Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leave the Potting Soil in the Shed

We are going to make flowers with polymer clay, not dirt and seeds.

Just where do those little details come from? One thing that I had to learn when I first started creating millefiori canes in polymer clay is create the details in the correct size for the piece you are working on. It is all relevant when reducing the cane from three inches to a quarter inch. Think those slice and bake sugar cookies with the image all the way through the roll.

The flower I am creating today is a standard on my website and in my tool box. I love the flower, and I use it a lot in my own creations. This little purple flower is simple and colorful. It plays well with other background clays and makes yellow beads exciting.

Depending upon my needs, I normally will custom blend colors for my flowers, but the purple I use straight out of the package, no matter which brand I am using. This one happens to be Fimo soft.

Because of the work of those talented clayers that went before me, I have the information needed to create blended and shaded clays through geometry. Judith Skinner has created a way to blend two colors of clay into a smooth transition that works so very well in shaping petals and creating kaleidoscope canes. It is the shading that gives the images and flowers their dimension and makes them visually interesting. It starts with two colors that are conditioned by hand to get them ready to work together. Purple and white in block form.


Here they are conditioned and laid together in preparation of blending. I am using equal side triangles to make my blend, but this is subject to what end results you want to see once the clay is completely blended. More or less white will give a subtle shading, a black edge will give dark depth to a petal like my roses and more than two colors will give you a rainbow effect.


Once they are laid together, they are ready to go into the pasta machine that I use to compress and blend the clay. I have a metal back piece that allows me to work with longer pieces of clay.


The piece goes through the pasta machine and then is immediately folded in half bottom to top and sent back through again.


This is repeated as many times as necessary to get the blend that you want.


This is what I was looking to create. This is laid dark to light, and since I want to create my petal with the light on the inside of the petal, I will compress this slab of clay so that the it comes out with the light on the end. I do this by creating an accordion fold with the light on the bottom and pleating until I get a plug of clay. It will not be perfect, but it will all blend together eventually.


This is my petal. You only create ONE petal when you are creating a flower cane. It is a manageable size and easy to detail at this point. I want tiny lines running up from the end that is in the center; just like small veins. In order to create those lines, I use any left over clay that I cut away from the slab and other fresh darker color from the package. I take that clay and make it a solid color and run it through my pasta machine on a thin setting in order to get tiny lines that will run through my petal.


I slice spots in the end of the petal and slip these thin sheets down into the cuts. This is shown from above.


Here you can see the excess scrap sticking out of the cuts, but you can see how the petal will have these tiny veins running through them.


I trim off the excess clay and wrap the entire petal in an outer wrap of this darker clay. This will give my petals definition when they are all placed side by side around the center. Without the definition, the petals will all look as if they are one big petal since they are all the same color.


The next step is to take this chunk of a petal and slowly stretch it out, working from the center to the end. This petal is stretched out 12 inches and the ends have been cut off where the distortion occurs from stretching. If you are not careful, you can overstretch or unevenly stretch the clay. That will cause you to have distorted petals and uneven sizing when you cut this stretched clay up.

I cut at 2-inch increments for a 6-petal flower.


The center, which is seen in the background is a simple brown to white blend like we did with the purple and white, only instead of making a plug of clay with the light to dark, like the petal, I rolled this clay up starting with the white and rolled like a jelly roll. That gives me a white center and a dark outer layer. I put this brown tube in the center of my cut petals and arranged them to line up with the center.

We are not done by a long shot, but we are happy with our flower.

We now have to build the outer translucent holder to keep all the petals in place.


Slicing and conditioning my translucent clay is the next step in the process.


I wrap my flower with a thinnish layer of translucent clay to start. This keeps the petals from smooshing together when I do my final reduction. The only way to get definition is to keep things apart by using translucent clay.


This is a strange step, but it is very important to getting the petals to separate. This is a thin tube of translucent clay that I rolled out like a small snake. I am pinching the clay up to a triangle point. It will be flat on the surface with a pointed top. This is then placed into the edges of the petals to keep them apart.


See where I tucked those points? This will keep the petals from touching in the end cane.


After all the tucking is done, I wrap my flower in a couple layers of thin translucent clay. This will hold the shape of the petal and keep them all uniform when slicing.


Just like when I stretched the petal out, I am stretching out my completed flower. This one was almost 24 inches in length when I was done. I cut my canes at 2-inch intervals with a half-inch face. Shall we see how the flower turned out?














Here are these little flowers dancing around a set of sunflower yellow beads. See why the purple flower is my favorite?


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Now, you know how I make the simplest flowers that I use every day.


Oh, and in between squishing, blending and smooshing, we look at ducks.





Julie and Blu

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Dirty Awful Truth

This is not for the squeamish. This is not for the faint of heart. This is not for those who prefer to NOT look behind the curtain or know how their food is made.

Here is the entire bead making process in its rawest form. The dirty hands, the messy desk, the mushy clay and the icky beads in their crudest form.

This slab of clay is a custom blend of coral that I did from Cadmium Red and some white. I mixed and blended until I had the color I wanted, then I ran it through my pasta machine until I had it completely blended into this sheet of clay.


Note the view of the pond from my table. That makes you look away from my oodles of clay canes that I have scattered to the left and all the chain and findings I have scattered to the right. I also have a couple rocks on the right. They are from the Missouri headwaters where Lewis and Clark crossed. I picked them up and they remind me of how big this world is.

That bucket in the left corner is filled with scraps that I will sort and put up on eBay. There are a lot of not so right flowers in there that people love to snap up.


I have rolled my clay into measurable tubes that are 6-inches in length. I will cut them at half-inch increments to get my 15mm beads. It is hard to see, but the clay is scored.


I work one tube at a time, regardless of the colors of the clay. I prefer to create a single tube of beads at one sitting, so that they all match in size and canes. The sets I am creating here are in sets of six. I am getting two full sets of beads for each tube that I mangle. I loosely roll them in my hands to make sure that I am getting the right size. I have been doing this so long that I can feel the size of the beads in the palm of my hand and know when they are not quite the right size.



I am adding translucent checkerboard slices to these beads now. I am working with translucent canes that I want under all the other leaves and flowers that I am going to add. I like my ghost canes on the bottom, although, that is a personal preference and they look equally cool on top of the flowers. Thin slices with my tissue blade. This is a real tissue blade that is used to slice real tissue. This is the way that I can get a thin, thin, thin slice of my cane to add to the beads.


I like to add my leaves under my flowers and over the translucent clays. This is random, and I make no plans about where to lay any of the canes. I have developed a silly pattern that I unconsciously stick with, though. I add all my little leaves and watch the baby ducks float around the pond. The view beyond the pond that is not visible in the photos is the Bridger Mountain Range. I get to make beads and stare at the mountains while listening to whatever I chose to that day. I like NPR and the radio. We got snow last night. Yes, June 13, 2013 gave us snow at the 6,000 foot level.



I have added some of my flower canes to these pretty beads. They are lumpy, bumpy and odd at this point. The translucent clay is very visible in these pictures. That is the white that surrounds the flowers and the white slabs of clay that is part of my checkerboard pattern. I am ready to roll these beads into something smooth and round. I use the palms of my hands to give them their shape. It takes a certain pressure to get them round without smashing them. I do have a very light touch and it is by feel at this point in the game.


When I have them smooth and round, I use a needle tool to pierce the beads through and through without distorting them. The trick is to start on one end while gently holding the bead and when the tip peeks through the other side, flip the bead over and pierce the other direction. This keeps the edges of the beads from poking out and they are tucked back inside the hole.

I use a 2mm size hole for these for double stringing if needed. I like to tuck my stringing material back through when I finish crimping, and I want a lot of room to work with without making them loosey goosey. I string on 7 and up wire.


Here are my beads on their rack ready for baking.

The next step after they come out of the oven is to drop them immediately into ice water. This helps to clear up the translucent clay; making it crystal clear.

After I take them out of the ice water bath, which usually lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, I determine how much I will sand or polish them. If the edges of the cane slices are too thick for whatever reason, I will start with a 600 grit wet-dry sandpaper. If they are smooth and no edges are showing, I will hit them with 800 grit, and now I have all the way up to 4000 grit for polishing. Each bead goes through some sort of sanding or polishing.

Then they get a very light coat of Minwax waterbased varathene clear gloss. It is only to give them a shine and boost the color.


See how the translucent clay disappears?  The photo was shot late in the afternoon, which gave me the wrong white balance, but the beads are actually a coral pink and quite pretty.

Now, you know all my secrets :)


Julie and Blu

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Give that Duck an Emmy!

Emmys and ducks are on the horizon.

The first batch of little ones floated across the pond last night. It has been worrisome since two mama ducks showed back up on the banks last week for the first time in three weeks or so. They should have had a brood with them, but instead, they went and hung out with the guys on the driveway. This made me think that the skunk I smelled a week or so ago ate all the duck eggs. They could have succumbed to a rampaging raccoon as well. Either way, I was worried that little ducks would not be peeping on the pond and pooping in the yard.

I could not even hear any of the little telltale peeps from a nest. These little ones were quiet. There were/are 11 in this brood. I could not count them while they were swimming; they are like watching cottonwood spin across the pond. They are impossible to count. They are fast and agile. They can RUN across the pond at a high rate of speed if they think they are going to be left behind. Soon their lessons will include bobbing under water to feed. That is always a hoot since they do not bob at this size, they pop like little corks.

It is not a very good photo of the ducks, but I was shooting from inside the house, and Blu was bouncing around trying to shove me out of the way so HE could see what all the fuss was about. That way he would know what to bark incessantly at. When there is something in the pond or in the yard that I want to take a photo of, he is right there in my way to bark it away. If I pick up the camera and head to the window, he is on high alert and ready to save me from the baby deer, the little bunnies, the baby ducks and a raccoon or two. Then you are supposed to take HIS picture.


We saw one gosling the other day with its Canadian goose parents. I am not sure where or if there were any more, but that was all that was on the pond.

The mama duck gets the award for making it through the perils of pond life and barking dogs.

Since I have been a member of The Artisan Group (TAG), I have been working on two gifting opportunities. The first opportunity I have is to gift the Press at the 2013 Primetime Emmys. This is through the GBK’s 2013 Primetime Emmys Gift Lounge, which provides SWAG bags to celebrities and the press. I fussed with many earring designs before settling on the one that I chose. I also chose to send all the same thing.

Here is my contribution to the Press bags.




These earrings represent a new design and bead shape for me. I have had it on my list of things to do for a long time, but never finished the design or shape prior to now. I had two pairs left over that I took over to the Gallatin Valley Mall as part of my retail spot in Simply Montana LLC. As of this moment, I have not created any of these loose beads or finished earrings for my website.

I still have a lot of other bead and earring designs that I have not finished yet. I have the list posted next to my work bench, but it will be awhile before I get back to them.

Here is the next project:


This is half of the amount of beads I need to create for the next event. I am sending bracelets to the GBK's NY Fashion Week Luxury Gift Lounge. It includes both celebrities and press. It takes place in the fall as well.

The bracelet is a simple beaded bracelet featuring my handmade beads and Swarovski crystals.


While all these projects will keep me busy for the next couple of months, I still have so many other things that I want to get accomplished. New products and new designs are just the start of my “to do” list. It may all keep me tied to my chair at my workbench, but I can look out over the pond and count baby ducks while I work on beads. Hopefully, this is just the first brood of the season and we will see many more.


Julie and Blu

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rekindling My Love Affair With Jasper

I forgot how much I loved the look, feel and uniqueness of jasper until I went to a gem and bead show a few weeks back. I stood for 45 minutes in front of a display of oodles and oodles of strands of jasper in every color imaginable. I held the beads. I touched the cabs. I stroked the tubes. I sighed. I mentally expensed out the cost of the strands of beads in comparison to my 200+ order status at Fire Mountain Gems. I sighed again. Yes, it was cheaper for me to buy in bulk. But, but, I had my hands on these beads and a stamp on my hand that said I could come back in again tomorrow. Deeper sigh.

After I got home I scoured the pages of the virtual catalog of FMG. I got out my jasper beads and held them. I compared them to what I had seen and tried to justify buying hundreds and hundreds of new beads. I finally talked myself out of the purchase and instead, ran through Artfire putting things in my cart like a crazy woman. I kept them in my cart until they expired. I went back and put them all back in my cart. They expired again. In a fit of silliness, I put them all back in my cart for a third time and hit the buy now button over and over again until I had them all purchased.

Now, I wait and wait and wait for all my beads to start rolling in. I am putting more and more in my cart until my new ones come in.

What is it about jasper that is so mesmerizing and intriguing?

I think it is the amazing patterns, colors and uniqueness of the beads that has me drooling and slobbering like a Mastiff worthy of a Hollywood role. I just find these beads so fascinating that I could look at them for hours trying to find the patterns and designs. Then, of course, one must marry them up with other beads and spacers. They are so much fun that designing is a blast with jasper.

I know that I have written about jasper and that most already know that it is a sedimentary rock that is opaque in nature. It is that sedimentary condition that gives the stones their unique appearance and patterns. The stones reflect the area from which they came. They are a quartz with chalcedony properties, which makes the stones home to tiny mineral growths that give quartz their color and shine.

The word jasper means treasurer. It is an energizing stone that provides protection, nourishment and warmth. It has been used throughout history and found all through ancient jewelry and decoration. It can be used as a vessel as well and makes a great vase. It is a feng shui favorite.

Those who need nourishment or comfort will find a piece of jewelry containing jasper a perfect way to feel protected.

These designers from the JCUIN guild have incorporated jasper into their lovely jewelry.


Red poppy jasper donut necklace freshwater pearl copper handmade


Aqua Terra Jasper and Hammered Copper Earrings


Brown and Teal Heart Charm Bracelet with Jasper and Shells Red Copper


Carved Unakite and Faceted Jasper Beads in Opera Length Necklace


Honeyed Amber Watermelon Jasper Gemstone Bead Drop Earrings Handmade



Earthtone Gemstone Stretch Bracelets Jasper Carnelian Tiger Wood


Red Sesame Jasper and Mother of Pearl Catholic Rosary


Caramel Colored Stone Pendant Copper Wire Wrap Chain and Leather


Beautifully Veined Red Jasper Necklace


Picture Jasper and Sterling Silver Pendant ppje2133


Copper Necklace with Gemstone Brown Picasso Jasper and Red Garnet




Peacock Vista and Red Jasper Cluster Earrings, Quartz, Earthy Dangles


Paintbrush Jasper Handmade Necklace Yellow Brown Swarovski OOAK Desert


Ocean Jasper Subtle Steampunk Pendant


Picture Jasper Gems with elephant - OOAK Bracelet


No one can ever accuse jasper of being boring. Take a look at all the other wonderful creations these artists have in their studio.


Julie and Blu