I Heart Polymer Clay: Elissa Powell
Elissa Powell is best known for her “Elissahearts” – cheerful, brightly colored polymer clay hearts made with a wide variety of surface techniques, like the “Mosaic Cane”. Elissa shared those techniques through her free tutorials, which are still available today at the PC Polyzine and Polymer Clay Central websites. In so doing, she passed on a love for softly rounded hearts covered in a “Chrysanthemum Cane”, a look which became synonymous with her name.
When asked what motivated her to choose a heart over other shapes, she replied, “There's their versatility, sensuous simplicity, yet endless variability - but primarily, it's their universal message. My mother loved and collected hearts, and apparently I've inherited that passion from her, though I've taken it to a greater extreme!” Elissa published a great tutorial for making beautifully shaped, symmetrical hearts in her “E-Z Heart Lesson”.
Elissa encourages her readers to choose color combinations that have a strong contrast. “It’s like adding pepper to a bland bowl of soup!” She usually makes custom color mixes for her hearts, and enjoys using the pearlescent colors over the top of opaque ones. She also uses sterling silver screw eyes to put durable loops in the clefts of her hearts. These screw eyes can be purchased from RioGrande, a jewelry supply company.
Her journey with polymer clay began in the middle 1990’s. A craft store near where she lived was going out of business, and she had noticed the polymer clay hadn’t been selling, even as the prices dropped lower and lower each week. Curiosity piqued, she waited until the last day of business to make a purchase. The store manager announced over the loud speaker that visitors could fill a shopping cart and pay only $20.00. She said it became a madhouse as customers were grabbing things right and left… but not the clay. She filled Halloween-themed lawn bags with bricks of Fimo and Sculpey, stuffing them into her cart. Hundreds of packages of polymer clay filled the bags, and she took their entire stock.
The clay stayed in a closet for a couple of years, but once she began experimenting with it, she was hooked. She started doing canework around the year 2000, and her famous “Translucent Chrysanthemum Cane” tutorial was published in PC Polyzine that year.
She says, “The great thing about the mum cane is that there are so few rules! The color layers can be any thickness -you don't absolutely have to have a pasta machine - and any degree of opacity, as long as there is a good contrast between layers. And besides, nobody ever said the mum cane even had to be evenly flower shaped (distortion can be so liberating!).”
Elissa has shown a couple of variations using the Skinner blend. In one example, she “used pink and blue Jacquard Piñata ink to tint and blend the translucent layer, with the pink end toward the center of the roll. To ensure a good contrast, I backed the thin white layer with a very thin layer of opaque purple throughout the whole length of the sheet.” In another variation, she made a “purple-white blend, and ran it through the pasta machine to make a strip with the blend running from side to side. I then rolled it up and shaped it into a "plug", which I then flattened with a brayer into a strip where the entire blend was flattened, and the top surface was purple, the bottom white. I rolled this white-side-out, wrapped the outside in a very thin sheet of purple, and made the mum cane indentations the usual way. I assure you, this sounds a lot more complicated than it really is,” she explained. Yes it does; but then she’s made over 10,000 hearts since her foray into polymer clay, and ideas for variations were popping through her head faster than she could create them.
Events in recent years interrupted Elissa’s enjoyment of her favorite medium. Vision trouble and the loss of her mother have led her to take a break. The Photopoint site that her tutorials link to had to be closed down, and she doesn’t have her work currently available online, aside from the free tutorials. But Elissa has remained connected to the polymer clay community through Polymer Clay Central, an active online message board community. She still participates in weekly Wednesday night chats, hosted by friend and fellow clayer, Kathy Gregson. These free chat sessions are open to the public and friendly toward beginners as well as experienced clayers.
Elissa said in the future she would like to return to making her beloved hearts, and developing new techniques to take them to the next level. She has committed to making her tutorials completely free, so any new project ideas she has will be surely shared with the rest of us. She said there will be a gallery online in the near future, where people could again enjoy looking at, and being inspired by, the hearts she’s made.