Talking with Cynthia Tinapple

Episode #168

On today's show I have a  fun chat with polymer clay artist and blogger, Ms. Cynthia Tinapple.

She talks about her trip to Nepal where she taught polymer clay techniques to a very receptive audience of female artists. Check out her slideshow of inspiring pictures. (see link in the show notes)

Also, this week I have a website, a book, and an app to share. I love them and I hope you do too! xo

Transcription of Interview with Cynthia Tinapple

Alison Lee: OK well I have back today. I guess it was on CraftCast a while back. I don’t even want to think how long ago, Miss Cynthia Tinapple. Her blog Polymer Clay Daily has been, she has been blogging over there since 2005. It's so crazy. Wonderful blog where you get updates daily, all kinds of inspiration. If you are in the polymer clay world or even if you are not in the polymer clay world it’s always fun to see what's going on over there. And Cynthia, of course, teaches many a great class here with me at the CraftCast studio. Cynthiawelcome.

Cynthia Tinapple:: Thank you. Thank you. Good to be here.

Alison: It's always fun to talk. We always have a good time together. So excited to talk to you but before we get into some of the things that I’ve been wanting to hear and I thought why not record it and share it with everyone, tell everyone a little bit about your background and how you got into polymer. Because I know you have been doing it, you are one of the pioneer people in that medium

Cynthia:: Well, I've always worked with communications but I have a daughter and when she was about 10, we got into making a dollhouse and you know, all the stuff. So, I tried this (inaudible) to make some dollhouse stuff and I thought oh this is such cool stuff. And so, she outgrew the dollhouse but I never outgrew making stuff from Polymer. And I went to the museum of modern art and at that time it was Citizen Kane, it’s now Ford and Forlano had some things there and I just looked at them and I thought oh my God, I get it.

Alison: Wait you saw jewelry pieces that they had made back then?

Cynthia:: Yes.

Alison: Yes, their work is Ford Forlano. If you guys, anyone listening, beautiful work. So, you saw that. Did you think, because when I saw their work the first time, I thought that's Polymer clay. Because when you think of polymer clay, you don’t, now I have learnt but I didn’t think that way back.

Cynthia:: Yes. I don’t know. I looked at it and I thought, oh I get it.

Alison: You did.

Cynthia:: So.

Alison: So that's why you were able to go on and make beautiful things and I am still trying to figure out one of your beach pebbles.

Cynthia:: I don’t make that much. I talk more about it. I make enough to be credible and you know to have fun with it. But I am not a production person.

Alison: Right. Well, what drew you in at first? Did they have all of the colors in the beginning? I'm trying to remember back when you would see that in the art supply stores.

Cynthia:: Yes. Sure, they did.

Alison: They did?

Cynthia:: Yes. It was just, honestly it was the geometry and the math of it. And then of course then I started meeting people so it was the people.

Alison: What do you mean the geometry and the math? You mean you make the canes

Cynthia:: A kaleidoscope cane, yes.

Alison: Oh, ok

Cynthia:: And thinking in 3D, thinking geometrically and you know all of a sudden, every stripped rug you think oh I can make that a cane. I remember going to, you know a fast-food restaurant looking at their () thinking oh I can make that into canes. You know thinking oh I have gone too far.

Alison: No that's when it gets good. I don’t think that way about canes I can't say but I do understand that sort of lovely obsessive type of thinking because it pushes the envelopes you keep it going.

Cynthia:: Oh, and so then I would.

Alison: Good ahead.

Cynthia:: I met lots of people who are scientists, who are looking at pattern matching under microscopes, accepting that they were medical technologist or whatever. But they were intrigued by the same thing. It's pattern matching, seeing patterns.

Alison: Oh, I got it. So, it's that puzzle of that.

Cynthia:: Yes.

Alison: Definitely the kaleidoscope thing.

Cynthia:: Yes.

Alison: So did you try figuring out how to make canes on your own or was there, I know there was like one book out at that point or something probably.

Cynthia:: Right. I went to a class, Kircile SHleton who is now in Pittsburgh who is teaching a class at the arts center. She had figured it out. And there were some other people around who had figured it out.

Alison: And you just kept playing?

Cynthia:: We formed a guild and the rest was history.

Alison: The rest was history. And then how do you decide that you are going to start one of the known blogs for this medium? How does that occur?

Cynthia:: So that was a little circuitous. I knew I was going to retire and I was looking for something to do. And my children came to me, had a little come to Jesus meeting with me saying mom, you can't take about us on the blog anymore, the family blog. We are adults, you may not put silly pictures of us. So, I thought, well they are right. So, I have to channel my. You know I have always been a communicator, that's what I do.

Alison: So, you switch?

Cynthia:: Yes.

Alison: I love that. Your kids are like. I have to ask my son; I don’t do it too much. I do it on rare occasions where I can't help myself. But they have to sneak in a little bit. And now did you think Polymer Clay Daily would grow like it did?

Cynthia:: No. But it’s been a long time. I mean It hasn’t been skyrocket but I thought when I had a thousand people reading my () already I have caught every fool who was doing polymer in the world.

Alison: Hey, I remember when 20 people checked something it seemed like who are these people?

Cynthia:: Right.

Alison: And they are from around the world.

Cynthia:: Right. So, it surprised me. It sure has and what else has surprised me is that my children are now coming back to me. They both work in the web and they both think that I'm quite good at it.

Alison: Yay! They are impressed.

Cynthia:: Yes, they are.

Alison: It's nice when our children are impressed back a bit. I always enjoy that. Well, let’s talk about though your trip. Explain to everyone what you did and why and what happened.

Cynthia:: Oh dear. Well, I met Wendy Moore online. Wendy Moore is from Australia and she had helped start a project in Nepal because she has for many years travelled to Nepal and back. And she and her husband were living and working there at the time. And she had started a project for women who had been in domestic abuse situation and helping them out legally with life skills. She really didn’t want to do polymer but when she took the products these women made to the fair-trade organization, they said everybody does beads, everybody does felt, come on. We can't sell this but we can sell whatever that is you are wearing around your neck. And she was of course wearing polymer.

Alison: That she had made?

Cynthia:: Yes. So, she reluctantly decided, alright I'll try to get polymer to Nepal. I'll try to teach them. And that was a few years back and she contacted me because she was, you know in the middle of doing this and I said I don’t know how can I help you but you need a website. So, I can make you a website. So, I made her a website and the website helped get some grants and help, you know have a presence and things kind of snowballed. And so, she would them starting doing tours and so she was having a tour. And wondered if I could teach, come on a tour. So.

Alison: She was bringing people with her just to take a tour of Nepal?

Cynthia:: Yes. She set up tours. Since she had lived there for quite a while and she speaks both Nepali and English and you know knows a lot of about the country, I mean I think that’s a fun way to take a trip. Someone who really knows the landscape. So, there were eight of us on this tour. I went early so I could teach the women. I taught them something that I had researched that I thought would be easy to produce and you know, was sellable and would ignite them. Was based on their culture and their colors and their way of seeing the world. They were just like sponges, they picked it up quickly. There were eight women who have been through three years of training in this. They picked it up quickly. They wanted more, more more. I took a bag of various peoples work from the US that I have from over the years and I saw them sorting through everything, studying it, figuring out how things have been made. Some of the things have been in books and have seen them in the books but had never seen them in person. So, when they learnt everything, I wanted to teach them the first day, I thought it would take two days, it took them one. So, the second day we just jumped into some of the other, I checked with Kim Curring, the one that they really liked and I wrote, I emailed her and said is it ok? And she wrote back and said sure, sure. So, I taught them that the second day and.

Alison: What was that that attracted them?

Cynthia:: It was colors, it was flowers. I didn’t realize how tropical it was in this part of Nepal but it's really quite a tropical area and so this really resonated with them. They loved it. They put them on and they looked like perfect. And I have them, my pictures are up on my Flickr site. Pictures from Nepal, there is a set there and you can see them wearing these things. And these girls are beautiful. They were color, they do color like intuitively and so they did a marvelous job. At any rate it was wonderful and I didn’t realize there was going to be a graduation ceremony and I was giving the graduation address and there were certificates and there was much crying. These are women who have never graduated from anything.

Alison: That's great. So now, will they make things that will be for sale over here?

Cynthia:: They will and I will have a Esty page up for them and I know that Wendy is working on some things. It's difficult on their site to get that up because Nepal is still, their political stuff has settled down a lot but, you know banks aren’t really that hot to work with them right now. So, we have to work with them through Australia and the US so that we kind of bypass their banking system.

Alison: Now how much money can a woman make? Not necessarily dollars but how would you compare it to something like? Does it give them enough to take care of themselves?

Cynthia:: I 'm not sure at this point that is does. But what it does do is it empowers them in other ways. They can say, I'm having, their families are loath to take them back. If their husband has left them or beaten them or done whatever, their family of origin does not want them back because it's another mouth to feed in a very, very poor country. But if they can say, I'm an artist and working on this, then the family is much more, I don’t know, gives them credibility and it gives them some leverage in that situation. And these women, they are earning something. I think they earn, it’s kind of peace work, I think. I think that’s how they are paid but I'm not real clear on that. They do make some and they make enough that they have started their own, what do you call it, micro lending thing.

Alison: Oh yes.

Cynthia:: So, the eight women save their dollars, their pennies and so one of them comes up with an idea and they say well this is where I can sell some of my work. The others will loan them the money to get started. I mean they have taken real ownership of this project so; you know that's a real plus.

Alison: It sounds like it. What were you most impressed with? Well, the speed of learning impresses me because I would need the two days for sure. It was more cultural things.
Cynthia:: I was impressed by what these women have done given their culture. I mean I would go to a town or to a bazaar in Nepal and there would be 100 booths of people selling beads, let’s say glass beads. And they would all be selling the exactly the same glass beads, laid out exactly the same way, then the price would be exactly the same. And I would think what? Did anybody talk to you about marketing? Why don't you locate down somewhere else where they are not selling beads? So, I didn’t quite understand that in the culture btu there is a big resistance to being different and to because they are very poor. To be different is a risk and if you are very poor you don’t take a big risk. But that can get you into some crazy places. I mean. So, these women have taken a huge risk in asking for help. So, once they have taken that first risk, then developing their own and developing their own voice is easier but it’s a huge risk. In that this is not a culture where you develop your own voice, I don’t think that.

Alison: You blend in (inaudible). So that's really huge.

Cynthia:: Yes, it is and its quite exciting to see. And I saw it, we also visited several other projects. We visited a potter in this village. For hundreds of years, they have been making pottery the same way, the pottery leaks, it doesn’t have glaze on it. The designs were for 800 years ago. And one person in town had someone come and show them how to put glaze on, how to turn, how to fire. The other people were firing in a big pile in the middle of town, the town square you just pile it all up and let it burn for four days. This other person learnt to do a kerosine kilt, you know it’s night and day. This one guy is getting you know.

Alison: Does he sell his stuff then because it is different, or is it considered magic weird?

Cynthia:: He has to sell it; he sells it to hotels and restaurants and he says it out of the country because there is not a big market within Nepal for something that obviously he has to charge for because there is more effort in it. But you know it’s just so stunning to see these two things side by side. And say look at what this guy is doing. Maybe you want to do it his way. So, I guess that happens eventually but it’s difficult to come from a culture like ours and that individual enterprise is rewarded to be in a culture that is not rewarded.

Alison: That is interesting and also on immediate learning and overnight delivery the next thing you need.

Cynthia:: No. And that's the other thing. Just getting stuffed shipped there from suppliers, it would come in and all the blades would be gone, missing from the order. You can't send anything by mail because it gets rifled through before it gets there.

Alison: Oh really? So, you have to send it through?

Cynthia:: DHL or one of the other things, FedEx.

Alison: Otherwise, people steal their clay.

Cynthia:: Right. So. You know there are real barriers to getting ahead here. But it's a fabulous country.

Alison: I mean I have all the pictures in my head going on. Ok. So, it is more tropical so did you find that the women you were working with and you said they had it in them, their sense of color, was their color palette, one of working with tropical colors mostly or was it more eclectic than that?

Cynthia:: You know what I felt having taught other places was they don’t have any fear of color.

Alison: Oh, that's an interesting point.

Cynthia:: It wasn’t so much having a palette it’s just like they say yes, color, bring it on.

Alison: Yes. interesting.

Cynthia:: So that was nice to work with. Do you know how some people would say I'm not sure? Beige. I think I’ll to beige and brown. And they would do beige and brown but they would embrace beige and brown. So, they didn’t have any fear of it.

Alison: That's very interesting. I wonder where we get that fear part of color and that they don't.

Cynthia:: I don’t know. I think also they are so repressed in so many other parts of their life that color is one place that they are not repressed.

Alison: Interesting. Now you spent how long there?

Cynthia:: Three weeks.

Alison: And what did you leave with. Like what was your lessons learnt?

Cynthia:: My takeaway?

Alison: Yes.

Cynthia:: It kind of came to me in little mosaic insights rather than one big broad-brush painting. But I guess if I had to name my mosaic, I would say that what I learn was that generosity and hospitality trumps any other kind of impoverishment. They were lacking in drinkable water, there is little everywhere and you have very poor conditions and you get caught up in that stink. Oh my god pick up the trash. I mean that's your first instinct. But then you look beyond that and you see how really generous and hospitable these people are and you think, you know what? I'll take that. Because then I got back to this country and I heard people snarling and snarky and I thought oh I am so embarrassed.

Alison: Interesting. But the trash was picked up though.

Cynthia:: The trash was picked up and I said thank you Lady Bird Johnson litterbug campaign. Thank you for a government that works most of the time. So, there are many things that you are thankful for. Thank you for EPA and what’s the water, I can drink the water.

Alison: Right. Yes, that is sort of interesting. And you can order supplies and all that kind of stuff.

Cynthia:: Yes right. A mail system that works.

Alison: A mail system that works. Well, let's also talk about, I know you have a book project in the works. What's going on there?

Cynthia:: Yes, well it’s through Pottercraft which is an imprint of Random House. And so, I have a contract. Makes me a little nervous but to have a book written I have to have the words written by June. And it's a global look at the world, I mean at the world of Polymer. The working title is sort of wonky right now but it’s a global view of polymer around the world and also, what I am hoping to do is look at new voices, you know. It feel kind of like we have made a generational shift from the first people like me that came in on this to a second tier that's all over the world. And it would be interesting I think to hear from them and to celebrate some of the work that they are doing.

Alison: So, are you collecting work form people around the world to show in the book?

Cynthia:: Everyday. And it's based on the blog. This has put me in the caper seat because I see what's happening or I hope I see what's happening and it’s very exciting and Nepal was part of that. I knew that a global look of the world should include that, some third world input.

Alison: We see the world from our place on the google map which is here in North America but it's interesting when you get a look at it from another point of the world. And I know form the classes we've done together through Craftcast, the people who come on live online are from around the world. I just find that amazing.

Cynthia:: Sure. And I could see us that is us the US importing, exporting our teachers over there and now what I see happening over to Europe and then eastern Europe and beyond. And now I see that those countries are growing their own teachers and starting their own groups and teaching whatever conferences and whatever and taking the ball themselves. So, I think that will change it some. Although I see can tell well Donna Kato is by what's coming, what her student work is.

Alison: Right. For those of you who are not polymer clay people, Donna Kato is also one of the forerunners, original forerunners in the polymer clay world and yes you can tell, I guess in a new medium who people study from because you learn what they taught which is their style.

Cynthia:: Right.

Alison: And then that has to like suit sort of you know meld a bit.

Cynthia:: But I'm seeing those students take masterclasses and at first their work is very reflective of the teacher and then soon their own spirit comes out and I see that happening.

Alison: Right. Yes, it is really cool. When you were in Nepal was there any availability to computers and internet? Or was that really hard to find?

Cynthia:: It was amazing. Well, a couple of days before I got there, they bumped up their internet at the house where I stayed.

Alison: Lucky for you.

Cynthia:: And I thought that was wonderful. So, they had had some lower bandwidth and they bumped it up. So, it was always like a beacon in this corner of the room where I stayed. It was like a connection to the other world. And what stunned me was the connectivity of these very poor people. Even the monks had two phones, everybody has two phones in Nepal. So, if one network is down, the other one, you use your other phone. If you are out of minutes on one you use. So, you can get a $20 phone and then you buy the pay cards and they are very tech savvy. I went to an orphanage and five-year old’s came up and took my iPhone and they were just playing with it. They would be flipping through and doing the apps.

Alison: Right. Without a problem?

Cynthia:: No problem at all. The problem was getting it back. But, and so I don’t Nepali but I do speak technology and so I can talk to anybody.

Alison: Right. I love that. I mean that really is what changes the world too. It’s just your ability to video chat with everyone. I just love that look at what people are doing and all. So, well that was very exciting. Are you going to back do you think?

Cynthia:: It's quite a big trip but I would like to go back. It took a lot out of me. I forgot about that. An 18-hour flight.

Alison: Yes. That's crazy. We have to find a quicker way to beam me up scotty. Don’t our iPhone beam us up at this point. That's what I heard. Well, I also want to talk about before we go, so people know about your subscription-based newsletter that you also do. So, if you want more than your, it sounds like your headset is going a little funky. See we are both tech savvy girls so we know what to do.

Cynthia:: Am I back in yet?

Alison: No not yet. You are on the.

Cynthia:: Ok.

Alison: That's better, that's good. See I know how to deal with a little feedback here and there. You hit it, shake it, or unplug it and then it works. I want you to talk about your subscription-based newsletter. I believe it's called polymer clay mojo.

Cynthia:: It's studio mojo. Actually, Dayle Doroshow got me in this. We wrote a little book called Creative Sparks. It's all about getting yourself jazzed up and keeping your mojo going.

Alison: Which we need.

Cynthia:: And so, it's a weekend newsletter and I usually, I often do interviews, video interviews with polymer artists that you may have heard of but you have probably have never met so I talk to them about why and how they do what they do. And I don’t usually get into products and that sort of thing in polymer clay daily because I don’t want to be known as a tool person. So, if I have tools, I'm really hot for I'll talk about them on Studio Mojo or techniques that are new that I think really need a little more explanation we talk about it there. So, it's really just taking you to the next level and talking a little more intimately why we do what we do.

Alison: Fun.

Cynthia:: Yes.

Alison: So, people sign up and they get it on for the weekend, for their time in the studio.

Cynthia:: Yes. I say weekend because that gives me a little wiggle room. Friday, Saturday, or Sunday depending on the (laughter).

Alison: Plus, time changes and they could be in Australia so there is also that difference in time. It all works out.

Cynthia:: I never did understand that international date line stuff.

Alison: All I know is this from having done, it could have been a class with you and I got an email one morning and someone was all upset saying, I missed the live class. I always take class; it was on Tuesday night. And I wrote back saying, class hasn’t happened yet. Doesn't happen for another six hours. And she wrote back, oh I forgot. I take class Wednesday morning and 10:00a.m and I'm like that was a bizarre conversation. So, all I know now is that Australia is in tomorrow when I am working with them and I've sort of just.

Cynthia:: That is about as far as I get too.

Alison: Are you in tomorrow or yesterday is basically how it goes and then you take it from there? It really doesn’t matter as long as you are awake at that point is all that counts. Well, I know it would be fun talking to you. it always is and I was so excited. Thank you for sharing all your trip adventures with us here. And I know everyone can check out Polymer Clay Daily at and come over to and you get all the links for everything we talked about today with Cynthia as well as at you can get the links for her Studio Mojo as well. So, thank you my dear. It was fun talking to you.

Cynthia:: Thank you. Oh, it's fun to talk.

Alison: It is. We can do this easily with no problem. Have a great evening. Ok. Bye bye.