Book Review – The New Clay

The New Clay is a serious and readable text offering polyform clays as a material for unique and production jewelry and object making. Polyform clays are PVC claylike materials which come in numerous colors, consistencies and working characteristics and are set hard by low temperature baking.

Afterwards they can be drilled, sanded and painted. Excellent imitations of most opaque and translucent gem materials are possible. One might at first automatically dismiss plastic-based “Fimo” and similar polyform clay jewelry as “beginning hobbyist” or a kind of low level craft work. This well thought out book goes far to counter such a easy dismissal of the ‘New Clays’.

0962054348 The New Clay:
Techniques and Approaches to Jewelry Making

By Nan RocheManufacturer: Flower Valley Press
Release data: 1999

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It is what one does with a material rather than it’s nature or normal context that counts and Nan Roche gives a great overview of techniques and pieces which take ‘polyform’ clays to a high level of material control and understanding.

Polyform clay has been used to research lost glass cane-making techniques because of its ‘unique ability to mimic glass’. Complex color images can be created in the form of a long rod with the image forming the ‘endgrain’ of the ‘log’. An image can then be sliced to create multiples or drawn down (reduced) in size by stretching it.

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Nan Roche writes about the material with passion and joy, often reading like someone speaking who has a lot of experience in teaching workshops on the material, an example of this being the patient repetition of important points scattered throughout the text.

Chapters include Basics, Tools, Color, Design, Preparations, Basic shape making, Canes and loaves, Surfaces, Collage, Sculpture, Findings and a good appendix on materials, sources, safety and bibliography. The acknowledgements are worth reading to get a welcome sense of credit properly given and of a family pulling together. A good table of contents, index and straightforward section titles make finding specific information easy and skimming a possibility.

There is a clear unbiased review of brands, sources, mixing possibilities and characteristics. Tools and skills are described in a distilled concise manner. Many tools are already in the home: for dedicated workers pasta makers and blenders are recommended.

The section on color is good to learn from or as a review. The four page design chapter consists of lucid design principles useful to anyone whether or not using polyform clays.

Dozens of specific techniques are illustrated by good diagrams and wherever possible photos of finished work showing the technique used. There is a wealth of detail here that comes only from close observation and much experience with a material. It is definitely ‘how to’ and the instructions look easy to follow. Tricks include transfers, foils and moulds.

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Roche’s excitement and enthusiasm for the material crops up all through the book, as do little hints on design principles.

There is a very good section on the science of the material worthy of any basic college engineering text. A list of artist’s addresses with the sources carry out the open, sharing, credit giving nature of the book. The book has plenty of good clear illustrations and lots of luscious saturated color photographs on coated stock. The superb photos are rich and professionally lit. The paper used is nice and thick, such that I had to check several times to see if I had two pages stuck together. The attractive cover, reminiscent of Ornament, could have been a tad more sturdy.

My criticisms are minor. Something about the cover, perhaps color and photo cropping tend toward a ‘crafty’ look. This won’t matter to some but may stop ‘serious goldsmiths’ from reading it which would be a shame. It is perhaps a little daunting in the volume of written information. A narrower column width and a bit more white space would make it a little easier to read. I have a personal objection to the use of the word ‘chasing’ for what is really incised carving.

The New Clay could be used as a text for a serious course in the material. In all a good book worth looking at if interested in beads, glass, color, precise pattern control, designing possibilities, mimicry or in making jewellery with these materials.

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I’d have to call this book the definitive work on using polyform clays.

Book Review by Charles Lewton-Brain
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