Covering the Original Artistic Voice

Since there seems to be a lot of conversation about originality lately, I thought we’d focus on that idea for a bit this week (which is a great excuse to just bring the most stunning work I can find to post for you!) Finding your own original voice versus copying or following trends has been a point of discussion since Synergy 3 with the widely shared talk, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in the Age of the Internet given by Harriete Berman, to comments and links here, to other articles and posts making the rounds like this one regarding copying posted by Ronna Sarvas Weltman on her Facebook page over the weekend.  Originality is a very hard thing to teach. But awareness of what it is may be the first step in finding your own original artistic voice.

Covering objects with cane slices is in no way an original idea. But if someone did it for the first time today and for weeks after other people started doing it, would they be copying this innovative artist? Not necessarily. It is not the process or the skill that makes a piece unoriginal but the ability for a person to make what they see or learn their own personal expression (see Sunday’s post for the more in depth philosophical discussion on this). There are techniques, concepts and approaches to making art with your material of choice. Learned well, they become a skill. This will not make one an artist. It is what you do with it, how you make it your own, let it express what you see and care about. So … how can covering with cane slices be wholly original?

This frog is a Jon Anderson piece (see the Spring 2012 issue of The Polymer Arts for a gallery of his work and bio based on the only interview he has ever given.) It is completely covered with cane slices. However, every slice has been placed with purpose and as a way to express what Jon wants to portray about this creature and the colors and patterns he has been inspired by throughout his life.

jon anderson fimo tree frog-211cc


Jon chooses the patterns on his slices, the colors and the way he lays them out to emphasize the form of the frog as well to embody his sense of what is beautiful. He also embeds symbols such as the moth on the frog’s head that give you reason to pause and wonder what else this is about besides the frog. There are a few other artists that use the same patterned approach to covering forms with cane slices but I have never seen any of their pieces that could be mistaken for Jon Anderson’s. His approach is a reflection of himself, the individual, the original person that his life and experience has formed.

Who would you consider the most original artist that works in the forms, techniques and/or approaches that you do? (And it’s okay if you think it’s you. It may very well be!)

Mixing it Up … The Polymer Arts Summer 2013 Cover

This is always so fun for me. Putting out the cover of the upcoming issue. It means we’re almost ready to go to print! Plus it’s still just really cool to share it with you all.

The art on this cover is a collaborative piece by our prolific Christi Friesen and glass artist Sharon Peters. The two are featured in the “Mixing up Talent” article of the Summer 2013 issue.

13-P2 Cover-72


This issue is full of ideas for mixing things up in the studio, be it through mixing materials, experimenting with new inclusions, trying new types of objects to cover, making your own wire findings or, yes, merging your talents with someone else’s by collaborating. I can tell you, collaborating is such an eye-opening and energizing experience. Every issue of the magazine is one huge collaboration between all the great artists that contribute, my little helpers and myself. It has its moments–I won’t say that collaboration is always easy–but the rewards are tremendous and the results are thrilling.

The Summer issue print copies are scheduled to all be mailed out by May 18th, with the digital being released by May 20th. If you haven’t renewed, would like to pre-order the issue or are ready to start a subscription, you can do so on our website at

And if you are as excited as we are about the next issue, we’d love to have you share the cover. There are links at the end of this post to share through all kinds of networks. (If you are getting this by email, just click on the post’s title and it will take you to the post page for sharing and comments!) Thanks!


Earlier this week I received an email from one of our readers, Dara Meunier who came across an article and quote by Luann Udell that she thought we all might enjoy …

“Take what speaks TO you; tranform it into what speaks OF you.”

I had to wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Whether we are cognizant of it or not, our art is a translation of the things we see and experience in this world, things we found that spoke to us in some way. Udell’s article is about this translation in the context of looking at other people’s art work. We see other artists doing something we really like and find ourselves inclined to want to either create the same work or do something quite similar. Of course, that pushes us towards the deep, dark realm of copying but not only that, it influences our own personal voice, the source of originality we could be instilling in our work.

I think looking at other polymer artists is important to expand our view of what is possible and as a means to inspire and motivate us. On the other hand, I do agree that we may let what we see influence us too greatly or more precisely, too directly. The art we find we would like to try our hand at should not be translated through just our skill set–that’s not really translating but more copying within the limitations of what we are presently capable of–rather we should filter inspiring work through who we are, our spirit and our particular view of the world. Let what you do “speak OF you”. Otherwise it is not art, as art by definition is personal expression; recreating someone else’s object of expression is just fabrication, nothing more, and certainly nothing that is uniquely you. And showing the unique you is where the true beauty of a piece will come from.

Jump over to Luann Udell’s very honest and down to earth article about these ideas.

Thanks, Dara, for sharing this with us.


Through a Stone Clearly

In this last post on translucent and polymer I thought I ought to touch upon one of the oldest ways to use translucent polymer… creating faux semi-precious stones.

I don’t know if there is any semi-precious stone we can’t emulate in polymer. There are so many options and with some of the new materials we now have–different types of inks, foils, and clays that weren’t available or known in polymer’s early days–it’s a wonder that there is not more faux stone experimenting going on. Not that there isn’t any. It may just be that I wish there was more. So you can just imagine how intrigued I was when I came across  Ekaterina Gamayunova’s experiments with a number of semi-precious stones. You can see some of the wonderful results she got in this composite necklace.




The allure of semi-precious stones comes from the the variation of color, texture and the way light plays through their layers of transparency. To emulate that effect we need similar layers of transparency which we get with translucent clays and liquid polymer. But we don’t need to just copy nature. We have available the boundlessness of our imagination which gives us the ability to make “stones” that nature cannot. Why not pink or red jade? Agate with square or hexagonal ‘rings’ or purple malachite? We can do what nature cannot. It’s like a nature and artist collaboration. How cool is that?

If you want to explore (or re-explore) faux semi-precious stones, you might want start by reading Ekaterina’s post on her LiveJournal page. She includes process images of her agate technique along with explanations of how she attempted to achieve different effects for different types of stone so you too can try making some of your own. Might be just the ticket for some stress-free play time in the studio this weekend.

Outside Inspiration: Glass–The Original Translucent

Of course polymer work in translucents has been heavily inspired by glass art. Glass was the original crafted translucent art material. Glass making can be traced back as far as 3500 BC but it wasn’t recognized as an important decorative art until the 19th century. So although glass art is not nearly as young as polymer, it is actually one of the younger crafts and a kindred spirit of sorts. There are many art glass applications that we have translated in polymer and other applications that were organically developed in polymer but look similar in approach to some types of glass work.

Take a look at this stunning vase by glass artist David Patchen …


What came to mind? Don’t tell me you didn’t wonder for half a second if this artist was influenced by polymer caning.  If it weren’t for that unmistakable deep, pronounced shine of glass, which polymer still can’t quite replicate, one can imagine this being made with translucent cane slices. So, okay, we can’t quite get that shine that permeates all the way through glass but on the other hand we could do similar work with much more intricate patterns.  That’s the advantage of polymer.

I’m going to have to leave it at that for today–so much to do getting ready to send the Summer 2013 issue of The Polymer Arts magazine off to the printer. But if you want to immerse yourself in some gorgeous translucent colors and get some ideas for creating patterning with canes from a master artist, take some time to look through David Patchen’s portfolio especially his vases. They’re just gorgeous.



Let The Light Shine Through

Although many of us may be mesmerized by the jewelry possibilities of translucent clays, we should not forget just how wonderful they can be on decor, especially pieces for which light is integral such as lamps, candle holders and night lights.

Below we have a beautifully detailed example of just what translucents offer when covering lighted decor. This is a lamp by Diane Dunville … created in 1998. (Yeah … we didn’t need no Pardo back then!)


The thing about lighted decor is that it needs to be designed for two different types of existence–lit and unlit. Obviously it’s gorgeous when lit from within but since it won’t always be on (one would think) it should be a beautiful object when unlit as well. Which is done here. Diane’s bold colors and a considerable consideration for the layout of the patterning should make this nearly as impressive a piece of decor in its unlit state as it is when illuminated from inside.

This is not just a covered object either. Here is the description of Diane’s work from the Polymer Art Archive post (written by Rachel Carren)  in which I found this lovely piece:

“Fascinated by glass art, Dunville created a series of lamps during the late 1990’s. After building a foundation of mesh, Dunville added layers of translucent polymer which were then textured and carved.   The results are a graphic and playful blend of color and pattern which make for bold, decorative surfaces when unlit and cast a colorful glow when lit.”



While Waiting for your Pardo Translucent Clay …

It’s funny how many comments and emails I got on Monday when I mentioned that I had untouched blocks of Pardo translucent clay in my studio. There is such a demand and yet so little available. I have had email conversations with a contact at Viva Decor but I never got a straight answer as to why its in such short supply or when we might expect to see it more readily available. So what’s a frustrated artist to do? As far as actually getting your hands on some, your best bet in the US seems to be getting on’s waiting list. (Is it any easier getting it in Europe by chance?)

In the meantime, I say go play with our other options. Pardo may be the clearest (so we’ve heard) but only in the clays themselves. The absolute clearest polymer you can work with is Fimo Decorating Gel. Although it can also be tough to locate in some places, it’s not impossible to get a hold of. (See our post last year regarding Fimo Gel and a false rumor; I listed places to find it.) You may not consider Fimo Gel to be a primary polymer to create forms with but with a little outside-the-box thinking, you’ll find you certainly can work with it as something other than an addition to the surface of clay.

Kathrin Neumaier has been playing extensively with both Pardo Translucent Art Clay and Fimo Gel, sometimes interchangeably. Here is a piece in Pardo Tranlucent clay (and what a fun piece!):


And here are basically the same forms but created in Fimo Gel:



So, yes, you can form pieces from liquid polymer and get a translucene as good if not better than with the elusive Pardo. And just think … there’s no conditioning!

The easiest way I found to work with liquid polymer as a form is to start out making sheets of cured lpc. You simply drizzle then lightly brush out the liquid polymer on a clean and very smooth, flat surface and bake it like that. A piece of tempered glass or polished sheet metal is an ideal surface. If you don’t have either, you can use a sheet of window glass (you can buy small panes at hardware stores or take the glass out of a picture frame) but you should put untempered glass into a cold oven and wait until it’s completely cooled before taking it out–rapid temperature changes can cause the glass to crack. (And tape up the raw glass edges with masking tape–let’s not cut ourselves!)

If the liquid polymer comes out of the oven still a little milky in spots wave a heat gun over it, keeping the heat a couple inches (50mm) away until it goes clear. (If you baked it on untempered glass, take it off the glass first.) Then you can cut whatever forms you want from that sheet. You can even add more liquid polymer to build it up or add color.

I would say about half the work I did in the first couple years I worked with polymer was created with lpc forms made this way and not just with Fimo Gel. After practicing for a bit, I could get any lpc to got completely clear. It just takes a little patience but its wonderful fun.

Kathrin has made all kinds of forms from liquid polymer including hollow beads and one piece collar necklaces. If you have the translucent bug, you need to take some time to browse through her Flickr pages for some inspiring ideas on what you might try while waiting for your Pardo.

Clearly Accidental Composition

Translucent layering is a wonderful way to add depth to a bead or, in the case of this piece below, a little polymer painting.

Roberta Warshaw isn’t too happy with this  polymer painting but I think she has accidentally ended up with a better design than she might have if she had been able to fully control the process.



Her process here includes marker ‘painting’ on the clay, layers of translucent polymer lamella (a technique using very thin translucent layers embedded with metal leaf as developed by Kathleen Dustin) and a little carving of the clay. She professes to have laid a layer of lamella the wrong direction thus losing the “golden glow”. She doesn’t say where this mistake is and I can’t see it or maybe the photograph doesn’t show it. Regardless, any misdirected layer is not affecting the end result in any negative way. And what is wrong with a glow-less layer? A little contrast between glow and no-glow could add dimension … an expanse of matte color among the glittering lamella sea. Sounds a bit dramatic but, hey, it’s true–uninterrupted shine will often have less impact than shine interrupted and contrasted with a little dull or subdued mixed in.

Her other disappointment was stated to be in her carving skills. The leaf stem on the left is wider than she intended. However, stop and imagine if the stem was as slim as the rest (see the photoshop version below). Do you see how it changes the balance and the movement in the piece?  In the one above, the heavier leaf on the left pulls the balance towards the outside and the stems going from a barely there slimness on the right to a heavy, robust leaf on the left suggests growth (which is often what we sense in a graduated scale of size … from small like a sapling to large like a full grown tree.) Between the pull to the side and the sense of growth, there is a feeling of movement, something more dynamic than the pretty but comparatively static feel of what I think she was after.



I can’t disagree with her on wanting more control with her carving. Even though I like the composition better the way it ended up, you can kind of tell the larger leaf was not intended, that the carving of it may have been worked over a couple times or was done with a heavy hand unlike the other two. Often, a large part of the beauty we perceive in a piece of art is the sense that the work done was wholly intentional and under the artist’s control.  You can have good composition, excellent color choices and an intriguing form but if it is created without skill, it is very difficult to enjoy the other aspects. Do you agree?


Mapping Translucents

This week I thought I’d focus on translucent clay. Why? Well, maybe because I was in my studio looking at the as yet unopened bars of Pardo translucent I ordered a while ago that I still haven’t had a chance to play with. I do love writing about polymer art but, sheesh, it’s keeping me out of the studio far too much lately!

So since it will be a couple more weeks before I can play with the translucent ideas in my own head, let’s talk about it. What is it about translucent clay that make it so special? Well, I would say it’s probably because unlike all our opaque clays, translucents are about playing with light. Whether it has been sculpted, colored or layered, translucent clay allows light to pass through it (in varying degrees) which can give forms interior shadows and dimension, make colors glow, and give a layered surface depth and added detail–all unique and beautiful effects.

Here is a pair of earrings by Agnès (aka Primatoide on Flickr) where the use of the translucent clay allows light to filter through the image transfers of a tiny map colored by oil paints. The images absolutely glow, making the earring look like small lamps.



Although the image of the earrings here is quite beautiful, there is one issue. Would these be able to catch the light when worn? If the wearer had short hair or hair pulled back it might. It’s hard to say. Light needs space to play through and around. Without the play of light what do these look like? My guess would be that there would still be a patterning of white and blue and the clever, stylish wire work the polymer hangs from make for an interesting overall form. But when working with translucents, it helps to consider whether light will be available to show off your design if its very much dependent on the viewer seeing the transparency.

We’ll touch on more ways to use translucents throughout the week as I work madly on getting the next issue of The Polymer Arts magazine together. I suppose I should warn you that I might be a little tired and my blogging might get a little silly but bear with me. I promise we’ll have lots of beautiful work to ogle so we don’t need to depend on my ramblings for entertainment.

%d bloggers like this: