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creative force

Tressa Procter-King of Flambeaux Design Co. makes New Orleans-inspired jewelry out of polymer clay, copper wire and found objects.

cheryl gerber photographs

Jewelry-maker Tressa Procter-King, who operates Flambeaux Design Co., draws much of her inspiration from the very city in which she lives, and like her surroundings, her creations are eclectic, bursting with color and beautifully whimsical. 

Although she admits she doesn’t have any formal training, she says her creativity has been a motivating influence in her life since she was a child.

“I always enjoyed crafts,” she says. “I’m from a pretty crafty family filled with people who can sew, arrange flowers, weld, paint, build things –– I guess we just like to make stuff!”

 Her career began when she ran into a problem that many women can relate to: “I wanted jewelry to coordinate with certain outfits,” she says. So she took matters into her own hands –– literally.

Procter-King spends much of her time creating and selling handmade polymer clay and copper wire jewelry, as well as polymer clay flower hairpins. “I also occasionally use buttons, found objects, vintage jewelry parts, silver wire and glass beads,” she says.

The process of making a signature piece takes anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours –– or longer. She starts from scratch with raw polymer clay. Although the material comes in a wide range of colors, she prefers to mix several colors together to get a custom shade. “I often include metal leaf, pigment powder or glitter,” she says, adding that she occasionally includes spices, herbs or coffee grounds for extra texture.

 The clay is then ready to transform into beads or flowers. “I have several methods for making beads,” she says. “Sometimes they are hand-rolled, and sometimes I use a tool called a ‘bead roller’” to ensure that the beads are consistently round. When creating a product with flowers, Procter-King hand-sculpts the
design. Then, she bakes the pieces at 275 degrees.

But unlike a batch of cookies fresh from the oven, these treats are not quite “ready to serve.” They need to be cured, hand-sanded and then buffed to achieve a smooth finish. The sanded pieces are glazed with a clear acrylic-based polish and left to dry.

At this point, Procter-King is able to assemble the parts to make jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and hairpins.

She is constantly paying attention to what is going on around her –– and not just in New Orleans. The modern flair of her jewelry takes ideas from “everywhere, really –– fashion magazines, jewelry supply catalogs, people I see on the street and Etsy.com,” she says. “I have a copy of Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities that I flip through when I need a little inspiration. The color combinations are awesome.”

Although her creativity is clearly in full force, Procter-King also has a savvy business side. The University of New Orleans graduate has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She sells her work from Storyville, a Magazine Street shop that sells T-shirts with clever slogans –– mostly with a distinctly local flair; various area art markets; New Orleans Craft Mafia events; and online at www.flambeauxdesigncompany.com. With hopes to one day have her own studio, Procter-King works from a small space at home, allowing her to spend as much time as possible with her almost 3-year-old son, Vaughan. Although you might not be able to tell due to the volume and quality of her work, Procter-King says: “My son keeps me pretty busy. Flambeaux Design Co. is my part-time gig.”

A woman of dedication, Procter-King is always willing to expand her already-broad horizons: “I’ve learned everything I know about polymer clay and jewelry-making from books, the Internet and lots of trial and error. I still have more to learn. There are always new techniques, new products and new ideas.”

She also gives simple, sensible advice to aspiring artists and artisans: “Put yourself out there, and make your work available,” she says. “People can’t buy your products if they don’t know that you exist.”

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