I’m thrilled to bring you an artist interview with the incredibly talented polymer clay cane artist Ivy Niles of iKandiClay. You have undoubtedly seen Ivy’s intricate and distinctive canes in both her Etsy shop and incorporated into the work of other artists. I have loved Ivy’s work for a long time and was very pleased when she agreed to be interviewed here on The Blue Bottle Tree. I’ll let Ivy take over now and tell you about herself, her work, and how she makes polymer clay work for her. Thank you Ivy for sharing your story with us!
About Ivy Niles of iKandiClay
I was raised in East Helena, Montana, a small town. But now I live in Omaha, Nebraska. I have 4 kids, ages 12-22, and we have a dog, a Bichon named Toto.
What are your other hobbies and what do you do when you’re not claying?
When I’m not claying, I spend time with family and friends! I’ve converted some of my best friends into clayers, so when I host a get-together, it’s almost always a clay night. I grab a few big bags of canes out of my Etsy clearance drawers, and set out glass vases and Christmas ornaments, Bic pens, brass ring and pendant bezels – all sorts of goodies. I feel really fortunate to have creative friends who enjoy taking part in something I’m so passionate about.
I do other things, of course…typical family outings such as going to the zoo, park, etc. And also special family traditions such as our annual Mother’s Day Nerf Battle, Fall Family Food Fight (each person gets their own, different colored giant bowl of oatmeal for slopslinging in the back yard), post-Halloween family costume dinner party at which each kid has chosen a part of the meal, two week couch fort indoor camping during winter break from school, and “First Snow” (the first time it snows each winter, we gather up bowls full and flavor them with powders, syrups, and sprinkles).
My younger 3 kids are rarely interested in clay, so I try to help them explore their own individual passions. My oldest daughter, though, runs an Etsy shop in her spare time, with polymer clay pens, wands, pendant necklaces, and beads for sale, as well as resin and painted items. She has also begun doing local art shows. We love to sit and clay together while we watch TV shows or listen to standup comedy.
What is your art/craft history?/ How did you get started with polymer clay?
I was an avid scrapbooker for about 10 years. My kids and I have always given handmade gifts, and we had a lot of fun trying out crafts like melt and pour soap, beeswax candle stickers, painting, jewelry making, etc. I did home daycare for 10 years, and helped the kids make various projects including polymer clay. It must have been around 2004 when I got a couple of polymer clay books, and saw some intricate canework. I had made jellyrolls and a few other simple canes, but I had never seen anything like those complex canes. I was especially inspired by Karen Lewis’s work.
I made a lot of beads with my early canework; many more than I could ever use. So I started auctioning them on Ebay, just to earn enough money to buy more clay. It worked out really well, because not only did I feel encouraged to keep making lots of beads, but I received helpful feedback from my customers. Over the course of time, I had a few people message me to ask where I was getting my canes from. When I told them I made the canes myself, they asked if I had any extra to sell. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me! So I started selling canes too, and eventually that became the majority of my sales. I moved my business to Etsy after a few years, and I have had a really great experience with my little online shop. My customers are so nice! I get messages full of compliments every week, both on Etsy and my Facebook page. It’s really incredible to have a job where all of the feedback is positive.
When I went through my divorce 7 years ago, I was afraid that I might have to close my store and get a “real” job. But my youngest son has severe asthma, and missed quite a bit of school back then due to respiratory illnesses, so working from home was ideal. So I threw myself into my work full time, and have managed to support my family with it.
You’re best known for your canework, why do you like to cane?
Canework just fits so perfectly with the way my brain is wired. I’m a perfectionist, and by nature I prefer to work slowly and carefully. My mom tells me that when I was in kindergarten, I used to beg my teacher to let me stay inside during recess to finish coloring my pictures because everyone else was done, but I wanted mine to be ‘just so’. In so many areas of life, it has been frustrating for me to work so much slower than everyone else. But with claying, my snail’s pace works in my favor. My attention to detail pays off.
Have you done other types of polymer clay work?
I’ve dabbled a bit, but I’m a total novice at surface techniques, sculpting… well, basically everything except caning! I enjoy making things with the canes such as jewelry, covered vases, masks, and crazy projects like converting a canvas sneaker into a cane embellished vase.
How big do you make each cane, typically?
It depends on the style of cane. Leaf canes, for example, start out about a pound. Most of my kaleidoscope canes start out as a 5-7 pound base triangle.
What is your design inspiration for your canes?
Everything! I’m inspired by clayers and artists who work with other mediums, and many things in nature. And I’m intensely inspired by color. During the process of mixing and playing around with colors, design often suggests itself to me.
I’m also inspired by the music and audiobooks that I listen to while claying, the people and events in my life, which often inspire the titles of my cane series, which in turn influences design and color. An unusual source of inspiration is microbiology illustrations, which I find visually fascinating. I once made a cane derived from images of a type of microscopic worm.
How much time do you spend working on clay in a typical day?
It varies, but I’d say about 7-9 hours. Running an online store involves a lot more than just production, but the majority of my work time is spent claying. I’m a single mom and iKandiClay is my sole source of income, so I’m putting in a lot of hours to keep my family afloat. But I’m able to do what I love. This is literally my dream job, and I’m thankful for it every day.
What brand of clay do you use?
I work with a mix of about 2 parts Kato to one part Premo.
How do you store your canes?
I store my canes wrapped in waxed paper.
Is there any advice or tips that you can offer that has helped you get good results?
There are lots of ways to create canes. To make my style of cane, however, my number one piece of caning advice is to always use Skinner blends! It really makes a big difference. I also like to use a thin sheet of black or sometimes white, or both, to make a thin outline around each of the different colors in a cane.
Can you tell us a story of a time when you had an epic failure? If you resolved it, how?
My early canes were pretty terrible! But that’s only in retrospect. At the time I created them, I was head over heels in love with them. I think with caning you just have to put in the time…you have to go through the process of getting a feel for how the clay moves by making lots and lots of canes, and learn through experience what works and what doesn’t.
At this point, I’ve made well over a thousand canes. I’ve learned not to think of any of them as a failure. Sure, sometimes I end up making an ugly cane! But I just figure out what went wrong, learn the lesson, and move on to the next one.
Do you have a website or blog? Where can people buy your canes and other work?
The best place to see new photos of my work is to follow me on my iKandiClay Canes Facebook page.
Thank you Ivy!
Many thanks to Ivy Niles of iKandiClay for sharing her story with us. It’s great to learn more about such a talented and creative artist. All of the photos belong to Ivy Niles, and credit for the top-most portrait goes to Biblename Photos.