Thursday, September 06, 2012

Continental drift on pause...

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Blue Marble Earth Images from NASA's Earth Observatory Program
As requested by some of you, I'd like to share a little about the creation of my Africa Map pendant. I've wanted for some time to create some canes featuring countries or continents. Never had a clue how I would use them, so it remained an itch in my right brain until Erin announced her Challenge of Travel at the end of July.  

My first search for inspiration took me (figuratively) out of this world. As a child during the early years of space travel, I was fixed to the old black and white television, gobbling up regular doses of technical jargon and snowy shots of in-flight hi-jinks. The romance of space was, to my mind, not at all diluted in later years by that nasty talk of "faked" moon landings. I remain a believer and a dreamer.

So Erin, since your choices of travel destinations were limited to Planet Earth, I figured I would go for one of the places that has drawn souls, both the daring and the introspective, since before Stanley and Livingstone. I have actually met young men and women from West African countries, here, in my own obscure community (my Middle of Nowhere to their Heart of Darkness). They have each seemed a proverbial ray of sunshine to this perpetual seeker. Perhaps I fear Africa is as for from my grasp as the surface of the moon. In my art I can seek both.

Armed with my determination to translate fantasy into art, I chose the incredibly beautiful Blue Marble image above as my graph.

I just noticed the second photo is upside down. No matter. I got a couple of cheap frames, and made a sandwich of the two sheets of glass, with the printed photo in the middle. My print was quite small, about 3" x 3.5". If I were to do a similar project in future I would go larger.

Mine are actual glass. If using plastic "glass", definitely test it before using it for polymer clay (PC can react with some plastics). Now to prop up the frame and support the clay picture I will be building.   

This little contraption is meant for holding needlework patterns. It is not visible in the following picture, but you'll have to trust me. It is doing its important job. I lined up an old floppy disc storage box to support my work. Office tape was sufficient as the clay volume is small. 

You needle-workers out there (and you are legion) have mostly guessed my method. When I had eyes that worked, my creative passion was counted cross-stitch. I didn't bother creating a "chart" as that would be tedious and unnecessary. 

Custom polymer clay colours.

Lined-up extrusions are cut equal lengths.

But the principle of filling in the "canvas" is the same. Using extruded clay, I started matching colours in the picture, lining up my extruded clay rods, starting at the bottom (O.K. that is a moronic comment, where else would I start?!) Here are a few WIP shots:

I have several large flexible Ott-lites that I LOVE for many crafts. I have one positioned behind the frame, shining through the glass sandwich. A second light is focused on the front to help my *mature* eyes see the build.

I have a layer of plastic wrap under the clay, mostly to make removal easier. Isn't the Big Blue Marble purty?

As I slowly (my only speed) worked my way up from the Cape of Good Hope, I could see Africa taking shape before my eyes.
*Note: the actual southern most point in the continent is Cape Agulhas. Calling it Cape of Good Hope has stuck since the 15th century.

I'm at the equator... it is very HOT but so exciting. Notice the rows are offset. That was my brilliant plan to fill in the spaces better for less distortion. More about that later.

At long last, the map is filled in. This took me two days to complete and my little Makin's extruder got quite a workout. Offsetting the rows made it harder to square up the sides.

I removed some corner rods and used them to shape an oval. One of many times in my life when I should have followed my instincts, extruded more clay, and built a rectangle. It doesn't look too bad here, just starting to reduce.

As my cane got longer and smaller, the inevitable distortions started to occur.

I think some of this is typical of a larger cane that is not reducing evenly. Possibly because some of my custom colours contained more or less translucent clay, which I find troublesome in canes. I learn something new about the method each time I use it. It works for simpler canes like this one, or you can go complex. See the end of the post for some links.

A slice of cane taken from a smaller circumference. This was a test pendant. I think it was unbaked in this picture. That's just a red seed bead to mark Burkina Faso's location. Notice the curve of the north-western continent? WRONG! 

My favourite caddies for a project: fresh mushroom trays. I love how they are divided so I can spread those goodies around and still keep everything separate.

Land of the Upright, August 2012

So I could refer to this as the finished piece, but the ones we keep are never really ever "finished", are they?

Congratulations to everyone who managed to read to the end! Your prize? Why, knowledge of course. Or the horrible realization that there are folks like me, who really can write so many words about so little...

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE (I promise it's not really an infomercial)! 

I just had to acknowledge a very talented PC artist whose work is an huge inspiration for me. I first saw the work of Ms. Julie Eakes back in August 2010 (I know because that was when I finally got an internet connection!) She appears to be a bit of a specialist in "face" canes. While I am not an über fan of cartoon-style canes, something I saw on her blog in February 2011 blew my mind. Do yourselves a favour if you haven't visited in a while... check out her Botticelli extrusion cane and stay to read her other great posts.

Secondly, there's another fantastic resource I frequent. I've bragged about her so many times while commenting on the blogs of others, but now I realize I haven't mentioned her here. For anyone wanting to improve their polymer clay skills, Cindy Lietz and her Polymer Clay Tutorials is one of the most exhaustive and user-friendly resources out there. Yes, she charges for her courses (the blog is open to everyone), but this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for, and more. And don't get me started on her colour palettes. Highly recommended!


  1. Thanks for taking me through that very interesting and time consuming process, your patience and effort resulted in a great focal.

  2. this is so unbelievably wonderful! i really appreciate the whole post, as i never knew the process. your work is beautiful, to say the least. WOW! i mean, WOW!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing your process. I had wondered about how "canes" are used...and all the rest. I love learning something when I read a blog! And of course, I've already said the pendant is just perfect!

  4. Wow. Wow. I have used canes in a very simple way, not terribly successfully, and to see how you did this was fascinating!

    1. Thank you, Cassi. PC is such a forgiving medium, and I'm definitely learning as I go. It's all about practising... and playing around. Have fun with it!

  5. Oh my word!! What amazing work and what patience you have! Thank you so much for all the photos and explanations, it was great to see the process and all the work that goes into making such a detailed cane.

  6. Thank you SO much for the details on how you made that map. A true labor of love, the pendant itself and this blog post. (Trust me, this is not a long post at all!)

    You made me laugh with (I promise this is not an infomercial). Love your humor :)

  7. Thanks for sharing Julie Eakes's blog!

  8. What a fantastic post, I love that you showed all the hard work that went into that beautiful focal, it really was intresting to see and you piece turned out great (those little elephant clasps are soooo cute)

  9. Wow, Monique! What an incredible effort you undertook to make that pendant. It turned out beautifully and I had no idea how much work was involved. I loved it before but now I appreciate it more.

  10. Incredible! Thank you for showing the process.. I have always wondered how caning was done..quite the undertaking! Both the pendant and necklace represent the culture, colors and people of Africa so beautifully!

  11. This is a great post, love seeing all the steps to your beautiful pendant! Incredible work! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Monique I am so impressed! What a beautiful job you did on your African map and congratulations on the feature on Erin's blog! The way you set up that contraption for laying down the extrusions was brilliant. Aren't you glad you took photos along the way? A project like that would be a lot of work to recreate after if you hadn't. And thank you for your recommendation of my blog. I really appreciate your kind words. You really have taken what you have learned with the Snowy Tree Pointillist Cane and pushed the concept and execution into your own direction with this African cane. I am very proud of you!

    1. Thanks, Cindy, your praise means a lot! A few months ago I had run across a Youtube video showing a simple cane, made with extrusions and what was basically a graph of a heart (it was filmed by a gentleman, which I thought very cool). The graph concept appealed to my left brain LOL. In my current project (ongoing), I am combining some of Julie's style of "shaped" caning for the main design, with square extrusions for the background. Keeping my fingers crossed I'll get at least some usable cane!

  13. Amazing to see your process of making intricate polymer clay beads! Your photos of the process are great.


I love your comments and read each one! I am happy to reply to anyone who has an email attached to their profile, and I love doing just that (plus I was brought up to say "thanks" LOL). I don't usually reply here on the blog, but I will if you are a "no-reply blogger" with a question. Know that I appreciate EVERYONE who takes time to drop me a line!

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