Roxan Waluk Artist Profile by Julia Rai

I first met Roxan Waluk at one of the US conferences and have followed her work ever since. Roxan told me a bit about her home. “Originally a third generation Texan, in 1983 my husband drug me out to Virginia kicking and screaming for his work. After over thirty years here, we have migrated out to the middle of Virginia’s beautiful wine and horse country. We live in the small town of Delaplane situated about an hour’s drive outside of Washington DC.”

“I live on three acres with my husband Joe, and our four legged children,” she went on. “Three Labrador Retrievers and an orange cat named Goblin (and believe me, he lives up to his name). Our property backs up to Miracle Valley Vineyard where I sometimes help out as a hostess even though I rarely drink wine. We are blessed to live in a wonderful community where everyone cares for each other. Now you would have to drag me kicking and screaming away from here.”

Roxan has recently retired from running her own business. “At the end of last year, I retired as CEO of my own company and dismantled Waluk Studios Inc. We did decorative finishes and wall murals amongst other things. I am now taking private painting commissions but am trying to grow my jewelry business as much as possible. So I guess that would make my current profession my dream job – a jewelry designer.”

I asked Roxan to tell me a bit about her childhood. “I was brought up on a peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico named San Leon, Texas. It is a shrimping port just off Galveston Bay. My family lived on a little farm with mostly horses and chickens and my mother’s wonderful organic garden. Oh how I loved to sneak in there and steal the sun warmed, ripe strawberries! This is where I developed my love of the outdoors and the wonders it holds. So far I’m the only member of my family to move out of Texas so it’s a wonderful family reunion when I have the chance to go home for a visit.”

I was amazed to learn that Roxan is pretty fearless. “Most of my friends are usually surprized to find out that I used to race motocross motorcycles with my family’s racing team. I raced from high school through college. I’ve always been a little bit of a daredevil but those were my craziest days. However, even at 63 I’m planning to go parachute jumping on my birthday this year.”

Given her business it’s not surprising that creativity has always been part of Roxan’s life so I asked her about her first recollections of being creative. “My earliest memories go back almost as far as I can remember,” she began. “Most of the time I was huddled up with pencil, paper and crayons. When I wasn’t, I was catching the local wildlife (turtles, frogs, and horned lizards) and creating homes and clothing for them out of cardboard and tissue paper. Of course my mother insisted they be set loose that evening. From tissue paper frog clothes, I moved on to study fashion design at the University of Texas. After graduation I worked as a designer for women’s dresses and junior sportswear in Dallas, TX. Art in some form has always been a part of my life regardless of its direction.”

Roxan discovered metal clay relatively late although jewellery design was always an interest. “With my love of fashion, accessories and natures gemstones, it was a no brainer for me to become interested in creating jewelry,” she said. “I began taking classes and soon discovered a desire to design my own findings and focal pieces. That’s when I took a metalsmithing class to learn to work with silver only to find out that it was way out of my budget at the time to set up even a small studio. It wasn’t until 2006 that I saw an ad in Bead and Button magazine for metal clay. I became excited about the possibilities and began sketching immediately. Unfortunately, it took me over a year to actually find a class and learn more about it. In my beginner class I made a pendant with a rolled bail set with a CZ and two charms for earrings. It was an instant love affair and my brain starting going crazy with ideas! I began a learning frenzy, bought every book I could find on the subject and started looking for more and more classes. I earned certifications with Rio, PMCC and Art Clay in addition to many master classes with my idols like Barbara Becker Simon, Terry Kovalcik, Gordon Uyehara and Joy Funnel to name just a few.”

She went on, “In 2008 I was very new to MC when I took my first class with a master level metal clay artist, Gordon Uyehara. I was incredibly intimidated by all of the talented and knowledgeable artists around me. Bronze and copper clays were just peeking their heads up as an alternative to silver. In the middle of this three day class, Gordon gives us all packages of bronze and copper clay and declares a design contest. Totally out of my element, I defaulted to what I knew from art classes and hand sculpted a large orchid pendant. Lo and behold, it won second place! This experience helped me realize not only my own potential, but the potential of the materials that were available to me. Serendipitously, Jeannette Froes LeBlanc was in the class and so photos of my work along with others in the class were published in Metal Clay Artist Magazine. Woo! Hoo! My confidence levels soared along with my motivation to succeed in this medium. I’ve never looked back since. Last year I remade the design in silver and it is now my most treasured piece to wear.”

[Images: bronze and copper orchid made in Gordon Uyehara’s class and the silver version remade in 2016]

I asked Roxan what influences her work. “Mostly nature and my adoration for the beautiful gemstones it provides – especially the sparkly ones!” she laughed. “Many of my pieces incorporate leaves and influences from my garden. Some people comment on my frequent use of sage leaves but it is only because it’s the only plant in my garden that keeps its leaves in the winter when I do the bulk of my work. Sometimes it is not a literal translation with leaves and such, but the use of more organic shapes like scrolls. Additionally, I would think my background in fashion design has also nudged me in the direction of personal adornment. It’s thrilling to see someone else wearing something I created from scratch with my hands.”

She went on, “my mother was also a large influence in my artistic development. She was an artist / painter and all around creative personality. She never finished her last painting because my birth interrupted the final strokes. She would jokingly tease that she gave all of her talent to me and there was none left for her to finish the painting. Her unfinished painting still hangs in my living room today.”

“Lately, I have enjoyed more of the hand sculpting aspects of MC. The introduction of Flex Clay has given me more flexibility (pun intended) and elevated my ability to more easily incorporate tendrils and other organic shapes into my clay.”

She continued, “My style is definitely nature inspired and I love when I can combine leaves, scrolls and gemstones into a single piece. One additional element of my style is my metal choice and finish. I work almost exclusively in fine silver. Because pure silver is the whitest and brightest precious metal known to man, I choose to accentuate its natural beauty. Therefore, most of my work has only been softly brushed and sometimes lightly burnished straight from the kiln to keep its inherent luminescence.”

Roxan has a studio in her home. “My studio pretty much takes up the majority of the basement level in my home,” she told me. “It’s my ‘Happy Place’. There are stations for my metal clay, metalsmithing, soldering, beading and photography with a back corner for my desk and computer. I don’t spend as much time at my bench as I’d like but just before a big show, you will find me there almost around the clock. It is a must for me to clean up and organize after each ‘session’ which may last a day or a month. My brain needs to start with some kind of order so I can wreak havoc with my creative process. It is my belief that art is the result of bringing visual order out of the chaos in our minds. So my studio begins organized but because my process is chaotic, it looks like a hurricane blew through by the time I’m finished.”

I asked Roxan about her creative process and whether she plans her work. “Yes, I’m a planner and a sketcher. My library is full of sketchbooks! I love to sit and sketch whatever comes to mind or has inspired me that day. My husband likes to unwind in front of the TV so sketching gives me something creative to do and still spend time with him. The act of sketching is a Zen experience for me so sometimes I sketch just for the love of it and then I try to figure out how to make it wearable.”

She went on. “All I have to do is look outside my door for inspiration but I’m also influenced by great works of art or the tiny scroll on a magazine ad. My fine art and fashion background keep me thinking creatively about how to design beautiful forms that enhance or uplift current fashion while staying true to my own aesthetic. I can easily spend as much time sketching and figuring out my structural strategies as I do actually executing the piece.”

Roxan’s work often includes beads so I asked her about the other techniques she uses alongside metal clay. “With years of beading under my belt, I definitely love to enhance and complete many of my pieces with semiprecious beads and interesting accents. Although anybody can bead, it’s an art to be able to do it well and elevate the final composition. I also love to set stones, and sometimes add gold accents with a pen plater or keum boo. For some reason, I like hammering on metal so I do a little forging. Since I’m not that good at it, I mostly hammer textures onto wires for different findings etc.”

“Right now I’m exploring ‘Jewelry in Motion’. Necklaces and earrings that move with the wearer. Mostly Y shaped necklaces with long tendrils that swish when you move. I put a couple of my necklaces in a recent fashion show and they were well received so I’m very excited about the direction.”

Roxan teaches metal clay in her home studio. “I love to teach, especially the beginner classes. It’s fun to experience the student’s excitement when they start brushing and burnishing their pieces and see the silver start gleaming. Syringe classes are also one of my favourites. I believe syringe is a very useful and misunderstood tool in the metal clay artist’s arsenal. There are so many interesting shapes and delicate designs that can be made with it.”

I asked Roxan how she relaxes. “Nature always helps to reset my balance. I think because it is the epitome of balance. I love going on outings with Joe and the dogs, working in the garden, and taking quiet nature walks. In addition, I enjoy reading a good fantasy, baking and, of course, playing around with new metal clay ideas.”

Roxan sells her work in a variety of ways. “Most of my work is sold through private parties, galleries and the rare festival (if it’s indoors because I’m a weather wimp). I would love to expand my bookings for more intimate trunk shows in high end boutiques and galleries. I have a website but I find it difficult to keep it current because I work mainly in one of a kind pieces. It takes me quite a bit of time to photograph, describe and post each one but I do try!”

Now that Roxan is retired from her business, I asked her what she wants to achieve creatively in the next few years. “This is a tough question since I love to let the clay take me on a journey of its own and inspire me as I work. I guess I don’t really have a plan as long as I continue to love what I do and experience the joy that my work brings to others. On a technical level, I want to expand my knowledge of traditional metalsmithing techniques so as not to limit my designs. Too often I put a sketch aside or alter it because it needs skills I’m not comfortable or familiar with. Especially fine soldering, forging and enamelling skills.”

She went on, “Technically, I would love to experiment with new ways to utilize and set gemstones in my work since many of my favourite stones (aquamarine, opal, turquoise, etc) don’t like the heat of firing. This means becoming more proficient in smithing to enhance what I do in clay. I also would love to delve into the colourful world of enamels beyond the basics. Artistically, I’m an open book. I love the creative journey I’m on and just want to keep learning and riding that train as far as it can take me.”

Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation.