Judy Belcher and Tamara Honaman’s new book, Polymer Clay Master Class: Exploring Process, Technique, and Collaboration with 11 Master Artists can be used as a “how to” book, however that is not its main attribute. Lots of publications tell you how to make something through carefully written text steps and accompanying photos, but Master Class goes beyond that and examines the creative process itself. Unlike the others, this volume offers an opportunity to read “between the lines” along the path of creating.
Gathering 11 artists together for a week, 5 teams set out to work collaboratively towards a single finished piece. One pair had had some prior discussion but most came to the situation with no plans. Teams first needed to determine a general idea of where they were heading. Having to collaborate with someone else often requires moving outside one’s comfort zone. It forces an artist to consider the how and why they work through a problem and how they go about making something. Collaboration also demands communication and growth on the part of artists to relinquish aspects of personal style or structure that might be familiar to them, but don’t work as well in conjunction with another artist’s equally personal style and approach. In order to succeed, one must develop trust in one’s partner and towards the belief that the mutual goal of creating something of interest will be met.
By the end of the week, each team was able to fuse often decidedly disparate styles and techniques into a cohesive end product. Some teams created a series of pieces while others concluded with a single statement.
Throughout the experience, Jeffrey Lloyd Dever served as a moderator, perhaps the Tim Gunn of the experiment. Dever asked probing questions of both artists and teams and worked with them when things got complicated, for the reality of collaboration can be a bit rough. Some of the artists’ comments, asides, questions and doubts about their journey through the week are recorded and appear in each chapter of the book. This is the real insight of this particular volume. One gets to read in an artist’s own voice their thoughts on the process. Despite the pleasure of discovery and a worthwhile end, making art can be difficult and it rarely rises spontaneously from someone’s hand even when they are very skilled. If that is all a reader takes away from this new addition to the polymer library shelf, it is time and money well spent.
*front row L to R: Rich Honaman, Tammy Honaman, Dayle Doroshow, Wendy Wallin Malinow, Leslie Blackford, Cynthia Tinapple, Julie Picarello, Seth Savarick, Sandra McCaw, Judy Belcher and Lindly Haunani.
back row L to R: Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, Robert Dancik, Jim Glass and Sarah Shriver.