Monday, October 17, 2011

Inros & Arrowmont

I just got back from a week-long course at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The school itself is in a lovely, woodsy setting, with a dozen or so buildings. Some buildings hold workshop space, some are for housing, many have gallery sections, and all have individual architecture, which adds to the ambiance. For more info on the school and it's various artist programs visit I found out about the school by chance when doing a Google search for Japanese inro box workshops. So glad I did!

Inro are small rounded portable cases worn on the girdle of Japanese clothing. Originally designed for men to carry medications, they have evolved into items used by men or women as small purses or pockets in which to carry important items. I've always been fascinated by inro, which are often made of wood or ivory or other materials which have been carved, painted, or otherwise decorated. Polymer seemed to me like a perfect medium for inros, but I did not have experience in constructing hollow, 3-dimensional objects. Hence the search for a class.

I'm glad I found Arrowmont. Our instructor, Seth Savarick, has had extensive experience making inros. Check out the gallery of his work here: The class was excellent, and I did indeed learn how to construct inro - a skill I know I'll use in other ways, too.
Typically, inros have cords, beads and sometimes tassels for decoration. I got so focused on making the inro boxes that the week flew by and I didn't put a cord on any of them. Hopefully, in a little while, I'll get one or two done and show you what they look like. In the meantime, here are some of the inros I created last week.

These first inro are hollow lidded forms. The lids and bottoms have been sanded and buffed while the body of these pieces has been silk-screened. One of the special features of inro is the inside - there is usually a "surprise" in the inner core. For example, in the gold-on-black inro, the inside is silk-screened in reverse so is black-on-gold.

The next photo shows 2 samples of what is known as a flanged inro. In this form, the top and bottom fit very snugly and there is a piece of the inner core that extends from the bottom of the box into the upper section. These are rather tricky to make since, after carefully creating 4 layers in separate steps, and coating different sections of some of the layers with different substances, they must be cut in half - but only half-way through. I've opened one of the inro so you can see the flanged section sticking above the bottom. This is the portion that, when inserted into the top piece, holds the inro together. I found the cutting the most difficult part of the process and need much more practice to feel competent with the blade.

Of course, I was drawn to experiment. I decided I wanted to try a round form. However, none of the materials we had lent themselves to such a shape. So, I went to the wood studio, to see if they had any wooden dowels in an appropriate size. Well - they didn't.
So the instructor grabbed a chunk of wood from their scrap bin, mounted it on his lathe, and whipped me up a perfectly sized and formed dowel. Amazing! It's one of the advantages of working or learning at a place like Arrowmont - with artists and craftspeople from a variety of mediums, you have an excellent chance of finding someone who can help you realize a concept. Here's my round box - not an inro, but I'm quite pleased with it.

One more piece before I go. I think this is
my favorite of all the pieces I did during the week. Not an inro, really, but a little vase-shaped box with decorated lid. Yes - the leaves and flowers are all attached to the lid, so are lifted off when the box is opened. What fun!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real Stones & Polymer

In the last posting, I showed you some faux opals I'd been playing with. Today, I'd like to share some pendants that use real stones for embellishment. The rust one has a series of jasper lentils off-set down the left side. The faux wood has a tiger eye cab. My favorite is the navy blue piece, with a Mexican opal in the center. The fire in the stone goes so well with the copper in the "window." These are all designed to hang from a simple chain or wire. It's been fun to experiment with polymer "settings" - and I know I'll be doing more soon.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Faux Opals

Opals. They're so full of sparkle and depth. The range of colors is just amazing. Real opals are also fragile and crack easily if not cared for properly. I thought it would be fun to see if I could re-create that sparkle and depth with polymer. I found some ideas on the Internet, including an excellent tutorial from Donna Kato, and then launched some experiments of my own.

Part of the trick with making the opal "look" is creating the illusion of depth. Hurray for liquid polymers, translucents, and iridescent flakes! I'm doing some more playing with heat, color, and settings, and will be looking for other inclusion possibilities. I plan to be showing you those in the near future.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Translucents with Kathleen Dustin

The Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild (SCPG), of which I am a member, recently sponsored a 2-day workshop on Translucent polymer with Kathleen Dustin. Kathleen is a master polymer artist, and it was an incredible opportunity to be able to work with her. She brings her background in ceramics to the world of polymer, with some amazing results. To see her latest work, check out her blog:

We spent our time with her learning about some of her techniques with translucents. I love translucent canes and the layers they create. I've made several different pieces with my own translucent canes, but never in quite the way Kathleen presented.

After colorizing a baked base, we covered the base with various translucent canes we made. The final steps involved extensive sanding, carving, and back filling. I was unable to attend the second day, so my piece is missing the carving. I did try it later on a second piece and learned something - I need a lot of practice carving on polymer if I'm going to use it! I am, however, pleased with the results of my first piece.

Another Feather


I finally finished this pendant, and loved the colors! Thought I'd share. This feathering technique is amazing. I find the computer screen shows the colors well - perhaps it's the size of the image?

This piece really reminds me of the Southwestern US - all those wonderful formations and cliffs, red rock, and desert varnish on the canyon walls.