Polymer Clay in Tokyo

I recently rejoined the International Polymer Clay Association after letting my membership lapse for a few years and I’m glad I did. The IPCA is sponsoring a host of online activities, including regularly-scheduled Zoom meetings, weekly letters from dynamic President, Amy Brown, and a Design Lab series where members can have their work critiqued and evaluated. A couple of weeks ago, Amy wrote about her experiences in Japan while she served the US Navy as a segway into an introduction to the Japan Polymer Clay Association. This really took me back, so I would like to share some polymer-related Japanese memories of my own.

Kaz Yamashita was one of the artists whose work was featured in Nan Roche’s The New Clay. Kaz was living in the Washington D.C. metro area, when the book came out, and splitting her time between the D.C. area and Tokyo.

Around the same time, my husband wrote a book that they really liked in Japan. So a Japanese business group offered to fly him and some other business consultants and writers to Japan to address a gathering of their organization in Tokyo. And here’s how I know how much my husband loves me. He traded his first class ticket for two tickets in coach so I could go with him.

Needless to say, I didn’t know anyone in Tokyo and have a hard enough time with English, much less Japanese. But I had heard there was a polymer community in Japan and I did some Internet sleuthing. That’s I found out about Kaz, who by this time was called Kaz Kono. I emailed her out of the blue, and even though she didn’t know me, she answered with her contact information, and an invitation to look her up when we got to Tokyo.

We met up with Kaz and one of her students before my husband’s conference started. They gave us the grand tour of Tokyo and we ended up in the family restaurant run by the student’s sister. The kind with paper screens where you kneel at a table, drink Saki, and the waitresses wear beautiful kimonos. It was quite an experience. When we got home, I mailed the sisters Navajo pendants I’d bought in an Albuquerque pawn shop as a thank you. I wanted them to have something that was truly American.

At that time, Kaz was teaching in Japan and in the Philippines. She also started a Japanese polymer clay group.

Kaz had an exhibit in a gallery and asked me if I was interested in seeing her work. Was I ever! But she was leaving on a flight to D.C. the next day and couldn’t go with me. So she wrote out directions to the gallery from our hotel. In Japanese. My job was to take the Tokyo Metro to a certain station, head in a certain direction, stop people on the way, show them Kaz’s instructions, and have them point me in the right direction. I am not sure about now, but in those days, the Tokyo Metro system had signs with station names in English, but not much else. And not a lot of people on the street spoke English. And it didn’t really help to have an address, because of the way the streets were laid out. Buildings were numbered in the order in which they were built and not their physical location. The first building erected on a block was numbered 1 no matter where it stood. Number two might be somewhere down the block. There was no GPS. None of this really bothered me, because I have a terrible sense of direction and have grown quite comfortable with it. Odd, but true.   So I had to rely on gestures, and the accuracy of Kaz’s directions. And the kindness of strangers.

My walk took me down side streets and twisty little alleys. I didn’t know where I was going, but I soldiered on, asking (gesturing really) for directions as I went.

Then I came to a dry cleaning shop, and showed Kaz’s directions to the woman behind the counter. I still remember her big smile. She even spoke some English! She asked me where I was from and how I liked Tokyo, and then led me out of the store, and walked me a half block to the gallery. As we parted, she called, “Have a nice day!” The one time when someone’s said that to me where I really believed they meant it.

I bought this pendant at the gallery.

I also got Kaz’s cane pattern book. I have never seen it for sale anywhere else, so I’m glad I snagged a copy when I could.

A few years later, Kaz visited Philadelphia with a couple of her students in tow. I asked Ellen Marshall to join us for lunch, and for a tour of the neighborhood which includes Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens just down the street. I had never met Zagar and the Magic Gardens weren’t open yet, but we just waltzed right in and he gave us a personal tour. The world’s smaller than you think.

A gift from Kaz’s students on their trip to Philadelphia

Be sure to check out the IPCA and click here to join.

A New Twist on Faux Techniques in Polymer Clay

Polymer clay can imitate just about any substance from turquoise, to amber, to red coral, to lapis lazuli, and just about any other stone you’ve seen. Beach glass, fordite, ceramic, and different metals. You can do it all.

Tory Hughes was, I believe, the first polymer artist to popularize faux techniques in polymer clay, first through her work, then through her videos, then in her book, Polymer – The Chameleon Clay (2002).

I tried most of the faux techniques when I first started working in polymer back in the stone age. (here’s an example), but I haven’t tried any of the imitative techniques lately. Then a friend gave me a lovely Southwestern silver cuff bracelet set with different colors of turquoise, onyx, coral and mother of pearl. Some of the stones had fallen out. Could I recreate them in polymer? Why not try? I don’t have any “before” pictures of the bracelet, but I am happy with how it turned out.

You can see that turquoise comes in many colors as does mother of pearl.

I used Premo translucent, white, and a bit of pearl and silver for the mother of pearl and a combination of a Premo blue mixture, green, translucent, and a smidge of black for the turquoise. I did my best to match the colors to the stones in the bracelet, baked them, and then trimmed and filed them to fit into the bracelet. I couldn’t bake them in the bracelet because the real stones are held in with epoxy which would have melted in my oven. Then I would have had to reglue all the stones!

Here’s one of the faux turquoise pieces and a tiny chip of faux mother of pearl that I glued into the bracelet with fresh epoxy. I roughed up the baked polymer and the metal as best I could before gluing. I left a dab of the mixed epoxy on my work table to make sure it cured thoroughly.

I hope my friend likes the results.

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.

Martha Makes a Slab

My friend Patty asked me if I wanted to participate in a craft fair with her. I said yes even though I don’t do many of these, and don’t even know if we’ll be accepted. I went into my workshop and pulled out a bunch of earring components I made a couple of years ago.

Bletch! I didn’t remember them being so ugly! I threw them all away before I took pictures. Good riddance. I decided to try my hand at slab making. Here’s some pictures.

Start with a slab
Add squares and cut strips
Add red dots
Blue slices look sloppy so out they go.
Get out the extruder!
Add dark blue snakes and some simple canes
Cover with parchment paper and smooth over
Cut out shapes. I’m also experimenting with making my own cutters. I’ll post more on this in the future.
Shapes
Baked shapes. Earring maybe?

A Trip Down Memory Lane in Polymer Bracelets.

The other day, I pulled the bracelets pictured below out of a cabinet in my workshop (where they have been gathering dust since before I started blogging, some time back in the Mesozoic era.) I realized that most of the teachers and artists who inspired the pieces might not be that well known today. So I’ve included some links in case anyone is interested in checking out artists like Tory Hughes or Gwen Gibson, or any of the other polymer pioneers no longer with us.

Sources: Chris Dupouy Creating Your Own Antique Jewelry: Taking Inspiration from Great Museums Around the World, Gwen Gibson, Tory Hughes, Polymer – The Chameleon Clay, Margaret Regan, Pier Voulkos

There’s no better source for the history of polymer clay art than the Polymer Art Archive.

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Diane and Patty at Post

January and February are the bleakest months of the year on my calendar. That’s why I’m happy to be able to reach back into the pile of pictures I took, and interviews I conducted last year, and bring a little color a bleary January. A highlight was Diane Litten and Patty Pickup’s stop on last years’ Philadelphia Open Studio Tour

I met Diane years ago and knew her primarily as an artist who fashioned sophisticated and unique earrings out of silver wire that she knitted on tiny needles. Alas, don’t have any pictures of these remarkable pieces.

I have learned since then that Diane considers herself to be primarily a fiber artist. She’s self taught, unrestrained by tradition, and influenced by whatever she finds interesting. Her work looks complex, but is deceptively simple, polished, inventive, and fun. This is no happy accident; Diane is not afraid to play with her materials to see how far she can push them. Something more of us should do. Here are some pictures.

Brooch and necklace with magnetic clasp
Display piece from a former show.

Here’s some links and info on Diane. Take a look at her Facebook page here. Follow Diane on Instagram here. Take a look at some work she did with Group Motion, here.

Patty Pickup is no stranger to my little blog. Her last appearance on the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours was with polymer artist Terri Powell (ArtSci designs.). This year, Patty was able to make it in person to Donna Kato’s Atlantic Clay Escape, and come home with some new skills and ideas. Here are some pictures of the results.

It looks like the Atlantic City Escape is going to be one of the last live polymer events we’re going to have for awhile. But a bunch of us, including Patty, are working hard to make Virtual Clayathon 2022 a reality.

Magnetic Clasp for Polymer

Here’s one of my favorite clasps for polymer necklaces. It’s a rare earth magnet, hidden in a side bead. You open the clasp by sliding the bead open. It’s strong and because it’s not located at the back of the neck, it’s not constantly under tension and in danger of opening. Who said that necklace clasps had to be on the back of the neck anyway? Put them where they will work. They should be either part of the design or blend in.

All of these beads are hollow except the black ones in the back, so the necklace is very light. It’s also comfortable to wear because the tube in the back rests comfortably against the neck.
And here’s the clasp. It’s not baked into the clay. I used black Apoxie Sculpt to fix it in place. That stuff is strong! I would have to break the bead to get the magnet out.
The clasp bead closed. I would have liked to have had no visible seam on the bead but that proved impossible for me. But I can say that so far, no one has been able to tell that there was a hidden clasp in the bead until I showed them.

for a great selection of rare earth magnets, try K&J Magnetics.

And a New Twist (for me) on Polymer

As the Irish playwright so aptly said, “The world is in a state of chassis.” I won’t go into it all-I am sure you know what I mean. I won’t say that WordPress has made it any better by choosing this time to introduce a new blog post editor. But I try to maintain a sense of perspective. I once shared a house with an older woman, and the night I moved in, I asked her whether there was a washer and dryer we could use. “No,” she replied, “but I lived Second World War in Soviet Union and believe me, you can get used to anything.” Hard to argue with that.

Fleisher Art Memorial‘s pottery studio will be reopening soon with new rules and procedures to keep us safe during the pandemic. And I am working with an incredible team of people to plan a virtual Clayathon for February, 2021. In the meantime, I am participating in the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild‘s online caning challenges and design challenges. Caning creates a lot of scraps. So I decided to use them and try my hand at making Torpedo beads.

You normally think of earrings when you think of Torpedo beads, so that’s where I started out. But then I decided to branch out and to incorporate non-polymer elements into the designs. I spent a lot of time last summer making fabric jewelry, and I had some gorgeous, vintage rayon embroidery floss in bright colors that was singing out to me. I used this to attach Torpedo beads to one another with the help of screw eyes.

It’s a bit tricky to knot the slick rayon floss securely, but I think I managed to do it with reinforced Surgeon’s knots.

Here are some more variations. And as I make more canes for the challenges, I’ll have more scraps to try. I’m also going to try some other fibers to attach the beads to each other. The sky’s the limit. And maybe I will even learn how to use this confounded block editor!

The Secret of the Paradox Cane

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post on how to make a Paradox cane, rather, it’s a post on how I learned an easier way to put together a Paradox cane.  Some background:

I have been having a ball these past few weeks trying out the various canes put forth in the cane challenges sponsored by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild.   We are given a link to a tutorial or a video on how to make a polymer cane.  We post the results on the Guild’s private Facebook  page and share what we’ve learned in online meetings.

The first cane challenge was the Paradox cane, a beautiful cane that lends itself to so many variations.    Here’s a picture of one that I made.

Paradox6 sided

Motley Woods has a good tutorial for making a Paradox cane, as does Polymer Clay Workshop on YouTube.  There are many others which I have not seen and a great many variations on how make one.  Meg Newberg’s tutorial on Etsy comes highly recommended.  You can purchase it here.  If I ever get back into serious caning, Meg’s tute is probably one of the first tutorials I would purchase because I’ve heard so many great things about it.

The Paradox cane patterns that I have seen consist of three  triangle components joined together and formed into a larger triangle which comprises the cane.  A big problem many people face when assembling a paradox cane is putting the three component triangles together to form a larger triangle.   After you select your clay, arrange it in accordance with the method you are using,  and form it into a square, you are normally directed to  form that square into a triangle, reduce it, and cut the triangle into three pieces to form the final cane.

 

And this is where the problem comes in. Most people think Equilateral  triangle when they think of a triangle, but that won’t work here with the Paradox cane.  Instead, think Isosceles triangle.  Like this. 4IsoscelesTriangle

From there, it’s easy to alter the triangle as per the instructions, cut the cane into thirds, and then fit the three pieces together into a triangle for the final cane.

 

 

 

ThreeIsocelesTrianglesTogetherForming Isosceles triangles enables you to bring the edge of each component triangle right up to the edge of the neighboring component triangle.  The sections in the middle are pinched into wave shapes that interlock and become solid when all the components are joined and compressed into a larger  triangle which forms the cane.

Paradox

And the cane is done!  From there, you decide how you want to reassemble and/or reduce your creation.Paradox 2 canes

 

 

 

Coming Together at Clayathon

Polymer artist Lindly Haunani is currently in the hospital with multiple severe injuries she suffered in a car accident last week. She is going to have a very long, painful, expensive recovery.

Lindly was scheduled to teach a class at Clayathon which started yesterday.  Her friend and collaborator Maggie Maggio is flying in to teach Lindly’s class for her.

The Clayathon participants have planned some extra conference activities in support of Lindly.

Watch the Creative Journey Studios website here   for exciting news about Sue and Ellen’s ambitious long term project, “52 Weeks for Lindly”.

Most importantly, Cynthia Tinapple has created a Go Fund Me page for Lindly here. Please support Lindly’s Page on your social media and email it to your contacts, and make a donation if you can.