Polymania 2015, Day 1

posted in: Jewellery 3

Two weeks (13-15.3.2015) ago I took part in the polymer clay event Polymania at the Mercure hotel in Bristol. The event lasted three days and was meticulously planned and organised by my friend and fellow polymer clay artist Cara Jane Hayman.

Cara Jane Hayman
Cara Jane Hayman in front of her table – copyright Helen White

Cara is an experienced clayer and has been claying for way longer than me. She teaches her polymer clay techniques in workshops and also demonstrates on behalf of Decoman, the company behind the Kato clay brand. When she told me at the beginning of last year that she was planning this event and invited Donna Kato to teach I started saving up. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet one of the leading polymer clay artists, who also has managed to build a nice polymer clay empire. Donna has developed the Kato clay and other nifty products such as the Marxit tool for measuring and marking clay. She is also the founder of the website CraftEdu where crafters from all over the world teach various crafts not just polymer clay. Cara also invited Bettina Welker, whom I first met in 2012 during the Polydays (organised by Alison Gallant). (I have written about this event and you can find the post here.) The prospect of learning from three awesome teachers really spurned me on to get the money together.

Notebook and projects
Notebook and projects – copyright Helen White

My only concern initially about the event was my health and how I would manage conditioning Kato clay, which has the reputation of being really tough to condition. I have never used this clay before. Kato is the preferred brand by clayers, who specialise in intricate canes and also has a higher curing temperature (150 C). So far I haven’t done much intricate caning, due to me experimenting mostly with various surface techniques using Mica powders, gilders paste, glitters and texture plates. Last year I bought a motor for my pasta machine which makes it far easier for me to condition the clay, but for pretty obvious reasons (it’s noisy) I couldn’t bring the motor. I needn’t have to worry, because Cara had thought of everything and had a lovely assistant, her friend Emily Ketteringham, who helped her with the registration of the participants, tidying around and making sure the hotel’s carpet stayed clay-free, taking care of all ovens and also conditioned clay for me.
Concerns wiped aside I packed all my tools and anything that was listed in Cara’s e-mail for each individual workshop, though I didn’t have a few things such as a 4mm drill, so I had to borrow those.

Bag with tools
My bag with almost all tools – copyright Helen White

After a long and confusing drive to the Mercure (we got lost several times despite or because of the Satnav borrowed from my parents-in-law) I arrived and was given my name badge.

Name badge
Name badge – copyright Helen White


I then entered the room and looked for familiar faces from Facebook, because a few of my FB friends were there and it was an opportunity to meet them in real life. I liked the look of Cara’s project the most and wanted to start with this one first, so I found her group. She calls it a Kimono Curl pendant as it does resemble a kimono.

Cara's table with some pendants
Cara’s table with some pendants – copyright Helen White

I have never been taught by Cara so this was an interesting experience.
After everyone sat down, she briefly told us all a few things we could expect in the three days and some house rules – like taking care that we pick up clay from the carpet (it does stick to it when you tread on it and it’s difficult to get off). And then each tutor started to teach their group.
During the morning Cara went through the various steps of her pendant project rather quickly, so it was tough for beginners to keep up. Thankfully she was super patient with everyone and helped us. The hardest bit when you create detailed canes is really the stage when you reduce the cane. For non-clayers: reducing means lengthening the cane and making it smaller, as you usually end up with a rather big cane to start with once the components are stuck together. Cara’s project consisted of two complex, but very pretty and effective canes. And making these really took up all morning and part of the afternoon. After lunch she slowed down when she showed us each step, which made it easier to follow. Once we all made our canes and reduced them it was time to assemble the actual pendant – cutting out the shape and placing the components on it for the first bake – on a light bulb. A good reason not to bin old light bulbs is really – they make very useful tools for claying!

Finished canes
Finished canes – copyright Helen White

After the first bake she showed us how to create a pretty looking back for the piece and a bail. Unfortunately I didn’t get to that stage and finished my pendant the next day in Bettina’s class.
Why I couldn’t finish it in time? Well my husband rang me in the late afternoon to tell me he had an accident and sounded rather shaken. This obviously left me a bit shaken too. I didn’t know what exactly happened, but worried about him picking me up and how to get to the workshop the next day. So I told Cara. And she and Emily were trying to help me and come up with solutions – such as staying with someone in Bristol or taking the train home. In the end I rang him and told him I would take the train, but he was adamant that he picked me up and in the end it was not as dramatic as I feared. All this though meant I lost time to clay. And it showed off Cara’s crisis management skills.
In the evening we all went to a place called ZaZa Bazaar – for a group meal. It was a massive market hall with lots of different stalls offering Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and other types of food. As it was an all-you-can-eat buffet (the only restriction was the time we were allowed to stay) I ended up eating a little too much.

Finished pendant
Finished pendant – copyright Helen White

We were all pretty tired I think. I know I certainly was and at about midnight I finally collapsed into our bed, just to wake up at 7 am again to drive back to Bristol.

Pendant -detail
Pendant – detail – copyright Helen Whire


I hope you enjoyed this post. Part 2 will follow shortly. So keep your eyes peeled. And don’t forget to comments, share and subscribe to my newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


3 Responses

  1. Cara Jane
    | Reply

    Thanks for taking the time to write up such informative blog posts. They were rather long tiring days but a lot of fun!

    • Helen White
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment Cara – long indeed. I think next time I better stay in a hotel. The driving was a bit much! Car is currently being repaired.

  2. […] Update: In  2015 when I originally wrote this blog post  I took part in the three-day workshop “Polymania” in Bristol, which is organised every year by my friend Cara Jane Hayman, a very talented polymer clay artist. The workshop finished on Mother’s Day, which meant I was way to busy playing with clay to feel sad. It was a great weekend, as  not only Cara was be teaching, but also German polymer clay artist Bettina Welker and American artist Donna Kato. I own two books by Donna and she is one of the big names in the polymer clay community – so I was really excited to finally  meet her! Donna is not only a prolific artist, she also has her own brand of polymer clay named after her: “Kato” clay. I hadn’t used this clay before the workshop. Kato clay is the preferred clay by artists who create very intricate canes and it cures at a much higher temperature – 150 C. And one thing I noticed about Kato clay is that it is really difficult to condition! But it’s very durable and comes out of the oven nice and shiny. If you want to know about this workshop – check out my Polymania posts here   […]

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