I have been working with polymer clay from my back yard studio for over 20 years. Making jewelry and teaching my techniques using the millefiori or caning process has fortunately sustained me all that time. I build colorful beads and jewelry which I sell at craft shows mainly on the west coast and I teach my techniques to an incredible group of people from all over the world.
My initial encounter with polymer clay and it's charms occurred in 1987 when I was working at a fabric and art supply store in San Francisco. As employees we were encouraged to learn about the materials we sold in order to better inform interested customers, and as friends we would play around and experiment. On one evening of experimentation Fimo was put on the table. My boss owned both a necklace of glass African trade beads and one of polymer clay that she would often wear together. Her polymer necklace was made by Martha Breen who had already established what looked to me like a successful company, selling to museum stores under the name Urban Tribe. I could see the similar process used in both materials where the image was constructed in 3-D and then revealed by cutting a cross section and I was intrigued. I began making beads that night inspired first by Martha's candy-like canes, and later by the traditional textiles that I loved -older ethnic rugs and fabrics that speak in the incredibly rich language of patterns. The process itself, of constructing the image rather than painting it or creating it through a gesture, resonated with my own ways of working and I continue to use these techniques today.
My first canes were generally graphic repeat patterns with simple color contrasts, but when Judith Skinner shared her color blending techniques, I found I could be more expressive in color than I had previously dared. My pallet is often inspired by nature, my imagination or a favorite painting. When I choose a painting for inspiration, I examine it closely looking for the color relationships the artist has revealed in the layers of paint, and then I reinterpret the relationships into my blended sheets of clay. Through this, I have intuitively learned so much about the language of color.
I build my canes fairly large (about 8 lbs and 4-5 inches in diameter) and work from a detailed set of colored drawings. It can take me several weeks to complete a very elaborate cane with much of the time spent mixing and remixing sheets of color blends. Then I generally cut my newly constructed cane apart, destroying the original, and often pictorial, graphic with the result being several smaller canes with a variety in both graphic content and color. Using my techniques of “kaleidoscoping” or mirroring the image on each of the newly formed canes results in a series of intricate and differently patterned but related canes. Once a series of canes is in the works, I begin to build a set of beads that in a kaleidoscopic fashion shift and turn into many facets of my original idea.