Friday, April 12, 2013

Pretty in Pink

More Burlesque Blend pieces as I prepare to teach these upcoming workshops (yes, I'm anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive!) The interesting thing about this particular colour combination is how beautiful it looks on all types of skin. Pasty-white or deeply-tanned, this just glows.

The design in this piece works well for me. The asymmetry of the pattern in the focal piece keeps the necklace from becoming boringly symmetrical; the large amount of pink in the two pieces flanking either side of the focal element draw the eye away from the middle and up towards the face; the next two flanking pieces, with the diagonal patterning moving diagonally down and out stop the eye from leaving and pulls it back to the central elements.

The finishing details often get neglected because one gets so focused on the clay technique. In this case, although the pink is very cool, suggesting silver would be a good accompaniment, the metallic sparkle in the 3 central pieces is more muted and casts a bit of a gold tint, which knocks back the colour intensity in the polymer and also allows me to choose spacer crystals that are metallic gold-tone with a hint of pink interference. These crystals are flanked on each side by an oblong, faceted black crystal and this combination really enhances the sparkling feel of this piece.

To finish off the necklace, round black agates are used instead of crystals, keeping the focus in the main polymer area and providing a very comfortable feel on the neck. Notice, though, that it is not just a bland, monotonous strand of beads. These agates are broken up periodically with a pink/gold interference tube seed bead, again adding interest, but not detracting from the main attraction.

I'm working out more colour combinations for variety for the students. It's not logistically feasible to structure a workshop so every student can choose every element, but colour is very personal, and where possible, I like to provide that choice while maintaining limits on size, shape, pattern, etc., as seen here:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Studio Tip #5: Slicing a Round Log

I'm up to my eyeballs preparing for the upcoming workshops that I'll be teaching over the next 4 weeks! In the meantime, here's a short video to show you how I slice round canes/logs, keeping them from flattening out on the bottoms or from squishing them. If your clay is very soft, let it sit for about 20 minutes before you slice (I must admit, I never have that amount of patience!) Polymer clay is "thixotropic". That means, like yogurt and acrylic paint, when you work it it becomes thinner, but when it then sits for a while, it firms up again (to varying degrees). Sorry about the music - I always have it on in the studio and consciously don't notice - it's that much a part of my creative process, lol.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Polymer Clay 101 - Chapter 1: Think Wax!

I have decided to post a series of basic information in addition to my regular posts.

This is the beginning of a monthly (hopefully!) series of posts that are intended to give you my experience with polymer clay and my observations of this unusual medium, from the bottom up. I would like to help new clayers to understand the medium, to become familiar with its quirks, so they can concentrate on creating, not getting bogged down because of "failures" due to technical problems. I'm a firm believer in there being no mistakes in creative endeavors, but it's heartbreaking and frustrating to have your efforts end up broken, burnt, or otherwise useless. This is meant solely to offer my lessons learned, observations made and conclusions drawn during my 24 years' progress as a polymer clay artist.

1: I don't think of polymer clay as "clay". It does not act like earthen clay at all. I have come to think of it in terms of "wax" as it behaves similarly to wax, and this reminder helps me when I'm working absentmindedly and not getting the results I would like. Wax softens with heat. So does polymer clay. I often pack the clay into my clothing before starting a day in the studio, and this warms up the clay safely. That does not mean warming up the clay results in "conditioned" clay - it just helps with the conditioning process. The clay still needs to be thoroughly mixed to redistribute component chemicals and yield a good, strong, final product.

Earthen clay takes an impression quite easily. Wax does not, neither does polymer clay, especially if it is not warm, soft and pliable, so there are several things you can do to help it warm up. Friction transfers kinetic energy to the clay, thus warming it a bit as you roll vigorously across the surface with your acrylic rod. Putting hard pressure does not do much to help. Think of putting pressure on a wax candle - see? Warming up your instruments (pasta machine, tile or glass work surface, etc. will help, mainly because these items tend to be cooler to the touch and suck the heat out of the clay as you work on it! So warming these up with a hairdryer (or a heating pad) before you start working, really helps.

Speed also impacts on the results. Unless your polymer clay is very warm, soft and pliable, you need to affect it slowly in order to achieve good results. For example, the images below show fairly softened clay run through the pasta machine rolling slowly (#1 - on the left) vs rolling quickly (#2 - on the right):
please click on image for larger picture
These pieces were conditioned, the same size, rolled on the same setting on the same pasta machine, using the same rubber stamp. The difference is due to the speed of rolling. Rolling slowly allows the clay to "yield" to the pressure and conform to the stamp shapes whereas rolling quickly causes a wave of clay to move ahead and the impressions are not as deep and are quite distorted.

Thinking of polymer clay as similar to wax helps to understand other things that happen. For example, translucent clay has a property known as plaquing - forming small, flat, roundish discs below the surface when baked. This is a wonderful quality when you want to mimic jade or some other stones, however, it can be a nuisance when you don't want it. The reasons for this occurrence are not fully understood, although some feel it may be moisture from your hands that contributes to it happening. In watching what happens when I run translucent clay through the pasta machine, it became evident that rolling too quickly tended to trap minute amounts of air in the clay, which looked like small, whitish striations barely visible below the surface. Rolling slowly, this did not happen. I feel that this is another situation where rolling quickly doesn't allow the clay to conform to surface differences, whereas rolling slowly does, and it gives the clay time to fill in depressions and air does not get trapped. This seems to be particularly important in translucent clay which, for some reason, seems more waxy than pigmented clay.

'nuff said! Please feel free to leave feedback.