The Sculpey Affair

Sculpey2A few years ago, I had an intense, short-lived relationship with polymer clay, and it ended badly. At least, when I first gave up on the relationship it was bad. I was not in a good state.

I was totally upset with myself and the medium that is polymer clay, so very disappointed that it hadn’t worked out. I had invested so much! Literally! All that clay, the books, all those supplies…a waste of money. My then (new) dreams of: making awesome, unique beads and pendants; seeing my artistry at a booth at One of a Kind; creating wonderful embellishments for my abstract art…all dashed.

But, as with many relationships, some great lessons came out of it.

[Some books on working with polymer Clay: Mixed Media Mosaics by Laurie Mika; How to Make Polymer Clay Beads by Linda Peterson; Making Polymer Clay Beads by Carol Blackburn; The Art of Jewelry Polymer Clay by Katherine Duncan Aimone]

[ Some books on working with polymer clay: Mixed Media Mosaics by Laurie Mika; How to Make Polymer Clay Beads by Linda Peterson; Making Polymer Clay Beads by Carol Blackburn; The Art of Jewelry Polymer Clay by Katherine Duncan Aimone ]

I Want to do That!

When I was first introduced to polymer clay, I quickly found books with some beautiful work that inspired me: necklaces that were works of art, tiles made to create stunning mosaics (love Laurie Mika’s work), exquisite hand-made buttons, and some wonderful abstract art that was mesmerizing to view. The medium seemed an exciting new frontier for me, so many ways to use it, so many ideas! And, I didn’t need expensive tools or materials (like silver clay…a whole other story for another day), and no kiln, just a toaster oven! And oh my gosh it comes in lots of COLORS! And so versatile, you can make it look like other materials (coral, turquoise, glass, metal). I was so excited!

It’s Me, Not Poly

Well, things didn’t go as planned. I thought it was just me, I wasn’t working with it right. So I kept trying, making some pretty darn ugly beads in the process, but hey, I thought, it’s all part of the process of learning to use new tools. The problem was, I wasn’t having fun.

The whole prep process of rolling and kneading the clay to get it ready for working with it was time-consuming, annoying, and hard (I tried using one of those pasta-machine-like things and that didn’t make it better). Then I couldn’t get the toaster oven I had purchased to sit at the appropriate temperature (which bugged my follow-the-directions-to-the-tee self. If it says bake at 265 degrees it better well be that temperature and not one degree off).

I made one pendant that I liked, constructed one necklace with it, but the finished clay pieces did not have any “weight” to them, and for me the necklace was unbalanced, didn’t feel good around my neck. The end product did not satisfy completely and therefore didn’t justify the suffering of a process I didn’t enjoy.

And then my one good pendant came apart. OK, enough.

Polymer Clay Bead Experiments

[ I experimented with making the beads and pendants look metallic. ]

Just Move On, Lessons Learned

I stopped working with poly clay and stewed about this relationship for a while. The stacks of colorful unused clay sitting on my studio shelves mocked me. I felt frustrated with myself for not getting it “right,” guilty for the time and expense wasted. I had so wanted to be that Artist I envisioned sitting in her booth selling all her beautiful handmade pieces!

Eventually it dawned on me that, through all of this self-inflicted torment, I had learned at least one very valuable thing about my art work: I do not enjoy sculpting or hand forming processes.

What I really enjoy, the processes that make me happy, are additive. My Happy Place Art-making involves already existing materials and paint. I like finding things (junk shops, craft stores, dollar stores, recycle centers), arranging them, and gluing/wrapping/nailing them together. Add some paint, glitter, more gluing… basically collage and assemblage with acrylic painting thrown in (and doing some work on the computer, although it’s nowhere near as satisfying as gluing and painting things).

If I had to do it over, I would test the waters a little bit first instead of investing in a future Artist Me based on nothing but “that looks so cool! I want to do that!”

Sculpey Heart

[ Unfinished experiment…but that color! ]

I will be forever grateful to Sculpey (ahem, and side nod to Pardo and Kato) for helping me to also learn (or remember):

  • experimentation is good
  • making mistakes and bad art can be good learning tools
  • listen to your instincts. If the art-making doesn’t feel right, pay attention
  • it’s OK to let go of some ideas and visions of yourself. Change in direction is OK.
  • I have a deepened respect for artists that do work with polymer clay or other sculpting materials
  • copious leftover materials can be passed on and used by someone else

Thanks, Sculpey, at least we tried.

This entry was posted in Art Making, Creative Spirit.

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