all of that pesky old varnish.

3. You should bake your beads at 275 degrees for 12 minutes. And, if you're in a hurry, 10 minutes would be fine, too.

I really think the clay manufacturers could save themselves some money on printing costs if they'd just leave the baking instructions off the packages. Let's all just bake it for however long we feel like, okay?

But, what really made me angry was the fact that all of these short video clips were just "teasers" to entice a customer into purchasing the full-length DVD's featuring their resident "expert". At the risk of getting nasty hate mail, this person is NOT an "expert" by any stretch of the imagination and I would go so far as to say she hasn't taken the time to acquire the knowledge necessary to teach anyone how to work with clay. I doubt that many people have lined up to purchase this DVD. I really hope they haven't. It's enough to set polymer clay back a few dozen years!

Update: I did a bit of further research and it appears that the company who is responsible for making these "how-to's" is NOT actually selling them. I guess those site ads must pay pretty well! I was able to find out, from their website, that their "goal is to provide our users with qualified, trustworthy video content, a place on the Internet where you know that what you see is not idle speculation by a random amateur, but rather someone who really knows what they're talking about." I'm feeling like it's time to hang up my clay gun after reading that.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Quilted in Clay

My computer has decided to be extremely difficult today and I may just have to break out the Bailey's soon! But first, here's a slice from a gorgeous Celtic knot cane from Jennifer Patterson of Quilted in Clay, who also happens to be the winner of the pendant bails I'm giving away. The colors that she's used for this cane are just phenomenal! I really think I need a pendant like this. I have the perfect shirt to wear with it, too.

Jennifer, who is a full-time polymer clay artist, travels frequently to quilt shows and other venues to sell her work. She was recently given permission to duplicate quilt patterns designed by the late Ruby S. McKim. This pansy quilt design is one of her newest in the McKim line. Simply beautiful work!

In addition to being such a hard-working and talented artist, Jennifer has a wonderful blog which I read faithfully. She's also the talent behind the "Hidden Magic" technique which has become very popular in the past couple of years. You may have seen her article on the process in the Fall 2003 issue of Polymer Cafe. She has lots of wonderful things to share on her website, including a peek into her caning process and a tutorial on the Ohio Star cane.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and Jennifer, contact me here with your address so I can mail the bails out to you!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wisdom and Beauty from Synergy

I actually got to see Kathleen Dustin wearing this amazing work of art while I was in Baltimore. Not only that, but, I got to meet her and take her seminar on earring design. She couldn't have been nicer! When I went downstairs to see a bit of the ACC Show, I was in awe of her booth and seeing so much of her artwork (most of it marked with SOLD signs) in one place was almost overwhelming. Her talent can't be described in words, it needs to be experienced by all the senses simultaneously. She is truly a remarkable lady.

I wanted to share some tidbits of wisdom and a few fascinating facts from the seminar presenters. My first seminar was "Beyond the Blend" with Dan Cormier. I was blown away by the material he presented and amazed at the amount of time and work he put into developing this revolutionary blending method. Here's a bit of trivia he discovered during his research: After 20 passes through the pasta machine, a two-color blend will actually exhibit 1,048,077 different colors. He's promised to unveil a new website very soon so keep your eyes open.

Next was Judy Kuskin's "Silver Bezels" . She did a wonderful job presenting information in a way that those of us with little or no experience in metalworking could understand. Her handout was excellent and so well thought out. She gave me the confidence to attempt this on my own and as soon as I order a few supplies, I'm jumping in. Thanks Judy for this very valuable gift!

I mentioned Kathleen's "Earring Design" seminar above and I have to say that I learned so much from the examples she presented. She spoke from the perspective of a juror who would be evaluating your work and I appreciated her honest and critical feedback. Wisdom from Kathleen: Every aspect of design should have evidence of decision making. There should always be some relationship between the finding and other elements.

I was quite excited about "Polymer Clay Blogging" with Cynthia Tinapple, Susan Lomuto, and Alison Lee. They each offered us their "top 10" tips and they were charming, witty, and wonderful, as always. From Cynthia: Know what you care about. Know your audience, respect your readers. Write simply and often, be authentic. From Susan: Bank your posts. Edit, edit, edit. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. From Alison: Be ready to stay up late. Be ready to give up American Idol. Restart is your friend.

"Dancing to your own MUSEic", presented by Robert Dancik, was a true eye-opener. I've taken a workshop from him before so, I knew he was fabulous but, I got SO MUCH out of his talk and his wonderful handouts. From Robert: Learn to relinquish control. When you're not in charge, it's freeing to you and you can be more creative.

I really admire Dayle Doroshow and I was looking forward to "Creative Sparks". She is the queen of simple creativity exercises designed to lead you down new and exciting paths. From Dayle: Take a universal symbol (such as a heart or a spiral) and see how many ways you can apply it. Her examples were wonderful and it was great fun to interact with all of the people who were sitting around you.

In yesterday's post, I asked for you to comment on the most bizarre thing you've ever used as an inclusion with polymer clay. So far, only one person has actually mentioned what they used and, although I'm sorry about what it did to her hands, I adore her sense of adventure. You have until 8 AM eastern standard time on Friday to share and don't forget, there's a prize involved here, people!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

All-inclusive Polymer Clay

A couple of years ago, while I was working on the book, Clay Techniques to Dye For, I became enamored with using inclusions in and on polymer clay. I blame Ranger Industries for part of this. They supplied me with some amazingly wonderful products that I'm still experimenting with. I can't wait to sample their new pigment inks. The colors are incredible! When the book was finished, I began to look at things other than powders, inks, and paints as a means to create organic effects in clay. The pendant shown above is one of my favorites and was made with a fusible metallic fiber used by quilters that was embedded into the clay before baking. The effect that you can get with this product is wonderful. I wish I had a better photo so you could so you could really see the depth of this piece.
Here's a pendant made with clay, paint, and dirt. There's lots of faux turquoise recipes out there. I think I combined bits and pieces of different ones to get the effect I wanted. These pieces are made from translucent clay combined with those little nonpareil things that you sprinkle on cupcakes and cookies. A little silly but fun!

And here's a surface technique that's one of my favorites. My local guild was meeting one evening to make beads using Gwen Gibson's shaving cream technique that was published a couple of years ago in Polymer Cafe. Since I didn't have any of the dyes that she used in her article, I spent several days experimenting with several inks, paints, etc. that I did have and came up with an effect that was really appealing to me. I include this variation of Gwen's technique in a workshop that I currently teach called "What's Hiding in YOUR Craft Room?" If any of the ladies from the Blue Ridge Polymer Clay Guild in Asheville are reading this, feel free to comment about what a wonderful time you had in that class! I don't want to divulge the name of the product that I used on these beads since I'm still teaching the class and a girl's gotta have SOME secrets. However, I did promise an article to Polymer Cafe and maybe an update on the shaving cream technique would be a good idea. Hmmm . . .

Okay, enough rambling from me! This is what I want from YOU . . . I want to know the most unusual or bizarre thing you've ever combined with polymer clay and what type of result you got. You can post this right here in the comments section and if you'd like, you can also leave a link to a photo so everyone can enjoy your glorious experiments. Don't be shy, one of you will be chosen at random to receive a bag of 20 pendant bails that I've recently started selling. You can see them here and used in other pieces throughout my Flickr site. And, if you have an extra 10 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, email me to purchase a bag of your own.

On a much more serious note, one of the most generous ladies in the polymer clay community is in the midst of dealing with something she describes as "every parent's worst nightmare". Please visit Ponsawan Sila's blog and send her your thoughts and prayers. My heart is breaking for her and her family.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Wilder Side of Polymer Clay

Dee Wilder must certainly be the class "overachiever" when she takes a workshop! She recently posted some photos of work she made in a week-long workshop taught by Mary Hettmansperger, a multi-media fiber artist, at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Dee's work is just impeccable and beautifully designed. I love how she's combined polymer clay with the waxed linen netting in this piece.

Her faux trilobite pendant makes me want to chuck the one that I've been working on right into the trash. I think she nailed this fabulously! She has a whole series of recursive beads which she learned from Grant Diffendaffer's wonderful book on her Flickr site, as well. She says they're addictive and I can certainly see why.

One of my favorite pieces is this bracelet which she calles a "triple mistake". Dee says, "My first reaction was to toss the beads, but I decided to stain them and give the disaster one more chance. I'm so happy I did. My polymer mistakes nearly always have happy endings."

And since I love a happy ending, this is a good place to stop.