This week's blog was written by polymer clay artist, Laurel Swetnam.
I imagine that everyone who sells art gets stuck from time to time. Your stock of successful products has to be replaced, but your chaotic workspace overwhelms you. On one corner of my studio table there are five half-done projects. Yikes - time to focus! Other times you carve out a little time to create new designs, but your
muse takes a hike and you feel uninspired.
Here’s my motto. When the muse takes a vacation, it’s time to retreat - not retreat as in run away, but retreat as in step back, refresh yourself and take time to play. I am most grateful to have the opportunity to do just that every August when a group of professional polymer clay artists gather in the awe-inspiring northern Rockies to spend a weekend together.
Each artist generally chooses to explore something new during the week which pushes a bit beyond her comfort zone. Jewelry artists sculpt, color zealots work only in black or white, sculptors use clay as pointillist painting medium or artists collaborate. I crafted a series of large pods, using millefiori cane work (which I do) and oil painting (which I don’t do). Bonnie Bishoff, a maker of extraordinary wearable art, used polymer clay to create this 2-D textured painting.
Energy is augmented, and the workroom thrums from early morning to the wee hours. As punctuation to the studio work, individuals demonstrate techniques, spontaneous “seminars" (marketing, teaching, social media) spring into life, and critique groups form. Artists share other skills - one polymer artist is also a photographer who shares tips. There’s lots of storytelling and jokes by a couple of masters, reminding us all not to get too serious! I’m way too introverted for that, but I bring my guitar and play classical music each night. Maybe best of all, there are myriad lovely, deep conversations during our week-long slumber party.
There’s time for walking around the gorgeous northern Colorado landscape, sketching or taking photographs. I love doing that by myself so I can process the heady brew of group experiences. The combination of solitude and camaraderie is my secret sauce. Some artists are fed by the group synergy and create amazing new pieces. I know I’ll never be one of those, since I work most productively in the quiet of my own studio. However, I always leave the mountain with a notebook full of drawings and ideas, a ton of photos and an eagerness to get back to work since I know the muse will have returned.
I am most fortunate to have my amazing August retreat as a time to reset and re-energize. Best of all, it has taught me a “retreat” strategy we can all use any time: take a walk, sketch what you see, and play!
Be sure to stop by Artistic Portland to see Laurel's gorgeous polymer clay art!