Reveal the World

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And just how do we do that?

By making the world people know appear new, maybe even unfamiliar, or by allowing people to discover and perceive things they didn’t know existed. The business of art is to open the world a little wider and, with any luck, have others see themselves and just where and what they are in this vast world of ours.

This doesn’t have to be monumental. Sometimes this goal is just making someone smile on a bad day or feel beautiful when they are feeling dull. But it can also be so revealing as to change their lives. We aren’t so in control of that outcome, but we are in control of how we present the world to others, and that is what makes it art. If it is the right time and place, the art will make them see what they didn’t see before.

 

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Visual Reveal

Most things that are hidden are behind, under, or otherwise obscured by other matter. In polymer craft, what is hidden is usually under more polymer; but what if it’s not buried, but just hard to see, blending in with its surroundings?

This may seem a little off theme, but sometimes what we have done with our clay is barely noticable because its subtlety is hard to see. If you texturize the surface of your clay and the pattern is not standing out the way you would like, there are ways to “reveal” the pattern that can add color and contrast along with additional interest and complexity. (Yes, I know I’m stretching the “reveal” theme, but this is fun stuff so I’m sure you’ll forgive me!)

The most common way to make your pattern stand out is to brush paint into the recesses and wipe away the excess paint from the raised surface. But there are so many variations on that basic brush and wipe technique. Different colors, different types of paint, powders instead of paint, colored liquid polymer … basically, if it can be applied to the surface and then wiped off, it can be used to highlight the pattern on the surface of the clay.

In a limited demonstration of what is commonly known as “antiquing”, Jan Geisen played with different paints, colors  and other products on these sample tiles a few years back to demonstrate how a little variation can result in markedly different outcomes.

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Even though this is often called antiquing, I wouldn’t call it that. Such a term limits its potential. What if you wanted to add a bright red or a metallic blue to your impressed design? That wouldn’t look so antique, but it could look very impressive. Do whatever you like to reveal your design and bring its beauty to the forefront.

 

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Outside Inspiration: Photographing Hidden Nature

For most of us, there are patterns, colors, and textures enough throughout nature to keep us inspired for several lifetimes. But, within the forms we see in the natural world is a whole other realm of possible inspiration hidden within it.

Take flowers, for instance. They are beautiful and obviously quite inspirational as we find them presented out in nature. But there is more hidden within a flower. This image by microphotographer Ray Nelson is actually the base, or ovary, of a flower. Yes, its been enhanced using stain and special lighting, but the pattern and texture is all Mother Nature.

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Mother Nature’s work can be stunning even when unenhanced. Here is the cross section of a bell flower ovary with beautiful soft colors and kaleidoscope patterning.

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Isn’t it just fantastic that we can step outside our door and find hidden beauty in so many things? When you’re feeling uninspired, a walk outside is highly recommended for clearing the mind and recharging your batteries. And while you’re out there, you can look at cross sections of various plants, rocks or other natural work for new colors, patterns, and textures to help you fire up your creativity.

 

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Exposure: Deep Underneath

So why is it that we are fascinated by things revealed, seeing things we know or suspect were once hidden?

This nearly universal allure has to do with discovery. Like digging up a buried treasure, seeing a colorful new bird in the backyard or pulling out old photos from a box you found in the attic, discovering things we didn’t know existed gives us a thrill and feeds our inherent curiosity about what we don’t know or see.

When working in polymer, the excitement of finding something that was hidden is commonly the experience of the artist and not usually the viewer of the art. But I think the viewer will often unconsciously register that special quality, that extra depth the material had to have in order for the artist to come up with such intriguing designs or imagery.

That is why it may not matter at all if the design presented actually comes from revealing the depths of the material or not. Having the sense that something may once have been buried should still give us that little thrill, even if it wasn’t. I’m pretty sure Cate van Alphen embedded the colorful swirls that show in the concave spaces on the surface of this pendant; but it might appear at first glance (or to someone unfamiliar with the material) that carving out the indentations revealed the swirls within the lentil bead.

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So, even when you aren’t creating visual texture or imagery by slicing across or into your polymer, you can make a piece appear to have an exposed interior which can flip that switch in a potential buyer, intriguing them with the thought that you revealed the secret core of the clay, the hidden treasure and things otherwise unseen.

 

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Revealing in the Round

Much of our layering and exposing of those layers in polymer happens on a flat surface which can then be applied to any number of forms. But take that usual work surface and put it in the round, and a you can get quite beautiful results that way too.

For you scrap clay technique connoisseurs, we have another one here for you! These beads were made by Belinda (Birnco on Flickr). There were created from extruded canes (which are a great way to use up scrap), coiled around a base core of raw clay with bits sliced off the coiled surface using a wavy blade.

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I know these beads are a little dark but I do like the variety shown using this exposed coil approach. Belinda has a number of examples of these on her Flickr page, so you can jump over there and see the brighter varieties and other variations on this.

You can of course use tube, ovals, lentils or any other shape and then go at it with a straight or wavy blade to see what might be revealed. The thing is, the small round form allows for revealing layers in bits and pieces without the reshaping of the layers the way you do in mokume to get variation on what is exposed. I just thought some of you out there might like to explore a little revealing in the round. It has intriguing possibilities.
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Beyond the Mokume Gane Reveal

When I think about how polymer revealing works, the mokume gane approach is what first comes to mind. I remember layering clay and metal leaf for the first time, punching and squishing and hoping whatever was going on in the middle of my beat up block of clay would result in something useful. Then there was that first slice. That disappointing one when you realize it might take a few slice to see what is really going on. Then I hit it … that first really gorgeous slice with rings and waves of translucent clay revealing the dull shine of buried silver foil. It was like finding a hidden treasure. Oh, who are we kidding … it was a hidden treasure! It was like doing magic or mining or gold panning. It was so cool to see those patterns emerge out of this ugly mushed-up block of clay. I was hooked.

Since then I’ve experimented with the layer and slice approach to working with polymer in dozen of ways. It never gets old. The reveal is always so very exciting because the process is partly done blind, so you can’t be certain just what will pop up when you start slicing–which is why this piece on the right here was so eye-catching. The organically occurring composition of a mokume gane slice is layered over a very controlled stripe pattern in such a way as to suggest the mokume layer is revealing the striped layer … chaos giving way to order, chance revealing the control beneath. What a great metaphoric composition.

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If you didn’t immediately recognize the artist, these pendants are the work of Julie Picarello, who is rather a master of mokume and other ‘revealing’ polymer techniques. Her book, Patterns in Polymerincludes quite a few of her approaches to revealing the depth that polymer clay can go. She also has a very rich gallery of work on Flickr you may want to meander through for further revelations.
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Revealing Polymer

Polymer is a very different craft material for a number of reasons. Of course, the biggest advantage to polymer is undoubtedly its versatility. I mean, it has versatility within its versatile possibilities. What other material allows you to create forms embedded with interior imagery? Of course you will assume that I am talking about caning, which I am — sort of. Caning is just one way of working with polymer that can’t be done as easily or with such versatility with other craft materials. It’s our ability to layer and build with polymer from the inside of a form out, to reshape and manipulate it not just on the surface but within the interior of the forms we work with that gives us so many possibilities.

This layering and building allows for hidden imagery and visual texture that we can fully control. How cool is that? I though this week, we’d look at the various ways polymer can be used to bury and then reveal our visions planted within them.

This bracelet by Silvia Ortiz de la Torre is what got me thinking about this particular aspect of polymer.

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This piece is caning of a sort … at least in the initial build with the polymer. But instead of caning used to create a surface design, the cane is formed into cones with an outside layer developed to be a primary element and the cane cross-section showing as a revealed interior. This use of a cane celebrates its three-dimensionality. It’s not that we don’t realize that the images we make from canes come from a roll that the image follows all the way through its length; but the end product of a cane is usually as a two-dimensional surface design. The depth of the imagery is not a consideration when used this way.

Seeing the design in a cross section makes one consider how deep the design must go. It made me think just how much actual depth polymer often has and how really cool it is that we can use this to create visual textures and patterns, both planned and unexpected, for the work we make. So this week, we’ll just have fun checking out the different ways our fellow clayers reveal this particularly versatile aspect of polymer art.

 

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Movement takes Action … & the Giveaway winner

 

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In other words, do it rather than just think or talk about it, whatever it is. Perhaps you’ve been thinking of trying a new technique or form, sprucing up your Etsy site, starting a website or blog,or  going to a workshop to hone your skills and boost your enthusiasm. Whatever it is, if you keep telling yourself you’re going to do it and haven’t, its time to stop and just do it. Do it now! Get on it, or schedule it out or buy what you need to get started. It will feel so good to take action.

Action was taken this past Monday when I asked for your help to spread the word about the magazine. I really appreciate all your enthusiasm and all of you for taking the time to post about the latest issue.  Now to choose the winner of the giveaway:

So, to choose a winner for this giveaway, I use dice. Comments and emails are assigned a number from 11 on up according to when they came in and I roll two dice to get two digits for the winning number. This time … snake eyes! (An 11!) That means our very first comment and enthusiastic emissary of the digital flipbook, Sherrie Jo of Beary Tiny Treasures wins four print copies of her choice of The Polymer Arts. Congrats!

We’ll do more giveaways soon. They are certainly fun and I love getting your comments. Just keep reading and keep claying!

 

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Movement in Form

Although I didn’t emphasize this, yesterday’s glass artist was big on form as a means of expression, and the sense of movement she conveys is rather dependent on the forms she chooses. I find this to be true with polymer artist Jana Roberts Benzon as well. She creates a sense of flowing, staccato, or ebbing visual movement by building forms that change through the space they occupy in undulating or precise steps

Jana is well known for her laser cut technique, which can create an enthralling texture as well as a visually active form. Her pendant, Zorro, shows how the laser cut texture is used to create change across the surface of the piece, giving it a lot of energy. The technique also allows her to create a very active form, building the zig-zag through the shifting of slices already needed to create the texture.

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It doesn’t hurt that there is also a progressive change in the dominance of colors from the top to the bottom. Any kind of gradual change will relay movement because that is what movement is perceived as: a series of related changes.

Enjoy more of Jana’s moving work on both her website and her Flickr pages.

 

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