Helen Breil - Polymer Clay Artist
Article by Jamie Hogsett
Curious, passionate, and willing to share. These words describe Helen Breil's personality, as well as her innovative work in polymer clay. Helen's generosity of spirit shines through in the tutorials she produces for numerous online and print sources, the fun and whimsical texture stamps she creates, and the fact that even during her own design time, she's thinking of how to make her work accessible to others.
Helen came upon polymer clay by accident. She and her husband had long been admirers of art, especially contemporary glasswork, so Helen was familiar with American Style Magazine. It just happened that the Summer 1997 issue had an article covering the polymer clay art of Kathleen Dustin, Elise Winter, Rebecca Zimmerman, and others. Helen was instantly drawn to the medium and soon found herself hooked on polymer clay, despite the fact that she'd never had a hands-on, artistic hobby before. Polymer clay was meant to be Helen's medium and she soon found herself doing all she could to manipulate the texture of the clay.
As Helen explains it, people come to polymer clay beginning in an infinite number of ways. Most often, polymer clay beginners first learn about caning (creating a cylinder of clay with a design running throughout), and its importance in the craft. Though Helen has learned about caning, and many other options when it comes to polymer clay, she finds that the texture of the clay is what she naturally gravitated to. Helen slowly self-taught her way into the wide world of polymer clay, starting by experimenting with clay during the winter months when she was naturally more often indoors. What began as a winter-time hobby eventually became a year-round affair.
When Helen began, she looked for intriguing texture everywhere she went. Using this method of seek-and-find, Helen began collecting items with interesting textures, and then began making her own texture plates. Helen's first plates were made entirely by hand, with the mold made of a polymer clay base and walls. Helen then hand-poured a resin mixture into the mold to result in a texture sheet.
Helen's willingness to share with her polymer clay community began with these first handmade texture plates. Now that she'd made them, Helen set out to teach her fellow polymer clay-lovers what to do with them, so she began writing online tutorials to share what she had learned. Helen has many online tutorials available, showing others how to make their own texture sheets and incorporate other textures into their own designs. Helen's lessons include making pinched leaves, radiating lines, and fun freeform shapes, as well as several tutorials about texture. Helen even gives a free tutorial on making what she calls String Beads - click here to view.
Helen's String Beads are fun to make and geared toward the beginner. The String Beads lesson proves that Helen is a light-hearted and patient teacher who has found the perfect way to share her passion with others. Her curious mind always searching for more, Helen is in the studio as often as she can be, experimenting with design ideas and learning new techniques. Helen's pretty unstoppable when it comes to forging new ground in the polymer clay world.
When the time came to expand her line of texture stamps, Helen came across the concept of Zentangles, drawing based on rhythmic, almost meditative repetitions. Helen took to Zentangles as well as she initially took to polymer clay and a whole new line of texture stamps were born. Her current line of twelve stamps includes eleven made with the Zentangles concept. These texture designs are fabulously intricate and varied, many named after fast dance steps such as Fandango and Jitterbug. Each stamp has anywhere from one to six different patterns within it and the large 4x5 inch surface allows for an infinite number of looks within each texture stamp. The stamps work with many types of clay, metal etching, and even paper projects. Click here to see her Texture Stamps
Now that she's never at a loss for interesting designs, Helen strives to create 2-3 new texture designs per year. She's just beginning that process again after taking a solid year to work on her biggest polymer clay adventure yet: writing, creating, photographing, and publishing her eBook, "Shapes - 25 Inspirational Jewelry Designs in Polymer Clay" (click here to find out more about her book and download a free 20 page sample).As she explains in the book, Helen began her Shapes series on accident, when she just happened to notice the interesting shapes of clay left behind after she used her cutters to punch out specific pieces. The shapes of her cutters (round, square, teardrop, and marquis) created scrap pieces just too cool to be used as scrap.
When Helen, who defines herself as a slow worker, had the task of creating 22 pendants for a swap, she began twisting and manipulating the shapes of the cutters' scraps and quickly developed several new ideas. As Helen creates, her mind is always asking "Is this simple enough to teach? Can I translate this into something Im able to share?" , and luckily so, as she took note of the shapes she was creating. Soon there were so many different designs that the idea naturally developed into a book.
Helen's EBook is a major success so far, having already received several glowing reviews. Helen points out that the 180-page EBook has a different focus than most polymer clay books. While most focus on technique, Shapes focuses on design, allowing beginning all the way through advanced skill levels to enjoy the book. Helen covers, in great detail, 25 different shapes in five different series in the EBook: Open Window, Spiral, Big Twist, Cotter Pin, and Polymer Bails. Each series has 4-6 designs plus variations. The designs are innovative and lovely, with each shape providing opportunities to add texture inside and out.
Of course Helen, sharing her love and knowledge of textures with an ever-growing audience, provides five different surface techniques as well. With twenty-nine other polymer artists included in the book's gallery, it's obvious that Helen is well respected within the polymer clay community, and with her clear instructions, well-organized materials lists, and bright pictures, it's obvious that Helen gives that respect and more back to her craft.
In addition to making her polymer clay pendants, with texture and color so beautifully applied Helen is a big fan of Mica powders, which give the colors in her pieces their glossy almost-glowing appearance she enjoys the next step of adding beads and embellishments to her finished designs. Helen loves beads and is a member of two bead societies. She's always looking for new beads and components to use with her polymer clay pendants when completing finished jewelry.
Helen is thrilled that her textures and her book are spilling over into other crafting communities. She says the polymer clay community has seen a shift in the past few years with regard to the emerging popularity of metal clay. They have been some great combinations made with the two clays together and Helen is excited to see the change. She believes the beading world is becoming more interested in polymer clay as well, a trend she and other polymer clay artists hope will continue. Helen can't say enough about how extremely open and sharing the polymer clay community is. The entire culture behind the medium is one of sharing, which is why it's so perfect for kindhearted Helen.
Helen is spreading the word about polymer clay on Facebook, her website, and the many magazines in which she's had projects published. As any artist will tell you, Helen wishes for more time in the studio, but she also enjoys the time she spends on the computer, connecting with fellow polymer clay enthusiasts and her fans. She's grateful for her husband's help with the administrative part of her business, which allows her to maintain a healthy balance between the two parts of her art she really enjoys: creating for herself and sharing her intelligent creations with others.
For those looking to delve into the art of polymer clay, Helen's advice is to try many different techniques when getting started. Texture grabbed Helen's attention, but caning or sculpting might be more up your alley. You need only a couple of bigger-ticket items to start: a pasta machine and a toaster oven that are used only for clay. You'll also need tools for cutting and conditioning the clay, which Helen assures you'll be able to easily find in a craft store or even from items around the house. If you're planning to experiment with texture, Helen suggests searching the Dollar Store or thrift store, or anywhere you can find inexpensive items with eye-catching textures.
Polymer clay itself is an inexpensive medium, and with so many resources available online, it's easy to go out and get started. Helen's own website is a wealth of knowledge about polymer clay, as she provides many links to clear and thoughtful basic information. Other recommended resources include ShadesofClay.com and PolymerClayDaily.com.
Helen Breil loves polymer clay because it allows her to discover something new every day, which makes it nice to work on one hundred percent of the time. Her upbeat persona, clever tutorials and gorgeous book, in addition to her beautiful polymer clay art pieces, add up to one very influential woman. Whether you work with polymer clay or not, you'll be inspired by Helen's work and all that she has to share with others.
Click here to see more of Helen's work on Flickr
Click here to Shop Helen's Textured Stamps and EBook Shapes