Riffing in Polymer

I don’t know which of the many visiting artists at the Bead House Studio in Rhode Island introduced me to this term but it stuck. Riffing is definite part of my process. I start with one idea of what I’m making but while I’m working on the first instance, I’m already thinking of how else I could make it…what other colors, what other shapes, what I could add to it to make it different…I guess exploration and experimentation are central to how I work and live.

I made this observation several years ago when I attended a course with a friend. I made one of everything…every technique the instructor showed us in the week-long course. My friend made fewer pieces but each one was elegantly crafted. That’s when I discovered that I just like to experiment…chasing the serendipitous outcome…and that’s okay because it where I get my fun. And, I also can accept that other people would prefer to spend time ‘getting it right’. There was a time in my life when I would have had to see one of us as ‘wrong’. My world didn’t allow for differences to be neutral…if we were different, one of us had to be wrong.

Much of my artistic journey over the past 10-15 years has been learning about myself and what creativity means to me. I know when I was younger my insecurity and perfectionism made it hard for me to risk in areas where I had no experience or expertise. While I could regret the years I didn’t have art in my life, I also realize I was never freer than I am now. One of the joys of being this age, in my mid 60s, soon to be 70s, is that I can claim my own artistic sensibility and don’t have to fall into the slimy pit of “compare and despair.”

riffing in polymer clay

Riffing in Polymer

I think “what if” is a natural response when creating…or I should say it’s natural for me. I learned the rock technique in a Kathleen Dustin class but didn’t really need to make very many rocks (I’d rather collect them on the beach….). So I started thinking about how I could use the technique in something that I could wear. I’ve always been the “Accessory Queen” so having “sets” of jewelry made more sense to me. The next thing I knew, I had spent several weeks in ‘production mode’ and had enough rock-like beads to make lots of necklaces, earring, bracelets and even some rings.

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Here’s what it looks like when I’m mass producing the beads…

polymer beads

I make lots of different colors and shapes before I begin designing jewelry

polymer necklaces

Experimenting with color in polymer…same shapes, different colors

Another great technique I learned from the wonderful online resources that Maggie Maggio has created. I was intrigued by the approach to color that she wrote about in her book with Lindly Haunani, Polymer Clay Color Inspirations . I was intrigued by the idea of making links in polymer clay and she has generously provided detailed instructions and templates <for creating split ring necklaces. Here are a few of the ones I created while riffing.

split ring necklaces

I’ll be teaching a class in Hollow Forms at Metalwerx Studio in Waltham next week so I’m glad I’ve done lots of riffing with hollow forms of all shapes and sizes. I know as a student I always appreciated teachers who gave a broad overview of the possibilities. Some of these hollow forms were created after classes with Kathleen Dustin and Jeffrey Dever.

polymer hollow forms

All shapes, sizes, colors and designs

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