Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review: Polymer Clay Color Inspirations: Techniques and Jewelry Projects for Creating Successful Palettes

Maggie Maggio and Lindly Haunani bring their extensive knowledge of color theory to polymer clay in their new book, Polymer Clay Color Inspirations, with stunning results. The concepts of hue, value, saturation and other properties of color become crystal clear after a series of hands-on exercises successively take the reader from opening a package of clay to creating a complex collage box using a personally developed color palette.

Polymer Clay Color Inspirations is organized into ten chapters, each beginning with a gorgeous full page photograph of work from various artists. There is also an appendix that contains worksheets and diagrams at full size that are referenced in other places in the book. These sheets are designed to be copied and laminated for personal use.

The first chapter is the fairly standard feature for polymer clay how-to books, explaining the types of clay and the tools necessary to work with them, along with an explanation of the Skinner blend and its uses. Unique to the book are the pie-chart labeling method for samples and the idea of test twists, which allow experimentation with color combinations and contrast while using only small amounts of clay. Each chapter ends with an Artist Spotlight that includes a couple photographs of the artist's work and a statement on their approach to color. Featured artists are Cynthia Toops, Elise Winters, Carol Simmons, Margaret Regan, Kathleen Dustin, Sarah Nelson Shriver, Dan Cormier, Debra DeWolff, Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, and Laurie Mika.

Chapter 2 covers basic color properties and contains four projects, three of which are color testing tools. The fourth exercise produces beads that vary hue and value within themselves. Chapter 3 challenges the reader to find a personal color palette and contains a collage project and a skinner blend brooch project. The brooch isn't my style so I will modify the shape when I get to that project. So far I've completed the Package Color Testing and Value Sorting exercises from Chapter 1. I plan to go through the projects of the book in order, though I did have to make a quick color scale out of Chapter 5 to satisfy a curiosity. When I finish a chapter, I'll post my results.

Chapter 4 involves developing a personal color palette based on examining the collage from the previous chapter. There is in depth discussion of various primary colors and their secondaries, and the authors list their palettes and explain why they chose those colors. The chapter includes three projects: "Tasting Tiles" to choose your primaries by mixing small samples of secondary and "mud" colors to place against your collage, an exercise for the artist put off by all the measuring in "Instinctual Color Mixing", and a lovely skinner blend lei using your chosen primaries.

I can tell already that I'm going to spend a lot of time on Chapter 5. Chapter 5 studies the gradations between colors and three projects: "Mixing Color Scales" studies the transition between two colors, while the ingenious "Mixing Color-Scale Triangles" handles mixing three-primary colors in a way that won't make you tear your hair out. The chapter concludes with a Bargello Bead project. By now you might have noticed that every chapter includes an applied-knowledge project in addition to experiments with color.

Worksheets for the color scale and triangle exercises are included in the back of the book. I love these exercises for two reasons. First, the method of measuring the clay to be mixed is easy and efficient and doesn't involve trying to cut 1/64 of an inch squares out of a sheet of clay. Secondly, the scales take the form of beads on a string, which allows for a tactile enjoyment of color. Polymer clay art, particularly jewelry, invites touch. I love Margaret Regan's quote on this aspect of polymer clay in her spotlight: "Polymer color: so thick and rich, you can roll it into a ball." Previously I had stored my color chips in a notebook glued to paper. While I liked looking at the colors and it helped me keep track of various blends, somehow this wasn't a satisfying way to record color. Beads on a string that I can hold up to the light or fondle while pondering color combinations are superior for my way of working with color.

Chapter 6 handles combining colors and describes various types of color schemes. Exercises include creating a contrast table for your collage colors (though this isn't formally labelled as an exercise for some reason), creating stripe blends that will be recorded as a fan deck, the leftovers from which will be used in the final project, the Log Cabin pin. Chapter 7 deals with how colors change when placed next to each other. The two projects are a series of striped canes with stripes of varying width, and a cute necklace created using the canes to make leaves.

Chapter 8 explores the amount of a color to use relative to other colors. I was very amused to find Goethe's study of color proportion cited in the book while I was avoiding my 19th century German reading homework. The contrast table returns in a modified form and the final exercise is several iterations of a leaf mosaic brooch with differing color placements. Chapter 9 covers pattern and textures. There are three exercises, though the first exercise could go on for quite a while depending on how many patter samples you want to make. The second project is a bracelet made out of the pattern samples and the third is a pendent with multiple different textures. The authors present instructions for a variety of their own patterns and textures and encourage the reader to experiment further.

The tenth chapter is devoted to a single project, the Collage Box. This project should combine everything the reader has learned from the previous projects, indeed some of the actual pieces from previous projects are recognizable in the authors' collage boxes. Four caning techniques are also explained in this chapter.

I cannot recommend this book enough to the polymer clay artist who's interested in learning more about color. Even for the casual hobbyist, the book contains some fun projects and lovely inspiration photos. The author's mastery of color is evidence by the fact that I find myself often picking up the book just to look at it, even after I've read every page. The main con I can see is that the book is very Premo-centric. Users of other clay brands will need to do a little more experimenting to find out what ratios of color to use, though there is a table in the value section that shows the strengths of black and white across several brands. This deficit is also alleviated by the fact that Maggie Maggio is posting "extras" to her blog every Saturday, some of which include photos of experiments made with other clay brands. The recommended retail price for the book is US$21.99. The content is worth the price.

Maggie Maggio's blog can be found at

Lindly Haunani also has a blog at

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