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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

THE Most Complex Cane - a NEW Technique

Photo Courtesy of Paul J. Stankard

Isn't this paperweight stunning? Paul J. Stankard is to the blown paperweight community what Jon Stuart Anderson is to the polymer community - the epitome of perfection. IF we had to pick our 'preferred' area of artistic expression... mine would certainly be glass, all forms of artistic glass. Although many polymer artists may not know it... we are all glass enthusiasts. After all, Millefiori means 'thousand flowers' & refers to the glass blowing technique, which is what our caning is styled after. Blown glass millefiore is created when a large number of glass rods are stacked to form a cane & melted together. As with polymer clay caning, it can be very simple or quite complex. One wonderful and unique way millefiore has been used is to create unique and complex Signature Canes. 

There is a large number of independent glass artisans using this technique. Many pc artists such as Jon S. Anderson also create really complex & unique signature canes, embedding just 1 cane within each work so it can be authenticated. Although I did use signature canes, my work doesn't begin to reach the pinnacle of Jons', they were very simplistic. My problem was that I could create an awesome complex large cane, but by the time it was reduced to 1" (inch), all definition was lost & it was a hodge-podge of seriously unimpressive mess  :(   Have you been there? Then came a turning point... a request for a 'Castle' cane. I drew my castle & created a somewhat simple castle cane, but at least it reduced right. When presented, I was met with a poo face and a "I mean CASTLE... fortifications, architecture, surrounding landscape... you know - Castle".

Hmmm, yes, I know Castle, but I'm not Jon Anderson!
Hey wait, maybe I can Look like I am, maybe?

I dug through my most messy memory bank past the gazillion file cabinets of crafts I dabbled in over a life time, and stopped before the cabinet labelled... boring Cross-Stitch. I played in cross-stitch just long enough as a kid to realize that medium Definitely wasn't calling my name, but can it be used for polymer clay and creating the ultimate cane? The cross-stitch idea is simple enough, turn ANY photo into a series of colored dots, where each dot represents a colored thread (OR extruded string). Stack your dots until they create a picture. So, I let the stacking begin & created a beautiful castle, complete in every detail including trees & flower beds on the grounds, excellent! But, how would it reduce? Yes, I introduced you to 'Plugs' a few posts ago for a good reason. My original cane was 9" x 9", but only 2" tall, the plugs were a life saver! Once reduced, it was as clear as any postage stamp or tiny photo. Success, & no more poo faces... yay!

photo courtesy of Kyle Hollingsworth

This is an Awesome cross-stitch pattern created by Kyle Hollingsworth. I saw this & although I didn't want the whole picture depicted in a cane, I did want to try a portion of it. Yes, another fun thing we can do with cross-stitch, just use what we want. I fell in love with the Jester Face, he's wonderful!

The steps of the process are quite simple. I conditioned & extruded all of my clay (using a total of 17 colors) into 6" long strings and then stacked the strings to create the original cane. I used the plugs to reduce the cane to prevent cane end loss or lost clarity through the finished length of the cane. This is even better than cross-stitch, because cross-stitch leaves a white thread between each dot of color... in polymer we can stack our 'dots'  (extruded strings) one on another so our finished cane is much cleaner and far more distinct than it would be on cloth.

 Makins Professional Extruder inc discs

I extruded my strings using the Makins Professional Extruder using the disc I labeled #1.
As a rule, I am most comfortable with disc 1 when the cane is very complex and disc #2 when the cane is less complex. Although you may be tempted to extrude 'squared' strings, I have found that rounded extruded 'strings' tend to work much better because they reduce more uniformly, leaving your finished cane much cleaner & the image much sharper. Of course, this technique applies to All canes, not just signature canes, it is but a small step to integrate initials, a year or whatever other customization you might desire. The background can be done in whatever color you may want, although a white, black OR transparent background can make them more easily integrated with pieces not yet started or planned. Because I do Large pieces, huge vases and animal sculptures, I can make 1 really big complex cane and after reducing the cane, it's a perfect fit.

Since discovering this fun technique, I have begun collecting cross-stitch patterns. Yard sales & thrift stores all but give them away, and some are soo cool!  So, I may not have the caning skill of Jon S. Anderson, but I Love that I can look like I do!.

So, you don't want to pay all the money to build a collection of cross-stitch patterns? How does FREE sound? I started out doing Free programs online, there are Boodles. You can take ANY image or photo, upload it to website & they give you the cross-stitch pattern for free.Here are a few current links you can play with. They seem to change addresses often, but you can google 'create cross stitch pattern online'  & they will give you a bunch that are current. For today, you can try creating a pattern at:

As soon as I complete this post, I will be building 2 new links in the left side menu column. The 1st will be building a link to 100's of cross-stitch patterns & books I have... it's time to get these babies off my computer. Nothing is more heart-breaking than having a computer crash & then losing Everything. Life is to short for starting over again! And I've been down that road way to many times. The 2nd link will be to programs I have invested a lot in & don't want risk losing.

I didn't want to be limited to purchasing cross-stitch patterns and wanted a better, cleaner conversion than I could get from free online programs. Free is a great price, but as is often the case, you get what you pay for

I did invest in 2 different pattern creating programs:
1 - Cross Stitch Pattern Maker
2 - P C Stitch Ten   (they were thinking Personal Computer, we are thinking Polymer Clay)

This isn't a pitch to get you to buy these (or any programs), but IF you got curious about these programs under my programs tab, that's why I have them. They customize Every facet of the conversion process - they Rule!  I wanted to convert a Michael Parkes painting to do a caned vase to match a painting I have. Of course, creating the cane pattern only took a few minutes... the vase is still calling  ;)
Now, all I need is a program that will add more hours to a day!

On a final note, as artists there is so much to be learned from other artistic mediums. I never cease to be amazed at how our clay mixes so magically with so many other art forms. I mean... cross stitch - whoda thunk, right? We'll be looking at some other New ways to integrate other mediums into our clay play, mixing old and new in more exciting ways... kind of fun, isn't it?

Happy Claying,
ClayPlay Liz

Ps: To Learn more about paperweights, you should explore Links within this page:

I also watch auctions within the International paperweight Society - exquisite eye candy!

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