Knife Skills My next few post are inspired by the famous Chef Jacques Pepin. My local PBS station is running his cooking show series based upon his book Complete Technique and portions of the demos are available on his website.I delight in watching someone dice an onion, perfectly, with precision and ease in under a minute! Admitably he has over fifty years of culinary experience under his apron. Most of what he has to say about knives and cutting skills are readily translatable to working with polymer clay.
- Buy the very best knives/ cutting tools available
- Select the right blade for what you intend on doing
- Know how to sharpen your blades and do so often
- Learn how to hold your blade correctly and slice in the right direction
- Hone your cutting skills
- Store your cutting tools safely and securely
- Practice in the event You are invited to the Polymer Clay Olympics
In my studio I have several different types of cutting blades
These eight blades are the ones I use most often
- Thomas Scientific Tissue blade
- 6″ super flexible blade= when I need larger sweeping cuts beyond the tissue blade
- waffle blade= for cuting rick rack and “wavy gravy” mokume
- 9″ stiff blade= for sutting large sheets of clay for book covers and collages
- Wusthof Cheese blade = for cutting one pund bricks of clay with the least hand strain
- Custom bent tissue blades= for cutting deep curves with repeatable acuracy
- Exacto angle blade= for under cutting templates
- Surgeon’s scapel= for cutting small edges
If I had to pick one blade it would be a tissue blade. In 1990 Nan Roche discoovered these blades while working in her laboratory at NIH. This blade was originally designed to fit into a machine that Pathologists used to cut very thin, clean tissue samples. That cutting device has long been discontinued and legend has it the the tissue blade remains as one of the best selling items in their catalogue. These blades are VERY sharp, tarnish easily form skin oils and are relatively expensive ($2.50-$5.00 each). There are-
- very flexible
- can be re-sharpened
- make the cleanest cuts
Caution: There are everal blades on the market that are the same size and feature the same distinctive notch at the top- while they are aesthetically more pleasing as they are made of aluminum and don’t corrode, they are not a sharp. The analogy I would use is Heinkel Chef Knife vs. Ginzoo Knife.
They can be ordered from Polymerclayexpress.com
Try something “OLD”
Last month I wrote a post about trying something “new”. Last week I did try something new and my tongue is still burning!
I was intrigued by an article on the front page of the Washington Post’s Food section. “Like a taste that Tingles? Then this Bud’s for you” which was about the Esquire Magazine’s top new food product of the Year, Sechuan Buttons . As I read on I became even more intrigued as I love hot peppers., Pop-Rocks make me smile and I like to try new foods. Near the end of the article I noticed that the Chef I work for was one of the Chef’s mentioned in the article. Five minutes later I had my first (and hopefully last taste) of this stunning new food trend. The texture is similar to beer hops, the sensation on the tongue is what I would imagine if one licked a nine volt battery, the finish is not “cool and refreshing” and I can’t imagine it combined with any other food beyond “the weirdest Martini you’ll ever try.
Instead of tasting something new, why not re-visit an older piece in your studio. Depending on how long you have been working with polymer clay, this could be something from 1995 or last weekend’s project. What was your original inspiration and impetus to make this piece? Write your answers to these questions down. Then with a fresh eye, in the spirit of tasting something new, take a moment to really look at your piece.
- If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
- Would altering the scale, making it much larger or smaller, be an improvement?
- Do some of the colors you have used need adjustment?
- Would the piece look better with brighter colors, more subdued colors, completely different colors or less referential colors?
- Are there design changes that would make the oiece more functional, wearable, durable and/or aesthetically pleasing
Perhaps merely “tasting” these ideas is enough? Or you may be inspired to do something new from something “old”.
Check YOUR Lighting
Why does the produce look so yummy at Whole Foods? Among other things, the water mister, the display trick, the freshness of the product…the lighting is EXACTLY right!
Twenty five years ago I took a fabulous nine week colored pencil class at The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. The instructor was Lisa Semerad and the three best things about the class were
the diversity of techniques that were presented
most of the participants had repeated the same class for two years running and we developed a real sense of supportive community
the premise of the class is that we had to finish at least one project and this included having the piece framed for our final presentation
Lisa was a wise and inciteful teacher and I was struggling with my color combinations. Fianlly, one day she asked me “Do you draw at night?” ever the night owl- “of course” I was drawing at night, using a flourescent drafting light and in the light of day(incandescent lighting plus some light from the windows) my colors looked all wrong. Upon her reccomendation I bought a color balanced drafting light and literally saw the colors in a new light.
The lighting you choose for your studio area is critical. Not only to be kind to your eyes, but color balanced lighting makes it a lot easier to make appropriate color decisions. There is an interesting article at the Weaver’s Guild site about lighting ergonomics and further information at the Munsell Color Science Laboratory
Personally I am not fond of “color” balanced OTT lights, I find the light too blue. Having the appropriate lighting in your studio may not make the produce look great, but certainly will make color matching easier on your eyes.
Keep the juices Flowing
While it is always interesting to see how ideas and techniques executed in polymer clay evolve, provide inspiration and fuel inovations…make a conscious effort to expose yourself to artistic mediums that you are not familiar with. Subscribe to a different artist’s magazine each year. For example: Surface Design, Fiber Arts, Ceramics Monthly, Metalsmith or American Sculpture.
One of the most frequently asked question on the polymer clay message boards is “How do I seal my polymer clay pieces?” Except for a few instances, for example: protecting the surface of a photo transfer or ensuring that a mica powder that has been applied to the surface doesn’t abrade there is absolutely no reason to apply a sealant to the surface of the clay.
I would imagine that you wouldn’t consider putting five coats of spar boat deck varnish onto an antique rosewood table…so why would you even consider putting Flecto Varathane or Future Floor polish onto your polymer clay creations? No matter how many coats that are applied, polymer clay will never look like glass- not to mention the propensity of these varnishes to glop, drip, bubble and drool! I’ve yet to see a piece that I felt was enhanced by the use of one of these varnishes and sometimes the glare makes it nearly impossible to see the beauty of the underlying surface.
When a piece of polymer clay jewelry has been worn a number of times it begins to develop a lovely patina from the body oils of the wearer. Other alternatives are to sand and buff your pieces to a high gloss, apply a light coat of Golden Acrylic Matt UV protectant or a light coat of archival wax (such as the Renaissance Wax book restorers use).
Try Something New
Challenge yourself to try new approaches and experiment. Occasionally, or always depending on your temperament, push yourself to take risks or pose artistic challenges to investigate.
If you spend most of your time working on your production line, you may begin to feel stale. If you have a tendency to use the same colors in all of your projects, this may be the weekend to try a new fall palette or draw inspiration from a favorite piece of fabric.
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
To keep the handle of your pasta machine from falling onto the floor you can use the fingertip of a glove to washer the connection, a set of ultra thin earring magnets or tool grip coating. Or you can interpret the falling handle as a signal to take a stretch break.
Another approach is to let gravity work for you. If you are in an older building and the floor slants, mount your pasta machine on a stool and place the opening to the crank uphill. If the floor is level, placing ¼ inch shims on the front legs of your work table is usually enough enlist gravity and prevent the handle from falling out.
Next time you find yourself in the state of artistic flow, stop and take a moment to evaluate and codify your sensory feedback. This will help you garner clues as to how to return to this state more often ad readily. For example: listen deeply, what are you hearing? Not hearing? Perhaps you have a favorite genre or piece of music that you enjoy working to. Or you may prefer silence, old TV movies or NPR? Are there any distinctive scents surrounding you? How does the clay feel on your fingertips? Are there specific aspects of the piece you are working on that encourages engagement? What is most exciting to you, the colors, textures, the repetitive nature of the construction or revisiting an idea?
Symptoms of positive artistic flow = loss of self-consciousness, a feeling of grace, suspension of time-seems either much slower or you loose track, joy, totally in the moment with the process.
Technique du Jour? Or YOUR new thing?
It is quite easy to be seduced by the technique du jour. In part new discoveries and techniques are what make working with polymer clay so exciting. Before investing in expensive equipment or supplies and more importantly your time, take a moment to reflect. How does this new technique interface with my artistic voice? Will it amplify my message? Would it be a pleasant diversion?
Even if you can only squeeze in 10 minutes a day, you are maintaining momentum and growing as an artist.. Don’t wait until you have a whole month off and have remodeled your house to include a seven hundred square foot artist studio. Do something today… mix colors, straighten up your work area, register for a workshop, or start a new project.