It is deeply rewarding and magical to sculpt something from raw material.
Michelangelo said that he could see a statue plainly in every block of marble, he just needed to get rid of the rough walls to reveal what’s already there. But with clay, it is the creation from nothing that is imagined first with a skeletal frame and then brought to life with clay.
I discovered this magic recently at the Arts Unlimited Art Center in Renton, where I met sculptor Kim Beaton. Next to her stood a work in progress — an eight-foot tall dragon named “Brienne” that was destined for the first Renton City Comic Convention in October.
“They are a joy to sculpt,” she said. Kim even calls herself a “Dragon Lady” because she has always had an affection for the creatures.
“I spent many years in Seattle, cleaning houses for very wealthy families. I loved the work and earned enough money to pay off my husband’s college loans. But at the age of 35, health problems led me to look for other options. I tried everything, but one thing I knew was that I could build anything. So, I decided to see if I could make it as a sculptor.”
This led to Renton’s Wizards of the Coast where she created several sculptures for them, and some are still there on display. She also sold large pieces to retail outlets.
In an Artisan Denizen blog, Kim spoke about a collaborative sculpture she did that captured the image of her father who had recently passed at the age of 80: “I woke from a dream with a clear vision burning in my mind. The image of my dad, old, withered and ancient, transformed into one of the great trees, sitting quietly in a forest. I leaped from my bed, grabbed some clay and sculpted like my mind was on fire.”
The three-story high piece now resides permanently at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas.
In the same article, she shared her own aesthetic creed.
“First, it must be beautiful. Afterwards it can also be morally uplifting, sexy, silly, threatening, political, intellectually stimulating, and any number of other things,” she said in the post. “But if something is also beautiful, people will keep it around long enough for it to become appreciated”
There was a shocking down side to the creation of her magical sculptures, as the clay she needed to use was toxic, made with materials like fiberglass. “I tried alternatives with safer materials for six years but it wasn’t the same,” she said. “My husband is an inventive genius and a special effects master for major films, and spent 14 months developing a new material from my requirements. My new clay works perfectly, and I can use it safely to create my large pieces.”
The clay is manufactured for her on the East Coast. She shares the clay with other artists, although the ingredients remain secret. It is also safe for children.
She and her husband named their material (and company) Pal Tiya, named after an early 18th-century Native American ancestor of hers. Kim mixed up a small batch of the grey substance for me in a home-style mixer, and handed me the soft and oily creation. It’s supposed to be used for large pieces, but I made a small monster head out of it like I used to do with Play-Doh for my grandson. I later took it home and continued before it hardened, changing it into a little cat. The cat is now as hard as concrete and will last a thousand years!
Although Kim and her husband now reside in New Zealand, she is here in Renton holding a workshop and giving sculpting lessons at the new Art Center at 724 S. Third St. The center is called Griot, a French word for West African storyteller.
To learn more about Pal Tiya and to see images of Beaton’s work, visit www.kimbeatonstudios.com and on her Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/paltiya.