Let me tell you a little about my polymer clay story.
Let’s start at the beginning….
My polymer journey started a long time ago and I fell head over heals from the moment I touched this medium. I joined an Aussie forum and was probably the pesky “new kid on the block” asking all the questions in all the wrong ways. I was like a sponge and wanted to soak up every bit of information I could find. I learnt very early on, etiquette around “being inspired” by”, the no-no’s of copying and the right way to ask questions.
I was always sure to give credit where credit was due (ie if I took a class from someone it was definitely mentioned this was their technique and not mine). I also made sure to point out if my work was inspired by a certain shape someone else had used, colour palette I saw someone else with etc. It wasn’t long though before I began exploring and experimenting on my own. This was around the time I stopped creating to sell. I suddenly had lots of time to create without thinking about what stock I was making for the next show. I really enjoyed coming up with new ways of working with the clay, new surface designs and was quite oblivious to the fact many of the things I had been doing had, of course, been done before! I wasn’t aware of this because I wasn’t spending time looking at all the latest work, searching for new tutorials, watching youtube videos etc. I found being in a little bubble in my studio worked beautifully for me. I was productive and creating what I thought, was original, unique work.
I recall writing a blog post about creating spirals in the clay and someone sent me a message saying “you know I did this years ago and had it published in “blah blah” magazine!”. Well I had never read “blah blah” magazine and didn’t even know who the person was who messaged me.
The Copying Story
Not long after I was creating a range of pieces for Helen Briel. Helen had come up with a really cool way of using the negative image clay from shape cutters. She had asked some people to do a little bit of testing for her. My pieces were Japanese inspired. Not long after this project finished I was working on content for an upcoming workshop – and when I say workshop I meant a few people to my home studio. Naturally enough, some of the Japanese inspired components carried through to the next project, in particular a lovely black, arched bail!
After announcing my workshop and posting images of what was to be created, I received an email from someone I had never heard of before (later finding out she was held in high regard in the polymer community). Let’s just say it wasn’t the nicest email I’ve ever received. She accused me outright of copying her work without asking any questions prior to her accusations.
This threw me for a six!!!
I waited 24 hours and politely replied. I hadn’t copied her work and told her the story of how these pieces had evolved naturally. Funny thing is…the beads she makes were well publicised in many polymer books, magazines and tutorials. I wasn’t aware she was the one who “invented” this particular style of bead. I also made her well aware I was incredibly vigilant as far as giving credit where credit was due etc.
I never heard back!!
So the flyer advertising my workshop was taken down and I got stuck into finding something else that was going to work better for the components I was making. By setting myself a challenge I found I was able to explore and adapt a few simple techniques to come up with something completely different. Of course the bead was still the same but it’s the bail which was causing all the “copying” issues!! I have to say, the challenge of doing this filled me with excitement and I knew this was the way I wanted to work in the future.
So with new images taken, new workshop content sorted, I advertised on my facebook page and popped up my beautiful new pics for the world to see. Luckily Sage Bray from “The Polymer Arts” saw my photos and featured them on her blog. I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself. I honestly should be thanking this particular person who contacted me to accuse me of copying all those years ago. This interaction literally changed the way I created!!
When I’m working with a new product or testing out a new design etc, I make sure to avoid any outside influence at all. I find it better to work things out on my own, I take notes, write down things I might want to try, create samples etc. Because I’m not influenced by anyone I don’t have any preconceived ideas on how a product should work, which designs are on trend or anything else for that matter. I find it helps me be open to trying “crazy stuff” and that’s when it can get really exciting!
The Moral of the Story
There are lots of creative people out there, many who are working with the same medium as I am. How on earth do I stay unique in that space? Well I create what I love to create, I never stop trying new things, I limit my time on social media (although I do look every now and then I must admit) and I always ask myself “what if?”.