Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creating a Library of Textures and Forms

Over the years I have been building a library of hand formed and hand carved texture plates, molds and stamps. I thought I would share a bit of my process and some of my latest designs...



Using Found Objects

Most of my stamps and texture plates are created by hand carving. But I sometimes create them from found objects found in nature or from among other sources.

Here is a collection from my beach combing finds in Jamaica several years ago, along a few other odds and ends. In the example at the bottom of the image below, I used a tiny pottery shard (shown in the upper right corner of the image), smoothed by the ocean, to create numerous flower and star fish designs on clay stamps.


Drawing and Carving Designs 

As someone who loves to draw, I especially like drawing my own designs directly onto clay. I make a lot of stamps using this carving technique. Some of the sources come from my journeys to the southwest and to the mounds of the midwest, in addition to studies with a Hopi teacher, other studies of native culture (primarily Ojibwe, Algonquin, and 6 nations), and my own sketch journals.



I will often make several impressions of my initial carved design, both "innies" and "outies"...



In the example below, I used a carved tree design, and a wood grain texture on the back from a texture plate (shown below in "Making Molds").



In the following example, I used a carved tree ring cookie bead to create a texture plate, then from that I made several stamps in various sizes.



Building Textures on Thrown Forms

To get a nice spiral base, I threw several forms on my pottery wheel, fired them, made reverse impressions, carved onto these, then over several more rounds of making impressions, carving, and firing, I evolved the spirals into multi-layered textures. These form the basis of my "Fossil Spiral Hoops" and other designs.



Making Molds

I often make molds of my own carved designs. Depending on what I am trying to achieve, in either silicon molding compound or porcelain. Porcelain gives me a more rigid mold - good for when I want a highly detailed and precise form.

The top part of the image below is also an example of a texture plate made into a mold. I form a textured slab from the plate, then carve a design on top of it.



Combining Textured and Sculpted Elements

The real fun happens when I get to combine several elements to create completely new designs. Here are a few examples...



Making Blank Forms

I sometimes make "clay blanks". Then I make molds and later add texture to them. This is a simple process of paddling,  pulling and smoothing clay.





Here are a few examples of added texture and sculpted details to clay blank forms to create my signature leaf and feather styles. I also made molds of some of the resulting textured / sculpted forms.



Building a Library

Though I haven't counted them, I probably have over a hundred hand formed / carved texture plates, stamps and molds, all of which reflect my own unique style. You can build your own library that reflects YOUR style. It does take time to develop, but start with simple impressions from found objects, then move own to layering and building complex forms of your own invention. I think you will find it a very rewarding experience.



Finished Beads and Components

Finally, here is a brief tour of a few beads and components made from the above techniques. Some of these are available in my shop at Starry Road Studio.





© 2014, Karen Totten. All rights reserved. All work in this post is copyright protected. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Share - Abundance Earrings

Happy Saturday all!  My post today took a completely different turn from what I had planned, but that's okay ;)  I decided to tie this week in with my last post about wrapped loop links and created an earring design to share with you.

Copper, Czech glass, polymer clay charms (by me!) and sterling.

I named these "Abundance", because, well, just look at them! The colors are so rich and the dangles really make them....abundant!

The 3 czech glass beads are connected by wrapped loops, but with a bit of a twist.  I had been playing with a design that I hoped would be a bracelet, and I still am, but it is basically a zig-zag pattern with the loops on the outside, just perfect for adding dangles.


Back to the earrings...you will need:

Copper wire - I used 22g
   2-8 inch lengths for the wrapped loop section
   3-2 inch lengths for your dangles
Sterling wire - 20g, about 2.5 inches (or earwires of your choice)
Assortment of Czech glass beads. I used 3 for the base...2 6mm and 1 8mm, plus flowers and leaves for the dangles.
2 earring charms
round nose pliers
flush cutters
butane torch


Bend 1 of the 8 inch pieces of copper wire about an inch away from one end, connect to one of the charms and start a wrapped loop.


Add one of the 6mm beads and wrap the second side, but don't cut the wire!  Here is how we are going to make the zig-zag.  


Put an 8mm bead on the wire and repeat the wrapped loop process as above...don't cut the wire!  Repeat again, and add the 2nd 6mm bead.  When you finish this loop you can cut.

I don't have photos of the next steps, sorry, I was in a hurry to get done!

With your pliers, straighten your loops so the are nice and flat and everything hangs right.


Using a butane torch, ball 1 end on 2 of the short pieces of copper wire.  These will be to dangle your flowers.  Connect to the earring base on one of the side loops via wrapped loop.

Connect the leaves in the same way...since the hole is horizontal, thread the wire through, and  bend it up and create the wrapped loop much in the same way as wrapping a briolette.

For the little tendril at the top, ball both ends of your remaining 2 pieces of wire with your torch.  Make sure the balls are sized so at least one end will fit through the top wrapped loop.

Fold the wire over and twist once.  Put your round nose pliers just behind the balled end and curl the wire around, repeat.

Use the sterling wire to make your earwires, and attach, or use earwires of your choice.  

Now, repeat for the 2nd earring, but reverse the layout of the dangles.

There you have it!  Fun, colorful, joyful earrings!  The design possibilities with these are pretty much endless...use gemstone briolettes instead of charms...keep the zig-zag going and make shoulder dusters...so many choices!  I hope you will give it a try and I would love to see your creations!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Layers. AKA art camping 101

Fall. The crisp air, apples, leaves in warm hues... and fall festival season. I was headed to my last outdoor show of the year earlier this month, and I decided to document the whole procedure. 

AJE postcards and mailing list book front and center, naturally!

I do at least 9 shows a year, sometimes 12... and they run the whole gamut. Outdoor arts festivals, indoor gallery type shows, weekend themed events/conventions, and even a bead show thrown in there for good measure! I do the most shows among my AJE teammates. I asked them: most do bead shows, a few do a sampling of craft shows as well.

I make ceramic pendants. And tiles. And architectural sculptural shrines. I am at heart a mixed media artist. I make and sell quite a bit of mixed media jewelry, using my pendants and artisan beads. Its the mixed media uniqueness that I feel is my "niche" when doing an arts festival - undoubtedly populated by many jewelry artists. My pendants and tiles are unified by content and design; I have developed these original designs in parallel. There are shows that put me in the "ceramics " category, others call me "mixed media", some specifically "jewelry". The vagaries of the jury process is surely a tale for another day.

I have been doing this for ten years! Sure, there are people with fancier set ups than mine. You can haunt Pinterest for amazing displays - but I am here to tell you - they aren't always practical. If you are traveling, you can't make three trips and bring fancy props and a dress makers dummy. There is no space in the car and no time! You can sign up for online seminars telling you how to sell jewelry at a craft show. That's great - but until you try it, that person's experience is just talk.  Find your own balance...

Here are my thoughts on layers. Packing in layers. The layers of constructing a fast, friendly, functional display... and living to tell the tale.



1. Tent and side walls. 4' table. 6' table. Shelving boards. Tall directors chair, weights. 

2. Tiles and shrines packed in medium sized flat totes - for stacking and b/c clay gets heavy... One tote with display items, one  with bags, tissue, wrapping paper... 

3. Blue IKEA bags: plexi risers for building levels, fabric for skirts and drapes, large sculpture, table leg risers, bungees... Crate of frames for jewelry display. Small tote - "office" box. Knucklebuster (b/c you never know...) cards, notebook, all paper stuff. 


4. Shutters, jewelry totes, banner. And the final view pictured below. Hanging panels on top, secured with bungees so I am not decapitated in traffic... And I still have room to see! 

( Overnight bag, cooler in front seat. )

My Scooby. A normal car, not a tank. It does the trick!
Art on the Avenue in Alexandria, VA is a one day arts festival. Its immense, over 10 blocks long. Set up from 7:30 on. Show runs 10-6. Its a 14 hour day door to door - and thats a local friend's door! When you arrive: 
  • squeeze your car in amidst your neighbors, find your 10' spot... 
  • vomit the goods onto the sidewalk... 
  • sneak car out to park it... ( good luck. Street parking!) 
  • Set up tent, tables, weights, art... 
  • Vend from 10-6 rain or shine. 
  • Pack it, stack it, fold up tent. (Tear down in one hour MAX! Because the police are there to reopen the street to traffic. )
  • Hike to car, maneuver car to your spot amidst sheer chaos of fellow vendors... 
  • Load car, drive away. Drink wine. 

The first layer: the infrastructure. 

Coffee. Tables. Skirts to hide all your junk. 
Drapes over the top. Hanging panels. 

Levels. Shutters for earrings. 
Hiding from camera (unsuccessfully). Hair clip for set up hair. 

Display items in place: frames for pinning necklaces, cigar boxes... 
Curtain sheers behind hanging panels were the best $20 I ever spent! Crinkle fabric easy to pack, but provides a neutral backdrop behind my work. Tent sides are too heavy, and don't allow air flow. 

Done. From drive in to ready in 2 hours. No, I don't do a rug when I am an pavement. No room in my car! Cardboard boxes on left: neighbor. He wasn't done yet. 

After many different layouts, I currently like this L shape. Open enough to encourage people to come in, and ample room behind tables for me to make sales. Did I mention that the spaces at this show are like 10' 2"? Yes - we all have 10' tents. HA. It's that tight. I plan my flow to allow me room to work, a path out to front, but not an opening large enough to invite unwanted "cut through". You would be amazed... 

Panorama shot for fun.

The office area. Writing up receipts, making sales, wrapping work, hiding food, back stock trays of jewelry... and the best gadget ever: a power bank for recharging phone! ( Told you to pack your Knucklebuster in case...) 

I could go on, and on... and I may in future posts. Neighbors - good and bad. Booth buddies and booth babes - a precious commodity. Pet peeves, horror stories... but for now this top layer is enough. 

It can be a great fun, rewarding day. It can be exhausting. But I like it...



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home is where the heart is



I’m a little bit stuck this week, I’m in the middle of a rewire in the studio so everything I spent hours lovingly placing around the room is now in a massive pile in the middle. 

So being without a workbench, I thought I’d share one of my favourite components to make and look at, little houses. Houses are a great subject for component makers, each one has individual meaning and can be made special with it’s own unique features and decor.

They can be created in an Impressionist style…




More realistic…




A simple shape




Or only exist in fantasy…




My personal favourites are the little saggar fired houses from Elukka in Finland. The mixture of smokey colours make them perfect little trinkets for any design. She was one of the first ceramic artists I discovered when I started out, and I’ve always admired the beautiful simplicity of her work. 




Using components like these in your designs allows you to tell a story through your design. It could be a day on the beach….



A love story...



Or simply to create a mood…



However you use them, they are a wonderfully versatile component that allows you to be individual and creative in your work.


Thanks for reading!