I recently completed a 6-week course with Bronwen Gwillim, a lovely Welsh jewelry maker who calls her work plasticsmithing. She runs her workshops multiple times through the year if you’re interested. I have not made a big foray into working with my waste plastic yet but am eager to get started.
I’ve always been a collector of bits and bobs, especially what I find on beaches. I like the design challenge of incorporating found objects into my work. You can cede control and let the material do the deciding, much like writers often say their characters write themselves. And who doesn’t love the thrill of the hunt? Getting out in fresh air?
The part I don’t love is storage. I wrestle with a fear of being buried under stuff, which prevents me from seriously pursuing a found object line of jewelry. I’ve had time during this course though to unpack the issue, including being choosy about what I collect and trying to use it right away. I also have a house rule: stuff in, stuff out. That includes clothes, kitchen supplies and more. In that spirit, I have three bags of art supplies to donate to a local store called Scrap, making room for waste plastic.
The only thing I’ve had time to make was this simple pendant, more as an exercise in sawing plastic. The blade has a mind of its own with plastic, and the dust clings as if by static. You might be wondering what happens with that plastic dust.
Among many great things about Bronwen’s workshop was learning how she captures and even reuses plastic shavings. The outline around her pebble shapes is made from blending saved plastic dust with epoxy putty and pressing plastic shapes into it—smoothing, sanding and making it look like one piece. It’s an ingenious way to keep these microplastics out of the environment, and it gives her work a signature look.
I work in polymer clay as well as other materials. It is, of course, a plastic. I try to balance using this material with being as responsible as I can, grinding up mistake pieces and blending that into other clay or covering pieces I don’t like with more clay, somewhat like painters to do with canvases gone bad.
For reclaimed plastic fans, the organization Washed Ashore based in Bandon, Oregon, creates fabulous sculptures that travel around, educating people on keeping plastics out of the environment. Their army of beach combers is so successful I suppose, that’s hard to find much plastic! On my last few hunting trips, I somewhat ironically walked away disappointed that the beach was too clean.
In the meantime, I’ve been going through my small but growing collection of found plastic, and started considering the possibilities, looking for connections between elements such as line, color, and form, and thinking about how I can amplify them in combination.
It didn’t take many weeks into the workshop to fall prey to a crippling difficulty throwing away or recycling plastics at home, such as peanut butter jar lids or plastic bags with interesting colors. We learned how to fuse layers of soft plastics together with an iron. When I shared this with Bronwen, she offered a sympathetic laugh.
Can I make a dent in what plastic does to our environment? I doubt it. But as with most things, you just start and see where it takes you.