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Steampunkery: by Christi Friesen, a Crafting Book Review

Updated on May 21, 2016

Steampunkery: Polymer Clay and Mixed Media Projects

This is a "crafty hobby" book review written by Rebecca Knight (writer) as experienced by Tanya Davis (artist). Almost a book review-interview, yet I am not presenting in interview format. I will have some of my own input from simple overview impressions, but the tried-and-true utilization of and opinions based on experience are from the artist. This book is one of the biggest influences on Davis's work, as she told me once, "Christi Friesen gave me the first ideas for steampunk animal figurines in her instructional books."

This intro image is the first inside page of the book - you can see the actual cover on the Amazon module. More about the history of this particular copy of the book will be discussed in the review below. So, without any further ado, I bring to you a collaborative review of and about this book, which I hope will serve prospective readers/crafters well.

As you may notice, figurines are indeed a focus of the instructions contained in this book. However, Steampunkery will serve as a guide to teach the reader techniques that can be used for all manner of crafting projects using polymer clay. For example, in the image below are two magnets that Tanya Davis created. These are neither steampunk or animal forms, but they are pretty decorative pieces she created after reading Steampunkery and learning to use polymer clay.

Purple and gold magnets made with polymer clay.
Purple and gold magnets made with polymer clay.

What is the focus of this book?

Steampunkery by Christi Friesen is a book that serves more than one niche of crafters. It obviously brings into focus the use of the steampunk designs that are gaining popularity as a retro-nouveau-technology-based style and design that is both eye-catching and functional (or at the very least, seems to be functional, not all gears move!). The other obvious niche is crafting with polymer clay. This is a temperamental product that is actually more like a plastic than a true clay. It can be sculpted, painted, glazed much the same as ceramic clay and Friesen shows the many ways to do so with this book.

We recommend Steampunkery for crafters at all levels of expertise including those just starting out. The directions are detailed enough that you will truly learn from using this book. And if you are already established in your sculpting skills and are simply looking for new or interesting projects this guide will also deliver.

Steampunkery - The Crafting Guide Reviewed

...a story about Tanya Davis discovering her talent for creating figurines.

The first thing that grabbed the attention of Davis as she was perusing a rack of arts and crafts books was the simple fact that it blatantly is steampunk. At that time, she was crafting custom jewelry generally of the steampunk style and had been hearing about ceramics being used in creating jewelry. Not only did the book show steampunk design ideas, it also introduced Davis to the medium of polymer clay. The favored functionality of the polymer is that it does not require a kiln for setting, it is simply baked in a regular kitchen oven. Which is good since Davis lives in a small upstairs apartment with no place for a kiln.

The next things that caught her eye were the beautiful, full-color illustrations giving the reader step-by-step instructions. Christi Friesen uses simple terms and easy-to-follow directions with photos showing the process at the stage being covered. At the start of each project is a list of what you will need, sometimes with explanations on what the intended purpose will be to help you decide what to select - allowing some artistic license.

I also want to add that Friesen uses a tone that makes the delivery of information as amusing as it is valuable. You get the feeling of creative joy and happiness that helps to fan the embers of creativity into a fire of crafty productivity. The Steampunk theme is consistent throughout the book as well, which keeps the reader in a steampunked-state-of-mind. Using the pseudonym Professor Maximillion Contraption in notes throughout the book, Friesen carries on her authority on the subject matter from the very beginning.

Although the book's binding fell apart easily, in a way it worked out okay for the fact that in disassembled form it is easier to use while crafting. The pages on their own don't have the problem of propping open and keeping open the entire book. However, keeping the pages in order is still a challenge, it is up to the user to keep them neatly stacked and a binder-clip comes in handy for storage. An overall improvement on the physical makings of this book would be to offer it in spiral-bound format. Good, sturdy spiraling which lays flat while using the book for instruction. Alternatively a binder version could work too, something along the lines of how BHG cookbooks are designed. The poor binding construction is the reason why the personal image at the top does not include the cover, because... unfortunately the cover was lost when it all fell apart. That is the only drawback to this book which is otherwise "Excelsior! Indeed!"

I have distinguished myself on the lecture circuit, as a skilled orator, sharing with many others an appreciation of the Steampunk Arts. The fact that my lectures were impromptu not take away from their importance,

— Christi Friesen a.k.a. Professor Maximillion Contraption
First dragon figurine created by Tanya Davis while learning from Steampunkery.
First dragon figurine created by Tanya Davis while learning from Steampunkery.

Projects and Progress

Steampunkery-based polymer clay figurines

The first attempt Tanya Davis made to create a figurine with polymer clay based on Christi Friesen's Steampunkery book was a chameleon-lizard like the one on the front cover (see also, page 32), she ended up moving along to sculpting a dragon. There are Gallery pages showcasing finished works in this book, and there is a Gallery section in the back of the book where guest artist Heather Dadak had a dragon figurine that ended up inspiring Davis (see also, page 66 for a similar construct). The dragon just seemed to tickle her fancy more as it could have both the features of a reptile and a bird. You may also notice that the paws are very hand-like, another liberty that can be taken with the fantasy dragon creature.

This one is the first she made using the skills learned from Steampunkery. She keeps it in her private collection, as it is not as refined as later works; it still holds a sentimental value to her as a piece pioneering into polymer clay figurines. As is the teaching manual, Steampunkery, which now has this book review lens paying tribute to starting Davis in the direction of her most cherished works.

Second dragon, this one is owned by a fan in London, England.
Second dragon, this one is owned by a fan in London, England.

Next Dragon

This dragon figurine Davis was much happier with and sold to an overseas fan of steampunk dragons. Practice is what all artists and crafters know is the one thing that cannot be neglected. With the fine instruction provided in Steampunkery, and another go with the dragon design you see here the "progress" mentioned above.

You may click either of these photos of steampunk dragon pieces to go to her Deviantart gallery where you will see ongoing polymer clay and steampunk figurine projects past and present which all have their seed in the book "Steampunkery." You may also wish to take a look at my lens feature for Tanya Davis' Figurines.

Calling all crafters - show where you stand on Steampunk!

Are you a steampunk crafter?

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Clays and sculpting essentials you will need to get started crafting from the Steampunkery book:

The following are some basic items to get you started. Of course, you may find yourself needing wire, pliers, paint and so forth dependent on which projects you take on.

Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine
Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine
It looks and works much like a pasta maker; this is for pressing the clay uniformly into sheets which can be layered upon armature.
X-Acto X7761 Self-healing cutting mat, nonslip bottom, 1 grid, 12-Inch by 18-Inch board with 11-Inch by 17-Inch measuring surface, gray
X-Acto X7761 Self-healing cutting mat, nonslip bottom, 1 grid, 12-Inch by 18-Inch board with 11-Inch by 17-Inch measuring surface, gray
A mat that will protect your table or bench surface while cutting your clays, wires and whatever else. Also good for measurements.
AMACO Sacchi 248-6714B S48 Black Wheel with Machined Face/Lip (16x7/5x108mm)
AMACO Sacchi 248-6714B S48 Black Wheel with Machined Face/Lip (16x7/5x108mm)
A flexible blade is needed for making smooth long cuts.

Oven Vs. Heat Gun

There are two camps of polymer clay curing - one that thinks that oven use is best, while there are those that consider the heat gun to be the prime method of curing polymer clays.

If you use either method (or both) weigh in with which one you think is best in our comments below.

Steampunkery summary video I found online from Home Books


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