Attending Synergy4 – Why community is important

In August, I attended the International Polymer Clay Association’s conference, named Synergy4. It was a tremendous experience, for sure, but I wanted to share more with you than just a report of what happened while I was there. Attending Synergy4 was life-changing in some ways. It was oh so validating. And if you are serious about your love affair with polymer clay, I strongly recommend that you find a way to attend the next one. The energy there was just that good.

Synergy4 Logo

Fear Rears its Head

This was the 4th Synergy conference (plus 2 EuroSynergy conferences). For years I’ve heard mention and seen pictures taken at various Synergy events and always felt (I’m going to be honest here), a bit left out. The people in the pictures look like they’re having such fun and the pictures of the art are so good. So I figured there was no place there for someone like me (more on that later). I also had no idea what a conference was. I mean, I knew it was a meeting. But what was it like? What happens at one? I’ll admit that I was pretty darned intimidated and I didn’t have anyone who was going with me. But I signed up anyway and told my family I’d be gone in August.

Finally it was time to go. I almost cancelled. What if I walked in and the room was filled with cold shoulders and hard stares? I knew in my head it was silly, but fear was churning inside of me. I had to talk really hard to myself to walk out of the hotel room and into the lobby. But I did it. I thought I’d just sit around all cool-like in the lobby, watching people while I waited to get my registration package.

I shouldn’t have worried. Soon there were several people I recognized from Facebook gathered around a table, talking. As each person walked in, another chair was pulled up. I joined the circle, introduced myself, and soon we had 15 chairs around a small table, everyone meeting and greeting and hugging and talking. People would leave, others would walk up, introductions would happen. We talked. We chilled. And all of my fears and worries were completely unfounded. (Why do we do this to ourselves? Sigh.)

It’s a funny thing about polymer clayers…

When I went to my very first polymer clay event, where I first met other people who worked with this magical dough, I found out two very important things. One, polymer clayers hug when they meet…even if they’re total strangers. And two, we immediately begin fondling each other’s jewelry. Okay, maybe not everyone. But you get my point. We already have so much in common by the fact we work with this stuff that when you meet other clayers it’s like you’ve been friends forever. There is so much to talk about that you are immediately filled with this warm friendly feeling of kinship. Of community. Because really, we are all part of the same wonderful club, even if we only just met that day.

This was completely obvious at Synergy4. People who only knew each other from Facebook comments suddenly rushed at each other from across the room with big hugs and smiles. Many people knew each other by name, but not by face, so once nametags were consulted there would be exclamations and squeals of recognition. “Oh, I know you!” Conversation flew fast and furious as jewelry was examined, techniques and products discussed, and friendships enriched. As we attended talks together, the subjects would spark deep conversation and discussion. The only time I ever saw people sitting alone was when they were just too exhausted to talk. Yes, it was an intense time, and by the end we were all a bit slap-happy and tired.

My only regret about going to Synergy4 was that there wasn’t enough time to meet everyone. So many of you came up to introduce yourselves, and I’m thrilled to have met you! But there were still so many people I didn’t get a chance to meet. There were so many conversations begging to be had, so much sharing left to do. The three days were over way too fast!

What Happens at Synergy?

Like I said above, before attending I didn’t really understand what a conference was. There was an opening night meet-and-greet event. We enjoyed general sessions where a speaker talked to the group as a whole. There were breakout sessions where a speaker talked to smaller groups as chosen by the attendees.  And finally on the last night there was a dinner party with a speaker and then an auction to raise money. That sounds simple, but it was actually quite intense.

This particular Synergy event also had another event going on, and that was the Retreat Plus option. This option was for people who chose to attend a retreat room (so they could play with clay) instead of attending the breakout sessions. Normally retreats (clay play events) are different from conferences, but this combined option seemed to be popular with those who chose it. In addition there was a vendor room (shopping!), an artist’s gallery (more shopping!)

On the days before and after the conference, there were also classes (available separately) for those who wanted to take them.

There are many pictures of the people on personal Facebook walls, but I can’t find one central place to direct you. My phone finally behaved itself in time for selfies with anyone who was willing. Here’s an assortment of them. You can see MUCH better pictures of the events, however, by checking out this album by photographer (and polymer clayer extraordinaire) Georg Dinkel. And don’t miss this excellent (and picture-filled) report from Beth Petricoin of Create My World Designs.

The Talks at Synergy4

The general sessions and breakout sessions were incredible. The very first day we learned all about the incredible Into the Forest project. It was a hilarious presentation that showed how much work actually is going on by Emily Squires-Levine, Laura Tabakman, and Julie Eakes. The donations of polymer artistry are complete, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done and money needed so the November installation and showing in Pittsburgh can be enjoyed by all of us. Read all about the project at Into the Forest and find out how you can help.

Georg Dinkel shared about his incredible “Vunderkammer” creations…fantastical designs that defy reality and leave your mind spinning with….how did he DO that? Mags Bonham shared about her experiments and experiences with using Cameo and Silhouette cutting and engraving machines on raw polymer clay. Maggie Maggio shared her story about trying to teach color (properly) in schools. Ellen Prophater gave us a truly inspirational talk about using mokume gane. Loretta Lam share the stories of people who are courageously facing the challenges of making a living in a creative realm. And finally Jeffery Lloyd Dever chaired a panel discussion centered around the differences in voice between the European and American clay communities.

So Inspiring!

Most of us create alone in our homes. We don’t often have the chance to see what life is like for other artists and creators. We don’t have people to “talk shop” with. So seeing pictures of art and studios, and hearing the stories of these fellow creatives filled me with hope. And passion to create. It also struck me that there were no petty fears of copying or jealous hiding of secrets in this environment. People were here to share and grow…and that’s exactly what we did. I said that attending this event was life-changing, and that’s mostly because I no longer feel alone. Even the “big names” are just people like you and me, trying to find our way while we create. In so many ways, we are all one.

Collaboration and Community

One thread that wove its way through everything in this particular gathering of people and discussions was that of collaboration. Now that we have video conferencing (Face Time, What’s App, Skype, etc) and connections with people all over the world, more and more people are coming together to collaborate on projects. Collaboration can mean anything from simple partnerships to online challenges to large-scale international projects like the Into the Forest Installation. Each time people come together over a creative endeavor, they collaborate to create something greater than if they’d worked alone. Along with this comes an energy that rejuvenates, enriches, and enhances both the outcome and the lives of the people involved.

Find Community

Look for opportunities to connect with others in this medium and in this community. You don’t need a formal collaboration to join with others. Just meeting and sharing brings energy to everyone involved.

Synergy doesn’t happen very often (it will be at least 2019 before we have another one), but there’s no reason you can’t attend other events near you. I’ve found that attending retreats (such as the Twisters Retreat in Oklahoma City) or taking classes (like the Carol Simmons 6-day master class) can bring the same kind of feeling of community. Yes, travel costs can be impressive and the world is very large. But look locally. Many communities have a guild. Sometimes local groups bring in teachers from elsewhere, even for a visit. Look for a guild to visit when you travel. I dropped in on several groups when I visited the UK for a family wedding and it was so much fun. It doesn’t matter how, but do seek out ways to meet other clayers. You will love every minute of it. (And if there’s truly nothing near you…start a group!)

The Art at Synergy4

Back to Synergy for a minute. My phone died on the first day, so I didn’t take many pictures for you. But here you can see the pieces submitted for the IPCA’s annual juried show. We got to see the winners announced and a slideshow of the art. Some of the art was also seen at the event being worn by the artists, too.

There was also an art gallery display room where we could view and purchase artwork from dozens of artists. I had never before seen some of these artist’s work in person before and to be able to see and feel these phenomenal works was a treat indeed. My wallet got a serious workout and I now have new art in my studio. Yay!

If you couldn’t attend Synergy4 but want to purchase some of this art, I suggest that you check out the IPCA’s fundraising auction here. You can view the items and bid. The auction ends September 15, 2017, though, so hurry!

About the IPCA

Did you know there is an organization just for polymer clay? The International Polymer Clay Association (the IPCA) states that its mission is to “educate the public about polymer clay, and to study and promote an interest in the use of polymer clay as an artistic medium”. But did you know that there is a ton of things they do? Check out the website here. There is a listing of local guilds there, and a list of workshops around the world you could attend. You also get a subscription to a top-notch digital magazine when you join. The president of the IPCA, Barbara Forbes-Lyons, spoke at Synergy4 about some new changes that are coming to the IPCA in the near future. Join us and be part of this!

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