Friday, January 4, 2013

Working with my brother and remembering Phyllis

Several months ago my brother asked me if I would create a pendant with the likeness of his mother-in-law, Phyllis.  She had passed away this year and he wanted to give these pendants, as Christmas gifts, to those who loved her.  Of course I said yes.  I knew it was going to be a great opportunity to challenge myself and to work together on an art piece with my brother.  If you have been reading my blog you know that last year I created pendants for all of the women in the family.  This pendant was of my grandmother and was taken from an old photograph.  I never knew my grandmother and the only requirement was that it look sorta like her photo.  Here is a picture of the mosaic cane that I made.

I decided that I did not want to make this cane in the mosaic style.  I wanted it to be more like the African woman cane that I created.  This meant that we were going to have to reduce the number of colors in the photograph but also make it so that it could be created in clay.  I didn't want too many little pieces of color but we wanted a more photographic look to the piece.  Glenn, who is an artist and much more proficient in Photoshop than myself, did a lot of the preliminary work.  This is the original photo graph and the "working photo" he came up with.  Thankfully he decided to eliminate the background.  After going back and forth we opted for a palette of 16 browns for the hair and face, 3 more for the eyes and 3 for the mouth.

OK at this point I kept telling my brother, "I can do it".  While to myself I was saying "how in the hell am I going to do this?"  I have gotten pretty good at reducing large, thin canes but in order to get the details right I knew I wouldn't be able to create this as a single cane.  I decided I would create her face, reduce it and then finish the rest of her hair and body.  Here are some more pictures.  These were taken with my phone so they aren't the greatest but you get the picture.  Ha Ha "you get the picture"

All seems to be going well.  So now I needed to reduce this final cane.  Usually when you reduce a cane the middle is the hardest to get moving.  So a lot of the time at the end the middle appears larger than the outside because it was a bit slower to reduce.  Now if you have never reduced a large cane you may not know what I am talking about but trust me that is what usually happens.  (to me anyway)  Well not this time.  Maybe it was because I had already reduced the face but for whatever reason this time the middle reduced faster and therefore the face was smaller than the outside.  Here is a picture of a slice taken off of the reduced cane.

You can see that her facial features do not match in scale to the rest of her.  Now comes the tricky part.  In a perfect world the cane would have reduced evenly and all I would have to do is take some slices and  create my pendants.  Not this time.  I had to had manipulate each slice.  I won't go into the details but it was tricky. Lets just say it's why I make the big bucks. This project was different from other projects in that not only did it have to look like a woman but it had to look like a specific woman.  It was very easy to pinch or pull the slice too much in one direction which would change the look of the piece.  Each one is unique. As usual I find fault with every one.   I finally made enough "good" ones and let my brother choose his favorites to made into pendants.  One slice got a little out of control as to its size so I made a framed piece which I pictured at the start of this blog entry.  It was a challenging project and I enjoyed pushing the boundaries of cane making.  I enjoyed working with my brother and hope to do it again soon.  Phyllis will be missed by her loved ones and I hope they will enjoy looking at the pendants and remembering her.


  1. What an awesome job you did on this very difficult task! I think the pendants look beautiful and I'm sure everyone was thrilled!

  2. Do you have any idea how thrilled I am? Especially after reading the story. This gets hoarded in "my precious' colection.I've looked at it in every light and it's heartbreakingly perfect.

  3. Unbelievable work, both in its treasured value of a family member, and in your capturing it in CLAY!!!!

  4. Julie you are truly amazing beyond belief. I can't even imagine how you achieve these beautiful portraits, and in a cane no less. You're a wonder my friend.--Jeff

  5. Julie - Your work never ceases to amaze me. You have such a gift - you are one of my favorite polymer clay artists of all time.