This week's blog was written by polymer clay artist Laurel Swetnam of Sequels.
One of the most appealing qualities of polymer clay as an art medium is the fact that artists can mix any color under the sun from three primaries, black, white and maybe a touch of metallic pearl or gold for sparkle. Although I drool over tools as much of as any artist, I love the simplicity of being able to mix all the colors of the rainbow from 5 blocks of clay. Since my monkey brain gets in the way of traditional meditation, I turn to color mixing when a dose of tranquility is needed.
Here are the primaries in Kato Clay, my preferred brand, and a handful of the dozens of colors on my worktable that I’ve mixed from those primaries.
I’ve always loved the art of combining colors and, of course, try to remember how to recreate favorite colors I’ve created. In July, however, I learned that there is so much more to color theory and systematic color mixing.
Along with 11 other professional polymer clay artists, I recently attended a 6 day workshop called “Color Intensive” taught by two color wizards, Lindly Haunani and Maggie Maggio. Maggie and Lindly are both experienced teachers in demand all over the world as well as renowned polymer artists. Their shared passion for color generated their collaborative book Color Inspirations (2009), which is a classic in the field for polymer artists. Maggie calls her approach to teaching “21st century color”; the red-yellow-blue primary system we learned as children has ceded to magenta-cyan-zinc yellow primaries. During the class each participant learned a bit about the science of color, then dived into a systematic approach to color mixing, learning how to create an individualized color palette that reflects the artist’s voice and that hangs together beautifully.
We started by mixing color scales from each primary pair (strings of beads on the left), then tweaked one color by creating a “pivot” deck by adding muds. Muds in this case are mixtures of the three primaries, plus possibly a little black and white. I mixed several variations of mud for the colors I was considering, and then chose one particular mixture to be my “mixing mud”, a warm brown (more yellow, less blue and magenta). My pivot color was a yellow orange (on the top of the tiles on the right below). The result was luscious variations on my original hue created by adding various qualities of my mud along with pinches of yellow, blue, magenta, black and white. Because I learned a systematic way to vary the pivot tile color, I can catalog and recreate my colors in the future. It’s way more effective that writing down color recipes.
Here’s the coolest part. Once you have created your mud for a palette, adding just a pinch to any other mixed color unifies the aesthetic. Here’s a photo of a pair of earrings and a necklace made with a lot of the variations in my orange pivot deck, plus a few more darks and lights for contrast. Mud magic!
How long have you been a part of Artistic Portland, and what appealed to you about joining the Co-op?
I joined Artistic Portland about one month ago. After retiring from my full time career one year ago I knew the co-op would provide me with companionship of other artists along with a space to show my work.
What is your background?
I am from Buffalo, NY and lived on the east coast until my husband and I moved to Portland 20 years ago to escape the snow. I am one of seven children and when we all get together it is loud and joyful. I have been married to a wonderful guy for 37 years this August and together we have owned 4 Newfoundland dogs (not all at once). I worked as an accountant/financial analyst for over thirty years before retiring.
Why do you do what you do?
I have created some form of art work since childhood. It is simply a part of my nature. As an adult I have dabbled in many art forms; raku pottery, silversmithing, oil painting, photography, but once I began working with glass I knew that I had found my forever medium. I love the translucence of glass, the color, the reflective quality and the fact that it can be manipulated to create anything your mind can dream up. I actually purchased my first piece of fused glass about 30 years ago and now it has been almost 15 years since I took my first fused glass class and I have never looked back.
Describe yourself in one word? Why that word?
Curious. I love to keep learning. My favorite question is "why?" It always elicits great information about anything being discussed.
Where do you create?
I have a studio in the lower section of our house with several stations to perform the different processes that I employ to create my glass art.
What motivates/inspires your work?
Together with my innate need to create, I am inspired by colors and shapes. I prefer to work in primary colors for their boldness, their cheerfulness, but really any bright color will do. I'm also fond of geometric shapes of all kinds. The clock line I am currently making has both of these elements. Looking at the glass art work of other artists to see how they are using the medium is also very inspiring. This often spurs me on to try new technique.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
I make sure to be in my studio every day. It may only be for five minutes to straighten up, but I find being surrounded by my creative materials motivates me to want to work.
What is your favorite piece you have ever created?
Any piece I make using pattern bars has great appeal for me. Pattern bars are a separate process of layering different colors of glass in such a way that when they are fully fused they curve into beautifully striated masses. Slices of these masses are then incorporated into an overall design and fully fused again.
What do you like to do when you are not creating?
When I am not creating I love to travel the world. I have been to every continent except for Africa and the Antarctic (so far). I love meeting people, exploring their customs, trying the food. It is a great way to keep learning and expanding my mind and perspectives.