Sucker love! Discover the tentacle jewellery of Kaity O’Shea
Today I’m getting the chance to talk tentacles with Kaity O’Shea – sculptor, designer and creator of Killer Tentacle Octopus Jewellery!
Trading on her Etsy store as Walking Squid, Kaity designs unique pieces of tentacle jewellery which shimmer with her love of colour theory. Each hand-crafted piece is inspired by the mysteries of the deep sea and the illuminated animals that dwell within! Following the success of a Kickstarter project in 2014, Kaity collaborated with painter Camilla D’errico to mass-produce small tentacle crowns. Now she takes time out to chat about beautiful things that swim and squirm…
When did you first decide to make tentacle jewellery?
The very first piece I ever made was a small tentacle ring back in 2007. A friend had some polymer clay and we played around with it. It was actually my friend who posed the idea of the tentacle ring! It took forever to make and I burnt the piece pretty badly during the curing process. I hand-painted it afterwards, posted a photo online, and people really responded to it – more than they had any other work I’d posted before. I went back to painting and drawing until 2012, when I was getting ready to sell my art at a small comic convention. Remembering how well that first tentacle piece had done, I decided to bring some with me. The small earrings and fake gauges I made sold out on the first day of the show! That’s when I realised there was a demand, and knew I had something unique. I started learning everything I could about working with polymer clay.
Where did you learn to make your jewellery? Was formal training involved?
I was lucky to attend a charter arts high school, then went on to study animation and comics in college in Chicago. Everything I learned about sculpting I found online, making discoveries through a lot of personal trial and error. My first year of jewellery making was an extreme mix of stress and excitement as I fumbled along, trying to find better techniques and designs so I could get my work to look more refined. There were so many burnt pieces, and so many glazes that melted the clay or were rejected by it! Then there was the challenge of hand-painting every piece (which I no longer do) and failure with various metal pieces, like earring posts. There were a lot of tears in that first year! It was also incredibly rewarding to see my work get more refined as I practiced. What’s more, all the encouragement I received from fans online really kept me going.
Did you draw inspiration from other jewellery designers out there?
Not at first. When I first started I somehow convinced myself that I was the only person doing work like this – oh, how wrong I was! Once I had success at a few comic conventions, I opened my Etsy shop and started selling my work there. I searched for tentacle jewellery on Etsy and found another artist sculpting tentacles out of polymer clay, as well as people working in metal and other materials that were way beyond me. The artist working in polymer really inspired me. Her shop was closed but I looked back on her older pieces and saw that she was blending colours for gradients, adding things like gold leaf to her pieces. I was so inspired! I experimented with blends and adding pigment, glitter and the like to the clay to get my work to look even more unique. Here we are, years later, and I found that artist again and am lucky to say we quickly became friends. As I worked more and more on my own pieces and unique designs I found other artists along the way that inspired me. I gained a lot of respect for accessory designers.
Tentacle jewellery isn’t your sole form of art, is it?
My first love is and always will be painting and drawing. I actually enjoy having my visual art be something on the side and not my full-time job. The jewellery can be stressful, as it’s a source of income that I rely on. Drawing has always been a way to relax and rejuvenate. I’d never want it to become a source of stress. However the jewellery is still so new to me that I really enjoy experimenting with new techniques. It’s something I don’t really get to do in my visual art.
It must take an awfully long time to hand-sculpt the larger and more intricate pieces of jewellery!
Oh, all the hours I put into sculpting every single little suction cup! I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent over the last four years and I don’t think I want to! I’ve become much faster over the years, but no matter how much I practice it still takes a lot of time to hand sculpt and glaze every piece. The idea of mass production in plastic is extremely appealing to me, but for now, every piece you see – from huge statement necklaces to simple little earrings – is all done by hand. When I first started making my larger necklaces the sculpting process alone took about two days, sometimes more. Now I can sculpt a large piece in about 12-14 hours, then it takes another six-plus hours to finish with intricate glazing and curing. I could get a large set done in two days, but there’d be little sleep and my hands would never forgive me. I need to take a lot of breaks. The slower I move, the better the pieces come out.
Describe a day in your workshop….
When I’m focusing on customer orders or prepping for a convention I usually follow a pretty regimented schedule. I always plan out what needs to be done the night before, and find that really helps me get each day started. I always feel most excited about getting to work when I first wake up so I try and get the difficult ‘grunt’ work and preparations done when I awake. That’s when I’m making gradient canes out of clay, mixing new colours and responding to lots of people on social media. After that I love to sit and put some music or TV on in the background and just sculpt. I can lose myself in it for hours at a time. I currently have a part-time day job, so I plan out days where I’m working on items for clients. I try to give myself one or two days a week where I’m just making pieces for fun and experimenting with new designs or painting.
How do people react to your tentacle jewellery at shows and conventions?
Seeing people’s initial reactions to my work is really enjoyable. There are so many extremes! I’ve seen people scream in excitement. Some just giggle and some cringe or seem frightened. The idea that my work can bring out those emotions is really wonderful to see. Whether people enjoy it or are freaked out by it, I love talking to people at shows and hearing what they think of my work.
Who would you LOVE to see wearing Killer Tentacle Octopus jewellery?
There has to be some pop star out there that would enjoy my work, and that would be really fun to see – especially if I liked their work too. I love sharing my work with my friends and family and seeing them wear my jewellery. I’ve had chances to work with some great fashion designers, photographers and models – I love seeing the life they can bring to my work. I’ll design pieces with certain people in mind from time to time, and often make customised pieces for my clients. People have come to me with colour combinations or designs that I would never have tried and I appreciate being pushed to do something new and create something that reflects their personality. Seeing a client excited with their piece afterwards is really rewarding.
What’s the most challenging piece you’ve ever made?
That’s a tough question, because I love a challenge! I’ve pushed myself to make pieces which extremely large and extremely small. I’ve found ways to make them glow and light up, make them more durable or feature the perfect finish. I’ve been working on large tentacle flower crowns recently. Those have been challenging but also super fun! It’s always a challenge to work out any kinks that pop up in a new design, but that’s honestly my favourite part of working with all these different media. Challenging experimentation yields the best results. It’s almost never perfect the first time. Or sometimes it is, and then you have a hard time duplicating it! That’s what makes it so fun. Nothing makes me want to work more then having a challenge to overcome.
You create tentacle jewellery ranging from very elegant, fun necklaces and bracelets to fake plug earrings and tentacle crowns. For Valentine’s Day you released a pastel heart collection. Is it ever difficult to come up with new concepts?
When working on new designs I try to think about different accessories I’d like to make. Then I look at interesting techniques and find ways to combine the sculpture and the jewellery into something more than just an accessory. I want it to be wearable art. Recently I started growing crystals on my pieces and. I got the idea from a craft project where people were using the method to make Christmas decorations. I saw that and thought, okay, how can I make that into something people can wear? Something really elaborate and eye catching? That’s where the design for my crystal crowns came from. I’m still perfecting those designs, but it’s been fun to push my work in a new direction.
Do you have a personal favourite piece?
Oh, yes! It’s pictured on my business card and was tragically lost in the mail during a photo shoot in Canada. It’s the only piece I’ve ever lost. Sometimes I wonder if it was delivered to someone and they’re out there enjoying it. Or if they threw it away! It was the second extra-large necklace I’d ever made and it finalised the design and technique I still use years later to make my larger pieces. It was a real accomplishment for me. When it was done, I remember I just… stared at it. I couldn’t believe I’d made it. It was a really incredible moment that I think back to often when I’m feeling frustrated or bored with my work. That memory of realising I could push myself beyond my limits has stuck with me.
What does the future hold for Killer Tentacle Octopus Jewellery?
I’m always excited about the prospect of tomorrow. Making my designs and getting to travel and share my passion has been an incredible experience and I hope I can keep doing it for years to come. I’d love to start working on even more intense pieces, like tentacle furniture and large installation pieces. I want to keep pushing myself to grow as an artist and explore as many mediums as I can and combine them to make unique pieces. More than anything, I love talking with other artists or people just getting into it, giving them advice and encouraging them along.
Buying Killer Tentacle Octopus Jewellery online
Join us in wishing Kaity the best of luck for the future. May there be calm seas whenever she sets sail!
If you’d like to browse more tentacle jewellery designs please visit Kaity’s Killer Tentacle Octopus Jewellery Facebook page.