The Jewelry I Painted 3 Times

A while back I completed a special commission for a friend, which you can see above. Her request: A necklace and pair of earrings. As she is African Canadian, she wanted African colours to honour her heritage. She likes large jewelry and wanted this set to be bold and to make a statement. And the earrings needed to be clip-on.

I made 3 oval shapes out of polymer clay — 1 for the pendant and 2 for the earrings — and stamped them with my hand-carved stamp, and started on the painting, which I did at the same time I decorated a bunch of tiny clay bits that I will be using for other things later on.

Armed with numerous images of African textiles for inspiration, I set out on the painting. I gave her three bits an initial base coat of orange. Here they are in the top right, along with little round bits and paired-up rectangle and square bits:

Clay bits with commission - before
Clay bits with commission – before

And here they are after the painting session:

Clay bits with commission - after
Clay bits with commission – after

They look fully painted, right? Well they were, but after they had dried overnight, I decided I just wasn’t happy with them. I felt like the colours were muddy and ugly and just didn’t go well together. It wasn’t good enough. I tried painting over each piece in black, but I didn’t like the idea of black as the base. I really, really like the polymer clay to show through in my work. So, I knew I had to start over with the paint.

Acrylic paint dries pretty permanently, so I couldn’t just wipe it off, especially after adding a couple layers of black on top. I considered creating new shapes, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I soaked the pieces in very, very hot water, which softened everything up just enough that I could scrape the paint off. There was a little paint left behind in places, but with more paint going on, that wasn’t a problem. I just needed the bulk of it taken off, and to be able to see the color of the polymer clay.

The second painting was better, and it looked great, but on the very last layer of paint, I added too much of one colour and it threw the balance completely off. D’oh! I couldn’t fix it, so I had start over – again! But this time, because the paint wasn’t fully dry, I didn’t have too much problem removing it.

The third time was the charm. I finally had the color balance right. I decided that gold findings, leather cord, and big wooden beads would pair with these pieces the best.

It’s funny how art can turn out sometimes. You can go into creation with one idea in mind, and end up with something completely different. For this set, I didn’t have a clear idea in my head of the finished product, but I was trying really hard to be true to my friend’s wishes – and I went way outside my comfort zone to do it!

Even so, I think the finished pieces succeed in honouring African heritage by being bold and strong. The colours are earthy, which I think is very African, but because I’m an earth mama, it’s also very Whitney. And I like that even if I wouldn’t have chosen these colours on my own, you can still find me in there.