Pamela Carman works in many different mediums, but her specialty is designing in polymer clay. She remembers back to the 1980’s when polymer clay was available in only one color-white. TRR interviewed Pam in her Jupiter, FL studio.
TRR: What were your early influences in taking this artistic career path?
PC: I idolized and still do my older brother who was always drawing and doodling. I wanted to emulate him as well as my Mom, who was super creative. There was no project she would not attempt to conquer. She was the original “do-it-yourselfer” and I always helped her on projects.
TRR: Did you know that you wanted to have an art career when you grew up?
PC: Art has always been my minor. When I was growing up I thought I would operate a plant nursery because I loved to watch things grow. Then I realized I didn’t have a green thumb. In high school, I loved my art class but when I went to University of Florida I knew I should be more realistic, so I chose art as a minor. My major was anthropology. I thought that after college I would join the Peace Corps and be able to use that knowledge wherever I was placed.
I grew up in this area since I was in fifth grade. My family owned a marina and hotel business in Palm Beach Shores. In fact, my father was mayor at one time. I worked retail, hospitality, and reservations. In 2004 our family sold the business and I became a stay-at-home mom. It was then that I was able to really pursue my art passion.
TRR: What drew you to this particular medium?
PC: I loved the immediacy and the “no surprise” factor of polymer clay vs. earthen clay and how it changes as it is cured in the kiln. There are always some surprises with polymer, but that spontaneity allows me to experiment more and not be so worried about wasting supplies.
TRR: Tell us about your favorite as well as challenging parts of your business.
PC: My favorite part is the creativity. I find marketing myself the most challenging part of this business, being involved in the administration and doing the paper work after I have made something.
TRR: Do you have any tips for beginning artisans?
PC: Allow yourself to explore and make mistakes. One of my friends cites this quote often, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you expect.” You should follow your heart.
TRR: Do you belong to any guilds or professional associations? How does this influence your work?
PC: I was working with polymer clay before the internet made it easy to access other artists, so being part of the South East Florida Polymer Clay Guild, the North County Artists Association, and the Village Artist Studios, an artist coop in Tequesta, has really fueled my creative juices. I find the camaraderie of other artists, even if they are using different mediums, helpful. We share ideas. And I am grateful for their openness to share these “breeding grounds of creativity” with me. I feel an eagerness and a need to share when I am part of these groups to enrich and stimulate our mutual creativity. It becomes a synergistic experience and the results are greater than the sum of the individual parts.
TRR: What story does your art tell us?
PC: I seem to have recurring themes, mainly animal motifs, especially birds. There are many levels of symbolism with my birds. Some are earth-bound while others might fly. Some are whimsical. I see myself and other people’s lives through nature. I like to imagine what is like to be some creature other than myself and express that
experience through my sculpture. It allows me to escape from everyday life and put myself in my creations.
TRR: Take us from the beginning of an idea to a finished piece of work.
PC: I feel an emotion and consider what the creature is feeling – the motion and the emotion. Then I sketch it out in pencil on one of my many notepads. Next I consider the color palate I will be using. Then I start building the armature base using solid pieces of clay as well as scrap clay. I never throw clay out. Now it is time for the decorative layer of clay, chosen from hundreds of clay canes I have already made, or making new ones as I go. Polymer clay must be cured by baking, after which I may polish and buff the piece using from 400 to 1000 grit sandpaper. Some pieces are coated with liquid polymer and baked again. It depends on the pieces and its purpose.
TRR: You spoke earlier about marketing being one of your challenges. How do you market your work?
PC: I have taken part in a number of juried shows including Howard Alan and American Crafts Endeavors. My work is sold at the Village Artists Studios Coop in Gallery Square North in Tequesta, FL and their sister store, Original Elements and at Local Treasures in Tequesta. I teach classes at the Ocean Reef Art League in Key Largo and I offer classes here in my studio for beginners to intermediate level students ages 5 years old and up. When I teach, I focus on projects that are achievable in a day. Everyone likes to go home with a completed piece. My classes are intimate with 4-8 people so everyone gets a lot of my attention and sharing our ideas with each other is an aspect that all of my students appreciate.
TCC: Tell us how you manage to balance your role as an artist with your responsibilities as a wife and mother.
PC: It is challenging at best. I have notebooks in every room of the house, so when I think of an idea, I can just jot myself a note and go back to whatever I was involved in doing. That way, I don’t worry that I may have lost the creative concept and at the same time, I don’t feel I am ignoring my family’s needs. Because my husband is so supportive, it makes everything more enjoyable. He literally built this studio as an addition to our house! Actually, he decided to build it after the designated areas of one bedroom and the garage were overflowing into the rest of the house. He still doesn’t have his garage space totally back yet.
TRR: How do you invigorate your creativity ?
PC: I often go back to the masters to help me with color palate and will look at books of artwork in other mediums. Being part of the COOP and guilds as well as participating in artist’s challenges helps me recharge. I find that having the intention of making a specific item at the beginning of a project tends to make for a far more satisfying outcome, even if the design may deviate from my original path.
TRR: How do you define success?
PC: Being able to keep my family’s needs and my artistic desires in balance.
TRR: When does “will this sell?” start influencing your work?
PC: When I am preparing for shows I try to strike a balance between what is coming from my heart, which for me is making the canes themselves and deciding what sculptures to create. At first, I was only producing barrettes and salt & pepper shakers. Then I started to make the creature sculptures, which my husband was sure would not sell. Well, I brought one of them with me to be part of my display and a woman could not put it down. She had to have it! Once that happened, it was clear
that there was room for me to market my more “creative side” and I have never looked back. The salt & pepper shakers and barrettes are my “bread and butter” while my sculptures are from my heart.
To reach Pamela Carman for more information about her polymer clay creations or classes, call her at: 561-748-3746
Pictures of the Polymer Clay Creation Process
Initial sketch for a sculpture
Building an armature
Adding base clay
Decorative layer baked and finished
Packages of polymer clay
Canes of clay
Conditioning the clay
Forming the canes
Cane pieces used to design sculpture
Pam and Rickie in the studio
Some of Pam’s polymer clay barrettes
Two of Pam’s sculptures for sale
Pam’s special ingredient
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