Talking with Sage Bray

Talking with Sage Bray

Episode #194

Today I talk with artist, writer and publisher of The Polymer Arts, Sage Bray. You’ll love hearing what inspires her to create and her passion for all things polymer.
Plus some updates on how 2016 is unfolding in the CRAFTCAST studio and some other crafty goodies I think you’ll love.

Sage Bray

Matt Fisher/Put on a Light

Frankie Magazine

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Interview transcript

Alison Lee: Well, I’m excited today. I’m always excited to talk to my guests. I have great people that come on and share everything. And today’s guest is Sage Bray. She’s the publisher and editor of The Polymer Arts Magazine. Beautiful magazine. So I’m excited to talk to you today. Sage, welcome! Thank you for coming on and chatting.

Sage Bray: Well thank you.

Alison: It’s always fun to talk to other artists, so what I’d love to know is, I would love to know when did people decide or think they were an artist? Do you remember when you thought that?

Sage: It was in junior college actually. I don’t know that I’d necessarily considered myself an artist as much as an aspiring artist. I was actually a writer. I’ve been a writer all my life and I took art classes as kind of on the side but I had a particular professor at this that just insisted that I was an artist and not a writer.

Alison: Really? I love that.

Sage: I didn’t take him seriously. Yeah. But ok, well maybe. And then I changed to an art degree because I decided I really need to get a degree to write since I have been doing it all my life and had already been published at the time. And then of course went back for my masters in writing. So, I have gone back and forth between the two since, that would have been since I was 19.

Alison: Well now, what did the teacher see in you as an artist? Did you know?

Sage: That’s probably a really good question. Ask him! Personally for me I knew that I was very intense when I worked in the classroom and I think for him it was mostly that I’d had a very particular eye. I could begin an assignment and pretty much do anything I was given right away without a lot of exploration especially when it came to doing realistic drawing and that type of thing.

Alison: Oh. Ok.

Sage: An easy skill for me.

Alison: So you were always able to draw in other words?

Sage: Yeah. But I didn’t have a tremendous amount of interest in drawing realistically. I used to do photo realism but then people thought it was a photograph and that was very disappointing because I had spent 40 hours doing a drawing and then people would think it was just a photograph anyway. So then like why I have just taken a picture so I would have been done in a minute?

Alison: Ok. Wait. Hold on a second. So you could draw at that level just as a natural gift?

Sage: Yeah. It was. One of the things in terms of seeing imagery as an artist is to be able to take everything down to its individual parts. And that’s something that is very automatic for me apparently. So being able to do that and see things in terms of its parts or its textures and not the whole. Which is what makes it hard for a lot of people to draw realistically because they keep thinking of the whole thing instead of looking at all the individual parts. That was easy and straightforward for me and I could do that. But it wasn’t a challenge. It wasn’t a challenge. And spending 40 hours on something for something that people thought was a photograph was not feeling like a particularly productive use of my time.

Alison: You know that’s really fascinating because I started with saying to myself I didn’t draw but I still felt I was an artist. But do you remember the time? Like so many people have a hard time saying I’m an artist. They say aspiring artist or something. Was there a time where you finally just said “No, I’m an artist.”

Sage: Probably actually when I came to Polymer. Before then I always felt I was aspiring to do something but I hadn’t found my place. And until I found something that I felt this was my medium and I was able to express what I wanted to express with it, I could do a lot of different things and I did a lot of different artwork and I did have a couple gallery shows and things like that. But nothing was very focused until I came to Polymer. And when I felt focused and felt like I was at home with my material, then I felt I could say I was an artist because I was not trying to figure out what I was doing anymore as much as exploring in this realm and I was doing it. Exactly. But it is hard to say I’m an artist because you feel like, you are not being particularly modest. Like calling yourself that but you’re the only one that can.

Alison: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. How did you discover Polymer? Because I love it when people talk about then I discovered cooking, then I discovered photography. You know that’s like how did that happen?

Sage: Actually I was going through my divorce and I was having a horrible time and one of my dearest friends who actually lives in my house now, literally grabbed my hand and put these blocks of clay in my hands and said you need to play with this. Because I needed a direction. I needed something to get away from everything that I was dealing with. So he made me play with it and I thought “Well that’s pretty cool.” I made a few things and I put it away and then a few months later. In my family we don’t buy expensive presents for each other for Christmas. We buy presents for other unfortunate families because we have a ginormous family anyways. And who needs 50 gifts. But we make little things for each other and I thought “Oh I need to make something for my brother in law.” That was my person I was going to make something for that year. And I wanted to do a chest set. And I thought ” I could use that clay stuff my friend gave me.”

Alison: No way! You made a chest set?

Sage: I made a chest set but it took a lot of research and having been a freelance writer for the last couple decades’ research is what I do. And of course in the course of doing that I ran into so much stuff about Polymer and it just blew my mind and that was it. And I had just gotten a corporate job, my first corporate job ever, getting paid all kinds of money. And 7 months later I quit because I didn’t have enough time to do my polymer. So I just became addicted within half a year and went off to be a full time artist and got freelancing because strangely enough that made money.

Alison: Well then wait. I’m still on the chest set. Did you complete the chest set?

Sage: Uh huh. Yeah. I made a complete chest set and all I did was sculpt in black clay and used my powders on it. Not a high level change but sculpting was something I did in art school. So that was not a difficult thing to approach.

Alison: Did you love it?

Sage: Oh I loved it. Absolutely. Yeah.

Alison: I mean really. If someone made a chest set for me out of polymer clay that’s like “Holy Smokes!” Well I love that. So that’s a good discovery. So now, did you then research and find all the other people that were doing polymer? Did you have an idol back then immediately that you said, I love what they are doing?

Sage: I have a lot. Well I mean people were doing just incredible, amazing things. I remember being amazed at what Laura Timmons was doing. And the reason she stands out was because the first issue of the magazine I went to a show, a craft shows in Las Vegas and actually walked up and saw her booth. And I am not a fanish kind of person. I don’t freak out when I meet people that are famous and whatever because I grew up in LA and I actually have famous friends and what not. But I saw her and I freaked out! It was the first time I had ever done that. But it just meant a lot to me to see somebody and see their work in person that had inspired me to start out with. So that’s the only person that comes to mind but there are so many people. I mean Kathleen Dustin and Jeffery Lloyd Dever, just the level of their craft was astounding and made me want to keep working at it to be that good someday hopefully.

Alison: Oh yeah. Now you just said you grew up in LA?

Sage: Uh Huh.

Alison: And you said something that is also interesting. You have famous friends. I lived in LA for a while and it’s just normal to have everyone’ in the business, the entertainment business. How do you think that influenced you artistically?

Sage: It drove me away from LA actually. And that’s, the people that I knew here and the lifestyle here it’s just not me. And I say here because I’m actually in Southern California right now. But I just wanted out as soon as possible. And as soon as I finished undergraduate school in southern California, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Because it was the least populated place in the United States, it still had a lot of culture. At that time that was in the early 90’s. I went there and that’s actually where I’ve gotten a lot of, I believe, a lot of my influence in terms of colors that I choose. My preference for things that looked aged or decayed and whatnot. And then the tendrils and the spiky formations that I add to my work. A lot of that came from driving around the desert in New Mexico which I do every time I had 2 days off. I just drive, look at everything and take it all in.

Alison: So that can be inspiring for sure. That is.

[Cross Talking]
Alison:: Sort of endless inspiration

Sage: Oh, absolutely.

Alison: Could you put a name or a label or some kind of even one word on your style, the kind of style you think you have in your work?

Sage: Oh. I’m not sure. My work is still evolving. I haven’t had a lot of time to personally explore what I do the last few years because of the magazine and the publications that we are trying to get off the ground from there. But I’m working on a series mostly in design right now that I just call them “Beautiful Decay”. It does kind of explain a lot of where my inspiration comes from. I love the idea that everything that’s old has a story or multiple stores behind it. And I’d like representing that. A lot of my previous work represented stories that had more to do with myth and fantasy. That was in part due to the artistic world that I was selling to so it was an easy in for me at the time. I had a lot of friends. Pulling away from that, I’m finding myself into looking at the way things have changed over time. And usually that ends up being represented by some kind of decomposition or breakdown or weathering or something like that. So single world, I’m not sure what that would be.

Alison: Well I like I think Beautiful Decay, two words. Let’s put it that way. Beautiful Decay is perfect. I love that. Well now let’s talk about the magazine. So now how did that start the Polymer Arts Magazine? What’s your passion behind that?

Sage: Having worked in a number of other mediums before and being a writer, I paid a lot of attention to the periodicals and the individual arenas that I had worked in. And almost all of them had some kind of periodical that highlight better work in that medium. And Polymer didn’t have that. And I had come to a point after the year and a half of working on my own work and freelancing. And I had gotten to a point in my work, actually it was a couple years but anyway, I had gotten to a point where I was going to have to start really pushing gallery work to make the kind of money that I would need to actually survive, or do wholesale which meant making the same things over and over again which I am not very good at, or going back to freelancing full time. So I was bouncing these ideas when I had a number of conversations online with some other people in various groups, the Polymer Clay Etsy Group in particular. And I’m lamenting the fact that the only periodicals that they really had was Polymer Cafe which actually has its place and I have nothing against it whatsoever but it is a very beginners type of magazine. And all of those who were moving beyond that felt like they had nothing really to challenge them. And I thought “Well I could do a magazine!” I put my first magazine together when I was 19 years old and I had been involved in magazines on some level for most of my life. So I was like “Well I could do a magazine. That’s easy.” Especially since it’s something that I love and therefore I would be involved in Polymer, I could still make my art but not have to depend on it and just be entrenched in this thing that I love. And I thought there would be a couple of years’ time that it would take for me to put the money together to start it. But I ended up with a freelance job that paid me way too much money and I just socked it all away until I had enough to do the magazine. And then after that it was the matter of other people giving me their input and ideas about what it should be. And so although it’s not ended up being the magazine that is representing necessarily the best of art community. It does but it’s not its sole purpose now. I think it’s become kind of that bridge between what Polymer Cafe was doing and what we could be. And it brings people along from that point and then further gives them more information and inspiration and challenges to take their work to another level. So I think its fulfilling a good purpose and I like where it is now for sure although it wasn’t what it originally was envisioned to be.

Alison: And when you say take it to another level because that’s one of those catch phrases I hear a lot. Do you mean, you know improve your craftsmanship?

Sage: Well I think for everybody there is a different purpose in working in art. It maybe because they are trying to fulfill their own personal need for expression. It maybe because they want to do something creative but it needs also be accessible. It may just be something to pass the time. It may be a hobby. So when I say the next level, that’s really going to be a personal thing. For some people they want to sell more of their artwork. And so they need to better understand the trends or what catches people’s eyes and for other people they want to be able to better express themselves or may get very particular about wanting to have highly honed skills. So we address all of those things in the magazine but it is a very personal thing as to why they are doing it and what that next level would be for them

Alison: Right. That’s a good point. And you just said something about trends I was going to ask you. What are the trends right now in polymer clay do you think?

Sage: Well that funny. I was just talking to my associate curator for the book. We have this book coming out Polymer Journey’s which is going to highlight the last 2 years in polymer. And we’re discussing the various trends because how we are going to organize the book will try to encompass that in sections rather than putting all jewellery in one section, all home decor in one section. And a lot of the trends have been exploring in other materials and bringing in other, even other techniques from other areas which we have always done. But for instance we’re discussing the fact there was a lot of clothing interest the last couple of years. Rachel Karen created a woven jacket, a little palero style jacket that was at the, I can’t remember which one it was. It was the inorganic or the other one that was at Racine last year.

Alison: At the museum?

Sage: Yes. She created that. We have an artist in Australia who made an entire outfit out of pho bones and bits to commemorate the aboriginals there. And Jeff Dever in the inorganic show at [inaudible] actually has a coat with these black pieces that were representing the form of his work without the color of his work and I thought that was a really interesting aspect. But so this whole thing with clothing has come around that we haven’t really seen an intense interest in before I think. Magnets, magnets have been a trend, Helen Breil doing magnets, Melanie West has her closure magnets. A number of other people are using magnets as a way to attach jewellery or brooches to clothing in ways that we haven’t seen before. So I think it’s a lot of exploration, just pushing outside of what the normal “We are going to make a piece of jewellery, going to make a piece of home decor and polymer is going to be.” It’s all going to be about polymer. Whereas I think there is a lot of polymer purist feelings in the last couple of decades in the sense that if you worked in polymer, you should do everything in polymer. I think people are pulling away from that a lot and are really looking at all the other materials that you can combine it with. And taking it from “I work in polymer” to “I am an artist” and material doesn’t define me.

Alison: Correct. That’s what I think. Helen is actually teaching on Craftcast and I love the 3 dimensional part of what she does.

Sage: Oh yeah.

Alison: Yeah. And I don’t think about as well anymore is “What is this made out of?” It’s just “I love that. I want that.”

Sage: And then we push that a lot in the magazine and on my blog as well because the idea of it being polymer is fantastic because polymer can do so much. But just because it can emulate so many different things doesn’t mean you should always use polymer to emulate something. You sometimes should us the real material in order to express yourself and to put something together in a fashion that’s going to say what you need to say, or embody the type of ascetic or beauty that you want to, what you want that piece to have. And if you are restrictive by only using polymer you maybe restricting your expression. So we talk about that a lot too.

Alison: That’s a good point. Don’t you think that’s a bit of the exploration process? Like you have to spend your time learning your material to decide whether or not you want to use it for the [inaudible]

Sage: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then, but that does potentially put you in a position where you only think about polymer. So if there are other outside influences for instance on the blog, we do a least once every other week we do a piece that is not polymer. Even though it’s a polymer blog, the Daily Polymer Arts Blog, we do a piece that’s not polymer specifically because we need to as artist look at all types of art. If we stay just as polymer artist looking at just polymer art, we going to kind of incestuous design in the work. Yeah. So looking at all kinds of work and not just other crafts and not just as the 3 dimensional work but photography and painting and all those kinds of things can influence what we do in our own artwork, in our own medium.

Alison: Well it becomes technique driven only if you don’t get outside of that arena I think

Sage: Very much so.

Alison: No think there is. But I think there is also an excitement with people to blend everything like that and to take from all the different arenas and mush it all together. I mean, you know and then have a bunch of skills you can make up what you want to do.

Sage: Right. Well just the vastness of possibilities in the art world period. I mean if you are not looking at all the different variations within all these mediums, you are missing out on so many possibilities even though polymer can’t necessarily do what a lot of other mediums do. Just being able to see the forms and the colors and the aspects that those artists are exploring is going to push your creativity and your design.

Alison: Do you think there’s a lot more things to discover about polymer?

Sage: Yes. And I say that tentatively because I think a lot of people focus on that. On the fact that I’m going to discover the next new.

Alison: They do. Yeah.

Sage: And I don’t think that, I mean it’s great. It’s great when that happens. I do a lot of that myself but not because I want to discover the next new thing but because I want to find another way to work with it to enable me to do something specific that I would like to see, you know in polymer. I would like to be able to do with it. But there was a lot of focus at one time and I think it’s died off a little bit the last year too where people were trying to make new techniques.

Alison: Yeah. Your right

Sage: And I feel like that pulls away from the whole idea of being an artist. If you end up doing the same techniques that every else is doing but you do it in a way that says what you want to say, then that’s more valid than trying to find a new technique so you can have your name attached to it.

Alison: I think that’s fine. I mean I love the idea but I agree with you as well. I mean there is lots of people painting with oil paints and they don’t need to discover a new way to paint with them necessarily so.

Sage: But being a new medium we have in our most recent history all this new stuff that was found. And there will be, there will be new ways to use it and continuing to find new techniques and combinations. But I hope people don’t focus on that. The best ones came along when somebody was incidentally looking for a way to do something and had to discover a new way to do it and something came out of that.

Alison: That’s true. Or I’ve learn from my baking friends that lots of deserts have been created out of mistakes. And you have to quickly make it into something fabulous. It’s like it was going to be this but now it’s that and it’s still fabulous. So.

Sage: Yes. You can talk to most artist and ask them some of their favourite pieces and some of them will be the ones that were initially a mistake or so not where they thought they were going to be going with it. And that’s a huge part of being an artist is being open to the idea of where something takes you. As a writer we have this thing about, you often don’t write your story if you are doing fiction in particular. But your characters write it for you. And they tell you, and you kind of need to be open to the idea that your mind is going to meld things together aside from what you thought you were going to do. And that’s just so exciting when that happens. And so being open to that is really important.

Alison: I think it’s everything. It’s exciting and it can make you break into a sweat. I asked Michael deMeng once how did he know? And I love Michael deMeng’s work and I asked him “How did you know when a collage is done?” And he goes “Because I have wrestled it to the ground.” And I thought I got it, you know. You won finally. So I think it’s interesting that whole process. It’s sort of everything. There have been great quotes about that like you know creativity going “This is good. This is good. This is crap. This is crap. This is crap. Oh wait this might be good.”

Sage: [Laughter] We all do that absolutely. And if you are not doing that then you need to ask are your challenging yourself?

Alison: Yeah. As an artist. I mean you can be a hobbyist and just want to make a project and nothing wrong with that either. So I mean I’m all for that. You just want it have it come out right. So that’s 2 different things. Is there something about? All that I relate about polymers everything being a host or Craftcast or reading everything but I don’t have my hands in it. Is there something you can say that someone’s new to polymer that they don’t know about that’s like one of the reasons why you have to try it? Like what would be if you were trying to talk someone into it you have to try this because it’s, what would be the thing? Because you know it just stares at you. Colored blocks, there are sort of cool looking.

Sage: The reason I tell people and I do this all the time. The reason that I tell people they should try it out is because it has so many possibilities. And that’s what grabbed me is the fact that you can do almost anything that comes to mind, there is a way of doing it with polymer. A way of making something look like anything. But when I talk to people about doing it, I give them a book and there’s a number books, Donna Kato’s book even Nan Roche’s book. Any book that has a variety of techniques in it for them to look through. And I’m like look through it and see what grabs you. There aren’t too many techniques that a beginner can’t try to accomplish. There are a few but a lot of them especially in the books that are out there because not a lot of the books work with advanced techniques anyways. But if you go through a book and you open up and you are like “Oh my god. That item is just absolutely amazing. It totally grabs me.” I think if that’s what it does then you should try it.

What people are saying

  • Your classes are just amazing and I have learned sooo much from Cindy Pope’s classes on the Silhouette machines. She breaks it down so any beginner can learn. I didn’t take my Curio out of the box for a year until I watched her class. Now I’m addicted

    Beth B
  • Thank you for the informational class last night, and for the notes, it looks like a great product to work with. Best Wishes,

  • You are a truly generous soul to share so much with the community. I am constantly impressed by the extra effort you put into everything you do. A true inspiration. 

    Bridget D.