CJS Sales in New York City – A Designers Quarry By Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

mcam-5-3_page_14_image_0001Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I met with Carl and Elyse Schimel, co-owners of CJS Sales in New York City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.

(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)

The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.

“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”

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(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31,  1969)

As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.

I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.

Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”

I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!

As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”

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Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.

Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”

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(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)

I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!

RESOURCES:

CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400

To view images of Kim Craftsmen jewelry: www.costumejewelrycollectors.com/kim- craftsmen-gallery/

To read more about Carl Schimel’s jewelry manufacturing business: http://www.costumejewelrycollectors.com/ 2013/03/28/a-tale-of-two-brothers-part-1-by- molly-felth/

To view images of Alexander Calder’s jewelry: http://www.pinterest.com/lizzieiom67/ alexander-calder-s-jewellery/

To view the The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969 article: http://news.google.com/newspapers? nid=1368&dat=19690731&id=K3RQAAAAIBAJ& sjid=NREEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7278,6232783

Photos from inside CJS Sales many rooms: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

headshotsmallJeannette Froese LeBlanc is a studio artist living in Rural Ontario Canada.  She is inspired by the landscape and history of Canada.  The structure of trees inspires her as much as people’s portraits.  Both are re-occurring themes in her jewellery and photography. To see more of her work please follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/

The Agony of Writing an Artist Statement by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

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It is very hard for some artists to write an artist statement and it is sometimes equally hard for others to read.  It is easier to write a bio and to tell others where you’ve been and what you’ve done.  But it is so much harder to explain why.

Having an artist statement prepared is a great way for customers to connect with your work and it gives shops and galleries “sound bites” to use to promote your work. After having suffered through the agony of writing my own artist statement I can tell you that the most important thing about an artist statement is the process of writing one.  I found it helped me sort out my own artistic history and methods.  It has helped me to  clarify the direction of my work and it has jump started a new body of work. Despite already knowing how important one was to have, it’s not something I’d written for myself.

calvins-artists-statementI was recently in the position where I had to send in my artist statement.  500 words.  Five.Hundred.Words. OY! I procrastinated for a few days.  Then I cut and pasted bits of things I’d written.  I sent it in.  And was told, “This is not an artist statement”.  I knew that, but found the exercise very difficult.  I’m not one to ever stand up and say, “I did this and it is awesome.” I needed help, so naturally I did some research.

A friend of mine pointed me to this site: http://www.gyst-ink.com/artist-statement-guidelines/ this one is good too: http://www.artstudy.org/art-and-design-careers/sample-artist-statement.php

I rewrote my artist statement. (After I raided my kids’ trick or treat bags, walked the dog, tidied my studio…procrastination is one of my rituals before writing.) I read some guidelines about artist statements and I started over. I hope my new version is a real artist statement.  And I hope that when you need to write one you can remember that they are very hard for most artists to write—give yourself a break.

 

20161025_1410491Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is a studio artist living in Rural Ontario Canada.  She is inspired by the landscape and history of Canada.  The structure of trees inspires her as much as people’s portraits.  Both are re-occurring themes in her jewellery and photography. To see more of her work please follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/

So you wanna sell your jewellery?? (Part 1)

12552325_163727650661795_2052323012_nLast month we ran a survey for our readers and there were some really great comments and questions.  One theme that repeated itself was about “making a living” at selling your work.

Here are a few of the reader questions:
“How can I make a living at my art?”
“How do you balance a personal life, regular work and creative time?”
“Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewelry?”
“Can you make a living as an artist when you work with metal clay? This question could be asked to any “regular” person, like you and me ;)!”

I could have asked any of these questions! So I’m not the expert with the answers.  But I have done a bit of research and I have some resources to share. The first thing I’d like to address comes from a conversation about these very topics with my father.  He told me to “never pay too much for an income” and to “make a life, not a living”.  Sage advice from a person I admire.  I think his words address the question someone had about balancing work life and creative life. You can become a slave to your work even if it is your calling and by consequence miss out on family and friends. Many artists throughout history have sacrificed for their art. I have struggled with “work-life-balance” myself.  I’ve had to choose what is the most important–not just to me but to my family and so creative time often gets missed even though working in my studio is like breathing for me. I decided that I’d never regret giving the time to my children.  They won’t always be around but my many unfinished pieces of “art” will be there.index4

Question: “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewellery?”
Yes, I think there are artists who do!  However, given that the job of “artist” lacks a regular pay check, artists have to rely on many revenue streams. Artists living off their craft work hard at marketing their work, they sell on many platforms such as shops, online and shows, they teach, and most have varied jewellery lines and some sell products.  I would encourage you to find artists pages online, their sites and so forth and see how hard they work at “making a living”.

Question: “I would love to ask many of the high profile artists for more detailed information on how they achieved such name recognition/built their business in this community. And, if it supplies their full income, possibly even in the absence of a lot of travel teaching.”

This short talk by Paul Klein about finding your niche, removing obstacles and finding a mentor provides a great answer to the above question.

“Artist and career advisor Paul Klein emphasized the importance of being different.  He insinuated that distinctiveness generates sales–even more so than quality.  “Can’t all of us name artists who are doing really well monetarily, whose work we think sucks?”  The branded artist doesn’t necessarily produce better work, but more bankable work.” Quote from this article in Forbes.

In “Part 2” I’ll find answers to the questions about the nuts and bolts of business such as inventory, tracking, descriptions of work.

quote-to-make-living-itself-an-art-that-is-the-goal-henry-miller-130-94-16My closing comment is to be yourself.  I know that sounds so cliche. But it’s so true. I’ve been looking at metal clay jewellery for over a decade. (gasp) and I can almost without fail look at a photo of a piece of metal clay jewellery and tell you the name of the artist (and if I’m wrong–usually that person was the “inspiration” for the work). We need more work that stands out.  In another article I found on Forbes by Jessica Hagy she shows why weird can be bankable. Yes…be weird, but let your own distinct artistic voice show in your work!

Image credit for opening image: Location Pillar in the stairwell of the UT Austin Art Building was up for two weeks

JFL HeadshotJeannette Froese LeBlanc is working on becoming a distinct and profitable jewellery designer.  From her studio in rural Ontario, Jeannette tries to balance life as a mom of two (very) active children and earn a living from her jewellery.  You can find her work online and in several boutiques. www.SassyandStella.com

Every Breath You Take by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

fan3So what’s it like in your studio?  How’s the air you breathe? I work with many different media types and use several different processes. For example: metal clay, metalsmithing, metal etching, polymer clay, paint…and sometimes my work makes me feel ill.  Sometimes I’m affected by just the smell of certain things in my studio. So I started to think about installing an exhaust fan.  I looked at some “industrial” options and found most to be out of my budget.  Then I came up with an idea-and it cost $43.  Can’t beat that!

I bought a brand new kitchen stove exhaust fan at a “Habitat for Humanity-Re-Store”. Then I brought it into my studio and realized I had no wall space where I needed the fan.  My solution was to take the fan out of the range hood and to put it in a box. Below I show the steps I took to install a fan to help with drawing out the air in my studio.  I always try to have a window open a bit to bring in fresh air (even in the dead of winter) but I didn’t feel the air in my studio was being changed fast enough. Continue reading…

Marketing Your Work: The Basics BY CAROL AUGUSTINE

isgLet’s face it, as artisans most of us fail at marketing ourselves and our work. We hope buyers will flock to us out of nowhere and our pieces will magically sell themselves. For some of us the very thought of it fills us with fear and trepidation, so we chose to ignore it. If we do, then we are not hungry enough, or if we are, we choose to scratch out an existence instead—hunting for change between our sofa cushions, eating beans out of a can—and foresee ourselves spending our nights on a car seat. Well, maybe it won’t get to that but we will spend our time wondering why we have few buyers and agonizing over whether or not our work is good enough. This is not the artisan life we want; it is counter-productive and barely surviving.

Without a well-thought-out strategic marketing plan chances are slim you will be successful at making money at your craft. You have to conquer your fear and change your attitude. If you don’t know how to market your items, then it’s time to learn. If you think of it as an extension of the creative process instead of separate from it, then your attitude will change and you might even develop a passion for it. There is nothing like a few sales as a result of your efforts to spur you on. Let’s get busy and see what you can do to get your name and your work out there in front of the buying public. Continue reading…

No Mirrors-My Dream of an Art Retreat by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

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Last week I went camping. While away I didn’t check the news. I had no phone calls. And no mirror. For a week it was just me and my family. On the way home we decided to drop in on a relative for a visit. It was then that I suddenly saw what we were wearing and realized my daughter had not combed her hair in days. Then I realized I hadn’t combed my hair in days either. It’s not that we didn’t have time! It just wasn’t important.
Continue reading…

Clean your Studio, Heal your Artself By Ann Davis

This article is a reprint.  To see the original article click here.  Over the years Ann and I have heard from so many artists how her article changed their lives. Read on and heal your “artself”.
ann davisMy studio has always been an active working space, more of a workshop where things are made than a quiet space for inspiration. I’ve never needed a girly-girl space because I was a “Serious Working Metalsmith” and my professors, teachers, smithing friends all had, for want of a better description, tool shops. Everything creates grime!! To me having a clean space to do enameling meant one square foot of clean tabletop.

I used to do casting production runs. If you are not familiar with that, it’s often making one hundred of one thing in a week, after which of course it was a really dirty workshop. But I never questioned it. My work was fulfilling and profitable, and I loved it. And so it went for 40-plus years and several different studios.

Viewing a Crafthaus exhibit, Studio Sanctuaries, created by Pat Morrow caused me to contemplate and reevaluate the space where I spend so much of my day. I felt it had become divided between the computer desk, bookkeeping, and fun-interacting with friends and the overstuffed, chaotic workshop side. This was something that had been bubbling up in my thought process and banging at the door of my conscious awareness for some time. The struggle between the messy “get to work” side and the computer “play” side finally crystallized into a thought. I had been disrespecting myself, my work- er self and my inner self, my whole self. Continue reading…

“I’d love to visit your studio!” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

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Not my studio…

Nothing stops me in my tracks quicker than a friendly offer to come to my studio.  My studio has been a mess for years. Last summer I started the mammoth task of cleaning it up. I think it looks pretty good now, but I still fear company. I used to blame the mess. I’ve recently come to the realization that I have other reasons. (Photo is NOT my studio…this is from the magazine Where Women Create, May 2014.)

One of the reasons is that my space is very personal.  I have treasures on display…but not on public display. Rocks collected in Newfoundland, a kazoo Santa gave me, my military dog tags, a metal toy kitchen that was my mother’s, an old lamp in the shape of a green Buddha…stuff I like but that I don’t want to explain to another person why they are special. Continue reading…

Artist Profile: Jennifer Kahn Rich by Julia Rai

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.)

MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0003MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0001Jennifer Kahn was born in Miami, Florida and spent her childhood in Marietta, Georgia. At age 10 she moved to Westchester, New York, where she lived until she left to attend the University of Vermont. As she put it, “I seem to have slowly worked my way up the East coast, despite hating the cold!”

MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0002I asked Jen about her earliest creative memory. “My mom would say that it was the way I dressed, mixing colors, patterns, putting outfits together at a very young age. She gave me the freedom to be creative in everything I did. I loved to draw, paint, pretend, decorate things, build forts and create exotic mud stews. I remember making copper jewelry in camp and really loving it.” Jen told me that she always has loved making things and working with her hands but that she didn’t take those activities seriously until she was in college. “I was an English major and wrote poetry, but I didn’t know how those things could have real world applications. I loved my art classes more than anything and my teachers were very encouraging, so I switched to a double major in English and Art. I took every art class available but nothing quite struck me. I knew I liked working small and I most liked the working properties of clay. After working with PMC for a while, I knew I wanted to be a jewelry artist.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0005 MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0004Jen discovered PMC in 2000 during her senior year at the University of Vermont while she was working at the Frog Hollow Gallery in Burlington, VT. “They carried Celie Fago’s amazing jewelry. When she was the featured artist of the month they had a wall of photos of her working with PMC and a display showing a lump of PMC and her finished work. All I could think was, ‘This made that?’ I couldn’t believe such a material existed and it was coming along at a perfect time in my life. I loved the fact that you could work it like clay but that the finished piece was pure silver. I also loved jewelry, so the idea of making my own was very exciting.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0002 MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0001Jen didn’t take to it instantly, though. “Initially I ordered some [PMC] and started working with it in the air, sculpting a little moon. It was drying and cracking before my eyes and the whole experience was very frustrating. I asked my pottery teacher to fire it for me and he was a bit put off [about] using the huge kiln to fire this tiny little cracked moon. I took Celie’s class a few weeks later and learned to work on top of Teflon and under a sheet protector to delay the drying and cracking. The pieces were fired in a small jewelry kiln. By the end of the class I felt confident about working with this strange stuff.”

That experience changed Jen’s life. “Upon graduation I became Celie’s live-in apprentice and teaching assistant and I accompanied her on her travels around the country and abroad,” Jen explained.

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0003 MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0002I asked Jen what influences her work. “I’m drawn to and inspired by primitive and ancient artifacts and adornment because of the meaning infused into them. These pieces tell stories. They are connected to rituals, history, the land; they carry powers of protection, prosperity. They are culturally rich and full of identity. These days, it’s hard to feel connected, to feel meaning. Everything is so
anonymous and mass-produced. I like the idea of reaching back into time, reaching out into distant lands and pulling those primitive styles forward, adding my voice and giving them a contemporary edge.”

She continued, “I’m fascinated by the way things are put together –patched, hinged, riveted, stitched – and often incorporate such connections in my pieces. I gather inspiration from a pattern on a textile, the texture of a leaf, beautiful, old rusty things. I’m constantly trying to fuse old and new, industrial and natural, urban and ethnic.” Jen cites her Journey Necklace as a good example of her influences.

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0003Jen does most of her work at a desk in her room. She’s just now setting up a studio space in a spare room for her flex shaft, kiln and torch. “I end up doing a lot of wire work and finishing at the kitchen table by the fire – Vermont winters are long and cold!” Her favourite tool isn’t much of a surprise: “Celie’s Nesting Tube Set! She makes a set of brass tubes in eight different sizes that all telescope on a beautiful spiral holder,” Jen explains. The tubes are used for cutting holes or small clay circles.

Her creative process is interesting and she sketches out designs whenever inspiration strikes. “I keep a few sketchbooks. I’ll start one and too much time will pass so I’ll start another, and before I know it I have three half-used books sitting around. More often I’m sketching on the back of receipts or envelopes. My sketchbooks aren’t organized at all. I guess I think of them chronologically and can find things that way.” “Some ideas spring from designs I’ve made already. I like to take [existing] pieces that I make in new directions. When I need inspiration I search the web and through books on ancient and ethnic jewelry. I also flip through fashion magazines. Sometimes an idea will just come to me while I’m driving or as I’m falling asleep. I’ll do a quick sketch and try it out the next time I work.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0001She uses several different techniques in her work. “I use wire work – lots of bead wraps. I love stitching with wire and making metal clay bases for things I can add wire to. I also love riveting.” I asked her what other skills she felt were important for metal clay artists to develop. “Basic metalworking skills: fusing, soldering, cold connections. The more skills you pick up, the more complex your jewelry will become.”

I asked Jen what advice she would give someone who is new to metal clay. “Well, this really is a tip for any artist. Celie told me early on that it’s important that every part of a piece has been thought about. She would say that the back is another opportunity for creativity. For this reason, many of my pieces are reversible. It is a joy to watch people turn my pieces over and be surprised by the other side.” Her necklace with nine large, bezel-set Chinese turquoise cabochons is a perfect example; the backs of the settings are as beautiful as the fronts. I asked her how she constructed this impressive piece. “All the stones were set after firing. The backs of the settings were textured and the bezel walls were made with PMC Sheet. I made the settings 118% bigger than the finished size so that the stones would fit right in after firing. Then I set them as a metalsmith would with a bezel pusher and a burnisher.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0004Jen’s work has appeared in several prestigious publications. “I wrote several articles on setting stones in PMC after firing, followed by a chapter on that subject for Tim McCreight’s book PMC Technic. I was so honored to be a part of that! I also have work in Tim’s book PMC Decade and in Robert Dancik’s Amulets and Talismans. Last year I wrote a chapter on fabric earrings for a Lark book [by Marthe Le Van] called Stitched Jewels and my work was on the cover!” Jen also has won a couple of awards. “In 2003 I won second place in a national juried exhibit by Fred Woell called ‘Positively Precious Metal Clay’.

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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.”

jkFor more information about Jen and to see more of her work, visit her web site at www.jenniferkahnjewelry.com or her Etsy shop at www.jenkahn.etsy.com.

 

 

 

Julia Rai iMCAM 5.1_Page_34_Image_0001s 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.

 

“Is it Live, or Is It Memorex?” By Lisa Pavelka


(or What Distinguishes Inspiration from Copying? – For those younger than 40!)

An often-argued creative concept found in all artistic disciplines, is what distinguishes copying from inspiration? It’s a controversial and complicated issue with a lot of gray areas. For what it’s worth, I offer my take on the subject in the article that follows, hoping to give an insight on what I believe are the origins of inspiration.

Where would the art world be if Monet, who is credited as being the father of Impressionism, railed against his contemporaries (including Cézanne, Degas, Renoir) who followed in his footsteps, embracing this new way of interpreting subjects for their work?

Image 2As an artist, I don’t believe that something comes out of nothing. Everything I create is inspired by something; even when I’m not conscious of the origins of the inspiration. If I carefully consider some of my creations, I can recall something that has a hand in my designs and techniques. Perhaps the waves of the ocean, a sunset, or the pattern on a hotel curtain had a role in a creation. Only ego can drive the need to demand a work is truly and purely original.

Image 3That isn’t to say that the fine line between copying and being inspired isn’t easily crossed. As an artist who also teaches, this is a shaky area for many. Personally, do not dictate that once a student has compensated me for my knowledge and shared skill, that they are forbidden from putting the technique or design concepts into practice. That isn’t a universally accepted concept. I hear from my students, over and over again, experiences in which teachers told them they cannot use design concepts or techniques learned in their classes if incorporated in anything they teach or sell. I feel that if a student has paid to learn from me for my time and knowledge, they should be able to duplicate what I taught them for any use they deem acceptable. I do expect that they won’t take undue credit that it’s something they originated or won’t reprint or plagiarize any written material I hand out. Also, I’m careful to credit others when using techniques that I didn’t originate. If I don’t know who to credit, I am still careful to make it clear that I don’t deserve credit for concepts that I didn’t develop.

Image 11My hope is that those who copy what I teach, do so primarily as a means of mastering what they learned. Ideally, whether for fun or profit, students will go on to modify what they learned from me and modify it to bring their own voice and vision to their creations. Regardless, if I’m not ready to have others use what I develop, I shouldn’t put it out there; least of all receive compensation for teaching what I’ve come up with. A common technique used universally in the medium of polymer clay, is the “Skinner Blend.” This is the method for creating gradient blends with two or more colors of polymer clay, developed by Judith Skinner. It is one of the most widely used techniques in polymer clay. It has also been widely modified by myself, and others into more advanced polymer clay effects and techniques. As in the case of Monet, where would polymer clay be if Ms. Skinner, forbade anyone from using her blending method professionally or commercially?

I look, not only to nature, the imagination (which is feed by countless stimuli each day that accumulates over a lifetime) for ideas, but I also find inspiration in the work of others. I find it both within and outside of my chosen mediums. My goal is never to copy, but to create something that is “original” in as far as I use a shape, color scheme, or design concept I create. I don’t want my work to look like an imitation of someone else’s. I don’t think any true artist does.

Image 10Creativity is a slippery slope and ideas don’t occur in a vacuum. This concept is worth repeating if you’re an artist who has ever struggled with the feeling that your creativity has been copied. Ideas don’t occur in a vacuum! On more than one occasion I have experienced or had other artists share the phenomenon of learning that someone else was is doing the same technique or design concept that I (or they) “created.” This is disconcerting when it occurs before I have shared my designs and techniques publicly – in a show, on the Internet, for sale, publication or classes. It can be very humbling to realize that another person has simultaneously or even preceded you in discovered the same “new” technique/design concept as you have.

There is a theory called the “Hundredth Monkey Effect.” It explains that the same idea can mysteriously occur in multiple locations without a direct correlation between them two. There are several websites and even books devoted to this concept. Read it more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect Clinging too tightly to the ownership of an idea is a dangerous thing and can result in a great deal of personal unhappiness. Who among us doesn’t wish to be recognized for their creative innovation? Making this important to yourself as an artist, robs you of your higher purpose to create and can hold you back from personal and professional growth.

Image 12I’ve even been on the receiving end of being accused of taking credit for someone else’s concepts only to find myself having to prove that I developed, introduced or used a design/technique before the accuser. In some cases, it was clear that they didn’t copy me, but it can be uncomfortable to have to defend your work. Having been on both sides of this experience, the oddest example for me was hearing someone I had just met tell me about a friend who told her about a profound artistic experience at an adjacent tradeshow to the one she was working at. Coincidently, I happened to know the same artist personally as a friendly acquaintance. Both of us were demonstrating for the same company, at the tradeshow at the time of this occurrence.

What a shock it was to hear the story retold as it had happened, only it had happened to me! While on a break, I went to the other trade show with a friend. People stopped me to admire work I was wearing. I made it with a new technique I had developed. They though it was a completely different medium and not the one I was using to replicate the look. I went back to the booth where I was working and shared how my “faux’ technique fooled many people at the other show. I shared this story with a group of eight people.

Image 14This group included the artist who then went on to tell my story as her own. Later, I saw another artist credit her for the technique in a magazine article. If you’re wondering how I handled it, I decided to let it go. I concentrated instead on developing the technique to take in new and exciting directions. Having done otherwise might have had a crippling effect on my creative ability. My energy was best spent in moving forward in my work and not feeling the need to salve my ego over setting the story straight. This person has to live with their lie, knowing they need the credit belonging to someone else to feel accomplished.

Image 13Of course, this is different from when your design concepts are copied and sold for profit in an arena in which you compete for your livelihood. Companies like Wal-Mart and Target have found themselves on the loosing end of lawsuits where they had taken the designs of independent artists, culled from buyers attending shows and had them reproduced – en mass – without the permission of the artist.

I’ve heard it said that sites like Etsy and Pinterest are nothing more than idea factories for other artists. If I have a problem with anyone using my techniques or design concepts for themselves, then I should not be putting it out there to begin with, knowing that in all likelihood, I’ll never be credited or profit from my concepts. Success as an artist for me is acknowledging that my “original” ideas all have their beginnings in something, but for me, it’s important that something is merely and influence and not a mold for me to duplicate.

Image Credits: All images by Lisa Pavelka, copyright to the artist.

Inspiration Credit for Lisa’s art:
Image #1- Inspired by Karl Faberge
Image #2 – Inspired by Karl Faberge
Image #3 – Inspired by 1960s Optical Pop Art
Image #4- Inspired by Dichroic Glass and Ocean Waves
Image #5 – Inspired by Mardi Gras
Image #6- Inspired by William Morris
Image #7- Inspired by Periscopes

12417893_10208843026693269_1781609695090555594_nLisa Pavelka, a Colorado native who now resides in Las Vegas.  She is an award winning artist, designer and author. Although she is well versed in several mediums, she is best known for her polymer clay expertise. Having worked with the medium professionally since 1989, she has focused her creative energies in taking polymer clay in new directions; especially in the areas of mixed media applications.

As a polymer clay pioneer, Lisa has tackled everything from jewelry making and home décor to scrapbooking and altered arts to name a few. She has shown the crafting world there is almost nothing that can’t be done with polymer clay, whether it’s coming up with new techniques or covering the back of a van.

Lisa is author of three books including the award winning best seller: Polymer Clay Extravaganza (North Light Books), and DVDs—Gifts from the Heart & Hand (Page Sage) and Claying Around with Lisa Pavelka(2007).