Exuberance meets understated

Show pal and all around crazy gal, Wendy Baker, makes the most fantastic, colorful over the top jewelry of hand painted vintage flowers and costume jewelry components.  I make minimalist, understated polymer clay pieces.  Totally different, right? Well, maybe not.


 A couple of weeks ago Wendy and I were both showing at the Brewery during JP Open Studios (lots of free samples right next door at the Sam Adams Brewery - alas, we were too busy to sample the wares...).  I traded a pair of earrings for a handful of her small flower components.  I was planning to hold off using them until my creative play-time during the winter, but I couldn't resist.  Here are a couple of window pendants I made incorporating Wendy's cute vintage flowers:


Who says exuberant and understated don't mix?

WorkTable Wednesday

Today I bring you a photo of the bulletin board over my worktable.  Like all bulletin boards, it has both useful and not so useful stuff:


  • Maggie Maggio's color pyramid and color scales - priceless!
  • Inch-millimeter-gauge chart.  Not used much anymore since I'm working less with metal. 
  • Expired Trader Joe gift card to scrape clay off the floor.  A broken wood skewer to clean pasta machine.
  • Assorted scraps of paper with color recipes and technique notes which I hardly ever look at again.
  • Roller. 
  • Slicer.  If I caned, I'd use it all the time.  But I don't cane so I'm not sure why I still have it there.

Finally, a photo of a Jil Sander outfit from a couple of years back.  I have it there to remind me of my design style.  Polymer is so versatile that it is easy to over-think and over-work.  The picture grounds me and always brings me back to a clean and spare aesthetic.

Surfing Etsy

Mixed media polymer is my thing.  I tend to use surface techniques instead of caning and always like to add a touch of metal to my work.  Customers love my silver framed pieces, so I'm still doing a few here and there.  But my favorite thing these days is re-purposing findings I find on Etsy into my work. Anything interesting is fair game, vintage or new.  Whatever I find is always cut, oxidized, dapped, twisted and never, ever used for its intended purpose.  Even bling works!  The cubic zirconia stud earring used on this piece was once shiny, sparkly and just plain awful.  But once oxidized, it works!


Here's the other stud in a window pendant;



 But wait! There's more. It never ceases to amaze me how many pieces I can get out of a few square inches of veneers and some re-purposed geegaws!



New earring designs

Earrings are difficult.  The scale is small, you're working in pairs and the engineering has to be right, including balance and weight.  And don't forget the earwires!  Why would anyone put a fabulous earring component on a flimsy commercial earwire?  Yet I see it all the time.  Earwires are an essential design element and should not be left as an afterthought.

Now that warmer weather is upon us, I'm back to my signature black and white Japanese stencil patterns.  It's amazing how contemporary these Edo period designs can be, considering that some are more than 300 years old!

   
 

My new shape for this season is a stylized lily pad.  Each pair has yummy custom mixed color on the back.  The wires are a slightly elongated classic french earwires and fishooks incorporated into the polymer.

Sealing polymer

I avoid sealing polymer whenever I can, preferring to sand and buff for a natural shine.  But a lot of my techniques involve surface effects with paint and ink transfers, so sealing is necessary to protect the finish. A couple of years ago I discovered PYMII and what a difference it has made!


It sprays on, so no more brush strokes and globs.  It dries quickly, so that you can apply multiple coats without having to wait all day.  And best yet, it dries to an even, glossy shine.  I've found that the trick is to put your piece back in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes to heat set the PYMII.  The result is a rock hard, durable and waterproof finish.






Here are some pieces sealed with PYM II:

Mexico Inspiration

I love the soft, mottled yellow found on some of the walls at the Hacienda Xcanatun. The yellow is always touched with a bit of black because of the humidity. I think it contrasts nicely with the matte black of the wrought iron work. I also love the way shadows play on the lush garden vegetation. There are also a myriad of colors, some bright and vibrant and others more muted. My yearly visit is always so inspirational!



Hacienda Xcanatún in Mérida,  Yucatán
A lovely lavender bloom inspired a color palette.
Lush greenery and textures translated into a contemporary, tactile piece.

A very special weekend

October 21 marks the opening of Terra Nova - Polymer Art at the Crossroads at the Racine Art Museum. Although several museums have polymer pieces in their collections, this is the first permanent collection of polymer art at a major museum. The collection has a companion book and will kick off with a weekend symposium. The polymer world owes a huge thank you to Elise Winters, whose vision and determination to have polymer acknowledged as an art form (and RAM's Bruce Pepich for recognizing it) has made this all possible. I wish I could be there, but I have shows to do. In a way, it is a fitting tribute - the fact that I can make a living creating with polymer attests to the power of this versatile medium!









The Stroppel Cane

It's amazing how an exciting new technique can catch on fire among the polymer world.  Ever since Polymer Clay Daily featured Alice Stroppel's new caning technique a couple of days ago, just about every polymerista the world over has tried it out.

And that includes me! Which is something, because caning is not my thing.  But I do have a lot of old canes from my very early days, and I love to use up my scrap.  So here goes:
Stroppel canes made from my old canes and scrap
The rather tribal/abstract result

JP Open Studios

Every year, from September to December, Boston neighborhoods celebrate their artist communities by hosting Open Studio weekends. My absolute favorite is the Jamaica Plain event. It is held amidst colorful Victorian homes, along funky Centre Street, at the Sam Adams Brewery complex, shops and churches and the many private studios around the neighborhood.  Since the event features over 200 artists, a handy dandy map is provided and they even have an iPhone app!

Eliot School
Jamaica Plain, or JP for short, is a vibrant, eclectic, and diverse neighborhood. Its tolerant atmosphere and bohemian feel has attracted hundreds of artists who have studios all over town. In addition, the Jamaica Plain Arts Council provides group space for artists who live outside the neighborhood. I usually set up on the lawn at the Eliot School, an arts and crafts school.
The Eliot lawn is a pleasant, tree lined space.  This year my neighbors included, among others, regular show pals Vicky and james of of Fine Art Color Photography, Amy of Bumble Belly Designs and Carolina of Recycled Glass Jewelry .  Kingsley Weihe of  KW Pottery did a fabulous job as site coordinator - and I added another fab KW piece to my growing collection!

My growing collection of Kingsley Weihe vases
First Snow by Bumble Belly Designs


Cobbled Bike by Fine Art Color Photography
A musical interlude ...
And a happy customer wearing her new Stonehouse earrings!

Variations on a theme

Variations on a theme are a time honored tradition in the Arts.  Variations also mean less waste, because all the material is used.  I even use the bits and pieces left over to make stud earrings that I sell for $5 at shows.  I want everyone who likes my work to leave with something, even if only a simple pair of studs!.

Organics!

Melanie Muir
Melanie West
Earlier this month I had a wonderful visit with good friends and fellow polymeristas Melanie Muir and Melanie West.  It was great seeing the two Melanies again - we had last seen each other at Synergy II over a year ago.  Both are masters at what they do - Melanie M's mokume technique is flawlessly executed and so evocative of her native Scottish landscape.  And Melanie W's Bio series is in a league all its own.  Complex and simple at the same time, and ever so tactile.  Both artists are intensely organic in their work.


Dale Chihuly at the MFA
And speaking of organic, the Dale Chihuly exhibit at Boston's MFA has to take the cake.  It is a jaw dropping series of large scale installations that defies the imagination.  Colors, fluid alien-like forms, forests of glass.  And did I mention colors? 
 
idea2lifestyle on etsy.com
After all that inspirational overload, I just had to play.  I've used mokume techniques off and on since I first started working with polymer, so I decided to try my hand at it again.  The natural feel of mokume coordinates well with the soft, flowing, ethereal feel of current fashion trends.





"Sun and Shade" brooch

"Botanicals" window pendants

Snails and Slugs

What do snails and yucky slugs have to do with polymer, you ask?  My city garden fights a losing battle every year to said critters.  I don't use pesticides, so I'm constantly on the lookout for natural controls.  A few years back, I bought copper tape.  Supposedly, it keeps out snails and slugs (something to do with positive/negative electrical charges).  I never got around to using it and it's been sitting around ever since.

Well, as polymeristas the world over already know, those of us who work in polymer are constantly on the lookout for stuff to use in our work.  Our medium is so new that it doesn't have a lot of established tools and materials.  We use pasta machines to sheet and condition, medical tissue blades to slice, coffee stirrers to make holes.  Not to mention knitting needles, tinfoil, packing peanuts, toilet paper rolls, sandpaper, screws and dirt.  

So when I ran across that roll of thin copper tape while cleaning out my garden supplies, I did what comes naturally:  I used it with polymer.  I cut thin strips, rolled and fanned it to make a flower and added a brushed copper disc.  I'll bet those snails and slugs are breathing a sigh of relief!

White on White

While at CraftBoston last month, I was mesmerized by Kathleen Dustin's new piece "White Pollen".  The piece, with its subtle tones and hints of gold leaf peeking out of the holes, is elegant, urban and so very chic.  The use of white also brought to mind Dan Cormier's "White Necklace", a masterful study in texture from a couple of years back.  

I've been doing a lot with color blocking lately - no subtle Skinner Blends for me these days!  I've also been doing a lot with textural and satin finishes.  Over the winter, I played with color and black,  but now that the warmer weather is upon us I want to lighten things up a bit.  Inspired by Kathleen and Dan, I've started to work on a new series of window pendants, adding pops of bright color to creamy white.  

"Grids" in lime, red and blue

"Grafitti"

"Bumps" in red

While on the subject of inspiration, I'd also like to share some refreshingly candid comments by Austin Kleon on creativity, originality and living the artistic life.

CraftBoston!

Last year I was thrilled to be asked to be an Invited Artist for the 2011 CraftBoston shows.  I've done a ton of shows over the last five years, but never any of the high end ones.  It seemed incredible (and still does) that I would ever be in the same show as Kathleen Dustin, Ford|Forlano, Bonnie BishoffKarin Noyes and Mary and Louann!  It was also very gratifying to see polymer's strong showing at CraftBoston, topped off by Kathleen Dustin taking home the Best of Show award!

My CraftBoston 2011 booth.  My home for 4 days!

Fortunately, I had lots of time to prepare. I thought long and hard about my display and decided to invest in ProPanels.  They've turned out to be very useful at all my indoor shows.  I took the full set to CraftBoston, but also use them in different combinations for other shows.  They are modular, so they fit into any kind of space.  The panels wiped out my display budget, so I made do with my folding tables, making new coverings out of a soft gray cotton.  I opted to go rug-less to keep the look rather stark and industrial.  I used gray chipboard on the panels as a backdrop for my work.  Twine necklace busts, wood pushpins and baskets add an organic touch. 

The show logistics were pretty much what I'm used to, just on a bigger scale.  Load in and out was super smooth, with walkie talkie organizers keeping things moving.  I had very nice neighbors, which is important since there's nothing worse than a cranky show neighbor.  The crowds were steady all three days, Saturday being the busiest.  Overall, I had a great show and hopefully will be accepted again next year!

My stuff waiting to be loaded into the car

View of aisle 200 during set-up

View of the main floor area right before the opening reception
Kathleen Dustin - Best of Show award winner!!

To wholesale or not to wholesale


That is the question.  And it's one I've struggled with for a while.  For some, the decision is easy.  They hate doing shows and love the ease of filling orders, shipping them off and checking off the to-do list.  Conversely, there's the artist who thrives on shows and much prefers selling face to face.

I'm a show groupie, no question about it.  As long as I can schlepp my stuff, carry 40lb weights and deal with the elements, I'll keep doing them.  For me, the wholesale dilemma is strictly a price point issue.  If you wholesale, your retail prices have to be consistent with those charged by the shops carrying your wares. Which means doubling your artisan direct price.  But will increased prices put off show buyers?  For me, the answer is yes.  I do mostly juried indie shows where it's important to keep the average price points around $30 to $75, so raising all my prices is out of the question.

After much deliberation, I've decided to test the wholesale waters again.  This time, I've created a limited wholesale line consisting of items that are cost/time efficient  and where my retail price equals the suggested retail price for wholesale buyers.  I'll leave the more complicated pieces and one of a kinds for my show customers.

Once the decision is made and your line designed, you have to put it out there. For starters, I've created a linesheet at trunkt.com, a beautiful site for handmade that aims to connect buyers and sellers.