Jul 5, 2014

Goderich Festival of Arts & Crafts: Day Two Discoveries

This morning was definitely a busy day on the Square. What with the Festival of Arts & Crafts completely taking over downtown, the Farmer's Market had to move to North Street. Not that I'm complaining, though. An Art Market AND Farmer's Market? At the same time? Within walking distance from each other? Yes, please. It really was a perfect day and such wonderful weather, as well, with the cool breeze coming off of Lake Huron. I came home with a few new fresh artists in mind that I wanted to tell you about, as well as some fresh veggies for my belly. Can't go wrong with that.

Jeelee Joolery created by Jen McKee of Toronto, Ontario will definitely catch your eye with her bold and colourful creations. The sun shining overhead really made these handmade necklaces, rings, and brooches really shine with their hard-candy glass beads and wrapped silver wire. I loved how chunky and lively her pieces were - they really were wonderfully unique and I stood there for a good fifteen minutes just taking in all the stunning colours and textures of each piece. Big and small beads formed these colourful clusters that remind you an awful lot of something Willy Wonka would make, and each bead is individually wrapped and connected with neighbouring beads to create a striking focal piece. You can't miss her booth. Really - you can't, it would be impossible not to see all those spectacular colours sparkling in the sunlight.

I was greeted at the Nature's Aura booth by two very kind and cheerful ladies from London, Ontario, eager to tell me about their natural candles. They asked me if I knew much about regular candles. Did you know that paraffin wax, used to make candles, is a petroleum product? It was news to me, which made a whole lot of sense considering that black ring of soot you tend to see on regular candles - chemicals and toxins burnt off from the paraffin wax. Their candles are made from GMO free soy bean oil and use a woven cotton wick instead of traditional wicks containing lead. One of the first things I noticed about their candles was the lack of bright colours. All their candles are a translucent white in hue, simply because they see no need for unnatural colours and unneeded chemicals. The smells were subtle and not overpowering - some candles tend to be real heavy on the scent, which was definitely a nice surprise. Sandalwood, Sugar Cookies, Cucumber Melon, and Creme Brulee were among some of the scents. Their candles are in recyclable square glass jars with handmade lids that double as a coaster and make it look pretty when they aren't in use. They'll even give you a discount off your next candle if you bring back the glass jar from a spent candle. By the way, you'll get a good 80 hours out of each candle, which is pretty remarkable for their size. Since they're made out of soy wax, they burn down a little more slowly and at a lower temperature. Check out their booth, this weekend! These ladies and their wonderful scented candles will definitely make you feel welcome.

I've got a real soft spot for natural soap makers. Soap making isn't an easy process to master, especially when you start getting into cold process soaps, which is more of a chemical experiment than anything; it truly is an art. The Elora Soap Company came to the Festival of Arts & Crafts from Paisley, Ontario, and the very pleasant Sierra was there to tell you about their lovely handmade wares. Their soaps are vegan, full of olive oil for a nice rich, soft lather. Most soap companies tend to use some sort of additives, natural or not, and mica powders to colour their soaps, but these guys only use herbs and spices. Take their Rainbow Soap, for example - it is coloured with sea algae, paprika, and calendula. Sierra was nice enough to share their Flowers & Leaves Ointment with me, which is a great healing cream for dry and cracked skin - some people even use it for their psoriasis and eczema. After wandering around the Festival and Market for almost two hours, my shoulders were red and burnt (curse my pale skin). A little of that ointment really soothed them, and the subtle smell of beeswax was a rather nice treat.

The Goderich Festival of Arts & Crafts finished it's second day at 5pm, but they'll be open for one more final day - Sunday from 10 to 4 on Courthouse Square. Don't miss it!

Jul 4, 2014

Goderich Festival of Arts & Crafts: Day One Discoveries

At 10am this morning I went to work on the Square, and upon witnessing all the ongoing commotion out the window as I scooped icecream and made lattes, I decided that I would go ahead and take a wander through the Festival of Arts & Crafts, which is lining the inside of our quaint little Courthouse Square, a little later in the evening when the sun started going down and things got a little more slower.

The phenomenal colours, patterns, and textures of the Japanese Shino Pottery of Chica Pottery really caught my eye. As I regarded these beautiful pieces, Erin Grace Harder of Sparta, Ontario came forward to tell me a little bit about them. She creates the rectangular trays, while her mother helps her with the bowls and cups. They are cone 10 reduction gas fired and are oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe and each set is completed with a pair of chopsticks. It always brings a smile on my face to see young artists that are eager to tell others about their work, and she has even more reason to be excited about it as the money she raises by selling her work at the festival this weekend is going towards a missions trip to Malawi, Africa at the end of July. So make sure to check out her booth this weekend!

Goderich Town Square has been bustling and busy since early this morning. Just ask Betty Nelson-Daniel of Mocking Bird from Midland, Ontario. When speaking to her late this evening, she told me that they started setting up around 6am this morning. Mocking Bird was one of the first few booths to really catch my eye, that's for sure. The dolls that she creates are theatrical and graceful, and their feet suggest a definite ballet inspiration. Their heads and beaks are built layer upon layer with paper and are hard to the touch. Their bodies start as metal armatures and dimension is built with layers of fabrics, leather, branches, ribbons, trimmings, and all sorts of found objects. Don't be afraid to touch them, though, she says - they may look delicate, but when you hold them up close you can really see all the detail that goes into them. She has been creating these dolls for over thirty years and she has really honed her skill - the detail in each piece is astonishing, and they are definitely something you need to see up close, this weekend!

I was infatuated with the earthy scents wafting from Jennifer Jansen's booth - From The Blue House. Located in Creemore, Ontario, she creates handcrafted soap from natural ingredients, and even features Creemore Springs Lager in some of these body products. When I asked her about it, she says that the Lager creates a wonderful lather, which is especially great in her shaving soaps. Warm chai spices like cinnamon and cloves as well as patchouli and lavender filled my nose - I told her that I'd be back. And I certainly will be, with scents like that.

If you guys are in Goderich, Ontario this weekend, make sure to stop by the Square and take in all the wonderful sights at the Goderich Festival of Arts & Crafts. There are many talented artisans, including the ones I spoke about above, showcasing their various talents. They'll be open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, and 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

Apr 23, 2014

MK Talks PC: Kaweco Fantasie Pens

Hey guys!

So, I recently uploaded a video to YouTube about Kaweco's new "Fantasie Pens" - basically a high quality pen blank, both standard and fountain, for polymer clay artists to have their way with. Check it out and let me know what you think! I apologize if it's not the best - I'm not a very marvelous talker. I usually just hide in a corner and sculpt, you know. :P

Here is a bit of an excerpt where I describe my process:

"I used the third setting on my pasta machine to roll out the clay – I used a metallic silver Premo, and then wrapped the clay around the brass pen stems. After that I etched and cut in the design with a few tools. I don’t use a whole lot of tools – I have my trusty stylus, my pokey stick, and a few bits and pieces that I like to use for texture, as well as some blades and Kemper tools for cutting. It doesn’t need much more other than the design, but I like to dust my metallic work in a little bit of mica powder to make it more consistantly metallic looking. Sometimes metallic clay on it’s own is a little streaky.

I like to bake any of my three dimensional pieces in a loaf pan that I lined with cotton fabric – not cotton balls or cotton batting – cotton fabric. Then I cover the top in aluminum foil just to make sure that the heating elements in the oven don’t get too close to the clay and burn it. I usually bake all of my stuff at about 275*F, and these pens I baked for about thirty minutes. With the cotton fabric, it suspends the clay object enough that it won’t leave a flat spot on the underside of a round object. Sometimes the cotton can leave texture on your work, but if you pre-heat your oven first, so that the clay starts hardening right away and doesn’t just slowly start soft and warm as your oven heats up, you shouldn’t have this problem.

When it was done and cooled, I applied black acrylic paint to give it a patina. The paint gets into all the cracks and crevices and is the only part that stays behind when you wipe it all off. Afterwards, I picked out some of the rivets and other details with a little bit of polyurethane glaze mixed with some mica powder. And that’s about it! I know that if you’re using a cane pattern or something more flat than this pattern is, you can go over it with sandpaper, using a few grits, or buff it to get a nice sheen. But I just left it as is, because this surface isn’t the best candidate for that process. Usually I spray my industrial pieces with a satin glaze, but since this is a pen, it probably wouldn’t be the best idea because it’s probably just going to end up wearing off overtime from all the oils from your hands because pens are handled so much."

Mar 5, 2014

Baking Polymer Clay: Choosing Your Oven

If you're anything like me, you never really gave your polymer clay oven much thought. For the first five years of my sculpting career, I baked my polymer clay figurines in my home oven. Yeah, I know - 'You eat things from that oven, Kookie. That's not healthy." To tell you the truth, I didn't really mind. Or care. And if you told me that my oven was used mostly for baking manipulated kneadable plastic while I scarfed down a plate of roasted potato wedges, I wouldn't have noticed. Besides, I'm not dead, so it couldn't have been that bad for me. I mean, we're all closer to death one day at a time, anyways. Right? Alright, I'll cut it with the morbid dribble.

But that's what I did. That's the route I went. At one point, I had tried the toaster oven - the oven that all polymer clay artists seem to use for baking their creations. But it didn't work for me. Have you ever stuck an oven thermometer in one of those things? One second, the temperature is perfect. Time to pop in the clay. Then the next second, it's hotter than the depths of hell. The temperature fluctuations were definitely enough to scare me off.

Don't get me wrong - regular home ovens can be the exact same way. In one of my first apartments, we had one of those demon ovens. I turned it up to 275*F to bake something and it decided, nah, it's not hot enough - up to 550*F we go! So glad I didn't put my clay in there, yet.

When it comes to choosing an oven for baking your polymer clay, there really is no "best oven". It's all luck, especially nowadays. They don't build them like they used to. I wouldn't bother wasting your time on a big fancy expensive toaster oven, because you're probably going to be disappointed. The unfortunate thing about toaster ovens is there temperature fluctuations. One moment it'll be one temperature, and the next moment it's colder or hotter by many degrees. The only way you're going to find the perfect oven is by trial and error - and an oven thermometer.

I cannot stress this enough when it comes to baking your polymer clay: You need a trusty oven thermometer. That's it. They aren't expensive, they are relatively easy to find, and they will save you a lot of headaches - and will save you from burnt crispy clay, too.

Most polymer clay artists swear by cheap toaster oven models. They can't tell you why, but the expensive ones always seem to give you the most trouble. Not to mention, they almost always have extra un-needed components that are useless to a polymer clay artist. You don't need a fancy rotisserie or broiler option - just a basic oven that keeps a steady temperature. Unless you plan on baking a pizza or a whole chicken, too.
Want to test a possible oven candidate? Stick that oven thermometer in there and watch it like a hawk. Take note of the temperature fluctuations. Does it go to the temperature that you set it to? Does it hold that temperature? Does it go up or down? Five or ten degrees aren't going to hurt, but if it's going up or down 50, 100, 200 degrees, then you have a real problem. Try turning the temperature dial up or down and see what happens. Sometimes a temperamental oven can be saved by tinkering with the controls a little bit. Check the oven every 5 or 10 minutes and leave it on for as long as you normally bake your polymer clay. If you bake large pieces for 2-3 hours, you want to know what the oven is going to do in that amount of time.

I got unlucky with my first oven, and after that I stuck with my trusty home oven. It barely fluctuated in temperature at all, and it could fit large sculptures, which was nice.

About one year ago, though, I broke down and finally decided to get myself a toaster oven. I had seen this model on Amazon.ca that was on sale, and it's main selling point was it's exact temperature capabilities.

This is the Cuisinart "Exact Heat" Convection Oven. I bought it during a boxing day sale on Amazon.ca for about $150 with free shipping. Look at that chicken. Isn't it lovely? Yeah, I've never had the chance to roast a bird in it...

It's main focus is keeping a steady temperature, and boy does it ever. It never goes up or down by more than five or ten degrees at a time. I keep my oven thermometer in there at all times - just in case. An added bonus feature is the fact that it's not just a conventional toaster oven - it has a convection feature, as well - which basically just means that it has a fan inside to blow the air around. This means less hot spots, more even heat distribution, and faster cooking.

The downside - the inside dimensions of the oven are rather minimal, so I don't usually bake anything that is more than 3 inches tall. Which isn't so bad for me since I work on such a small scale, anyways.

Another downside - the price, of course. That's a lot of money to fork over for a toaster oven. But it's never let me down, and if you plan on sculpting in the long term, it'll be worth it. I've been using it frequently for the past year, so far. If you're just a periodic hobby sculptor, it probably wouldn't be worth the hefty price tag. And good luck getting your oven covered by the warranty if it ever breaks down on you - the manufacturer won't cover it. Polymer clay isn't food, and polymer clay is not part of the "recommended use". But I guess that goes for all toaster ovens, unless it's strictly an oven built for "craft and hobby use".

The unfortunate thing about all toaster ovens (not just this one) is the fact that the heating elements are super close to the objects you bake inside, so I definitely recommend covering your sculptures with aluminum foil or bake them inside of a loaf pan covered in aluminum foil. Once in awhile, I recommend giving the inside a light cleaning, even with a damp rag, because polymer clay fumes like to put off a bit of residue.

So readers - I want to know: What sort of oven do you use for your polymer clay goodies? Comment below to let us all know! Maybe you could help a fellow sculptor who just so happens to be looking for a trusty oven companion.