Polymer Clay Color Inspirations: The Final Word

Did you have a Grandmother who could grab a handful of this, add a half glass of that, a pinch of something else, throw in a few more things and come up with something so good that you remember it ten years after her death? How did she do it?

Think of the first time you cooked something. You probably had a general idea of what it was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to smell and taste. If you came close and no one got sick, you had a success. Then, as you became more proficient, you began to know what a dish was supposed to look like at each stage (is the batter supposed to be lumpy? Are the grains supposed to clump?). You began to learn what seasonings worked with one another. You started to know when something was done cooking or baking by the way it looked or the way it smelled or felt. Some of us got to the point where we could throw away our cook books and measuring cups and rely totally on instinct and experience. (Ok, Ok, some of us never learned to cook at all, or gave up cooking after many years. There’s a case to be made for that, too.)

When most of us start to learn a craft or an art form, we are not skilled enough to control the results. We become more proficient by doing. That’s the idea behind Polymer Clay Color Inspirations.

If you were taught to think of color theory as an arcane set of rules rather than as a way to express yourself, working through the exercises in Polymer Clay Color Inspirations will change the way you think. It’s not just another color reference book; the ten chapters of carefully planned exercises will teach you about color if you take the time to do them.   As you progress through the book, you should start to internalize the information, with each chapter’s lesson building on the previous one. The goal is to teach you to make sound color choices with confidence, and to rely on your instincts rather than a rigid set of rules.

This was my experience. I won’t say that I am a color expert-far from it. But I think I am way beyond where I was when I started.  The most important lessons I took away? Every color has a bias. A light color might be more saturated than a darker one. A color combo you hate might look very appealing in a different setting. If you’re not sure how colors will mix,  combine a tiny proportion and see how you like  the result.

I put up a permanent page with links to all the posts I generated in the course of working through the book.  Even though I am technically finished with the book, I plan to keep it handy as a reference along with my color scales and other color tools I made.

She “Puts It All Together”

So, here I am at the last chapter of  Polymer Clay Color Inspirations, “Putting it All Together.”   To put it all together means using  the lessons learned  in the previous chapters to make a final project-in my case a polymer clay collage box that  corresponds to my paper collage and color palette. To make my project, I covered a cigar box with  multi-part Skinner Blends and canes, and used  back filling,  stamping,  inlay, texturing, and pattern sheets.  You might recognize some materials from earlier exercises.  Here is a picture of my collage and  and some of the clay I used.

Before starting, I auditioned and rejected lots  of patterns and canes.  As I was covering my box, I was constantly applying clay and  taking it off  or applying clay  and baking  and then prying it off! And I made even more patterns and canes in the process  because, as every polymer clay artist or beader knows, no matter how many colors and beads you have, you never have enough.  Never.

I had so much fun trying different things that I don’t consider this time wasted at all.  I took my time and tried not to use  something unless I thought it was right.   I must confess that  I did go against my better judgment a couple of times as I was nearing the end.  But they say that finishing  a project like this  is usually more an act of surrender than the certainty  that it’s as good as it can be.

Here are pictures of some of the canes and patterns I considered


Somehow, everything came together in the collage box.  I am still not one hundred percent that I made all the right choices, but I do like the majority of them.    And one of the hardest things in art is knowing when you’re done, isn’t it?

One last time: the top of the box, the collage,  and a sampling of the materials from which I made my selections.

My next post on Polymer Clay Color Explorations will be the  “course evaluation.”

Texture Sampler Pendant

Here is the latest in my foray into Polymer Clay Color Inspirations.  We are on the second half on Chapter Nine, “Exploring Texture and Pattern in Your Colors.”
Texture has an influence on color because it affects the way light interacts with surfaces.   And even the light from different times of day can can affect color (as anyone who’s  been disappointed with a paint color that looked great in the store knows.)     The goal of  making the Texture Sampler Pendant  was to get a hands on view of how texture and pattern affect color.  In this exercise, you are directed to make a tapered pyramid shape and cover each side with a different texture.  I had plenty of left over bits from my color scale mixing, so I had lots of colors to choose from.     I had fun making  lots of different texture samples, but I could only use four on the pendant.

Since  my collage some texture in it, most notably the bumps on the flower pot and the sea horses,  I applied little balls of clay in different collage colors to  one side of the pendant.  I  tried to pick up the oranges and the greens on the second side with the “Dimensional Oval Cutout” technique from the book. I attempted  to mimic the leaves in the collage with overlapping cane slices on the third side, and I  used slices of another cane topped with indented dots on the fourth side.

I decided not to use the option antiquing the textures with paint.   I deviated from the exercises with the “hat” of disk beads at the tip and I used slices from a striped cane to separate the segments rather then twisting two colors together.
With the exception of  faux techniques, I have rarely used textures in my polymer clay work before.  I think that’s about to change.   Here are some pictures.

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Messing it Up

These have got to be the ugliest canes in the world

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.

Years ago, I decided to take an oil painting class that was supposed to teach me about color. I had been making funky painted furniture and I thought this class might give me some fresh ideas.  The course description said each class started with a lecture followed by a painting session.

By the time the first class lecture ended, I realized that the course would not help me with my furniture; it covered the historical use of color in oil painting.  After the  teacher gave us some technical and historical  background,  and  we were supposed employ what we had learned and paint a picture from a live model.  What, no still lifes?  I was already out of my league.

OK, I took a drawing class in seventh grade, but when my brother and I got paint by numbers sets for Christmas, he ended up with beautifully done Emmett Kelley on his bedroom wall.  I produced a landscape with trees that looked like  broccoli with Dutch Elm disease and paint drips on the floor that gave my mother a seizure.

I was starting to worry.

But the lecture was interesting-much more interesting than I could have imagined. When it was over I fingered my brushes nervously and wondered the model would look like.   When I saw  an ordinary looking man in a bathrobe enter the classroom, I didn’t make the connection.   “A bathrobe? I thought,  That’s odd.” Did he just come out of the shower? His hair doesn’t look wet. “

The man ascended a raised wooden platform in the middle of the room and let his bathrobe fall to the floor. He was now a naked man. Naked man sat down. My mind raced.   I tried not to look like I was frantically searching for the fire exits while scanning  the room  to see what the other students were doing.  And what were they doing?  Well, some were sketching, some were squeezing paint onto their canvases. (And in case you were wondering, no one was doing that weird thing with his thumb that you see painters do in  movies.)

I looked back at naked man who  had assumed a pose and was looking straight ahead, seemingly unaware that the walls were closing in on me or that I was considering chugging my linseed oil and ending it right there.  He didn’t notice me.  No one else did either; they were all too busy working.

I took a deep breath and started to sketch a rough outline.  When class was over, I packed up my supplies and went home.  I slept in my own bed that night.  I went back to the rest of the classes and wasted a lot of paint.  But I also learned a lot and never looked at oil painting the same way after taking that class.  And most importantly, the sun rose the next day and has continued to rise every morning ever since.

What are you waiting for?  Try something new!    Maybe you should avoid things that involve using  shopping carts,  KY Jelly and explosives at the same time,  but I’m sure you already knew that, didn’t you?