One thing I love about metal clay is the opportunity it presents for an artist’s imagination to really come to life. Wanaree Tanner’s metal clay jewelry truly exemplifies her exquisite imagination. Here is a glimpse into the mind of a talented painter/sculptor turned accomplished metal-clay artist:
Bernadette Bennett: Would you tell us about your first metal clay piece?
Wanaree Tanner: It’s a piece that was inspired by a girlfriend who was inexplicably afflicted with alopecia. She remained so positive during the whole process; I was struck by the beauty and grace of her spirit. “The Beauty Within” is a reversible piece with a woman’s profile on one side, but when flipped, there’s this naturally lovely green phrase opalite bead displayed inside the box.
BB: Did you experiment with other media before deciding on metal clay?
WT: I’ve always drawn, painted, or sculpted, but right before metal clay, I worked with polymer clay and bead embroidery. I wasn’t very good at either; my polymer clay pieces consisted of transferring my illustration onto the clay’s surface. I think I was always a metal-clay artist in training.
BB: What is it about metal clay that has won your heart?
WT: Its malleability when wet and its potential permanence once fired. There’s something about holding a dimensional piece of sculpted metal in my hands that just doesn’t compare to any other medium I’ve explored. There’s this whole world of infinite possibilities that we’re just beginning to discover and it feels like I’m embarking on an adventure every time I step into the studio.
BB: What are you working on now?
WT: Last December I came across a blog post by Alisa Burke on how to make fabric stamps out of a product called Scratch-Foam®. (It’s very similar to Styrofoam take-out containers.) Immediately, I knew I had to try it on metal clay. It turns out to be a simple way to create hand-drawn texture plates with varying line depths with as little as a ballpoint pen and a ball burnisher. Now, I am enticed to experiment with enameling in order to highlight these textures.
To learn more about how she made this, take a look at Wanaree’s blog on Crafthaus.
BB: Has social media played a role in your success and, if so… how?
WT: Absolutely! I was never active online before last year—and people remark that I have come, seemingly, out of nowhere. The truth is … I’ve been a full-time artist for 8 years; traveling and selling at art festivals, working specifically in metal clay since 2008. Of that time, this last year by far, has been the most successful. I’m now a contributor to Art Jewelry magazine, and Metal Clay Today. I am also the video editor for Metal Clay Artist magazine, am actively blogging and teaching workshops in real time and online. So much of that has been possible because of the connections I have made online. Having the immediate feedback of my peers also makes me strive to be better at what I do.
BB: Which tools have been invaluable to you?
BB: Being self-taught, can you share some of the most valuable resources you have used?
WT: There are so many resources online and in print now; it would be hard to narrow it down. Above all, I would have to say… the metal clay community itself is the most valuable resource to me. When I first started working in COPPRclay, it was brand-spanking new, and there weren’t really any resources available beyond a willingness to experiment—and ultimately fail along the way. Sharing that process with other metal clay artists online has helped me to understand the nature of this medium, and how we can achieve consistent results. Books and practice are foundational to what I’ve learned—but the community has helped me to grow.
BB: What is your favorite creation to date? May we see pictures?
WT: That’s almost like choosing between your children…but I guess I would say “Anam Cara” is my favorite. Mostly because it was the first in a series of what I like to call “nouveau relic” pieces that attempts to express the connection I feel between myth and art. I enjoy trying to express this in the context of jewelry… there’s just something really intimate about an art object that can also be worn.
BB: Are you inspired by any historical or contemporary jewelers/artists?
WT: In metal clay, I’m inspired by artists like Gordon Uyehara, Hadar Jacobson, Kimberly Nogueira, and Holly Ginsberg-Gage. These artists really push the limits of the medium and introduce new techniques. Otherwise, I don’t think I could narrow the list down. It’s what’s so great about being an artist online; you’re exposed to so much work from all over the world. You have access to museum collections you may never be able to visit… all of these works of art—remarkable and inspiring!
BB: What advice do you have for aspiring metal clay artists?
WT: Practice and persistence. Working in metal clay can be an easy process, and sometimes I think we forget that this is an art medium. As with any art medium, practice and persistence are vital to becoming a better artist and discovering how we relate to that medium. To me, art is a love affair, and love affairs aren’t always an easy thing. We can become discouraged and despondent when a project doesn’t go exactly the way we planned it. But, it’s important to remember that we learn as much—if not more—from our failures than our successes. Yes, it can cost us time and money, but both are pretty ephemeral anyway—whereas, skill and knowledge gained will continue to work for us.
BB: What is the last book you read?
WT: In the studio, it’s The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty… several times.
BB: How would you describe yourself in three words?
WT: Obsessive, obsessive, obsessive.
BB: What would you do if you had a time machine?
WT: Unless I were traveling with Dr. Who, I would dismantle it!
BB: Which ancient place would you like to visit?
BB: What is the best thing about being a jeweler?
WT: Creating a piece of art that someone can wear. There’s something so visceral about being a part of that interaction. It’s one thing to see art and be moved by it—but to interact with its form and texture in a personal way—just seems to encourage people to truly experience art.
BB: What inspires you to begin your work?
WT: So many different things… sometimes, all it takes is a random comment from a friend, or the shape of an ordinary object that sparks an idea I just can’t drop. More specifically: the design work on the carpet in a hotel lobby, the hinge on a plastic box of tacks, every museum exhibit I’ve ever visited, the plumbing section of the hardware store, numerous works of other artists, and the consumption of far too many books.