Carol Blackburn is the doyenne of the British polymer clay community. She is not only a seasoned artist, but also a respected teacher, the author of How to make polymer clay beads and the founder of the London Polymer Group. We interviewed Carol to find out what’s new in her studio and how she perceives the changing world and community.
How long have you been working with polymer clay? How has your attitude to polymer art changed over the time?
I've been working with polymer clay for about sixteen years. When I began there was little on-line information but Glass Attic was a useful internet source. Then the new magazine The Polymer Cafe was published monthly. I tried most of the techniques in the magazine and became particularly interested in making beads using lots of different techniques and shapes which lead to writing my book. More recently my work has focused on patterns to create veneers for vessels and boxes.
Do you have a creative routine or any creative rituals?
I don't have a routine when I'm working but I am at my work table most days. If I have an artistic block, I roll offcuts of polymer from previous projects into sheets of scrap or I make blends with the remaining bits of coloured polymer.
What is your studio like? How much time do you spend there?
I have a good size work room and a separate room with a large table where I teach small classes up to three students. I spend most days at my work table and often I go back in the evenings and work late.
What about living in London? What does it look like for you?
I'm a city dweller and the buildings are a source of inspiration. London suits me well even if the weather doesn't. There are a variety of shapes, shadows and contrasts in the buildings which are endlessly fascinating.
Do you sketch a lot during your creative process? How do you keep track of your designs?
I don't do any kind of finished drawings, I do rough sketches on scraps of paper which I stick into a folder later. They are just ideas I jot down and nothing special. They may or may not have any resemblance to what I create with polymer but they are the starting point for a design. Often it will be the technique which will lead me to a design. Usually my designs follow on from the previous piece. I constantly say 'what if' as I work.
Do you have any favourite technique(s)?
I like to explore a technique as thoroughly as possible and the extruder tool and the ripple blade are two I’ve explored and there are endless ways to use these tools.
Is there a tool you couldn’t do without?
The one tool I can't work without are a pair of square wooden sticks. I use these sticks to move the polymer on the tile work surface to create a design rather than touching the polymer with my fingers!
What brands of polymer clay do you use and why?
I use Fimo Professional polymer clay. It was the first brand available in the UK and I still prefer it. I know how to work it and unlike some brands it is odourless. Living in an apartment building I have to consider unwanted smells. Staedtler are often helpful by providing clay to students who attend my workshops. I also use Sculpey Premo metallic polymers for their rich pearlized qualities. I use Sculpey Ultralight for inside my large bangles.
You have a background in textile design and it is obvious in your amazing veneers. How do you keep yourself inspired? Where else do you find inspiration?
Each of my designs is the beginning for the next so a design usually follows the one before, tweaking as the design develops. I work in a series of designs. My textile background is still important to me and I continue to create patterns and textures as I did in my knitwear. Anything can be the starting point for a design. Even something as simple as how a shadow falls across the floor or a grid in the road.
You’re the author of many significant designs in polymer, such as shell beads, pillow beads, spiky beads, angle bangles, what inspires you when it comes to forms?
As I’ve mentioned I’m fascinated by architecture and big structures so finding new shapes and ways of constructing forms is my way of being creative on a different scale. I'm meticulous with how I do things but also impatient to try the next thing. I don't want to stand still.
Your designs are often really colourful. How do you choose colour palettes for your pieces? Is there a colour you don’t like?
Polymer is perfect with the multitude of colours you can make from just a few basic colours and there isn't one colour I don't like! I don't follow any colour theories or colour wheels. I just blend any colours together and if they don't 'work' then I will have created more scrap clay which is always useful. I basically don't worry what colours 'go' together and just mix any together; I just have fun. Instead of using 4 colours I'll use 12 or 24 or more in one piece of work.
Have you ever had a mentor? Is there anybody who you consult your work with?
I don't have a mentor but there are many artists in the polymer community who I’ve learned from. In the art world I enjoy Kandinsky, Op Art -Bridget Riley, Ettore Sottsass, Victor Vasarely.
You wrote a very popular book on polymer beads in 2007. Are you perhaps planning to write another one?
My polymer bead book has been very successful. It took eighteen months to write but when I hear how people love it, that makes all the work worthwhile. I'm proud that it has started many people on their own polymer journey. The UK and USA editions have sold out, although I think the French, German and Italian editions are still available. The good news is it was re-issued in the USA in September. I have enough ideas for another book but now everything is done online and at the moment that is not for me.
Could you tell us what British polymer clay community is like?
I founded the London Polymer Clay Group in 2007 and chaired it for ten years but stepped back so I could travel and teach. In the UK there is a strong interest in miniature 12th scale work.
Would you say that polymer clay has established itself as a respected artistic medium in the UK? Is polymer art represented in British galleries?
In the UK polymer clay is unfortunately still regarded as a child's play material and rarely seen in galleries. When talking to gallery owners or collectors I describe the medium as polymer and describe the clever things you can create with it. You are also a popular teacher. Given the current situation, have you transitioned or are you thinking of transitioning to teaching online?
I am not a technical person when it comes to online demonstrations. I did several online tutorials for CraftArtEdu but I much prefer the physical class for teaching. I love the spon