PAINTING STORIES • Joseph Barbaccia

You may remember the polymer painted portraits by Joseph Barbaccia from our magazine or blog, where we featured the artist. Joseph is an internationally recognized polymer clay artist currently residing in Dealware, US. He employs a unique technique of meticulously applying the medium in order to achieve extraordinary, original texture in his images. “The most memorable experience with polymer clay was the time I stopped ‘working’ with it and started ‘playing’,” says Joseph.

He studied fine art, design and illustration at Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and started out as a painter, illustrator and sculptor. Among other things, he created highly interesting sculptural pieces with yarn, wire, fabric and a variety of found objects such as buttons, tags, keys and even cigarettes of banknotes. He actually began to work with polymer clay out of necessity – he was looking for a suitable medium when he needed to scale down his sculpture studio. He appreciates the colour choices, malleability of the medium as well as the durability of the finished products.

Joseph characterizes his style as mainly representational, with the colours being applied in an impressionistic manner. Colour certainly plays a very important part in his painterly pieces. In the beginning stage of his creative process Joseph uses technology to decide on the colour palette for the particular piece. “I initially create color palettes on the computer, then adjust to the color spectrum of the polymer clay I use,” he explains.

The choice of colours is not the only part of the process that is assisted by a computer or other devices. Joseph actually builds his polymer paintings based on images created in Adobe Photoshop. He uses a WACOM pen display and various applications to work out his ideas. The rest of the way towards a finished picture is entirely handmade. Joseph is a professional artist, which means that he works with polymer clay daily.

“I don’t have a creative routine,” says Joseph, adding that every day is different. “Most days I first take a long look at the project I’m working on,” he describes his typical morning. Then he proceeds to checking his e-mail and spends some time dealing with correspondence before he finally starts working with polymer. His creative space is a room filled to the brim with art work tables, shelves, books, clay, tools and computer hardware. On average, he spends there about six hours a day creating his pieces.

Joseph confesses that he has never attended a polymer clay workshop. “I’ve enjoyed many video tutorials, though,” he admits. He has been creating with polymer clay for about five years now and he says that becoming more knowledgeable about the properties of the medium and improving his skills made it somewhat easier for him to realize his visions. “I have many more years of learning before I can say I had my own style,” he says.

We asked Joseph for some advice for those who are trying to find their own style. He sees experimentation and play as key in developing one’s own artistic voice. “Don’t rely on established visual answers,” he says, “Be prepared to throw away the piece you’re working on if you are dissatisfied. Start out to respect and reevaluate ‘mistakes’.” He thinks that it is still possible to come up with new techniques and ways of working with the medium. “The use of any material is only limited by the creativity of the artists,” he states firmly.

We also inquired into Joseph’s teaching experience. Perhaps surprisingly, despite teaching classes in graphic design, he doesn’t have any experience with teaching. However, he tells us that he loves talking about his polymer art with whomever is interested. Unfortunately, there aren’t any people in his neighbourhood with whom he could create along. “My wife once created with polymer clay,” he laughs. We can only hope that one day he might decide to share his unique ideas and skills with students at workshops.

His current focus is on producing a picture book combining polymer clay characters with digital painting. He intends to use polymer and computer to create illustrations in all genres. Naturally, we wanted to know where his inspiration comes from. The subjects of his artwork spring from his interest in culture, politics and storytelling, as attested by many great portraits of artists, politicians and his friends.

Joseph is a successful artist with many a valuable accomplishments in his career, but what are his dreams for the future? “I dream that my efforts with polymer clay will expand the recognition of polymer clay as an accepted medium for all manner of creative endeavors,” he concludes. We wish Joseph lots of energy and inspiration on his journey to achieving this praiseworthy cause.