Saturday, December 23, 2017

Skull Dolly Collages...

Skull Dolly collages by Andrew Thornton.
After I released the Spirit Doll Series, I thought about how they reminded me of corn dollies and worry dolls given to expecting mothers. Both are connected to ideas of fertility and life. And the more I thought about it, the more that I thought about how there is no light without shadow. There is no life without death. And so... tired as I was, I got up and set to work. I made another series of affordable small-scale pieces. I call this collection, "Skull Dollies".
Detail of Skull Dolly 15 collage by Andrew Thornton.
When I work, I generally make a few extra if I can.  It's not a lot of additional effort when everything is all set up and the process is in motion.  Once they're complete, I have my pick of the litter for what I think will best suit a particular project or just strikes my fancy that day.  I had the backgrounds ready to go from working on the Spirit Dolls and once I had the idea to create the skull paintings/collages, I fell into work easily.  There's something very satisfying about this format and size.  They have a similar weight and feel as tarot cards.

In making the Skull Dollies, I revisited some of the inspiration from the previous series and pulled new insight from Mexican sugar skulls, memento mori, and masks.    CLICK HERE to see them in the online store.

Update: They are all sold out!  Many thanks to everyone who has expressed interprets in them.
Detail of Skull Dolly 11 collage by Andrew Thornton.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Spirit Doll Collages...

Spirit Doll collages by Andrew Thornton.
Here is a series of affordable small-scale pieces that I created called, "Spirit Dolls".  They're colorful and (hopefully) endearing with their little round faces and dreamy eyes.  This collection was inspired by Russian nesting dolls, Prims (primitive Americana folk dolls/toys), Japanese kokeshi dolls, textiles, and previous bodies of work. Each mixed media piece is composed of watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils, pen, ink, metallic pigment, salt, and collage on thick watercolor paper. The pieces measure 3" X 5" and are all priced $25 each.  CLICK HERE to see them in the online store.
Detail of Spirit Doll 10 collage by Andrew Thornton.

One of the things that I've noticed in working with paintings and collages again and immersing in this process is that I've undergone a "great forgetting".  I had to forget, in order to remember.  Before I went to art school, I made things because I felt compelled to create them.  There was something deeper there – a connection to half-remembered dreams and swirling faces in the dark.  And when I went to college, I learned a lot of new techniques, but I also learned a lot about art history and context and theory.  While it was empowering in some regards, it also stifled me in others.  I felt obligated to understand the artwork and be able to "Art Speak" about it.  I worried not only if it was "good" or "bad", but I also wanted to make something that fit into this great big picture of thousands of years worth of human expression and idea.  So, understandably (at least to me), I felt bogged down and burnt out.  How can you fly when you're carrying so much weight around?  Over the past decade, I've been consciously unlearning and untraining myself.  Instead of seeing something and cross-referencing it with manifestos and movements, I've tried to see the "beauty" in it first and be guided by my dreaming self, more intuitive and subconscious and less critical.  The things I've learned are still there, but I want them to take a backseat to the things I've felt instead.

I'm still working on it.

But it's liberating to finally sort of feel like my old self again.  Hello, stranger!  It's been awhile.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Ultra Violet...

Usually when I begin a new project, I start off by making inspiration boards or color wheels.  I find that it's helpful to get you in the mindset of a particular project.  I also feel that our color sensibilities grow and change over time, so it's helpful to stay in touch with our current color attitudes and aesthetics.  Before Pinterest, there were a whole lot of pins and glue and magazine clippings involved.  Now, everything is all tidy and contained on the screen.  Here are a couple of mood boards I created from images I snagged off of Pinterest and the internet after doing a few quick searches.

Sometimes when you see a color in nature or "in situ" new color stories develop. Correlations with other colors become apparent.  For instance, looking at the pictures of the mushrooms and the wisteria, a cool-tone green is a pleasing pair with the purple.  (Oddly enough, when these two colors are mixed, there is a rich, middle-tone gray is the end product.) Alternatively, look at pictures of the pansies, figs, and amethysts – to punch up the warmth of the purple, use contrasting yellows and warm creams.  To lighten the shade of purple, pair it off-white and neutral light grays, like in the image of the macaroons and the doorknob.  To deepen the intensity, match it with black and navy, such as the pictures of the galaxy and the lightning strike.

Color is a remarkable thing, because it is so personal.  When I see this color, I think of picking wild violets and carrying around a tin of violet flavored pastilles that my sister brought me back from France.  I think of the color of the desert at twilight and of old bottles in antique stores.  I think of laying on back on a bed of purple petals looking up at the twisted trunk of the wisteria in my childhood home's backyard.  I think of an amethyst slice that I saved my pennies for as a child to give to my mother for Mother's Day.  Beyond the personal connections, every color has an association and there are hundreds of reference books linking certain colors with symbolism.  Some of these meanings are derived from natural histories and the origins of the colors.  (A great read about this particular topic is "Color: A Natural History of the Paletteby Victoria Findlay.)

For some, this color represents royalty or mystery.  Some look to the earth and find a copious variety in flowers and plants.  Others look to the sky and see swirling nebulas and otherworldly displays of cosmic grandeur.  What are some of your favorite color associations with the hues of Ultra Violet?

Pantone Color of the Year 2018...

And the 2018 winner is....

Ultra Violet!  Earlier this year, I noticed that this was one of the few colors that appeared on both the New York Color Report and the London Color Report.  It's a dreamy shade of purple with a cooler base.
Leatrice Eiseman, the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, said, "We are living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination. It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet, a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level. From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come."

You can read the full Color of the Year report by CLICKING HERE.  I really love how thoughtful they are when they consider their selections.


When I was young, I was a lonely child.  I would perch myself on top of the wooden fence and would try to entice the children from the daycare center next-door to talk to me.  I would offer gifts of tangerines as bribes.  If they wouldn't succumb to citrus, I would hold their toys hostage.  "Play with me or I'll bury your action figure."

When I got older, the wooden barrier was replaced with an invisible one.  Instead of gifts of fruit, I would offer up other things.  I would dangle my time, my energy, myself.  And if that didn't work, clearly it was them... not me.

I had always wanted others to like me.  I would go to such incredibly stupid lengths to get people to acknowledge and accept me.  Like me.  Be my friend.  Give me the love that I can't give myself.

When you claim your personal power, it becomes apparent that not all relationships are healthy ones.  Healthy relationships build off of each other and grow exponentially.  The energy in a healthy relationship is cyclical and builds momentum and force.  There's a magic in finding others who click.

Once we find others who we click with, it's so tempting to try to hold on and never let them go.  But sometimes relationships are like leaves.  We want to hoard them, pressing them between the pages of a book, and keeping them frozen in time.  But these golden moments don't last forever.  Even with the utmost vigilance, they can fade and become brittle.  I remember finding a dictionary at an antique store once and within it were pressed flowers.  Such a lovely discovery, but the moment I opened it, they started to fall apart and disintegrate.  Sometimes those leaves must be given back to the earth so that they take their role in a bigger cycle of growth and decay and renewal.  Everything has a season.

Upon learning of a friend's death, I am reminded of this.  Cherish the people in your life that make you MORE.  Honor the time you have together and be the best person you can be – not only for others in your life, but for yourself as well.  Drink in the nourishment of the people and experiences that enrich your life and be thankful for their gifts.  Their time with you may be short, shorter than anyone could ever predict.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Finishing Products for Polymer Clay...

Over the years, I have been asked a lot of questions about the way that I make things.  I can sometimes be vague or tight-lipped.  Not because I'm stingy, but because the way that I make something might be very different than the way someone else makes it and not all the results are consistent or work for every application.  Sometimes, I'm also troubleshooting or inventing my own methods or techniques and I want to give it time and wear before I officially say anything to make sure that I'm not spreading misinformation.  And most importantly, I believe in the power of exploration and finding your own recipes unique to your own work.  Try new things and be creative!  You might surprise yourself!

One of the technique questions that I get A LOT is about how to treat polymer clay after it has cured.  And this is sort of a complicated question, because again, not all things work for all applications and there isn't one universal answer.

I thought that I would share my Top Five products for Protecting Polymer Clay.  Keep in mind that everyone has a different opinion and rarely do most people agree.  I've seen people get really bent out of shape about product reviews, and it is perhaps one of the reasons that I've been reluctant to share my findings.  So, if you read this and feel the urge to hop up and naysay, try to do so in a constructive manner... as these are products that I use on a nearly daily basis and are ones that I personally like.

Before I begin, I should mention that not all polymer clay pieces need to be sealed or finished.  Polymer clay is a miraculous product and when worked with properly can be nearly indestructible under normal wear and tear conditions, it's colorfast, and it's relatively lightweight.  So... see if you like the freshly baked surface and ask yourself if it's right for you.

1.  Wet/dry Sandpaper.  If the finish of baked clay just doesn't do it for you, you might want to step up your game by polishing your pieces with wet/dry sandpaper.  Use the lower grits for shaping and removing material.  Use the higher numbered papers for polishing.  And if you use multiple grits, start with the lower numbers and work your way up.  Another important note is to dab or dunk your pieces in water as you work.  This will keep down the dust (so you know, you don't have issues later on from breathing in particulates) and the mixture of polymer clay dust and water creates its own polishing compound.  This technique creates a satin-finish akin to hand-oiled wood.  This is great for flat objects or pieces that do not have a lot of recessed areas.

2.  Polyform Sculpey Gloss Glaze.  I can feel the eye-rolling from some polymer clay artists from here.  Marketed as a child's crafting supply, this material often times gets overlooked, but can be wonderfully useful.  When working with this glaze, stir the container gently and do not shake the contents!  Shaking makes bubbles and can create pockmarks.  Also, work in a dry, warm environment.  Work in thin, even coats.  If you want a thicker look to your glaze, wait for each layer to dry before adding new ones.  This material is great for adding gloss accents and has the shiny look of nail polish when cured.  The best part is that it can be cleaned up with soap and water, without needing a special cleaner.

3.  Kato Liquid Polyclay.  This product is quite versatile and has a lot of applications.  I might do some future video tutorials on it, as I am a smitten kitten with it.  I have found that this has one of the best translucencies of the liquid clays and can be used in a lot of faux techniques.  This material has a glossy finish, but not as glossy as the Gloss Glaze or resin.  It has a softer feel on the hands as well and creates a wonderful cold enamel look (think of those pins that are making a resurgence in popularity)!  The one drawback is that it can be straight up messy if you're not careful.  Because it never really dries until it cures, it can be quite sticky and will drip if you're not mindful.  This is good for flat surfaces or cured in sections, applied in thin coats.

4.  Swellegant Clear Matte Sealent.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!  Developed by polymer clay artist, Christi Friesen, this product works in tandem with her line of patinas, tints, and oxides.  When shiny and glossy won't do, use this matte sealant.  It's great for sculptural pieces and can be applied with brushes or misters. (And when I say "misters" I'm not talking about dudes, but the spray bottle variety.)  When using this product, as with most, it's important that it is mixed thoroughly and that you work in light, even coats.  If you allow the product to puddle, it can create little chalky areas in the recesses.  If this happens, just go over it again and it should take care of that.

5.  Renaissance Wax.  This is another product that is much beloved in our household.  It is a petroleum based wax that was developed by the British Museum to take care of their armor collection and replaced beeswax, which can be sticky at times.  This is great for metal, ceramic, and polymer clay.  This is delightful for sculptural pieces and can achieve several different finishes.  Again, work in thin layers and try not to cake it on.  Use a soft cloth to apply it and to buff it.  The more you buff the piece, the more lustrous and satiny the finish will get.  One of the drawbacks is that since it is petroleum based, it can be a bit whiffy and can cause some folks to get headaches.

Now... here's a sticky subject... sometimes quite literally!  Not all sealants are created equally and you should be thoughtful of this as you try new things.  For me, I have found that most spray sealants just don't work.  The fun chemicals that allow the spray cans to not clog up and make it all misty also break down polymer.  They might be lovely at first, but then overtime, as the clay breaks down, the surface can become tacky and straight up cat hair magnets.  (I have heard a rumor about a spray sealant specifically designed for polymer, but I have used it yet.)  Also, nail polish.  While it might be tempting, as there are so many colors and effects and it is more readily available than a lot of the specialized surface treatments, it will also break down the polymer.  So don't get tricked into it!

Now that I've shared some of my favorites, what are some of your favorite sealants and surface treatments for polymer clay?

The Hierophant & the Deer...

10/19: The Hierophant,  The Wild Unknown TarotDeer, The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


The Dark Mirror...

I once had a dream of waking up next to a pond.  It was nighttime and everything was infused with inky shadows.  The pond was circled with ropy vines and woven brambles.  I couldn't really see the twisted boundary, but I knew it was there with that omnipresent sight of dreams, a deeper knowing.  The surface of the water was still and glass-like, looking like polished obsidian in the dark.  As I looked harder into the water, I felt dizzy and the planes of reality seemed to shift.  No longer was the pond horizontal.  It was now somehow upright.  It had become a mirror.

I looked into the mirror, trying to find my face, but all I saw was polished black.  Tourmaline, spinel, onyx, and obsidian.  And then I saw tiny glowing red beads.  Two at first.  And then many.  I could feel them tickling my skin as the little red beads danced in some intricate pattern that I could not follow or understand in its complexity.  As my eyes continued to adjust, I realized, startled at first, that the little red beads were not beads after all... they were eyes.

I was covered in thousands and thousands of moths.

The tickling of their minuscule feet evolved into an extrasensory experience; feeling not just the feather-light touch of their feet, but the pumping of their gauzy wings and the weight of their fat, fuzzy bodies.  A sense of revulsion was my first instinct.  I wanted to frantically brush them away, freeing my skin from these creatures swarming over me.

When I was a little boy, I used to have a plastic house.  I can still remember the sweet, powdery smell of the plastic baking in the Florida sun.  I would spend hours in it, pretending to make food (stirring Spanish Moss around in spent margarine containers with a stick) and clean it (by rubbing it down with oil-stained rags my father used to wipe grease off lawnmower parts) and reenact what I thought it meant to own a house.  This basically meant that I would scold my imaginary child for being lazy and for not cleaning and for causing me trouble upon trouble.  I had piles of rocks and sticks that I liked that I would move from corner to corner of the little house with the little chair and the little rotary phone.  My siblings were all older than me and I was a lonely child.  I would conscript whoever would come near into my games.

One day, Hepifanio, a Mexican man who used to help my father in his landscaping business, was called over to my little plastic house.  I had big brown eyes, round cheeks, a mischievous smile and was a cutie pie.  It was not hard to lure my parents' friends and helpers over, to indulge the lonely child... even if only for a few minutes.  One of my favorite games was to pop the plastic shutters open and slam them shut again and scream, "We're not open!"  (Somehow my little house was also a business.)  The day that Hepifanio came over to play, his eyes got round and a startled muffle escaped his lips.  He said something I didn't understand.  Hepifanio snatched me up and set me aside and pressed my shoulders hard.  The force of the gesture said, "Stay."  I stood there, as still as I could, which was a hard feat for a precocious child.  He ran to the gold truck lightning fast and pulled out a shovel from the bed.  He rushed back over and speared the shovel into the ground.

What I had not noticed was that I was not alone in the little plastic house.

My visitor was a venomous coral snake, banded red, yellow, and black.  Hepifanio had plunged the shovel into the ground, separating the head from the body, and had probably saved my life that day.  

I stood in front of the dark mirror, covered in moths.  Instead of reacting to my initial feeling, that mix of horror and panic, I stopped.  I stood still.  I remembered that little plastic house and I stood still the way that I stood still for Hepifanio.  I've learned that if you stopped, stood still, you wouldn't get bit.  If you screamed and jumped around and swatted at the bee, the hornet, the wasp... you'd get stung.  If you were quiet and still, the feral kittens would emerge from hiding and play their pouncing games.  If you stood still, you could be a witness to the beauty of nature, friendly or lethal.

I marveled at the beauty of the fluttering wings.  As I looked closer, down at myself and into the mirror, I could see the patterns on the moths... little skulls on mottled yellow and brown bodies.  And then all at once, the moths released from my skin and took flight.  They flew into what I thought was a mirror, what I thought was a pond.  They passed through what I thought was a barrier and scattered into the other side of night.  And I followed after them.

I thought of this dream and childhood memory as I carved the death's head moth ornament.  (It can also be used as a large pendant, if one so desired.)  Moths are symbols of transformation and transitions and changes.  They are harbingers of journeys, both spiritual, emotional, and mental.  They deliver messages and seek the light in the dark.  Some believe that they warn of death, but what is death?  We are taught to be afraid of death.  We are taught to fear the unknown.  But death is another stage of life, when one thing must reach its end and we must let go of what we thought we knew and go forth.  Just because our eyes can't penetrate the dark of night does not mean it is devoid of substance or activity.  Moths are symbols of mystery.

If you're interested in acquiring one of these hand-painted pieces that I cast in resin, CLICK HERE.

Eight of Pentacles & the Scorpion...

10/18: Eight of Pentacles,  The Wild Unknown TarotScorpion, The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Daughter of Swords & the Fox...

10/17: Daughter of Swords,  The Wild Unknown TarotFox, The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck.


What does it mean to be a dreamer? In today's world, the word has taken on some rather political and racial connotations.  When I use the word, I can see some of my friends tense up, anticipating a diatribe on freedom and opportunity.

But today, I'm not talking about those Dreamers.  Instead, I'm talking about the everyday person who has aspirations and hopes for more.  Really, they're not so different, but I digress.

What does it mean to be a dreamer? Well, it means hard work.  I haven't met anyone who was a successful dreamer who didn't pour themselves into their calling.  To be a dreamer means that you're picking a path that is not always easy.  Life isn't easy, especially nowadays.  It seems like there's so much hurt in the world, so much division and conflict.  Is there more than there used to be?  Is this time and this place more negatively charged than before?  I don't think so.  We're just seeing it now.  And once you see it, it's hard to go back to blissful ignorance.  Once you know the world is hurting, it's hard not to hurt with it.  To be a dreamer though is to see something that isn't there and make it so.  To be a dreamer is to take the glitter of star-shine and moonbeams and nocturnal ponderings and fashion all those ephemeral things into something you can hold and touch.

William and I are both dreamers.

We've dreamed things that should never have been and yet they came to be.  Something that wasn't became something that was.

I think that we have achieved what we have due to a lot of different factors.  I think there is a lot of luck involved.  Luck in the traditional sense, of having good fortune.  And luck in the way that Oprah describes it as opportunity meeting preparation.  I also think it's because we work hard.  It isn't the same kind of work as being on your feet for hours serving food or mowing lawns in the hot baking sun.  (I know!  I've done both those jobs.)  It's the kind of work that requires you to bend a vision into reality... and that takes many forms.  It takes the form of all-night work sessions until your back is cramped and your fingers bleed, planning until there's stacks of papers surrounding you in scribbled-on piles, plotting, doing dull drudgery, putting stickers on bags, tubing beads, and addressing labels, and always dealing with people the way you would want to be treated.  That last thing doesn't seem like it should be hard work, but sometimes holding your tongue and just defaulting that they are good and kind and deserving of respect and compassion can be tricky, especially when their words and actions indicate otherwise.  Being a dreamer means that you have to be optimistic, persistent, and a wee bit stubborn.

But the real key to our successes as dreamers lies in the fact that there are other dreamers out there who believe in us and our abilities to make the intangible, tangible.  There are other people who have a little bit of vision and a little bit of faith and a little bit of wildness.  They have just the right ingredients, in just the right proportions, to see beyond what is and can make out what could be.  We belong to a tribe of people who believe in tenacity and the power of manifestation.  And those dreamers allow us to reach higher than what we could do on our own.

I remind myself of what it means to be a dreamer when I'm faced with challenges.  I remind myself that we are not alone.  I remind myself that the things that once seemed so impossible are now everyday.  I remind myself of the feeling of standing outside of myself, at the edge of something more, something wild and unknown and brimming with both possibility and danger.  I remind myself of taking risks and having blind faith that is unwavering when there are those that say NO and there are those who would seek to keep things just as they are.  I remind myself that dreamers are fighters and survivors and people who overcome.