IPCA Member Phyllis Polema-Cahill answered our call for an interview. Enjoy her responses and when you're done, visit her website and see her IPCA Global Exhibition Gallery or check out her Vimeo.

When did you start using polymer clay?  

I started in November 2015.  On a whim, I read a library book about polymer clay and was amazed at what you can make with it.  It's so versatile! 

How did you learn how to use polymer clay? 

I bought some books and took some classes.  I practiced and made many mistakes.  For me, polymer hasn't been an easy medium to learn to use well.  At one point wondered if I'd ever make anything that would turn out, but I was captivated and I persisted. It's a good lesson in focusing on what goes well instead of what doesn't.    

 I also learned much from websites, online polymer clay groups and local guild meetings.  Somehow I became the president of our local guild—the Pikes Peak Polymer Clay Guild.  I think guilds are important for people to gather and enjoy themselves while learning and supporting one another.  We've started collaborating with the Mile-High Guild which is also in Colorado.

 How do you keep going when things don't work out the first time?

It's perseverance and patience or maybe just plain stubbornness. I'll have an idea for something I want to make or a problem I want to solve.  I'll keep working on it until I either figure it out or hit a brick wall. I write down what I've tried and take photos of the process.  This helps me to remember what I did and hopefully not repeat the same mistakes.

 What's your background?

boywsledI've worked all my life as an artist. I worked in a few design studios as a graphic designer for about fifteen years.  My last design job was as Creative Director for a division of McGraw-Hill.  I went to Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and got a degree in illustration.  In December 1995 I began illustrating children's books full-time and did that for about twenty years.   

I'm originally from Minnesota, but have lived in Colorado since 1973.   I've been married for an amazing forty years, have three step-children, four step-grand-children and a step-great-grandson.  We also have two cats that keep us entertained.Hunter and Ali on baby chairs 2

 What do you like to make?

I've tried an assortment of things, but have settled on making jewelry.  I like to use motifs from nature, vintage patterns and muted colors.  I also like the contrast of shiny vs matte and the ability to see through translucent clay.

 Do you use many different mediums?

I began making jewelry with polymer and wire.  I've since learned some metalworking skills and have added copper, sterling silver and small gemstones to the mix.  I've narrowed down the other mediums I use based on what's compatible with polymer and what doesn't fade or deteriorate.  I mainly use PanPastels, pigment powders, Genesis Heat-Set Oils, watercolors and transfers.  

 Do you have a favorite clay?

ICernit colors baked've tried almost all of them and Cernit Number One, Cernit translucent and Pardo have become my favorites.  

 What inspires your work?

My favorite inspirations are plants, flowers, vintage quilt patterns and wallpaper.  I live in the mountains with a national forest adjoining my backyard so the beauty of nature continually inspires me.  I love the delicacy of flowers, varied leaf shapes and spiraling tendrils.  I'm also a long-time vegetable and flower gardener and I like to watch birds and hike in the mountains.   

 Who or what has influenced you?

Cahill delft pattern peacock pendant white bkgd sq My polymer clay heroes are Tory Hughes and Gwen Gibson.  I feel an affinity with The Arts & Crafts Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s and vintage things.  I don't know if it's my Dutch heritage, but I also love blue and white Delftware.    

 Do you plan your designs?

assignment 3 final sketch v3Yes, I almost always sketch, use the computer and make mockups.  This lets me quickly test out different compositions and color combinations.  I've found that if I plan, the end result is much closer to what I imagine and I'm happier with it.

 What's important to you when making jewelry?

It's important that it's well-crafted, comfortable to wear and as beautiful as I can make it.  

 Do you do your own photography and marketing?

I do.  I've had to learn a lot about taking photos and post-production because good photos are so critical when selling online and applying for shows.  I invested in a good digital camera, lenses and lights and have a dedicated space for taking photos.  I also design and maintain my own website through Shopify.com.  Instagram and Facebook have been my main online marketing tools.  

 What are your goals for the future?

Oh, I have so many.  I want to continue making things I think are creative and beautiful.  I want to continue to refine my jewelry collections to become more focused and unified.  I want to continue to learn more about polymer clay and the various mediums to use with it.  This is the first time in my life that I haven't made a living with my art, so I'd also like to make more money selling my jewelry wholesale and retail.    

 Do you teach?

I feel like I'm still learning, though I do demos for our local guild.  I don't try to invent new techniques or projects to teach.  I think there are already so many that work well.  If I got serious about it, I'd probably teach about design and discovering your own voice.

 I do share the tests I've done using polymer and other materials on my blog, https://www.PolymerClayJourney.com.  Since I sell my work, it's important to me to make things that are durable and that I can reliably reproduce.  I don't want finishes that scratch off or clay that cracks. 

 What do you do when not making jewelry?

I like good books and movies, petting cats, organic gardening, cooking healthy food, taking walks and visiting art museums.  I've been studying French for thirty years and regularly attend conversation classes.  I like traveling to Europe.

 Where can I find your work?

tear away earrings teal white bkgd squareMy jewelry is for sale at https://www.PhyllisCahillDesign.com.  I also sell at online art shows, art festivals in Colorado and in a few retail stores.  I'm a member of Commonwheel Artists Co-op in Manitou Springs, CO.

IPCA2016 Horiz

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