November 2001
Volume 2, Issue 11
Dragons And Fairies And Bears, Oh My!
Profile: Kathy Davis
by Trina Williams

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Photo by Maria Del Pinto

Creatures fly from Kathy Davis' fingertips.

This past summer, as I toiled on a dragonfly cane, Kathy, who was sculpting one of her dragon-bits beside me, said, " I can make a dragonfly." And she did; adding little wings to her creation.

I still haven't finished my cane, but Kathy has created dozens of her figures and sold most of them.

I first met Kathy when we were forming our local guild. She was teaching doll making classes at the store where we hold our meetings, and we found out we were practically neighbors. I was drawn to jewelry and canes, but took time to take a couple of sculpting classes and found that under her patient tutelage I, too, could produce a passable figure.

Photo by Trina Williams
Like many polymer clay artists, Kathy Davis has an art background. She studied general art at Long Beach State University in California and was drawn to batik and other surface design.

She lives in Garden Grove, California, with her fire captain husband, Keith, and their Great Dane, Sebastian. Her two grown children live in the state of Washington.

Marriage and kids brought an end to Kathy's pursuit of a degree, but not to her involvement in art.

Kathy was always drawn to dolls and enjoyed doing fantasy as many of her favorite artists and illustrators worked in that genre. "I can sculpt realistically, but really feel more creative working in the realm of the fairy," she says.

People would stop at her table at doll shows and ignore her realistic figures to talk about her fantasy characters. "I think somehow my feelings of excitement and creativity would come through more in my fantasy figures," Kathy says. "So more and more my focus went in that direction."

Photo by Trina Williams
Kathy's first doll, which she still has, was made from paper clay. She read the magazines Doll Reader and Doll Artistry and learned from them. Susanna Oroyan was a role model.

When Kathy discovered Super Sculpey, she used it to make her second doll. She has since refined her clay to a mix of Super Sculpey and Cernit. "The polymer clays are like skin," says Kathy. "You see life in them right away." For her, porcelain dolls are cold to the touch, while polymer dolls radiate warmth.

Kathy has been teaching doll and figure classes at Piecemakers Country Store in Costa Mesa, CA, since 1992, when she was asked to teach after showing her work at a local doll show.

She also teaches in her home studio, a spacious room housing a whole population of dolls and figures in various states of completion. Her dolls have won many ribbons at the local county fair and have been featured in several doll magazines.

Photo by Trina Williams
It used to be a running joke in our guild that Kathy didn't do jewelry, except for what she made for her dolls. But then she discovered Silver Clay.

A lifelong wearer of silver, Kathy saw a Precious Metal Clay video at a doll show. She thought it was too technical. "I need simple rules," she told me. But she decided to take a class at the next doll show. She thought it was PMC, but it turned out to be Art Clay Silver. That led to a certification class and "it was serendipity, everything clicked together."

Kathy now has added ACS to her teaching repertoire, and has been a Senior Teacher since last November.

Now, in addition to dolls, Kathy has a whole series of silver classes to teach, including ACS certification, rings, filigree with silver, and silver with dichroic glass. Because the silver clay has to be fired in a kiln, it is a perfect partner for glass.

Kathy notes that since the doll business has slowed and there are fewer shows, her interest in silver came at the perfect time.

Photo by Trina Williams
One of Kathy's silver pieces was a dragon that won second place in the Lapidary/Gem division at the fair. This dragon was one of the first she had sculpted herself. The dragon, and her recognized talent, brought Kathy to her third venture: mold making.

Someone saw the silver dragon and wanted one. When Kathy quoted a price of $150, the woman never called back.

Photo by Trina Williams
Then it hit Kathy that she could make molds for people. She says she could have sold the lady who wanted a dragon a mold for $20.

Kathy had been introduced to an ear mold material in one of her silver classes and quickly adapted it to her needs.

Kathy's most popular molds right now are leaves. She first makes a silver leaf by painting a real leaf with the silver paste. After firing, she can then make a good impression of the leaf. She has five or six leaves she has done.

In addition to leaves, Kathy has sculpted objects for other artists. You can see Kathy's panda bear on one of Dotty McMillan's new kaleidoscopes, and the silver dragon has gone on to decorate Bottles of Hope and Christmas ornaments.

Kathy likes the idea that her molds can be used for silver clay or polymer clay, paper clay, paper mache, or anything moldable. I wonder if anyone has tried chocolate? Hmmmm.

Except for the leaves, Kathy's molds are from her own creative sculptures. She makes a master mold in Super Sculpey and casts the pliable rubber from that. Currently her designs focus on nature and fantasy, but she is planning on many additional designs.

Kathy's mold work leads inevitably to a discussion of art vs. craft, Kathy believes her molds can be a link. She wishes people used more original work, but she understands that some people are not comfortable with certain modalities. Her molds are angel molds, so there are no limitations in using them for work you plan on selling.

Photo by Trina Williams
" The difference between art and craft," Kathy asserts, "has been an embattled question for decades. I guess I feel that art is an expression of one's self, and craft is a particular skill. So you could craft something . . . but it may or may not be a piece of art.

"It's basically a question of authenticity -- of whether something comes from you -- not whether it is a vase or a painting. It is not the skill level that's necessary for self-expression. You could craft something beautifully and it remains a craft. That would especially apply to something from a pattern or a kit. Then you have the question of authority, who's saying it's art or craft. I guess that is up to each of us to determine.

Photo by Kathy Davis
"In crafting my dolls, when everything comes together, the doll takes on a life of its own. That is when I see it as art.

"My molds are craft. But as an element in something, they could become art. It is what you do with them. I love to see what others do with my molds. Sometimes I don't even recognize the work as from my mold."

Currently, Kathy doesn't plan on making molds of her doll faces. She considers them to be "hers," but she is happy to share her other designs.

You can see examples of Kathy's work at her Photopoint site and in Dotty McMillan's new book, Creative Ways With Polymer Clay.