This week’s blog was written by polymer clay and jewelry artist Laurel Swetnam, See more of her work on Laurel's website.
I started exploring polymer clay about 12 years ago, using it in my interventions as a family therapist. I was intrigued and started noticing the amazing work of artists around the world in this relatively new medium. Five years ago I began working with polymer as an art medium, focusing on one-of-a-kind jewelry and small vessels. I joined Artistic Portland two years ago, and have really enjoyed being a member of this group of diverse and talented artists.
Millefiori cane work appeals to my love of patterns (textiles, quilts, baroque music!) and the chameleon qualities of this material invite explorations into the symmetry and diversity of organic forms like pods, anemones and flowers. Each piece I make is one of a kind. For me, polymer clay is three-dimensional color.
Polymer clay is a relatively new material. It started as an industrial product in the mid 20th century and took flight as an art medium with the publication of The New Clay by Nan Roche in 1992. The versatility of the polymer is amazing. The artist can mix the primaries to any color under the sun, then the clay can be painted, printed with silk screens, textured, sculpted, bent, carved, sanded, and polished. It becomes wall art, jewelry, vessels, sculptures, mobiles, art book covers and a myriad of household decorations. An international community of artists now explores new designs, and it’s amazing to watch the development.
I am a caner. Polymer clay canes are made using the same techniques that glassmakers have used for centuries. Clay is rolled into cylinders, which are then combined or reshaped to create elements to make more complicated designs. The process is fascinating because there are endless possibilities. Here’s one cane in the making.
Some cane makers are gifted creators of realistic representations like dog breeds or landscapes. I prefer combining organic patterns to create a collage of patterns. There is nothing as relaxing and satisfying for me than spending a few days making a set of canes that can be recombined for many different pieces. Here are two canes that with the addition of a third cane morphed into a small bowl (plus a few pairs of earrings and necklaces).
The lightweight quality of polymer clay is one of the things I value most as a jewelry maker. I can make dramatic necklaces that look like shells or clusters of over 100 leaves, which are light as a feather and comfortable to wear. No wonder polymer clay pieces are increasingly making a splash on fashion runways!
As a mosaic artist I am always on the lookout for new materials to incorporate into my mosaic art jewelry designs. When I discover new materials that work well in my designs, I can't help but feel excited by the myriad of possibilities that come with the discovery.
A while back, I started working with a tile called "mosaic gold" which consists a thin layer of 24-carat gold leaf placed on top of poured glass and then another layer of molten glass is poured on top. Mosaic gold comes in a variety of amazing colors including golds, coppers, greens, blues, and silvers. I am fond of "acid green" and the coppers. When I started working with mosaic gold I created jewelry pieces that were comprised of only the mosaic gold. I soon learned that I would have to charge a hefty amount since the mosaic gold is pricey as well as being difficult to work with. I decided to incorporate the gold pieces into my tile mosaic jewelry. This turned out to be a good idea as the mosaic gold looks stunning next to the Moroccan tile.
I continue to explore working with mosaic gold, combining it with other materials as well, such as Italian glass and millefiori. Below are examples of mosaic gold jewelry. The round pendant was created using only mosaic gold and dichroic glass. It took a long time to create the pendant as I had to "keystone" cut each piece of the gold and then place the gold piece by piece into a bed of epoxy which was very time consuming. In the photo on the right, the pendant on the far right contains copper mosaic gold mixed in with the Moroccan tile. The mosaic gold is reflective and shimmers creating texture in the sea of tile.
My latest "new material" is stone! I've purchased a variety of stones with delicious Italian names such as verde cina, travertino rosso, travertino giallo, peperino grigio, and travertino rosa to name a few. The names of the stone remind me of fine Italian wines, equally delicious. As with the mosaic gold, I decided to mix the stone with the Moroccan tile to not only add interest, but texture as well. To date, I've only made a handful of pieces but you can bet that there will be many more to come as I am having a blast working with stone.
In the photos below, you can see the stone mixed in with the Moroccan tile. I used verde cina and peperino grigio in the pendant on the left and just the peperino grigio in the pendant on the right. I wanted to achieve a natural effect so I used only neutral colored Moroccan tile. I am happy with how the pendants turned out and I can't wait to create more.
When it comes to cutting the stone, many mosaic artists use a set of tools called the hammer and hardie. It takes some time to learn how to cut stone (or smalti glass) with a hammer and hardie but once you get the hang of it, it's an effective way to cut stone. For my purposes I am using compound nippers that cut through the stone quite easily though I would probably have a little more control over the cut pieces if I used and hammer and hardie.
Working with stone has broadened not only my cutting skill set, but it has also impacted how I approach my designs. The cut stone is often irregular in shape which requires more design planning since it can be a challenge to combine defined tile shapes with irregular stone. I find this is true when I work with mosaic gold as well. Though mosaic gold tiles are square to begin with, I have to cut the tiles into tiny pieces in all directions in order for the pieces to fit into the bezels and into my designs. Mosaic gold can be difficult to cut as well and there is often significant wastage. I find that when cutting stone, I don't have as much wastage and I try to use each an every piece that I cut.
When cutting mosaic gold, I use my Montolit wheeled nippers, pictured above far right, which cut through the mosaic gold glass like a hot knife through butter. The only problem is, sometimes the glass has a mind of its own and it crumbles. Other times I can cut it into nice tiny squares, perfect for my mosaics.
I can't wait to discover yet another material which I'm sure will happen in the near future as I am always on the lookout for interesting textures and shapes. I hope to have both stone and mosaic gold mosaic art jewelry collections in Artistic Portland by early May 2018. Who knows, I may even combine tile, mosaic gold, and stone in one piece. Now that would be interesting!