Julia Rai is an accomplished metal clay artist and teacher. She teaches a variety of metal clay subjects at several jewelry schools in the U.K., and is also the Director of the Metal Clay Academy, a valuable web site that contains a wealth of information for metal clay enthusiasts. Now, Julia has a new distinction to add to her impressive resumé–she is the first person in the world to achieve the Masters Registry Level Four!
When I read about Julia's latest achievement, a bunch of questions ran through my mind. I began to think I would like to ask her a few things. Then I thought, "hey–why not"? So I asked Julia if she would be willing to answer 10 questions from me, and I wanted to share her answers with you.
Being the generous teacher and all-around lovely person that she is, she agreed!
So, here they are, Ten Questions for Julia Rai. Enjoy!
1. Why did you want to do the Master's Registry?
As soon as I heard about the Registry I knew I wanted to do it. It's the ultimate test of metal clay skills but also addresses something not really covered in many of the classes available, design skills. I wanted to push myself and really challenge myself to see what I could achieve.
2. How long did it take you to achieve level 4?
It's taken me a year to get from Level 3 to Level 4. This was the hardest level as I left projects I was less sure of until later - also, the evaluators expect more of you at each level! I signed up for the Registry as soon as it launched in September 2008 and had achieved Level 1 by March 2009, that was my fastest level.
3. What was the hardest thing you had to work on for the Master's Registry?
The hardest thing is difficult to answer. The nesting rings were very tricky for me to get right and I made five sets before I found one that worked properly. There are a couple of projects that I've submitted three times and still not passed! One is combining metal clay with copper - I just don't seem to be able to get this one right! It won't beat me though...
4. Did any of the projects come easily for you?
Surprisingly, the threaded closure worked first time - and I've never done a threaded item before. It just worked straight away. Now people are asking me to teach them the threaded closure so I need to learn how I did it to pass it on!
5. How much time, on average, did each project take you?
Very hard to answer. Some things took a couple of hours, some have taken weeks and weeks with me coming back to them over and over again. I tend to work on at least three or four projects at once, sometimes as many as seven or eight. Some things are still in progress a year after I started them.
6. Was there a project that you dreaded doing? If so, how was it when you finally did it? (That is, if you've done it yet- I assume you are going on to level 5)
The one I'm really dreading is the miniatures. I keep mulling over what to make but I have no idea how to approach making a scale model of a household item. Especially after seeing Tim McCreight's working tumble polisher! My friend Lesley Messam made a fabulous pair of working scissors - hard acts to follow!
7. Which project was your favorite?
I have a soft spot for the Votive figure which is the frog. She was so lovely to make and is tiny and delightful. But the piece I love the most is the metal clay paper piece which passed at Level 4. I love the shape of the piece and although it was very tricky to make, I'm really pleased with the outcome.
8. In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
Loads! There are several that I'm going to do again when I've finished because they scored poorly and I know I can do better. Some just scraped through and the evaluations gave me pointers on how to make them better. The sleeve container pendant is a good example. I loved the piece but I now know more about design and I'd make this one quite differently second time around.
9. What is the biggest thing the Master's Registry has taught you?
Design, design, design! I had no clue about what makes a design good or bad before I started the Registry. The evaluators might say I still don't have a clue at times! But I can see the progression in my work and I'm constantly trying to improve my design skills. Before I started the Registry, I never drew anything before I made it, I'd just sit down and start rolling! But now I plan things from the texture upwards, on paper and also in polymer clay for more complex forms. And I'm constantly looking for shapes and textures in everything around me.
10. What advice would you give to people who are thinking about taking the Master's Registry challenge?
I think it's important for people to understand that the evaluators are not interested in stroking your ego. The Yahoo metal clay group is a supportive and encouraging group but the Registry evaluators will not say nice things about your work, they will pick it apart. Even for my pieces that have passed with 10 out of 10, sometimes the evaluators will tell me what could have been done better. And for pieces that have really missed the point, they sometimes won't mark it, that's a horrible feeling - my work is so bad they won't even bother to mark it! So you need to be pretty resilient and not take it personally - which is hard when you've put your heart and soul into something. I've sobbed after reading some of the harsher evaluations - and I'm not an easy sobber! The reason I've put all the marks and evaluation comments for my pieces on my website is to show people what they can expect. I've had such a lot of positive feedback from people about it, it's helped people to make a decision about whether they can cope with that level of criticism. Having said all this, I would encourage anyone who's really serious about improving their skills to go for the Registry. It will challenge you in ways you can't imagine and will develop you as an artist.
I worked on these questions for Julia after a long day and I was pretty tired. Well, wouldn't you know it, I had mistakenly sent her an extra question, which she also graciously answered. So, here is our "bonus" question!
Which score surprised you most (positively or negatively)?
The score that surprised me the most - hmm, difficult to say. I'm always surprised by the ones they decide are so bad they won't even consider them! Why would I send in something I didn't think was up to the job? But for some of them, it's just that I've missed the point of the project - that's the price of being the first!
I have so many more questions I could ask Julia and I very much appreciate that she took the time to answer ten…whoops–eleven of them. Thank you, Julia!
Please be sure to check out her web sites:
Julia is very generous in sharing her knowledge and experience, and there is a lot to learn from both sites!
written by ~ Evelyn P. Dombkowski