by Perrie Layton
Leslie Blackford is the must unassuming person I ever met. She is quiet, sincere, and just plain likeable. I met Leslie at this year’s Clayathon where she instructed us on how she makes her animal and human figurines. Her first task was to share with us how she made her unique birds and tree limbs with polymer along with acrylic and oil paints. While demonstrating how she textured a tree limb, everyone sighed with disbelief when she pulled out a comb. Disbelief because it was so simple–a comb to make the texture of tree bark. An ahah! moment for most of us. Next she taught us how she makes her light bulb figures. Later she spent time wowing us with her talent at creating animal heads. With a ball of Kato clay she created a dog, a cat, a wolf, a pig, a cow, morphing one animal character into the next as we yelled out requests.
Many of Leslie’s figurines show a dark side to Leslie you would not expect by talking with her which is what makes them so delightful. She said that she uses the clay to express her feelings and she tells a great story about making not-so-nice figurines to express her anger at some folks who were not-so-nice themselves. The figures she displayed are wickedly whimsical. Each figure has a unique quirkiness reminiscent of the characters of a midway sideshow. We were amazed and delighted with each oddity: the two-headed kitty in pjs, the amazing smoking rabbit clown, the mad cat with a sinister smile.
At lunch I was able to talk to her about her polymer clay experience and success. Leslie picked up polymer clay about 13 years ago to make Pokemon figures for her sons. Her thinking was why buy them when she could make them herself. She began taking polymer clay classes and her instructors saw her natural talent although Leslie didn’t have much confidence at first. Then she had the opportunity to take a class with Donna Kato. Donna recognized her ability and encouraged her. She also asked Leslie to test clay formulations as Donna worked to develop Kato PolyClay. As they say the rest is history and since then Leslie’s work has been featured in a number of books and magazines.
As we talked Leslie points out that she is surprised at her success. She has no formal art training, is primarily self-taught and has honed her skill with practice. She assured me that not everything she does is successful and has a box full of rejects at home. It is through the rejects she learns the most. When asked about her favorite polymer clay technique, she said she practiced them all but the characters are her first love. She incorporates the other techniques into her characters. Leslie’s favorite and most used tool: the needle tool. Simple but it can do so much. Leslie has been teaching for about 10 years and does 3 to 4 classes a year. She lives with her family in Munfordville, Kentucky. To see more of Leslie’s work simply google “Leslie Blackford”
Books co-authored by Leslie or featuring Leslie’s work:
My Favorite Things in Polymer Clay by Donna Kato, Judy Belcher, Kim Cavender and Leslie Blackford (Jan 2006)
Clay Techniques to “Dye” for by Judy Belcher, Leslie Blackford and Kim Cavender (Jan 2006)
The Art of Polymer Clay Millefiori Techniques: Projects and Inspiration for Creative Canework by Donna Kato and Vernon Ezell (Nov 11, 2008)
The Art of Resin Clay: Techniques and Projects for Creating Jewelry and Decorative Objects by Sherri Haab, Rachel Haab and Michelle Haab (Nov 22, 2011)