From Studio 109A: A Grin Without a Cat

May 31, 2010 at 9:05 pm (From Studio 109A)

Cheshire Cat Neckpiece

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!” [Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland]

Typically, my design process starts with a vision, a snapshot in my head of what I want the piece to look like. Once I have the initial idea of what I want the piece to look like, I can then figure out how to make it.

While writing up the exhibition proposal for Through the Looking Glass (a three-person exhibition to open at Artspace in August),  I had a vision of what the Cheshire Cat neckpiece would like like. I envisioned an enameled black and white cat’s face with its tail wrapping around the neck like a snake.

To create the neckpiece, I first had to make a wire armature, which I covered with Ultralight Clay. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of designing for Polyform Products (makers of Sculpey clays). In fact, some of my earliest polymer clay designs can be found on the Sculpey website. I must admit that back then when Polyform sent me a sample of Ultralight Clay to try, I didn’t quite see  its use and benefits. I do now. According to the Polyform website, “UltraLight is a great replacement for tin foil armatures, offering a smoother base for clay projects to be built around. Because it bakes so hard that it won’t crack, larger sculpting projects are finally possible with UltraLight foundations.””

The Ultralight fires at the same temperature as Premo clay (275 degrees fahrenheit), which is what I used to cover the armature. Both initial firings were done in the Artspace kiln, since the tail, which is all one piece, is too large to fit in my toaster oven. 

After those first two firings, I made a series of four black and white striped canes. According to Polymer Clay Central, a cane is “a term borrowed from glassworking referring to glass rods either plain or with a pattern running through them, to be used as an addition to glass pieces. Canes were used to make millefiori beads.”  

Once the cane/decorative layer of the tail was fired, I sanded and buffed the piece using my Foredom Flex Shaft to give the tail a polished sheen.

The face of the cat was drawn by Emily Cash Wilmoth, one of the Artspace artists with whom I am collaborating for this exhibition. I wanted the cat’s face to look as if Emily had used pen and ink to draw it directly onto the piece. To achieve this effect, I copied Emily’s initial drawing onto acetate, traced and fabricated the face out of copper, and then painted the copper with enamel and used resin to affix the acetate drawing to the enameled metal.

The end result is better than I initially envisioned it would be. Last month at Artsplosure, The Cheshire Cat neckpiece stopped passersbys. If you missed seeing the finished piece at Artsplosure, stop by Studio 109A this Friday from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. during the First Friday Gallery Walk. I hope to see you there!


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