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Book Review
Polymer: The Chameleon Clay by Victoria Hughes
Reviewed by Deirdre F. Woodward
If you've never had the opportunity to do a workshop with the legendary Tori Hughes, do so immediately.  In the meantime -- buy this book! Her wonderful philosophy about art and unique understanding of the world of natural materials translates strongly -- although not as strongly as in person -- through every chapter.

In Polymer: The Chameleon Clay, Hughes discusses the philosophy and faux techniques she had developed over 30 years of working with polymer clay.  Unique among polymer clay books is the first chapter, in which Hughes conducts an in-depth discussion of her five point philosophy for the artist: start with what works, know your intention, allow experiments, take care of your tools, and act on your intuition.

Many of the issues Hughes examines in her philosophy of art will be eye-opening to readers, and will give many amateur artists the tools they need to create more professional and more satisfying pieces.

Hughes discusses the effects of color and variation in nature and many examples of her artwork demonstrate her own keen understanding of these concepts.  There is early on in the book a picture of a cheerful faux ivory pot with webbed feet, a tail, and a necklace of colorful feathers that attest to Hughes' talent with natural material, it's wealth of color, and the possibilities of variation.

Hughes also spends quality time examining the various clays and their properties, then moves into a valuable discussion of inclusions (paints, wire, organic material) and tools.  She's included tools that are for the hard-core polymer clay artist, including a horizontal belt sander that removes excess clay like nobody's business.

Chapter 4: Foundation Processes is one of the most valuable discussions of clay I've read.  Hughes examines, among other things, the property of raw clay, the best ways to condition and handle the clay, ways to mix clay, how to store clay, how to chop clay in a food processor, how to flatten clay, how to blend colors and how to attach pieces of clay together, how to use metallic powders and paints, how to work with wire, how to make and use molds, how to bake and re-bake, how to pre-bake for inlays, how (and why) to sand, how to texture, carve, drill, and  paint, how to polish, how to glue and what glues to use, and how to lacquer for a finished, protected surface.

After thoroughly prepping the reader in general clay knowledge, Hughes applies her advice in a series of projects that move from introductory to intermediate skill level.  Working through turquoise, lapis, jade, coral, amber, ivory, agate, metal, and faience (ancient Egyptian blue glass), Hughes demonstrates how to use the materials to make necklaces, bowls, earrings, picture frames, broaches, clocks, and beads.

A key that explains what techniques are being learned during the project accompanies each introductory project.  Hughes also includes an in-depth discussion of the material she is copying, including a history, color variations, surface characteristics, and other information useful in recreating an accurate imitation.

Interestingly, the model Hughes uses to display the finished projects is a waitress she met while writing the book at a coffee shop! 

My only complaint with the book are the photographs.  While the book is loaded with photographs of wonderful pieces by many different polymer clay artists, the color of the photos gets wonky in places.  At times, the photos are so yellow and dull the book looks like it's aged 50 years.  Clearly something went wrong at the printers, and it's a shame that a book so full of excellent information is marred by poor color quality.

Polymer:  The Chameleon Clay
Art Ranch Techniques for Re-Creating the Look of Ivory, Jade, Turquoise, and other Natural Materials.
By Victoria Hughes
Krause Publishing, 2002.
ISBN 0-87349-373-7