The art world can be a wonderful ‘place’. It can be a world of sharing and appreciation. When that is the case, it is so positive and leaves the artist feeling fantastic. On the other hand, it can be a struggle.
At the moment, I’m struggling with a couple of things:
- How to describe my artwork so that it doesn’t seem like some child-like craft
- Pricing my artwork
Let’s look at these issues individually to see if I can process my thoughts more clearly.
How to describe my artwork
One of the biggest issues with my artistic medium, polymer clay, is that a lot of people don’t know what it is. To be honest, I wouldn’t have known what it was five years ago either.
I have explained it to people as a man-made clay that has plastics in it, so that when you bake it in the oven, it becomes hard. Unfortunately, many people who haven’t seen my artwork visualise it as a plastic art, which cheapens it somewhat and makes it seem child-like.
So what is polymer clay?
The Blue Bottle Tree defines polymer clay as:
Polymer clay is a synthetic modeling putty that never dries out and hardens when you cure it in a home oven. It comes in a vast range of colors that can be mixed together as you do with paint. You can mold it, sculpt with it, and shape it in infinite ways. After curing, polymer clay can be carved, sanded, painted, polished, or enjoyed as-is. It’s durable, strong, lightweight, comfortable to wear as jewelry, and incredibly versatile…
Polymer clay is vinyl, similar to what makes a baby doll, beach ball, or aquarium tubing. All flexible vinyl, whether it’s a doll or the insulation on electrical wires, starts the same. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is mixed with plasticizer, stabilizer, lubricant, and pigments. It’s then shaped and heated to form a solid material. Uncured polymer clay is just this uncured vinyl mixture with some filler, similar to talc or chalk, to make it into a dough. Once we shape it and cure it in the oven, polymer clay becomes solid vinyl.
2wards Polymer Clay says:
Polymer clay is an exciting and extremely versatile art medium, well known for its ease and simplicity to work with. It is used by artists and hobbyists ranging from children to professional artists and movie makers.
It is a pliable modelling material which remains soft until baked. It is comprised of polymers, resins, colouring agents and fillers in a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base. Although called a clay, it is actually a manmade material that can be baked in a home oven. It is available in many colours and finishes and various techniques are applied that enable the user to simulate other materials such as stone, glass, wood and precious metals to name just a few. Although used for art and craft, it also has commercial applications.
Polymer clay is becoming a popular choice as an artistic medium, but it is still relatively new in the art world. I think as polymer clay artists, we need to become confident in the way we explain our medium, so that art lovers around the world can appreciate it and accept is as a medium in its own right. One day, I would love to see polymer clay as an option in surveys/forms/art sites, alongside the usual options: acrylic, oils, watercolour, and coloured pencil.
I use polymer clay in a unique way, so that adds to the difficulty in explaining my style. I like to describe my art as polymer clay pointillism mosaic tiles. For those that don’t understand pointillism, I often omit that term and explain my art as polymer clay mosaics/mosaic tiles. Most people know what mosaics are, and although my work doesn’t fit the traditional mosaic style (with tiles and grout), it’s the closest description I have to what I do. I explain that my art is made up of lots of little coloured balls of clay that form a picture.
What people think I do
A lot of people on seeing my work, have a few images in their head as to how I’ve created the pieces. This is fine, because we each have our own understanding of how things are made. Unfortunately some assumptions lead to people viewing my art as mass-produced or much more simple than they are.
Some of the ideas people have range from:
- A process similar to Diamond Painting kits, where they assume that I have a ‘paint-by-number’ type plan which tells me what colours to put where, and that I have hundreds of little ready-made coloured balls of clay that I stick to the base. Many assume that I can re-create a piece easily because they think I have a plan that can be duplicated (sorry, this is not the case- although sometimes I wish it was)
- Tile art: others assume that I stick little balls of clay to a tile base, and then paint them with the colours I want (again, not the case)
What I actually do
Firstly, I locate a copyright-free (free for commercial use) image that I like, or use a photograph I’ve taken myself.
Below is an image I found on Pixabay that I used as a reference photo for my latest work “Peace in the storm”.
I then mix up different shades of polymer clay, based on the colours that I see in the photograph. This process can take 1 to 2 hours, depending on the complexity of the colours in the piece. I’m getting better at ‘seeing’ colours and translating that into the clay colours, but some colours are difficult to re-create.
I then roll out a thin piece of clay, and cut it into a square to form the base. My next step is to mark the shapes (freehand) onto the base as a guide, so that I get something that looks like the image below:
I then proceed to take each colour of clay, and roll one ball at a time (!) and add it to the base, so that the picture gradually forms. This is all done by hand, and I am constantly referring back to the reference image to determine what colour to do next. I often have to adjust the shades of clay as I go. The application of these balls can take up to 5 hours for a 4×4 inch piece.
Once the picture is completed it goes in the oven to bake. When it is cool, I glaze it and glue it to a frame, so that the complete artwork looks like:
The duration of a piece from beginning to end is 6 or more hours.
Pricing my artwork
Another thing I struggle with is pricing my art. I know I’m not alone in this, as I have read many other articles written by artists in the same situation.
As an emerging artist, I don’t want to price my items too high, because I know I am a ‘nobody’ in the art world, and can’t demand prices as high as well-known artists. My artwork is also very unique, so there’s not a lot of precedence in pricing pointillism mosaics made from polymer clay.
When I’ve used pricing calculators on various art sites, they recommend prices anywhere from $100 each to over $500. This seems like a lot for small 4×4 inch pieces like mine.
At the moment, I charge a tiny fraction of that, and only earn roughly $2.50 per hour of work. This is obviously very low and not sustainable. But at the moment, I’m enjoying creating my pieces and have another job to help financially. So at this time, I can’t give up my day job, but as I make more items and get more well known, I’m hoping this will change.
This has been a long blog post (sorry!), but I have found that it has helped me formulate my thoughts.
I hope it has helped you understand a little more about what I do as well.