Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The workshops

How do you pack five years of experience into a one-day workshop? This was my ultimate challenge and goal when I started planning for the basic polymer clay lessons.


I started this business creating average-looking jewelry with the same old materials from Quiapo bead stores. It was just a pastime with no intention of making money, a hobby that soon turned into an obsession. After almost a year of working with copper wire and stringing semi-precious stones and beads through cords, I got bored. Everyone was doing almost the same thing!


So I did a bit of research into designing unique jewelry, and I stumbled upon a book with a few pages about an oven-baked material called polymer clay. The possibilities enthralled me! I searched locally for other designers using this cool material, hoping to get some tips on where to buy it, but I couldn't find anyone into clay (or maybe I just didn't know how to look).

I searched the net but came up with no answers. All directions pointed me to importing the stuff from the US, but that was out of the question at that time. I didn't have the resources to order online (it wasn't so easy back then), so it took me months to actually get my hands on this elusive clay.

I finally found the stuff in a now defunct craft store in Eastwood. Finally, I thought, I could create the designs that were brewing in my head. But fate decided to play a game on me: P150 for a tiny bar? I was a sophomore on a tight budget, so that was equivalent to more than a day's allowance already! Of course I couldn't get just one color – you had to have different hues to make beads. It was frustrating to finally find what you've been searching for, then finding out you couldn't afford it.

It was my cousin Kristine who saved the day (I am forever in your debt, cuz). We split the tab, but she ended up paying for the lion's share (I am so kapal!). So off we went, happy with just three colors. (And I didn't even choose the most useful ones, tsk.)

But little did we know that what you found in books wasn't really the real deal. The book said to roll the clay between your palms to create a round bead. And so we did. But the book didn't say how to control sticky clay, nor did it instruct us how to create the hole without distorting the bead, or why the damn thing never ends up round, or why when I bake the beads in the toaster, they either turn up crumbly or scorched. The book certainly left out a lot of things. I searched for other books but like the first book, they were simply filled with how-tos, not with actual problem solving.

So I called up the craft store, asked if they offered lessons. Yes, they did. For half the price of my entire semester in UP. Yikes. I would save up, I promised myself. But by the time I came up with the money to pay for the lessons, the store was gone, dead, defunct. I was left with no other choice but to learn the hard way.

I wasted many bars of clay, bought the wrong brands, used the wrong materials, scorched beads because of the wrong equipment, spent many hours doing the wrong thing before finally doing it right. In the end, I spent almost the same amount I would have paid for the workshop, but wasted more time than was necessary.

But do I regret being self-taught? No. The years of hard work provided me with enough experience to build the business I have today. The same way experiences make good writers, years of trial and error make good techniques.

So there lies the basis for my workshops: time-tested techniques, beyond what the books offer, beyond what the internet tells you, beyond what you thought you knew.

Call me stupid, but in every workshop I teach, I can't keep my secrets secret. I don't have the heart to send off participants with false information, or with something half-baked (literally and figuratively). I don't want their work ending up like most of the poorly made, carelessly thought-out clay fstuff now in the market. As I always say, strive for perfection. No one can ever be perfect, but you can be close. (Although as one participant said, "too perfect won't make your work look realistic"… so if you're making food jewelry, aim for realism instead. Haha!)



To share that aha moment with the participant – that moment when you see the truth dawn on their faces (ah, ganun pala yun!) – is priceless. More than the financial rewards of teaching, it is my own aha moment I look forward to. Every workshop I teach renews my interest in polymer clay. It keeps my creative juices flowing; it has awakened days of uninspired designer's block. When I take out molds that have long been forgotten and see the participant's face light up after she makes her first charm, it's like seeing everything for the first time all over again. Teaching has given me a fresh perspective, and at this point in my career, nothing beats a fresh idea.

And boy, do I have ideas. There are so many details I want to share in the workshops that I end up getting tongue-tied trying to organize my thoughts. As snippets from a past experience here or a past mistake made there are shared, the course outline I prepared becomes a mere guideline than an actual lesson plan. As I tell my participants, the outline is just the tip of the iceberg.

And the rest of the iceberg? It is presented in a well-planned, easy-to-understand-and-remember approach, thanks to my background in Dev Com. I never would have thought I could tie up my BS degree with this passion for the crafts. (Hard to believe right, considering how technical and noble the field of Dev Com is and how artsy fartsy I am right now?) But as it turned out, all those lessons in journ, edcom, and scicom, and about "bridging the gap between technology and the masses" would prove to be useful in this teaching endeavor. Sounds technical, I know, but all I mean is that I understand how to make technicalese sound like plain English for beginners.

But the workshop is not just for beginners - it's for non-beginners, too. Because the sad truth is, the sudden interest in all things clay has sparked a hasty plunge into commercialization, with handmade clay stuff beginning to look like clones of each other, like the way chunky semiprecious stones and Swarovski jewelry were all the rage when I was starting out.

I've always been critical of mediocre craftsmanship. This is why I decided to teach. This is why I can't keep my secrets. I aim to address this mediocrity, this pwede na attitude. I aim to make others understand the importance of good quality, of striving for perfection. If second-rate products (read: fragile, messily crafted) are continuously introduced out there, then clay will never be taken seriously, despite its potential. I am not an expert, because I do not know everything, but I've made my share of mistakes over the years, and made enough realizations worth sharing.

So how do you pack five years of experience into a one-day workshop? The answer is, you can't. But I will damn try.




Here's to Ms Pars, who patiently waited for a year, who shared her thoughts and made suggestions. I learned a lot from you.

To Ms Ghie, who trusted me enough to make the long trip from Bulacan to Pasig , who always texts to cheer me on.

To Ms Jhasy, who made my day in Alabang last Monday, who was the buena mano but doesn't know it, whose lovely color choices have inspired me.

To Ms Hazel, whose works were prettier than mine, and a beginner at that!

To Ms Bang, who already makes wonderful and unique clay stuff on the onset, but still searched for perfection through the workshop.


Thank you!

1 comment:

Mavel said...

i love your life story...
very inspiring...
I'm really prayerful to make my own craft too...I also roam around Quiapo for beads and when i had a reading about clay... I'm very excited!!!
I want to attend a workshop :)

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