Steve Ford, 50, and David Forlano, 51, of FordForlano, a line of bold, intricate art jewelry made with polymer modeling clay baked in a home oven.
Ford and Forlano met as students at Temple's Tyler School of Art, where both were studying painting. They began collaborating on projects, and stumbled on the craft-store clay.
"We started messing around with this new material and found we could get very interesting results," Ford said. "In the beginning, it was a way to make money to afford time to paint. Then, the jewelry really took over."
Each piece still starts with store-bought clay, but the artists have found many ways to manipulate it: mixing colors in a food processor, running slabs through a pasta maker to create stackable sheets, and using rolling pins to stretch those layers of colored clay even thinner. Then, it can be rolled into a tube and sliced in cross sections, or wrapped around an armature to make a round bead.
Over the years, Ford and Forlano have refined and added to their repertoire of techniques: grinding the clay into dust, adding a color wash with glaze, or using a razor blade or dental tools to incise intricate details or attach tiny decorations.
Ford has a studio in Kensington, but 12 years ago, Forlano moved to Santa Fe, N.M. Now, they mail pieces back and forth, revising and collaborating.
"We really like the surprise of the misunderstandings," Ford said. "David will invent something, and then I'll do my version of it. But I won't do it the same way because I didn't see how he made it. That's how we evolve."
They appreciate the work of British artist Peter Chang, who makes wildly colorful resin jewelry. But their pieces tend to reference nature: sealife, seed clusters, or flower buds.
Both also still make art independently. Ford makes relief prints from textured linoleum cuts and strips of wooden lathe, then pairs them together to make larger printed works, much as he would string together beads for a necklace.
The pieces, which range from $200 up to $8,000 or more, are sold in galleries, including Snyderman in Old City.
Though many works include sterling silver elements outsourced from metal fabricators Nicolette Absil and Maryanne Petrus-Gilbert, Ford's and Forlano's primary medium isn't precious. "Yet, our prices are not inexpensive, and we're in about a dozen museums around the country," Ford said. "I think [the value] comes out of the color, our background, our training in painting."