thoughts on process

Here’s what’s on my worktable right now. The two sets of earrings at the top of the picture are made of sculpey ultralight. The reason for making them with this clay is that they keep my earrings as light as possible. No one likes heavy earrings. They are armatures that will be covered with a thin layer of other clay and with a pattern, probably dots. The little fan shapes at the top may be cabochons that I’ll set in silver after I’ve covered them.

On the bottom row are pendants. Wherever you see holes will be bead mosaic. All of them have been wet sanded with 220 grit sandpaper. That’s just the first sanding step. To get a nice high gloss shine, I’ll go up in steps to a 1500 or even 2000 grit. I find those grits at automotive supply stores. The sanding will all be done before I do the mosaic work.

All of what you see here represents hours and hours of work, which leads me to the point of this post. Speaking as a business person, I naturally want to make the most amount of money for the least amount of time, right? That’s just economics 101. As an artist, however, what can I sacrifice in quality to gain quantity? My biggest issue right now is my production time. It’s something that I struggle with daily. I think I’ve worked out that I’m making about $2.00 or $3.00 an hour, and I’m working about 10 hours a day. Am I happy? Yes. I’m absolutely ecstatic doing what I’m doing! It beats the heck out of selling bras! Will it pay the bills? The jury’s still out on that one. My guess is that, unless I can increase production, the answer is no, even if I teach myself how to live and be happy with the barest minimum. (That’s another struggle!)

I’m a very detail oriented person. I know what I want the finished product to look like and I’m willing to work for hours and hours until I’m satisfied with the results. I can’t seem to work any faster. If I did, I wouldn’t be happy with the product. I’d like to come up with a design that I’m happy with that doesn’t involve so much sanding (the bane of my existence!) or several – sometimes ten to twelve – steps of curing. I like what I make or I wouldn’t make it. I like the finished product. But I don’t like how long it takes me to get there. That’s not good for business.

So, I’ll keep struggling. I’ll keep trying to develop a design that I can churn out like hotcakes (that sells like hotcakes too!). Or I’ll just wait until I become so famous that people are willing to pay what I’d like to be charging for my work – which would pay for the materials and for my time. As someone I know once told me, “If you charge a million dollars apiece for what you sell, you only have to sell ONE!”


10 responses

  1. Hello,
    I have the same problem! But now i must find a job for pay food, house… I’m realy a (french) turtle.
    Good luck and courage


  2. HI Debra,
    You express what most of us who sell our work are feeling. I make buttons and jewelry and sell them at quilt and sewing shows in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been doing it for about 22 years. With economy sales have really fallen over the last 4 years with the same amount of work and material costs, booth fees and travel going up. After much consideration I took on a part time job. It was suppose to be 8 to 10 hours a week. I figured it would pay the gas bill. Well it is more like 20 – 22 hours a week. I really love the job. I do a lot of driving and am bushed when I get home. In my younger years I would have worked to 11 – 12 pm to get production done. Now it’s dinner and into the recliner. I have a web site but no time to keep it current. Time to go outside into the sun. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have to take advantage of every bit of sun we get


  3. Jane, I hope for all our sakes that the economy starts to recover soon. Two years ago the economy is the reason I stopped selling my work and took a part time job (no full time jobs available). You’re lucky that you like your job. Mine pretty much sucked. I’m hoping I don’t have to go back to it!


  4. Sure, Sue, I can certainly try to answer your question. Sometimes when you’re making something out of polymer clay you will be doing many different things to it before it’s finished. You might be adding textured bits to very smoothly sanded bits, for instance. Say you were making a pendant or an earring, and you wanted one half of the design to be very smooth and shiny and the other half to be very textured. You would then want to cure the smooth part first, and sand it and buff it, and then you would want to add the textured part. That way the textured part of the design wouldn’t be in the way while you were doing all that sanding. It’s the same for me when I do bead mosaic pendants. First I make an armature of aluminum foil. I cover the foil with scrap clay and cure it. That’s the first curing. Then I add a layer of clay in the color and/or pattern I want. If it’s going to have bead mosaic in it, I have to “carve” out those areas first. Then I cure it again. After I sand and buff the piece, I can put in the bead mosaic. I grout the beads with very soft polymer clay, and that means it has to be cured once again. If it’s a pendant or an earring, it has to have a bail on it. So I have to make holes in the cured piece, add the wire or whatever I’m using for a bail, add some liquid clay to the hole along with the wire to hold it in place, and then it has to go through yet another curing for that process. Whenever you add uncured clay to cured clay, you need to make sure that the pieces are going to stay together once they’re cured. That’s where the liquid clay or clay paste comes in. The same goes for adhering cured clay to cured clay; to get the pieces to adhere to one another after curing, you need to use liquid clay or clay paste between them. Sometimes, depending on how complicated something is, it can go in and out of the convection oven many, many times! I hope this answered your question. Don’t hesitate to ask more questions if you’re still confused. I’ll do my best.


  5. Hi Debra,
    I really enjoy reading tyour blog as we share a reluctant sanding fetish and similar anguishing! Cynthia’s video was helpful. I spend some time each year in Nepal with women who are making PC jewelry and the message about wholesale pricing was VERY relevant. Why then is it so much harder to do it for myself?! I wish I could be as clear with myself as I am with the ladies about the need to be clear/ strong on costing etc. Thank you for your openess and honesty and I look forward to sharing the journey with you via your blog! You do beautiful work and your blog is a real encouragement on so many levels.


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