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.

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?

Syd Carpenter

I went to an exhibition at Rowan University Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago to see an exhibition called Earth Offerings: Honoring the the Gardeners, that featured the ceramics and mixed media of Syd Carpenter

Mother Pin Transitions.
Clay, graphite, water color, rototiller blades.
Farm Bowl with Chicken.
Stoneware

Press here for more information on Syd Carpenter and the work in this exhibition which closes on March 26, 2022. If you can’t make it in person, you can take a virtual tour by video here.

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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Clayathon Online 2022

A lot of planning went into Clayathon 2022. We had an incredible team of volunteers who worked together seamlessly, who supported one another, and made it happen. With registrants exceeding 450 this year, I was concerned about how we would handle them all on a Zoom meeting. But there were no problems. Everything and everyone came together.

The sense of community was palpable. Although most Clayathon registrants came from the United States and Canada, a number of registrants from Russia, who came to us via polymer artists Juliya Laukhina and Olga Guseva, joined us. It seems surreal in light of recent events that less than two weeks ago we were together online sharing tips, techniques, and talking about our personal histories and sources of inspiration.

From Juliya’s presentation
From Olga’s presentation

Donna Kato and Anna Ko of the Van Aken Clay Company dropped by to show off some exciting new products. Their video just went live on YouTube and here’s the link.

Wendy Moore joined us live from Australia where, aided by Kathleen Dustin and Cynthia Tinapple, she educated us on the history of Samunnat in Nepal, which is an organization dedicated to empowering Nepalese women who have experienced violence or abuse to become financially independent. One of the programs Samunnat sponsors is teaching women to make and sell polymer jewelry. You can support this wonderful program by buying some of this jewelry for yourself. More information here.

The Gathering grew out of an interview of polymer artist Debbie Jackson by Cynthia Tinapple after the murder of George Floyd. Debbie issued a call to action and assembled a group of 14 polymer artists, 7 white and 7 black. They met weekly on Zoom to have hard, unflinching conversations about race, society, and the impact it had on their lives and art. In October, 2021, they opened a group show, Truth Be Told, at the Two Villages Art Society Gallery in Contoocook, NH. For the exhibit, each artist chose a word that she felt related to the topics discussed in the conversations and created a piece of polymer art around it.

Several of the Gathering artists joined us online at Clayathon to discuss the exhibit and their contributions to it. It was a moving, challenging presentation.

Syndee’s New Tips and Tricks

We ended Clayathon on a lighter note with an entertaining presentation by Syndee Holt on what’s new on the polymer horizon and what’s trending in general.

I wrote about Loretta Lam’s incredible presentations in last week’s post. If you are interested in purchasing her jewelry or her book on jewelry design (which I heartily recommend,) press here.

Progress Not Perfection: Clayathon 2022

Clayathon 2022, which took place online from February 19 through 21, was a smashing success. I’ll write more about Clayathon in the coming weeks, but if there’s one take away, it came from our guest artist Loretta Lam who presented six hours of content, guiding us through her creative process: Inspiration, Process and Intention on Saturday, Color, Pattern and Form on Sunday and Veneers, Finishing, and Assessment on Monday.

Learning design principles and consciously integrating them into my work has never been easy for me, which brings me to something Lam mentioned during her workshop, and I paraphrase, if you are having a hard time grasping a concept, acknowledge the possibility that you might be fighting it.

Part of the on line chat discussion during the workshops dealt with the question of how long you have to work at something in order to learn it. We are all familiar with the claim that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. But during the discussion, Artsy-Sciency recommended a Ted Talk by Josh Kaufman, that gives a different point of view. I’m not going to repeat what Kaufman says when you can learn more by watching the video here.

One thing that struck me was that Kaufman repeated something that Lam touched on during her presentations at Clayathon, and which I firmly believe is true.

The major barrier to learning anything new is not intellectual, it’s emotional.

Designing Earrings

I’m still experimenting with dark annealed steel and bronze. i decided to make some earrings. Normally, I draw out my designs first. This time, I went straight to the metal.

I made some leaf shapes in 16 gauge wire that I planned to wrap with 28 gauge wire.


That didn’t go very well. Steel wire is stiff and hard to control. i will have to work with it more before I get the hang of it. On to plan B.

I wanted to add interest and contrast to the earrings with bronze. i tried some washers and jump rings to see how they hung. i didn’t like this result.

This looked better, but I didn’t think I could find a good solution for the other end for a post or an ear wire.

Better, but didn’t want to tackle soldering brass to steel. And the washer started to look clunky to me. I decided to solder some steel rings onto the leaves for added interest.

Trying different places for the jump rings.

This is how I ended up soldering the rings to the leaf shapes. Still don’t like the look of the washer. Too thick and clunky next to the steel wire.

i found some square wire bronze jump rings in this short chain I madw that I thought would be more compatible with the steel wire.

And here’s how they ended up. The ear wires are not visible when you wear them. Soldered posts might be a better solution. I think I will try that on my next pair.

Bronze and Steel Bracelets

I’ve been fooling around with annealed steel wire. I love the look of oxidized silver paired with gold, but it’s too expensive. So I’ve been experimenting with dark annealed steel wire and bronze for the same look. Aside from  Brenda Schweder’s book Steel Wire Jewelry Techniques and Inspiration, there’s not a lot of guidance on working with dark annealed steel wire.

16 gauge ferrous wire is much thicker than 16 gauge copper wire

One thing I learned the hard way: your basic AWG wire gauge, the kind we typically buy when we start to work with wire, measures non-ferrous wire only. Metal gauges are different for ferrous and non-ferrous wire. That means the gauge you use to measure silver and copper won’t give you an accurate reading for dark annealed steel wire which will mean trouble if you order online. You can buy a ferrous metal gauge here.

I’ve been fooling around with bronze metal clay for a while. It looks good incorporated with dark annealed steel wire ( I’ve used 16 gauge here, which is as thick as 14 gauge copper wire and very stiff.) I’ve experimented with chains, but bracelets are fun to make because they are limited projects and a good way to try out a technique before you attempt something more elaborate. I learned that you can solder the wire, thanks to Brenda Schweder’s great video on Facebook. I don’t try to soften or anneal the wire, but I’m learning how to move and shape it without damaging my tools or hands. I’m learning as I go along. Here are some pictures.