Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pittsburgh Polymer Clay Guild Workshop...

Me (in the apron) with some of the PPCG at the Swissvale Fire Department.
A day after I got back from San Francisco, I headed over to the Pittsburgh Polymer Clay Guild to teach a two-day workshop on working with resin and mold-making.  As I've taken a step back from the front of house operations at the shop, so too have I stepped back from teaching.  It seems like for awhile, I was on a roll teaching, doing presentations for arts groups and demoing for TV.  I know that it pales in comparison to some of my teacher friends who teach on a daily basis or teach workshops for the majority of their income.  Still... for awhile, it felt like I was all too regularly in this position, putting myself in front of people and facilitating learning opportunities.  This isn't something that comes naturally for me.  I am most comfortable in the sanctuary of my studio, keeping my own company, and playing mad scientist with my art supplies.  But as much as it's outside of my comfort zone, it has been very rewarding and I often look back with fondness to my teaching experiences.  I am very thankful and appreciative that the Pittsburgh Polymer Clay Guild asked me back to expand upon a demo that I did last year.  It's a big honor considering the incredibly lineup of their past instructors!

Left: Mushroom tile in progress by the very talented, Les Polinko.  Middle: My traveling feast of ideas and art supplies.  Right: Me showing how to make mold walls out of inexpensive materials... aka a toilet paper roll!  All of these photos are courtesy of Les Polinko!  
I always feel like I'm moving in when I teach, especially for these more in-depth workshops!  I always come loaded down with bags and bags of art supplies and examples of my own work.  I think I filled up four tables of different materials and examples and projects in various stages of completion!  It's like I've transported a little chunk of my studio with me.

Top left: Texture tiles created by the fabulous Laura Tabakman. Bottom left: Les Polinko's mushroom tile in progress with polymer clay gnome.  Bottom center: Lovely fish pond scene made by Rebecca Watkins.  Right:  Les Polinko's baby mandrake about to get molded! 
We had a fantastic group of talented students!  Several of the participants of the workshop are accomplished professional artists.  It's always a curious situation when teaching colleagues and others who are experts in their own right.  I shy away from project oriented workshops, because to me, what's more valuable are the techniques and guidance.  I want to help people best achieve what they want to do and help guide them to where they want to go.  I know that it can be frustrating for some with this loosey-goosey style of teaching; I know some folks prefer more structure and are more results based.  I do hope that everyone had a good time though and that even if they were pushed outside of their comfort zones and subjected to my own particular brand of teaching and humor, that they found it a valuable and empowering experience.  Everyone seemed to have a positive class and that there was lots of learning and growing.  I could see the gears turning in the heads of several of the attendees, adapting their own practices to incorporate these materials and ways of working... and I think that's a very good thing indeed.  I can't wait to see what they create!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Western Skies...

I recently had the good fortune to travel out to the Bay Area with my sister, Cynthia.  We stayed mostly with our friend Jess and had all kinds of adventures.  Truthfully, I've been reluctant to put it down on paper, so to speak.  Now that I'm home, there's a finality to it.  I've been holding on to the experience like a worry stone, rolling it around in the palm of my hand, smoothing it like a piece of agate plucked from the sea.  I've been sucking the juices out of the memory, like the last bite of a delicious meal, not wanting it to end.  I know now why there is that saying... "I've left my heart in San Francisco."  It truly is a beautiful place, full of magic and wonder.

My heart is brimming with gratitude to my sister and Jess for making this trip possible, being amazing traveling companions, making me laugh until it hurt, and for kinship and camaraderie; also to William for holding down the fort while I explored and for not being too disgruntled while I described all the awesome things we were getting up to.  Many thanks also go out to Kate Richbourg, who generously opened up her studio, arranged art outings, provided wise counsel, and made arrangements for memories that will last a lifetime.  Much love also goes out to Diane, Emily, and Elsa.  Really there were so many lovely souls that I met during the trip that I will surely miss someone.  I am remiss that I didn't see more of my friends out in the area, but our days were so full, it is hard to imagine filling them any fuller.

I've partially documented my adventures as they were happening over on Facebook and on Instagram, but I felt that I needed to fill in the gaps and capture all the little details before they've faded too much and are too far gone.  If you're interested in more moments from my trip, swing by those various social media outlets and scroll back through, as I've tried to keep things relatively unique to each platform.

Normally, I would try to describe everything, but really there was so much that it's hard to wrangle it all and I know that if I try, I won't do it justice.  So, instead, I'm going to go about this in a photo essay style with captions.

Good morning, San Francisco.
View from Buena Vista Park.

Golden Gate Bridge.

Alameda Point Antiques Faire.

We stayed in a cottage once owned by writer, Kathleen Norris.

Montara sunset.

Pillar Point Marsh Beach near Half Moon Bay.

Tide pools at Pillar Point Harbor Beach.

Montara seascape.

Sea anemone, mussels, and goose barnacles in Montara. 

Vivid green algae flowing down the cliff in Montara.

Sea Star in the tide pool.

Raven posing on a fence post near the entrance of Muir Woods.

Carpet of clover (wood sorrel) in Muir Woods.

Muir Woods Cathedral Grove.

Towering redwoods in Muir Woods.

Mini roses and ferns in Muir Woods.

Wildflower path to Muir Beach.

A feather in the foam at Muir Beach.

Flotsam and jetsam and a crab claw at Muir Beach.

Muir Beach.

20th Century Cafe.

Cynthia admiring our delicious yield at 20th Century Cafe.

Goodbye, San Francisco.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Good Omens...

Could this be a good omen for our trip out to Reno for SCORE's Small Business Championship?  We're heading out west soon to meet up with and network with the other finalists in the competition.  We'll also be hearing about how to best grow our small business from industry experts and influencers, and how we can qualify for one of the grand prizes.

While I'm excited about this opportunity and grateful for the chance to represent our business on a national level, I have to admit that my stomach is a bit twisted in knots.  You would think that after meeting thousands of people at trade shows, teaching in front of groups of strangers, and being on TV, that I would have this whole meeting new people thing down.  But still... there's that little shy boy, who didn't know where to sit on the bus or was uncertain of where to have lunch.  Still there's that awkward teenager who doubted his own self worth and tried to disappear into the crowd.  Still there's that nervous young man on a bad blind date, and the feeling of snap judgements and impending rejection.  Still there's that nervous person trying to find the right words, grabbing them from thin air like playing jacks for the first time.  Sweaty palms and all.

Over the years, I've worked hard on letting go of the past and pushing myself forward.  I've developed a thicker skin and learned to love myself.  I've discovered secrets of body language and how to hold myself.  I learned to swallow down my doubts, my fears, and my apprehensions, hoping all the while that they don't balloon up and carry my words away.  But still... the echoes of my former selves linger like stains.

I've mentioned this in the past, about the nerves that I feel.  I know that when I'm in the moment, everything will be okay.  But it's the time before that brews these foreboding tummy rumblings of not being good enough.  Will they like me?  Will I make a good impression?  Will I wear the right thing?  Will I say what needs to be said?

It's in these moments that I cast my heart out like a net, searching for something that I can hold on to, looking for good omens in unexpected places.  I know it's silly to be so superstitious.  I know that a slip of paper folded up in a cookie has no sway, but still I cannot walk away from this small comfort and sign that everything will be okay.

The Drunk Season...

Like a lot of people, winter isn't my season.  While the first few days can be charming and the holidays have their own special sentimentality, the cold and snow just aren't for me.  Before my dear friends ply me with advice about full spectrum lights, vitamin D, essential oils, and anti-depressants, I'm well aware of coping mechanisms for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For me, winter has a hunker down feeling.  I curl up inside myself.  But as the days grow longer and the light gets brighter and the days get warmer, I feel myself unfurling.  I find myself standing still, my feet in the grass, with my face turned to the sky, letting the warm rays wash over me and fill my starving eyes with color and light.  Don't worry, I'm not looking directly at the sun, as tempting as it may be.  My neighbors probably think I'm nutty, but I don't care.  There's a magic in the birds tipsily whirling around me, collecting bits of this and that for their nests.  There's a beauty in the smell of green grass and growing things.  There's a sense of peace as the rabbits hop by, playing games of chase.

It might seem strange that a self professed night owl should enjoy the growing days so much, but there's a shift that I can feel within myself.  From hunker down mode to singing silly songs, it's as though the blooming of flowers makes me drunk.  That seasonal intoxication makes all things seem possible.  Maybe it's my allergy medicine?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


I remember a time when if I didn't update the blog at least once a day, I'd get a queasy feeling of panic in my stomach.  But that was before Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest.  This was before Facebook Live and streaming videos.  Nowadays, there are so many platforms that it often times feels as though I'm being swallowed up in the weeds.  And that's social media and not the day to day tasks and urgencies.

I miss blogging.  It really did help me organize my thoughts and I think it helped with my memory as well.  I think what I really miss is the blogging community.  It was new back then and everyone was trying to figure things out and there was an electricity surrounding it.

The people who made up the community are mostly still around, but they're much more spread out than they used to be.  The content has also changed from deep introspection that you could sink your teeth into, into snippets that are rapid fire and more easily consumed.  I remember reading some posts, sometimes of content matter that was far from easy, and feeling closer to the author – as if by writing what they wrote, they grew and by me reading it, I grew too.

Part of me has a desire to get back into blogging, but part of me wonders if I haven't outgrown this path?  What once came so easily now seems harder.  What once flowed, now halts in choppy jerks.  Perhaps it is time to let go and give it to the weeds, let it get buried and forgotten.

I don't know.  And maybe that not knowing is the answer.  If I'm not absolutely positive, maybe there are a few good posts still left in me that need to be written.  If there is doubt, then maybe it should linger on a little bit longer.  Maybe that unwillingness to let go is all I need to continue.  At least for now.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Aloha, Hawaii...

Before the popularity of shopping for beads on the internet became mainstream, if you wanted beads, you either had to order from a print catalogue, go to a local bead store, or attend a trade show.  Believe it or not, there used to be bead shows every weekend (sometimes more than one show would happen at the same time).  I used to help my family at Green Girl Studios and traveled the country from coast to coast doing shows for them.  One of my favorite shows to do was in Hawaii and we would go a few times a year.  It was perhaps one of my favorites because not only was it set in a tropical paradise, but the people.  I met so many amazing, kind, generous, sweet people.  (I'm lucky to still keep in touch with some of them!)  We made the show a family trip and have a lot of lovely shared memories.

The other day I got a little "homesick" for Hawaii.  We had over ten inches of snow here in Pennsylvania and I just wasn't feeling it.  Instead of getting dragged down into the blues for sunshine and the sound of the ocean, I designed a collection of Hawaii-inspired components.  We used our new laser to create them.  I'm lucky to have my creativity as a way of channeling my feelings into something positive and productive.  I'm really happy with how they turned out!

If you happen to be in southwestern Pennsylvania, you can get a little taste of Hawaii at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier.  If you're fortunate enough to be in Oahu, you'll soon be able to find these pieces at The Bead Gallery!  And if you can't make it to either, you can always swing by the Allegory Gallery Etsy page.  CLICK HERE to visit the Etsy shop.

The Art of the Bead: Polymer Clay...

Last year, we had an art exhibition at Allegory Gallery called, "The Art of the Bead".  The aim of the show was to showcase the diverse approach to bead-making and feature the pieces as works of small-scale artwork.  Really, what are beads but small little sculptures that we wear?  We had 50 different artists participating from around the world.  The artists represented a wide range of different techniques and materials.

Back in November, there was a pop-up exhibition called, "Into the Forest" organized by Julie Takes, Emily Squires Levine, and Laura Tabakman.  The show was in a gallery space in Pittsburgh and featured the work of polymer clay artists from around the world.  They also had a guest speaker during the opening named Brigitte Martin.  Brigitte Martin is a goldsmith and the founder and editor of Crafthaus.  During her presentation, she talked about how we can elevate polymer clay and further the artistic dialogue about polymer clay as an art medium.  And it got me thinking... how can I help the conversation?  And it dawned on me that I have a unique position as a gallery owner and creative director to use my influence and put my stamp of approval and say, "this is art".  In the grand scheme of things, I don't know really how much my "stamp of approval" is worth, but I still wanted to do my part.
Polymer Clay beads by Andrew Thornton
So, we decided to do a follow-up exhibition that focused on polymer clay as the primary medium.  We asked 13 different artists to participate.  Instead of having each artist show just one bead, they created a collection of 12 beads.  This multiplied the beads of exhibit threefold!  We wanted each artist to have the opportunity to show a range of their work and represent their point of view as polymer clay bead artists.  The show features the work of Christi Friesen, Pamela Wynn, Ann Marie Donovan, Terri Powell (aka Artsy Sciencey), Brooke Bock, Erin Prais-Hintz, Heather Powers, Jenny Davies-Reazor, Kelly Russell, Rebecca Watkins, Wendy Wallin Malinow, and me!  The show will be up until May 18th, so if you're in the Ligonier area, you should definitely stop by and see the collection in person!  If you can't make it to Southwestern Pennsylvania, you can see all of the amazing submissions, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Memento Mori Pendant...

Finished Memento Mori Pendant by Andrew Thornton
I've long been fascinated with reliquaries.  There's something about the veneration that happens when something... whether a little finger bone or an ordinary object... is placed in a frame.  It's a declaration. It says, "THIS IS SPECIAL!"

Resin Raven Skulls
A few years ago, I ordered these miniature cast resin raven skulls from Europe.  They've been languishing in a box in my studio for far too long.  I wanted to actually use them and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity!

Unpainted laser-engraved wood pendant by Andrew Thornton
With the laser, I've been dreaming up ways that I can push the capabilities and work more sculpturally.  There's definitely learning curves, but I think I'm making progress.  I guess the key to working three-dimensionally with the laser is to think about things in terms of layers.  It's not so different from learning Modernist drawing philosophies and collage.  (Though re-learning Photoshop and Illustrator can be a bit frustrating at times.)

Memento Mori Pendant before clear resin
I still have kinks to work out and the creation of this piece was a whole lot of trial and error, but I'm happy with it and I'm learning a lot.  It has definitely sparked more ideas and I want to shirk all my other obligations and just play!  (I won't though, as tempting as it may be.  I'm using it as a reward system for finishing other projects that have been waiting in the wings.)

To capture the raven skulls, I took my drawings and transformed them into a pendant frame, layer by layer. Once I had all the pieces fitted together, I painted them and played with various surface treatments. (Though I kind of dig the natural wood look. But maybe it's just because I'm smitten with the look of laser-engraved wood right now.)  Then... once I had the finished frame, I adhered the skull and then poured resin.  In hindsight, the resin has its pros and cons.  In the pros category is that it has a watery, optical feel.  It also protects the little skull.  (Though since it is recessed, it's pretty safe!  But if I wanted to, I could rivet on a piece of mica and channel my inner Daniel Essig.  If you don't know his work, you should check it out!  CLICK HERE to take a gander.)  In the cons section, it deadens some of the effects I worked to achieve with the surface treatments AND since the skulls have a lot of negative space, air bubbles can get trapped easily and often.  Also in the cons column is that if you're tired and not paying super close attention, you can mix up the opaque resin with the clear resin and you end up with a highly venerated blob.  At least it's a SPECIAL blob!

Special Blob Pendant by Andrew Thornton
Normally folks share all their glorious triumphs, but sort of gloss over their mess ups.  But in an endeavor to be real... here's photographic evidence that it's not all rainbows and kittens in Studio Thornton.  Luckily with the new laser, my mess (which in the privacy of my studio is pronounced with an "f" and ends with an "uck" sound) ups aren't quite as earth-shattering, as I can make another in short-order.

Back of Memento Mori Pendant by Andrew Thornton
To finish it all off, I laser-engraved the words, "memento mori" on the back.  It means, "remember death".  But really, it means remember LIFE!!  Live life each day to its fullest and try always to learn more and do more and be more.  Death is also not the end.  When the Death card is drawn in tarot, it sometimes is a welcome card.  It symbolizes the  end of one phase and the beginning of another.  It's a harbinger of transformation and change.  It embodies letting go... and flying free.

I think I'll hold on to this little gem for myself.  But if you're interested in one, contact Allegory Gallery via EMAIL or convo us through Etsy and make sure to specify that you're curious about acquiring a Memento Mori Pendant and I might be able to whip one up for you.

Monday, March 05, 2018

New Doors...

A few years ago, I had a realization.  I realized that I couldn't keep the pace up that I was going at.  All-nighters and forgetting to eat from being distracted by my work and constantly being plugged into the internet, answering questions at all hours of the day and night was starting to take a toll on me.  The most scary thing was when I started to notice that my vision wasn't as good and that my hands were hurting more and more.  Granted, I think my sight is still pretty good and my hands aren't that bad if I take care of them.  But still.  I realized that I couldn't keep things going as is.

The trickiest thing is that I enjoy my work.  I am happy to stay up all night and immerse myself in what I call the, "Deeper Well".  If I'm enjoying the project that I'm working on, I will push through achey hands and a stiff back.  I can be a little obsessive.  But there came a point where I was constantly sick and I was emotionally drained and not enjoying it so much anymore.  I was spread thin.  William forced me to go to bed and he took away my devices, so I couldn't pretend to sleep, but actually work, and we had a conversation.

Basically, we talked about ways that I could take the burden off of me and prolong not only my life, but my career as a maker.  At that point, we were just spitballing ideas and that path ahead was still foggy.  But then things started changing.
Intaglio etching by Andrew Thornton
I did a lot of research and tried to figure out what was actually doable.  We tossed around so many different ideas.  We knew that we wanted to take the burden off my hands, so we spent a great deal of time looking into ways of replicating my work and maintain the integrity.  One of the things that I've been intrigued by is prints.  In college, I did a lot of work with printmaking.  I worked with artists like Gunars Prande, Charles Yoder, and Dominick Rapone.  And it really changed my way of working.  There was something magical about multiples and it was a gateway to working in collage.  The thing about printmaking is that it's actually quite a lot of work and is very demanding.  I used to call my classes my Tae Bo workout, particularly when we were working with lithography.
Intaglio etching by Andrew Thornton
One of the thing that I enjoyed the most about printmaking (particularly intaglio printing), which is something that is hardly ever seen, are the plates.  I loved running my fingers over the etched plates and feeling the subtle textures.  Etched metal is a beautiful thing, but I didn't want to work in just metal.  So, the idea of a laser came to mind.

Silkscreen print by Andrew Thornton
Lithograph print by Andrew Thornton
I liked the idea of a laser, but the ones we looked at were cost prohibitive to say the least and actually quite complicated to operate.  But then, as we continued our investigations, we found a new one that met our needs.  It wasn't in production then and we would have to wait for it to be built.  We also found a generous investor who helped make it possible.

A lot has happened in the three years since we made the decision to get the laser.  We moved into town and William quit his full-time job.  We are now homeowners and are planning on opening another store.  And now, after three years... we have our laser!
Laser-engraved Botanical Pendants by Andrew Thornton

Here are some of our first pieces that we made with the laser.  We took some of the Strange Botany pieces that I made for a little zine and used those botanical images for the first pieces.  We wanted to test the capabilities (and still are) of the laser to see what kind of line-weights and shadowing we could achieve.  I'm quite taken with how they turned out.

Laser-engraved King Kitty Pendant by Andrew Thornton
When we decided on getting the laser, I didn't want to make it just a tool to make multiples and work out the issues of production... but as a new medium that could help me connect to my 2-D artwork and to expand my current ways of making things.  I'm always curious how something will push my creativity and open new doors.
I really love the sepia tone look of the laser-engraved wood, but I also have a little bit of a love affair with color and surface treatments.  So with these Abracadabra pendants, I experimented with different ways to alter the surface of the laser-engraved wood and add a little bit more of the artist's hand back into the pieces.

All of the pieces are available in-store at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, PA.  But if you can't make it out to Southwestern Pennsylvania, we'll be adding them to our Etsy shop as we can.  CLICK HERE to visit our Etsy shop.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Fusion Beads 30 Day Bead Challenge: Day 2...

Chain bracelet by Andrew Thornton.
I don't know about you, but I have a little container filled with all  kinds of bits and pieces of chain that I've collected over the years.  I hate to throw anything away that might be useful one day.  Between samples from chain companies, to leftovers on the roll, or jewelry that I've taken apart, the chain box is brimming.  (Allegory Gallery also sells mixed lot baggies filled with assorted vintage chain.)  This little stash is surprisingly useful!  Sometimes I'll need a jump ring made out of a particular metal with a specific patina and these chain remnants can be cannibalized to yield up the perfect match.  And sometimes you just need an inch or two for an extender chain and my little collection always delivers.

For the second prompt of the Fusion Beads 30 Day Bead Challenge, we were asked to create a piece that had chain as the main component.  I decided to go all mixed metals for this challenge and dug through my chain stash.  I took various bits and connected them to form wrist-length pieces and then bundled up the chains and connected them with jump rings.  When I get around to it, I'll solder the rings shut so that they're more secure.  (You know, in that imaginary someday timeline where I've got extra time to solder jump rings for personal projects!)

I added an extender chain so that it can be adjusted according to wrist size.  I also used a larger size chain for this purpose and a larger brass lobster claw clasp so that in theory it can be clipped onto the end of another chain to transform it into a necklace!  I like pieces with versatility.

And because I needed a little bit of something to jazz up this bracelet, I dangled a little bezel-set eye charm from the extender chain.  It adds a lot of movement when worn as a bracelet and it actually hangs correctly when the bracelet plays Transformers and morphs into a necklace.
Fusion Beads March Bead Challenge 2018
There's still time to jump in and play along!  CLICK HERE for the full calendar in PDF form.  And really... I know it's fun to post things each day matching up with the prompts, but really who is to say you couldn't hop around the calendar if that's what moves you and your nonlinear sensibilities?  Personally, I think the set timeline is helpful to establish a helpful baseline, but really these challenges are just supposed to be fun and are about personal growth.  If you do make anything, I'd love to see!  So comment with your creations.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Fusion Beads 30 Day Bead Challenge: Day 1...

Earrings by Andrew Thornton.
One of the things that I always look forward to this time of year is National Craft Month!  To celebrate, Fusion Beads holds an annual Bead Challenge.  Even though I'm crazy busy, I always try to squeeze it in, because I always grow so much from the challenges and I really enjoy participating in them.  I'm not always successful in getting everything done, but I try and usually I get a majority of the daily projects completed.

For the first day of the challenge, we were encouraged to create a simple pair of earrings.  I had these pegasus bronze charms that I made hanging out in the studio.  They're based off of ancient Greek coins.  I've been wanting to do something with them, but hadn't found the right project.  I thought this would be perfect for them!  So, I double drilled them out, and added Czech glass dangles and Czech glass wire-wraps.  I paired them with some vintage lever-back earwires.  Presto!  Day One is complete!
Fusion Beads March Bead Challenge 2018
If you want to play along, you can certainly try to challenge yourself with the the whole month or just pick and chose prompts you can fit into your schedule.  Also, I think the most important part is to have fun!  Don't get stressed out about it!  Try to enjoy the acts of crafting and have a ball!

If you'd like to find out more, including downloading the calendar of projects, CLICK HERE.