Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monster Cane

I had a bit of a polymer clay adventure last weekend and I thought I should share it with you.

I have been working with polymer clay for twenty years now. I started out using Fimo which was stiff and needed tons of "conditioning". Polymer clay is not ready to use straight from the package, you have to squish the clay in your hand until it is soft and pliable. I got the strongest hand muscles from doing that! The stiffness of the Fimo clay made it good for making "canes". Canes are logs of clay with a picture running through them the whole length. When you cut a slice off the end of the log, there is an image or pattern in it and the next slice will have the same pattern. Using stiff clay limits distortion when a clay cane is "reduced" which means that you start with a larger shorter log and roll it out or stretch it until it is longer and thinner but the image stays intact inside.

I don't use Fimo anymore, I use Premo which is not as firm, but a good quality clay just the same. There is less conditioning required and some of it can be done by running the clay through a pasta machine dedicated to that purpose.

Here is an image of a square cane I made to use on an egg:

And here is the egg I made by placing the slices over an eggshell:

I belong to a guild of polymer clay artists that also sell on Etsy, the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Etsy or PCAGOE. Every month we participate in a creative challenge with a theme. I try to enter every month as I find the challenges cause me to stretch outside my normal ways of creating and the items I make for the challenges are often my most interesting work.

Some past items created for challenges:

The challenge theme for March is Animals. I decided to make a cane using my handsome cat, Chester, as a model. I took a picture that showed his face well and simplified the image on photoshop. I got it down to 5 colors (reminiscent of a paint-by-numbers picture, which I collect) and chose my palette:

Well, it's been a while since I have made a pictorial cane, mostly I have been making geometric canes for my eggs and they are not very big, maybe an inch and a quarter across, four or five inches long. When I started this cat cane, I started too big and kept going! It took me two whole days and a lot of clay to tame the monster cane and the results are quite interesting. This was a difficult process! I swore and threatened to toss the cane in the canal, but my husband (known as D to my faithful readers) kept encouraging me to finish. His interest and reassurance gave me the energy I needed to see the project through regardless of the outcome.

And though the outcome is not what I expected, I am quite pleased with the results. I am a firm believer that in art, you can start with a plan, but what makes it art is what happens along the way that you do not expect. And that if the result is exactly what you intended, well that is fine, but if it is not, then that is where things get exciting.

Click here to view a slide show of the process of making the monster cane.

Here are the earrings I made to enter in the PCAGOE challenge:

Monday, February 18, 2008


So the husband took me thrifting. It wasn't our plan per-se, but it turned out that way. We had always planned on eating breakfast out this past weekend, to celebrate Valentine's Day. We would have gone to dinner, but we are keeping a tight rein on that wallet and we love breakfast out, so this suited us.

On our way out of Lowell Saturday morning we decided to "just see" if that tantalizing thrift/junk shop was open. We had only recently spotted it, on a street we traveled frequently. How had we missed it before? I'll be honest, it isn't a great block; a lot of people hang around there that I would not like to hang around with. We drove slowly up the street and there was that OPEN sign! We quickly parked and ran in. An older gentleman (he told us he was 83) and an equally aged helper were hauling furniture around the shop. The shop has been there for 15 years! He buys out houses. It was huge, full of old stuff. I immediately asked for sewing buttons as D checked out the records, CDs, magazines and books.

Here's a look inside:

D's parents are antiques dealers who still intrepidly set up at shows. I was hatched a fully formed pack rat. I must collect, I have no choice. We were in our element. I stumbled upon a spectacular cache of vintage buttons and could barely contain my glee. Probably didn't, I have a tendency toward tells; flushed cheeks, crazy grin. Still, the shop owner didn't overcharge me which was kind because sometimes they do when they smell a live one. D helped the men move some furniture. We got a price on a set of Viewmaster slides but didn't buy them. That wallet again. I can almost justify the purchase when the items are art supplies, like buttons. Plus I will be selling some in my DeStash shop this year. That will help.

We paid the man, ran over the icy sidewalks back to the car and got the hell out of there. Next stop: Billerica. We like the Belly Buster Diner on 3A. The food is good, the wait staff are smart and fast, the crowd is relaxed; mostly families, old timers, couples or dads out with the team after the game. And next door is a thrift/consignment shop called Shank's Mare (which means "on foot"). D didn't find much in there he was interested in, there's a high percentage of new stuff, so he took a quick look then waited for me in the car, patient soul. I found some vintage yarns and of course, more buttons. Plus a beautiful teal Pyrex in a bread pan shape.

Here's D after breakfast and Shank's Mare (he's not mad, he's just got a serious look):

After that I had the fever and needed to complete the trilogy so we headed for Goodies. This is a place we used to like better, both of us. It was taken over by a new owner who is nice enough but who talks TOO MUCH. Good lord. We were leaving, out the door and she was starting a new story. Also, her prices are a bit high and the place is so jammed you can't actually get to much. Still, she was very nice and dug up all the buttons she could find for me. I found a gallon Ziploc full that was priced well and got that. I left many prizes behind because I am cheap.

Here is the light coming through her glass display:

After that I knew I should stop. I already have thousands of buttons and I'd just bought thousands more. I'm like a compulsive gambler, the feeling is the same I'd guess. So we went on another of our favorite weekend dates: to a big box book store for coffee and free reading. I look at all the craft magazines and books, D checks out the latest in fiction.

But I couldn't concentrate knowing I had treasure in the back seat! When we got home I dumped the buttons on the table and started sorting:

I think you can see I am "in the zone" as D says.

I sorted for the rest of the evening, by color, by material. Later I will further sort by number of holes, perhaps size. The sorting itself is a joy, it involves thinking of all the garments and people the buttons touched, thinking about the beautiful way things were made in the past, what they were made of; bakelite, celluloid, mother of pearl, wood, glass. And the possibility of making something beautiful using a button that might have languished unnoticed, unloved, in a box, in a drawer, in a thrift shop.

And I wasn't just being insane buying all those buttons, I was actually trying to boost my collection in certain colors, I need red and pink having used up most of my best on my felty heart pins, and I wanted more aqua buttons, which are hard to find. But I have visions of uses for the others; barrettes, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, more pins, I'm so excited!

I fell asleep that night planning button storage and display...sigh.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heart Felt

Oh please forgive me! I am not a fan of puns. I swear! But I did spend the last few weeks making felty heart pins for Valentine's Day. Rather than cutting heart shapes out of wool fabric, I sculpt dyed wool roving into hearts with barbed felting needles. It's very satisfying! I love embellishing them:

I participated in First Saturdays Open Studios on February 2nd, it went great! Mom and Dad came to visit and keep me company. Mom even did a drawing in her journal of the main mill building through my studio window. And I was especially glad to have her there to see many people enjoy and purchase her cards! And D came by with hot tea from Brew'd Awakening, much appreciated for sure.

By the way, I have several new Marilyn Smith Rosenfeld cards in the pipeline for my Etsy shop. But if you can't wait, they are currently already available in my studio!

It was just a great vibe at Western Avenue that day and I really enjoyed talking with everyone and selling a few cute things.

Then it was right back to work to have enough items for the Lowell Winterfest Glacier Galleries show on Friday, Feb 8th and Sat, Feb 9th. We vendors were paired with the soup competition. It was held in the Masonic Temple, the building on the right:

Me and my set up:

D helping me out:

People lined up outside in the cold and paid $5 to get in so they could taste soups from restaurants all over Lowell. They ate tiny soup after tiny soup, and sometimes they turned around and noticed we were selling things. Heh. I have to say, I have never seen the backs of so many people's heads! I understand the event organizers were trying to get us much needed foot traffic, but really, those people were into soup and not much else.

It wasn't all bad of course, I talked with lots of sweet people and tried to get everyone to promise to visit Western Avenue Studios during First Saturdays. My friends were also vending; Amanda of Brick Mill Studio, Ann Lee and Sonja Lee-Austin of Friends Fabric Art, Peter and Eve of La Sal Mountains Studio (Suite 415 at Western Avenue) and Heather Wang of Heather Wang Jewelry. And I did sell some things, enough to buy groceries for the week in fact, which feels like a total triumph! And it was right around the corner from the condo, it couldn't have been more convenient.

This was my first year vending at Winterfest. If, in the future, they decide to separate us vendors out from the soup competition, like it was in years past, I think artists who didn't do as well this year would not complain about the reduced foot traffic since quantity did not turn out to equal quality. (BTW: the Chicken Parmesan Soup from Ricardo's Café Trattoria was EXCELLENT!)

Later that night, from our bedroom, we were able to see the fireworks that signalled the end of Winterfest. Yes, go ahead, insert your fireworks in the bedroom joke here:

So now that those shows are over, I have pledged the rest of February toward learning how to do business taxes for the first time! I'll let you know what I find out.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


OK, we know it ain't an original concept, but it's still cool to see art vending machines at our very own Western Avenue Studios.

Thanks to Rex of Vendzart® Industries,

there are several sweet machines that he restored, altered and installed, vending art to unsuspecting, um, I mean lucky, patrons in the halls and bathrooms. This is the one I have my goods in.

Here is what I put in the little packets:

These are mostly older polymer clay buttons or pendants. I mean "vintage" items I made in the 90's, with a few newbies thrown in. I know three have already been purchased. I am delighted to participate in this cheap-art-for-the-masses concept at no personal financial gain. I am enriched by the knowledge that I have brought art into someone's sad and lonely existance for less than the cost of a Grande. OK, 'scuse me, gotta go play with my Bouncy Bouncy Artist Balls...