Tag Archives: polymer clay

Purpose vs Intention & Creativity

The other day I was having an Issue with the project I was working on from last time, so I emailed a jpeg to my Clayville California Polymer Clay Artists Guild and asked for advice. The first part of the response that I got startled me:  “What is the purpose of your project; it makes a difference.” 

I was stuck at that word purpose. What purpose did I have when I sat down to work with the clay? I rarely set out with a purpose. And why should it make a difference? 

Anyone who has sat in my writing classes or been coached by me knows that I am forever haranguing them that Purpose is the underpinning of all that goes into making a piece of writing successful. So why hadn’t that occurred to me as necessarily transferable to a piece of art? The answer to that is, I realize, why my students and clients so often had trouble with the concept of Purpose. It’s the wrong word. 

Purpose implies product. Product implies a plan and the expectation of succeeding at that plan. But that mindset can often be antithetical to both writing and the making of art as it sometimes works to eliminate discovery, happenstance, sheer creativity.  No, the right word is not Purpose; it’s Intention. Intention is an aim, a direction, a willingness to explore.

Pursuing a Purpose often leads to an entreprenurial urge, and I’ve seen the entrepreneurial urge suck the life out of writers. That’s exactly what happened to me in my early days of my taking up polymer clay as a medium. I was all about Product. I was Creating Jewelry To Sell. How else could I justify the time and expense I was putting into the stuff? Like an assembly line worker, I needed to know that my efforts validated the cost. Except–it didn’t take long before I was face to face with the harsh reality that no one wanted to buy my work. Without that Purpose, what was the point?

That turned me deeper into exploration. So maybe it wasn’t Purpose I was missing so much as Intention. I moved away from the How To’s for creating jewelry and into just looking at, seeing, and wondering about the work of those who are artists first and craftspeople second. Why were they doing what they did? Where did their creative impulse come from?

That has led me to question my response to art and the way it may or may not impact on the work I do. Basically, then, I’m trying to get a bead on myself as a receiver and producer. What do I like? Why? What turns me off? Why? I’m looking at everything visual through those lenses, and trying to understand myself. So the answer to the Guild’s question “what was the purpose of the project” is, my intention is experimentation. 

Specifically, I’m drawn to birdseye views of nature, and the way they manifest as geometric patterning. When I saw that the piece I was working on last week seemed to be turning into some sort of nature scene, I decided I would try to create the foliage using mini-circles of clay. Sort of a pointillist technique. I experimented with using old canes and veneers and tried some of the new texture techniques I’ve learned, most recently from Sage Bray’s Virtual Art Box.

I had fun; I increased my understanding and ability to do more with polymer clay. I did not create a work worthy of anything but my own admiration. Okay, and maybe yours. There are flaws galore in the piece, but I did achieve my intention. Even if I didn’t know it until after I had to think about it long and hard. 

Learning From Failures–or Not

Looking through my photos, choosing one to headline a particular post, I’m drawn to my disasters. Could it be because there are so many more of them than of anything else (notice how I won’t class an object a success).

I am, if nothing else, on this journey I’m taking, humble. Working with polymer clay after a lifetime as a successful writer is, exactly that, humbling. I’m forced to see how much I don’t know and how inadequate my efforts are in polymer clay.

In the beginning, I was annoyed at my failures, pissed off that things hadn’t gone as I intended. If something didn’t work, I moved on to the next thing. To repeat a project until it did work–that was outside the scope of my imagination.

Until I joined a local polymer clay guild and met women who were in every sense of the word artists. I saw very clearly then the difference between what I was turning out and their projects. They have years ahead of me in working as artists, but they’re gracious and encouraging and never laugh.

So I’ve gone from being someone at the top of her field to an inadequate practitioner of an art form that for some reason has me in its thrall. Now when things don’t work out, I first follow my usual thinking–what can I do to make this look reasonable? I have a collection of objects for whom the answer to that was, nothing.

Just lately, today actually for the first time, I heard one of the polymer clay artists in one of the many Groups on Facebook say something about treating the first object as a trial. Making a second in which you put all you’d learned in the first. Oh. What a novel idea.

That photo at the top is an experiment in a new-to-me technique called–

–and there I left this post. I intended to redo this little dish, with more specific intention and practiced techniques. Instead I did nothing, then started mixing some clay, then started fiddling with the mixed clay, and…

It’s not the little dish. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a turning point for me in this process…

Chocolate Mountain Pendant

Why Chocolate Mountain Pendant? Because I’ve just been looking up how to temper chocolate, and that’s where my mind is right now.

Why tempering chocolate? Because we’ve been binge watching British cooking shows, and I’m highly suggestible.

The Chocolate Mountain Pendant is part of a series of polymer clay creations I made using a made-it-up-myself method of slicing sheets of clay I covered with a melange of colored additives and putting them together in new ways for no other reason than I liked the way they looked. I backed them with black polymer clay for stability, and this is one of the results. I’ve added a copper fastener for hanging, brown leather cord and copper findings to finish.

I’m asking $30 for the Chocolate Mountain Pendant, free shipping within the continental US. If you’re interested, let me know in the Comments.

The history of my obsession, creating bits & baubles.

Handpainted Red & Gold Domino Pendant $25

It all began back in high school, taking a course from Mr. Shearer, he of the Elmer Fudd impediment, who began each term announcing: “Good mo’ning, boys and gels. I’m Mr. Scheewer and dis is Jewey Cwaft.”

In college, I originated the idea of creating earrings by sticking blobs of melted crayons onto straight pins. I have a clear memory of a beautiful pair of pale aqua drops; I have no memory of how they might have fastened to my ears.

During the years I lived in England, the 70s, I took a jewelry-making class at…I don’t remember that either. However, I have a clear image of myself burning flux off some bauble I was making of some kind of metal. But not much more.

During the ‘80s, I was one of those people fashioning chokers from heishi beads strung on fishing line. Yes, I was a hippie.

In the 90s, I progressed to seed beads. I loved buying them. I loved buying books and magazines with full color photos of what incredible creations Real Artists had made with them. I did not love the tedium of following the instructions, which always featured directional arrows that confused me. Still, I persevered.

By the mid-2000s, when I discovered wire-wrapping and polymer clay, the fun I had making these bits and baubles had given rise to a growing guilt.  I was wasting time and money, which may have done for my hippie days, but was out of sync with my 21st century entrepreneurial self. So I ventured into the marketplace, with Etsy first and then Artfire. Tough sales venues. Too tough for me. 

I don’t expect that the place I’ve created on my website called Aphra’s Art to be any easier. But since it’s my very own private, personal marketplace, I don’t have to worry about seeing all the competition displayed right next–or instead of–me.

Aphra’s Art is a work in progress–as is everything I do–so don’t expect to see a fully realized shop site. But don’t worry, I’ll let you know when I’ve posted something new.

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