This past week, the past had to wait for the present. All the pix I downloaded of my polymer clay work were on a computer that was stuck under a piece of plastic while the plasterer repaired our walls. The plaster guy is now gone, and I am typing at the desk in the middle of the room (the painter is due next week, no sense in moving everything more than we need to). So here’s another peek at my pre-welding days.
I always loved pushing the boundaries of polymer clay. It is a relatively new material (developed during WWII I believe) and so many of the things that I did with it were absolutely original. Even then, my interest in basket weaving was apparent, as was my love of color. Polymer clay comes in many vibrant colors and it was always a joy to have the immense range of saturated color at my fingertips. (The polymer clay baskets were all about 10 inches tall.)
This first basket was inspired by Kari Lonning and her bird nest baskets.
These next three baskets were the beginnings of my conceptual period although I didn’t really know it at the time. With each one I have started a story and encourage the viewer to finish it in their own way.
By showing these, I’m hoping you can see the workings of my mind that led me to create these sculptures out of steel and natural fibers 15 years later…
I am in the process of doing some deep cleaning in my office because we are getting plaster repair and painting done in the next couple of weeks. One of the things I am going through is the plethora of CD’s that have been sitting on my desk for years. Last night I looked through one that was a photo backup from 2006. On it I found a bunch of pictures of my polymer clay life. (This was the life that occurred before my welding life when my studio/gallery was called Winter Moon Designs.) I have not posted too many of these pix, simply because I don’t have them hanging out on my computer. So I thought I would start to share them with you and in the process have fun looking at them again myself.
This group of pix is of the small furniture that I would make out of polymer clay. I spent hours in Barnes and Noble poring over contemporary furniture magazines and books. I “borrowed” catalogs from different furniture stores. To me, a chair or sofa is not just an object but a vignette of my life. To this day I have several reading chairs and ottomans around the house, usually draped with lap blankets. I love ending the day with a good book (or two or three). Of course when I made these I didn’t need reading glasses, but now…they are a necessary accessory.
The furniture started with a tin foil armature covered in leftover ground up clay. I would work this clay into the shape I wanted then carefully cover it with the “fabric” trying to keep the air bubbles to a minimum. Books, pillows, mugs, trim and blankets were added then the piece was baked. Wire glasses were added afterwards.
Dimensions are variable but to give you an idea, the longest (green striped) sofa is probably about 7″ long.
My life as an artist is changing…again. The layers are peeling away…
My career started lo, these many years ago, by a simple purchase. In 1990 I bought a starter pack of Fimo*. My niece had a pair of earrings that she made and I wanted to make some too. So I started working with this funny colorful clay and made myself a pair of earrings. I wore them to work and someone else wanted a pair. My first sales as a crafter/artist was for something like $5. And my career began. Just like that.
Throughout my 13 years in the polymer clay/craft world, I upped my game. Pushing the limits of the clay I would make reptiles and amphibians, pull toys, christmas tree ornaments, woven baskets and 2D art pieces amongst other things.
I sold them at craft shows, eventually moving my way up to the ACC wholesale shows in Baltimore. I filled orders for contemporary craft stores around the country. I began to wonder if there was more to life than making a product.
The next transition began when I took a class in metal fabrication in 2003. I had no idea what I was in for. The first day the teacher turned on the oxy-acetylene torch and I was petrified. Then we got to the MIG welding day and I was hooked. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
By the spring of the following year I had finished my orders, closed up my polymer clay business and found a welding studio. The next phase of my career had begun.
Life-sized steel animals, stabiles, and abstract sculptures came to life and found homes around the country. I even won a few awards as I exhibited my work for the next 12 years. Pictures of my sculptures started showing up on Pinterest and Instagram. And I still wondered if there was more to life than making a product.
Throughout these 25 years I had occasionally stepped into the conceptual art world.
Making a piece that was a statement about how I viewed life would appear every so often, but for some reason, I could never immerse myself totally in this part of my creative process.
Perhaps I needed to live life a bit before I really crossed that threshold. Perhaps the stars needed to align. I think I also needed to connect with the art community in a different way. The residency in NY at the School of Visual Arts earlier this year definitely helped me to immerse myself in a new way of creating. For whatever reason, I am finding myself in the doorway of a third major transition. It is hugely exciting and petrifying. I am asking myself to really communicate what I think and feel about myself, the world and my place in it. I am using my brain in a different way, reading more, pondering more, trying to find the words to tell what my art is about. It is a challenge on a very different level than learning to weld or selling to store owners. For once, I am not worried about a finely crafted product. I am more interested in the message, the feeling (ugh, do I really have to deal with feelings?) or the story. I know that not everyone will “get” my sculptures, and that is going to be another hurdle for me to overcome, my need for approval from EVERYBODY.
As you can see by this garbled post, it is all so new to me and I am working it out slowly. And that is okay, because it is no longer about the finished product, it is about the process, MY process. And occasionally I will invite you all along for the ride…but if I don’t post any pictures of what I’m working on, you will know that I am really enjoying the process but I’m not quite ready to share it yet.
*Fimo (Other brand names include Premo and Sculpey) is a man made clay that is the same chemical make-up as PVC piping. It come with plasticizers in it to make it workable. After you create something glorious, you bake it in the oven.
It’s finished…the sculpture that has been hanging over my head for a while. It was, without a doubt, the most emotional creative process I have ever had, and I realized that it’s the first time that I have made something for my mother that she will never see. (Although if I think about it, I’m sure she sees it wherever she is…and loves it.)
The art in my daily life on Friday was the look on dad’s face when he saw it for the first time. He got this silly grin on his face and chuckled/giggled. On the elevator up to the second floor he said “It’s crazy…crazy good.” This is high praise from him. I know he really is tickled that the sculpture lives down the hall from him, and he is truly happy and proud to have named it…Ex Libris. Even though he really doesn’t remember asking me to make it last year, he is off and running with the sudden notoriety it is giving him in the retirement center. I’m pretty sure people are going to get really tired of hearing about it from him for he will have forgotten who he’s told. But it is giving him some happiness in the last years of his life.
Remember those frogs that I talked about way back when? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here for the post that I wrote. Otherwise, just keep reading.
Yup, I’m finally finished with the wall plaques. They came out fabulously and my customer loves them. They will be going up on the wall of the preschool for all the kids to enjoy and touch. It’s a weight that has lifted from my shoulders. During the course of making them things went wrong. I fixed them and then (of course) other things went wrong. It’s amazing that after working with a material for 20 years I am still learning (or even re-learning) about its limitations. I forgot how careful I need to be during the firing process; all of a sudden I added two hours of repair time to the project. I forgot that wood warps when heated and added another two hours to my project. I tried to get it perfect, but alas, it was not to be. Of course my definition of perfect is different than anyone else’s. It’s a damn good thing that nobody else can see the perfect finished plaque that is in my brain. However, the proof is in the reaction and it’s obvious that the plaques will be loved. The best reaction was from the little girl who is legally blind and immediately felt the lizard plaque, ending up on the braille word. Very cool.
Tonight I made two frogs. If you know anything about my past life, you’ll know that I have made quite a few frogs. And sold them. But tonight, after weeks of procrastination, I made two frogs. And I am thrilled.
Poison Dart frogs, polymer clay
The story started when I was asked to do a special project for the head of the pre-school at the local Community College. She wanted two plaques, one with a lizard and one with a frog. Each would be hung on the wall by the door of the two class rooms. Originally, she was thinking they would be out of metal, but I told her that my previous media was polymer clay which would be more colorful and probably safer and more long-lasting than steel. She agreed to this and I set off to the studio to become “Miss Professional Artist”. And that’s when I made my biggest mistake. I thought that I should come back to her with a design for each plaque and a cost sheet, broken down to materials and labor. I thought that she should have some idea of what it was going to look like when I finished. I thought that the less surprises, the better. Hummmph.
So I came up with two relatively easy designs, worked out the cost, did a couple of mock-ups of the background and a lizard. (After making hundreds of dozens of lizards in my wholesale days, I could whip this one out easily.) I brought the designs in and we agreed on the cost. And I went back to the studio and started to make the lizard. See, at this point I was still into the idea that I would work for the amount of hours I had stated, and that I would actually MAKE money on this project. Uh huh.
I finished the lizard, took a picture of it and sent it to the head of the school. It’s funny how, even without the benefit of non-verbal cues, I was able to pick up on her lack of enthusiasm. Or maybe I was projecting, because I wasn’t very enthused about it either. The result was that the unfired plaque sat on my piano for a month or more while I dealt with my open studio. And I was definitely resisting working on the frog, even though the design was clear. Basically, I was going to have to make a bigger frog, which I had never done, and somehow have a tongue shooting out to catch a fly. I was NOT excited about having to figure this challenge out.
Well, to make a long story short, I finally had a revelation. I took the lizard plaque off the piano and mushed it into a big ball and started all over again. This time, I decided to make it from my heart and not my brain. I let the muses remind me what colors I like to work with and comfortable ways of creating texture without losing the design. And it worked! In addition, the e-mail response was considerably warmer. And while my time budget has been blown to smithereens, I am so much calmer and happier.
Lizard Plaque, Polymer Clay
So now, I am making the frogs for the second plaque. You see, I have realized that this is not the time to experiment and play, this is the time to create what I know. It’s amazing how many times I have to remind myself of this. I should write in very big letters in my studio: “WHEN YOU ARE ON A DEADLINE, MAKE WHAT YOU KNOW. THERE WILL BE TIME TO EXPERIMENT LATER.” And that, my friends, is the moral of the story. Now if I can just remember it for the next project.
Let me know if you have had a similar experience when you have created a commission for someone!
Here are the latest pictures of my most recent sculptures that I finished in time for my open studio two weekends ago. Note: “Life on the Farm, A Delicate Balance” is actually a mobile. The shovel spins and as soon as I figure out how, I will attach a video of it in motion.
Autumn Gardening: polymer clay, wood, steel, yarn
Autumn Gardening; polymer clay leaves…detail
Auto Abstract: air filter, cable ties, miniature car