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Artist Profile
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Practical Magic
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
The Company of Monsters

When I asked Anjee Mai Emerson if I could write a blog post about her Monsters after finding her facebook page, her response was "Yeah, they would love that. They are hams you know." A wave of relief washed over me. I'll bet I'm not the only one talking to my clay creations and with names like Squimmy, Fivemouth Guy, Fly Swatter and Crawlee C. Wormsworth, the Monsters seem like they would be good company. 

Anjee has been working with clay for over 20 years but like most people who do unusual things for a living, her path to Monster spawning was a bit round about. She went to college to pursue a PhD. in Geography but was sidetracked by an afternoon with her niece and nephew. After procuring some polymer clay, her nephew created "The most awesome Monsters she'd ever seen." Claymate Creations was formed not long after. Anjee was surprised and delighted to find she was able to sell her work and teach others to create monsters of their own. 

Anjee teaches classes on the weekends at the Center for the Performing Arts in Minneapolis. She also sells her work on Etsy.  According to her blog she is also working on a children's book with friend and photographer Haley Stampp. 

I'd love for some of these critters to keep me company and at the risk of offending them I have to say, I think they are adorable.

You can see her work and find out her class schedule

 Her Facebook page is named Claymate Creations



Posted by acmckibben at 12:19 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 10:38 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Feats of Clay
Topic: Artist Profile

I love the internet. I know there are all sorts of crazy stuff on it. Stuff I don't want to know about -  but overall it is a wealth of information one would never have access to any other way or at least not at the tips of your fingers. If you don't know something, someone else does and they've put it out on the world wide web. The thing I love most about the net is the opportunity to get to know people you never would have otherwise. This is how I met the amazing Sarah Jane Shorter.

I met Sarah Jane through a website called Polymer Clay Central. She also makes cake toppers. We are a very small and exclusive club so I of course had to contact her. We struck up a lively conversation and she gave me some requested advice about seed beads. First of all I love listening to people from England. I've never heard her actually speak but I can hear it in her text. Like when she told me working with wire "drives her round the bend" Fantastic!

Sarah lives in Northampton, UK and is the owner of Feats of Clay. I cannot describe how happy it makes me to look at her toppers. They are humorous, beautiful, cute, meticulously detailed, and simple (and by simple I mean to look at, not to create) all rolled into one. I do not know how she does it. 

When her twins were born pre-maturely she decided to stay home and take care of all three of her kids full time. 

She started with clay by making Christmas ornaments and moved on to figures. She set up her business in 2007 and it took off immediately. She was surprised by this (however I am not) Sarah does mostly wedding related toppers, sprinkled with other occasions and has even done some work for some British celebrities. Sarah has customers all over the world, including the U.S., Australia and Dubai. You can see all of Sarah Jane's work at

She is a self taught artist picking up tricks and techniques from websites like Polymer Clay Central, Glass Attic and the International Polymer Clay Guild. Her favorite clay is FIMO Classic due to the way it handles and the fantastic colour range (colour spelled the European way)

Sarah Jane says loves what she does so much it doesn't feel like work. The loves shows...Just take a look... 















You can contact Sarah Jane at

Posted by acmckibben at 11:37 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 8:59 PM EDT
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Friday, 27 January 2012
God lives in our hands?

So I am typically not a big spiritual, zen type of gal. I sometimes wish I were. Might make life a little easier. I do, however, believe in God. I talk to Him everyday. (sometimes inadvertently like when I stub my toe) I think most believers think God lives in our hearts. I think he does too but I also think he's taken up some residence in our hands.

I don't remember the first time this happened to me, but it's happened to me since I was a small child and it happens with some frequency, I will be watching someone do something with their hands and I end up in sort of a trance like state. It relaxes me and I feel warm and fuzzy and...content. It's weird I know.  I used to work for a bank and there was a woman there who, if I watched her run her fingers through all the trays of checks, I would nearly fall asleep. During a hair cut today, if it weren't for the uncomfortable sink I would have drifted off while having my hair shampooed, right there in the middle of the salon. Rolling Stones cranked, florescent lights blazing. Why is it when someone else brushes your hair it feels so good but you can't do that to yourself? I think it's because God is in their hands and He did that on purpose so we would keep needing each other. 

So, to me anyway, it is logical to think the things we create with our hands have at least some divine sprinklings.  Food we make for our family, stories we write, cars we fix to get us to work, walls we repair, and I think we can throw in artwork as a qualifier. So begins my series of posts here on this blog, of artists who create with their hands. They may not necessarily be clay artists but they all create, they all have talent I can only dream about and I am excited to write about them here. More to come.

UPDATE: I found out there is a name for this warm, fuzzy experience. It's called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) and there are some bizarre videos on youtube dedicated to it.(I love the internet.) There is a whole community of people who experience it. (I'm not the only weirdo.) It is considered a psuedo science at this point since no one has studied it or been able to prove it exists but those of us with it know it's real. 


Posted by acmckibben at 5:56 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 9:12 PM EDT
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Monday, 23 January 2012
Sweet Monsters

This whole crazy thing started with sugar. I wanted to be a cake decorator. I wanted to make masterpieces out flour and eggs but it turns out that I hate sticky fingers. I would also equate the staying power of powdered sugar to cock roaches. After a nuclear war there will still be powdered sugar in the crevices of my kitchen. There are also some pretty logical laws in place that prevent people from selling cakes from their home. That is when I moved onto clay. Inedible and blissfully free of any white powdery substances. (doesn't it seem like a lot of dangerous things come in the form of white and powdery?)

But every now and than I get to chance to go back to my roots.  I have a cake decorating friend and colleague that was making a cake for Icing Smiles. An organization that makes dream cakes for kids with terminal conditions. She asked me to make some sugar sculptures. The boy is 10 (just like my son) and wanted a War of the Monsters cake. 










So I dug out my tools, cutters, colors and -GASP- powdered sugar and got to work. I am rusty. Sugar work is not as forgiving as clay. It dries quickly and cracks easily but I managed to produce a couple of recognizable figures.  

Kathy (the cake decorator)who did all of the real work, said she will send me a picture when it is done. She ambitiously made 20 buildings for the monsters to destroy. 

Just want to say I am honored to have a small (tiny really) part in this young man's cake and I hope it makes him happy. 




Posted by acmckibben at 10:15 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 8:56 PM EDT
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Friday, 13 January 2012
Repel Gel by Van Aken for Donna Kato
Topic: Product Review

Repel Gel. I love the name, it makes me laugh.  I love the idea even better. It is a whitish, odorless, emulsion that claims you can put two pieces of polymer clay together and cure them and they won't stick to each other.  I wish there was Repel Gel for the real world. Some smelly guy on a plane keeps talking to you, just dab on a bit of Repel Gel. Wa-la.  He doesn't want anything to do with you anymore. Your kid is throwing a temper tantrum. Fling some Repel Gel on him (since he's tantruming I am assuming this would be the best way) the child and his wailing are instantly transported to his room with the door closed.  If only it could work that way. Even the great Donna Kato can't help us with all of that. 

It's also funny since us polymer clay artists are constantly trying to figure out how to make our clay stick together MORE.  Should we use liquid clay or not, glue or not, to buy the special bonder or not, etc.  So when I posted on Facebook I had bought some Repel Gel I got some questions. What do you use that for? 

In my case I wanted to use to mold clay around another piece of a previously baked item. I wanted to make a shoe for Barbie and mold it around a clay Barbie foot.  Without some sort of release the clay would stick. The gel worked pretty well. It worked best on two flat surfaces or where the clay didn't have to bend over the baked item. In this case her foot and the bottom of the shoe separated splendidly, when I tried to bake the whole shoe in one piece over the foot, I had some sticking. I also used it with bendy clay and not regular polymer clay. I do think it was worth the  5 bucks I paid. You just need a little so I think the jar will go along way. It also washed up pretty nicely.  Thanks Donna, now if you could just get to work on that gel for smelly guys on planes. Thank you. 




Posted by acmckibben at 11:26 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 8:55 PM EDT
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Monday, 9 January 2012
Breaking in the new shoes

Why? Why do I fuss, tinker, putter, figure, ponder and generally drive myself crazy with certain things. Barbie shoes have a market value of about 3 dollars on Etsy. I just bought a boat load of shoes for my mom from Hong Kong. They were a dollar and that included shipping. 

My first thousand or so shoes were a fail. I tried making a mold of her foot from clay, a mold from foil, I tried free hand. With repel gel and without. Nada!! But I get stubborn about certain things and by George I was going to get some shoes on those useless and eternally tip toed bipeds. 

Finally after lifting up my head off my desk, wiping the tears away and pulling the clay from my hair I got enough of the pieces of my mistakes to fashion them into a wearable (but not quite yet pretty) shoe.  It will do. Once I have the formula (hands rubbing, evil cackling) I can do it again...better, stronger, faster. 

I'm keeping it under wraps for now as I am contemplating a magazine article on how to make them without scratching your own eyes out.

It's good though, something new. New neurons firing. Something to take me away from my toppers so I can return to them willingly instead of bored and tired. I am even fool-heartedly designing my next pair. When we meet again let's hope I still have all my hair.  





Posted by acmckibben at 11:25 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 8:58 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 3 January 2012
I got a Barbie doll for Christmas
Topic: Musings

My mom gave me a Barbie doll for Christmas. Never mind that I am 42 years old. One is never too old for a new Barbie. I love her as much as my first one I got for Christmas a million years ago.

Ah yes Barbie, the impossible fantasy of ridiculous porportions, unattainable beauty, fantastic wealth and extraordinary accomplishments (if I read Wikipedia right she was an astronaut before Neil Armstrong.) 

My retired mom has been buying old naked Barbie's at thrift stores and making THE cutest clothes for them. She knits or crochets them (neither craft I could ever get the hang of) I came over to her house and she suddenly had a whole shelf of fashionably garbed models. Cool. 

So I couldn't help thinking how I could use clay to help enrich Barbie's wardrobe. (like she needs more right?) I tried making shoes first. This gave me the idea to use the flexible, bendy clay. The shoes were a fail, but I liked the way the bendy clay felt a lot like the plastic accessories that were made for Barbie, and of course you can make the clay so much cuter. I've made three purses (one of them with a puppy in tow) and two belts so far. I have a little bit of a fever. I had fantasties of being a fashion designer in my 

younger years (didn't we all?) and now I get to live a little bit of it and who better to design for than the fantastic, beautiful, impossible Barbie. 





Posted by acmckibben at 11:04 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 8:50 PM EDT
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Monday, 2 January 2012
A Name Change

I believe that art is magic. From the Mona Lisa to the paintings of half naked chicks on Harleys, I appreciate it all. I think if it speaks to our inner being in some way, it is valuable and is a true contribution to the human spirit. But I am also a Minnesotan, a tired Minnesotan at that. It's cold here and we use up a lot of resources just keeping warm. I wish I was one of those people with boundless energy but I really do need to conserve what little natural spunk I have, so I need my art to be practical. I need it to somehow serve a purpose. I've done a lot of cake toppers. Now that may sound frivolous but it's driven by a client who really wants this to make her big day a little more unique at a price that won't blow the budget. To me that is supremely useful.

I orginally named my blog Lump of Clay. I thought this would let people know it was a blog about polymer clay and a lump of clay can really refer to anything that is created by hand, but I came up with the name on the fly (not practical at all) and just the word "lump" is pretty unappealing. It survived one post. I think the name Practical Magic is more suitable. Even if it shares the name with a weird and slightly disturbing movie. I also think it widens the net a little bit. I can share other people's magic, even if it doesn't include clay. I think that is quite practical.

Posted by acmckibben at 9:38 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 9:02 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Identity Crisis

It is a twisted path one takes to make polymer clay cake toppers. Chances are it isn't something you say you want to do when you grow up. You can't major in Cake Toppers when you go to college.  I do have an Associate of Arts degree. It is in nothing. I call it my bag lady degree since that is all I qualify for by having it. 

I've had many careers. My first job was at McDonald's. A great place to learn how to really work and not just look busy. They do (or at least they did a million years ago when I worked there) a great job of utilizing their employees. Since than I worked at a video store, a cheese shop, a machine shop, a glamour photography studio, the video store again, the cheese shop again only this time in a form of managing kiosks, a temp service. (I placed people in temp jobs) I worked for a major bank and a major retailer as well. Whew. I disliked most of those jobs. (I loved the video store and the cheese shop as you can tell as I went back to them a couple of times - both have since closed or I may be selling you Havarti or recommending a good Saturday night flick)

During all those working years, I kept thinking of ways to incorporate my artistic tendancies and my need for moola. A difficult task. Nothing seemed to really fit. Then I had a baby and everything else fell away. I didn't care one bit about working, or artistic expression or anything at all except this fantastic little human I was taking care of. The little boy filled in all the cracks of my identity.  

It seemed after a time that this child was the only one that was going to show up. (he was the only one brave enough to be my kid) That suited me just fine. But now there was some time left over and the the previous mentioned thoughts and desires began creeping back in to my mind. 

I tried a couple of other things first before the toppers. I tried being an Avon lady and doing a "party" thing. No and no. During all this time and during all those cruddy jobs I had a cake decorating hobby. But you can't make cakes from your home. The state of Minnesota thinks all of our  kitchens are too grubby to do that  and the truth is I wasn't thrilled with baking anyway. I just made the cakes as a vehicle to decorate. My favorite decorating task was gumpaste and fondant sculptures.  It's still food though and Minnesota still says no. (update: Minnesota has changed it's laws since this post. With limitations you can start a food based business from your home.) 

This next part of the story you may have heard before. It's on my website on the "About Me" page. The very much abbreviated and simplified version of the road to making clay stuff.  My cousin's son was getting married. I agreed (or volunteered, I don't remember now) to make their wedding cake. They had a cute invitation with a cave man and woman on it. I wanted to make a little cave couple for a topper out of gumpaste but the wedding was 250 miles away and even in the frozen north it's still hot up here in August and figured any sugar sculptures would surely melt on the journey. I decided to try polymer clay to make them permanent. It worked. Really well actually. Usually any 

artistic endeavor I try takes a least a second go, or a third or fourth to get it the way I like it. The clay immediately opened a door in my heart. I look at the picture of that first topper now and think it looks amatuerish and the structure was not stable but at the time it was the best thing I had made in a long time. So my mind began to work on how to grow this thing. I began to research it and it turns a few other people were doing this (there IS a market for this) It also corresponded with my ability to get on a computer and actually reach other people besides just my mom and sister (my biggest customers of my other ill fated ventures) The seeds of Tippy Top were sown. There is more of course. I will continue to write and see how tolerant you all are of the ME syndrome these first few blog entries are suffering from. I hope you will read on. 

Posted by acmckibben at 2:29 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2016 9:17 PM EDT
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