Bob’s Garden. Again!

While I am busy playing with my Silhouette Portrait 3, and finding ways to use it with polymer clay and in the pottery studio, my neighbor Bob has made some changes to his urban garden, and more flowers are blooming! How do you identify flowers if you don’t know anything? Try a Google image search. You can upload pictures right from your phone, tablet or computer.

The Allium flowers have opened!

Touch Me Nots

Canna Lilly

The turtle might live in a cage, but his spirit runs free.

Adventures in Using a Die Cutter in the Pottery Studio

i am the happy owner of a Silhouette Portrait 3 die cutting machine. What does a Silhouette Portrait do? It cuts materials like vinyl and sticker paper into any shape you can think of. I am not interested in making stickers or greeting cards. I want to design and cut shapes to use for ceramic surface decoration with slips and glazes. and to make templates for polymer clay shapes.

Here’s my first foray into decorating pottery.

I started with some greenware terracotta mugs I threw on a pottery wheel.

That’s my Silhouette Portrait 3. It’s the smallest of the Silhouette die cutting machines and the least expensive. I work small and didn’t want a big machine. I bought it on Poshmark, of all places. You can find more than clothes on Poshmark and I have been very happy with my purchases there so far. My Portrait 3 was new in the box and my savings were considerable. Another great resource is videos by Design Bundles on YouTube. From there, I learned about sources for less expensive supplies and accessories to use with the Silhouette. Plus a lot of tips and tricks for using my die cutting machine.

I am interested in making my own designs rather than buying them. So I have been fooling around with Vectornator, which is a vector-based graphic design software. Vectornator is free and I use it on a iPad. (Procreate, which is a raster-based program, is another option.)

I’m totally new to the software but I’ve been having fun with it, drawing simple shapes which I save as png files and send to my computer which is connected to the Portrait 3. One of the problems I have found with learning to use Vectornator and the Portrait 3 is that most of the written explanations start in the middle, and assume a lot of knowledge. But if you are patient and watch a lot of videos, you will get the hang of it. And watch Design Bundles’ videos.

Above is a flower motif I drew on my iPad and loaded into the Silhouette software. I am using the basic software that comes with the machine because it accepts png files without the need to upgrade.

To use the Silhouette, you line a cutting mat with whatever material you will be cutting ( I used copier paper above), and the machine cuts out your design. The beauty is that you don’t have to be good with scissors and that you can cut as many flowers, circles, shapes, stencils, or what have you as you need. You can save your designs in computer files and access them whenever you need.

Here’s my first few projects. I painted and screen printed greenware with underglaze. (I made my silkscreens previously with a photo bulb and emulsion, but you can make screens for printing with the Silhouette. )

I wet the shapes with water, adhered them to the mug after the underglaze had dried, painted over them with a contrasting color of underglaze and carefully peeled them off.

Here’s the same thing on a different mug. Note that I am using scrap paper to make the cutouts. it works fine. Newsprint is too thin and a nightmare to peel off the cutting mat.

After bisque firing, I coated the mugs with glossy clear for the glaze fire. Some interesting results. I will definitely be trying more surface designs with this technique.

Bob’s Garden Spring 2022

My neighbor Bob is at it again. He’s been planting and tending a big container garden up and down our South Philadelphia street for many years, and he’s gearing up for Spring and Summer, 2022. He gets his plants from all over and doesn’t know what a lot of them are until they come up. Others, like the lily pads, he brings back year after year. I made an attempt to identify the plants this year and had a little success. But this is just the beginning. He’ll be planting more as the months go on, creating a wonderful urban oasis in the midst of asphalt and the steamy sidewalks of a South Philly summer.

Lilly pads

Purple pansy

I think this is a Clementine tree

Princess flower

Garden pansies

Gardenia

Areca palm

Corpse flower. This one is pollinated by flies and it STINKS when it’s in full bloom

Allium flower

I couldn’t identify the three remaining plants, although Google tried to tell me that the one below was grapes. I don’t know much, but I know these are definitely not grapes!

I thought this might be a chlamydia until a friend informed me that that was the name of a sexually transmitted disease and not a flower.

I am dying to see what this one looks like when it blooms. Maybe it is some kind of tulip.

If you’d like to see pictures of the garden in years gone by, press here.

Art That Infuriates People

I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently with my friend Christa. I like to look at art with Christa because she knows so much and has such an interesting perspective (the same reason I like to watch movies, which can be anything from Mad Max to Macbeth, with my husband.)

I’d heard of Cy Twombly, but didn’t know much about him. I still don’t know a whole lot, but I learned that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to one of Twombly’s major works. Fifty Days at Illiam. We saw the series of ten paintings after seeing the fifty-year retrospective of Sean Scully. Scully’s work was technically and artistically brilliant, but I found it lacking in emotion. Perhaps this is just me because apparently, Scully “sees art devoid of emotion as dishonest.” But what is art supposed to mean anyway?

When we entered the room that houses Fifty Days at Illiam, I saw nothing but emotion. We all know the story of the Trojan war and the story of Achilles who was so incensed when Trojan Prince Hector killed his besty Patroclus that he lost all control. Fifty Days at Illiam captures frenzy that led to a chain reaction of violence that ended with eternal night.

Shield of Achilles
Achilles wants vengeance

How’s that for emotion? Red and black and images that could pass for male genitalia or cannons depending on your point of view. Probably the former since this was the Trojan War and not the War of 1812.

Compare this battle scene with this one. Achilles kills Hector, Paris kills Achilles and havoc is unleashed.

Like a Fire that Consumes All Before It.

You can see all the paintings here, and learn more about Cy Twombly here.

Now I have heard that a lot of people don’t get Cy Twombly. Maybe because some of his materials included crayons, glue, and house paint, and he scribbled across his canvas. People probably say, “I could do that.” Maybe. But they didn’t. Or if they tried, their work didn’t have the color, the emotion, the audacity. John Waters said, “Cy Twombly is my hero because in the beginning his work so infuriated people.” Twombly’s work doesn’t infuriate me. It moves me.

ArtSci Designs

I made my way to the home of ArtSci Designs this weekend for an open house and to see the beautiful polymer jewelry that my friend Terri makes in her Conshohocken studio.

Terri is a scientist who spends most of her days looking at the microverse through a scanning electron microscope. She translates the microverse into art you can wear. Here are just a few of her creations: bracelets in a color for everyone. She makes other kinds of jewelry, too-earrings, pendants, and necklaces mixing in sterling chains and findings, semi precious gems and handmade glass beads.

Terri has a lot of shows scheduled in the Northeast in the coming months. Follow ArtSci Designs on Instagram here, or Facebook here, to see where she’ll land next.

Why Are There No Great Female Artists?

I hear the question, “Why are there no great female artists?” less these days than I used to. That only means one thing to me: That it’s less socially acceptable to ask the question than it used to be. Instead, we ask “Who are the most famous women artists of all time?” That’s not the same thing as asking who are the greatest, or best women artists of all time. I am sure there are plenty of great women artists we’ve never heard of. Do we equate great artists with famous artists or vice versa? And what makes a piece of art famous anyway? There’s a great New Yorker cartoon captioned, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. As for me, I like art that challenges me, engages me and draws me in. I don’t have to think it’s pretty. I don’t have to understand it, at least right away.

What passed for art education in high school taught me that African Tribal art was primitive and that Cubism was sophisticated. I know now that that’s hogwash, but it was really driven home to me when I saw an exhibit of the work of Emma Amos at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which had one of her works entitled “Muse Picasso.” I didn’t get a good picture of “Muse Picasso” when I was at the museum, so I Googled the term for an image. Here’s what my search turned up. I love Picasso, but there was nothing about Amos’ work. Bupkis.

I was expressing my frustration to Beading Yoda, when she told me that Amos had been a neighbor and close friend of hers when they both lived in Greenwich Village years ago. Beading Yoda had suspected that Amos was a member of the Guerrilla Girls and later learned that she was. I remembered that I’d seen an exhibition on the Guerrilla Girls at the Tate Modern in London. I did manage to get a good picture of this poster.

I will post about the Emma Amos exhibit in the coming weeks, and about another great exhibit of Suzanne Valadon’s work I saw at the Barnes Foundation. While you’re waiting, here are posts you might find interesting, on Mildred Greenberg and Christina Robertson.

Polymer Clay Videos on YouTube


I have gotten back into polymer clay after a couple of years on hiatus. I’m always looking for new polymer clay ideas and YouTube is loaded with polymer clay tutorials. So every night, after my husband has gone to bed, I pour myself a glass of wine and Boris and I plop in front of the TV and troll YouTube for new videos.

The problem with YouTube is the algorithms it uses can actually limit the videos is recommends to you because of the way the algorithms work. I am not going to pretend that I know how to beat the algorithms. What I have found, however, is that if you subscribe to any channel with videos that interest you, you will get a wider variety of new recommended videos in your feed. Subscribe to the channels for those videos and you will get an ven wider array of recommendations. And on and on.

I have finally started to get new (to me) polymer videos from Europe and Asia which, while not always in English are easy to follow, and sometimes subtitled. Lots of interesting stuff. Here’s some stuff I’ve found.

Donna Kato has a new channel and is adding new videos to it steadily. Much of the material is basic but she presents it in the inimitable Kato way and you always learn something new. The video below is part of a series on how to make hollow carved beads.

Sona Grigoryan from Spain

Ludmila Bakulina, Ukraine by way of Thailand

From Sandartes, hollow translucent beads. I always wanted to know how to color translucent clay without making it opaque. Now I know.

Watch a few videos and get your creative juices flowing.

What Every (Orange) Cat Wants for Easter

Boris is all ready for Easter but he is not too particular about his holidays. If Easter eggs were not available, I know he would heartily sink his little fangs into some Gefilte fish. Boris practices Omnism. All cats do. Especially when it comes to food.

Boris wishes you a happy happy Spring no matter how you celebrate it. Here’s hoping you find a nice surprise in your litter box!

Some New Polymer Clay Products to Try

People are always asking me what’s the best polymer clay to try, where can I get ideas for polymer clay projects, where can I buy polymer clay, and what are the best polymer clay tutorials?

The best polymer clay for you depends on what you’re using it for. Everyone knows that Sculpey III is soft and not very durable when cured. But it comes in a rainbow of colors. It’s best suited for children’s projects.

Cernit is becoming more popular in the United States and for a good reason. The array of colors are stunning, and it is sturdy and beautiful when cured properly.

Kato Polyclay is known for its strength and ability to hold its shape making it ideal for caning. I’ve used Kato clay in the past with great success. It can be a little challenging to condition, but the results are worth it.

I generally use Premo Sculpey which is durable, flexible, and very strong when properly cured. I blend my own colors, although they do have a large number of colors for people who don’t care to mix their own.

You end up with scrap when you work with polymer. There’s really no such thing as “waste clay” because everything can be used. But sometimes I forget to separate my colors (here’s a video showing how that’s done) and I end up with a lot of mud.

So I was thrilled when Donna Kato announced a new product, Kato Blackout Clay, at Clayathon. (Here’s the video.) Blackout clay turns any color of polymer clay to black. I’m always using black. I was excited!

But was there a problem? Like I said, I use mostly Premo which cures at 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Kato clay cures at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. How would the blended clay hold up if I mixed them together? My friend Patty came over the other week and mixed up a bunch of clay and we tested. Here are the results.

We mixed Kato Blackout clay with Premo. The Kato was 12.5% by size. (I trust Patty on this. She can recite Avogadro’s Law from memory. And it’s been a long time since high school.) She cut out 1 1/2 ” circles of thicknesses ranging from #1 on my Atlas pasta machine (about 1/8″) to #9 (thinnest setting). We baked them on a tile at 275 F for an hour, let them cool, and then I tried to destroy them. I could not.

As you can see, I was able to bend each circle almost in half. I don’t have a picture of the thinnest disc, but believe me, it didn’t break. I don’t recommend you do this with all of your clay, but I wanted to see how well the Premo and Kato Blackout clay worked together. The answer is, “just fine.”

I also tried a little of the Kato Liquid Gold clay. I smeared some on some previously-cured Premo clay and liked the effect.

You can buy Kato Blackout Clay and Kato Liquid Gold here.

Inspiration: How to Get It.



Sometimes children get crazy notions into their heads. I had a friend who swore that there was a city called ”Random” in upstate New York where contest winners were picked. (“Winners will be selected at random.”)

My personal crazy childhood belief was that every song had already been written, and that it was impossible to compose a totally new song. I know now that this isn’t the case, but I could not imagine that anyone could invent any new music beyond that which already existed. It had all been done.

But I also know that there were times in popular music history (for one example), when all music started sounding the same until a visionary or a visionary movement came along and blew up the paradigm. Until someone shakes things up, we get mired in the same old same old. It takes a a new way seeing and hearing to move upforward. And openness and a willingness to explore. If you want a concrete example of this has happened in the past, watch the segments on David Bowie in Apple TV’s documentary 1971: The Year That Changed Everything.

It can seem impossible to come up with a fresh design that works on all levels. We have all been subjected to brutally over-designed fashion masquerading as something new. As for me, I have been struggling the past few weeks with trying to come up with some new earring designs that are unhackneyed, original, and my own.

Where are you supposed to get inspiration? Everyone recommends searching Pinterest, but I have a problem with that. I don’t think it will help my cause to look at countless pictures of earrings. Sure, I can copy someone else’s designs. But without getting into the moral/ethical dilemma copying debate, (a topic that I think has been done to death and needs to be put to rest, ) after I have learned a technique, why on earth would I want copy someone else’s work? I want to be more than a technician. That’s the goal. So the question becomes where to find inspiration.

Picasso is known for saying that good artists copy and that great artists steal. What does this mean? Does it mean that great artists commit copyright infringement? I don’t think so. Let me explain. Two artists who ”stole” to great effect were Antonio Gaudi and Elsa Peretti. How did they do it? Here’s a clue: Polymer artist Kathleen Dustin says that part of her job as an artist is to pay attention.

Gaudi and Peretti paid attention. Here are two videos that show how they did it.

How many of us truly pay attention? I am going to start working on it.