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.
10 thoughts on “KCPCG Workshop with Ann and Karen Mitchell”
Spectacular designs, Ginger. I also love taking classes and attending workshops. Not only do they teach new techniques and ideas, they seem to open the mind to more possibilities and connections that can go far beyond the subject matter. Thanks for the links too. I will have to see what offerings are in my area.
Oh I hope you do start coming to meetings and workshops and such. I really hope to meet you one day. Wouldn’t that be fun?
This is something that I tell all our members. If you have an opportunity to take a workshop with a polymer clay artist do it – even if it is not something that really interests you. Our local guild, the Central Mississippi Polymer Clay Guild, has hosted several weekend workshops since it was organized in 2008 and some were artists I just could not wait to work with and others not so much.
What I’ve found about workshops is that you learn more in a weekend workshop than you would ever guess because things come up in class that cause conversation and interaction between you and the artist as well as your fellow workshop attendees. Because we do tend to work for the most part on our own, we each develop our own style and find our own workarounds. It is great when we can share those things with – as Ginger put it so well – “our people”! Plus just being able to pick an artist’s brain about any and everything is priceless. And with one exception, every artist we’ve hosted was open and willing to share as much as time allowed.
Central Mississippi sounds like it’s close, but I think my inner map is lying to me. Oh why must all the fun things be so far away?!? Yes, sharing is the best way to have fun. I’ll have to look you guys up if I’m ever down that way.
Ginger, joining Mile High Polymer Clay Guild was the best thing I ever did. We meet the fourth Saturday of the month every month but December. I have learned so much and made such wonderful friends! If you are ever out in the Denver area at the end of a month, we would love to have you visit! For those who are nervous about joining a guild, because you think it means we’re all experts, we’re not! We’re of all different skill levels, including people who’ve just discovered polymer clay. At least visit your local guild, if there is one. As Ginger has discovered, it’s lovely to talk to people with a common interest! In the interest of transparency, I am our treasurer and thus a member of the board, but it’s because I am so thrilled to be there.
I think you make a very good point about joining groups and guilds. People often think they’re for experienced clayers and nothing could be further from the truth. There’s always room for everyone and there’s nothing more helpful than a bunch of clayers having fun. I’ll be sure to keep your guild in mind if I’m ever out that way. Sounds like a wonderful group.
You sure said it, Ginger. I always feel so wonderful when I work my polymer clay with some of my ‘tribe’ around me. People who know what I’m saying with ‘Skinner Blend’, or ‘extruding’, or even ‘caning’!
My guild (Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild) regularly have Clay Days where we rent a space with tables and chairs, and the guild brings ovens, and everyone brings their stuff to work in clay. Kinda moving their home space to the workspace. And we just do our own thing, but chatter among ourselves, help each other out, ask questions, solicit help, and teach each other new things. LOVE those!
And we have teaching weekends, where members can take 3 to 4 hour workshops for a paltry $10, and learn a whole new technique, in the style you spoke of: the teacher demonstrate some, then we go and do that much, then the teacher gathers us again and teaches some more, then we go off and do more. The teachers are right there for questions, and we get to see how even though one person taught the same thing to all of us, everything comes out so differently with personality shining through!
So I second your comment – should anyone get a chance to get together with others that do polymer clay – GO for it, you’ll learn so much more than you can imagine, and probably have a GREAT time!
We are wanting to have clay play days with our guild and your story makes me realize that we need to make it a priority and not just a “someday”. I have always thought clayers are the most fun!
Ginger, it was such a pleasure to meet you, after reading your commentary online. Thank you for all your kind comments, we enjoyed working with you in the workshop. Also, thanks for sharing your lovely pieces that you made as a result of the workshop. I look forward to meeting up with you at future polymer events!!
Thank you so much Karen. I really enjoyed the class, and I’m sure I’ll “see you around”!! I look forward to it.
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