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  • Writer's pictureCarol Wiebe

What unused art materials are hiding in YOUR closet?

I used to buy a lot of polymer clay books, including Nan Roche’s The New Clay. I bought a few videos, too. I still have a box (a BIG box) full of polymer clay supplies: I purchased the pasta machine, the cutters, extruders, the whole nine yards. But I never actually made anything I was wild about. And I didn’t like the process. Sound familiar? What supplies do you hide away in a closet or shelf that you invested a wad of cash and attention on, but never got around to using? I have this new rule for my studio: if I haven’t used something in a year or two, I should donate it to an artist or toss it. If only we could all organize a big SWAP–your trash is my treasure and all that jazz.

I am a believer, however, in collecting eye candy from every art form in the universe. Everything is “grist to the mill,” though I must say grist does not sound very attractive (gryst, even less so). Every working artist has tips, tricks, and philosophies to share that can also be invaluable when applied to one’s own work.

Take Kathleen Dustin, for instance, whose stunning PC (see, I know the lingo, though PVC would be more technically correct) purses and bags take these functional items to artistically elevated heights. As Dustin’s website so succintly puts it: “Her exquisite evening bags have been celebrated for their emotional images of women, translucent depth of surface, and vibrant colors. ” That is absolutely true, and I have admired her work for years. But her words are also inspiring, such as a recent rallying call to all artists in her blog:

You as artists and craftsmen MUST be open, sharing, and eager to help other artists/craftsmen. Believe it or not, it hurts YOU and the whole community when you are secretive about what you do . . . It’s OK to give things away to the artistic competition because it actually keeps you on your toes and doesn’t allow you to become too complacent about your work, doing the same old formulas over and over again. This is why I teach everything I do, at least eventually. I may not teach a class on a new and exciting technique I only recently discovered and am still developing, but I will at some point. Because my work is so personal, no one else can or should want to do what I do specifically, so I do not feel threatened by teaching the techniques surrounding it. After all, wise King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, “There is nothing new under the sun,” so who am I to think that the techniques I use cannot be discovered independently by someone else, or be done even better by someone else? It is also OK to “borrow” or get ideas from another’s work, as long as you push it and move it enough to make it your own. It is also courteous to give credit to that artist when it is appropriate. But, the art we make should come from inside us — inside our brains, inside our experience, inside our guts — so we don’t have to depend on someone else’s ideas or techniques to make art.

Thanks, Kathleen. Generosity is contagious.

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