The isolation of the COVID-19 lockdown has caused many of us to re-evaluate our comfort level with both our creative flow and our connection to others. Below, polymer artist Christine Dumont shares her thoughts about this and what happened when she reached out to a relative stranger to learn more about her polymer clay explorations. – Ginger
Home but Not Alone: reaching out in the time of social distancing
In normal times, our scheduled workshops are celebrations: we share our talent, creativity, meals, laughter, oopsies and growth. It’s often a time to travel and discover new countries and cultures.
With the lockdown, what can we do instead?
Ginger had asked me to write an article for Polymer Clay Love. What to write? Why not reach out beyond my studio-cocoon to other artists and conduct a phone interview to get to know them and discover their work? Normally, a phone call would have seemed intrusive, but today perhaps welcome.
The first flush of excitement was to decide who to talk to. Why not call someone I didn’t know very well, someone whose work I wasn’t familiar with, so that I would experience the joy of discovering.
Off to the Big Unknown
And so I picked Belinda Broughton. Her posts on Facebook were always friendly and generous. Chances are she wouldn’t bite my head off if I called her out of the blue.
Belinda Broughton: The Veneer Wizard of Oz
I contacted Belinda on Messenger, asking her if she wanted to be interviewed for the article, which was to be conducted by phone. When she realised I had not asked for her bank account number, and this wasn’t spam, she gave me her phone number.
After a few introductory exchanges, I explained that the interview was to focus on her and her creative results, and not on the secrets of her techniques and suggested we look at her work together. She pointed me to her work page on Facebook . As she took me through her work, I thought I was in veneer wonderland!
We conducted the interview over a couple of phone calls and this is what I learned.
Christine: What strikes me most about your veneers is their versatility and amazing visual depth. What’s the story behind them?
Belinda: I’ve always done something creative in my life. I’ve dabbled in paints, ceramics, soap- and candle-making and acquired experience with many materials and mediums through the years. I took up polymer clay six 6 years ago. I picked it up from a book I bought at the local store. At the beginning I was working mostly with mica powders until I took a workshop with Debbie Crothers. She opened up a whole new world for me by introducing me to inclusions. All the experience I had acquired before polymer clay was becoming relevant again! I came home inspired, and searched my pantry, cupboards, shops in my little town and online for things I could use as inclusions and alternative mediums I could marry up with clay. And I started experimenting. I would pile up the layers onto a veneer and often when I thought I had completely ruined it, I would take it one step further, and add one more layer. Or to the contrary, scrape off the surface and expose the various layers beneath. And more often than not, this when the magic happened! Surprisingly something quite beautiful would emerge. Success is all about going the extra mile!
Christine: Flowers are a recurrent motif in your layered veneers. They capture the movement of someone who has a keen eye for botanicals. They seem to be partly the result of chance, partly drawn by hand. This ambiguity is highly attractive.
Belinda: I have a strong connection with nature. I come from a small rural town in tropical North Queensland, Australia. Nature has always been a large part of my life. I’m a passionate gardener, and have designed my own lush tropical garden from scratch, complete with coconut palms, plumerias, and a water-lily lagoon at our front steps, that attracts ducks, herons, pelicans and turtles, with resident kangaroos, echidnas and possums. So it was only natural for me to include nature in my work.
My “Florals” technique which I developed a couple of years ago also requires the layering of many media. I love plumerias and try to capture their freshness and movement in my work. The flowers look free, light, delicate and whimsical, though they’re not always simple to create. I use a technique that creates a sketch or a “first impression” for each flower in the veneer. Then each flower is finished by hand.
Christine: Some of your veneers look like abstract paintings. They seem effortless, the expression of an artist in full flow.
Belinda: I can only experiment when I shut off the world, be in my own bubble, and let things flow. Nothing planned and no expectations. I work on techniques, and explore different ways of using them, and with different mediums, which resulted in different outcomes. Abstract paintings just happened, they weren’t planned. For instance, the blue abstract below was destined to the scrap heap until I decided to go one extra step and draw the white lines. For the other three abstracts, I am experimenting with the viscosity of different mediums such as watercolour and paint on polymer. Some need brush and paint to finish off.
Christine: You said you’ve lost your Mojo. It started with the Australian fires and now C-19. How do you see the way forward?
Belinda: I haven’t felt like creating with polymer clay, because maybe subconsciously, the Coronavirus pandemic has affected me more than I realise. It has to affect most of us sensitive folk, really, hasn’t it? Hearing of the devastation it’s created worldwide, the lives it’s taken, economies in tatters. And the speed with which it’s travelled to every corner of the globe. It’s heart breaking. Maybe some people push through it, by being busy creating beautiful pieces, and shutting it out that way. I’ve always found my garden, and the connection to nature, my way of coping when things aren’t right with the world (or my world). Getting back to basics, and living simply. Digging in the dirt, and growing my own fruit and vegetables.
BUT, I can see a way out. I think tomorrow I will have a little dabble in my work room. Pick up some clay again, and have a little play, maybe. Get the feel of it in my hands again.
I was so thankful that Belinda agreed to the interview. Meeting her, even if just on the phone, enriched my world. I discovered a wonderful artist, in the garden and in the studio. I’ve met many gardeners in my life but no one who had created her own lagoon. As a polymer clay artist, she shows us that for our creativity to release its magic, there is no short cut, we have to dig deep and work at it and not settle for first results. Thank you Belinda!
Christine Dumont is a contemporary jewellery artist and international instructor in the art of polymer clay.
In 2010 Christine created Voila!, an influential polymer design website that brought professionals and beginners together in a unique online format. Voila! is the first platform to focus on the importance of good design practice within the polymer community. By offering a thoughtful balance of practical, technical information with more in depth discussion concerning emotional and aesthetic choice, Voila! became a ‘go to’ site for artists wishing to raise the bar in their own work. Christine created a unique critique system that focused primarily on the strengths of participant’s works while tactfully guiding them to reach higher for the best possible outcome.