Outside Inspiration: The Humble Button Clasp

Today we’re just going to take a quick look and a well-deserved bow to a humble finding used regularly in seed bead pieces – the button style clasp. This is simply a bead or button that slips through a loop to secure it. It’s quite the popular clasp among seed bead artists for both necklaces and bracelets.

This bracelet showing a pretty typical button clasp is by Rachel of Balanced Crafts in Dublin, Ireland. This shows a button clasp that is really the central focus of the piece, one that contrasts with the even pattern of the beading, adding that focal point to bring it all together.



Here’s one more by bead artist Smadar Grossman. Looks somewhat like a toggle clasp, doesn’t it? The toggle and button clasp are essentially the same concept, only the entry point with a button clasp is a loop, and the back-up piece is the larger part of the pair.




Do these give you any good ideas? You can make the button from polymer, although you will need a cord, ribbon, or beaded loop of some sort to accomplish create this kind of clasp; but the cool thing is, the loop can be made basically invisible if the button half of the clasp is big enough. That way the button can become a focal point or a major component, without even drawing attention to its necessary function. Neat, huh?

Decorative Polymer Bails

If there is any pre-made finding that polymer versions replace as well as, if not better, I think it would be the bail.  Of course, many of us integrate polymer bails into our pendants and focal beads almost without thinking. But you can also create a stock of decorative polymer bails that can be used in combination with jump rings, or embedded in the clay as needed.

My most basic polymer bail stock had always been extruded hollow tubes in scrap clay. I would make them fairly thin-walled and bake them so I had sturdy base tubes to cover in my choice of raw clay, which I could then press onto newly created pendant pieces. Easy, quick, and made to match the pieces.

However, I have to say I was very intrigued when I found these polymer and wire combination bails created by Марина Горячих (translates as Marina Hot which may or may not be the best English translation).


Of course, I have a thing for the filigree work, but most any kind of decorative clay work would make for some interesting bails. She goes through the steps for making these bails on her LiveJournal page here – just replace or adjust the decorative filigree with your type of work. Definitely worth trying out!

Polymer-Only Linking

The one person who has probably spent more time than any other polymer artist exploring the possibilities of polymer-centric connections for jewelry is Maggie Maggio. Her architectural design background makes pondering the capabilities of a material almost inevitable.

One of her first experiments with polymer-only connections was the split ring. A roll of polymer is looped twice around and then baked to make split ring links.  This process of creating a ring of polymer that can be securely looped through other rings after baking creates beads that are not only beautiful and intriguing to work with, but are also really just a ton of fun to make. This Rose Chain is one of Maggie’s expanded versions of the polymer split ring, with an additional wrap of clay and added layers to create the fabric-like ruffles.




Intrigued by the split ring idea but haven’t tried it yet? Take a couple minutes to view Maggie’s split ring video tutorial.

Maggie has also successfully created polymer hooks and jewelry that wraps around the neck or arm, so that no metal or other findings are needed. Check out her other finding-less creations on her website, and follow her adventures in polymer and color on her Smashing Color blog.

Front Side Connections

Since I brought up polymer clasps yesterday, I thought I’d talk about a variation on that type of connection: the front side toggle, and derivations of it. The connection for a necklace does not have to be at the back. If you are making a piece with a central focal bead, why not make the bead a connectors as well?

One of my favorite versions of this is the almost  bolo-like polymer and filigree pieces Janet Pitcher creates for her Petal Pushers line of polymer jewelry. The focal bead is like the entry point half of a toggle; but instead of an insertion piece that will back up against the opening of the entry point, Janet creates weighted lengths of ribbons with beads created from the same petal canes as the center piece. The bead-weighted ribbons are threaded through the focal bead, and hang there as part of the design.



This is not, by far, the only option for front side connections. A really showy or beautifully done toggle type clasp can operate as a focal bead, or a large bead sliced in half with magnets in either half can be the central focus of a necklace or bead design. Just don’t relegate your beautiful connectors to the back of the necklace or bracelet if showing them off out front will make for a gorgeous piece of jewelry.

Polymer Connections in Toggle Clasps

This week I thought we’d do look at polymer fasteners – the connections and findings made from or dependent on polymer for their construction. One of the reasons I want to look into this is because of a new section in The Polymer Arts magazine called “Polymer Jeweler’s Workbench”. In this regular section we’ll be exploring techniques, ideas, and designs specific to jewelry created in polymer.

In the recently released Summer issue of The Polymer Arts, we feature combining wire findings with polymer; but one can easily create findings from polymer itself. Here is a straightforward example of polymer toggle clasp findings by Tina Holden.



The great thing about making polymer clasps is, of course, that you can make them to match the design of the piece using the same colors, textures, and motifs so the clasp becomes a integral part of the necklace or bracelet design, not just an add-on.

Tina is a very inventive and creative polymer artist. She shares many of her wonderful techniques through her tutorials which you can find on her Etsy and Artfire shops including one for the clasps you see here.

Trigger Experiences

I have long been a fan of Brian Eno, ever since I went to a sensory exhibit of his in Long Beach, California, back in my art school days. The huge meandering gallery space was in almost complete darkness but for these glowing, changing colors in variously constructed light boxes. His music played in the background, and you had to move about slowly because you couldn’t see that well. You could see the forms of other people, but that was it, so you weren’t distracted by any people watching or influenced by anyone else’s reaction to the work. It was ethereal, wandering through the dark space, watching these kind of light sculptures hover in the space around you. THAT was an experience, not a series of objects.

Now, I know we’re not likely to do anything quite so grand in the way our work is presented, but sometimes we can influence our work by simply thinking about how it is experienced by the person who ends up owning or viewing it: how it might relate to their life, how it would live in their home, or how it will feel to the wearer or make other people feel when they see it on that person. Our works are not just a series of objects. They are additions to our lives and the lives of those who end up with them. They can be experiences.




The Art of Subtle Variation

We’ve been talking about pushing variation all week. Pushing it usually means you are leaning towards an extreme, or at least a pretty good departure from the norm. But I wanted to correct that notion a bit. I do think swinging that pendulum to an extreme can be great for breaking through any creative barriers, but sometimes it’s the subtle changes that can really make a difference.

Little changes in your design elements can take something from still and calm to energized and exciting. I’m not say still and calm is bad, but changing the forms from what one might expect or varying them in a single piece can produce a whole new feeling in the piece.

Let’s take this piece by Judy Kuskin. This necklace has circles, rectangles and triangles in it. Sort of.

necklace_7_72dpi_423x500 (1)


The shapes here are not, for the most part, standard or evenly shaped, except the circles and the oblong center bead. And none of the shapes match their brethren. None of the ‘rectangles’ are actually rectangles (the shape is called a quadrilateral… just a shape with four sides); instead, they are all are off-kilter, some more than others, and are hung at varying orientations. Same thing with the triangles. The circles are also different sizes, with different accent pieces in them. What Judy has done is broken our expectations. We naturally look for repetition, cohesiveness, and pattern. There isn’t any pattern here, except in a lack of repetition and consistency. This makes our eye bounce around the necklace, looking for what we expect and a place to rest. Having neither actually provides the sense of movement and energy we get from it.

This kind of full departure from expectation can be difficult to master. But as you experiment with variations in your work, you can at least take away the idea of pushing something – like a shape or the orientation of a shape – and changing it so it isn’t standard. Cut off the tip of a triangle. Slice in the sides of a square. Remove the petals in one section of a flower. Punch out the side of a circle like an eclipsing sun. Small, subtle changes like this can take a piece that you don’t find as exciting as you wanted it to be and really give it some punch.

Changes don’t need to be big and bold to make a big or bold difference. Playing with your options will help you learn what will work, and when.


Outside Inspiration: Variation in Clay

I’m sure by now you get that the key to finding variation in your work is pushing what you already know or do. You can look at other people’s art to find additional variation and inspiration to push your work. If we keep looking just at polymer though, we are limiting our potential avenues of inspiration.

Many of us look to nature for ideas because we find beauty and insight into our world there and can translate into our art–and its been a primary muse for artists for all our existence. But this can be true of many other things as well, such as other art forms. This is why I show another form of art once a week. You can’t really look at other art forms as separate from what we do with polymer. Forms, textures, colors, patterns, structure … these all can be translated from other art into polymer in some manner. When looking to vary your work or a technique, looking outside polymer is probably your best source of ideas. Truly. Other clays in particular can be so helpful because the building process is similar and we can create similar forms.

Meagan Chaney works in ceramics with a focus on movement and change so creating variation is a large part of what she does. Probably her most impressive work are her multi-part wall sculptures that climb or flow across a space. But when on her site, these small decorative domes are what caught my eye. They remind me of urchins in form and often in line but without spines. Like cultured, high class urchins in an alternate world, perhaps.

Meagan-Chaney-mini-ceramic-sculptures-2 (1)

Meagan works with a limited palette here and then works out variations in texture, pattern and composition. The dome form and patterning could be directly translated into polymer although the stenciled patterns might be tricky. It can be done with polymer paste or using the Sutton slice but you could also just go for visual texture using mica shift or mokume. And of course, there’s always stamping. You can also take away just the idea for mixing up patterns on a form, or taking what you usually do on flat form and try it on similar dome forms. The idea is, if you want to work on variation, look at other work like this and think about what you like about it that you aren’t doing in your own work and then figure out how to translate it into what you do. That will push variation in your work even if you don’t end up liking the approach. Primarily what it will do is get you to work and think differently.

Take a look at Meagan’s wall sculptures and other incredible work on her website for a pleasant break in your day.

Pushing the Inchies

I mentioned inchies as an option for exploring variation a couple days ago but have been thinking maybe a brief word on breaking out of the inchie tradition of minimal variation was worth a post. If you aren’t familiar with inchies they are simply one inch square tiles of artwork. They are often made for swaps and exchanges at events, somewhat like art trading cards but tiny.

As a means for exploring variation, the use of this concept is hard to beat. Inchies give you a limited space to work in but no limitations on what you do with it. And for those of us who have limited time and resources, creating them while exploring variation means we get to build a stock of exchangeable tiny samples of our art for the next inchie exchange while pushing ourselves artistically.

Although most inchies are created to be quickly produced, don’t rush or limit your exploration of variation through inchies. Here are a few inchies by the Philippines’ Donna Cruz-Comia that obviously took some time but what wonderful results.


The consistency that makes these inchies related are that they are all petals and are built off a corner. Beyond that, that couldn’t be more different. But its this kind of work, pushing a limited idea such as the many ways one can create a petal and build the form of a flower from it that will result in new discoveries for you.

And how impressive will your inchies be at the next exchange if you created such involved work as this? Isn’t exploration wonderful?

%d bloggers like this: