Layl McDill goes to work every day in a studio filled with colorful things. With a skylight but no windows in her corner studio space in northeast Minneapolis, she sees bright ocean blues and grass greens in the packages upon packages of polymer clay bricks on her worktables. When mixed together, they form unique patterns of objects like saffron stars or the crimson feathers of a phoenix. Those clay pictures are combined to become sculptures, ornaments, buttons and more.
Clay Squared to Infinity
34 – 13th Ave. N.E., Suite 109
McDill’s choice of clay as an artistic medium was partially a practical one. When her two daughters were young, “it was much more accessible to haul with me different places and do in the park even!” After about five years of trial and error, she became an expert on “millefiore” canes, a technique where strips of clay are grouped to form a picture, stretched, and sliced into pieces that can be used as beads, buttons, tiles or as part of a larger mosaic.
“I always wanted to be an artist and a mother and I never thought that I couldn’t do both. I was lucky to have a great support system of friends that are also artists and mothers with whom I could trade childcare, encouragement and knowledge,” McDill said. She also credited her husband and fellow artist, Josh Blanc, for being her partner “in balancing art life and family life.”
Today, McDill’s studio is part of a gallery and studio called Clay Squared to Infinity. She and Blanc founded the business in 1996. The business end of her work is as intuitive to McDill as the creative-she’s been doing both since childhood. She started her first business-matching pen pals across the country-in junior high school and kept it going through senior high. McDill enjoyed being in business, and today she is able to be both a businesswoman and an artist. “I always wanted to sell things,” she said. “I think that’s half of art, to share it. A piece isn’t done until it’s met its owner … it’s such a thrill to have somebody be in love with it and see it going home with whoever it is.”
McDill’s work tells whimsical stories that focus on women and on animals. She finds inspiration everywhere, especially in the people she encounters at art fairs and at the classes she teaches. One piece that didn’t sell ended up in her home, where it has developed a meaning for her family. It depicts four monsters on a bed, with one monster reaching up and poking another in the nose; McDill’s daughters have come to see it as a family portrait.
Another piece McDill recently finished was inspired by a trip to Italy, where McDill revisited her motivations and directions in creating and began telling more personal stories. The sculpture is of a woman holding a compass in one hand and a basket full of her own sketches in the other. It’s titled “She checked her compass to see which direction to take her art.”