Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Crafter's Studio stash, the Creative Process and Polymer Clay

During the months before the holidays I spend a lot of time in my studio doing repetitive production work making hundreds of Christmas ornaments from Polymer Clay. It gives me a lot of time to ponder and reflect........often on very mundane subjects. While making my favorite ornament, the Sedona Christmas Angel, I realized that the number and variety of items in a crafter's hoarded stash directly affects the creative process and success of bringing a new design to life. Not only that, but the number of crafting genres one has worked with in the past also plays a major role. I though it would be fun to share some of the seemingly unrelated crafting supplies and a bit of the history of some of the genres I've worked with in the past that all came together to create the Angel.

Sedona Angel Ornament available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy
I used to be a rubber stamp designer, working with rubber stamp companies and stamping magazines to create projects, make samples and design stamps. One of my favorite projects was a clear empty plastic beverage bottle with a stamped scene inside that could be sent addressed and sent "as in" in the mail with just the addition of correct postage. The twist was that it contained a little button on the bottom which, when pressed, caused a Christmas carol to play and LED lights to twinkle. Hundreds of these bottles were sent to the military through normal mail channels during Operation Desert Storm and many were given out in person at stateside VA hospitals. The magazine, "Rubberstampmadness", dubbed them "Melody Bottles" after my pen name Melody O'Beau. The LED lights were woven into golden star wire garland that enveloped the stamped scene inside the bottle. I'd purchased the garland in large quantities and the left over garland became the halo on the Sedona Angel, once the star portion was trimmed off.
I previously lived in an area where they were several fabric and trim outlets that sold odds and ends of leftover ribbon for very economical prices. I eventually accumulated  a large stash of ribbon to use in stamping samples. As I was designing the angel I needed something for the wings, something that didn't fray, could be easily trimmed and was both shiny and golden. I found the perfect material in my stash.......metallic ribbon (adhered to a piece of the soft plastic top of a yogurt container to stiffen)
I also used to be an avid beader, mostly making tiny beaded butterfly brooches, and still have a huge stash of tiny seed beads (#11-#14!). When I needed something to use for eyes on the angel I tried and rejected a number of items and then I remembered my seed bead stash and found the perfect bead is the exact size style and finish I needed languishing there to use for my dark eyed angel.
So, though I now work making items primarily from polymer clay, I still maintain that one can never have enough OTHER crafting supplies to stimulate the imagination!....... 
(or is that stimulate the ECONOMY?) 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

New Palomino horse necklace unveiled and Sedona Red Rock pendants get a new look

For several years I've been having fun making Sedona Southwestern jewelry and ornaments for my shops using a faux red rock polymer clay base that includes a bit of "magical" Sedona Red Rock Dirt in the mix. A customer (now an Internet friend) asked me to design a pendant to pay homage to her beloved Palomino horse, "Sunshine", and I thought it would be a great time to shake things up in the collection and update some of the pieces while I was at it. Out with the old and in with the new for 2014 (just a little bit early)!
My raised applique Southwestern Sedona faux Red Rock pendants are now shaped like a disc, measure 1/4" (6.3mm) thick and are a substantial 1 7/8 (4.7cm) in diameter.  They look a lot like real Red Rock. They now have an 8mm jump ring at the top that allows for the cord chain to be removed so one can substitute their own chain if they prefer. The entire Southwestern Sedona Ornament and Jewelry collection can be seen at MelodyODesigns at Etsy.

The following studio photos show some of the equipment and supplies I use to make the raised appliqued pieces. The photos show the older style of pendant. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The joy of seeing one's own handmade ornaments for sale in a retail shop

My Sedona/Southwestern ornaments (made from polymer clay with a touch of "magical" Sedona red rock dirt) have been selling at two local Christmas shops for almost a year, but I'd never actually SEEN them displayed in a shop. Last Saturday we visited them for the first time. What an incredible high to see the decorations hanging amidst the many gorgeous holiday displays. Seeing them displayed there was like the fulfillment of a Christmas dream, right up there with sugarplums and fairies. If anyone is headed to Sedona, Arizona, check out "Feliz Navidad Sedona" located in the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village and their sister shop, "Merry Christmas Sedona" located in uptown.

................and if you're NOT headed to Arizona but want to add some Sedona or Southwestern ornaments to your holiday decoration collection, you can always purchase them at my online shop! MelodyODesigns at Etsy.
Thanks go to my talented husband husband, Sy, who not only took the photos, but patiently stood by and waited while I shmoozed with the buyer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Production work, Zen and our 2013 Family's Sedona Southwestern Christmas tree with polymer clay ornaments

All the decorations on the tree are available in my shop MelodyODesigns at Etsy 
Though it's not yet Halloween, Christmas is on my mind. It's the time of year that I like to decorate and photograph our family's small Christmas tree so that I have time to share all our 2013 MelodyODesigns ornaments before most people are even thinking of Christmas decorations. I supply two Christmas shops in nearby Sedona with ornaments (that contain a bit of "magical" Sedona Red Rock Dirt), so for me, making Christmas ornaments is a year 'round way of life now.

Since I started to sell wholesale and do production work (potentially mindless repetition reproducing a gazillion copies of the same pieces) my time in the studio has undergone some radical changes, some that have been a bit difficult to get used to. It's different re-creating piles and piles of identical ornaments instead of creating something brand new each time and I've been exploring ways to stay in the moment and make my time in the studio just as interesting and joyful as when I create something brand new.
Many years ago I took a seminar with Tim Gallwey, whose books include "The Inner Game of Tennis" and "The Inner Game of Music"and around the same I time read  Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. I credit all three with giving me the desire and some of the tools I needed to let myself create (and re-create) IN THE MOMENT. 

Rather than letting my mind wander (which tends to lead to angels with no wings and fingers cut with tissue blades) I do my best to let myself become absorbed in the details of making the piece, gently directing my attention and senses to the playful joy of creating each tiny detail, the color, the texture, each individual dot of paint........
……. the magic of childlike creation.

Of course I don't always succeed in staying "in the moment", but when I do it's really FUN!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sedona Angel Christmas Ornament from Polymer Clay with Sedona Red Rock Dirt Inclusions

Sedona, Southwestern, or Mexican Angel Ornament available at and MelodyODesigns at Etsy
I had so much fun designing this new Southwestern angel ornament which has joined my 2013 MelodyODesigns Southwestern Christmas Ornament Collection.  She's made from terracotta colored polymer clay with real "magical" Sedona red  rock dirt in the matrix and is targeted to the Sedona tourist trade, so I call her my Sedona Angel. 

Below is a photo of some of the materials and tools that were used to make her.
She has embedded black seed bead eyes. I make the initial "eye socket" holes for the bead with a studio-made tool that I made by gluing a seed bead onto one end of a round toothpick. Then the black seed beads are applied with another little studio-made tool, a seed bead applicator tool I made by dipping one end of a round toothpick into a tiny drop of "The Ultimate" (glue) by Crafter's Pick and letting it dry (a one shot glue application good for the life of the tool). This tool makes is much easier to securely pick up a seed bead without dropping it and then the bead is applied into the "eye socket". Once the ornament has been cured I remove the seed bead eyes with the sharp end of a dress pin and then permanently glue them in with Zap-A-Gap glue. 

Her mouth is made by gently pressing round Kemper cutter halfway into the clay. Getting her mouth into her face in symmetrical way proved challenging and I found that I actually like her expression best when her smile is charmingly off kilter. 

 Her hair is actually hand braided using three thin "strings" extruded from a Makins Clay Extruder. I weigh the three "strings" down one end with some heavy metal washers  while I braid them. 
Her fringed blue-turquoise colored sarape shawl is decorated with a hearts and flowers pattern made by lightly dusting the turquoise shawl with corn starch, cutting the fringe with a craft knife and then GENTLY pressing the heart or flower Kemper cutter into the shawl leaving a delicate impression beind. 

Her body is made from PREMO artist-quality polymer clay to which a small amount of "magical" Sedona red rock dirt has been added. Once the ornament is cut out the surface is textured with 36 grit (very coarse) sandpaper to make it appear to be real terracotta. I prefer the 3M brand I formerly used, but have been unable to find it locally, so I use "Gator Grit" brand. One key I've found to effectively using sandpaper to texture polymer clay is to make sure all loose bits of sanding material have been removed near the edges of the sandpaper (especially any cut edges) before a new piece of sandpaper is used on clay. I also keep a pair of tiny tweezers close by in case I need  to retrieve a loose bit of sanding material from the clay surface. 

Her dress is decorated with thin slices from geometric clay canes. For those who might not be familiar with that term, caning is a labor-intensive construction technique where colored rods of clay are laid horizontally forming a complex pattern  from which a thin slice is cut from the end allowing the pattern to be seen. It is borrowed from the glass making technique used to create millefiore beads. 

 More Christmas ornaments and a wide variety of other ornaments, magnets and jewelry pieces lovingly made from polymer clay are available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy
Click to see an additional blog post on the Crafter's Studio stash and the Creative Process involved the making of Sedona Angel Ornament.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Arizona Saguaro Cactus, decorated Saguaro Christmas Ornaments and behind the scenes Studio Photos and Tips

 The Christmas Saguaro ornament is available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy 

As a tribute to my adopted home state of Arizona I've designed a new decorated Saguaro Cactus Christmas Ornament made from polymer clay to add to my Southwestern Christmas Ornaments Collection. Saguaros are iconic images that immediately come to mind when one thinks of Arizona. They are native to the warm Sonoran desert and can reach a height of 40-60 inches (12-18 meters). After the rainy season when water is plentiful an adult saguaro can weigh 6 tons or more. 

When the saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce white flowers with yellow centers that attract bees and butterflies and the fruits provide much needed food for birds, jack rabbits, mule dear and many other native animals. The indigenous people of the area used the saguaro for both food and building materials and members of the Tohono O'odham people still gather the fruit today to use in making ceremonial wine, jellies, candy and use the seeds to feed their chickens. Branches normally begin to appear when the saguaro is around 50-70 years old. Their life expectancy is 150-200 years. 

Saguaro at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona. Photographs courtesy of Sy Brandon
Saguaro at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Phoenix, Arizona
Saguaros primarily grow in the southern part of the state and are not native to the Sedona/VerdeValley where we live, though there are some that flourish in the courtyards of private homes. However, the hoards of both international and US tourists who visit the Sedona area still seem to want to take home "all things saguaro" as souvenirs and gifts. Tourism is a huge industry here. In fact, the Sedona/Verde Valley made the list of Lonely Planet's Top 10 US travel destinations for 2013  So, it made sense to add a saguaro to my ornament collection that sells at two wonderful sister Christmas Shops in Sedona, "Feliz Navidad" in Tlaquepaque and "Merry Christmas Sedona" in Uptown, as well as at my online shops.

While behind the scenes in Santa's Workshop..........some of the tools and raw materials that were used in making the Christmas Saguaro Ornament:
 After the ornament is cut out with a craft knife it is textured with a piercing pin tool to mimic the spines of the cactus. 

The white and yellow flowers were painted onto the raw clay with a mixture of TLS (Translucent Liquid Sculpey) and Genesis heat set oil paint. They were painted using the tip of an "out of ink" Extra Fine-tipped Sharpie pen.  

The cactus is decorated with little round red Christmas balls. The balls were decorated with tiny dots of Liquitex Iridescent Bright Gold Heavy Bodied Acrylic and applied with the tip of a "spent and out of ink" Pigma Micron 01 pen. A #11 gold seed bead was pushed into the top of the ornament to give it a "hanger". 

The star was made from gold PREMO polymer clay that was rolled out in a thin sheet, lightly powdered with corn starch and punched out with a Fiskers star punch. Once cured, the star was lightly covered with a layer of Art Glitter Clear Fabric Adhesive and diped into Art Glitter Vintage Fine Glass Glitter.

The Christmas Saguaro, other Southwestern/Arizona Christmas Ornaments and many other pieces are available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Article and images © October 28, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Santa's Workshop, Southwestern Kokopelli Christmas Ornament from Polymer Clay

It's August and once again here in Arizona my studio looks a bit like Santa's Workshop, filled with Southwestern and Sedona Red Rock polymer clay Christmas ornaments in various stages of being birthed. It's my favorite time of year because making ornaments reminds me of all the happy times we had as a family making ornaments and Christmas cards together around the family dining room table.

Kokopelli Ornament is available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

 This season I have some new ornaments to share in my shops in addition re-inventing some of the other ornament designs from past Christmas seasons. During the winter and spring I created several new Southwestern and Sedona designs for two wonderful sister Christmas Shops in Sedona, "Feliz Navidad" in Tlaquepaque and "Merry Christmas Sedona" in Uptown Sedona. They have been selling well, so I thought I'd begin selling them at my on-line shops, too. Over the next few weeks I'll be unveiling them here at my blog. I hope to also include some "behind the scenes" studio photos and share some of my favorite products or tools. 

The first is 3 1/2 inch tall version of Kokopelli made from terracotta colored polymer clay with the addition of some "magical" Sedona Red Rock Dirt in the matrix. He is decorated with tiny slices of turquoise and terracotta colored canes. Kokopelli is an iconic image of the American Southwest. There are many legends and much folklore that surround the beloved flute-playing hunchback. According to Navajo legend, Kokopelli is a God of harvest and plenty. Legend has it that this "Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers" was also a bit of a rascal and trickster and he is sometimes thought of as a fertility deity.
I think it's interesting to see behind the scenes studio photos to see how things are made and what interesting  tools are used. Below is a photo of some of the materials and supplies used in making the Kokopelli ornament.
 To gently "nudge" edges of cut polymer clay pieces into shape I use two tools I made from round toothpicks by dipping them several times into "Tool Magic", a heavy duty liquid rubber coating that is sold to apply to tips of pliers to help cushion them protect them from marring the finish of wire. I consider these two toothpick tools indispensable for finishing off and smoothing cut edges and for straightening out little "oops" bulges. 
I use rough 36 grit sandpaper to press into the clay surface to give it a rustic terracotta look. Using the end of a tiny syringe to gently poke sideways into a cut canes slice helps me to place them more  precisely and doesn't mar the surface.
The round and triangular terracotta and turquoise decorations are made from caned slices. For those who are not familiar with caning, caning is a labor-intensive construction technique where colored rods of clay are laid horizontally forming a complex pattern from which a thin slice is cut from the end allowing the pattern to be seen. It is borrowed from the glassmaking technique used to create millefiori beads.

Last season I added the following four disc mini-ornaments to my MelodyODesigns Southwestern Ornament Collection and one of the discs also contains an image of Kokopelli. You can tell he's one of my favorite Southwestern images!

Please click to read a blog post on my Cat Angel Christmas ornaments and animal shelter Christmas tree

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The value of Listening to Customers (and the customized softball jewelry market)

Listening to Customers can sure be well worth the time and effort! Earlier this year I designed a collection of baseball jewelry and softball jewelry with the "hook" that they could be special ordered with most colors of beads on the beaded chain and a fake scribbled player's "signature" to make them unique.

As I mentioned in a previous post on the softball jewelry, it was originally a softball mom who saw my baseball necklace and asked me if I could make a softball necklace version (i.e., 25% larger with Dayglo yellow softballs) who was responsible for inspiring me to design the softball collection.
Recently a prospective customer contacted me looking for an "economy version" of the softball necklace, something that would be affordable for the tweens/teens on their teams. That's how the new softball pendant necklace version came about. Then a prospective customer got in touch with me wanting to know if the softball pendant necklace could have his daughter's name written on it instead of the fake brand name I had used on the bat. I said, "sure, GREAT IDEA, thanks!" The very next day another prospective customer from a different selling venue contacted me wanting to know if a team name could be written on the bat instead.
Light bulb moments! People seem to like customized items with names, especially when they are to be given as gifts........and I think particularly if a child/teen is involved. There appears to be a market and it's not that hard to do with my trusty Sakura MicroPerm pen. No brainer, so I edited the softball listings at my shops to reflect the customized personal name or team name option for the bat.

I'm so grateful for the creativity and imagination that my customers share with me. THANKS!
Softball bats under construction
Varnished Softball bats on drying rack
The items in the baseball and softball jewelry collections are all available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Softball Necklace and Earrings and spotting a Niche Market

Neon Dayglow Yellow abounds in this new Softball necklace handmade from Polymer Clay
Last spring I wrote a blog post about some baseball jewelry I had designed in honor of Major League Baseball, including a necklace with a beaded chain that could be custom ordered in the team colors of most teams.

I was wearing my baseball necklace and earrings while shopping recently and struck up a conversation with a woman whose daughter was an avid softball player. The daughter wanted a softball necklace for her birthday and her mom told me that she was having such a difficult time trying to find one to purchase. Admittedly we live in an area without easy access to metropolitan-type shopping, but I thought if she was having trouble locating a softball necklace perhaps that might be a niche market worth exploring. (Softballs are 25% larger than baseballs and are a bright neon yellow color called dayglow or DayGlow or DayGlo).
As I was analyzing my data from a search ad I had placed at Etsy I realized something that was quite enlightening. There were almost 50% more searches for SOFTBALL jewelry/earrings/necklaces than there were for BASEBALL jewelry/earring/necklaces. I think that's probably because there are more females playing softball than baseball.

So those two events were my impetus for breaking out the neon yellow polymer clay and setting out to make softball jewelry. I've been baseball fan for most of my life, but knew very little about softball equipment and had to do quite a bit of research. Bryant Riggs, Technical Sales Manager at Fujifilm/Sericol and a member of the Softball group at LinkedIn was so helpful with his guidance into softball bats and balls and pointed me in the right direction for the online resources I needed. Kathi Briefer-Gose, a former avid softball player and artist member of Polymer Clay Central discussion group, enlightened me on softball, bats and the proper size proportions between the bat, ball and glove. Thanks go out to both for their valuable help!

Softball is no longer played with a wooden bat (who knew?). Aluminum bats can be used, but it seems like the majority of players prefer the relatively new composite bats. These are brightly colored and many have graphics on them that remind me of those on skateboards and surfboards.

One of the major bat manufacturers is the "Easton" company. I wanted to pattern my on a real bat, but I was concerned about copyright issues, so I decided to go with the made up brand name of "Weston" for my bat.

EDITED 7/24/13: The bat is now available with an custom option where a person's name or team name can be written on the bat instead of a brand name. Click to read a post about that option as well as the unveiling of a new economical Softball Pendant Necklace.

I tried to limit the labor intensive aspect of having to make the 10mm balls myself by searching for a source of commercially available well made yellow softballs with diminutive red stitching lines. Alas, non were appropriate. So, I ended up handmaking the balls and then meticulously hand painting the red seams on with Sakura's red Pigma Micron pen using a magnifier. Alas, these colored pens are not color fast on polymer clay unless one takes precautions. I heat cured the painted ball for 15 minutes at 200F. Then I used a very thin coat of Matte Varathane varnish, dabbing it on with a makeup sponge rather than dragging the sponge across the surface, Normally I would water down the Varathane a little, but had to use it straight for this application.
Some of the raw materials, tools and supplies used in making the softball jewelry
My entire baseball and Softball Jewelry Collection is available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

To access my other blog posts about making my baseball jewelry please click on the links below:

Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Necklace and earrings

Baseball Necklace featured in “Polymer CAFÉ “ magazine