When I took up knitting a few years ago, it was like joining a social club. Everyone understands knitting. Everyone has a story, most people have tried it (even men, when they were children), and it’s not uncommon for friends to get together and knit. Strangers will stop you and comment on the yarn you used or ask for the name of the pattern you used in your sweater. There are local yarn stores in most larger towns where you can just drop in and knit for a while. But this is not true when your hobby is polymer clay. Nobody has heard of polymer clay. (It’s…what? And you do what with it? Is it painted?) And like a lot of people who work with polymer clay, I don’t know very many others who share the same interest. I’m used to this phenomenon. But recently I had the opportunity to go to a polymer clay workshop and it was incredible. I walked into a room of near-strangers and everyone had a pasta machine! Everyone spoke the same language, had the same tools…I had found my people!
The weekend of March 28, I picked up my rental car and drove the three hours to take part in a workshop put on by the Kansas City Polymer Clay Guild with teachers Ann and Karen Mitchell of AnKara Designs. Known for their pioneering work in liquid polymer clay, sisters Ann and Karen presented a two-day workshop. The first day was “Engineering and Construction for Jewelry Design: 25 Years of Methods and Madness” and the second day was “Liquid Polymer Clay: Everything but the Kitchen Sink”.
We started learning right off and it didn’t stop all weekend. Ann and Karen would gather us around the table and show us how to do something and then they’d send us back to our workstations to do it. Then back for a demo, and back to work the next step. Learn, do, learn do, and so on. Each little demo taught us something new. As we watched our teachers work, there would be exclamations of “Ah!” and “Oh wow!” from us as we made realizations about this medium that we thought we knew so well.
I had several really amazing “aha” moments and walked away from this workshop totally invigorated and full of ideas. You see, none of the projects we did that day are my style. I would NEVER have thought of doing things like this on my own. But Ann and Karen made me see the mechanics of constructing in polymer clay in a whole new way. I would never have thought of using stones and broken junk jewelry and mis-matched chain in a necklace. But I did it. And it’s wonderful. And interestingly, I’ve already begin to use some of the ideas in my next pieces. Everything you learn seems to change what you do in your work. And the feeling of community was wonderful. Because it was a small group, we had plenty of time to talk while we were working and I got to make some lovely new friends. I sat at the same table with Christina Butler of Poly-Tools fame and got to take advantage of using some of her wonderful cutters. We already knew each other online, but we became fast friends over clay. She was kind enough to put me up for the night and I got to see her world that is Poly-Tools…and meet her wonderful pugs (and ancient kitties). We had lovely potluck lunches both days (and Kim’s gumbo…well..that alone was worth the trip). But there was more. There were faces to go with the Facebook names of people I have “met” in passing. There was joking and sharing. And sharing of tools and ideas and stories. But mostly it just felt wonderful to be in the company of so many others who are “just like me”.
So if you ever have a chance to take a polymer clay workshop, do it. Even if you don’t think you’re ready (people will help you). Even if you don’t know anyone (you soon will). Even if you don’t think the topic is interesting (you learn sooo much more). The influx of ideas and energy that comes from being in a learning environment like that is invaluable.
To learn about classes and workshops in your area (or even out of your area if you can travel), visit this page on the International Polymer Clay Association website. This is not comprehensive, though. So do check with your local guild and get on their mailing list, Facebook group, or page. Here is a search form to find a local guild near you. Here’s another list, though I don’t know how often it’s updated. Still, it’s a starting point. Even then, it’s still sometimes hard to find polymer clay events, so you can always try searching on google for polymer clay guilds in your area. You just never know!
And if you can take a class with Ann and Karen Mitchell of AnKara Designs, I heartily recommend it. They’re wonderful teachers. There was just the right mix of information, humor, and inspiration. Thank you Ann and Karen! And thanks to the Kansas City Polymer Clay Guild for organizing the event and making sure that everything went as smooth as clockwork. It was a wonderful weekend.