As much as she loved art at school, Sam Kimberle wasn’t the ‘art kid’. The material she most liked to work with was considered a craft material with no fine art usage, and so not valued within her art education.
Sam was a good academic student and studied Eastern philosophy and then law, and worked as a lawyer for a number of years. Inspired by the Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast, Sam did leave her day job, and returned to creating art with that same material she had loved as a child.
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For this episode, I'm speaking with Sam Kimberle, who was an academically bright child and had a successful legal career. But she didn't feel she was in the right place, and had to take a big step to improve her emotional and mental well being. She looks to her childhood love for inspiration, and found a creative outlet that has stood the test of time and surpassed all expectations. Hi, Sam, how are you? I'm great. How are you doing? Very good. Thank you. Can we start by you telling me what it is you do creatively? Sure. So I call myself a polymer clay relief sculpture artist, I think most people would consider to be me to be a bit more of a mixed media artist. I think that is the title that people are most familiar with. But my primary material is polymer clay. Yeah. I love working with clay. I've been working with it for quite a while now. I'm sure we'll get into that soon. Yeah, definitely, we'll get into your way of working with polymer clay, which might be different from people who are familiar with that material might think, and we'll come to that later. You've told me that what you did as a child led you to where you are now. So tell me what your experiences of creativity were like as a youngster. Sure. So when I was little, I was the kind of kid that was always doing artwork, but I hated colouring in the lines. I never liked colouring books, that was something that, you know, people tried to give me colouring books, and I would try to give them back. And my mom was just mortified by that. But my mom was also very creative. I grew up in the late 80s, early 90s. So it was a big time for puffy paint. So we would always do things a puppy puffy paint on sweatshirts and that kind of thing. So she's very crafty and creative. And I always loved drawing and creating and sculpting and putting different things together. I was really doing mixed media artwork at a very young age. I loved art class. I always loved art class, but it was the material that I love most obviously as polymer clay. It's that's what I do now. And it was always thought of more as a craft material than a fine art material. It was never something that we used in school. And the closest thing that we used was ceramics. But I'm just I'm not as interested in ceramics, you can't get the kind of detail that I can get in polymer clay with ceramics, at least I definitely can't. I don't really know anyone that can. It's just a different kind of material. So I just really wasn't pointed in the direction of doing artwork because I am really good academically. I was always good at writing. And those skills were more valuable in the academic circle that I was in growing up. So I was I was an artsy kid and I always did cool projects. You know, we had these like summer reading projects where it was really typical. First, did you read a bunch of books over the summer, and then we would have to do some kind of project art project was always an option. So I would always choose that and then bring these huge sculptural pieces into school that I created at home. And they always caused a ruckus and people liked them a lot. But I wasn't the art kid, I wasn't that kid that was focused in that on that track. Other skills are more emphasised in my growing up years. I know you studied to become a lawyer. Did that path come naturally to you know? No, not at all. I mean, I love my college years, I actually took some art classes in college, I took some sculptural classes in college, but again, I wasn't using my material, it was different kinds of material. And so I took some art classes and dabbled in it. But I was really focused on religion and philosophy that was really my my area. And I was interested in eastern philosophy, I ended up going to grad school for Eastern philosophy. And then I was in a relationship at the time, I ended up marrying my college sweetheart, and it just didn't, you know, I was on a path in grad school to be spending lots of time in India, that was really what I needed to do if I wanted to take that path to its best potential. And I wasn't ready to do that I wasn't ready to spend multiple years in India, I still really would love to go to India, but I just wasn't ready at the time to spend multiple years there. So I reevaluated and had to think quickly. Because at that point in my life, I didn't really understand the creative path, I didn't really understand that I could take time and really think about what I wanted to do next. And maybe just like work, retail job or work some some jobs to keep my head above the water, but really kind of figure out my path. And I thought that I just had to keep going. And I was really good at school. Like I said before, I've always been good at school. So school was my safety net. It was my where I felt comfortable. And so I thought that, you know, everyone loves a lawyer, lawyer. You know, going to law school is something that's really valuable. You can be, you know, the director of nonprofit, you can be all sorts of things with a law degree. And so I thought that would be valuable for me to get so and I just felt safe, it felt safe to go to law school, like it was going to be something that would help me protect my future. So that's how I ended up in law school. And it was hard, and it was unexpected. And it was not something I enjoyed a whole lot. But I am a Taurus and I just muscle my way through everything. So I just muscled my way through it. I put my head down and just kept pushing. And that's kind of how I had lived my life. To that point. I lived with everyone when everyone else's expectations of what I should do and how I should be and what skills of mine are the most valuable and all of that. After law school. I really burned out. I eventually did have to fake face the music. Did you go into work after law school? I did. Yeah, I ended up going into a few different paths. I clerked for a judge, I went into the nonprofit sector, I'd really always worked in doing government work and nonprofit work all through law school, that was really the direction I was taking. I thought I wanted to be a divorce attorney at one point, I really love special ed law, I still have a really, really big passion for specialised law because I myself am dyslexic. So I, I really love the idea of helping other people and other kids that are dyslexic. So that was a big passion of mine all through law school, but the path just didn't lead me in the direction of being able to find employment in that direction. So I ended up at a different nonprofit. And then I became the director of that nonprofit within a year. And I just really found myself in a tough spot there. I was, I felt like I was way in over my head. I felt like I didn't have the mentorship that I thought I needed to be successful there. And I just burned out. I just burned out because I felt like I had to carry everything on my own back. And whether that's the reality or not, that's how I felt and because of that, I I just really I burned out and I didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore and one As I was experiencing as my husband was out of town for work, and I was just up late one night, trying to find a podcast to listen to just something to listen to, while he was gone, and I came across this podcast called Don't keep your day job by Kathy Heller. And the just the title of it alone, don't keep your day job, this idea that there's something inside of you, that maybe is undiscovered maybe is your true passion that, you know, even if you're miserable where you are, you can get there's a path out, there's a way out, there's a there's a way to reclaim who you are and what you're meant to be. And the message of that just resonated with me, I listened to it for hours and hours and hours and hours on end. And I learned about creativity. And I learned about the creative life and what it means to really live and not just survive, and do what's expected of you to really use the gifts that you are given in this life. And I started down the creative path. And one of the one of the pieces of the puzzle was asking myself what I enjoyed as a child. And that got me back to polymer clay. Wow, that's amazing that I can see I can understand in theory, how do you go from having this position? And I know that you don't want to have this position. But how do you physically logistically make that change? What did you do? What did I do? What did I do? It was hard. It was really hard. i If I could go back and do things a little bit differently, I probably would. I think one of the things that I quote unquote, regret I don't have, it's not a strong regret. But I feel like it's something that I wish I had learned then that I know now, which is to not leave a situation while you're miserable. If I could have changed my mindset around how I felt about the situation before I actually left, I really feel like I would have left in a more healthy way. But I just I put my notice and within a year, and I had just started a jewellery business, I found polymer clay again. And I started making jewellery with polymer clay, which is what most people do. It's so easy to transport jewellery to to get people to think about purchasing jewellery. Because everyone you know, lots of people really love more jewellery, it's hard to talk yourself out of just another pair of earrings, I find myself doing the same thing. So jewellery is a good path for people that are interested in Polymer Clay, especially starting out. And that's how I started out too. But I just found myself with so little energy for the job that I was working. And I just felt like I couldn't, I couldn't go on. And so I put my notice in and, and got out of there as quickly as I really possibly could have. And I'm not, I think it's just it's so hard when you're making those kinds of life transitions, the huge ones, the ones where people think that you're kind of crazy for doing it, and you kind of sometimes feel crazy for doing it. But it's just it's important to have your own back. It's important to know your truth to know who you are, to know that if this is really what you're meant to do, then you just really need to do it. And I just started really listening to my own my inner voice again, instead of the voice of fear. I listened to the voice of fear for so long. It was so exhausting. And it wasn't me it wasn't who I am I and that that voice just I couldn't listen to it anymore. Also, I believe you tried a few other things at this stage. Yeah, I was trying everything. When I first found don't keep your day job. I just started doing everything. I started writing more because of course, as a lawyer that was a skill that I had built up. So I started writing more I started writing poetry. I love writing poetry. I have lots of poetry that has been published on medium. I've even thought about creating some books. I still have a pretty good following on medium, which is a website for writers of all sorts of things if that's something that people aren't familiar with. It's an international platform. For all sorts of writers, I've started coaching, I asked because I was taking in so much coaching, I and I was told that I would be a good coach because I was helping other people too. I joined all these communities of people that didn't think I was crazy. I think that was a huge plus for me to leaving my job. It wasn't just me having my back would I think that was the biggest part. But also I had joined several communities where other people were living creative lives, and to have the support and the the example of other people who were doing it trying to do it didn't think that the idea of me leaving my job was absolutely nuts, like everyone in the legal community did. I mean, really, lawyers are such it's such a tight knit community. And it almost feels like you're leaving a cult, people just don't understand, I have very little contact with anyone from that life. It's like I left a completely different life behind that, because they just they can't wrap their minds around the decision that I made. So so it was a hard choice. It was a hard decision. But I started surrounding myself with people that supported me too. And that made that made a big difference. That's really important, I think. And that's what I found in starting this podcast and meeting other people in your situation, who would have loved to have found and I hope that people listening to this podcast will find the kind of support that other people have gone through that it's really great that you were able to find other people to be your kind of creative community and help you along the way. It's really wonderful what you're doing here. I mean, I think giving voice to people that are doing this kind of mate normalising it, I think that we need to be normalising this, I think that is so important. So yeah, I definitely, I'm happy to be here. And I'm happy that you're doing what you're doing. Oh, thank you. Yeah, I quite agree normalising it when I came up with the idea, and maybe wouldn't have thought that it would be quite as wide scope as it is, and it's going on forever and ever. So that's wonderful. So you tried a whole lot of things. And before I get onto the processes that you've used Now, which of course may change in the future as well anyway, but how did you hone down from trying lots of things to kind of specialising in one thing. It's still it's still a tough journey, I think the idea of honing down to do one thing is really, it's challenging for us creative focus on times. And I think it's important to give voice and give rise to any ideas that you feel passionate enough that you feel compelled to give them a shot. Without fear. If fear is the thing that's standing in your way, then just put fear in the back seat and tell it that, you know, it needs to just chill out and you're going to do the thing anyway. So it just got to a lot of these things just got to a point where I was no longer as interested in them. And I wanted to prioritise my time in other ways. That's generally how things went, it was like I reached a certain point where it's like, Okay, I think I've satisfied my appetite in this. And I am so much more interested in this other thing, that I just don't want to be spending my time doing this, whatever it was coaching, poetry writing anymore. And it's just not really where I want to be putting my energy and I can always go back to it. Going off on this new adventure is also something that's really appealing. And that's how I kind of treated it's like I can always go back I can always keep writing poetry, I can always go back. But this other thing is captured my attention so much more. So specifically with the the polymer clay pieces, I was getting so detailed and so involved in the artistic process of creating jewellery, I was creating these pieces that were taking so much time. And I really wasn't finding an audience at the price point. I mean, of course, there's there's a price point, there's an audience for everything that you can create. But at the time, I just was frustrated with the fact that I was putting so much time and energy into this to this jewellery. I really wasn't finding the audience for it, because it was at a higher price point. So that was one piece of it. And then the other thing was, so I created this whole inventory of jewellery as we were heading into 2020 Right. And the market season was starting back up the market season in my area really starts up around March, April, May. And so that's exactly you know, march 14 is really when we went into like lockdown here is and so a lot of my markets got cancelled like so many of them People, right. And I ended up with all the story in my inventory and I was having trouble moving it. And I it just really made me think about what I wanted to be doing and how I wanted to be doing it. And like I said that my jewellery was really artwork to me, it was really becoming more artistic and closer to fine art, in my opinion, then jewellery. And so I experimented with this idea in my mind of doing other things with clay, other than jewellery. I started out doing these, like mandola pieces, those were like the first real framed piece that I created. And I used these very cheap wooden frames, I ended up painting one of them. And there was just something in in me that said, focus more on the frame, bring the frame into the artwork. And so once I started doing that, I started integrating, I use frames, I get frames from everywhere. So I'm constantly on the search for frames, and I integrate the frame into my artwork, the frame to me is part of the artwork. So I started creating these, these intricate pieces of clay art. And a lot of other folks that do create integrate these kinds of like two dimensional pieces of clay, and then they end up cutting it out for jewellery. And that was devastating to me. I see people do it all the time, they create these ones, they're called slabs, slabs of polymer clay and and you cut them up. And I hated doing that to create jewellery, I hated cutting it up, I just felt like the slab itself was artwork. So with with all of those things in mind, I think also the last little catalyst point for my influence is quilting. And if you're not familiar with what quilting is quilting is paper artwork. So it's these pieces of paper that people coil and shape into these kind of 2d 3d kinds of sculptures, and use these very fine details and seeing and learning more about the quilling process really allowed me to wrap my mind around how I wanted to start doing my own artwork. So all those things kind of came together. And I just decided to give it a shot and see how people reacted to it. And so far, I've been doing fairly well with it. I people have really enjoyed learning more about my artwork purchasing, you know, it's been a great change away from the jewellery. Yeah, I like the you keep going back to the intuition of it, that you're listening to yourself. And you're and you're letting that develop. And as you say, the writing wasn't working for you at that time. And as you say, you can go back to it at any point or anything else. And it's good to be able to listen to yourself and not think right, I have to stay on this path because I've chosen this path. For our listeners who don't know quilling look it up. It's gorgeous. I've I've done a couple of it's so cool, isn't it? Isn't it? I have a real fear of paper cuts, or I probably would do I don't. I don't want paper cuts. And I know I just can tell those people probably deal with paper cuts all the time. And I know that makes me a big wimp. But growling is just a whole a whole different animal. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media or through the contact details on the website. Can you tell me a little bit more about what polymer clay actually is and how people use it. Polymer Clay is a specific type of clay it's not related to ceramic ceramic is typically earthen it's has more natural components to it. Polymer clay is more actually like acrylic paint. Acrylic paint also has plasticizers in it, as does polymer clay and it comes in many different colours it can air dry, the kind that I use is Sculpey and you actually have to cure it in an oven and that's how it hardens. Another similar material is resin resin is a related material to polymer clay as well. So it's more in the family of those materials than it is with ceramics, which I think people don't typically understand or know. It's a material that you can get very fine detail into. It's very, I want to say sticky, but it's, it's kind of sticky and creamy, it doesn't stick to you, it will dry out your hands. If you use it without gloves, it typically will take the moisture out of your hands. And I find myself going through lots of hand cream. That's a little a brief description of what polymer clay is, and I would be happy to answer anyone's questions on on getting started with it. Can you mix colours? Yes, you can mix colours and that's a very common thing to do to have your own colour palette. And that's how I get a lot of the shading in what I do. There are other people that use just one colour of clay like they'll use a white or they're used like a sand or neutral colour, and paint it with acrylic paint. Polymer Clay is a great material to use with other materials like mica powder, pastel power powders, pan pastels, dry pastels, glowing pastels, I'm just getting into some new glowing products. I love integrating glow in the dark into my artwork, there's actually a glow in the dark clay that you can use. People integrate glass into their polymer clay projects pretty frequently, it's common to see polymer clay wrapped around mugs or wrapped around wine glasses. So it's a material that can be used with other materials well, but you do need to understand it, you need to understand how to integrate it, and the best ways for you to work with it. So certain types of clay are better for certain types of techniques. Even within Sculpey, which is the brand that I use, they have different types of clay within the brand. So souffle is a type of sculpt piece, and it's a very light play when it's baked. So it's often used for jewellery. And then primo is actually my favourite and it's a good all around claim. And then there's like, you know, different brands like Cato is really good for cane making, which is a process that involves making these long tubes of clay. And it's like a harder clay. And it's not good with detail. But it's great with with these harder tubes of clays because you have to slice into them to get the detail. It's not my favourite technique. But it is a popular technique. A lot of people use that technique to create different different pieces of jewellery, mugs, bowls, that kind of thing. So that's my kind of my point of saying all of this is like you need to understand the types of clay if you're trying to use Cato to make jewellery, you're going to have a really hard time for trying to use souffle to make a cane, you're going to destroy it. So you have to understand how to use it and how to pick out a clay that's going to be best for the technique that you're trying. Yeah, that's really, really helpful. Thank you. How have you found the balance of being a business and creating from inside? That is a really good question. I think it can be tough. I don't think that artwork and business always work well together, I think that it can be it can be difficult. One thing that I really I've done recently is start to get into making prints. So Polymer Clay is not really thought of as a fine art medium. At this point, it's thought of as a craft medium most often. Now that isn't to say that there aren't polymer clay pieces in museums because there are but a lot of them are jewellery pieces. There aren't a lot of people that do what I do and use clay in the way that I use it. But I really am interested in being a part of the movement of making polymer clay more of a fine art medium, or showing the potential of what it can be as a fine art medium. Acrylic paint took a similar journey not too long ago, acrylic paint was thought of as a craft medium, it was not thought of as something that could be used in fine art. And now we can't even fathom that we can't even fathom that acrylic paintings wouldn't be considered fine art. And so I'm hopeful that polymer clay will be in a similar position at some point in the relatively near future and I am excited and happy to be a part of that movement even if it is a very small part. So that is something that's really important to me. So, back in the day And by back in the day, I mean, hundreds of years ago, art and business was something that was very closely intertwined. There's a book, real artists don't starve by Jeff Goans. His book talks all about how artists are not meant to starve, it's art artists is supposed to be a career that you can have and not starve. And yet now we have this, this myth of, or archetype of the starving artist. It's a real shame, because our society is propelling this idea of the starving artist. And, and yet, I think, through lockdown, people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that artists and artistry has so much value. We could not have gotten through all these lock downs without artists and art. Whenever you go on to Netflix, you are watching art, whenever you go on to YouTube, you are watching art, whenever you read a book you are reading art, people are really starting to see the value that art has in our society, and how important it is to have artwork. So I think that there is a shift, a shift coming, a shift that is kind of on the horizon of art being valued more, and the artists being valued more, I hope that it continues to progress in this direction, even though it's kind of a dark way that this has happened, unfortunately. But I think that that has been a a positive in all of this, that art has really been understood in a different way. And so for me, it I have taken a lot of time to learn what it means to be an entrepreneur, I think that you if you expect to be successful as an artist, you also need to devote time to understanding business if you want your artwork to sell. And I don't think that that is right for everyone. I want to say that too. Because I think there's such a push for people to monetize every single thing that they do. And that is also not a healthy part of our society right now. Not everything that you do has to be monetized. Like right now I one thing that I'm really interested in is makeup, I love makeup artistry, I've been learning a lot more about it in my free time. my spare time, what is that I don't have, I don't have free time. But anyway, I'm just I'm kidding. But when I when I get a chance, I'm reading up on it and watching YouTube videos on it. It helps me creatively when I re approach my sculptures, to do something outside of sculpture. It reinforces my love, and gives me a different perspective on what I'm doing. So I'm not monetizing. I'm not becoming a makeup artist. I'm not monetizing. Not at this point, it's just something that I'm doing for me because I love it. And I really enjoy it. And it brings me joy and that joy comes into the artwork that I'm creating now, and gives me a bit of a different perspective. I'm a really big proponent of one, if you're going to monetize it, you really do need to learn how to be an entrepreneur, you can't just expect your artwork to sell itself. It doesn't happen that way. And on the other hand, you don't have to monetize everything. Fun is undervalued in our society, but fun has its own value, really to just enjoy something to enjoy creating something just for the joy of it has its own value that is valuable. That has it even if you can't put money to it, it has its own value. Definitely brilliant. So kind of with that in mind, looking at your whole timeline. What emotional and mental benefits have you gained from allowing yourself to follow this creative path? I think the biggest one is just allowing myself to be myself and not fooling myself into thinking that I need to be someone else. Just like any other part of your identity. Anytime that you're honest with who you are and you share that with the world. You become more you and a weight is taken off of you. And that's how it's felt. For me being an artist being a full time creative person. It's allowed me to just be more of who I am. Show up in the world as who I am instead of hiding behind. And we all we all hide behind layers of masks all the time even if we're Trying to be the fullest, most authentic versions of ourselves. We still have masks when we go into any social different kind of social situation. But the the more genuine and authentic that I can be and show up in the world, I think the more genuine authentic that everyone can be. That's a service that we are providing to the world. We are not all meant to be exactly the same, we were not all created the same, we were not all meant to be exactly the same. We're not all meant to go on this conveyor belt, and come out the same way in this little teeny tiny box, and just be happy with that life that we're given on the conveyor belt. Like that's not how this is supposed to work, we're all supposed to be different. And whenever we get caught on that conveyor belt is just so important that we realise what we've done, we realise how far we've gone down that rabbit hole, and start to just dig ourselves back out. For me, it's been a process of reclaiming who I am. And I mean, I guess more specifically, I used to have terrible headaches, I used to have terrible anxiety, I had problems with like part of my face going numb, just periodically, my face would go numb, just you know, terrible health issues that have really pretty much resolved themselves that I don't really deal with that much anymore. Of course, I still get anxious occasionally. But I just I, physically and emotionally, I just feel like a much healthier version of myself. I feel like I've given myself permission to just show up in the world as I want to be frequent. That's just so positive. It's very insightful and just really hopeful as well, that you can feel a physical as well as an emotional kind of result of this changing and being your own self. So that's absolutely brilliant. So if people want to see what you're creating with this material, and to contact you, how can I do that? Yeah, so my Instagram is Sam Kimberly designs. That's where I post most of my artwork. And I am also available through my website, you can see everything that I have available for purchase on my website, which is Sam Kimberly designs.com Fantastic. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Sam, thank you so much for having me. This was wonderful. Creativity found isn't openstage Arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please subscribe rate and review. If you'd like to contribute to future episodes, visit K O hyphen F fi.com/creativity found podcast. 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