- I have three days to make art, free of major obligations, and the time flies. Wonder how it could be different… should I buy another powerball ticket, even though they pollute my imagination so badly? I’m starting to think that maybe I’ll buy myself a German wheel and a week at wheel camp for my 50th birthday. (Early enough in the daydreaming process that all I know is wheels cost about $1000 and we can assume the camp is at least that much. Need to know how many pull-ups they’d expect a body to be able to do to get any benefit from camp, or even if they accept people my age with my amount of circus training, = 0.) I think it’s better to imagine what might come of a week at wheel camp than what I would do with powerball winnings.
Anyway, I have this time, and I have an idea, and now I’m noticing just how hard it is to bring a new idea to life. I’ve been wanting to play with polymer clay for a while, and I hover, and buy the books and read the magazines and get my stuff out every now and then and muck about, and never really get anywhere. It all seems too overwhelming, and I don’t have a vision of what I really want to make anyway, which makes it harder. But then I got a new idea.
I visited my sister in her new house at Thanksgiving, and I noticed that her house came with the exact same chandelier as every other new subdivision house I’d seen, based on the number of these lamps that have been donated to the Raleigh and Pittsboro Habitat Home Stores. Because her house is on the generous side, her chandelier was a bit bigger (15 arms), but it’s the same design. We counted eight of them the last time we went to Habitat in Pittsboro.
Joel Haas will readily point out that it’s important to select readily available raw material when you’re in the art trade. No point in making something that turns out to be popular, and then discovering you can’t get any more of what it takes to make the piece. He uses freon cans in some of his work. I’ve found the same to be true about the rugs–never ending source of old clothes in this county. These lamps appear to be the same. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. And they’re a fine enough design; it’s just that people have their own taste and want “something different,” so they change them out just as soon as they have the cash to do so.
More to the point of the polymer clay problem, they are big enough to warrant some real effort and attention, and they provide a substantial “canvas” to work on. One of my problems with polymer clay is that most of the stuff I see in the books is small. I do not work small. I’m not into miniatures. I want to be able to SEE what I’ve done.
Those lights became an opportunity. We bought one the other week, the first Saturday after the Tour when I had some time to wander, and John and I disassembled it. We thought perhaps we could bake the clay and NOT hurt the insulation and wiring, but I thought it would be safer to bake only the brass, and then rewire when it was done. Step One out of the way.
Then, there was nothing between me and a PC chandelier but me. Ideas all over the place, but ideas are squat when it comes to art production. The only thing that matters is art, finished product. Not ideas and what coulda woulda mighta been I thought about doing that I coulda done that my kid could do that. We hear it all on our side of the craft show booth. Sure, lady. So there I was, with my “I want to make a PC chandelier,” and all my clay, and a bit of time, and a raw chandelier. Go.
First, I had to design the thing, and then, I had to make a space to work, and both were bigger-than-a-breadbox problems, with different approaches.
A few weeks back, I had the house energy-audited. The house scored a 25 on a scale that runs from 0 = totally airtight to 50 = you are outside. 25 = compares favorably with a tent. I spent Thanksgiving week addressing the leaks the auditor found in the closets, and since then, I’ve been sealing up ductwork. The last duct vent was behind an 8′ bookcase that was all but built in, and the bookcase needed to be moved. Which meant the books had to come out, onto the table I wanted to use for the clay, and I had to get the whole thing done before I could start on the clay. One I was behind the bookcase, I observed that the shower-plumbing access panel was essentially a square-foot hole straight to the basement, leaking cold air back into the house. Sigh. Eventually, that all got sealed up and insulated as best as possible, and the bookcase moved back, and reloaded, and the books I decided to let go of piled up to donate to the library sale.
In between moving books and bookcases, I took study breaks in my design notebook. I traced out the parts of the lamp and started thinking about what I wanted to do with their PC veneer. I knew I wanted black and white stripes on the arms, but that’s not a whole lot of design decisioning. I knew one thing from my prior experience with PC, and that is that you can’t design with the clay in your hands. I can’t, at least, and I’ve seen hints in the books that the people whose work I like don’t design on the clay, either. Sarah Shriver spends up to a month considering and building a cane. (I don’t know if PC is a full-time or part-time gig for her.) Judith Belcher, ditto, I suspect.
The design work was almost as exhausting as moving all those books. I don’t have a vocabulary of poly clay canes and structures in my head, not the way I know how to put together a rug in any one of 10 or so patterns, so that when it comes time to do a new rug, I only have to pick colors and go. (Actually, I had much more trouble in the first 10 rugs than I do now, and the parallel is not lost on me.)
So I’d sketch something. And be happy. And realize I’d addressed the first of three rings on the cups under the light bulbs, and I still two more rings and the entire center structure to go. Rest. Back to the polymer clay-idea books. What are they doing to make THAT item? How are they making their canes? Sketch another ring. Will it fit? How will I fill in the background? Through it all, I’m also thinking a bit about some of the poly clay work I’ve seen and what it is that makes me not like it. Mostly, there’s not enough light and dark, and the whole work winds up looking incredibly detailed but still boring. So I’m thinking about managing my values, and colors, and what colors might actually sell, and knowing all the while that I have to try my best on this but it’s still not going to be great as a finished product. Should I start smaller? maybe cover a cigarette lighter, instead of a chandelier? but who smokes that buys art? (Not to mention, the shape of a cigarette lighter is infinitely easy to manage, compared to the shapes of a chandelier’s parts.)
All the while I’m designing, I’m thinking of “more,” other lamps I could build / cover, highly influenced by 15 minutes in the Cirque du Soleil store at Downtown Disney in Orlando. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere near Cirque; they’re the biggest factor in the my current German Wheel problem. And while I’m designing and dreaming, I’m also meditating on the difference between the vague and glorious image I have in my mind of something amazing and wonderful and glittery and all covered in crystals and color, like most of Cirque, and the actual tangible reality of making decisions by the square inch, or less, about how to make that happen in the real world.
(Yes, I have read Art and Fear by David Bayles. Probably need to read it again. Might want to make notes for a book called I Can Do That, which is what we all hear in booths across the craft world. “Bet you won’t,” is what we all answer, at least silently, because of this very problem. The gulf, sometimes infinite, between the perfect work of art in our mind, and the thousands of decisions that need to be made, and acted on, to make the idea tangible.)
Yesterday, it came time to get out the clay and start, only the cupboard where I keep my clay supplies was a wreck. Clean, or clay? (The poly clay community uses “to clay” as a verb.) Clean. Lots of stuff in that cupboard that didn’t need to stay in my life, including a dead phone, old message books, astrology readings I won’t listen to again, and more dust and dirt than I wanted to acknowledge. Sigh. Clear. Toss. Vacuum. Decide that the spare floor tiles from my rental property can best be stored in the rental property, and not under my bookshelf, just as soon as the tenant who’s leaving tomorrow gives me the keys.
Finally, I was out of excuses / alternatives, and I had to clay or quit. Sit down. Set up the table and supplies and tools. Start.
There is a huge gap between my ideas, and what I know how to and am able to make with skill. I do not know how to draw canes that I can make. That is, I do not know how to translate sketches into actual clay, with correct value shifts and light and dark and shaping. I do not know how much clay to condition to yield a cane of sufficient size to do what I had in mind. These equivalent decisions in chainsaw carving or knitting come to me automatically, after several years of practice; they are all new and difficult in a medium I have yet to master. And they will come, and I will get better, and I will look at the books and their instructions with different eyes, and I will watch the DVDs again and get more out of them this time.
Meanwhile, I’m out of dogfood heading into a long weekend, and I have to take care of that. Hungry dogs can’t eat clay. Not sure how I’m going to document the process of putting the lamp together. I am happy that it’s set up now. I probably will need to move the operation to a different table, and I need a better attachment and ergonomics for the pasta machine because I can see already it’s going to mess with my back if I keep it the way it is. All of these are additional art decisions. Easy once they’ve been made and are taken care of, but most painful and exhausting in the making, especially if you don’t even know that they are part of the process.
It is so tempting to take that house off the rental market and turn it into studio space… Huge shift in my finances, though, and not one I’m willing to make at this time. Off to town. Later.
Originally written December 28, 2007