Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Birks lead me on....

I've been in Germany since last Monday sleep on the plane - much too excited!  As you can see, I bought a new pair of Birkenstocks in honour of going to Germany, and they are leading me home.

Apparently, I had nothing better to do than to take pictures of my feet at the airport:  Perhaps one way to calm the pre-flight nerves, which were made instantly worse when the Air Canada staff told me to step aside from the boarding line-up...what now?

They tell me I can't get on the plane because my passport expires in three months and that the Canadian government requires that your passport expiry date be be 3 months beyond your return date.  I return August 16 - my passport expires Nov. 14!   Caution, all you would-be travellers....

I say that I have to be there, that people are expecting me.  I say that I have a return flight booked with their airline and I won't be staying in Germany.  Tense minutes pass while the supervisor calls some unspecified superior to try to get permission for me to board - they call last boarding call for my flight, and my heart is sinking....

Finally the supervisor gets the go-ahead and tells me to run for the flight and waggles a cautionary finger at me to renew my passport the moment I get home.  Fancy that, my international teaching career almost ended before it even started!

Of course, I made it - and here we rounded a corner and I got my first view of the Alps in 35 years!  Ubersee is about 130 kms from Munich.  And you take the AutoBahn to Salzburg...

....and get off at Ubersee, which borders a very large lake called Chiemsee - or sometimes the Bavarian Sea.

And it is all so lovely, and different to my usual view, of course...and I have been made to feel so welcome!  Galerie Friesleben and its inhabitants are wonderful - many meals, and glasses of wine and capuccinos have been consumed while getting the gallery ready for its first workshops and official opening.  

On Tuesday, I went sightseeing on the islands in the lake with a lovely woman who lives in the village and knows tons about the area.  I fell in love with a tiny cemetery outside a very old church beside the monastery on the island - much history here, and the graves so beautifully tended and so individually marked!

closeups of the stone pattern

an architect's grave, apparently...

It rained hard coming back from the islands, but some of the mountains remained in the sun.

And back to Ubersee and Galerie Friesleben utterly exhausted to my wonderful little apartment (supplied with lovely food, thanks Ariane!) and this view,  where the clouds around the mountains seem to change hourly!

My first workshop starts tomorrow at 9 am and I had a chance to have dinner with the 18 participants tonight.  I sat with the Russian group of 6 tonight, but I am certain that tomorrow by noon, I will know all of the group much better - another  group form the Netherlands, some from  Germany!

Can't wait!  

Hard not to sound like a travel brochure - but it really is spectacular here!  It was fun to go to the supermarket too (yesterday) and spend minutes puzzling out the ingredients with my high school German!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sculpey Souffle: a review

I've been working on and off with Souffle (the brand new clay from Polyform) this last month, which was very kindly provided for me by Polyform.  I was really excited when the 22 colours arrived as I had spoken briefly with Ginger Davis Allman from the Blue Bottle Tree about it - and subsequently read her review post - and suspected from what she told me that it might offer some huge advantages for the kind of work that I do.
I'll just say before I start that I'm so glad that Ginger reviewed all the possibilities in her comprehensive report, because I (selfishly) am only going to concentrate on the qualities in the clay that relate to my work - I don't cane, I only mix colours when it suits me, nor do I polish work till it gleams - so those perhaps challenging qualities of Souffle don't bother me.
When I opened it up, I was entranced at how easily it conditions in my hands as I do have some arthritis in some joints (legacy of 18 years of glass blowing).  I don't enjoy having to fight with clay to get it into the condition I want that works for my techniques.  Having said that, I do often associate clays that are easy to condition with less than optimal strength and flexibility after curing.  Not so in this case - and more on that later!
I quickly made a hollow bracelet and a large round hollow I told Polyform, I got very excited because it was so easy to manipulate into hollow forms because of its unique way of stretching. (My heart started to race....lord, I really am a material junkie!)  I haven't encountered a clay quite like it before!  It is possible to make very thin forms with this clay that are quite unbelievably strong and flexible, and as Ginger had noticed, very easy to colour after curing.  This simplifies several ideas I've been working on for a while, and makes my regular work substantially easier.
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I've included some photos of some things I've made with Souffle - all hollow - so you can see.  There is, of course, a learning curve with hollow work, but I'm fairly experienced with it by now...
The bracelets are unbelievably flexible.  They are tight on over my hand and have to be eased on gradually.  Souffle allows this very readily with its strength and movement.  A personal one of my got  dropped in a parking lot and got driven over by a car (I was so upset with myself).  But when I looked at it, it was only cracked in a couple of places and I was able to repair it with some clay of the same colour. It was hollow, got squished and cracked, and bounced back!
                           IMG_0913           IMG_0916
Since I mostly work with a white base, at first I was a bit disappointed to have all those colours and only one white brick.  But to my surprise, I have enjoyed working with these 'fashion' colours as I go on to alter them anyway.  Lots of fun to work with a base other than white, and to break the strangle hold of one's habits once in while.   Many of the colours are quite luminous under paint and distressing - I do just love that Robin's egg shade!  Even the bright pinks and maroony reds were fun to work with - gotta love a challenge!  To be honest, I started with the pink for testing because I thought I would hate all those shades. but when distressed and other wise altered, they were quite lovely….
Just one thing I noticed in curing - be careful in curing times with Souffle, especially when you have a piece buried or half buried.  I cure most pieces for 45 minutes and the one time I disobeyed that rule the piece cracked.  But I do think it bears further investigation as I think the curing was uneven due to being  buried ( and therefore making uneven temperature gradients in the curing piece).  If you do bury your piece while curing, I recommend that you gently uncover it once it has had 15 minutes to semi cure into place.  Be very cautious, it's fragile at that stage.....
Also re curing - I left one of my bracelets in the oven overnight by accident - the loooong cure!  It seems just fine and as flexible as all the others and as Ginger noted in her review - no colour shift!
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Those are the pros for this clay for me - now the cons!
It's summer and this clay does get sticky.  But, I found that if I abandoned my habit of putting the conditioned clay in a plastic bag in my bra (to maintain the clay at body heat) which was my habit to get other clays to work well in most seasons ( but particularly the winter) then things were much better.  Or, I just put the work-in-progress into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.  I'm pretty certain that this won't be a problem in the winter as the first morning I played with it, the weather was very cool. Also, please bear in mind that I like working with clay that moves a lot and is not stiff at all - some users really hate this and find it difficult.
It is quite floppy when thin, which is not a problem with closed forms like hollow beads, but more of a problem with open forms. (Like the ribbon bracelets photographed in this post...) However, this is very manageable using a combination of freezer (to get it where you need it to be before curing), adjustment after chilling, and then using supports to cure it. ( I bury/support it in a bed of corn starch and baking soda or on polyester fibre - I've even used kleenex nests when I don't have anything else handy!)
I do actually carve work on occasion (areas) and I don't much  like the way Souffle carves.  It is certainly easy, but rubbery - if that makes sense - and the gouge mark is not as clean as it is with harder more dense seeming clays ( remember that Souffle is lighter by 15%) - but this is nit-picking.  The carving process is certainly easy and this observation just reflects my personal taste and what I am used to!  Also, I'm truly not skilled with carving tools.
So that's really it for the negatives.....but remember, every clay has its challenges and I have tried them all. I freely admit that I am not faithful to any one clay!  Before this trial,  I used Premo most of the time and Cernit, Kato and Pardo for special uses.  Also, surprisingly, the Original Sculpey (sort of a dead white, and very cheap in quantity) for some very unique uses!  
So, based on my experience with Souffle, I would view it not as a hobby clay, but as a very unique specialty clay that perhaps needs to find the right user.   You should definitely try it if your work involves any forming by stretching or moving of the clay body.  Or post curing surface painting of any kind, as it has a tooth on the cured surface that is very ready to accept paint.  Also try it if you just want a break from really stiff clays – my hands appreciate it!  It’s a clay that gets working quickly after you handle it, even when you’ve let it rest for a long time…
ME. I am definitely that user.
I really think I could be faithful to Souffle for hollow work!  Great job, Polyform!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A month from now…

Exactly one month from today, I'll be getting on a plane and heading to Germany for almost 2 weeks!  In that time, I'll be teaching a couple of 2 day workshops and attending the official opening of a gallery that will be devoted entirely to the wonderful and varied world that is polymer art!  Is it any wonder that I am simultaneously excited/nervous/over the moon/distracted/happy?  I think not....

The agent of all this excitement is Ariane Freisleben, the mover and shaker behind the new Galerie Freisleben in Ubersee!  I am so very honoured to have been asked to be the inaugural teacher at this incredible facility that she has been renovating for a year.  The gallery and teaching spaces are magnificent ( as is the beautiful natural setting surrounding it...) and students can live in at the facility for the duration of the workshop. Here is a link to the Galerie Friesleben facebook page, where you can follow the progress of the renovations - big project!  I think you'll agree that we can expect this gallery to be an exciting hub for all things polymer now and in the future, and I'm just so excited to be part of it!

I've been lucky also lately to have been invited to teach in 2 other places - one day workshops which were very helpful in determining logical steps for getting the information across.  The first workshop was all about how to develop and finish surfaces on polymer and the 2nd one was a combination of hollow work techniques and surface techniques.  I am certainly happy that the German workshops will be 2 days, as there is a lot of information and many steps to get through.  I've got some pictures of the demos I made for the second workshop, pieces I started and then tweaked and finished at home.  I see a colour theme here, but often it's just the bottle you grab to start the process...hmm, will have to think more about that!  Demos can make you anxious and are usually not the place you make your best work, but a bit more planning would help that a lot…

Having said that, I don’t think these turned out too badly…

                  IMG_0859                  IMG_0872

These are the two sides of a very large hollow crackle pendant with a carved edge… ( and a detail…)


A quick hollow bracelet with the new Souffle clay from Polyform.  I’ll be blogging about Souffle in a couple of days so more on that later…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 IMG_0875                                IMG_0860

       PODS…naturally!  I was demonstrating a very useful and flexible printing technique with the red and purple one on the left


                               IMG_0870                            IMG_0871

Adding veneer tiles to a hollow blank gave this lovely carved look..


The two printed sides of a set of strata beads…

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I’ll be covering MANY more techniques in the workshops than those pictured here!

Just one last thing for today – there are a couple of spaces left in each workshop in August at Galerie Friesleben.  The first workshop is the 8th and 9th of August and the 2nd one is the 11th and 12th of August.  The official gallery opening is on the 10th of August.  If you are interested in attending any of these events, please, contact Ariane Freisleben at the Galerie Friesleben link higher up on this page!

Thank you again, Ariane, for this great opportunity to work with such a talented group – and thanks to the participants of my first workshops this year in May and June!  All incredibly talented and enthusiastic!