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P is for Polymer Clay

A-Z of Craft

Welcome back to our ongoing series A to Z of Craft! This series showcases the different materials, tools and techniques our artisans use to create their one of a kind pieces. From traditional to innovative, by highlighting how our makers create, we are here to celebrate craft in all its wonderful iterations.

This time we spoke to Karen Pasieka from Subtle Details who told us all about her use of Polymer Clay to create her beautiful jewellery, sculptures and ornaments. While not conventionally used for jewellery, polymer clay makes for a fantastic material to create texture and depth while also providing the opportunity to the introduce colour in new and innovative ways, Karen's intricate and delicate work does this wonderfully. Read on to hear about Karen's inspirations, making process and her ever-present support system.

This will be Karen's 7th year at the show, she has been participating in the Winter Show since 2013 and we are so excited to see her penguin-inspired designs this year! Be sure to come and say hi and get your tickets today!


For those that are not familiar with Subtle Details, could you tell us about your craft?

I design and craft bright and cheerful, whimsical polymer clay framed sculpture (small-scale, shallow relief), ornaments (customized wedding cake toppers and seasonal for Christmas tree and shelf display), and jewellery (floral themed, vintage-like: necklaces, earrings, and brooches). Polymer clay is a synthetic, oven bake modelling clay.

What inspired you to start creating?

I have been drawn to art and craft of multiple disciplines for as long as I can remember. From crochet to punch needle embroidery to sewing...I can't recall how old I was when it all began, but I'm guessing kindergarten!

Tell us a bit about yourself, what inspired you to start your business and why are your products special to you?

My personal path to self-employment and entrepreneurship was not an easy one. Being the crafty, artistic person that I am, I decided a long time ago to pursue a career in architecture because it seemed "real" to me. However, after completing my degree and working in the field a few years, then losing my job, I realized that I didn't have the heart to find a new position that would require a longer commute, and potentially be even more demanding of the time that I wanted to reserve for making things that I love. I needed something that would give me more creative control and fulfilment. Through all this time, I had been making ornaments out of polymer clay for my friends and family at Christmastime. And when my friends started to get married, I thought, if I can make an angel, I can make a bride. Then my jewellery was inspired by the tiny floral bouquets of my bridal cake toppers. Here was my start. I had just lost a job that I hadn't had the heart to replace, I had a hobby that I was passionate about, and a husband who was (and still is) incredibly supportive. So, when my husband suggested that I try selling my works at a local craft show that was advertising booth space in our newspaper, I took the chance. I also had the opportunity to apply for and complete a grant program that gave me the confidence to tackle the business side of a craft business (accounting, marketing, sales, writing a business plan, etc). Since 2007, when I registered Subtle Details, I have been seeking out the best art & craft shows to participate in, and selling wholesale to galleries & gift boutiques, all the while evolving my style and my craft, including the addition of my framed sculpture and greeting card products. What I love about my products, is that they come from the heart. I put so much of me into them. They often feel organic, like each piece has evolved from the previous. There is a little part of one that inspires the next. Every time I sit down at my desk in my studio, I look forward to seeing what comes out of the time that I spend there.

How did you start working with this technique?

When I was about 10 years old, my mom purchased a set of FIMO polymer clay for me. It didn't take long for me to develop a love for the medium, and through all my craft diversions, I continually returned to the clay. Much of my technique was developed through experimentation with the medium over the years as my project ambitions grew, though some techniques were learned through instructional books and YouTube videos.

Could you give us some insight into your making process?

Each project begins with the blending of colour. While polymer clay comes packaged in a variety of hues, these are then mixed by hand, and with tools (such as a pasta roller), to create the perfect palette. Art pieces are made with a clay background that has been blended to a marble or ombre (processes that involve the twisting of multiple clay colours or folding & rolling of two colours until the blends are just right), then a scene is built on top with more clay. Primarily created through hand manipulation, other rudimentary tools (such as pins, toothpicks and skewers) are used for the placing of tiny pieces of clay, and the making of textures (such as stippling). Most ornaments start off with the hollowing out of a ball of clay to build the body of the piece (for the purposes of both extending the clay for size, while also reducing weight). Once satisfied with the design, pieces are baked in an oven to cure.

After the curing process, I catalogue and photograph each and every piece I make. From these product photos, I take a small selection to create blank-inside greeting card files, with the name of the piece on the back, which I then have printed at a local print shop.

Check out a video of me making my polymer clay penguin ornaments that will be available at this Winter's One of A Kind show:

For a longer, more in depth tutorial of the process shown above, check out my full process here!

Tell us why your use of Polymer Clay is One Of A Kind!

While polymer clay is not necessarily a common medium, I cannot say that I'm the only artist using it! What I can speak to however is my work ethic and design aesthetic. The name I chose for my business, Subtle Details, reflects my design sensibilities. My professional training (I have a Bachelor of Architecture degree from U of T and worked within the industry for over 5 years) taught me the value of hashing out minute details in pursuit of quiet perfection, and I carry this philosophy through in my works. Each component of every piece is considered. The broad range of products I create are unified not only through the medium of polymer clay, but through their sense of cheerful whimsy and consideration of colour, form, and texture.

What is your favourite aspect of being a part of the One Of A Kind community?

My favourite part of being in this One Of A Kind community is meeting all the varied artists & crafters! They feel almost like a second family to me. Weather I meet someone for the first time on social media and then finally get to meet them and their work in person at the show, or I meet them for the first time as a new booth neighbour, I feel like we, collectively, are some of the best people! We tend to be like minded, with similar goals, hopes & dreams, and appreciation for the product of the hard work. We are an incredibly supportive group, ready and willing to help each other out with friendly advice, and even tools or supplies! It's such a comforting thought to know that when we walk into these particularly gruelling 11 days of smiles and sales, we have each other to lean on. We are truly in this together!

Do you have any new products we should look out for?

Every year I come up with a new (Christmas tree) ornament design. This year's ornament was inspired by a customer from OOAK18...PENGUINS! I was so excited about the idea that I prepared my first prototype and posted it to my Instagram account before the new year. Imagine how excited I was to learn that the penguin was to be our competition theme for OOAK19!

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