Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rainy Day Tutorial Play

A rainy day can be one of the best times to try out a polymer tutorial.  Since it's been pouring outside, I decided to give one a try. I had seen Eugena Topina's version of polymer cloisonne, and decided to see how she achieves her effects.  If you like the occasional tutorial, you might really enjoy visiting Eugena's website:  She has a wide variety of tutorials that are clear and easy to follow. Since this cloisonne effect is a tutorial she sells, I can't share the technique.  However, I can share my finished products. Perhaps they'll tempt you to visit Eugena's website and see what else she has developed.

These first two pieces, the teal and gold above and the orange and gold to the right, are pendants.  I used Magic Gloss to provide the final protective finish.

The last piece is larger and will work well as a pin.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's a Wrap!

During this time of year, I like to try making something new, and then see what type of response I get from shoppers. Bracelets are one item I make frequently, but most of the time I use a brass cuff or brass bangle with a channel to help hold in the polymer.  People seem to like them, but there are always those who find the brass forms don't fit.  I thought it would be fun to try making bracelets that are more "one-size-fits-all."
Enter memory wire.  Using this wire, I would be able to make bracelets that wrapped around the wrist, and would therefore be adjustable.

I haven't used memory wire before, and found the instructions that came with the wire to be helpful.  I also checked out YouTube and discovered I needed to purchase an appropriate cutter. Memory wire is tough and doesn't cut with regular wire cutters. Now I have a new tool!

I conditioned clay in sets of complimentary colors and then started rolling slender clay tubes.  Some tubes were solid colors, some were skinner blends and I also made lots of stripe tubes.

It was fun to watch the stripes twist as I rolled the tubes. I found it most helpful to use a very thin knitting needle for the core, and I pinched the ends of the clay so it stayed close to the knitting needle as I rolled by hand.  When the tube was the size I was looking for, I used a flat piece of acrylic to smooth the tubes.  I cut off the ends of the tubes, slid them off the needle, put a simple bend in each tube, and set them in the oven to bake. After baking, I used a sharp blade to cut the polymer tubes into varying lengths.  It's helpful to cut while the polymer is still warm.  I also made some flat round disks to intersperse between the tubes. Assembling the pieces on the wire was fun. I discovered I needed to make the cuts on the end of the tubes at a slight slant to help compensate for the curve of the memory wire.  It also took a time or two to determine order of the pieces and the final size I needed for each piece.
The photos here show 3 memory wire wrap-around bracelets.  The turquoise and purple bracelet includes some sections with translucent overlay.  I like the interest the round shapes add.  They're a nice contrast to the striped sections.

One final aspect to consider when using memory wire for wrap-around bracelets is how to finish the ends.  The ideas I considered included end caps, making wire loops, and adding some sort of end bead.  I liked the way end beads looked the best, so used an epoxy glue to fasten both the last polymer disk beads and the crystal or metal beads to both ends of the memory wire.  Voila!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My First Barrettes

For some reason, I've never tried making polymer barrettes.  A while ago, I found some really nice barrette bases made in France, and purchased a few, with the intention of giving barrettes a try.  Actually, it was several months ago, and I finally decided to just do it.

Here are my first barrettes, just in time for the holiday show at the gallery.

The polymer is attached to the barrette base via strips of polymer on the back side.  The barrette bases have spaces at both ends and in the middle that make for perfect connection points.

As you can probably tell, the leaves come from leaf canes I made, while the flower petals are extruded canes from my combo extruder.

These next three barrettes aren't really flowers, but they do have a floral feel.  The largest petal "burst" - in deep blues and greens - sports petals made from one of my spider mum canes.  It's amazing how extruding changes a design, while still maintaining its essence.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sparkle & Shine

The holiday season is upon us, and my clay thoughts have turned to things that sparkle and shine.  One of my favorite ways to incorporate sparkle into polymer is to use metal leaf.   I decided to make a Skinner Blend mokume gane stack using the "hills and valleys" technique.  This method uses translucent polymer rolled out as thin as possible and placed over metal leaf.  Scraps of metal leaf and translucent are pushed into the stack here and there.   This adds swirls and interest to the slices as they come off the stack.
Since I'd used a Skinner blend for the translucent clay, the slices fell into color groups.  This led me to use different colors for the bases. In the photos, you'll see purples, teal,  greens, and pinks.  The translucent allowed the background to show through, and the gold metal leaf sparkled in everything.

I also tried something new (for me) and imbedded gold ball headpins into some of the pieces.  I like the way the pins enhanced the gold leaf, and the bit of whimsy they add.

The purple pieces to the left are all covered with resin and the pendant is backed and outlined with a deep solid purple.

The two purple pendants below demonstrate the difference between a surface finished with PYM II and one with a resin surface.  The piece on the left has more sparkle than is evident in the photo.

Since I had some strips left, I decided to make a couple of my brass cuffs.  Because the cuffs curve so much, I wasn't able to use resin for surface protection. Instead, I applied several layers of Preserve Your Memories II.  This photo shows the shine from the PYM II more clearly than the photo of the two pendants above. The surface is pretty and enhances the colors and the gold, but does not have the glass-like appearance of the resin.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Buds and Blooms

I wasn't ready to leave flower making, so decided to make some variations on the blooming flower earrings. I also had to try my hand at some new flower buds.  These first blooms to the left demonstrate 2 new Skinner-blend striped extruded canes with crystals and fiber optic beads dangles.  

The next pair have only 4 petals instead of 6 or 8. This allows a more open "peek" inside the flower.    I chose to put jasper stones in the centers to add interest.

Finally, two more pairs in similar color-ways.  The use of white in the center on the left pair makes them perfect for spring or summer.   I'm already thinking spring, and it's only November...

Leaving the extruder on my worktable, I went in search of some wedge canes.  They were perfect for the fat little bud earrings in the last two photos.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Extruder Extraordinaire - Mari O'Dell

As promised, today I'm going to share with you some of the things we created at the Kentucky-Tennessee Polymer Clay Retreat at Mammoth Cave National Park a few weeks ago.  It truly is amazing how much you can do with an extruder.  Mari O'Dell, extruder extraordinaire, led the group through an incredible variety of projects and activities all using extruders as the core component.  Mari's   instruction was outstanding.  She has what she terms a "wabi-sabi" approach which allowed the participants to adapt everything she presented to their own learning and working style.  The ideas came fast and furious - I hope I'll be able to follow my notes!

The first project we all worked on was a little covered tin complete with a lotus flower on top that can be spun by using your fingers.  Mari had some tips about pressing the clay onto the tin, and using texture and chalks really hid seams and finger prints well.  The little trim was something I added after the first baking.  For some reason, the clay pulled down from the rim, and the trim helped to cover the small gap.

The next photo below shows the lotus flower from the top. Mari had made each of us the center of the flower from a mold she had developed herself, and it added the perfect touch.  The petals of the lotus flower were all made from an extruded cane.  One of the things I found I really liked about these extruded petals is they held their shape and were consistent.  The design might change slightly from one end of the extruded cane to the other, but the resulting flowers were lovely and realistic and a bit more "polished" than the petals I make from canes by hand.

An aside:  The extruder I purchased from Polymer Clay Express is a 2-in-1 device.  Looking a lot like a fancy caulking gun, the barrel can be changed so it is possible to use  both 1" and 2" disks for creating extrusions.  I really appreciated Mari's individual instruction learning about all the various parts and how to change between the two modes.  The handles really allow you to use your hands or to put more body strength into extruding, and I had no trouble getting new and older clay to move through the tubes.

Then we went on to making various canes to put through the extruder.  It really is amazing how a cane changes - or stays the same! - when put through the extruder.  Afterwards, we used the extrusions to make some lovely bell flowers.  Here are three sets of earrings I made from different extrusions. This first pair came from one basic cane that I cut in 2 and extruded separately.  Putting some solid clay before the cane inside the extruder resulted in the extrusion having a border around it.  I really like the contrast, and the fact that one basic cane can become 2 - or more!

This next set of bells came from a basic cane that was also divided and re-grouped.  I tried my hand at making clay dangles for this pair.

The third pair used a different basic cane as well as a different disk in the extruder.  The leafy shape of the extrusion adds real interest to the flower petals.

We also did a lot of individual exploration.  Here are two bracelets made from extrusions. The orange bangle is composed of numerous - I think about 12 - thin extrusions done one the small Makin's extruder so many polymer artists use. I twisted the strands together, joined them. and then placed slices from an extrusion around and round the band.  This helped cover the join area and made the whole bracelet stronger - and more interesting.

The other bracelet was made from an extrusion on the large 2-in-1 extruder using a 5 petal disc.  One thing I discovered when making this particular extrusion was the effect of putting old and new clay together in the extruder.  I had some older antique gold clay in with some newer colored clay.  The old clay made funny little bumps and broke up in some places,  adding an interesting texture to the whole extrusion.  It doesn't show up too well on the picture of the bracelet, but these individual bead pieces show the bumps and "broken" spots pretty well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Few More Pre-Retreat Extrusions

I had an incredible time at the Kentucky/Tennessee Polymer Retreat at Mammoth Cave National Park. I'll be sharing some of the things we worked on at the retreat in the next post or two, but wanted to show you a couple more items from the "pre-retreat" time.  I became intrigued with just using very thin slices off the ends of extruded snakes.  On the right is an example of one "set" I made.

To the left are some earrings made by smooshing (yes, a polymer term!) rows of sliced extrusions between cut shapes and bending everything for a bit of flair.  I also put the extrusions down the center of the curved side pieces on some of these.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Extruded Decoration

When I finished making the square poker "chips" I still had a few pieces of conditioned colored clay left, as well as some stacked clay still in the extruder.  What to do with it?....

I textured the sheets, extruded some more clay, and curved my flexible blade.  Here are the results - some pendant/pins and some earring sets.  The pieces are fun and funky - and I had a good time making them take shape.

No scraps left!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Retreat Preparation

I'm in the process of getting ready to go to the Kentucky/Tennessee Polymer Clay Guild's annual retreat at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.  This will be the first time I've attended this event, and I'm really looking forward to it. Right now, I'm in the midst of preparing for some of the activities they plan, and thought I'd share my little projects here.  
Of course, there is the traditional "inchies" exchange where everyone makes enough 1inch square tiles to trade with the other participants.  Inchies are usually based on a theme. This year, the focus of the retreat is extrusions, so my inch tiles are extrusion-based.  As you can see by the tiles to the left, I made flat patterns using extruded snakes, then shaved off the edges to reveal the colors below.  I used the shaved pieces and placed them on solid color backing to create the more random looking pieces.  It's sort of a combination of extrusions and mokume gane techniques.  The process is great fun and the results look pretty good, too. 

At the retreat, there are daytime activities as well as some after-dinner games.  One of the games requires us to have "poker chips" to use.  I've made up one set of "chips" using extrusions carefully placed and cut in a striped checkerboard pattern.    These chips are about 1.5 inches across.

 I liked the way these pieces looked so much that I decided to try some jewelry.  I made up a new color set, used a smaller hole for the extruder disk, and made up more checkerboard pieces.  The results below show some earrings and a pendant, all awaiting wires or other findings. 

Now I have one more set of poker chips to make.  I'm not sure what technique I'll use.  Maybe it won't be extruded......

Friday, October 10, 2014

Polymer Mosaics

Mosaics are interesting.  They can be very simple or incredibly complex. I thought it would be fun to try making mosaics with polymer, and decided to give myself a little push.  The impetus for these pieces centers around an upcoming workshop I'm teaching.  These pieces will help provide participants with samples of the various steps involved in the process.
The photos to the left show some finished pieces.  The small pair are for earrings.  The other two pieces are pendants.  The darker inverted drop pendant is finished with Magic Gloss resin.  The other three pieces have been lightly sanded and buffed to maintain a more rustic appearance.
When you leave the surface mostly "as is" you can really feel the ups and downs of the mosaic - the grout and the shapes.  The surface could also be sanded to create a smoother, more uniform finish.

The two pendants to the right are in one of the initial stages of mosaic work.  The individual "puzzle" pieces have been been made, cut, and mounted on a base, and are awaiting grout.
These three pieces have had grout added, and need to be baked before a backing and outlining border are added.   Note that the grout color can really change the look of a piece.  I expect the turquoise grout to darken some during baking, which should make it appear closer to the teal color in the mosaic pieces themselves. If not, then I'll have more contrast.
The yellow set of "steps" on the piece with white grout is actually one long strip of yellow clay with indentations pressed in before grouting - a nice little technique.

This last piece is actually the first mosaic piece I ever made.  It has some flaws, and taught me a few things.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twirls & Swirls

About a week ago, I mentioned that I was going to work on swirl beads and learn how to use some bead shapers I'd gotten.  Instead, I ended up making ropey cuff bracelets.  Those clay side paths....;)
I still wanted to work on swirly-twirly beads, and practice with the bead shapers, so I headed back to the worktable.  Today you get to see the results.

Swirl or twirl beads are usually made from sheets of colored stripes, then rolled by hand. There are various examples on the Internet, including a very nice tutorial from Cindy Leitz, who calls these "torpedo" beads.  I started with a striped stack I had, cut and rolled a slice, and used the bead shaper to make a bead.  The photo to the right shows the striped stack and the bead. This look is fairly typical of this type of bead design.

 I wondered what would happen with other types of striped stacks, so I decided to use some of the wedge canes and Ikat stacks I have to make more beads.  The picture below shows an Ikat cane and two swirled beads.  These beads were made by rolling the clay on a flat surface using the palm of my hand.  As you can see, this method makes pointed beads.  I think this shape may be the origin of the name "torpedo" bead.

Here are more swirled torpedo-shaped beads.  Some were made from Ikat canes and others were made from some of my wedge canes.

Finally, I have some earring sets made from various canes and stacks, and rolled in the bead shaper.  These bead shapers are a great way to ensure your beads are the same size and shape.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Butterfly Migration

As the days of September passed, the monarch caterpillars here spun cocoons in preparation for their metamorphosis into butterflies.  While watching caterpillars on milkweed, I was inspired to do something with a butterfly cane I had made recently. Making butterfly canes is a time consuming process, and it's really amazing to watch a butterfly appear in the clay.  The piece here represents the migration of butterflies, which usually occurs in October, as they head south and west for warmer climes.  One of the things I like to do is to make the wing sections of the butterfly separately.  This allows me to make different sizes of butterflies more easily than in a transparent clay-encased cane. I also can manipulate the wings for a nice, three-dimensional effect.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ropey Cuffs

Sometimes I start out headed in one direction, and end up somewhere else entirely.  I planned to work with striped torpedo beads.  Torpedo beads are often shaped by hand, and usually have pointed ends.  I had just gotten one of the new bead formers, and wanted to give it a try with the striped torpedo effect.  However, as I was playing with the clay to make a striped stack, the "bead" got too thin and morphed into a very pretty striped snake - with a pointed end.  A brass cuff was sitting on my work table...Well, one thing led to another, and I found myself engrossed in making the ropey cuffs you see above.  I especially  like the one on the top left which was made from a rainbow stack.  It reminds me of an old fashioned quilt.  I'm sure I'll get around to making some torpedo beads in the near future - or I could end up playing with more 3-D, ropey effects. Either way, I get to play with clay!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Ear Wires

Today I'd like to share a few photos demonstrating some new ear wire findings I just discovered.  I'm sure others have used something similar, but it was the first time I'd seen them.  These came from Fire Mountain Gems and are made of Argentium silver.  I really like Argentium silver because of both its strength and the fact that it remains tarnish-resistant for a long time.  Several new findings are coming on the market made from Argentium silver.

Findings play an important role in jewelry.  Sometimes, they work in the background, holding pieces together or serving as devices that allow wearability.  Other times, they are part and parcel of the design.  For the most part, I tend to use ear wires that allow my polymer pieces to dangle, and occasionally I'll use posts for the backs of earrings. These new Argentium wires seem to add to the design of the earrings.  They also change the way the earrings move, and I'm really pleased with the way these look when worn.

I think of these earrings as a sort of "button" design - simple rounds and ovals that showcase the polymer canes and designs I used.