About the time most folks are snuggling deeper into the bed covers, Tish Collins is cranking up the music on her radio and feeling the creative juices start to flow.She picks up speed as she works, rapidly cutting and piecing flat pieces of polymer clay into colorful mosaic designs. The resulting works of art can be hung on the wall, as is the case for Tish’s mirrors and wall hangings; other pieces are fashioned into necklaces, pendants, chokers and earrings. Each is handmade and totally unique, although Tish has developed several color palettes using shades of brown, peach, yellow, pink, red, purple, teal, lime green, blue and turquoise.
“Between midnight and 3 a.m. — for some reason that’s when it all clicks together for me,” Tish says.
Polymer clay is extremely versatile and in the hands of talented artists like Tish, can take on an incredible variety of forms. She begins with Premo brand polymer clays, a high grade durable type of Sculpey® clay which comes in an array of vibrant colors. She runs the blocks of color through a pasta machine to form small rectangles which are fairly uniform in thickness. Sometimes each rectangle is a combination of colors. Then, using paints, powders, inks and foils she creates unique surface effects. She has a variety of “tools,” some of which she’s found in odd places, to add textural interest. Stamps are useful for making impressions of leaves, geometric designs and meaningful words. If you look closely, you’ll discover that some of the tiny mosaic pieces are imprinted with those thought-provoking “gems.” Look again and you’ll see the black-and-white bar which is a “signature” of Tish’s work.
When Tish first started playing around with polymer clay, she discovered she could make great-looking mirrors in round, square and octagonal shapes. But she always had scraps left over and since she hates waste, she combined the pieces together and began making jewelry.
“My jewelry is definitely not traditional, and it’s certainly not dainty,” Tish commented. She says the women who wear her jewelry are generally working women over the age of 40 who dress to please themselves, not others. They like the bold, original designs Tish has used in her pendants, earrings, pins, necklaces and chokers, many of which are adorned with “found objects,” such as feathers, rusty washers, stones and beads.
Tish works “wet,” meaning the clay is still malleable when she cuts and pieces the small squares and rectangles to create the mosaic effect. She doesn’t have to put a lot of thought into the process, having developed an innate understanding of the look she’s after.
Because she works so quickly, Tish says she’s not always neat about the process. “The rest of my world has to be very organized. But where I work — this is a free-for-all. There’s no set plan, no pattern.”
Finished pieces go into the convection oven, a secondhand appliance from a friend who said it didn’t bake cookies to his liking. “It may make lousy cookies, but it makes great clay,” Tish says. “It provides more consistent heat than a regular oven, and I can leave it to bake for hours if the temperature is low enough.”
After baking, each item is antiqued, a process which unifies and highlights the texture, then sealed to protect the life of the piece.
Tish was recently featured as an “emerging artist” at the American Craft Retail Expo (ACRE) in Las Vegas, Nev. Having survived her first big wholesale show, she is looking forward to the huge Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show in November. She’ll also be returning to Las Vegas, one of a handful of crafts-people selected for a juried show later this month.
Although Tish has always considered herself a “city girl,” she realized during the trip to Las Vegas that she’s just not cut out for the bright lights anymore. When she and her husband Allen moved to Cedaredge seven years ago with their three children, Tish says she had a tough time adjusting to small town life. She took a job at the library to make the transition a little easier. Still, she says, it took about four years before she felt at home in Cedaredge. She picked up polymer clay just six years ago, and as she became more and more involved in the creative process she found herself working until 2 a.m. in the morning. Understandably, that made it pretty tough to be at work at 9 a.m. the next day.
About the same time, her best friend’s husband died unexpectedly. That caused Tish to examine her own life more closely, and she quickly realized she was filling her days with a lot of activities that had no real meaning to her. “I was doing a lot of things I didn’t need to be doing,” she said. “I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life.”
That introspection led to a life-altering experience. With the support of her husband Allen, Tish quit her job and began devoting all her efforts to her artwork. Giving up her “normal” routine was a big leap, but Tish is started to see positive results. Her work is currently being shown in 14 galleries in eight states, including Munson’s Main Street Gallery in Cedaredge. She’s still learning how to market herself and her work, but she’s found great support from her friends, including Jim and Tracy Munson, and her three sons, one of whom helped develop her website. She says her husband Allen is one of her biggest supporters, helping out with the housework, driving her to shows when she’s too nervous to do it herself, and learning how to help out with just about every stage of the artistic process. Most recently he created circular display units to showcase Tish’s jewelry at the huge wholesale markets. Both Allen and Tish delighted in the compliments they got from the distinctive display units, which were made from sono tubes normally used to form concrete columns for buildings and bridges. Allen cut away a portion of the tube wall, creating a display space within to suspend Tish’s necklaces and pendants. Each piece was tastefully spotlighted.
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“Bold” and “original” are two of the words which Tish uses to describe her work, and they’re words which could also be applied to the artist herself as she develops the confidence to sell herself and her talent. Visit fineworksinpolymer.com to see all her products.