Mokume Gane’s Next Ripple

Mokume Gane’s Next Ripple
Victoria Hughes, Dory, 2008, 2.25″ x 1.5″

For a time in the early 1990’s Nan Roche, Tory Hughes and Lindly Haunani were all living in the Washington, DC area. Shortly after the publication of Roche’s The New Clay, Tory Hughes and Lindly Haunani each developed their own version of the mokume gane technique. Tory’s interpretation emphasizes finely delineated impressions in the layered block and a distinct sense of stratification, while Lindly’s is about translucency and harmoniously coordinated palettes of color.  Their results are representative of  their individuality as artists and their two approaches have subsequently inspired others to explore further variations of polymer mokume gane.

Tory, who already was working with the imitative properties of polymer, recounts that she “took a couple of looks” at Nan’s brown, black and white mokume gane samples and “was off and running.”  Mokume gane was already familiar to Tory through her interests in Japanese art and armor as well as damascene sword making.   Moreover, the idea of deformed strata was well known territory to Hughes, who had been a geology major in college.

Victoria Hughes, Earth+Sky, 2009
Victoria Hughes, Earth+Sky, 2009, 2″x 2.75″

Tory quickly worked out her own methods for polymer mokume gane.   First, she created tiered stacks by positioning multiple thin layers of polymer on top of a thicker base pad of polymer.  She then imposed distortions from the top, pressing down into the loaf  with various found objects and tools.  From the beginning Tory looked for tools that would make a fine rather than broad impression into the block.  Eventually, a pronged furniture caster, brought to a workshop that Tory was teaching by Sue Roche (Nan’s mother), became a particular favorite.

Once Hughes had a method for disturbing the tiers, her next step was to combine translucency, painted polymer and metallic leaf into the process of polymer mokume gane.  By now, Tory was well into her investigations of translucent polymer and pigment on polymer as well as the use of metal leaf, so adding these new elements into the blend of mokume gane layers seemed like a natural progression.  She integrated plain sheets of translucent polymer into the stack.


Victoria Hughes, Town for VVG, 1993, 1.75" x 3"
Victoria Hughes, Town for VVG, 1993, 1.75″ x 3″

Sometimes she also inserted a tier or two of polymer which she had painted with one or more colors, or with interference pigment.  Tory’s other inclusion was tissue thin metal leaf adhered to a polymer sheet.  Each of these options created their own unique effects when incorporated in a mokume gane stack and allowed for infinite variety including cutting and reassembling the entire loaf.  Today, almost twenty years later, Hughes is still fascinated by the technique and continues to include opaque, pearlescent, translucent, and metal leaf strata and all their seemingly infinite variations into her polymer mokume gane stack.

Return now to the early 1990’s time frame and Lindly Haunani’s first explorations of polymer mokume gane.  As she tells it, one day soon after Nan’s book was out, she and Nan met for lunch.  Nan happened to mention Tory’s experiments with adding translucent polymer and metal leaf to the mokume gane process.  Lindly had had seen Nan’s basic mokume gane experiment.  She also taken a workshop from Tory and knew about tinting translucent polymer with opaque colors.  The mid-day conversation inspired Lindly to go back to her studio that evening and devise her own version of mokume gane.

Lindly Haunani, Surf Brooch, 1995 2.5" x 3.5" x .25" polymer mokume with aluminum leaf
Lindly Haunani, Surf Brooch, 1995
2.5″ x 3.5″ x .25″ polymer mokume with aluminum leaf

Not surprisingly, Lindly was looking to add more color to her results than what she had seen in Nan’s monochromatic example.  Lindly also wanted to push the idea of translucency so that it would allow the metal leaf to remain reflective though the polymer.  By the next morning, Lindly had worked out the basics for a variation of mokume gane that alternated layers of tinted translucent polymer with layers of metal leaf.

One of Lindly’s innovations had to do with how to deform the layers of polymer.  She wanted to push up gently from the bottom so that the metal leaf would experience less crackling.  Her solution was to place different sized polymer rounds under the base layer in order to create a series of bumps.   She then worked the fairly large layered expanse of “stack” carefully around these bumpy supports  which resulted in a gently rolling effect on the surface.

Lindly Haunani, Big Bead Bracelet detail, 1998 bead pictured  4" x 3" x 1" polymer mokume with aluminum leaf and elastic cording
Lindly Haunani, Big Bead Bracelet detail, 1998
bead pictured  4″ x 3″ x 1″
polymer mokume with aluminum leaf and elastic cording

Extremely thin slices could then be taken off the tops of the elevated surface bumps.  As the need arose, Lindly was able to move the underneath supports around to form new mounds, which allowed her to achieve hundreds of small slices from the original block.  Since she was using tinted translucent polymer Lindly recognized that she could collage these thin slices to give an illusion of greater depth.

She could either create a single large piece of mokume gane patterned polymer for use as a veneer; or apply the small sliced bits directly onto a form to fabricate a mokume gane surface.

Lindly Haunani, Sushi Brooch, 1993 3" x 1.25" x .25' polymer, photo transfer, mokume with aluminum leaf and translucent millefiore
Lindly Haunani, Sushi Brooch, 1993
3″ x 1.25″ x .25′
polymer, photo transfer, mokume with aluminum leaf and translucent millefiore

Lindly describes her first block of mokume gane as reminiscent of a “sun drenched tropical ocean” but she went on to use the technique in particular for illusionistic representations of sushi shrimp and large beads.  Since the mid 1990’s Lindly has taught her method of mokume gane to innumerable students and she in turn continues to be inspired by their color combinations and slants on mokume gane collage.

As had happened with Nan, Tory’s and Lindly’s explorations of polymer mokume gane sent others off to experiment and ultimately augment the technique with further variations.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.