The Synergy Panel Discussions

I really enjoyed all of the panel discussions. Even though the topic of each discussion was different and pertained to the theme of the day, all seemed to lead to a core discussion of the artistic voice. This was the common thread woven through the fabric of the conference – the discovery, the expression and the cultivation of your unique voice in your art.

Day One brought “Hallmarks of Craftsmanship” with Jeff Dever, Rachel Carren, Sarah Shriver, Alison Lee and Donna Kato on the panel. What constitutes fine craftsmanship? Most agreed that besides being finished well, a piece needs to say something. I have been doing a lot of thinking about exactly what this means. I do agree that there needs to be a connection between the artist and the piece they create. That is what infuses a piece with spirit and interest. But does there necessarily need to be a connection between that piece and every viewer? Not necessarily so because everyone has different perceptions and tastes and a piece might not attract all viewers. I think that the most important part is what the artist thinks and how they feel about their piece. Then there was an interesting discussion about how making a living with your art can affect what you produce. The responsibilities of paying the bills might not afford an artist the time and energy to get deeper with their pieces. They also have to take into consideration what will sell in their designated market. I know that the responsibilities of my day job definitely affect the amount of time I can spend playing, exploring and experimenting.

Day Two’s discussion, “Inspiration, Originality, and Infringement” was again moderated by Jeff Dever. Joining him on the panel were Elise Winter, Thomas Mann and Dan Cormier. While Jeff’s work is clearly inspired by the beautiful forms in nature, the other 3 panel members talked about how their work has been inspired more by sitting down and working with the material. “Getting your butt in the chair” as Alison Lee says. There was also some discussion about teaching a technique you’ve developed and how once you teach it, you no longer own it. Some artists choose not to teach or stop using a certain technique once they have taught it in a class or workshop. Everyone agreed that carrying a sketchbook/journal was essential to the documenting and development of ideas as they come to you. I love journaling and sketching in my notebook and feel it really helps my creative flow.

Day Three brought Tim McCreight to present “Design Decisions: Good, Better, Best” What a lot of fun that was! We all got a little clear ziplock packet filled with geometric shapes of different colors. Tim had larger versions of these shapes and he carefully arranged a design on a magnetic board. He then invited Donna Kato and Seth Savarick up to change the design. What a great idea to jumpstart the design process and, more importantly to me, just play. I love to play.

Tomorrow is the return of my Saturday Morning Tea but I will continue my Synergy thoughts on Sunday…

More on my Synergy Experience

I love photography and taking photos. I used to drive my kids crazy with having my camera at the ready for every little wonderful moment of their lives. Of course, now that they’re adults, they enjoy looking through the bulging photo albums at their younger selves. So, very surprisingly, I didn’t take any pictures at Synergy except for the photo of the sunrise on the first morning. That’s how very absorbed I was in the whole experience. My camera sat in my backpack the whole time.

I was delighted and honored today to see my blog mentioned on Cynthia Tinapple’s fabulous Polymer Clay Daily. Cynthia was the keynote speaker at the Gala banquet last Saturday night. I’m sorry to say that I was so tired that I missed the banquet. I heard it was a lot of fun. So, I was excited to see that Cynthia has generously provided her slide presentation here.

There were 3 guest lecturers, one for each day of the conference. Day One focused on Craftsmanship and Kathleen Dustin presented “The Early Development of Polymer Clay in Bead Making”. I believe that Kathleen mentioned giving this presentation in Istanbul, Turkey when she attended the International Bead and Beadwork Conference there. I first had the pleasure of meeting Kathleen at the Crafts at the Castle show in Boston last December. Her work blew me away and I was so excited to see it finally in person after drooling over photos in many polymer clay books over the years. What stayed with me after meeting her was how very down to earth she is and I just wanted to sit down with her, have a cup of tea and chat. One of the things I found most fascinating about Kathleen’s presentation of the early years in polymer clay was how artists in different states started creating canework jewelry almost simultaneously. I enjoyed listening to how it all started. It seemed the universe was ready for the springtime of our medium and it burst into bloom.

Day Two was about Business and the guest lecturer was none other than our craft tv hero, Carol Duvall. Carol is so sweet and humble that her presentation felt like you were sitting at her kitchen table with her chatting over a piece of coffecake. She shared with us her story of how many years ago on a whim, she went down to the local station for an audition and, as they say, the rest is history. From a 2 minute and 40 second spot talking about crafts before the local news to the host of her own show on HGTV, Carol has inspired us and introduced a lot of us to the medium of polymer clay. She is a lovely lady and I was honored to hear her speak in person.

Day Three was about Design and the guest speaker was Jo Lauria, one of the contributing writers of Craft in America, described as a journey to the artist, origins and techniques of American Craft. I ended up going to the ACC show instead of attending this talk. After sitting for 2 and a half days, I really needed to stretch my legs and move around.

The ACC show was downstairs at the Convention Center, with over 700 artists participating in the largest indoor juried craft show in the nation. I found it to be a sea of colors, textures and forms which left me breathless with wonder. We moved through the aisles, stopping at booths that caught our eye. I found myself attracted the most to whimsical sculpture and, for some unknown reason, lamps. I think I was being drawn to the light. We left the show with glazed eyes and great respect and awe for the amazing artists there.

More tomorrow on the panel discussions…

My Synergy Experience


The dawn of the first day of the Synergy conference in Baltimore. I stayed at the Tremont Plaza Hotel, located about 1/2 mile from the Baltimore Convention Center where the conference was being held. The room that I shared with my friend, Amy, was quite spacious with a kitchenette, sitting area and 2 big feather beds. We could eat breakfast in our room and it was very comfortable for sleeping. We walked back and forth to the conference center everyday. The brisk walk and crisp winter air helped to wake us up for our first morning class at 8:30am. The 3 days were so jam packed with classes, panel discussions and guest lectures that I am still digesting the volume of information I absorbed and recorded in my notebook.

Jeffrey Lloyd Dever has a 20 year background in graphic design. He shared slides of his amazing work in polymer clay and its progression from vessels to pod shaped jewelry. His art graces the cover of the latest issue of Art Jewelry magazine. The article explains how he creates his pod forms and he also shared this process with us in class. There is also a chapter on his “Sculptural Pod Necklace” in Katherine Duncan Aimone’s book The Art of Jewelry: Polymer Clay.

Robert Dancik is a mixed media artist with a background in teaching at all levels from elementary school through college. A very engaging teacher, he opened both classes I attended with the sounding of a small Tibetan singing bowl. Its soothing sound helped to create a shift in our brains that opened us up more fully to the information he shared with us on artistic technique and process. We learned about Cold Connections such as riveting, tabs and prongs, and nuts and bolts. These techniques are from the metal world but can easily be used in polymer clay creations. My all-time favorite class was entitled “Dance to the MUSEik”, where he discussed various ways to access your artistic voice.

Lindly Haunani is very well known in the polymer clay community as an expert on color. I took 2 classes with Lindly, one on color confidence, which she taught with another queen of color, Maggie Maggio, and one called Teaching 101. She is such an entertaining teacher and as I laughed at her colorful stories and techniques, I felt myself opening to my playful child within. Lindly is very much in touch with that playful child and I would love to take a color workshop with her someday. There is much to learn.

Maggie Maggio is writing a color book with Lindly. Hooray! She has a wonderful blog called Smashing Color. As its name suggests, it is all about color and has shared tutorials about making color scales and practicing with color mixing. Her beautiful jewelry displays her amazing color sense flawlessly.

Sarah Shriver is best known in the polymer clay community for her intricate kaleidoscope canework. Her class was called “A Teacher’s Quandry”, all about the challenges she faces in teaching her exacting technique. This sparked a lively discussion which carried through into some of the panel discussions on finding your own voice in your art. A teacher would like to facilitate the discovery of that voice in each one of her/his students but the quandry results when you are teaching a specific technique and the project causes an imitation to be created. As the question of finding your voice and expressing it in your art has been a journey I have been on within the last few years, I was most fascinated and intrigued by these discussions. What constitutes true art? Does all art have to actually say something? What and who determines this?

Karen Woods is a weaver and fiber artist. In her class, Unconventional Polymer, she shared her explorations of combining polymer clay with basket weaving. She also showed us a slideshow of magnificent work of artists from polymer clay, fiber, glass and paper arts. She is an enthusiastic proponent of letting your work be inspired by many different materials.

Judy Kuskin is a jewelry artist, marrying polymer clay with metal in her beautifully graphic pieces. We explored asymmetrical design elements with her in a slideshow of the work of various polymer clay artists. I learned that one of the key words of asymmetrical design is balance.

More in my next post on the guest speakers and panel discussions…


This morning I am busily packing because I am leaving for a trip to the National Polymer Clay Guild conference, Synergy, in Baltimore. It will be a wonderful adventure of inspiration, education, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Since I won’t return until Sunday afternoon, I won’t be able to do my Saturday Morning Tea this weekend but I will resume the following weekend. I will also have many new amazing experiences to share, I’m sure.

My EZ Cube Light Tent


This is my EZ Cube light tent along with one of the two lights that came with the kit I purchased. I put it inside of the tent so I could show what the light looks like.

When I first started taking photographs in the tent, I positioned the lights on either side of it but found that it didn’t illuminate my jewelry the way I wanted it to. The photos kept coming out too dark. I now take the lights off of their little stands and sit them right on top of the tent. Since I always use the timer for taking a shot, I have time to raise the lights a little and hold them into a position where I want them.

You can see the top of my tripod in front of the tent. A tripod is invaluable for taking photos of your jewelry as you will probably use very slow shutters speeds. You shouldn’t hand hold your camera if the shutter speed is slower than the length of the lens. In other words, if you are using a 50mm lens then you should use a tripod for speeds of 1/50th of a second or slower.

The tent diffuses the light so you don’t end up with glaring hot spots on your jewelry. I have been using a gradient paper background but have found that this type of paper scratches very easily. I noticed in some professional jewelry photographs that the background is gradient and reflective so I wonder if that is some sort of glass or plexi-glass background. In my next round of experiments, I want to try using fabric as a background.

So, a lot of my jewelry photography has been trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn’t. The website Etsy has been an invaluable resource for me to look at jewelry photographs and see what kinds of shots I like and what doesn’t work. I have learned that there are a lot of jewelry photographs out there that are just too dark, including a lot that are presently on my website. Before I purchased my light tent, I took outside shots and also used a rubbermaid container for indoor shots.

For taking professional looking photographs of your jewelry or artwork, I highly recommend finding a way to diffuse your lights and using a tripod. A camera with a macro lens and a timer is also very valuable.

Have fun experimenting!