Suzanne Anderson rolls a log of layered polymer clay — a cane — between her palms. Squeezing from the center, she works outward, stretching it and reducing its circumference without distorting the multicolored pattern running through it.
Yesterday she worked on her Reds line of jewelry; today, it’s the Fiesta line, a combination of bright colors and patterns that remind her of the Southwest.
“Most of my ideas come from being out in nature. I walk a lot in the woods,” she said.
From the seat at her worktable, Anderson looks out a picture window and Philips Lake is all she can see, as if the water ends where her basement studio begins.
“I’ve always been very interested in insects, getting down and looking at the little things — the way a tendril of a plant spirals in the garden. I’m really fascinated by the small world that we rarely see.”
And while her inspiration is drawn from nature, the polymer clay she works with is synthetic and contains no clay materials. The sculpting material is composed of polyvinyl chloride, plasticizer and pigments. But it has characteristics of clay: It’s pliable when raw and it hardens when baked.
It also is waterproof, durable, fade-resistant and lightweight.
Surrounding Anderson are four worktables, and above them are shelves that house tools, colorful clay blocks and pieces of silver in various forms that she also uses in some of her pieces. She moves from table to table, crafting beads and assembling them into necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Anderson, 47, grew up in upstate New York and moved to Maine to attend the Portland School of Art, now the Maine College of Art, in 1981. Since then, she has stayed in Maine, living in Eddington, Brewer and now Dedham.
Though she focused on painting in school and graduated with a degree in visual arts, she also learned jewelry metalwork and beading. But she grew tired of looking for specific beads. The solution: make her own.
Four years ago, her then-19-year-old son, Brandon, taught her how to make her first cane out of polymer clay. He had played with the clay since he was a child. The cane is used to produce repetitive designs for decorating beads and pendants. Anderson took it to the next level.
“It’s all I really think about. I think it’s kind of an obsession,” she said, laughing.
Anderson began with simple spiral canes, but quickly learned how to make intricate designs such as flowers, reduced to a circumference smaller than a dime.
The ends of the cane, which inevitably become distorted, are cut off and discarded. On the freshly cut end, a tiny flower emerges and runs through the entire length of the cane, similar to the way the green Christmas tree runs through a Pillsbury sugar cookie roll. With a razor, paper-thin circles are cut away to be used in an artful collage over the surface of her jewelry.
Being careful not to step on Man Ray, the Andersons’ Goldendoodle pup, she cranks different hues of clay through a pasta machine, creating thin sheets, often folding the sheets and cranking them through together to mix new colors.
“I hardly ever use a color straight from the block,” she said.
She preserves more than a hundred different canes in compartmentalized boxes. To make a typical bead, she layers designs cut from different canes around a sphere of clay, which she then bakes in a small polymer clay oven.
With tools and an artistic eye, she has added details to her jewelry over the past four years. For a metallic embellishment she combines extremely thin silver and gold leaf, colored with drops of alcohol ink, with the clay. She textures the backs of her earrings with rubber stamps. And she sands the clay to develop a glasslike shine.
“I love every aspect of it — except I’m not crazy about all the paperwork and bookkeeping,” she said laughing.
Her business’ name, Yikes! Studio, was suggested by her husband, Anthony Anderson.
“A friend came to visit us with his daughter and she had a doll named Yikes,” she said. “My husband thought that was funny and named his Hobie Cat sailboat Yikes.”
She thinks the word expresses the upbeat mood of her jewelry.
“Last year was my best year ever,” Anderson said. “I was kind of surprised by that. I had really solidified my product line, understood how I needed to display it and market it. It all kind of came together.
“I sell hundreds and hundreds of pairs of earrings.”
She also creates more elaborate, experimental jewelry for galleries. Aarhus Gallery in Belfast, the Center for Maine Craft in Gardiner, Stable Gallery in Damariscotta and other Maine galleries have shown her work.
Her earrings range from $20 to $150; bracelets, $50-$70; necklaces, $55-$250.
“I have customers that come and buy at every show,” she said. “They say, ‘I’m addicted to your jewelry,’ and I say, ‘That’s good for me, because I’m addicted to making it.’”
Her work is sold year-round at several shops, including Sea of Cotton in Bar Harbor and the Rock Art Shop in Dedham.
“There’s always stuff to learn, different techniques I haven’t tried yet,” she said.
Last fall she began making lightweight polymer cuffs reinforced with aluminum, and this spring she began making sterling silver rings with polymer flowers.
“I have way more ideas than I can possibly find time to do,” she said, pointing to a sketchbook opened to a detailed pencil drawing of a clay bangle strung with textured silver rings.
Polymer clay artisans Donna Kato and Kathleen Dustin inspire her work. She hasn’t met an artisan in the area who works with polymer clay, but she has seen the work of Melanie West who makes polymer clay bangles in Freedom.
When Anderson isn’t sitting at her studio worktable or attending craft fairs, she works with her husband in designing the Maine Gallery & Studio Guide. She knits to relax.
During the holiday season, she works every day — sometimes into the night — to prepare for shows. She will set up shop at the Art-Full Gifts Fine Art & Craft Show 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday at Point Lookout Resort in Northport, and at the Open Studio Holiday Sale Nov. 26-28 at Essentially Felt in Glenburn.