Once again, I found myself at the Clay Factory in Escondido, CA. This time, I was there for a weekend workshop with Elise Winters, learning her crazing and stretching techniques and how to build some awesome tools.

Elise came to us all the way from New Jersey, where she lives with her husband. She has been traveling around the country, teaching at various guilds. I had seen her work at Ravensdale and purchased one of her bead cutters and some small brass pin frames. Now I was going to learn what to do with them!

Like many polymer clay artists who teach, Elise believes in a class that focuses on process, rather than a project. Exploring a variety of ways to implement a technique allows the students to put their own spin on the technique.

As an artist, Elise started out in pottery and photography and has a degree in Art Education from Syracuse University. She taught photography for 17 years, which gave her a thorough scientific grounding in color theory. She also apprenticed as a potter.

When I asked how she got into polymer clay, Elise told me that she had given up pottery to paint, and it wasn't going well. She had bought some earrings by Steven Ford and was curious about the medium. Then she took a workshop with Liz Mitchell, whom she considers her mentor. This was in 1994. And living on the east coast, she soon had the chance to take classes from Kathy Amt, Kathleen Dustin, Pier Voulkos (before she moved back to California), Lindly Haunani and City Zen Cane (Steven Ford and David Forlano).

Elise had been teaching at the Old Church Cultural Center School of Art in Demarest, N.J., and as she got more into polymer clay, she saw a chance to bring credibility to the medium. This was a turning point in her career. In conjunction with the National Guild, Elise organized the Master's Invitational Polymer Clay Exhibition, which took place in May, 1997.

The idea was to bring polymer artists and collectors of fine crafts together for a whole month of activity and experimentation. Twenty-five of the top artists took part, including Donna Kato, Nan Roche, Gwen Gibson and Tory Hughes. Color theory, new techniques in layering translucents, mokume gane, and transfers soon had a wider audience: us.

Elise's history with polymer clay was paying off for us at the Clay Factory. Our Saturday class consisted of mixing a color family we liked, rolling out small sheets of the various colors and painting them with acrylic paint. We learned that Rembrandt and Golden worked well and Liquitex didn't. Most importantly, we learned that if we wanted to use Pearlescent Ink, not to shake the bottle but use the gunk on the bottom.

We used a variety of tools to make patterns in the wet paint. After the paint dried, the clay was torn, sliced, cut with paper punches and collaged on to a background. From a simple copper sheet run through a paper crinkler to a multi-blade Exacto cutter, we found myriad new ways to alter clay. We even made a run on the local tool store to buy some items that will never see the inside of a mechanic's tool box.

Day Two of the Elise Winters workshop saw us cutting designs into our sheets of clay, backing them with another color, and stretching the patterned clay to allow the second color to come through. This cutting, stretching and layering process can have as many layers as you have imagination. We were able to build a blade holder from our designs.

We also got the lowdown on glues. I knew from experience that hot glue and E-6000 had no business being in the same room with polymer clay, but little did I know that large bottles of glue are not economical because you may have to throw most of it away. Elise's article "Coming Unglued" appears in the Polyinformer Volume VIII #2 and #3. In it she chronicles her adventures with Marie Segal as they have findings literally falling off of polymer clay pieces glued with E-6000.

So all you clayers, buy your Zap-A-Gap in the smallest possible container. Keep it in the fridge until you open it. Write the date on it and toss it after six months!

Elise stresses keeping a sample book. That way, you can mark the progress of your sheets of clay. As each new manipulation shows its new face, a new sample is set aside. That way you can duplicate a design at a later time. We went away from class with many samples, some completed items and a renewed interest in developing our own tools.

Elise Winters is on the faculty for Courting the Muse. Take her class if you are going. You will be glad you did.

If you are interested in seeing more of Elise's work, look for her articles in Bead and Button (the December 2000 issue has an article on the pins we made in class), Lapidary Journal, Jewelry Crafts and Polyinformer (the Summer 2000 issue has pictures of her pins and Autumn 2000 has her article on how to translate a pasta machine into precise millimeter increments).


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