Ronna’s secret handshake

35f027_9ee5cbee1e954e29b7202e3c98bfadb8.jpg_srz_979_1464_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzI have had the joy of being is classes with some truly wonderful teachers. I got goosebumps in a class at Eurosynergy 2014 with Ronna Sarvas Weltman.  She is such a generous, enthusiastic, encouraging teacher.  On her website she says that helping students develop their voice is as much fun for her as creating her own art.  And you can tell that when she teaches.

I was already a little bit in love with Ronna but when I read this quote in her profile in Sage Bray’s Polymer Journeys: The Art and Craft of Polymer it was clinched. She says:  I…think that our wearable art serves as little devices calling out to other members of our tribes so we can find each other and get all excited about our kindred soul connection. Sort of like a secret handshake, only more fun.

As the wearer of the occasional whopping necklace (see below – borrowed bling) I could SO relate to this. As the woman whoAHumpert-eyes-333x450 sometimes notices jewellery before she notices faces, I knew what Ronna meant about that kindred soul connection.  I liked that she mentioned tribes! There is a real sense in which we sense the sisterhood by the wearable art!. At polymer gatherings, there is a tendency to frankly stare at one another’s chests and this was gently mocked by Anke Humpert who wore eyeballs that stared back! Thanks again to Sage Bray for letting those of us who couldn’t get to Bordeaux in on the joke through the pages of her The Polymer Arts blog!




Learning to “sing”

Artists who teach often discuss the benefits of teaching techniques vs. projects.  Some teachers wonder if teaching a project prevents the student from discovering their own voice, or following their own creative nudges.  Overwhelmingly, my students tell me they want….BOTH!  They want to learn techniques AND (because life so often seems an eternal list of unfinished To Dos) they love walking out the door wearing something they have actually finished!

Classy cuffsFor a teacher, it might seem easier to teach a project where students undeviatingly follow a specific path. I think you can be flexible. With a willingness to not always KNOW outcomes, you can give your students  wriggle room. You can teach techniques in the context of a project but also teach about other applications. Provide examples, encourage exploration, model creative risk taking.  I think that is the role of a good teacher. You often need to sing a few known songs with someone you know before you find your own voice.  Hopefully you are teaching songs, making harmonies and inspiring new work!

That metaphor is ironic coming from one who sings like me!

I was thrilled by what happened after a recent class. Local enthusiastic polymer artists wanted toIMG_5101 learn about cuff bracelets, extruders and good finishing techniques. I designed a class to bring these things together.  Seven ladies participated and as well as making the specific cuff in the project, we talked about variations, the value of mistakes*, and looked at lots of samples. We discussed extruder use in many other contexts.  I provide extensive notes.  Each lady walked out wearing a gorgeous unique cuff.  (One walked out too early to have her photo taken!) They saw for themselves you can all start with similar techniques and end up with something that is them!

IMG_0263KBV went home and, using the techniques she’d learnt in the class, made an entirely different item! A gorgeous bead which she strung on a collar, wore to work and was asked to make by a colleague who loved it so much. Her very fist commission. She had made a project, learnt a technique and sung with her own voice!

*This was in the contexts of Neil Gaiman’s inimitable advice to Make Glorious Mistakes!


If you are a subscriber of Studio Mojo, Cynthia Tinapple’s Saturday collation of all things polymer, you would have read last week about the amazing Natalie Maras.  You don/t need to subscribe to my dad’s excellent blog to read Natalie’s own words. And she writes as beautifully as she creates her art.

Tragic Carpet (Natalie maras)The whole article was great but I particularly loved the way Natalie wrote about materials:

It…[making art]…also involves long and careful training with different materials, each with their nuanced behaviour (affinities, hostilities and different states in different conditions). As with our oldest friends, it takes time to know materials and accept their limitations, quite apart from our own. Then there is training to ensure that hands and eyes work together harmoniously allowing space for the artist’s ‘voice’ to enter and more importantly… to exit.

The work featured here is Tragic Carpet, I am just a little beside myself with excitement about doing class with Natalie in October when she is teaching at the Contemporary Craft Retreat. It is not too late to register for this excellent event but hurry as classes are filling fast!

Pods and colour…passions collide

DSCN2389I love pods and seeds. I love colour. These loves have combined in a wonderfully therapeutic way.

I was going to provide countless links to blog posts about these loves but you don’t need that. One need only walk into my house to know it.  I have a Pinterest Board devoted to pods and seeds and love the work of Australian artists Sophie Munns, the ceramic art of Angela Valamanesh and more recently Anna Small‘s wonderful sculptural celebrations.  To soothe my soul, I make pods, seeds and clouds.  I made white and cream pods, seeds and clouds until I opened my Breakthrough Colour boxes.

I decided to create colour recipes for each of the cards in the box. (For me and the Samunnat girls). I knew I would go demented just working my way through the box so I chose a colour at random.

321…a steel blue.

Then I systematically adjusted the amount of cyan; then magenta; then yellow to see what colourDSCN2391 combinations arise. Man, this was exciting.  I used to be quite an intuitive colour combiner but lost some confidence. My combinations became safer and more predictable.  Using the colour cards is so freeing.  I made the colours to match those that emerge and then I make a necklace!!! Too much fun!  I keep records of the recipes and the combinations and for the first time in nearly 12 months, I’ve got that old can’t stay out of the studio feeling.

After 321, it was 511(a turquoise blue). I had to tear myself away to write this post before starting on 152. A magenta/ red…just for a change. I haven’t felt this pull for a while.  Welcome back old friend.

DSCN2399It’s going to be a slow process and that is what I am up for now. SlowDSCN2396 processes that remind me to be patient.  It is the journey, where (as my friend Tracy reminded me) the learning happens, rather than the destination.

I may keep you posted.







Kopila has written here about learning about colour theory using Tracy Holmes’ Breakthrough Colour Cards but I wanted to write here from my perspective. You all know I travel twice a year to Nepal and we go a bit mad trying to fit as much into each visit as we can. There are always new ladies to teach, new designs to learn, procedural drift to undrift, orders to fill.  

 We all adopt a learn what we can and move on from our mistakes approach and generally have an exhausting ball. Always in my mind is the idea that if I drop dead tomorrow, I want the ladies of Samunnat to know how to do things themselves.  Teaching always has a focus of empowering the ladies to do as much as possible independently of me. Helping them to understand about colour and colour matching and selection and the mysteries of what colours westerners like has been a part of that that was always just a bit too big and overwhelming to do!  My attempts to explain why the red seed beads they had selected to go with red and white polymer beads they had made didn’t match even though both were red was hard! There was no real sense of a pink based red vs an orange based red. It was just apple red, or flower red, or laliguras red.

I needed a tool. I remember sitting with Kopila at Tracy Holmes’ presentation at Eurosynergy on Malta feeling like there was something wonderful that was just out of my reach, somehow just beyond me. Flash forward nearly two years and I was packing a box of Breakthrough colour cards, with a vibratory tumbler, into my bag. I was so nervous about using those cards. I had only had a small chance to look at them, meditatively blu-tacking them to the wall of my teaching studio. Again, there was this sense of half getting something, sort of flitting around the edges. 

I might have stayed on the periphery of colour had I not had to teach! I am always ultra straight with the ladies and they  knew From the get go that I was merely one step ahead. Reading the Leap into Colour posts and working out how to  

 translate them ( a challenge given my limited Nepali!) The secret was the stepping!! At first our stepping was tentative, nervous, hesitant, but the more we threw around those cards ( who knew, learning didn’t happen while they looked so neat in the box?) the more we understood. The daily quizzes, guessing the codes for our lipstick, our favourite colours, even the colour of the New Year, all this helped us to get how we knew there was black in a colour, white, white and black. Together we were learning a colour language. Suddenly the notions of magenta based reds, reds with black, blues with green, all made sense to the ladies. A sign of the real Breakthrough happened last night. Madly trying to finish orders, Kopila and I come home each night and string beads. Last night, as we chatted ( human rights, Bollywood movies, colour theory) and strung, Kopila suddenly announced she knew why the red they got all those years ago that I said didn’t match our Pimento mala didn’t match! It was too close to yellow she excitedly said. We needed one closer to magenta! Didi, I got it. These words are music to my ears. 

It really is in the using of these cards that the confidence comes; that a language emerges. Every morning for two weeks now, we’ve started the day with a colour quiz. And we make mistakes, and we get it right, and we rifle through colour families, and we search all over our cubes. But this is the secret. Hands on learning. To those who have those cards, make those cubes, get the cards out of the boxes. Leap into colour! 

Polymer Journeys!

There is a lot going on right now as the profound silence from my blog would PJ%202015%20Front%20Cover%20WEb%20smsuggest! Tomorrow I head back to Birtamod for a few weeks of training. A major challenge for today is fitting a rather hefty vibratory tumbler into a suitcase so it survives a bumpy journey. The past weeks have been spent working out how to use the aforementioned tumbler but I think I have it sorted now. Enough to teach the girls!

I also spent time with the generous and talented Cindy Verheul who taught me how to make silver findings so that the women in Nepal can now do thisPJ2016%20Cover%20back themselves too. I am not sure about Cindy, but was there not a vibratory tumbler at home waiting to be attended to, I could have spent hours with her picking her kind hearted brain!!

And while I am in Nepal, all things being equal ( because you HAVE to use that phrase when you plan anything in Nepal) we will be celebrating together the release of Polymer Journeys by the indefatigable Sage Bray! We are all a tiny bit beside ourselves to have photos of our work included alongside polymer artists from all over the world. Sage has collated this work to celebrate the wealth of talent and beautiful art emerging from artists using polymer. She hopes to publish this every two years or so. The book will be available in digital and hard cover and we hope we can share the digital version together on the 14th April when it is released.

Massive congratulations to Wendy…not me!

WendyJorredestjorre_002_-_finalIt has just been announced that the amazing Wendy Jorre de St.Jorre from WA is the Grand Prize Winner of the International Polymer Clay Award 2015 for her beautiful sculpture, Grace.  This is a huge honour!!!!! I was so thrilled to hear this. Proud to share the continent with her.  Even if we are on opposite sides of it!

I own a necklace and matching earrings by Wendy and love myself sick whenever IDSCN2223 wear them. They are stunning, I feel gorgeous in them, and the finish is superb. She is an inspiration and I so look forward to meeting her properly at the Contemporary Craft Retreat later this year.

Wendy, hearty congratulations from the nation’s capital!

Pomegranates and a poem

DSCN2220This poem resonated over the last couple of days.  And in my stillness I made pendants inspired by my beloved pomegranates. Symbols of abundance, patience, beauty and love.  I strung them on beading wire threaded with tiny silver pipes and beads from Kathmandu.  I don’t seem to be over this pod/ seed thing yet.

Just For Now” by Danna Faulds

Just for now, without asking how, let yourself sink into stillness.

Just for now, lay down the
weight you so patientlyDSCN2219
bear upon your shoulders.
Feel the earth receive
you, and the infinite
expanse of sky grow even
wider as your awareness
reaches up to meet it.

Just for now, allow a wave of breath to enliven your experience.

Breathe out
whatever blocks you from
the truth. Just for now, be
DSCN2217boundless, free, awakened
energy tingling in your
hands and feet. Drink in
the possibility of being
who and what you really are
so fully alive that when you
open your eyes the world
looks different, newly born
and vibrant, just for now.

I’m OK to go

You know how some weeks you think you’re being told something? This is one of those weeks. I am being reminded to remain open, to be curious and to have courage.

Now this is partly because I have stuck post it notes strategically around the houseimages reminding me but I did this in response to getting the nudges and wanting to remember them even when I wasn’t being …reflective!

And this has evolved into a mantra.  I’m channelling Ellie Arroway in Contact. Yup, folks. Hollywood. I had forgotten what a great movie it was but we watched it again this week when the I’m OK to go line became a bit of a catch phrase for various family members this week! Ellie’s not just telling the folks in control that she’s OK to go. She’s reminding/ convincing/ reassuring herself.

Courage is not fearlessness. Courage is being OK to go in the direction that seems best, even if you are afraid; even if you aren’t sure of what lies ahead or what outcomes will be. Courage is going with openness and curiosity; dropping the story lines you attach to things and trying to see things simply as they are.  Courage takes practice.

I’m OK to go.




DSCN2167I love pods and seeds (See my Pinterest favourites here). In funny old times it is not surprising that I am drawn to playing with the hope-filled shapes of pods and seeds and the calming colours of our wonderful eucalyptus gums…olive tinged ivories, or almost pearlescent whites with a hint of copper. Beautiful.

I have a made a few of theseDSCN2176 into BIG necklaces…the pods connected with hand shaped wire or links.  Others are a single pod hung from rich cream cords made using string and cotton salvaged from the BHRAG excess string box! I love that even the cords are hand made by me. And the metaphor of the rope, not so strong on its own but really strong when it’s twisted….

Strength, hope, openness. Good to ponder. When assembled and DSCN2169photographed, these pieces will be for sale!