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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.
Since gold clay is so expensive, might there be a way to combine it with silver clay and still have a finished metal that appeared gold in color, but would be less pure than PMC Gold clay and therefore, a little less expensive?
The ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of such an alloy, which occurred both naturally and man made. They called it “electrum” and used it for coins, jewelry and plating. My reading led me to discover that an alloy of more than about one third silver would result in a metal that appeared silver, that is, no gold color at all. Ancient alloys seemed to be no less than about 20% silver. Therefore, my plan was to combine a variety of gold and silver PMC mixes so that the alloys were in that sweet spot of 20-30% silver, to see what shades of gold would result. Continue reading…
My cuff was mailed to artist Hayley Kruger in the U.K. who in turn cut out pieces of it and added to it using paper, crayons, pespex and ink.
A third artist, Lisa Welbourn made a necklace from the work of the first two artists. She added sterling silver, silver clay, lava beads, rubber neck cord. Lisa also decided to combine some of the elements to make them double sided.
A second piece I worked on was started by Joy Funnell. Can you imagine receiving a fine silver and enameled piece from Joy and you are to “change” it or work on it? Oh I was a bit scared! It was a beautiful piece!
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor of Creative Fire and former editor of Metal Clay Artist Magazine. She keeps a studio in rural Ontario, Canada and works in etched aluminum and metal clays. You can find her work online www.SassyandStella.com
Cool Tools, offers 25g and 50g packages http://www.cooltools.us/EZ960-Sterling-Silver-Clay-p/ezs-025-p.htm
Here is my review of the new clay:
WET FORM: Moisture content and workability:As I waited several weeks to test the clay it may have lost some of its plasticity while in the temporary wrapping. I added a few drops of water and worked it in and found the clay to be beautifully smooth, easy to roll, it picks up texture nicely and joins are solid. (My release agent was olive oil.)
DRY FORM: How was the flexibility, was it easy to carve, sand, join? What an amazing clay to carve! There are no “tears” at the end of a push with a carving tool. Clean edges!
Firing:No blistering or cracking. In my first firing I forgot to support a ring and so it slumped. I was curious about the clay and hammered the ring round and straight–it could take the abuse! All items out of the kiln have the satisfying “clink” of sintered metal and they are a matt grey. Some pieces I hammered and others I tumbled.
Shrinkage:Ring #1-1.5mm thick wet clay, wet clay size: 11.5, dry 10.5 and after firing 9.5,
Ring #2-1.5 mm thick wet clay, wet clay size: 12.5, dry 12 after firing 10.
Rings warped in the firing, as I forgot to support them properly, hammering them brought them back into shape without increasing the size.
Finishing:I hammered some pieces directly out of the kiln and then I tumbled them to finish the polishing. Rings were polished further with a 3m polishing brush and patinaed with LOS.
“Cool” Video to check out with Lisel Crowley. http://www.cooltools.us/EZ960-Sterling-Adjustable-Ring-s/2468.htm
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor of Creative Fire and is an avid jewellery designer. She has worked in metal clay since it first came on the market. You can find her jewellery online: www.SassyandStella.com.
Let’s face it: we all love buying new tools, but they sure can put a dent in our wallets. Luckily, you probably already have the makings of unique collagraphic texture sheets as close as your kitchen or studio junk drawer. A collagraphic texture sheet is a collage that has been sealed with a polymer sealer so you can use it with metal clay. These texture sheets are simple to create, and ideas for different textures are limited only by your imagination.
(This pendant was textured with a cheesecloth texture sheet. To create a dramatic effect, only part of the clay was textured.)
Commissions–to take them or not is a question many artists have to figure out for themselves. About ten years ago the parents of a friend of mine were celebrating a big anniversary and they wanted new wedding bands. They came to me to make them. I was flattered and scared. The rings turned out well and they have been worn everyday for the past decade. My friends’ father is a woodworker, gardener, golfer and has worked hard while wearing a fine silver ring…so you can guess that it has been pretty beaten up. It was flattened and reshaped at one point which work-hardened a few spots. Over time these spots weakened. He asked if I could solder the opening. I figured it would be much better to remake the ring in a stronger sterling silver metal clay. So here I am with a ring I made over a decade ago–and I need to remake it– “Exactly the same. The fit and shape are perfect.” (Pictured is the old ring and the old texture plate.)
The first thing I had to do was find the texture sheet I used over a decade ago….in another studio! My studio moved from a shop I had downtown to my garage–then was cleaned out last summer. Oy! I remember finding the old texture sheets and tossing them. But did I toss them in a “maybe I’ll teach metal clay again someday bin” or in the garbage? It took me a few hours to find them…but I had them. Whew! “Exactly the same” rang in my head! So here we go…I documented remaking this simple ring band so that you can follow along.
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.