I’ve been an admirer of Cindy Miller’s work for a long time so I was really happy to have the opportunity to find out more about her for this profile.
(Photo: “Branch with Labradorite and Drops” Necklace by Cindy Miller)
Raised in Alabama, Cindy is now a full-time studio artist. “I’m single and live in Athens, Alabama with my Maine Coon Cat Taz – she’s a big girl and ‘helps’ me a lot,” she smiled. “I have also been adopted by several feral cats that live in the neighborhood so I always have an escort to my car. I live on the Tennessee River next door to my sister and her husband. They have created a beautiful retreat at the river and being there is very relaxing.”
This interview appeared in the 2nd anniversary issue of Metal Clay Artist Magazine in 2011. We loved Jen’s work then and continue to follow her career as a jewellery designer. (Note: New pieces from 2016 appear at the end of the article along with contact information to see the entire collection.)
She sells her work through several venues. “I have an Etsy shop and I sell my work at an outdoor Artist Market in Burlington on Saturdays from May through October. I also have my work in a lovely accessory boutique in Burlington called Trinket and I do a few local holiday craft shows and trunk shows.” I asked her what tips she had for artists who want to sell their work in the same way. “If you’re selling online, take fab photos. If you’re selling at a craft show, find or make great displays that jive with your work. And for selling in shops, approach shops/galleries very professionally and creatively. Remember, every part of everything is an opportunity to be creative! Use letterhead with an image of your jewelry on it. If you’re delivering work in a box, make the box beautiful. These are all chances to show how passionate and how good you are and to impress that on people.”
She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.
She’s been creative from an early age. “There’s the really early mud pie phase, but my first efforts at actually making something would be when I was about six or seven and my grandmother taught me to sew on her Singer treadle sewing machine. Not sure how I reached the treadle, but I’ve been sewing ever since. I was hell bent on becoming a fashion designer. Now I’m relieved that never happened and I still enjoy making my own clothes.”
She continued, “I was pushing 40 when I began making and selling my jewellery. Before that, my resume reads like a novella. I worked in clothing retail, was a department store buyer at 19 and assistant manager of a mall store boutique at 21, then moved on to more clerical work, working in offices, then banks and real estate lending. My favourite job title was File Librarian for the Medicaid Billing System for the State of Florida … talk about a paper pusher! I’m a firm believer it’s never too late to discover and follow your bliss.”
Kathy considers herself to be a designer/maker rather than a jeweller. She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband. “Dave and I will have been married for 36 years in July 2016. We currently share our home with one senior citizen kitty, 18 year old Miss Zoe. Last year we bought a classic mid-century, concrete block and terrazzo floors ‘atomic ranch’. It’s an east/west orientation and has the most wonderful morning and afternoon light, perfect for leisurely mornings sipping tea and reading the NY Times.”
Her work is so unique, I asked her what her main influences are. “It kind of depends on what I’m making. My more minimal CORE body of work tends to be inspired by patterns in nature and clothing. Repetition of form is a regular theme in my work. How many ways can I use just one element? And in clothing, I’m kind of obsessed with a whole genre of European and Japanese designers whose work is raw and somewhat avant-garde.”
“I get a regular dose of inspirational juice via the designers I follow on Instagram and Pinterest like Jaga Buyan (http://www.jagabuyan.com/), Kapital (http://kapital.jp/, Yohji Yamamoto (http://www.yohjiyamamoto.co.jp/en/), Marc le Bihan (http://www.marc-lebihan.com/), Avant Toi (http://www.avant-toi.it/), Rundholz (http://www.studiorundholz.com/).”
“My Urban Primitive work is inspired by the ornament of ancient cultures of the South Pacific, Oceania and South America as well as Japanese folk potters. And for general visual juice, the NY Times Style magazine and the Wall Street Journal monthly magazine always have at least one little inspiring bit of something.” I asked Kathy which of her pieces she feels reflect these influences best. “My ‘Stacked Cubes’ necklace is an excellent example of the clothing/repetition inspirations and ‘Aegean Muse’ very much speaks to the Oceania/tribal influences.”
Like many of her contemporaries, Kathy first heard about metal clay in the article in Ornament Magazine in the 1990’s. “I can honestly say that article changed my life,” she explained. “It was about the first group of makers with Tim McCreight at the helm, set up for a week or so by Mitsubishi at Haystack School in Maine.
Coming from a clay and pottery background and having no real interest in traditional metalsmithing or fabrication, it was literally a dream come true.” “My clay background was immensely helpful – no fear of kilns! Late ’97, I bought a 100 gram lump of original PMC, hauled out my clay tools and dove in with a tiny clay test kiln with manual controls that I rigged up with a digital pyrometer. I had to watch the temperature and dial down the controls until I could get it to hold at 1650 for the 2 hours. Tedious, but that was long before there were any small, affordable digital kilns. I think the first things I made were some dangly bits for earrings and beaded necklaces.”
“These are what I think of as my fancy, ‘look at what I can do’ show pieces. Each new version of metal clay allowed an expansion of techniques and experiments which led to my jewellery getting more and more elaborate as in my ‘Vertebrae’ collar.” This is PMC3 and white beach glass fumed by the silver, recycled glass beads wrapped with PMC3 strips, and the pendant is beach glass and glass frit. It’s all lashed together with linen.”
The nature of Kathy’s work is pretty organic so I was interested in how much planning goes into each piece. “I sketch a bit, but not much. I’m more likely to write descriptions of ideas with very rough sketches. In addition to bigger focal elements, I like to make a whole bunch of components, lots and lots of the same element. My CORE group of work is all about repetition of form and it’s always a joy to sit at my worktable working out all the ways an element can be used.”
“For the Urban Primitive pieces, I sit down to my worktable, see where my gaze lands and start pulling out gems and artifacts and bits and bobs. It feels very much like composing through improvisation. I assemble my palette and let intuition guide me. The completed piece is always a delightful surprise.”
As such a lover of metal clay, I asked Kathy if she used any other techniques in her work. “I do utilize some silver smithing skills, mostly very simple soldering with a butane torch and easy solder paste,” she explained. “I make all my own findings, ear wires and clasps. My variation on the “S” hook is forged and soldered. And cord, golly do I love making cord. I’ve taught myself how to ply cord into various thicknesses in lengths up to 6’ or 8’ and, via YouTube, how to braid 3 and 5 loop cords. The loop braided cords are time consuming and the length is limited by my arm span, not much as I’m 5’2”, but they are complex and lovely and a nice complement to my more minimal pieces. The cords in combination with hand cut leather and stitching provide a beautiful, earthy element to the work.”
I asked Kathy if she had a particular piece of work that really means something to her. “I remember the first big piece I sold. It was called ‘Le Monde’. It was a statement piece of graduated, highly textured original PMC beads alternating with artisan lampwork glass Basha beads by Barbara Metzger and Rory Ross’ raku beads. I was at a really teeny local craft show and had the piece with me, basically for show. A couple I knew, well known collectors and art patrons, wanted to buy it. I was stunned. ‘How much was it?’ Uhhhh, $800? SOLD! I packaged the piece up, sent the lovely couple on their way and then promptly burst into tears. I felt like I had truly arrived.”
I asked Kathy to tell me a bit more about where she sells her work. “At first, I sold my jewellery at juried craft fairs and wholesale to small galleries and women’s boutiques,” she explained. “In ’06 I designed a lovely little wholesale collection and connected with a team of sales reps. Through what was then the Gift Show circuit, they got my work into museum stores like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Seattle Art Museum and high-end craft galleries like Real Mother Goose in Portland, OR and the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite.
I’m really proud of the fact that at one point I had close to 50 wholesale accounts, all done by me, all fine silver PMC. I supported our family and put my husband through his first librarian certificate degree with my jewellery. These days, I have a couple of galleries that I still work with, but now I sell my work mostly through my own website.”
Images: “Landscape Rings” and “Landscape trio 3” by Kathy Van Kleeck
I asked Kathy what she is currently working on. “Interesting thing, this question and it’s got me quite gummed up. I’ve been developing a new group of jewellery with the working moniker of Bare Bones, looking to the ornament of very primitive cultures for inspiration and how to loosen up my already minimal work, make things less pristine. I’m exploring how I can further deconstruct what I do, make it less refined, almost crude, but still wearable and durable. I thought I was moving right along on this recent track, but deciding on an image to share stopped me dead. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of tweaking, more exploration and revisiting some themes of past work.”
“Whatever I do next, it will be the most authentic expression of my aesthetic to date and since it’s all still very much in my head, I don’t have any images to share. As of right this moment, the ideas feel very fresh and exciting, making me want to step immediately away from this keyboard and get to work!”
She went on, “PMC3 remains my favourite metal clay as it allows me to work very dry, folding and layering components till they barely hold together. To a lesser degree, I also use BronzClay and Hadar’s Steel. I’d like to do some larger, focal pieces in combination with other mediums. Right now, concrete is calling to me and maybe fused glass or eco resin or some combination of all of the above mediums and metal clays. A lot of what I do is pretty minimal and rustic. I want to go even further with that, in the vein of “art brut”, create work that is raw, but full of heart and life, work that is stripped to the absolute and essential core, but fully resolved and engaging.”
She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.
I was introduced to the work of Canadian artist Véronique Roy by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and as soon as I saw her pieces, I knew this would be an interesting article. There is a simplicity and purity about her work that is so attractive, I really looked forward to learning more about her. Veronique was brought up in Montreal and now lives in a small village in the Laurentians which is a mountainous region in Québec, Canada.
“I consider myself as a creator, a maker and a jeweller. Also a businesswoman!” she told me. Her studio even has a name! “I work from a small workshop on the edge of the forest, in my backyard. To get there, I have to cross a little stream that runs through the land. The workshop was built three years ago, with the help of my friends. As my work was encroaching too much on the living space of the house, it was time for a change and to have an exclusive space for Brelokz (the name of my studio).” How cute is this snowy little house, like something out of a fairy tale?
Véronique has always valued her creative side. “Creativity has always accompanied me in how I see life. When I look at things, my eyes capture details that can escape others at a first glance,” she says. “From the beginning, I felt that metal clay would play a central role in my professional development.” I asked her about her first experience with metal clay. “I discovered metal clay almost six years ago. I attended a training course to learn basic silver clay techniques. I immediately fell in love with this somewhat capricious material which allows working in so many different ways. I remember that my first piece (a pendant) was not at all to my taste, but it was a model that was required for certification in the course.”
I find the organic nature of Véronique’s work really aesthetically pleasing. “My creative process can find its initial spark anywhere! Ideas can germinate without my noticing it. Sometimes when I am taking a walk in the forest, or even when I am reading a newspaper article,” she explained. “Nature is my primary source of inspiration. Besides living in a small village in the countryside surrounded by mountains, I also have a personal interest and a formation in herbalism. These played an important role in paving the way to create jewellery from nature’s textures. One day, I was tending to my garden, and saw a tomato leaf wrapped around my finger, which brought a clear image of a leaf ring! Step by step, I started using leaves for my pieces. The four leaf rings are the first pieces that defined my artistic process. I consider them as the basic image that represents my collections. They capture the essence of nature. Simply.”
“Initially, I started with medicinal plants thanks to the influence of my herbalist background. Then, I started looking for plant textures suitable for the material. Gradually, I evolved towards other materials, always keeping contact with my initial source of inspiration. Honeycombs found their way to my heart and imagination. Oak bark and coral were to follow. I use the materials as simple and pure as possible, without too much transformation, in order to preserve their primary nature. As a result, the essence of nature is captured in metal, eternally.
I asked Véronique about her creative process. “When the idea is there, I have to find the source material, and usually make it into a mold. As I only work from organic textures, I have to preserve them to be able to work with them even in winter, when they are buried deep in snow. After the mold is ready, I experiment, try, and test. As soon as I find the form and the finish that I wish to bring out, I go for it. Thus a new collection starts to see the day; quite simply. The process rarely involves designs or notes, but is mainly created in my mind and by taking action. This is also similar to how I live my life. If I have an idea, I have to put it into action as quickly as possible; otherwise, the idea loses its breath and lustre. Living with the passion of the moment!”
Véronique likes to keep her creative process somewhat separate from the rest of her life. “I am in the workshop to for the creation process, whereas I have an office at home for complementary processes such as packing online orders for mail,” she explained. “The workshop is the place where magic takes place, and each piece is created from A to Z. While I try to keep regular weekday work hours, in the period of exhibitions (about 15 shows a year) I usually work double time! You can call me someone organised in chaos, which is clearly reflected in my workspace. Forget the Pinterest image of a well decorated workshop, mine is quite far away from that. I make a big clean-up three times a year (!!!)”
I asked Véronique to describe her style. “I like to follow trends from a safe distance as I don’t like them to influence my work. Trends come and go, changing in the blink of an eye, and sometimes enjoying rebirth after many years; whereas I prefer to create by remaining true to myself; thus my pieces remain timeless. I consider my style to be timeless, organic, and even pagan to a degree! Simplicity and beauty of nature is reflected on each piece.”
Véronique uses several other techniques in the production of her work in addition to metal clay. “I make my own earring hooks and rings. I recently started collaborating with a company where I have some of my pieces cast in .925 Sterling Silver. This new way of working allows me to give more time for the creative process while somewhat cutting down on the time required for production. A few pieces of my Oak Bark collection will also be offered in gold as of 2016 summer, thanks to a jeweller working with traditional techniques who helped to open a door for a new path!”
I asked Véronique what she does to relax. “Travel, discovering new places, new faces,” she began. “Last year, I had the chance to visit Costa-Rica. This summer, I intend to visit Turkey, and I dream about visiting Spain next year. This, for me, is a way to open the gates for inspiration and restoring the energy that is somewhat depleted come spring (winters are long in Québec). Therefore, I prepare my backpack and hit the road. I also like to read and go to music shows.” I asked her if she wore her own jewellery when she is travelling, or even day to day. “I love jewellery, I create them, but I only wear small bronze studs,” she laughed.
So where does Véronique see herself going with her jewellery creation? “I would simply like to continue finding inspiration,” she said. “Sometimes, around the month of January, I feel like the well is dried up and I will never have any more ideas! It is winter. The high season of shows has just ended, the excitement has waned, and I feel the need to think about the spring and new collection ideas. I ask myself whether I will be able to find new ideas, and continued inspiration is what I wish with all my heart!” She sells her work in several places. “I sell online, through my Etsy shop. My creations can also be found in several stores that sell works of Canadian creators. And I sell in exhibitions all over Québec and Ontario. I believe that by participating in shows throughout Québec and Ontario, I help demystify this material in the eyes of the public and traditional jewelers. I hope to continue doing this and presenting my creations while introducing the material so that one day people will get to know it better. I see myself continuing to work with this material as long as I have fun doing it, because, above all, it is the pleasure that keeps the passion going!” Absolutely!
Finally, I asked Véronique what she is currently working on. “At present, I am working on my Oak Bark collection as well as a small series of jewellery created from Lilac twigs.”
It was such a pleasure to spend a little time getting to know Véronique and I look forward to seeing her new work in the years to come. To find out more about Véronique, visit her here…
JULIA RAI is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.
Patrik Kusek placed 2nd in this years Saul Bell Design Award in the Metal Clay Category. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his piece and his studio work.
Creative Fire: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your Saul Bell Design Award winning piece?
Patrik Kusek: The piece if part of an ongoing series of work that deals with my mother’s dementia. Molds were made from 18th century plaster cameos called Tour Cameos. I used these to create each of the cameos in the necklace. Tour cameos were collected by Europeans while on their “Grand Tour” As long as 3 years were spent aboard learning about different cultures. I used the Tour Cameos as a metaphor for my mothers life. The fractures and spotty gold represent my mothers memory which is fading away.
CF: Could you have imagined today’s level of metal clay work 10 years ago? Do you think there will be the same level of technical advances in the next 10 years in metal clay art?
PK: I could not have imagined the beautiful work that is made from metal clay today. When I first started using metal clay I could count on one hand the really great metal clay artists. Now we are fortunate enough to have wonderful artists world wide and the new generation is pushing creativity to it’s limits. I don’t think there will be much more advancement in metal clay. There might be smaller achievements but not breakthroughs of the past few years. Metal clay is just a material, and the focus for the future is expressing artistry through the medium of metal clay.
CF: You teach classes on your techniques. Do you have advice for your students about the difference between inspiration and the copying your work.
CF: What 5 tools do you always have on your bench?
CF: What is your favourite quote?
CF: If you could spend a day with any artist (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
CF: What’s next for you? (Art shows, lectures, new work….)
Thank you Patrik for taking the time to share your responses to our questions. And once again, congratulations on your award. Your design is stunning.
We wanted to catch up Anna since our last interview in MCAM in the Fall of 2013.
I can’t believe it was 3 years ago already! Time flies and so many things happened since then. Thanks to Metal Clay Artist Magazine I started teaching in other countries – I travel a lot ever year and meet fantastic people all over the world. I also learned a lot of new, different techniques and refined those I already have been using. Recently I also started creating a permanent collection of my designs (in addition to my one of a kind pieces) using lost wax casting technique for making pieces from hand sculpted metal clay prototypes. This medium still excites me so much! It brings endless possibilities both for hobbyists creating things once in a while and full time businesses.
Tell us how the style of your work has evolved? Where do you get your design inspirations?
I get my inspirations mostly from Nature, but understood in many different ways. Sometimes just straight from it – raw impressions, forms that I simply see during my walks or hiking trips. Trees, flowers, stones… Sometimes I find my inspiration in Nature as seen through “glasses” of ancient cultures – expressed in myths, old tales, folk songs, philosophy. I am also inspired by modern Earth-based religions and sometimes fantasy books. Everything that explores our relation with Nature is my inspiration. Recently I am also taking a little journey inward, seeing myself as a form of a microcosm reflecting Nature. I focus on my emotions, reactions to loss and this intense longing to know the answers I will probably never know. This is still before me – I mostly have a lot of sketches, but I guess that my recent piece “Natura abhorret a vacuo” shows this direction the best.
Generally I feel my style and designs are much more effortless now than there were a few years ago. I focus mostly on what I want to do, what I want to say, rather than how to do that from technical point of view. I see this tendency in whole metal clay community – more and more people are becoming really skilled in metal clay. We know more, we are able to do more. But the thing is that this is the point where real journey and challenges begin. When you can do whatever you have in your mind, then you have to face the question – what do I really WANT to do? How does is it really say “me”? What I want to say through what I do? WHY I am doing this in the first place?
The style and design of your work is very recognizable. How long has it taken you get to the place that your artistic voice is so strong?
Honestly I feel that finding your own style is a process which starts far before you even think about actually creating something. It’s like a potential, a seed within you which is nurtured by your upbringing, by things that happen to you, your actions and all things around you. When you start making things – bringing them from your mind into physical plane – it sprouts. For me it felt like the most natural thing in the world – like speaking my mother tongue. I knew since I made my very first piece of jewellery that this is my style. But don’t get me wrong – the fact that you discover your style is only the beginning. This is were years of hard work (and fun!) start. You have to learn to use it in a beautiful, skillful way. Just like we can speak a language just so so, struggling to barely communicate or to create most beautiful, refined poems, saying words straight from your heart. For me it took years, and I feel I still have so much to learn! Exercising your artistic voice is a never-ending, exciting journey. I think that my point is that your style, your designs feel genuine, truthful, only when they come from within you, from who you are, who you are becoming during your whole life, what you actually feel. Otherwise it’s just like trying on masks in a shop. The effect might be pretty, might be interesting, but will never be true.
You teach classes on your techniques. Do you have advice for your students about the difference between inspiration and the copying your work.
Funnily, people who try to copy my style or particular pieces are not those who take my classes or even meet me in real life. During my workshops I teach skills, certain techniques which lead every student to creating a piece that is completely different, depending on who they are, what they like, where they are on their journey of creating their strong artistic voice. It’s just amazing to see how varied are pieces made during each of my classes, even though, they are constructed using exactly the same techniques. It’s also super inspiring and humbling for me. A few days ago I came back from United Kingdom, where for the first time I taught a new, two days class, I created this year. I brought some class samples as I usually do, I thought I knew what kind of pieces I might expect from students. But then – it turned out that at the end of the class I saw a whole bunch of pieces I would never even think about in a million years! This is the most rewarding experience both for the teacher and students. That’s why I always give my students time to look at the samples, to think about what they want to make, to plan a design, I encourage them to bring their sketchbooks if they have one. I always say, that spending time on designing, even during the class, is really worth it. You don’t want to spend 23 days working on something that you hate ;) or doesn’t feel right, because it’s completely not you.
Again – I think teaching classes, in a way is similar to language lessons. I am just trying to add some new “words” or, lets say, “grammar constructions” to my student’s vocabulary. They can use them in as many different ways as possible. We are all very different and we came from different places and this is the most beautiful thing to me. But even if you attend classes where you recreate a particular project from beginning to the end, situation is exactly the same. You don’t learn a poem by heart to repeat it over and over in random moments. You learn it because it makes you a more beautiful person. It enriches you. It enables you to maybe create something on your own.
We have noticed that there are imitators of your style. Some people say that it should be considered flattery. What are your thoughts?
Ha. That’s a difficult question. On purely intellectual level I believe this is, indeed, a form of flattery. But it doesn’t feel like one at all. Situations when your work is being imitated are simply super stressful, hurtful and disheartening. It feels really unfair, when you know how long was your journey, how much of yourself you put in your work, and then someone just takes superficial, visual layer of it, and recreates it. Just because they are manually skilled, and for some reason they thought it would make them successful in one way or another. In such situations you just wonder if people see the difference at all. I also wonder what a copyist have to feel. I usually choose to believe that maybe they don’t really understand what they are doing. But that’s just me :). I can’t imagine someone consciously choosing copying if they have something to say on their own. It would be just excruciating to hide behind a mask all the time. I also wonder if such situations affect me financially – I won’t pretend – my passion is also my work and source of income. Being copied not only means having your feelings hurt, but also a possible financial loss. I think that copying is not totally bad though – personally I believe it’s ok to learn by copying, if it’s your way of learning, perfecting your skills. But then just don’t publish what you make, and definitely don’t call it your own. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you Anna for taking the time to chat with us! Best wishes on your upcoming classes!
Jewellery artist, metal clay instructor and business owner Kenji von Achen lives in what many of us would regard as the most romantic city in the world, Paris. We’ve been Facebook friends for a long while and I love keeping up with what he’s up to, but interviewing him for this profile was a revelation. He’s had several careers, has an interesting family history and a positive and uplifting attitude to life – and yes, there’s a little bit of romance, so read on and find out more about this charming man.
The youngest of three children, Kenji has two older sisters, one of whom passed away in 2000. His father is German, born in rural Illinois, and his mother is Japanese American, giving him his interesting name. “My pieces are signed just using KENJI,” he explained. “It’s not a ‘Sting’ or ‘Cher’ type of thing, it’s only because nobody ever spells my last name correctly anyway and also because I’m definitely assured that they’ll massacre the pronunciation,” he laughed.
His parents met just after his father left the military during the Korean War. His mother and her family spent three years during the Second World War in captivity. Kenji explained, “They were forced to live in different ‘internment camps’ that were built for Americans of Japanese ancestry. In fact, they were horse stables that were converted into barracks. I don’t know a whole lot about that period of her life as a lot of Japanese Americans don’t really like talking about that period. Over the years I’ve learned a little more about life in the camps but most of that information has only come from reading books and doing research.” Continue reading…
I’ve known award winning artist Michela Verani for a while now, having first met her at a metal clay conference in the US. She and I share a love of sci-fi and we are also both participating in the metal clay Masters Registry programme so we have lots in common.