What’s more romantic than hanging out in the studio, hot cocoa in my thermos and paint on my hands?
For this Valentine’s day, I teamed up with The Arts Center in Corvallis to spend the evening expressing my love of crafting in a special workshop making jewelry with polymer clay!
Although it’s not my main artform, I love crafting with polymer clay. I like the feeling of being able to make something I can hold in my hand, with relatively accessible materials and equipment. For this class, we used Sculpey Premo polymer clay in various colors, acrylic paint, bakeable clay adhesive, gold foil. We also used various clay tools including rollers, styluses, and ball tools. This class was designed to be beginner-friendly, with step-by-step instruction and the goal of a completed project in 2 hours.
We started out the evening working on faux quartz charms for earrings, broaches, and necklace pendants. The process includes cutting transparent clay down and mixing it with a small amount of acrylic paint. Then we used bakeable adhesive and gold or silver foil to replicate the veins in quartz stone. We then rolled out slabs to cut or shape into desired pieces. Through the process, we got hands on with conditioning clay and using tools. The end products were really lovely!
The second half of the workshop focused on making jewelry from clay slabs, which included selecting contrasting colors, shaping pieces and then layering to create cool designs. In this process, folks got to experiment with representational pieces that evoked memories of classic jewelry elements, as well as abstract pieces that embraced the vibrant colors and textures of the clay.
This was a super fun way to spend Valentine’s evening with a group of cool folks just making stuff! Thanks so much to The Arts Center for hosting our workshop!
Want to know about other classes like this one? Follow this blog for updates!
Often there’s one way to define Art that most folks can agree with: visual art, movement, poetry, music, installation, experience, culinary, film… All are ways for an artist to express their own perspectives, feelings or a statement and that others can connect to or perhaps create their own understanding by experiencing. Art is the communication between humans that works on our thoughts, emotions and physical reactions to connect us through creative means.
But what about craft? Can craft express the same way as Art? What’s the difference between craft and Art to begin with?
For Pride month this year, I made an art kit for a local youth library with celebratory embroidery and cross stitch crafts. It was so fun to create patterns and make little pride patches, plus coloring stickers, which are a big thing around here! I also did some research into the history of craft, starting from the concept of “craftivism” and I quickly learned that crafting has a long woven history with political messaging, resistance, resilience and social protest.
What is craft, and how is it different from Art?
Craft and Art are two sides of an art historical debate that has waged for at least the past 150 years, and probably much longer. Both Art and craft are creative practices in special skills that may imply talent and require dedicated practice to develop. The distinction is arguable, really, and is traditionally drawn along lines of use. Works of craft are made with creativity, but with utility— how the crafted object will be used– at the primary center of the object’s function. Works of Fine Arts are made with creativity, asethetics and message as the primary focus of the work. Fine Arts are things like painting, sculpture, collage, music, dance, poetry, culinary arts and we may find ourselves or our art history professors asking us “What is the artist trying to say with this work of art?” We rarely, if ever, aks the question of intent with crafts– things like woodworking, fiber arts, architecture, and foods like baking or beer; the intent of crafted objects seems obvious: to be used or consumed.
This distinction of use-focused v. aesthetics-focus has historically implied hierarchy, generally with the Fine Arts being more prestigious and important than craft. The Fine Arts are also historically much more white male-dominated and public – meant to be SEEN and experienced by the masses, whereas crafts have been thought of as feminine and including works that don’t require as much skill and are therefore underdeveloped, as well as domestic and personal.
In the late 19th Century, in response to industrialization and mechanization of production, the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States and Europe, was lead by artists such as William Morris and John Ruskin, who sought to elevate the practice of designing and creating by hand to the level of Fine Arts. Ruskin and Morris idealized careful craftsmanship and high skill in the making of commonly used objects. The Arts and Crafts movement was overall a multifaceted ideological comment and in some cases rejection of industrialization, and in others a condemnation not of the use of machines, but rather the treatment of workers in factories to mass produce objects for use and disposal. The Arts and Crafts movement produced amazing works and academic study of architecture, furniture, and decorative arts like embroidery, but ultimately failed to “elevate” craft to the level of Fine Arts. Because Arts and crafts are different in important ways.
The British art historian Rozsika Parker writes about the shared history of embroidery and femininity in her book, The Subversive Stitch. In it, she describes works of craft as personal expressions. As crafts like fiber arts were largely handled by women starting in the Victorian era, they became expressions of women’s daily lives in that context: caring for families and domestic concerns. Women were largely excluded from political and public action and so their works were also excluded from commentary on social systems at large, unlike the male-dominated Fine Arts. And it’s because of this exclusion and distinction that craft has a valuable role in subversion and resistance of those systems. Groups like the British Suffragists and the youth counterculture of the 1960’s both used craft, particularly embroidery to make statements against the hegemonic patriarchal systems they struggled against. “[E]mbroidery showed that the personal was the political – that personal and domestic life is as much the product of the institutions and ideologies of our society as is public life.” (Parker, 205)
Parker’s book was published in the mid-1980’s, and she was looking back on the new Women’s Lib movement of the 1970’s, focusing specifically on the experiences of white heteronormative women. Beyond the scope of Parker’s research, crafting has been intricately woven with movements of resistance throughout history.
Despite this, quilting was used as a tool of resistance against the oppression of slavery to mark safe houses on the Underground railroad, offering beacons of freedom to enslaved people. Ruth Terry, in a 2019 article on Medium, connects research in neuroscience that suggests needlework supports mental health resiliency in coping with trauma, and that enslaved women who would knit and sew together may have experienced these benefits in the midst of generations of slavery and abuse.
A photo of the incredible Sojourner Truth shows her sitting serenely with her knitting laying across her hands, a symbol of skill, patience and calculated precision, the same which she used to defy the atrocious history of slavery in the United States and liberate enslaved people.
Quilting continued its legacy of memory and preservation in the face of certain annihilation into the late 20th century.
In 1987, gay rights activist Cleve Jones created the first panel of the AIDS Memorial quilt in memory of his friend, Marvin Feldman and in response to the devastating AIDS epidemic that had reached its height in the mid-1980’s. The quilt had been conceived as a way to remember the names of the lost, and public response was overwhelming as people throughout the US sent panels to the San Francisco workshop and donors supplied sewing equipment to construct the quilt. The quilt was first displayed in 1988, and has since grown with continued contributions. In 2019, the quilt weighed 54 tons with nearly 50,000 panels, each memorializing a beloved that had been affected by AIDS.
It was just about connecting the dots that were already there, really, as I had studied conceptual art while doing my undergraduate degree in the late ‘90s and knew that what we make can tackle different issues. When I started knitting, I started looking at the ways in which I could help others with it, which at that time, meant making items and donating them to charities – something my grandmother had done for years, as she made hats for new infants at the local hospital she volunteered for. In that way, what we make has the chance to create changes in the fabric of our world, whether it’s knitting a tiny baby hat or doing something on a larger scale.
These objects show how deeply the makers care about the various issues, by the time spent and ideas shared. It is my hope that, shown together, the works help people talk about difficult issues that the show may evoke or get people thinking about how they can express their feelings with what they can make with their hands.
— Betsy Greer, describing Making Change at MODA
The Yarn Mission, a community knitting collective, formed in 2014 following the murder of Mike Brown and the protest response in Ferguson, Missouri. The collective is focused on community organizing and providing safe spaces for Black protesters to be together, and support each other, all centered on shared knitting practices.
Knitting kept hands busy, calmed spirits, and created a positive point of connection between complete strangers brought together by the protests. Eventually, Ferguson protestors and residents became like family, working together to keep streets clean, get to cars safely, and ensure everyone had necessities like toilet paper.
–Taylor Payne, qtd in Ruth Terry’s article on Medium
This is so far only the beginnings of the research I’ve collected on crafting as expression and resistance. There’s so much more I want to share and write about, and I’ll continue crafting this post with more resources on craft as expression and craftivism in the following weeks throughout Pride month!
This activity was developed for The Arts Center’s 2022 Spring Break Art Carnival. In this one project, we combine art, crafting, scientific observation, and dialogue about social and personal responsibility for waste and care of natural resources.
Using non-biodegradeable materials that would normally be thrown away, we create propagation tubs and planters for small plants, starts or seeds. Through the acticvity, we talk about what we know about plants and waste materials, what we are curious about, and what we observe about plants, the planet and single use plastic products.
The materials for this project are very accessible, especially if you’re like me and save every single plastic tub you’ve ever seen in your life. If you are having a hard time finding plastic food tubs, ask friends and family members to save theirs, or check out a nearby materials exchange organization. Here in the Willamette Valley, we have MECCA (Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts) which is legitimately one of my top 3 favorite art resorces in the world.
Plastic tubs (yogurt tubs, cottage cheese, butter, etc.) – I found an adorable tiny tub for green chiles!
Yarn, collage materials
Adhesive (white glue, mod podge, hot glue)
Awl or screwdriver for making drainage holes
basic potting soil with perlite
plant starts, seeds or ground cover/ moss
dechlorinated water (see notes below for how to do this)
Through this activity, participants will be able to:
identify non-recyclable materials (plastic tubs) and alternative uses for those materials
to construct a planter with drain holes and understand what a plant needs to thrive (water, air, light, soil)
practice observational skills using different senses for drawing plants and observing conditions of soil
describe their observations verbally
know when to change the circumstances of a plant’s environment (more water, more light, etc.)
use different weights and types of line to depict plants
identify and label different parts of a plant
understand and recall the different stages of growth of a plant
Process & Notes
To create the planter:
Select a plastic tub to use for this project (one with a lid is best).
Clean the tub well with soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
Pierce the bottom of the tub with several holes using the awl or screwdriver. These will be drainage holes for the planter.
Drainage holes help keep the soil the right moistness. Without them, when we water our plants, the water will collect in the bottom of the tub and could rot the plant’s roots, which can kill the plant. The drainage holes also help keep the soil areated and not compacted so the plant’s roots can grow freely.
Decorate your tub! Use collage paper, yarn, paint, anything you’d like to decorate the outside of the tub. Don’t add decoration to the inside of the tub, those materials can leech into the soil and make the plant sick.
Allow your decorations to dry while you mix your soil with perlite (3:2, soil:perlite)
The perlite is a natural material that helps keel the soil airy and helps balance the water in the soil, to keep it from getting too wet and to release water when the soil is dry.
As you mix the soil and the perlite, observe the material:
with the soil in your hands, notice what it feels like: dry, damp
hold the material to your face and look closely, what do you see?
smell the material, what does it smell like?
as you mix the soil and the perlite, what does it sound like?
DO NOT taste the soil or the perlite
Place your soil and perlite into the planter when it’s dry. If you need more drying time, use the time to look at the plant starts, and make observations using your senses. You could even start drawing the plants.
When your soil and perlite are in the tub, you can add your seeds, plant starts or ground cover.
Gently place the plant or ground cover onto the top of the soil. If the start has long roots, carefully dig into the soil and place the roots gently into the soil, and then cover.
For seeds, use your finger to poke holes to the depth of about your first knuckle and place seeds into the hole. Cover with soil.
Water the soil with fresh, dechlorinated water (see notes below); use observations about the soil and the planter to know how much water to use.
when you water the soil, listen to the water run into the soil. what does it sound like?
Observation and drawing:
Hold your planter with your plant or seeds in your hands. Use your senses to observe the plant or seeds, and use words to descibe what you observe
What does the plant, soil, planter look like?
What does the plant, soil, planter smell like?
Gently feel the soil or the plant leaves, what do they feel like?
Does the plant/ seed/ soil/ or planter make a sound as you hold it?
DO NOT taste the plants, seeds, or planter
Use your pencil and paper to sketch what you’ve obsereved (using all the physical external senses, not just sight).
What kind of marks or lines do you use to depict what you have observed.
What do you notice when you look/ smell/ feel/ touch/ listen more?
What different ways can you approach your planter or the plant to observe it differently? From above, from below, from a different side, etc.
Make predictions: what do you think will happen to the plant next?
Use your plant diary in the zine to make notes. Include the date and time and write about what you notice.
How to dechlorinate water
The water in most taps will be treated with chlorine, in amounts that’s typically safe to drink, but can be harmful to plants. Spring water is best for plants, as it contains natural occuring nutrients that can support plant health. Distilled water is not advised for plants as it can damage plants. If tap water is your best option, you can dechlorinate water by filling a large bowl with water and allowing it to sit at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours. Since chlorine is a volitile chemical, it will dissipate from the water over those hours. I give the water a stir every few hours to make sure I can bring some water up to the surface where the chlorine can dissipate.
What plants to use
For the project at The Arts Center, I brought clippings from my own houseplants: spiderettes and persian shields, which I prepped the night before by dipping their stems into rooting hormone and placing in a holding container with some potting soil and perlite. I also brought baby’s tears, an easy-to-grow ground cover from a local nursery, and some packets of wildflower seeds.
This was a super fun activity, and my first time doing a community event like this with actually 100’s of folks over a few hours in such a long time! Some of the participants came up with clever ways to turn their planters into hanging planters, and different ways of collaging and decorating the plastic tubs. I also brought extra handbound journals to give away since I always have a bunch of those lying around, and special Plant Love stickers I designed and printed for the event!
Thanks so much to The Arts Center for inviting me to be a part of this event!