Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Stretching and personal growth

It's been a while since I've written anything here on the blog. Part of that is because I haven't really devoted much time to working in the studio since last October. I chalk much of that up to a general malaise over what's happening to this country, which has deeply affected my motivation. Another part of the picture was simply the hustle and bustle of the holidays, paired with parental hospitalizations, plus household ailments from cold and flu season. And lastly, late in 2017, I decided to turn inward and focus on self-improvement. At the end of October, I began a routine (near daily) practice of yoga, which has both helped my physical and mental wellbeing. And early in 2018, I decided to tame the nutrition beast and begin the journey of losing the weight that has crept on over the years since I turned 35,  that magical number when easy weight loss suddenly became unobtainable despite a regular fitness routine. I'm happy to report, after 2 months of dedicated whole-food nutrition, I'm down 12 pounds so far, and feeling SO much healthier! This year is shaping up to be the year of "me", focusing on re-making myself into the healthiest version of me.

But, despite all of the aforementioned obstacles to feeding my muse, I haven't been totally out of my studio... Back in the fall I committed to participating in an online design course (that was scheduled to begin in December), which was offered by Christine Dumont and Donna Greenberg, through Voila! This course was specifically focused on jewelry design and the design principle of balance using symmetry and asymmetry. The course was held online, and was attended by a fantastic group of polymer artists. Though we each worked on interpreting the course material in our own ways, the sharing of assignments in our online group not only spurred conversation and camaraderie, but also generated a bounty of inspiration. If you've read my blog before, you already know about my artist crush on the work of Donna Greenberg from previous posts mentioning her. Christine Dumont's meticulous graphic style is mind-blowing to me, and she is another polymer artist who I have admired. I had the good fortune to meet both of these ladies in person last August at Synergy4. When the opportunity to take this online class presented itself, I knew immediately that this was an experience I shouldn't miss.

Now, the class was supposed to wrap up within a certain time period, but because of holiday, health and personal issues, some of us did not complete our final projects until sometime later. Our instructors have graciously kept the group open and kindly continue to provide a final assessment of our finished projects. This past week, I was happy to finally complete the piece that I designed as a result of this course experience.

My jumping-off point for this piece was a necklace that I designed last year, with some of the cut polymer quilling strips. But I wanted to push the curvy swirls from that necklace into something more defined and sculpted. I've always been drawn to art nouveau styling and I wanted this new piece to reflect that design influence. My brain started to focus on the remembrance of the art nouveau styled metro stations in Paris. Perhaps this was because one of my best friends from my high school/college era, with whom I spent some time in Paris, was concurrently taking classes to reinvigorate his French. He and I enjoy reminiscing those years of our youth, and these metro stations in Paris have captivated me from the first time I saw them:

Here's the necklace that was my jumping-off point:

As you can see, my design changed quite drastically from the jumping-off point. You can see the stronger influence (including the color scheme) from the art nouveau metro station images. 

For those interested, below I will detail my full process for creating this piece. There will be more photos of the finished piece and a video which demonstrates the physical flexibility and position-ability of this piece. To start, I sketched out a few ideas. After pairing down features that didn't work, I chose the sketch in the next image to be the starting point. Also in the next image is the wire armature that I created, this wire armature is what allows the necklace to be customized by positioning it to contour the wearer's body. The wire armature is a 16 gauge aluminum wire. At the points where 2 wires meet, they are wound with a thin 28 gauge wire for joining.

The next step in the design process was a base layer of polymer. Keeping in mind that I wanted this piece to flex without breaking, I decided to go with a 50/50 blend of Cernit translucent and Bake 'n Bend white. Below is an image of the base layer before curing:

During curing of this base layer, some areas cracked. I'm not sure why this happened, perhaps from the heat of the wire, perhaps from the temperature of the oven... I filled in the cracks and re-cured until the entire piece was solid and ready for the decorative layers. 

I started by covering the piece in another blend of Cernit (this time in the Shiny green color) mixed with Bake 'n Bend in the green color. This blend was approximately a 75 percent (Cernit) to 25 percent (BnB). I decided that the best way to cover this piece was to start with the back. I wanted a line inscribed texture for the back and scratched that into the surface before curing. Here's a shot of the backside of the necklace:

 After the backside was sculpted, it went in for another cure. Once cured, I began the decorative layer on the front. I worked one half of the necklace at a time, as seen in the next photo, and cured the necklace after the first half was sculpted before starting the decorative layer on the second half. 

Once both sides were covered and sculpted to my liking and put in for the final curing, I added some antiquing using a matte polymer varnish with Paynes grey acrylic paint to the green areas. The gold rounds were treated to a dusting with gold mica while raw, but after curing they were then painted with a coating of a gloss polymer varnish, some metallic bronze paint was added to some of this varnish for painting around the bottoms of the rounds to give depth and simulate pearls. 

I am quite pleased with the finished piece. I've already worn it when we went to a concert on Saturday, and happily report that it is very comfortable to wear, which is an important factor. While this piece will likely remain in my permanent collection, I think there is a strong possibility that I will create other iterations of it in the future. 

This was my first time using Cernit. I chose this brand based on what I saw at Synergy4 in the pieces of Marie Segal (another polymer artist and kind soul who I admire). I was impressed with the strength and flexibility of the Cernit pieces that Marie brought to Synergy, many thanks go to Marie for discussing the benefits of Cernit with me. And thanks go to the generous Maria Alexandrou for demo-ing her flexible cuff tutorial at Synergy4, it was from that demo that I learned the possibilities of mixing bake n' bend with regular polymers to add flexibility. Speaking of which, here's that video showing the flexibility and position-ability of this piece: 

My experience with the Voila course was superb, and I plan to participate in the next class offering by Christine and Donna, which is listed on the website as TBA in 2018. I am already looking forward to how that class will stretch my design skills and knowledge even further. Another huge Thank You goes out to Christine, Donna, and all the other polymer artists who participated in this course. If you are a polymer artist, and you are wanting to push your design skills to another level, I highly recommend taking one of the upcoming Voila courses. Please do take some time to view Donna's and Christine's amazing work at their respective websites. 

If you're still with me (I know this was a long blog post), and if you have any comments or questions for me, I'd love to hear what you think about my latest creation.... Please do leave me a comment below! I do plan to get back to creating on a more regular basis; at the least, I hope it won't be another 5 months before I have something new to share. Until then, Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonlighting at Ephrata Unexpected

Ephrata Unexpected was certainly an appropriate title for the multicultural event that occurred last night at the small, restored train station on Main Street in Ephrata, PA. There were stunning qualities about this affair, which was designed to benefit The Ephrata Public Library (one of our local crown jewels) and Downtown Ephrata Inc. (a Pennsylvania Main Street program). Who would have thought that in a small town nestled in Amish country, foods from Ethiopia, Latin America, and the Caribbean would be served up by friendly vendors alongside vinters and mead brewers, artisans and craftsmen? Modern vegetarian cuisine was well represented across the courtyard space. Native American and Mariachi music played out into a balmy October evening, a roaming fiddle player wandered about the crowd and the event concluded with a drum circle set up by the Earth Rhythms shop (which is located near Reading). Whoever thinks you need to be in a big city to live a cultured life or experience a diversity of cultures is mistaken. Our library staff deserves a lot of credit for making this wonderful event happen. 

The food vendors (all local or from near-by vicinities) who participated in this event offered delicious and diverse fare. Attendees could treat themselves to foods from: Aromas Del Sur, an Ephrata family business that specializes in Columbian fare; Awash Ethiopian Cuisine, located in Lancaster; Caribbean Cuisine Catering, a business that came in from Pottsville, Garofalo's Calabria, an Italian eatery located at the Green Dragon in Ephrata; Isabelle Cuisine, featuring West African cuisine and located in Ephrata; Javateas, a gourmet coffee café, also located in Ephrata; Meduseld Meadery, Handcrafted Mead produced from local honey, located in Lancaster; Root, and all vegan restaurant locate in Lancaster; The Stroopie Company Inc., a Lancaster based company that makes a specialty Dutch treat of a cinnamon waffle cookie with caramel filling; Ten Thousand Villages, located in Ephrata this store features fair trade products and ethnic fare in their café; Three Sisters Park, a Khmer-Thai restaurant located in Ephrata; Upohar, featuring Ethnic Cuisine and located in Lancaster; Weathered Vineyards, Wine sourced from Lehigh Valley grapes but hosted at The Historic Smithton Inn in Ephrata, for local wine tasting; and St. Boniface Brewery, Ephrata's local micro-brewery. With so many delicious options, we had full bellies by the end of the evening!

Please do click on each of the small photos above to view them at full size and to check out our varied vendors! I know I missed getting photos of some of the stands, but this gives one a fairly good sampling of what was present. I was most impressed by the Stroopies business. The woman you see in the photo of The Stroopie Co. stand is the owner of this business. Aside from creating a delicious and unique product, she uses her business to provide meaningful employment to the refugees that resettle in the Lancaster area. Each year, this area takes in about 1000 refugees. This woman is providing a valuable service as well as a fantastic product. You can try Stroopies from wherever you live, as she does take mail-orders. And shipping is free with orders of $30 or more. Visit www.stroopies.com for more info.

Sadly, it was not all cookies and cream for me... Attendees participated in a contest to create the most spectacular settings for their tables (including tablecloths, place settings and centerpieces). This is where my latest creative effort came into play and which, in the end, was a source of great disappointment. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. 

I’m no stranger to art competitions in all their forms. There is almost always someone who produces something that makes your head spin even when you think you’ve got something special. I didn’t think it would be any different as we drove into town last night, but once we arrived, I was surprised. Even a quick glance at the settings made it clear that, whatever degree of curb appeal they had, most were made primarily of store bought items that required minimal effort to asemble. Anyone with a decent eye could have done as much. Now, I should say that I have no problem taking a loss. It happens more often than not, and usually I can see why. But this was Ephrata Unexpected. Incredibly, the judges chose one of those store bought assemblies over our table, which was dressed in a hand sewn fitted table cloth, runner and handmade folded (star shaped) napkins to match our theme, this was topped with examples of my polymer work. The flatware was glossed in gold, also by hand. Our presentation suffered a bit since the glow of our centerpiece didn’t come to full life until both the daylight  and the judging were done. The look of a candle or lamp can be anticipated, but not the backlit glass and clay moon in the center of our space. Still without the drama of the lighting at full bloom, it was easily as well designed as any of the other colorful displays. As the evening progressed, several attendees stopped to share good will and a lot of "oohs and ahhs." We made some new friends and ran into some old ones. Even one of the judges came to share condolences after her lobbying effort failed to sway her male counterparts away from the winning choice, a Morrocan-themed table. Ironically, I have the same lamps that this table included as its anchors, and I had thought about doing something similar. It was very nice, fitting neatly into the multicultural backdrop. But it was less created than merely constructed.  There were 2 other tables that earned much more of my respect. One had hand carved wooden plates and bowls, accented by gourds filled with beans in a creative three sisters theme. It wasn't flashy or grand, but it took some serious skill to make those pieces. The second table that I thought had merit for handmade talent and engineering was one that incorporated painted and carved pumpkins and an overhead lighting display.  

If they do this again next year, and I hope they do, I might think twice about investing any time in details that may not be appreciated. Such things are never lost on artists and craftsmen, but it's a roulette wheel when other groups judge creative work. So call it sour grapes if you wish. There are times when you just have to say it like it is, and with a thousand dollar prize at stake, this wasn't just Ephrata, it was a tragedy unexpected. 

Again, please do click on the above photos from the event to see them at full size. 
See below for pictures and techniques used in my table setting, including the crescent moon and glassware.

The above 2 photos are of my table setting in the evening. There is a daylight shot of my table at the top of the set of photos from the event tables. Below are more views that were taken at home:

So, more about my theme...  I had a couple of different ideas and I sketched all of them out and discussed them with my hubby, since he was a part of the event too. We decided on a night theme featuring navy and gold stars and a crescent moon centerpiece. I entitled the theme "Goodnight Sweetheart", as our table was to be a table for two (or as some call it, a sweetheart table). The first thing I did was to create the table cloth, which was fitted to the table size (a card table size). The overall color of the table cloth was navy, but it had corner panels underneath of a gold cloth, so that if the wind would blow, the gold corner would peek through. Next I made the folded and shaped napkins. One side of these is a gold fabric and the other side is the same navy fabric from the table cloth. I folded these in origami fashion to form a star shape in keeping with the theme.

The next item I tackled was the center piece. Serendipity would have me find a perfect, large, lentil shaped glass bowl on which to build my half-moon centerpiece. It would prove difficult to find a stand to support the moon, but I came up with the idea of using a napkin holder which I had planned to bend into the shape I wanted. Originally I was going to just paint the napkin holder with gold spray paint, but when I bent it into the V-shape that I needed, the one side broke clean off. Never one to give up easily... plan "B" saw me wiring the broken piece onto the base and covering the entire piece with polymer which was then treated to a stippled texture. I had to include a little "seat" to ensure that the moon would be stable when sitting in the stand. Curing this piece was quite challenging, as the glass bowl meant for the moon needed to stand upright so that the stand could cure while hanging over the top of it in place, to keep the proper form of the V shape. With the glass bowl balanced inside a pan filled with marbles, this curing was a nerve racking couple of hours, as I hoped that nothing would make the glass bowl suddenly slip and tip over. Luckily all survived intact! As a final touch, the entire stand was covered in a transparent gold glitter to help refract the light. Here are shots of the stand by itself:

Then it came time to create my half moon on the lentil bowl. I extruded stacks of layered polymer in transparent silver glitter, transparent, white, white pearl, and 18K gold. The extruded strands were then wound in circular spirals and placed next to each other. The gaps were filled with smaller spirals or strands to fill the shapes and in the small spaces I added pearls. With translucent polymer I sculpted a star on the upper area where the ends of the crescent moon meet, and this was covered with an extruded blend of 18K gold and gold polymer. The sculpting of this star wasn't too difficult, the difficulty came from adding support so that the protruding piece of the star wouldn't break due to gravity. Once again, the curing gods were on my side, and the entire piece came out unscathed.  After curing, I added the battery operated lights. I wanted more of the light to shine in the upper parts of the moon and wanted one light under the star, so I caulked the lights into place with silicone, since my double-stick tape was refusing to hold.  I was absolutely tickled with the results of this piece:

The next piece of the puzzle saw me creating a set of utensils, covering them with extruded strands of blue polymer (infused with silver glitter)  in a blue hue that I blended to match the glassware, this blue layer was then inlaid with gold stars. After I had spent hours creating this set, my hubby came home from work and decidedly hated the look of these with the moon (and the moon was a certain keeper)... so another plan "B" was hashed, to find a set of cheap flatware in gold. None of the thrift stores around me had gold flatware sets and with only 2 days to showtime, plan "C" was enacted. I purchased a silver set and taped off the parts that would come in contact with food, and proceeded to paint the handles of each in gold chrome paint.  (you can see the flatware in the photos of the entire setting above).

I needed to embellish the glasses to set them apart from the navy table cloth, so I added some gold and 18K gold polymer in the shape of stars in various sizes. Final touches were the addition of floating gold candles in glasses filled with water and blue glass pebbles in the bottom. I tossed a bunch of glittered gold star ornaments that I had purchased (but glued them in place to look like jacks) around the floating candle pieces. As a last addition, which pulled the entire setting together, I added a shimmery gold fabric table runner down the center of the table. All of these details can be seen in photos above.

There was a first iteration of the table setting with pieces I put together, but which didn't make the final cut... here's a photo with that polymer handled flatware mentioned above, along with some other accent pieces that weren't used. My hubby's minimalist eye and input helped to push me to find new pieces that would pull the entire setting into a more cohesive and elegant design. Ours was a heated discussion that night, but as always, he's usually right about these things and I ended up much happier with the final version. Here's a peek at that first (rejected) iteration:

Finally, I had a little time left to focus on myself, and yep, I had to go there... I made a necklace to match my theme.

And oh yeah, when I (last minute) discovered an LED battery operated halloween bracelet and the gears went turning.... Literally, I added this light just hours before we had to be at the event. I'm not sure I'm going to keep the light as I'm not in love with it. But, it was a fun addition to mimic the centerpiece. When a person commented on my necklace, I would flick the switch and show them that it too lit up... this was always met with an additional "OOOh!". 

So, despite losing the contest and the generous cash prize, with all of the disappointment that stems from that, I have to say that I am totally in love with this creation. Perhaps my bias (and the weeks of work and late-nighters) is preventing me from being as gracious about the contest as I ought to be... and if that's the case, my sincere apologies to my readers. But my husband and others have expressed the same (if not greater) disappointment in the judges choices, which supports me in my analysis that when given the judging task, not all people will appreciate the handmade artisan details. 

I'm not certain what will become of all of these pieces, at this point I'm quite attached to the moon centerpiece and am thinking of keeping it in my private collection. If I stumble upon another serendipitous moon shaped bowl, I might just recreate the piece for selling since I adore it so. 

As always, I welcome any comments, opinions and questions that readers of my blog might have. Please leave them for me below!!