A little-appreciated artistic medium demands respect


POSTED: Thursday, July 30, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

Before Geico turned “;It's so easy a caveman could do it”; into the ultimate insult, denigrating an artist's work was no more difficult than uttering the phrase, “;It's so easy a child could do it.”;

It's a phrase Donna Kato has heard frequently in her work with polymer clay, and a notion she aims to change, although she admits to having been blind to the material's potential when she first started working with it in the 1980s.

The former jewelry manufacturer and bead store owner said, in a phone call from her home in Colorado, “;I found it in a children's toy store, and I made a lot of cute things with it, like Izod alligators with mohawks and wraparound shades.

“;It wasn't until I read 'The New Clay,' by Nan Roche, that I realized what I could do with the medium. Once I saw that, I started working seriously with the clay. After that I didn't want to do anything else. It just grabs certain people and won't let go.”;

Now an internationally known polymer clay artist, teacher and author, Kato will demonstrate the possibilities of the PVC-based polymer clay during a workshop taking place 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Academy Art Center at Linekona. The workshop, for beginning and advanced polymer clay artists, will be hosted by the Hawaii Stitchery and Fibre Arts Guild, and will focus on, but not be limited to, creating a polymer clay bangle bracelet and a brooch.

The appeal of polymer clay is that in addition to being easy to use, it's adaptable to a number of art forms and techniques and other materials. It's available in many colors, but it can be enhanced with paint, ink, colored pencil, chalk, mineral powders and foils for varied effects.

Kato started making forms traditionally associated with glasswork. She found making the canes, or “;jellyrolls,”; that go into the mosaic patterns of millefiori, easier with clay than with glass.

“;You can make patterns even more complex than with glass, and artists will try just about anything with the clay. It's one of the most diverse and versatile materials in arts and crafts today. There's nothing else that does so much and meets so many needs, from that of doll makers, to jewelry makers and garage kit sculptors.”;

The clay is very forgiving, allowing creators to work slowly over long periods of time. It doesn't become hardened until it's cured in an oven, between 200 to 250 degrees, depending on the clay manufacturers' recommendations. If you don't have a large kitchen, a toaster oven will work.

But it's that ease of use that would explain why the material gets no respect from some quarters.

Kato said, “;I'd love to work with sheet metal in jewelry, but I'd have to learn to use a torch. I'd have to learn an awful lot before I even got to a place where I could be proficient.”;

Her main tool today is a pasta machine that she uses to mix and soften clay that she fashions into boxes, beads, pins and pendants with iridescent, metallic, opaline, cloisonne and enamel effects. The polymer clay can be treated to look like lacquer, ivory, ceramic ware, wood, bone and ebony.

Kato will be bringing some of her creations to show, and while she is willing to sell pieces to those who see her wares, she enjoys the freedom associated with making a living as an educator, rather than jewelry designer.

“;Manufacturing art jewelry is something I don't wish to do,”; she said. “;I used to be a manufacturer, but I didn't like making the same things over and over. I didn't like meeting deadlines. I didn't like to work six months ahead on collections. I prefer to travel, teach and write books.”;

She's the author of three volumes on “;The Art of Polymer Clay,”; and has released four DVDs with MindStorm Productions, as well as one of her own, “;Tips, Tricks and Techniques in Polymer Clay,”; all available at http://www.prairiecraft.com.

When she does sell her pieces, prices are in line with other makers of handmade jewelry, with earrings running from about $20 to $40 to more elaborate pieces running $100 to $200.

“;I don't draw anything out in advance. I just sit down and start playing.”;





        With Donna Kato, presented by Hawaii Stitchery and the Fibre Arts Guild

» Place: Academy Art Center at Linekona, 1111 Victoria St.


» Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday August 8, and Sunday August 9


» Cost: $170, includes Kato Polyclay for the projects provided by Van Aken International


» Register: Call Sarah Chinen at 734-6886 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)








The dates for the Polymer Clay Workshop are Saturday August 8, and Sunday August 9. Originally, this story had incorrect dates.