Sunday, February 7, 2010


by Dorothy Sweeney

Polymer clay is a fantastic medium for art, as well as science and industry. There are countless applications. I have a friend who sculpts tiny embryos for medical research in polymer. How beautiful is that? And there are many, many experts on the topic of polymer clay. There are tons of available blogs and videos on the internet on this topic. I can only write about it from my own experience and perspective. As is usual for me, my journey in polymer came by accident and surprise..Literally..

I have had a lifelong LOVE of gemstones...As far back as I can remember, I used to search the ground and pavements of Philadelphia for broken bits of glass. Not just any broken glass; these bits had to look like cut gems..a certain color (broken Coca-cola bottles were good...Curious that one of today's hottest gems, the Paraiba Tourmaline, is that exact same color), a certain way to reflect the light. I would search for these chards for hours and put them in my pocket. Then, my mom would find them and throw them out. I would chide her and search again the next day. Eventually, I stopped doing that and started to collect old costume jewelry cast-offs or broken pieces of bijoux. And still pretend. As I reached my working years and had a little cash to splurge, (very little, coming from so poor a family) I always managed to squirrel away a modest, albeit real piece of jewelry, now and then. This was not easy, as I had four younger sisters who loved to dress nicely, too. I believe I have lost at least twice as much as I have managed to hang on to. But the losses never quell that temptation for me. I love gems.

Slipping ahead, into my 40's, I began watching gem auctions on TV. Heaven! The odd thing was that I watched them for hours on end for 10 years before ever venturing to enter the bidding. What excitement! Almost every time, I could scarcely hear what was being said on the phone, for the beat of my own heart in my ear. During those years of watching and bidding, my knowledge of gems grew exponentially. I collected many, many books and VERY EXPENSIVE (and dangerous!) professional grade equipment and began teaching myself the rudiments of gemology...I loved the stories about the source mines; danger, hardship, risk, rarity. The cultures of the people, the scape of the lands, religion, poverty, politics...all of it, eveything which lent a certain unlikely likelihood, that the stones would land on some lovely's hand.

My personal collection of gems grew and grew, till it was sprinkled all over my dusty bedroom floor (I feared vacuuming up a rare beauty). In a quest to gain better and better stones, I began trading them on eBay, then outright selling... I was doing pretty well, too! But from buying in parcels, I was also amassing a collection that I knew I could never sell. I wanted to try to create some jewelry, first for myself, then to sell, with these gorgeous, but non-valuable, stones. Thus, I began a journey which led me to polymer clay. My first attempts were not in clay, but in glass. (Incidently, I have never REALLY stopped collecting glass. I have an ENORMOUS collection of genuine, early American Pressed My idea was to try to combine lampwork glass and stones...Just melt the glass and drop in a stone and see if it sticks...and it DID! I turned out a few lovely pieces! Then, one day, I touched a cold tweezer to a glowing hot stone in bed of molten glass and KA-BOOM. Sharp chards and drops of molten glass rained down on my face.. Why there was not a scratch on me, I will never know (angels). It took weeks and weeks to clean it up.

Did I digress? Yes, I did... I assumed I could just substitute polymer clay for the glass, since I was now petrified of molten glass. My first efforts in polymer were..dismal. But they showed that it actually could be done.. I was naive and the clay was not easy to master. I have read many how-tos, experimented with many brands and broken most of the rules. But I have to say, I have come to love polymer as a medium for expression and bridge to my future