I haven’t written in a few days. I will now admit why.
I have been consumed with jealousy.
There. I said it. I’m not proud. But there it is.
I’m once again in the middle of scraping out my studio, getting ready for my Open Studio this weekend. I’m on the League of NH Craftsmen’s Open Studio Tour this weekend. As usual, I am behind. As usual, I’m in a mild panic about it. Which, as usual, is a gross understatement. Does anyone else ever wake up at 4 a.m. convinced they will be utterly humiliated by the general public’s lack of enthusiasm about their studio??
One of my cleaning “issues” is I tend to hang on to magazines indefinitely. I have hundreds of them. And I don’t know why, but I’ve picked up about half a dozen this week that have articles about the amazing work of other polymer clay artists.
I went surfing while enjoying a cup of coffee the other morning, and came across an artist whose work just stopped me in my tracks. No, I’m not revealing the artist. I may be sick with jealousy, but I’m not masochistic! It’s work I could envision myself doing, if I hadn’t headed down the path I’m on now.
Here’s why (and this sucks, too):
No matter how many times you “fix” a “problem”, it doesn’t simply stay “fixed”.
I can intellectually understand what envy/jealousy does and does not do for me. But when it hits, I have to work my way through it all over again.
So what’s different this time?
This time, I realize it’s my own self-doubt and insecurities–fueled by a few of those “nibbles” from other artists I talked about in my Mean People Suck #2 entry–that are holding me back.
Here’s the rub. I’m “odd” in the polymer clay world because I don’t use a lot of color in my polymer clay work.
For almost every polymer clay artist out there who is big, or going to be big, it’s about color. Technique, skill, composition, etc.–yes, those, too. But mostly it is about COLOR. Even the artist whose work intrigued me actually makes work in the same vein I do–except it’s colorful.
My artifacts are…well, bone-colored. Ivory. Even the new finish is soapstone, in beautiful but subtle, soft tones of gray, gray-green and black.
I rely on other elements for color and texture–beads, fabric, thread.
In fact, in a sense, most of my work is about collecting and assembling other objects to create a piece–antique and vintage beads, old buttons, recycled fabrics, beaver-chewed sticks.
If I can’t find frayed or distressed fabric, I distress it myself. I twist it, fray it, burn it, paint it, overdye it, even rub dirt in it, to get it to look the way I want. If I can’t find the right kind of button, then I make one out of polymer clay. But I usually have one that’s “right”, and use it as a mold to make more.
In fact, I only started making my own artifacts because I couldn’t find artifacts that “worked” in my assemblages. I experimented for ages to get just the right look, size, feel. They still continue to evolve.
The artifacts took on a life and purpose of their own, and a powerful one. This summer, a customer came to my booth to rave about a horse sculpture she’d bought the year before. “I have to confess”, she said, “I only bought him at the time because I thought he’d look so great with the little wall hanging I’d bought the year before. I mean, I thought he was cool and all, but I saw him as a ‘supporting player'”
But now, a year later, she comes to my booth to tell me he has a power and mystery all his own. “He’s really grown on me, and now I think he’s the most incredible piece of art in my home,” she said. “I absolutely love him!”
So obviously something powerful and fresh is happening with my work, whether I’m even aware of it anymore or not.
So where do I go with all this jealousy and lack of color thing?
Here’s my thoughts today–or rationale, if you really think all polymer clay artists should be about color/change/innovation/novelty and I’m simply missing the boat:
My work may never be in those upper echelons of the polymer clay world. I may feel a pang now and then about not being there. But that wasn’t ever really my goal or my vision–to be a famous polymer clay artist. It would have been nice. But that wasn’t on my road map.
I wanted to tell a story about how I felt about a certain cave in France. Why it moved me so. Why it made me cry.
As I told that story, something happened. As I became more thoughtful about what I was doing, and thinking about why I was doing it, I found I was telling my story.
Making art became a way of sneaking up on baring my soul and sharing it with a larger world.
I think my artifacts have stayed simple and neutral in color for a very good reason.
It helps me focus on that story.
I don’t want to get all caught up in the newest techniques and tools–unless they really help me tell that story better. I don’t want to be cutting edge–because then it becomes all about being cutting edge.
Just as I don’t need colored paper and glitter pens to write a good essay, I don’t need the colors to do what I do best.
All I need to do is stay connected to the story that feels true to ME.
I think I can come down from the ledge now. But if you see me up there again in the next few days, please don’t tell me that pink is the new black.