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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Totem, Fetish, Amulet, Talisman?

I bought a book last week called "Clay Techniques to Dye for" by Donna Kato, Leslie Blackford, Kim Cavender, Judy Belcher, and Debbie Tlach.  With the exception of Debbie, I took classes from all of these ladies about 3 years ago at a polymer clay event in Las Vegas, so it's fun and inspiring to see their work in print.  The book is a compendium of techniques for coloring clay with products that are primarily used in the scrap-booking and paper crafts world such as alcohol inks and embossing powders.

I was particularly inspired by Leslie Blackford's little animals sculpted from translucent clay colored with Tim Holtz's Distress Embossing Powders.  So I rushed out to get translucent Premo and ordered a variety of the embossing powders.  With supplies finally on hand, I began making these little fetishes each of which is colored with a different powder (although some of them are so similar to each other that it's hard to distinguish among them).

My original thought was to make an outrageous fetish necklace.  But after looking at a book that my sister Shelley has on native American fetishes, I see that they were also kept in roles other than adornment.  Some even had their own fetish homes in decorated pottery.  I may make mine a home in a gourd.  The jury's still out.  It would be ideal to be able to take them on and off necklaces as the "spirit" moved me but I haven't figured that one out yet.

The animals in the top picture are, left to right, bobcat, prairie dog (my favorite), river otter, squirrel, and mouse.  Bear cub, raccoon, fox, badger, and rabbit star in the second photo.  And there are more waiting to be born and hatched!

By the way, I found some super mini brads that are star shaped and come in a  mix of metallic finishes: antique gold, antique bronze, silver, and black.  I'm using them as little "signatures" now on my sculptures.  Also I suppose that I should mention that I've antiqued the totems with Burnt Umber oil paint after protecting the polymer clay with a water-based matte varnish.

But I haven't explained the title!  After a tad bit of research I discover that amulet, talisman, fetish, and totem can all describe little animal sculptures - it just depends on the use their owner puts them to.  Amulets are typically worn or carried and talismans are typically carried - both are for protection.  Fetishes are meant to draw the spirit of the animal to aid in the owner's purposes of the moment.  Totems represent a long-term desired and/or felt connection between the animal spirit and the totem's owner.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Murals

Here are a few photos of the first of the four murals I'm doing for the Ag building at the fairgrounds in Boonsboro, PA.

This first one was preceded by several preliminaries which, fortunately, won't need to be repeated for the others.  The most time-consuming was building the easel/painting surface.  It's 4 feet tall and 12 feel long and takes up much of the dining-room with the furniture all moved to the edges.  But then there was also enlarging the drawing to full size, doing the tracing, and transferring the tracing to the canvas. 

After finishing the painting and varnishing it, I hung it in the front hall since I don't have any good place to store it.  I'll ship it to Sharon in Boonsboro, probably in a few days.  The first photo is of the left half as it hangs in the front hall.  I invaded Fiona's favorite nap spot!

The next photo is the right half.  I took it while it was still on an easel and not only is the easel surface slanted, but I took the photo at an angle because I couldn't get very far back from the painting for any other vantage point.

I don't claim this to be a great piece of art but I think it will look nice in the building, especially in a grouping with the other three.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Rabbit Cabochon

I made this little polymer clay rabbit cabochon a few evenings ago.  My intention was to create a master that I could make a mold from because I'd like to try making some ceramic pendants to sell on Etsy.  If they worked out, I might invest in a small kiln that fires hot enough for stoneware and porcelain.  But in the meantime I'll work in regular ceramics and fire them at the local store.

Although I was happy with the sculpting effort, I didn't really like the piece that much until I added the antiquing.  The white finish just needed something more.

I probably should have made the mold before I antiqued it, but maybe it's actually better this way.  Perhaps the molding material would have left a bit of residue which would make it difficult to get the antiquing (I used oil paint) to stick.  Don't know.

I balk at parting with anything I make, but I just listed this piece on Etsy.  If I get around to using it in some bead embroidery before it sells, I'll just unlist it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Rabbit in Time

I got pretty fascinated with vintage and antique pocket watch dials and purchased quite a few on Etsy.  Then what to do with them?  I used one in my owl box.  And as I sat looking at the others the other night, it seemed that a rabbit would go well with one.  This is the result.

I'm not sure how to finish the piece, but the bar across the top has a hole through it so I can string it on a necklace.  Last night I was on Etsy again and found small antique brass keys, including pocket watch keys.  I think one of them might be good in a dangle.  There is a hole just by the rabbit's right front foot from where the second hand is missing.  When I put this together, it was my intention to hang a dangle from that hole.

By the way, the rabbit is finished with mica powders then antiqued with Raw Sienna oil paint.  But I wish I had gone with Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber.  My thoughts in using the Raw Sienna were that it would complement golds and ambers, colors that I had in mind for the necklace at that time.

So, more to come once the packages arrive from Etsy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Wonderful Copper Finish

Triangle Coatings makes a wonderful line of products called "Sophisticated Finishes."  Their Copper is ground copper in clear acrylic and they also have patina coatings to turn the copper (or some of their other finishes) patina'd green or blue.

On this wolf head, I used the copper then the green patina.  The product is really simple to use.  I just painted two coats of the copper finish on cured polymer clay.  When it was nearly dry, I coated it with the patina finish then waited about an hour.  After that, I protected it with a coat of matte clear acrylic varnish.

I guess it must look just like copper because it IS copper.  I'd like to try the bronze as well as a few of the other finishes.  They also have a rust which is probably pretty cool.

This little wolf head is 1 1/2" across and I plan to use it in bead embroidery.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Cubs Totem

I guess I needed my bear sculpting fix, and this is the result - two little cubs interrupted in their play.  The two bears together are 1 7/8" wide, so they're pretty small.  For reference, their eyes are size 11 glass seed beads.

I decided to make them into a totem rather than a necklace, so I added a beaded band anchored around the littler bear's waist.  The beads are faceted malachite, chryophase, and aragonite.  I didn't use these beads for their meanings, but for their colors.

This is the third piece I've added to my new Etsy shop, "The Foxes' Garden."

cute bear buts

A Box for the Owl

The Great Horned Owl now has a box of his own.  A main feature is the vintage porcelain pocket watch dial that I found on  It's probably about 100 years old and a beautiful off-white color with roman numerals and an elegent "Elgin" inscription.  It has only one hand - the hour hand, I think - and no second hand.  All appropriate for an air of mystery.

The inscription around the bottom of the box says "WISDOM FOLLOWS\TIME WHICH\GROWING EVER OLDER\OMNIA REVELAT"   "Omnia revelat" means "teaches all things," or "reveals all."  The English was too long to fit in the space, hence the Latin.  "Time, growing ever older, teaches all things" is a quote from one of Aeschylus' plays which I learned in college and have never forgotten.  I wanted to use the original ancient Greek, but I couldn't find it.  I added "wisdom follows" to the beginning so that the quote would reference the owl as well as the watch face.
I so much enjoyed working with the symbolism for this piece and I think that is the allure of making these little boxes.

My intention is to line them with silk, but I haven't done that yet.

I used a lot of caning on the owl - for the wing and tail feathers and for the tiny feathers on the head, back, and shoulders.  This is probably an influence from my wonderful time at the Clayville retreat where so many people were working with that technique.  It's the first time I've used caning in this way and I think it was pretty successful for portraying the tiny color changes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Moon Owl

I enjoyed making the crow box so much that I immediately wanted to start on another box.  This one will star a "great horned owl."  I put that in quotes because although I hope it suggests a great horned owl, I don't expect it to be an exact rendering.

I got a big surprise with this little girl  I have managed to create an owl that looks just like my cat, Phreddee.  If I had tried to do that, I wouldn't have been able to!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Box of Crows

This piece was beyond fun to make.  And it just seemed to flow.  It was inspired by a piece by Leslie Blackford in the book, "To Dye For" - which I highly recommend.  But although I was inspired by Leslie's piece, this one is really quite different.  I think you'd say the only things the two have in common is that they are both boxes and both have black birds on them.

Anyway, the trick I came up with was to first make a box out of corrugated cardboard and then build the box around it.  It's so handy that polymer clay cures at such a low temperature as it means I can cure the clay right over the cardboard - it won't slump in, and the cardboard won't burn.

This box isn't quite finished.  I only had one tiny onyx cabochon and so ordered three more for the other three sides.  As soon as they arrive I'll glue them in place, and the box will be finished.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Bear Cub Gets Dressed Up

Here's the little bear cub all dressed up in her leaf necklace.  The retreat inspired me to do some canes, so I did the leaves and then composed this necklace and earrings.  There are actually four different leaf canes with slightly different combinations of blue- and yellow-greens.  But the colors are just too close to each other so the variety doesn't show.  If I had done a better job there I think the overall effect would have been better.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Polymer Paradise

For the last four days I've had the fabulous experience of attending Polypalooza, Clayville's (northern California polymer clay group) retreat in Reno.  There were 18 of us for the full four days, and about a half dozen more dropping in for a day or two.  It was four days of comraderie and creativity - a real treat.  It was my first time, but I will certainly go again and again.

Here are a few of the pieces I made there.  I did the little bear first.  I made him without the leaves and made a mold from him.  Don't know if I'll be successful, but I'd like to mold some ceramic pieces.  After the bear I made a raccoon head and again made a mold.

Then it was on to several little horse totems, out of which grew the zebras and then the giraffe.  These are small pieces - the zebras are 1 1/4" tall. The zebras were very popular, so I made two more for the raffle and the woman who really, really wanted them won them!  Yea!

Most of the women were working with canes and I got the bug - but just a mild case.  As soon as I got home I made the leaf canes and added the wreath to the bear cub.  Then I made lots of leaf beads and am working on a necklace.

It was good to get back to polymer clay.  And great to be with so many talented people who are such unabashed clay enthusiasts.