Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Final Installment of the Chain Interview

In my last post, Laura Timmins was sharing with us how she balances the art with the business. She had some great ideas for goal setting, and keeping herself on track throughout the year. Laura then turned to her friend Maureen Carlson to ask a question about inspiration.

Question for Maureen Carlson from Laura Timmins: I love listening to the stories that go with your figures. What is your process when you are starting a new figure? Do you have a story in mind and then develop a figure that fits the character in your story, or do you have a character in mind and then the story comes about as you are working on making the figure? What most often sparks a new idea for you?

Thanks for asking, Laura.
When I create my story characters, such as the Pippsywoggins, I usually start with a character idea, then the story, then the sculpture. The most critical aspect of making it all work seems to me to be imagining a specific spot where the character might live. Then everything else falls in place. These imagined homes are always in real locations with which I’m familiar, such as my backyard asparagus patch or the line of pine trees down the road.
It seems that finding a home for the character makes them real to me, and triggers my mind to go into that world where wee folk might live. I can see them arranging their little homes and taking on a personality. As I do this I start typing questions into my computer, and, if I’m in the zone, from somewhere in that never-never land the answers come pouring out. I can tell if it’s a true story by the way my energy feels. If I have to work hard at it, then I’m forcing it. Then I sculpt the character to fit the story. As I sculpt, if I have an idea for a fun accessory to add to the piece, I can always go back and add it to the story.
When I ‘m doing art pieces that tell a story, such as a story box, I usually go back and forth between the idea and the actual piece, with everything being much more intuitive and perhaps never written into story form at all. After I’m all done I can look at the piece and then “read” it, taking note of the symbols and relationship between the elements. I still use my imagination, but more in an interpretive way.
Having watched one of Maureen's sculptures evolve over a few days, it is truly an amazing process. And one does get a sense of story with each piece she creates. The back and forth process she describes with the story boxes is one I think many artists experience when they are creating. Many of us also know about the difference she describes between being in the zone, creatively, or having the feeling of "forcing it."

Maureen turned to another sculptor, Katherine Dewey, who creates such beautiful sculptures. Both have written and published extensively about sculpting with polymer clay.

Question for Katherine Dewey from Maureen Carlson: I'm curious as to why you've stayed with polymer clay for so many years? I know that you love to experiment with lots of materials, and that with your artistic skills and knowledge of the human figure, you could work with any material. Why polymer clay?
Also wonder if you could give us that sculpting link for the people who are using polymer clay to create their masters for the garage kit and game industry. I think other people on this list might like to see another part of the polymer clay world.
Actually, I sculpt in a lot of media. I currently work in epoxy, paper clay, sulphur free plasticines, and wax. I once worked with terra cotta and stoneware. Polymer Clay is by far my favorite medium. It doesn't require a lot of tools and it's more versatile than anything medium. It's friendlier than epoxy, cleaner than wax, more permanent than Chavant, and it's colorful. Oh, so, colorful. Gray, brown, green or buff-- those are the colors of plasticines, earth based clays, carving waxes and epoxy compounds. Oh, there are days and there are sculptures that are better rendered in a single color (gray and brown being my favorites) because form and texture are paramount. Only polymer clay allows you to sculpt in color. What a spectacular notion!
Here's link to the Sculptor's Corner, my favorite web site where you'll find artists and sculptors far better than I am. All of them work in polymer clay, though most work in other clays and waxes as well. Look for Tony Cipriano, Randy Bowen, the Shiflett Brothers (Brandon and Jarrod), Mark Newman, Chris Elizardo, and Gabe Marquez. Ask any one of them: What's your favorite clay? To a man, they will answer: "Super Sculpey!" I know for certain because I did ask. I also know that artist's whose jobs require they work in wax, Andy Bergholtz or Eric Sosa, for example, begin their sculptures in Super Sculpey and then mold and cast in wax for the finishing touches.
If you are at all interested in sculpture; making, or just admiring, be sure to check out the links above. There is incredible talent to be explored.

This is where the chain ended. I plan on beginning a new chain in the next week or so. Keep an eye on your mailbox.....who would you ask a question of?

To all the artists who participated in this experiment, "Thank you!!"
It has far exceeded my expectations in many ways. It also was a reinforcement in trust and letting go for someone who used to have control issues, that still surface from time to time.

For those of you who have been procrastinating about making New Year's resolutions, or goals for your business for the coming year....or who already feel like you have failed at your attempts at resolutions, I have a post coming up for you. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Chain Interview Continues...Part 2

When I left you last time, Hollie Mion had answered a question from Lindly Haunani about her collection of polymer clay work, and how she went about building that collection. Now it is Hollie's turn to ask a question...

Question to Maggie Maggio, from Hollie Mion: I have long enjoyed your color tutorials. My first exposure was when you and Lindly would generously share your knowledge and ideas at the Shrine Mont Retreats back in the mid 90's. How did you get started with it, and where did you obtain your knowledge of color theory?

I'd like to say that I have always been interested in color theory but that's not the truth. I've always been interested in color mixing. The teacher of my first high school art class taught color theory by giving us a batik assignment with only four pots of dye – red, yellow, blue and black. That experience was pivotal for me. I tore up a cotton bed sheet and made close to 1000 color swatches using different combinations and different strengths of three dye colors - a pink red, golden yellow and bright blue.
The first thing I did when I found polymer clay was to buy one each of all the primary colors and start mixing them together. Soon I started documenting the mixes. Then I started teaching how to mix colors. But it wasn't until I began writing color articles for the PolyInforMer in the mid-90's that I brushed off my college textbooks and looked at color theory again. I relearned all the traditional theory just so I could share it in those articles. That's when I found out how little I knew, and how much of the theory just didn't make sense to me. I decided to start testing color theory and soon discovered that polymer clay is the perfect medium for color exploration.
So how did I obtain my knowledge of color theory? By playing with the clay. By reading color books and then experimenting in the studio. By teaching and then finding out that theory is not the same as reality. By observing nature. By talking with other colorphiles. By researching for the book that Lindly and I are writing, and by writing the blog. Color is so complex that I learn something new all the time. It's a bit of an obsession. I just want to know! Recently my daughter called me a "color detective" because I am always trying to uncover the facts about color. I love the searching. And that's the truth. -Maggie Maggio
Question from Maggie Maggio to Cynthia Tinapple: Interest in polymer clay is growing all over the world. The National Polymer Clay Guild just changed its name to the International Polymer Clay Association and your blog, Polymer Clay Daily, plays a huge role in connecting the global polymer clay community. What are some ways we can reach out and network with our fellow polymer enthusiasts in other countries?

I've been surprised that 40% of the PCDaily audience comes from beyond the US borders. I'll attach a list of the countries in the order of their participation.
What can we do to increase and improve that participation?
U.S. bloggers may want to be careful of their use of idioms so that readers who are translating can better understand the content. Putting a translation widget prominently on your blog will make it easier for your international guests as well.
Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Make those pictures good and self-explanatory.
More video tutorials, webinars, other online video meetings, virtual guilds will be in our future. Beyond that, face-to-face in classes and conferences will continue to cement our bonds to each other and spread techniques around the globe.
The barriers to cross-country sales will become less problematic. Already, online galleries like Etsy and Dawanda have helped promote the exchange of polymer clay art to a wider international market.

Extend your reach...comment on foreign blogs, join the European guild, link to foreign sites that you like. The best part of this is that when you're stuck in a rut, there's no cheaper travel or richer source of new ideas than crossing a border online. -Cynthia Tinapple
Question from Cynthia Tinapple, for Laura Timmins: You've been making your living at polymer clay for a few years. What suggestions do you have for integrating the accountant and the artist in you? How do you keep your left brain and right brain in such good balance?

Like most artists, I MUST make art. It's not optional. No external motivation is needed. It's easy. The business side of things is a whole different story. Previously, I had to fit my art making around my day job. Once I made the commitment to combine the two activities (earning money and making art) I found that I had many more hours every week for making art. I still feel that the business of selling my artwork interrupts what I really want to be doing, but the trade off is absolutely worth it. Keeping the perspective firmly in mind that what I've done is trade working for an employer to earn a living, for working on marketing my art to earn a living, keeps me motivated to do what can feel like drudgery at times.
But staying motivated is only part of the equation for me. There are so many possible business directions to take that it's very easy to get side tracked, especially when I'd rather be thinking about other things! I use two methods to help keep myself focused; goal setting and discipline. I set my business goals in outline form. My top level goal for the business side of things is obvious: Earn Income. I then detail specifically how I plan to accomplish that goal for the coming year. Category headings are things like Art Shows (applications, displays, fee deadlines, ordering supplies), Website (photography, maintenance), Galleries (new contacts to follow up, special shows that will need artwork, reminders when to check on stock at each), etc. I also include all the tasks involved for each heading and deadlines for each task to help keep me from becoming distracted from the goals I have set. I revise my outline every few months. With a detailed outline of my goals in place I have a concrete way to evaluate whether or not to pursue any new opportunities that present themselves.
Discipline is harder for me than organizing, which probably means it is the more important of the two. I try to set a work schedule and stick to it (which only works some of the time). The first thing I do each day is check my outline. If there are looming deadlines I work on those first, usually and hour or two each day but sometimes more. I reward myself for getting those business tasks done by making art for the rest of the day. - Laura Timmins
What I love about the questions and answers is how often they are directed at something that the person is truly passionate about. That passion and interest comes across in their answers. Plus I am getting lots of good information to think about in my own approach to blogging and managing my business. I love Maggie's story about her high school art class. Didn't you?

Stay tuned for the next installment....

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Beginning of a Chain

I am beginning the new year with a little experiment that I began last month, with the help of some smart, talented, and wise women. It began with a question. A question to another artist/entrepreneur. She in turn, asked a question to another artist/entrepreneur. And so a chain was begun. Each person answering a question, then turning to another with a question.

In some ways it is like one of those infuriating chain letters. It relies on the passage of the e-mail from one person to another in order to sustain itself. And there is the promise of a payoff. The difference is there is only one person to send it on to, and you have an opportunity to ask someone something you would like to know about them, or that you would like to learn from them.

The experiment seemed ready to collapse a few times. But it would suddenly come to life again, and a series of e-mails would follow. I will start with a few entries from the chain, and continue over several posts. It began with a question I posed to Judy Belcher, the out-going President of the National Polymer Clay Guild...which is now the International Polymer Clay Association! Judy spent two years as president, and it was during this time that I got to know her. I witnessed from the sidelines a few of the many experiences she had as president, and I knew there must be at least one good story in all of it.

Question to Judy Belcher (from Judy Dunn): You are finishing up your term as President of the National Polymer Clay Guild. You have had lots of new experiences over the last two years. What did you learn or experience from this time that you might not have otherwise learned?

I really have learned so much about this community and about myself. I have written four thoughtful answers to this question and then decided to get personal and yes, selfish. I met Tim McCreight at a workshop he held at Tamarack, here in my state. The workshop was fascinating, but holding the position of president of the IPCA (newly renamed International Polymer Clay Association,) gave me permission to relate to him on a whole different level. He is an amazing storyteller, filled with knowledge of the history of metalsmithing, the beginnings of PMC and information about the art community in general. I was able to converse with him that week about things that were on my mind about polymer clay and its place in the world, about our community of artists, and about the role that the IPCA should play in that community and the art world. Our conversations were thoughtful and thought provoking and a real "I can't believe I'm talking to Tim McCreight about all this" moment for me. Because of that connection, I felt empowered to call on him several more times for advice on issues that have come up with our group, to ask him to participate in Synergy, and for his wise counsel on more personal creative dilemmas. I have learned that by taking this volunteer position, one that I didn't intend to gain from personally, I relate with people in a different way and in doing so, have gained a wonderful group of mentors. - Judy Belcher

Question from Judy Belcher, for Lindly Haunani: Having worked in this medium for a long time, what do you see as the most exciting moment in our relatively short history?

Wow! That is a hard question, as a lot of exciting moments have unfolded over the years. If I had to pick one...then it would be an evening in the "teacher's lounge" at the first national polymer clay conference- Ravensdale 1996- sponsored by the Northwest Polymer Clay Guild. While I had already met many of the artists working with polymer clay before- including Pier Voulkos, Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford, David Forlano, Victoria Hughes, Nan Roche, Maggie Maggio and Kathleen Amt...there were many others that I had never met before in person including Michael and Ruth Ann Grove, Karen and Terry Murphy, Judy Kuskin, Cynthia Toops, Dan Cormier, Tracy Holmes, Meredith Arnold, Sarah Shriver...
So, on that on particular night, with a crackling fire in the fireplace and a drifting moon over lake Ravensdale, Judith Skinner decided to show us a color blending technique "that everyone already knew about" that she had been using for several years, using a pasta machine .Within minutes the room was a buzz and Kathleen Dustin made the suggestion that this technique should be named "the Skinner Blend". One could almost hear the creative wheels turning in everyone's heads- as they just began to imagine just how they could use this technique in their own personal work and as a teaching tool.
I still hear people of my generation pose the question- "Where you at Woodstock?" For many of us in the international polymer clay community, we still pose the question "where you at the first Ravensdale?" - the event where the reality of the synergistic effects of openness, sharing and an expanded inclusive community of polymer clay artists helped to create a memorable experience for everyone involved. - Lindly Haunani

Question from Lindly to Holly Mion: Your polymer clay collection recently was on display at the National Polymer Clay Guild's Synergy conference in Baltimore- and enjoyed by all of the participants.How and why did you start collecting? Has your rationale for selecting pieces changed over the years?

I got involved with polymer clay in 1991, and was addicted instantly. I had a voracious appetite to keep learning, and started going to workshops, retreats (including our "Woodstock"), etc. right away. While at these various events I purchased items I wanted to wear or things that I admired as objects of art (e.g., the large mask by Kathleen Dustin, circa 1994, has been hanging over my fireplace ever since I purchased it back then). Since I was co-editor of the NPCG's newsletter for 3 years, and organized the national retreat for 10 years, I had even more opportunities to acquire new work and was also lucky enough to receive some gifts along the way. I never bought anything with the thought of creating a collection until this past year. I own some significant pieces by well known past and present polymer clay artists, but I have also purchased a number of pieces that were made by unknown artists. Putting together my exhibit for Synergy and seeing people's reaction to it made me realize that what I have is, indeed, a collection (and I now have a rider on my insurance policy!). Prior to that, my polymer clay was located in a number of locations in my home, and the jewelry portion was such a massive jumble that I didn't truly appreciate what I had. After seeing it displayed properly at Synergy, I have now given many of my pieces a proper home where I can easily enjoy them every day.

I must admit that when I ended up buying (a lot) more pieces at Synergy and at the ACC, the whole idea of a collection was in the back of my mind for the first time. But even so, I only purchased items I loved and would wear or put on display in my home as works of art, whether by famous or lesser known artists. So I guess my rationale for selecting pieces hasn't really changed over the years, but my pockets did get a bit deeper. I know that some others have many more items in their collections with many fabulous pieces. I hope that we get a chance to see and admire someone else's collection in the future. - Hollie Mion
My next post will pick up from here. Who do you think Hollie will pose her question to? Were you surprised by any of the questions or answers? Did you learn anything new? Fun, huh?