I have a love/hate relationship with polymer clay. After shunning it for years based on my perception of the overly cutesy-wootsy suburban housewife crafter (gingerbread men) and psychedelic hippie (cane) aesthetics, I’m here to tell you, polymer has come into its own. This is my second foray into this medium, the beads above were made a few weeks ago. And they got me very excited indeed about the possibilities for this medium.
As I set about to experiment again with polymer clay, I came up initially with the pieces above. I felt they were okay-ish. But they somehow felt a little safe. The leaves were beginning to have a nice, burnt feeling to them and I went on to create the entire suite of components below (Burnt Offerings collection).
What you can see here is my experiments in both surface texture and coloration. Do I start with dark or light clay? Paint it? Powder it? Gold leaf it? Smash it, scratch it, etch it, impress upon it, embed into it, bake it, carve it? The answer is yes! All of the above and more! Polymer is a really forgiving and soft surface, and therein lies its beauty and frustration. You can get GREAT results. If you handle it after you do, those results will smooth back out quickly. It seemed like starting with a batch of small components was a great way to experiment without wasting supplies.
Of course, you know me. Attention span of a gnat. Easily bored. Gotta go over the top. The above/below piece is a focal for a bracelet, entitled Octopus’s Garden. It has holes on either side to attach chain or ribbon, and a nice curve for the wrist achieved by baking it over a soda can. Features some of the burnt leaves poking out of a dark and spooky garden. With a squid tentacle and of course bling/sparkle/glitz. Because I can’t help myself! Darkness and light, people, darkness and light.
I did not invent any of the techniques you see in use in these pieces… they are out there for the grabbing… all over YouTube. I probably watched about 8 hours of how-to videos over the course of a week while I was working on these pieces and collecting up some supplies. Just go over to the site and search for polymer clay, it will all come up. And you can follow links in the videos for additional blog posts.
Most supplies are available at any craftstore; I went to Michael’s. I also stood in the aisle and read most of a polymer clay how-to book, so as to not have to buy it. Picked up some valuable tips! It was a full immersion into the medium… and I’ve still got a very long way to go with results. I like what I’ve done, but I’m still working it out.
Having started with black clay, it was challenging to get any contrast going with the textures/colors. Although it’s even more challenging to photograph these, and they actually have a LOT of coloration. Above you see experiments with a sparkly white clay, as well as embedding a vintage image under a glass dome. I think it’s important to mix polymer clay beads in with other kinds of beads as you see in the curation above (which will be a necklace) entitled For Amusement Only (imprinted on the vintage brass carnival token also pictured).
So, this is as far as I’ve gotten with this round of polymer. I’m pleased and excited to make more things. There are some truly amazing polymer artists out there who make the clay look like everything from metal to raku-fired pieces. I’m no expert, but if you decide to play, feel free to get in touch with me; I’d love to chat! Unless you decide to make ginger-bread men… then I don’t really want to hear from you. JUST KIDDING!!!!
PS: I have not yet bought the requisite pasta machine for kneading and rolling clay. I’m not sure I’ll need one for the small batches of work I’ll do.
Sometimes the thriftstore is just magical. Often, as I’m driving over I’m thinking about the things I “need” and all too often, those items are there for the finding. You guys know I’m on a big grunge kick, and that means old flannel shirts. The above, scored for $6–which truthfully, I feel is a lot at Value Village–has a dirty 70’s vibe I could not resist. Foolish? Well folks, you can pay $6 or you can head over to Urban Outfitters and pay $49. I left at least 7 other flannels on the racks, and I’m sure they’ll be stocking ’em all winter so go grab one, or two, or three. Take that UO!
I was also longing for jewelry supplies. The knotted vintage double-strand choker above features heavy white glass beads and gorgeous rhinestone rounds. Cost: $2.99. You can pay that much and more for a single rhinestone bead and there are six of them on this necklace. Since I’m into these vintage sparkles in my recent work, my intention was to pull this apart.
Grunged tribal Talhakimt earrings–Write Yr Story–with black diamond vintage rhinestones above would look great with this shirt and necklace combo.
Amazing necklace above is a strand of Czech glass beads in the sweetest delicate shade of pale blue givre, with a little iridescent pink flash. Between each bead, a rhinestone rhondelle! Price: $3.99. Again, I intended to release this strand into my supply stash until I tried the damn thing on. Both necklace finds: definite keepers. Oh, and these rondelles, purchased new, are at least $1 ea, sometimes more. I think there are about 40 on this strand.
The Titanica earrings incorporate rhinestone rondelles, except these are SQUAREDELLES… and how cool is that?! With the best bead caps I’ve ever found–0nce shiny gold brass, they now display a great crusty hand-applied patina.
The ombre flannel above was brand new with tags and thusly priced through the roof at $10. Since these vintage-styled flannels (let alone actual vintage ones) are harder to come by, I bit the bullet and paid. It’s gorgeous, perfectly oversized, super soft. The necklace above ($3.99) has a great industrial romantic look. I immediately thought about pulling it apart to make earrings. But yeah, you got it. I tried it on… and… CRAP! More jewelry for me! Just what I don’t need. (sigh)
The Rose Garden earrings would be sweet with the ombre flannel with just enough grunge and sparkle. The large glass beads (Czech) are really the bomb. With irregular hand-cut facets, soft rosy coloration and a splash of iridescence… bohemian gypsy chic. The earring collection will be updated weekly for awhile, so I hope you’ll check often.
Also this weekend, a little denim repair a la boro and sashiko with some lovely red flannel. I hope to do a post about my obsession with Japanese stitchery soon.
You know, way back in the ’90’s. Nirvana, Marc Jacobs, flannel, old boots. Well, it became a thing, but I’m old enough to tell you it was there long before Vogue mag declared it a fashion thing. I think by that time, I’d been shopping for clothes primarily in thrift stores for 2-3 decades, favoring girly dresses with combat boots for awhile. And I wasn’t the only one before this was co-opted by the media machine.
The preference for things worn, used, tattered and torn–objects with a previous life, a history, with distress, destruction, and survival felt natural to me as a form of escape from mall-ified suburban America. So, what does it mean when we MAKE things that are new appear very old (above)? Thrifstores–once filled with glamorous 40’s gowns and beaded cashmere sweaters–are palaces of polyester these days. There are crusty jewelry parts coming out of Russia and Afghanistan these days, rather than Value Village… the cost is a bit prohibitive on most of it.
This is shiny new brass. Un-grunged. It’s soaking in dish soap to remove oils so that the chemical agents can do their job. This does not always work, but it’s a good place to start. I can’t imagine using it in its glittering raw state for much of anything. But transforming these pieces is a metal adventure.
Above are bits and pieces in the process of destruction. It’s messy and sometimes stinks like rotten eggs. It’s incredibly unpredictable, which is both a frustration and a huge part of the allure. Without knowing the exact composition of the metal you are trying to distress (copper? brass? nickel? steel?)… it’s impossible to predict which chemical might have an effect, and just what that effect will be. There is a lot of scrubbing and soaking, wiping/sanding and re-soaking to achieve a great patina (the professional term for grunged out metal).
I use chemicals made by a company called Jax. They are hazmat so I order up a few bottles have them all shipped at once. It’s hard not to think of the chemicals as precious, so when I start patina-ing, I run around my studio throwing everything in sight into the soup. Jax makes many different solutions for many different metals… I stock about 4-5 of these and use them interchangeably, sloppily, and without any prescription or recipe.
I’m really loving the verdigris patina lately. After a long while of this not seeming to work, I’ve got it DOWN, getting awesome results. Again, not predictable, with verything from pale blues to deep turquoise, to weird shades of green appearing randomly.
Brass bits are cheaply procured, but I think most of these pieces use very old dies. Using patina brings out the original workmanship, missing entirely from a glaring gold surface. Just look at those tiny swags… SO CUTE! But they just look crappy in gold.
Not to be contradictory about the gold, I sometimes throw gold leaf into these designs, furthering the look of a decayed gilded age. These Belle Epoch earrings also have RAW ruby dangles… raw stones are grunge, tumbled are not! So yes, I’m removing gold, then adding it back in. Seems insane, but is really just so much fun.
So, back to grunge. Since the 80’s, I’ve never stopped loving tartan; this is a dress I made last summer from the softest flannel and a daisy chain of feedsack fabric yo-yo’s (30’s-40’s).
And I’ll admit, I loved the Jacobs collection in the 90’s; I didn’t resent the elevation of streetwear to high fashion. It’s what always happens and sometimes the results are truly great. Above is another dress I made this summer… the delicate very sheer plaid voile fabric is by Marc Jacobs, a self-referential nod, don’t you think? Plaid looks great with florals and lace.
The September earrings would look so good with that dress! Should I keep them? The bead caps on these things are RIDICULOUS. Very medieval or something. And yep, they were super shiny gold, now covered with crusty soot. The beads are palest blue lace agate and Picasso-finished Czech glass beads.
This bangle stack was made for a client this summer, a gift to someone special. I do these mostly by commission, so email me if you’re interested. They feature tarnished bangles from India, reclaimed sari silk, and lots of other beads and elements. Grungy, bohemian cool.
Here’s a recent photo I’m very taken with. Bratty children can be extremely grunge. Their hands sticky, their hair chopped. Their ragged mismatched clothing. The colors above are my palette of teal, rose, gold. You can find images like this over on my Pinterest boards.
I’ll be rocking my grungy jewelry in massive layers this fall. I’ll wear too many necklaces (including this one that features a destroyed Cadillac hood ornament! The other is an old Afghani treasure that was falling apart and I sort of patched it back together), WITH earrings AND bracelets. Yeah, grunge was a thing. I’m glad it still is.
I never (ever) let people into the jewelry studio. If you’ve been inside (and you know who you are) consider yourself mightily privileged. It’s not that there are secrets, but it is just a crazy mess of supplies, with ideas crowding out the space and threatening to use up all the available oxygen. I’m afraid if you see it, you’ll know just how insane I really am. And with that, Our Lady of Beads welcomes you to this rare peek.
With detours into many techniques and stylistic persuasions, in the end it’s all about the beads. A sick sort of addiction to beads.
Areas of the studio are covered with random weird shit that may or may not make it into a project and that I find simultaneously stimulating and at times completely suffocating. Like… WHERE’s THE WHITE SPACE??? There simply isn’t any.
Anything here is likely making it into the most recent work… sort of in development and getting closer to actually becoming wearable.
Area devoted to patina. It’s filthy, gross and wonderful. And stinky.
Gold leaf station and minor-league soldering. Crossstitch in the background by Julie Jackson of Subversive Crossstitch.
It’s not all chaos; the vast majority of beads are filed into fishing tackle boxes. Now numbering about 80 (boxes) each with 30 +/- compartments, and pretty much full to capacity. Two baker’s shelves hold the boxes and although I don’t have anything resembling a photographic memory, I can put my hands on any of the specific beads, charms and findings herein. Really.
Work surface where the tiniest of beads won’t go rockin’ and rollin’ onto the floor. I admit to being crazy-jealous of the beautiful studios pictured on Etsy, but you know, in the final analysis I’ve accepted that in order for me to create anything–jewelry, sewing, a life–things just gonna get MESSY! And that’s… Ok. Isn’t it?
Tools. I do like tools.
And finally, when an actual piece of jewelry emerges from this chaotic mess, it will be photographed here in my super fancy high-end photography studio, where I just pray for decent lighting and take my best shot. Harhar, get it??
So yeah. Pretty stuff does come out of all this. Pictured above, Everlasting earrings. I love the verdigris I achieved on these, combined with all those precious beads and rough rubies. Find these and the rest of the fruits of my labor over at So Charmed.
Would you share your studio spaces with the world? Go on, I dare you! Comments welcome…
In my work as a designer, both my professional communications design and jewelry design, one of my very favorite aspects has always been the toggle between big picture thinking and small detail management. I’ll assert that having a love and capacity for both aspects of design is a rarity for the creative soul. For me, it took decades to reconcile the fact that I feel most deeply satisfied when both left-brain (creative) and right-brain (reasoned) thinking come into play. I like to make a mess, but I like to clean it up too. I love big ideas but I love tiny little decisions as well. I believe this series of new necklaces exemplifies what I’m talking about. Click on the images to see them much larger or visit with them on my flickr.
My strategic communications work is always in service of a story; whether about meetings for healthcare professionals or the annual findings of a trade association… a narrative unfolds in words and pictures, often with an actionable objective: Enroll, donate, attend. With jewelry, I’m up to the same kind of storytelling, although it tends more toward abstraction. Nothing compares to the excitement of ideas and meaning. I believe this is what we think of when we talk about design. What is the story we are telling, and, importantly why, and to whom?
Making connections is part of this concept process, in communications I connect text with images in creative ways and with jewelry, I make, source, and bring together disparate elements… often from countries thousands of miles apart, and decades that now fall across two or even three different centuries. An early plastic button from the 1940’s or a glass Victorian one, beads from Africa, tassels from Asia, mid-century American toys, the tin lid of an oil can from India… how can these things possibly tell one story? With jewelry, the stories are sometimes gathered over years and finally come together unexpectedly. This is the part that seems magical (but isn’t, imho).
Once the elements are selected, located, obtained or made, the right-brain engages as I work out actual construction issues. Whether I’m creating style sheets in InDesign, or linking fine threads to metal… problems must be solved at a more micro level. I find this to be the most challenging place in the process; the place where I may want to turn away from the project and find something new to conceptualize, because that’s just so much more fun and flows more fluidly for me. That said, this construction place is also the land of greatest reward (soldering, for example!). When I stick to it and make something impossible work, I am so damn proud of myself! the storytelling comes easily and readily, like breathing. Am I lucky or cursed?
The final stage, or production, is the most micro of all. This is the time where most of the big picture problems are solved (though sometimes these can change even at this point) and where I buckle down to wrap tiny strands of thread around and around for hours, detangling as I go, or sit quietly and sew on minuscule beads one at a time, perhaps I’m styling text for hours on end, bold, italic, larger, smaller. I generally and truly delight in the zen of this work, though too much of it becomes boring and my mind will start to itch. This is why it’s great to have several projects going at once, a brochure being designed, another being produced… necklace concepts coming together, materials arriving from distant lands, pieces being made and photographed and shared.
Which stage(s) of design and making do you love most? Where do you have to push through difficulty or boredom? How does it affect your work? I’d love to hear from you!
Suddenly. In. Love. With. ROCKS!!!!!! Pictured above, from the top: fluorite, blue calcite, citrine (but suspiciously looks like calcite and am contacting dealer about this), raw garnets (!), amazonite and quartz points. Gemstones are MUCH cheaper by the strand, and ebay is a good bet for locating best pricing.
Big batch of Rocking Rings made yesterday, now being varnished to protect the gold leafing and patina work. As soon as they’re dry I’ll start listing. They are really and truly beautiful, if I do say so, and although chunky, very wearable. Earrings are coming next, can’t wait to play with these stones in that context. As always, larger photos up on flickr for your viewing pleasure.
I like to fool myself into thinking that anyone could possibly be interested in my creative process, the inner workings of my designing mind at the earliest stages of making things. Hence, WIP (work in progress). Everything here represents an idea in formulation, not remotely finished.
This is how it begins with earrings. Vast supplies in my studio. Many little things scattered on every available surface. One day the things… they start making their way toward one another as if by some poetic pull. At the top of the post, an Afghani coin finding with brilliant emerald glass, a gear with verdigris patina, an ancient crystal bead and a piece of industrial trash. Above, a newer finding paired with a Mexican milagro.
More Kuchi coins above (these are used in traditional costume including belly dance) with lovely glass rubies, being riveted to a pair of seriously rusted bottle caps scavenged from some American desert. Fiber may be added at some point.
How do these tiny objects — a old discarded button, an African Vaseline trade bead, a bumpy middle Eastern bead, a tiny verdigris sparrow — come together? Some ways might be: color, form, content, texture, juxtoposition of cultures and histories. Things that resonate as similar or opposite, or both. The rule of chance encounters. The joy for me is that I don’t think much about any of this.
Part of it is the trained eye, the practiced hand, designing for years, decades, a lifetime. Part of it might be something inaccessible; dreams, associations. Above, an ancient glass button, possibly 1920’s, likely European, paired with a Mexican heart milagro charm. A tiny visual poem begun, beauty, an adornment.
Making (and attempting to sell) wearable art is an incredibly multi-faceted endeavor. From the creative aspects of designing work that meets my vision to the artful execution of that work, to techy stuff like digital photography and building web pages, the skill-set required would seem daunting if I weren’t just smack in the midst of it daily.
Clothing is challenging to shoot and if there’s one thing to share with you, it’s this: Clothing photos are most effective when brought to life. I’m so lucky to have a beautiful muse living under my very roof.
Even in close-up to show detail, clothing is best photographed on a living being. The photo above was repinned quite a bit over on Pinterest.
I tend to prefer jewelry photos on a white seamless (just a large “press sheet” from my graphic design day job taped to the wall and draped down across a small table). Props can be an asset (or a terrible distraction); I choose mine pretty carefully. Just forget trying to photograph jewelry against black unless you have mad skills and a sophisticated set-up.
Vertical images can be a problem on Web sites, but occasionally it’s useful and fun to provide a wider context.
Once you’ve made something gorgeous and have set up a little photo area, remember that lighting really is everything. I shoot mostly in natural light, no flash, and unless I just can’t wait, in the morning when the sun is not shining into the studio and casting harsh, warm shadows. Correction (both lighting and color) is still always necessary in Photoshop. I prefer bright, cool whites and under the best circumstances in my decidedly unprofessional studio, I must color correct to minimize the warm yellow/red tones and I always must brighten and beef up contrast to get closer to the reality of the goods as they will be depicted onscreen. And it’s true what they say, monitors vary. Greatly. Mine is high end and callibrated but I actually have no idea what YOU are seeing.
Here is a very old thrifted hardback of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. A most beautiful story. When I saw this image in PhotoShop I decided I had to title the earrings Yonderways. Happy accident.
With necklaces and longer earrings, the challenge is to show the entire piece but also to capture some of the amazing work in the details. Nothing wrong with a little bead porn.
Then there’s textiles. Sigh. The Snow Dress is a LARGE object to show in very small Web images, so a range of shots is best, as above detailing the vintage lace and neon ribbon, and below in the glamourous model shot.
Photography is such a delight for me. Despite a lot of time studying the subject in college (pre digital, darkroom work, etc.), I still made/make a LOT of very bad photos in order to get to the better ones. The bottom line is this: I don’t believe you need a high-end camera (I use a relatively cheap, old Canon Powershot), nor is a fancy lighting booth required. You do need Photoshop and some basic skills there, so maybe that’s the stumbling block for so many people. Don’t fear the PhotoShop!
Thanks for reading this, and if you have any photography questions, please feel free to comment; I’ll try my best to help! I’ve thought about teaching a little seminar in my studio… maybe one day. Images by yours truly, model: Molly Bess, everything copyrighted but feel free to Pin!
A comment from the mom of the baby whose bracelet is pictured in the below post mentioned that she was considering making a shadowbox to contain the bracelet for display during the years prior to her daughter being able to wear it.
This jogged my memory of creating just such a box when I designed a wedding gift charm bracelet for a friend who I wasn’t sure would be able to wear the chunky bangly thing too often… but might want to display it in her home rather than keeping it in a jewelry box hidden away.
The photos aren’t great, but I hope you get the idea. The raw pine box was purchased inexpensively at Michael’s crafts store and has a glass front door. I stained the box and lined it with pretty craft papers, including a scrap from the actual printed wedding invite, installing two small nails on the back wall for hanging the bracelet.
I then added a few treasures to the bottom floor of the box, a miniature cake and some dried rose petals. I honestly can’t remember if I ever resolved creating a way to hang the box on a wall, or if I just left it as something to display on a shelf or tabletop (probably the latter). I had a moment’s thought to offer these custom boxes for sale along with my charm bracelets, but ultimately decided that the amount of work involved was just beyond what I could probably charge. It isn’t hard, and you CAN do it yourself! If you have any questions or want support with your own shadowbox project, drop me an email any old time! xoxo
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I set up shop on Etsy in 2008, 4 years ago. Prior to that, I had been selling jewelry online at So Charmed for 7 years, opening the first incarnation of the site on my birthday, September 2001. For the first couple of years on Etsy my work made loads of treasuries and the coveted front page regularly. Sales were decent. Courtney Love discovered my work on Etsy, ordering enough jewelry in 2009 for me to consider myself “on the Love payroll” for several months. She was also sharing my work with some of her friends, such as Oliver Stone, and regaling me with stories of wearing her Robert Johnson pin in the recording studio for inspiration (she was working on her latest record at the time.)
All of this was wonderful. So wonderful in fact that I was inspired to open several additional shops, with breakout lines such as LaPatisserie (sweet little rings using cakes and vintage buttons).
And another shop, SewCharmed to sell vintage clothing and sewn items. There were at least 2 additional shops; a veritable Etsy empire, I thought.
For those of you who like numbers, all told, I made 500 sales +/- on Etsy in a 4-year period. Those numbers, however, are kind of meaningless in terms of how much income I realized via Etsy. It’s a much longer story for another time (or not), but suffice to say, that even at peak performance on Etsy–a few hundred sales per year, I was real real real glad I hadn’t quit my dayjob (despite Etsy’s then-constant promotion of just that very dream).
Etsy was brief for me. Around the time of my becoming rather discouraged with the site… decreased sales and an ever-growing presence of jewelry (when I checked this morning, there were 2,965,000+/- pieces listed on the site), with prices for jewelry lowering ridiculously (current average price of an Etsy sale: $15-$20 with 3.5% going to paypal and 3.5% to Etsy), with an insane number of resellers, ie, “handcrafters” selling cheap jewelry manufactured in factories (mostly China)… and a maddening number of copycat “artists” blatantly stealing every new idea that comes along, a site popped up on the internet humor scene to poke fun at all of this alleged glitter-huffing. Enter: Regretsy, where DIY meets WTF.
Somehow, I happened upon Regretsy from its very first post, and after overcoming my jealousy at not creating the site myself, I became one of its biggest fans. It is… hilarious. And mean. And hilarious. I exchanged a few emails with April Winchell, the cool, funnygirl founder of the site and was shortly after invited by her to create the divider page for the jewelry section of her upcoming book. Above is one of the images I created, below is the one she chose to publish. I was never sure if anyone got the little Jew joke I put in. I thought April would love that.
Then, with my increasing Etsy discouragement, I refreshed the design and blog of my site, rethinking what I wanted to make (and sell), and determining that with the limited hours (fulltime job, parenting, family, etc) that I have to pursue personal creativity and art (as opposed to my client-centered professional design work), I just couldn’t bring myself to focus on listing amongst nearly 3 million pieces of cheap jewelry in the closed
retail wholesale world of Etsy (you have to have an account to shop there).
And please, don’t get me wrong: there is some real, amazing talent over on Etsy a few people I’ve seen make sales in the thousands or tens of thousands… deservedly. There is fantastic original jewelry, and many other wonderful handmade goods from soap to clothing. For supplies and vintage… Etsy still rocks, bigtime. (BTW, all of Etsy’s top sellers sell jewelry supplies… duh!) I still love the idea of Etsy and I still wish all of the vendors nothing but success in their making and sales.
My Etsy shops are empty(ing), as are so many other sellers’. Because it costs nothing to have a shop on Etsy, I’m not going to officially close them down; it was a lot of work setting them up and they contain online histories of work, sales, purchases, and customers that I wouldn’t want to lose. I reserve my right to change my mind about Etsy, should the admins find ways to truly support the hardworking, orignal artists that are paying their bills. So, no regrets.
PS: So what is the answer to successfully selling handmade goods? Shows? Brick ‘n mortar boutiques? Other sites like Dawanda? A best friend on the Barney’s buyer team? Sorry, haven’t found the answer yet! Will keep ya posted!