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!