More About Me….

April 27, 2009 at 11:13 pm (Artist Musings)

Last week, a senior at NC State asked to interview me for a report he was doing for an art appreciation class. He asked some very good questions, so this week I am posting his questions and my answers.

What is your medium?
Although I make jewelry, I would consider my medium to be mixed media. For most shows, I am juried in as a jeweler, but last year into the Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Mixed Media and won second place in the mixed media category.

What is the process necessary to produce it? What can you tell about the famous polymer clay?
Polymer clay is a synthetic modeling material which bakes or “cures” at a fairly low temperature to a hard surface. You can sculpt it, carve it, stamp on it, texture it, sand it, buff it, or paint it. Most people know polymer clay by the brand name “Sculpey” or Fimo. Sculpey is primarily a kids’ clay. I use Premo, which is the artist grade form of Sculpey for my work. For my process, vintage images are transferred to polymer clay (using alcohol and a color copy) and formed into beads. The hand-formed image transfer beads are then cured, sanded, and buffed to a satin finish. The finished beads are woven and twined with crystals, pearls, vintage glass beads, and found objects to form one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. A couple of years ago, I started incorporating Precious Metal Silver Clay into my work to create one-of-a-kind clasps into my designs. Precious Metal Clay results in objects containing .999 pure silver or fine silver. Last year, I started incorporating porcelain clay into my designs and started experimenting with bronze clay, which like its silver counterpart, results in a metal object.

[Right – Darfur Nightwalkers, example of Precious Metal Silver Clay; Center – For Frida, example of bronze clay; Left – Criss Crosswords, example of porcelain clay]

Why jewelry?
I never thought about it before, but I think I initially started making jewelry because of the scale. It was easier for me to wrap my mind around making a piece of small jewelry than a painting a large canvas or something. I also like jewelry, though interestingly enough I don’t wear a lot of it. The interesting part of making jewelry for me, which I didn’t know at the beginning, is the connection I make with my customers and the connection they make to the jewelry. There is something very personal about a person putting on a piece of jewelry that you have designed, connecting with it in a personal way, falling in love with it, and then making a decision to buy it. The person, in essence, becomes my “frame”, similar to a fine artist finding the perfect frame for their painted canvas. While I am designing and making a piece of jewelry, I typically don’t know who I am designing it for, however, when the right person puts on the right piece, I instinctively know. The other thing about my jewelry is that each piece tells a story. Typically, customers will project their own story onto a piece which is part of their personal connection to it. For example, when I first started making jewelry, one customer fell in love with my Cigar Label Necklace. She explained to me that it was so meaningful to her because her grandfather used to wrap the cigar bands around her finger like a ring when she was a little girl. She ended up buying it. It was the second piece I ever sold. The first was purchased by Nicole Kennedy, a local artist and gallery owner. [Below, one of my first pieces, The Cigar Label Necklace]
Would you make jewelry with other media or use ephemera to do something other than jewelry?
Probably not. I think like a jeweler, and I love creating wearable art. Last fall I did experiment with some mixed media wall pieces. My customers were telling me that they were leaving their jewelry pieces out so that they could look at it and enjoy it even when they weren’t wearing it. One of my customers even bought a leatherette bust from me to display her necklace. So, last year I created a series of pieces called “Out of the Box”. These were mixed media wall assemblages in which an element could be removed, worn, and then put back on the wall. Artistically, I think that these pieces represent my best work, however, none of these pieces sold. So, this year, I have gone back to basics and I am focusing on making beautiful, one-of-a-kind, polymer clay jewelry. The interesting thing about the wall pieces, however, is that they have opened me up to a whole new audience. Audiences who never took an interest in the jewelry before, really like the mixed media panels, and vice versa, my customers who have liked my jewelry from the beginning, have mixed feelings about the wall panels. [Below – Skinny Bitch Brooch, example of mixed media wall panel]
What is your main artistic inspiration?
I would say my Grandma Betty. She saved everything… every menu, every photograph, every matchbox from every restaurant she and my grandpa ever went to. When I was in college, I interviewed my grandmother to do my family tree. I asked her about her any my grandfather (who had already passed away). She took this big Burdines department store box out of the closet and in it were all of these things… all of which represented the story of their life together. I didn’t know the name for it at the time, but I suppose that is when my fascination with ephemera began. In fact, my first art project when I moved to North Carolina six years ago was a tablecloth covered with image transfers of my grandmother’s photographs and artifacts. I reproduced this tablecloth for Home and Garden Television a couple of years later, and the response was tremendous. I had people from all over the country e-mailing me how to make their own heirloom tablecloth, and to think that it all started with that department store box full of memories. [Below, Grandma Betty and Grandpa Ralph on their wedding day; Heirloom Tablecloth as seen on HGTV (click on the HGTV link for directions on how to do this project)]
When/how did you decide to do this as your full-time occupation? Did you study art in a formal capacity?
I guess four years ago when I moved into my current Artspace studio. That was the catalyst that transformed me from being a kitchen table crafter or hobbyist to a professional artist. In many ways, it was the start of my professional career and being there has opened doors for me. As far as formal training, I am a self-taught artist. I was a journalism major and theater minor and never took an art class (not even an art appreciation class) until after I moved to Raleigh and became a professional artist.
How hard is it for you to sell your work (in a “normal” economy)? How much marketing do you do?
In the beginning, it was hard to sell my work because I was an unknown. Using my journalism background, I launched a public relations and marketing campaign. I sent out a press kit to every magazine and newspaper I could think of. The first article landed in Lapidary Journal in 2004. Since then I have been lucky enough to be featured in Ornament, Our State, American Style, Cary Living, The News & Observer, Southern Living, and on Home and Garden Television (all of which except for one were the result of a press release I sent). I think that is one of the hardest things about being an artist… that is that you have to wear many hats. You can’t just be a designer. You have to be a business manager, sales person, and marketing professional. In fact, I work much harder now than I ever did when I had a “real job.” Even in a bad economy the jewelry sells. You have to be more creative at marketing in a bad economy.

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