Learn Polymer Clay Jewelry Making with Lapidary Journal

This time of year, there is a whole lot of reflecting going on. Reflecting could take me back to last year, where I’ll likely focus on what I should do differently in the year ahead. Sometimes, it’s a trip further back. This year, while sorting through my mind, I did some cleaning in my studio. There, I came across issues of Lapidary Journal from before I worked for the company (which was a long time ago — like 1990!) and some of our special issues. I then took a trip down memory lane and enjoyed all the projects that drew me to the title in the first place.

The Early Days of Polymer Clay

Back in the day, it was polymer all day and all night for me. The joke in the house was “if it sits still for too long and can fit in the oven, it will be covered in polymer.” This wasn’t far from accurate! In the early 1990s, there was a collective of creative people surfing the AOL boards. We shared techniques, ideas, designs, and instructions. I had the insatiable need to try everything we were learning, and a home only needs so many light switch plates! We were also mailing boxes across the country filled with experiments, samples, and items designed for sharing through “swaps.” It was amazing to me and so wonderful to be part of this type of collaborative environment.

Soon, The New Clay: Techniques and Approaches to Jewelry Making emerged on the scene, and soon after that, Donna Kato announced a new book on the Carol Duvall Show. It was like bells and whistles were going off in the art world, and we were all glad to be part of the wave. Lapidary Journal was of course on top of the wave, already publishing on the material. This “Tiled” Cane polymer clay project by Catherine Moran Duckworth was first published in December 1995.

“Tiled” Cane polymer clay project by Catherine Moran Duckworth; cover of Lapidary Journal December 1995.

“Tiled” Cane polymer clay project by Catherine Moran Duckworth; cover of Lapidary Journal December 1995.

Polymer Clay Pioneer Elise Winters

A pioneer in polymer clay in the United States and someone who revolutionized many things in the polymer and art arena, Elise Winters shared her “tumble polishing” tutorial in the April 1996 Lapidary Journal issue.

polymer clay jewelry

Tumble Polishing Polymer Beads by Elise Winters; Lapidary Journal April 1996.

We were so thankful to Elise for sharing her technique as well as for helping us find the 3M polishing papers we needed for this process. (They were not something you could find locally and many of us didn’t have our own businesses to have access to something like this, then.) Elise did a lot for the polymer clay community, way beyond figuring out this ingenious way to polish beads.

Elise, who passed away recently, was the mastermind behind the Masters Invitational in Demarest, NJ, in 1995. This event brought so many top polymer clay artists together as well as many polymer devotees. It stands as the first polymer conference and, from first hand experience, I can say it was truly a thrill to meet Donna Kato, Tory Hughes, Kathleen Dustin, Ford & Forlano, and so many more iconic polymer artists of our time.

Elise, for all your innovations and for working so hard to raise polymer to an art form–thank you! Your light may be dimmed but your legacy and your art will live on, forever.

Polymer Clay Innovators

Celie Fago, an artist who creates with many media, was a significant force working in polymer clay in the 1990s, then a pioneer in metal clay from the beginning to present day. There is nothing she has ever made that doesn’t make my heart skip a beat.

Lentil bead by Celie Fago; Step by Step Jewelry, 2006

Lentil bead by Celie Fago; Step by Step Jewelry, 2006

Gwen Gibson, also an artist who worked in different media, brought fine-art techniques to us through her polymer clay work. The one I remember and still hold onto today is screen printing on polymer. Like Elise, Gwen not only made the technique accessible, she helped us all have access to the materials.

Screen Printed Pins by Gwen Gibson polymer clay jewelry

Screen Printed Pins by Gwen Gibson

The first project I had the honor of working with Gwen on was a “faux enamel” design. It involved transferring images to polymer clay–a very new concept then that has only continued to drive innovation today.

Gwen’s Petroglyph Pins also remain a favorite.

Gwen’s Petroglyph Pins also remain a favorite.

Petroglyph Pins by Gwen Gibson

Petroglyph Pins by Gwen Gibson

One of my friends from the “AOL board” days, Kathy Weaver (who I continue to connect with, share ideas and materials with now thanks to Facebook) brought the Classic Black and White cane to the forefront in her work. The project instructions can be found in the special issue, Step by Step Jewelry. It’s a pattern and technique that will never go out of style.

Classic Black and White by Kathy Weaver polymer clay jewelry

Classic Black and White by Kathy Weaver

Another Lentil Bead project, this design by Patricia Kimel is inspiring and pairs another technique with polymer: alcohol and ink. (I don’t think alcohol inks existed when this jewelry-making project was first published.)

Learn Polymer Clay Jewelry Making with Us

There are many, many more polymer clay tutorials in the pages of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Which is your favorite and who is your idol or inspiration? Please let us know in the comments.

There is so much inspiration in the pages and within the projects and techniques found in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. It is true what they say: “jewelry making is an endless path.” Thanks for being on the path with us–we appreciate sharing this journey with you!

Tammy Honaman
Group Editorial Director, Bead & Jewelry
Editor, Beadwork Magazine

Learn more about polymer clay jewelry making!

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