Monday, October 26, 2009

My mini-vacation and Kathleen Dustin workshop!

It's been a week since I came back from my mini-vacation in Florida with three other members of the Central Mississippi Polymer Clay Guild. We were in Florida to attend a weekend workshop with none other than Kathleen Dustin! These are the only two pieces that I have completed so far but I have several more in the works. This is so much fun and every piece is a surprise in the making!

My mini-vacation started on Wednesday when I met up with Annette and Myra, two of our guild members (and sisters, by the way) at the Jackson airport and flew to Orlando. We were picked up by Joyce, our guild President, who has a beach house not too far from Orlando. After taking several "scenic detours" to find the workshop location and the hotel where we would be staying, we headed for the beach. Lots of fun and laughter!

Thursday was spent lolling around. For those of you not familiar with that term, lolling is a good ole' Southern term that means just being lazy, relaxing at the beach, sitting on the deck and drinking margaritas as the sun went down. Then we headed into Orlando and our hotel.

Friday was a great day. We met Kathleen and admired her work. Then she put us to work!!! I was so afraid that what she would be teaching us was way over my head, but she broke it down with great demos and a good pace. She made sure that everybody was following along on each step before she went on to the next. But she did emphasize that this was not a class for beginners, that at least an intermediate knowledge of working with clay was pretty important to be successful. Just as important as the actual techniques was the wealth of information Kathleen shared on the basics of design and how they applied to her method. We worked through the process of the first two layers on Friday before going to Olive Garden for fun, food and wine!

Saturday started with my least favorite word – SANDING! Everybody in my guild knows how I feel about sanding. I do my very best to get everything as smooth as possible before I put it in the oven. Unfortunately, that will not work with this technique! I had to sand, and sand, and sand some more. Then check for gaps, fill them in with translucent, cure and sand even more. Then finally, I got to buff! Kathleen told us that if we did the sanding correctly, then the buffing just made our pieces shine. I was so pleased with the glow and you really could see "into" the piece!!!

In the midst of all this sanding, we also learned Kathleen's technique for doing transfers. This alone was worth the trip! I've tried transfers before and got sad, faded-out results so I was thrilled to learn how she does her transfers. She also taught us a cool new stack called lamella and some interesting things to do with simple stripes. The lamella stack was made of red gold leaf and translucent and just shimmers when sanded and buffed. Too cool!

I love the fact that every time Kathleen called us up to her table for a demo, she had on a different necklace. This was great because they actually look different on a person than just laying on a black cloth on a table. She had a beautiful variety and some rather unique items too. Her purses were to die for! But my favorite had to be the necklaces made with the end of a skinner blend roll! Be sure to check out her gallery.

Class wound down about 4:00 p.m. and Annette and Myra headed out for a visit with their niece while Joyce and I headed back to the beach… and more margaritas!

Sunday was a wonderfully quiet peaceful day – although just a touch chilly! The cold front that the Floridians had been expecting arrived with a fair amount of wind! A great day to relax with a good book and a glass of tea. Then Monday I had to fly back home and back to work! Vacation was over and the real world was once more intruding!

All I can say about the workshop is that if you ever get an opportunity to take a class with Kathleen Dustin, go for it! It was a wonderfully inspiring weekend and my mind is still spinning with ideas of how to incorporate these techniques into my designs.

I'd also like to take a minute to thank all the wonderful ladies of the Orlando Polymer Clay Guild. Everything - well almost, anyway - ran smoothly and they made us crazy Mississippi ladies feel right at home!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Texture Sticks -- my favorite handmade clay tool – and it's all made with scrap clay!

Somebody asked me recently what I do with my scrap clay. My first question was – what scrap clay? because until you bake it you can continue to reuse polymer clay. But then I got to thinking about the question and I guess I have to say that my favorite thing to make with scrap clay - once it becomes really muddy - are handmade tools - and my favorite handmade tools are my texture sticks. Which, of course, led to the question "What's a texture stick?"

Last fall our guild taught an Introduction to Polymer Clay class at a local community center and one of the items we wanted to make was a Santa. We were debating on how to add texture to his beard and hat because this is so much easier for beginners than trying to get all of the fingerprints smoothed out. When I made the prototype, I had used two different texture sheets but to include them in the supply kit would run up the cost for the class. We wanted the students to have everything that they would need to go home and make another Santa. So what to do???

I remembered seeing an article on PolymerClayWeb about making your own texture tools using buttons and other things around the house. I took that a step further by cutting ½ inch round swirly textured disks (for Santa's beard) and ½ inch round disks of different textures (for Santa's hat). These were then laid on tiles and baked just long enough to firm them up – about 10 minutes. The reason that I did this was so that when you attach them to the "sticks" you don't want to mess up the texture.

Now for the sticks – I rolled a log of scrap clay approximately ½ inch around and cut it in 2 inch sections to make the sticks. I put a drop of liquid polymer clay on the back of a "beard" texture circle and pressed it on one end of the "stick". I repeated the process with one of the "hat" texture circles and pressed it on the other end of the "stick". On both ends, the raw clay was pulled up and blended with the slightly baked clay for a smooth transition. When they were all finished, they went back in the preheated oven for 1 hour at my normal clay baking temperature. After allowing them to cool, I hit the edges with a fairly course sandpaper to knock down the harsh edge and they were ready to go in the class kits! This was a lot of fun because several of us got together for a clay play day and made these so every class participant could have one.

Since I love to add texture to my pieces, I figured these texture sticks would be somewhat useful but I had no idea just how useful! I have since made many, many more with different textures on each end. They fit nicely in a box on my work table and I don't have to dig through a whole drawer of texture sheets to find what I want. Also I can use these in relatively small areas where the full texture sheet is a bit cumbersome. See all the texture on the snowflake? All done with a couple of these texture sticks! They are great when you need just a little bit of something -- and all made with scrap clay! In the slideshow above, a texture stick has been used to texture every piece in one way or the other.

A computer tip for dark backgrounds

I get a computer newsletter from several times a week and they periodically have some great tips. One that I ran across recently had to do with web pages and blogs that don't have enough contrast between a dark background and the text -- which makes it hard for some of us to read! This was a super simple solution - don't know why I didn't think of it myself! But here is a clip from the newsletter:

Q: I hate it when I visit a web site and it has dark text on a dark
background. Is there an easy way to make these kinds of sites readable?

A: We've all seen and example of this before, I'm sure. Whether by way of poor web design or just a background image that didn't load correctly, dark text on a dark background is simply impossible to read!

Well, next time you find yourself in this position simply hit, CTRL-A. All the text on the website will be selected (highlighted). The selection color is normally blue with white text. Much easier to read than, say, a dark red on a black background. This works with some email programs too!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm featured today in The Beading Gem's Journal!

I am so excited! I got an email this morning from Pearl at The Beading Gem's Journal telling me that she is featuring my Etsy shop on her email newsletter today! She had asked a while back about doing a give-away and I was honored to be asked and agreed immediately! I figured I'd get a quick mention with a link to my shop, but Pearl has done a great job. She is actually doing a 3 part give-away called Pen to Paper. If ya'll don't already subscribe to her email newsletter, be sure to check it out! It's one of my "must reads" and always has good information.

Here's a picture of the pen that I'll be giving away as a part of this promotion.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I was reading an email this morning from a friend in Denver who said it was snowing! In October! Now those of you who live in the more northerly areas can't appreciate this, but for this Mississippi girl, snow is a phenonomen! We just don't see much of it. We did have a snow storm earlier this year, either January or February, can't remember right now -- that actually put enough snow on the ground for my grandkids to make a snowman. Here in the deep south, it's shirt-sleeve weather quite often until the end of the year! So the only way to guarantee snow for Christmas is to make it yourself! So, this year I'm making mirrowed snowflakes.

These are so much fun to make and the addition of the mirror in the middle just adds to the sparkle. Small teardrop beads add just a touch of color -- and yes, more sparkle! Some of the snowflakes are left snowy white, while I'm antiquing others using an aging glaze to bring out the details. If you want to send a bit of snow to one of your friends who, like me, are snow deprived, here's the perfect solution. You can order direct from me at arlene.harrison(at) and specify the color (white or antiqued) and the bead color or check out what's available in my Etsy store.

I'm thinking about posting a tutorial on how to do these snowflakes to the blog. Anyone interested?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And more thoughts of Christmas!

Doesn't this Rolly Polly Santa make you think of the traveling gnome! He is one of my favorite ornaments to make for the Christmas Holidays. He is formed around a small glass Christmas ornament then everything is added including short stubby feet to stand on. Isn't he adorable? You can find him and many other great Christmas ornaments in my Etsy store.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Just two more days to vote - and you may win!!!

Be sure to go to the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Etsy (PCAGOE) website before midnight EST, October 8th, and vote on the October challenge. The members of PCAGOE were challenged to interpret their favorite art or artist in polymer clay. We have nine entries this month and it's very interesting to see how each polymer clay artist too their inspiration from another artist's work to create a piece in polymer clay!

The really great thing about this too is that five - yes FIVE - of the people who vote will be eligible to win a prize package from PCAGOE! Check here for pictures of the prizes which will be sent out this month.

In the meantime, here's one of the new items I'm working on for Christmas. These domed ornaments are hollow (except for some crumpled up alumiumum foil) so they are lightweight. The backs are flat so they would be great as a package decoration, on a wreath or acutally on your Christmas tree. I have a few listed in my Etsy store and will be adding more as they develop.