Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Inspired by Nature Retreat

I have been dreaming of attending Heather Powers' Inspired by Nature Retreat for several years.  Events have conspired to keep me from making this particular beady pilgrimage, but this year I finally made it happen!  Heather hosts this awesome weekend retreat in her hometown of South Haven, Michigan each fall and I feel like each year's classes and projects top the last!  (At least that's how it looks from what I've seen online!)  I'm going to apologize right now that this post is going to be a little on the long side, but there's so much to share...

My weekend adventure started out a little bumpy with a delayed flight to Chicago due to having to change aircraft.  Why do these things never seem to happen when you aren't on a tight timeline?  Or is it just me??  Luckily, I was still able to get to the Windy City in time to meet up with some of my fellow jewelry makers and bead addicts... Loralee Kolton and Martha Scott.  Even though we've only met in person once at Bead & Button, these awesome ladies were willing to let me in on their road trip fun!  They scooped me up from O'Hare and we hit the road to South Haven... getting to the retreat just in time for class to start.  Whew!   

Loralee, Martha, and myself ready to hit the road!

If you don't already know, Heather is an absolute magician with polymer clay.  Not familiar with her work?  You must check out her website, Humblebeads, and see all of her gorgeous beads... you'll be drooling in no time!  Anyway, as I was saying, Heather does amazing things with polymer clay but also has such creativity with how she works with metal and combines different elements for one of a kind jewelry... and the wonderful thing is that she's willing to share this wealth of knowledge with her students at her various workshops and retreats.  (Seriously, if you ever have a chance to take a class from Heather just do it!!)

So, true story: I am a total newbie when it comes to making anything with polymer clay.  While I was excited to learn more about this medium and get to play with new techniques, I was also a little nervous.  I shouldn't have worried since Heather is such a great and patient teacher... and I had a group of supportive ladies at my table too!  But you be the judge of how this beginner did as I show you what I made over the course of the weekend.

Friday afternoon was all about making our own molds using leaves and other forest treasures that we found around the grounds.  Some of mine were more successful than others, but I can totally see myself using the molding putty to make some more molds with some Minnesotan foliage and such.  I've got my eyes on you tiny pine cones!  After our molds set, we made buttons and pendants using a lovely bronze metallic polymer clay.  Some I added color to using Swellegant patinas and dyes and some I left plain... for now.  I'd like to play with some other ways of adding color!  

Left: my molds and first couple of pieces; Right: My finished products... the bronze one used one of Loralee's molds.

Saturday was a marathon day of multiple polymer clay techniques and metal work that ended with us finishing our lovely "Woodland Treasures" pendants on simple chain.  This finished piece of jewelry incorporated one each of the three types of "faux stone" beads and pendants we made during the first part of class with our own versions of marbled polymer clay.  This was my favorite part of playing with the polymer I think... I loved being able to mix my own color palette and am itching to combine the colors in different proportions next time!  We cut, hammered, and filed (and filed, and filed!) our copper house shapes to make the backing of our pendants and then used Heather's enchanting metal sketches technique to make the backside a work of art too.  I hang my head in shame to admit this, but while I was hammering my designs into the back of my pendant I had moments of questioning how good the final product would look.  I should know better than to doubt Heather by now!  After dipping the copper into liver of sulphur, our pieces were transformed.  I couldn't be happier with how my pendant turned out!

Day Two's finished necklace... handmade except for the glass and findings!  I even made the tassel!

Sunday morning we had one last project to learn before lunch and hitting the road back home.  We had a fun time making a trio of adjustable bracelets using copper wire and just a few simple tools.  I had a little trouble shaping my bracelets, but I think that with a little practice, these would be super fun and fairly easy to make.  They are also a perfect use for those orphan beads we all end up with!  I made some substitutions and additions to my charms when I got back home.  I'm not much of a bracelet wearer, but these may have me changing my tune!

My finished bracelet stack

Here are a few more pictures from the weekend.  As you can see it wasn't all bead and jewelry making.  We took time out to share meals together, chat, and drink wine... so much wine!  Many thanks to Loralee and Heather for letting me share some of their photos with you!  Of course no retreat would be complete without goody bags filled with new beady treasures from some of my favorite artists: Heather, Gardanne, and Michelle McCarthy!  Friday night's agenda included a tasty dinner out on the town in South Haven and there was plenty of time throughout the weekend to catch up with old friends (several familiar faces from the Bead Cruise) and get to know new ones.

Goody bags; the whole gang at our group dinner Friday night; me, Beverly, & Loralee; Susan & Heather

On Saturday afternoon many of us took a field trip to the shore of Lake Michigan to look for stones and beach glass.  The day was absolutely beautiful and I was in my happy place looking for rocks and enjoying the sounds of the waves on the beach.  The tide was coming in and I got a little wetter than I had planned, but I'm not sweet enough to melt!  (Plus I wore my Keen sandals for a reason!)  Heather did a rock drilling demo on Sunday... I'm hoping some of the stones I collected will work!

Lake Michigan at Deerlick Creek!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.  After lunch on Sunday it was time for a group picture and to head home.  I feel so blessed to have been a part of this weekend... it's always wonderful when like minded folks come together to create, share, learn, and just connect with one another.  I've come home from Michigan inspired and re-energized... ready to make pretty things that I hope others will love as much as I do!

A bevy of bracelets!  And the whole group before we had to leave to go back to the real world.

While I was incredibly excited to attend the Inspired by Nature Retreat, learn new things, see old friends and make new ones, I have to admit that I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy polymer clay.  I was pleasantly surprised that I really liked playing with this new medium and can see a lot of possibilities down that road.  I'm looking forward to clearing some time on my schedule to play with different ways to add color to the clay and texture to metal after all the new skills, tips, and tricks I picked up.  Unfortunately, my list of new tools and toys that I want is growing... I'd better start that letter to Santa Claus soon so he has plenty of time to track things down! 

Thanks so much to Heather for hosting such a wonderful event... I can't imagine how much goes into planning and executing such a well run and fun weekend!  And thank you to the other participants (many who have been coming back year after year) for making me feel so welcome.  After reading this (or at least skimming it for the pictures!) are you wishing you had gotten to go too?  Never fear!  Heather is offering an online version of the retreat and you can still sign up for that HERE!  I promise you will learn a ton and have fun doing it!


  1. What a great weekend - beads, friends and nature!

    1. It was wonderful!! Thanks for the adorable charm, Michelle!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful information about the retreat. I had a perfect track record on attending...until this year. I am still bummed out that I missed this, but you made me feel like I was right there with you! Polymer clay is a wonderful medium, so many possibilities! I know you will figure out a way to make it your own! I love your fun necklace, especially the back. Hope that I can get back there next fall as it has always been a highlight of my year. Enjoy the day! Erin

    1. I'm so sorry you couldn't make it this year, Erin... I was looking forward to finally meeting in person! Maybe next year we can make that carpool action work out!

  3. Whooop, whoop! I had a blast and am already looking forward to next year!

  4. Hi Sarajo!! You captured the wonderful feeling of retreat with your words here kiddo. It was so nice to meet you and I look forward to many more retreats and of course more wine!

  5. Hi Sarajo! Sorry we kept you up late on Friday night...we were just sooo excited about the weekend. I had a great time getting to know you. I am so impressed with your talent and your spirit! My dream is to someday go on the bead cruise. See you next year!

    1. You guys were fine... I'm sorry that that I was so crazy tired or I would have been right there with my own glass of wine! Maybe next year I can travel in such a way that I get a tiny bit more sleep. :) And you should totally do the cruise... so much fun!!

  6. Looks like you had a fantastic time! I know the pleasure of spending just a couple of hours at an evening jewelry course, imagine a couple of days!

  7. Looks like a wonderful retreat. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  8. That was a wonderful post. Not too long at all. You have confirmed for me that I have to find a way to attend this retreat one of these years. I really wanted to go last year but not being a car owner makes the trip from Ontario a bit difficult. Public transit options to South Haven are limited! I really enjoyed reading about your weekend. Next best thing to actually being there. You have a wonderful way with words, Sarajo.