I’ve often heard from clayers that they don’t like to make more than one of something. That once they make it, they lose interest in it and don’t want to do it again. I can understand that. But I also think that strategy means you can miss out on important steps in learning how to refine, revise, and evolve the design of your creations. I don’t know about you, but my first attempt (at anything) is usually pretty awful. That’s why I much prefer doing prototypes and multiple versions until I figure out exactly where I want to go with something.
Last week I was at a retreat and it’s traditional to exchange a swap item. The criteria was: “less than 3 inches, flat on one side, and nature-themed”. You might have seen the final result in my newsletter or on Polymer Clay Daily. I thought you might like to see how this piece evolved.
At first, I wanted to do a glow-in-the-dark mushroom. But I had to make 28 of these and sculpting 28 mushrooms would not have been a small undertaking. So my mind went to a mountain landscape. My husband has been after me to create his favorite logo in polymer…and that gave me an idea. Layers.
So I found a photo that I took last year and realized that I could use this as my example.
I took the photo into photoshop and drew over each section to give separate color panels. Then I cropped it into an oval. You can see that this is pretty rough. I even missed a bit over on the right.
Here is my first prototype. At first, I was going to put trees on it, but they looked terrible. I put clouds in the sky but they just made it look cartoonish. Simple was better. The design was evolving. I also realized that I didn’t like the border. Also, the colors darkened with baking and wanted them lighter.
Next, I tried it without the trees, clouds, or border. I also wanted to go back to a broader oval. Colors are better. But it was a bit too big. Also…what about finish? Here, I sanded it down to look eroded. I didn’t like that. I also tried antiquing it with some brown paint (not shown), but I really hated that.
Back to a clean, crisp, flat design. I realized that the sharp, distinct edges of the layers created an important part of the design. It reminded me of topographic maps that I love to explore when I hike in hilly areas. I also loved the way the various colors stacked up on the bottom of the piece, giving a stratified look that reminded me of the way you can see geologic strata in the rocks and cliff-sides.
I also wanted to have some variation in the sky and not be too obvious and distracting. So I figured a swirly blend was in order. It was then that I realized it needed stars in the sky. Glow-in-the-dark powders to the rescue! I mixed glow powders (I used these) with blue and white clay, then formed a skinner log (bullseye cane). Slices of this cane were stretched to become the sky layer. BTW, I used my Lucy Mini Slicer to cut the slices. It worked well.
Even after the design was finalized, there was still some tweaking. Even though I was being careful with trapping bubbles between the layers, my first few pieces came out of the oven with a bad case of “polymer acne”. I found that switching to Cernit reduced the number of bubbles substantially. So yes, I had to remix all my colors!
So here’s the final design and a video of the transition to night view. And the next time you’re not quite sure if you like your design, keep going. Keep working on it and refining it until you like it. And yes, that might mean you have to make several versions before you settle on one you like. That’s all part of the process!