In addition to drinking wine, preparing for a career in winemaking, and keeping up with an absurd number of podcasts, I like to create artwork. Some of my works are miniature polymer clay sculptures, such as this gleefully small piece that depicts the fruit flavors and aromas most commonly detected in red wines.
This 3 ½- x 4-inch square piece, which I think of as a “wine emblem,” features miniature grapes, red currants, blueberries, purple plums, blackcurrants, cherries, cranberries, rose hips, red plums, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, figs and pomegranates.
With the exception of the grapes, these fruits don’t actually exist in the wine. Instead, they come across as aromas and/or flavors, the result of the acidity and ripeness of the grapes when picked, the temperature of the region where they’re grown, and sometimes, the yeasts preserved or encouraged during the fermentation process. The next time you’re drinking your favorite red wine — pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, etc. — see if you can smell or taste any of the fruits depicted here, then congratulate yourself for being super perceptive about
the world around you what’s in your glass.
Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering what the heck polymer clay is, take a gander at the photo below. Based on the synthetic plastic polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polymer clay is a flexible modeling medium that won’t fully harden until it’s baked in an oven at roughly 275º F (135º C). Sold commercially as brands like Premo and Sculpey III, polymer clay comes in as many as 44 colors; I use a combination of these two brands, and hand-blend colors to achieve any shades I want.
I store these myriad colors/shades in small ziploc bags tucked into larger ziploc bags that I’ve labeled by color family. Some of my clay is as much as 10 years old, but because I’m careful to squeeze out the air before sealing these bags, it’s rare that the clay becomes too dry or brittle to use. Just like with skincare and maintaining your personal boundaries, consistency is key.
(And speaking of consistency, yes — I generally drink wine while I sculpt. Thank you, that’s an excellent question.)
I use a whole bunch of sculpting tools when I create in polymer clay, but my favorites are the ones pictured above. Some are sanitized dental tools given to me by a former dentist, but others, like the little cookie-cutter punches that yield shapes like a heart, leaf, circle, etc., are specifically designed for use with polymer clay. To flatten the clay, I use a 9″-long rod of lucite plastic as a rolling pin, and an exceptionally long razor blade (semi-pictured below) enables me to carefully lift sculpted work from my melamine-coated potter’s wheel.
While still pliable, the clay can be dusted with pastels and other powders to create various effects. Baking requires only a dedicated oven (as small as a toaster will do) in a well ventilated space, a glass or aluminum baking dish lined with parchment paper, and a reliable timer. Once a baked sculpture has cooled, it can be painted with craft acrylics, gently sanded and polished, and glued to just about anything.
Please forgive me if I’ve just created a craft menace in your life.
I’ve been playing with polymer clay since I was a child, when I made hundreds of clay figures that my ever-patient mother allowed me to display on every surface of our home. While at NYU Film School, I used it to make stop-motion animation figures for short films. As a custom sculptor with my own business, It Figures, I used it to create personalized wedding cake toppers, family and pet mementos based on clients’ photos, and I made countless polymer clay items for the socio-political dioramas I used to exhibit in galleries. Because of course.
After a long break from clay, I’ve only recently started sculpting again, and I love using it to express what I feel, experience, and learn about wine. More of my “wine emblems” will occasionally illustrate these electronic pages, and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoy making them.