syndee holt is a fixture in the polymer community. Her broad-spanning knowledge, endless creativity, and her unwavering optimism make her a valuable presence. I was first inspired by syndee in the early 2000’s when she shared stories of her life as a quirky artistic single mother and she’s been inspiring me (and all of us) ever since. syndee is a brand ambassador for Sculpey and travels around the world teaching and sharing both through Sculpey and as an accomplished teacher in her own right. – Ginger
Q When you were a little girl, what did you want to be?
A An artist – my dad’s family were all artists of some sort – My Uncle was a painter and sculptor in Scottsdale, my Aunt was a costumer designer and milliner (hence my love of hats) and my other aunt was a concert pianist. Fun fact: My mom used to send me on school breaks to my Uncle’s house and he would hand me a scratch palette of colors for a painting he was going to work on and tell me to mix the paint colors to match the palette. That’s why I love to mix color.
Q What did you study in school? What were your expectations for a career path?
A I went to Brooks Institute of Photography and I have degrees in Portrait and Color Theory (Brooks gave a Bachelor of Science degree, not art). I wanted to be a photographer, possibly portraiture but other forms of photography attracted me and I really felt the urge to meld some of my Uncle’s unique visions with my photography.
Q You have been doing a 3×3 photography project for a long time. What has that project taught you?
A I have! About 6 years now. I started it to help me learn to crop. At Brooks we were taught to get EVERYTHING in the camera – the less post-exposure work needed the better. So with the expanded field of camera phones, I wanted to teach myself to see the crop. I’ve always seen the light, but once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it. (Editor’s note: You can see syndee’s 3×3 photos on Instagram.)
Q What is the biggest single (can only choose one) thing you wish you could teach all polymer clayers to know?
A That there is no such thing as a mistake, just an opportunity to learn.
Q You seem to have an endless source of ideas. Do you ever run out of them?
A I haven’t ever run out of ideas – they are everywhere. I forget a LOT of them though. I’m also driven to complete projects whether I like them or not.
Q You have always been very straightforward about your two boys, (now grown, married men). Do you think raising boys changed who you are now?
A YES, at one time, I was a single mom, worked full-time, worked as a part-time contractor for Sculpey, Jacquard and Savage Universal (photo equipment) and cared for my dad. I learned how to manage time for sure! My sons were my creative well – refilling both my energy and my creativity. I preferred my kids to adults.
Q Your sons are both quite creative. Do you think it was inborn or do you think being raised with polymer clay helped with that?
A Both actually. Children model after the other people in their life, so my kids had my dad, myself, and all the “Clay Ladies”. But they learned a lot about photography from my clay work for sure! Lol
Q You’ve recently lost a lot of weight. What is your secret?
A Ahh, you telling on me? Well, I’m just watching my portion size. But I’m also an anorexic (they now call me Patient Zero because it was 1971 when I went from 170 to 95 in 7 months). Soo, I make sure that I eat really healthy. But part of anorexia is to be a “busy person” and to have exercise addiction and that certainly describes me! What advice do you have for others who are on the same journey? Portion size – a portion should fit in the palm of your hand. But make sure that you leave room for a treat every day. I have a malted ball after dinner every night and a SMALL cookie with my coffee every morning.
Q Lots of people don’t have space in their homes for a studio. Your solution was to turn your garage into a studio. What are some unique things you have to deal with because of it?
A I live in the house I grew up in, so I’m actually in my Dad’s workshop. It’s an unfinished garage, so chilly in Winter and toasty in Summer. But I built double farmhouse doors on the front of it so I could look outside and watch the kids when they were smaller. Now, I watch the clouds (I have a cloud identification poster my brother, the Geophysicist, gave me). I have a neighbors who drop by and lean on the ledges to see what I’m up to that day.
Q How did you find polymer clay?
A When I was working on campus at UC San Diego in the School of Medicine I first saw necklaces with caned beads made by Z Kripke, the physician who ran Student Health. She and I co-founded our San Diego Guild about 2 years later.
Q What made polymer clay so compelling for you?
A I don’t really know – maybe because I haven’t ever run out of ideas for it?
Q Do you ever get nervous before filming a TV segment? How do you deal with it?
A NOPE, I’m very good at time management and I have my projects stepped out, so once I get in the flow of the project it’s just as natural as talking to my neighbor. The solution? Preparation. Simplifying to fit a short time schedule. I’m not there to show how complex clay can be, but to show how FUN and easy it is.
Q At one point you’d said you want your name to be spelled in lower case. What’s the story behind that? Is that still something you do?
A Yes, I didn’t like cursive S when I was in grade school. I TRY to because people who know me will ping me if it gets capped in a magazine or something – and it bugs me. (Editor/webmaster note: sometimes software won’t let you change the case…my apologies for the title inconsistencies!)
Q You’re always so flawless and smooth when you’re demonstrating. Have you ever blown it completely?
A All demos are doomed to fail. You just have to roll with the punches and laugh it off. A very smart lady (Carol Duvall) once told me that people love to see us fail. Any epic stories of OMG? None, except the mortal fear of forgetting to send/bring something vital. I used to write packing lists for my boxes when I shipped to TV studios and then kept a list with me. That way I knew what I had sent and what I needed to take. Nowadays I don’t unpack my travel bag completely until end of October. And I breathe a big sigh of relief when I see that all my class supplies are in my boxes and bags.
Q You travel a lot to clay events around the world. What’s your favorite (and least favorite) things about traveling?
A That’s easy. The going to and from is my least favorite. Trying to book flights. And let’s face it, clay retreats are never in a convenient place for out of towners. So trying to hustle rides, book rental cars, map the trip etc. I love to see my dear clay friends and hate to leave them so quickly.
Q What is your favorite thing that you’ve made?
A Probably this photo transfer of my son when he was about 8. I reverse sculpted his chubby cheeks and palm of his hand by putting cotton balls under the sheet of clay when it baked so it slumped around those areas and raised them. He is 29 now. This portrait is a perfect blend of my portraiture and clay and it’s on semi-permanent display at UC San Diego (I don’t think that they want to ever give back my stuff I put in the display!)
Q Tell me about some of the practical things you’ve made or done with polymer clay?
A My house numbers outside on my front deck, I fix my gate latches with bits of baked clay and I fixed my neighbors colored glass in her door that got a hole in it about 20 years ago and it’s still there.
Q What does the future hold for you?
A Hopefully a happy, healthy life. I’m traveling to Japan this Spring to visit my kids and meet my grand-dog.