Clay by Raquel: An Array of Clay

Longtime Benicia resident Raquel Smith has always considered herself a creative person. She’s dabbled in art classes and such, but took a bit of a break to devote her attention to her daughter Xenia. When Xenia began kindergarten around 2016, Smith rediscovered her love for crafting things—in a new way.

“I think she had just turned 5,” says Smith.

“When she went back to school, I thought, ‘oh I have all these hobbies that I love and had forgotten!’ So, I started making leather earrings really just to get back into art, and I wanted to try and sell them to make some extra money. I did that for maybe a year or two. My daughter and I have always done art projects with Play-Doh and clay, and I had this idea: maybe I should try making earrings out of clay. Maybe I should try it.”

And try it she did.

Years later, Clay by Raquel is alive and well. Her hand painted earrings are just as intriguing but more sustainable than pieces you may find in other stores and boutiques; these can often be made of low-quality metal alloys or plastic that will end up getting discarded after being worn for a short amount of time. She’s even used components such as sea glass and abalone shells.

white clay earrings with abalone shell details

“It’s always nice to branch out and try something new to try and keep things fresh,” she says. “Being a creative person, things can get boring really fast. Art is all about experimenting and enjoying trying new mediums and seeing what happens.”

When I asked Smith about the process of making these earrings, her love for what she does came through.

It also became clear to me that it was a bit more challenging than fooling around with the aforementioned Play-Doh. She first starts by warming it up with her hands, then it gets conditioned by taking a ride through a pasta machine (they’re not just for noodles).

Purple clay earrings with bronze metal detail

“It needs to be mixed up so you can actually work with it and it doesn’t crumble or crack,” she explains. “After I’ve picked my colors, [painted], and made the actual piece, I bake it. I have a clay oven in my kitchen where everything bakes for about an hour. Then I pull everything out, let it cool, and sand the edges so nothings’ rough—this also gives it a much cleaner look. Drilling the holes comes next, so I can actually put the title jump rings and the actual post that’s going into your ear. Sometimes I like to give them a glossy finish, and I’ll add resin. If you’re adding resin, you need gloves and a mask. It takes 24 hours to actually cure, but it brings a really nice polished look and gives more durability to the piece.”

She might have the process down, but Smith is constantly coming up with new collections—and she finds inspiration in the everyday, including Benicia, where she lives with Xenia, now 14, her fiance, Jacob, and their soon-to-be son.

a collection of clay earrings with blue theme

“I love living in Benicia for the small-town, close-knit feel, and because I’m so inspired by the beach and the water,” she says.

“The Blues,” a collection she created and debuted in early March, has a clean-meets-dreamy palette meant to transport you to carefree sunny vacation days.

“I’d been dreaming about summer being here,” she says. “We’ve had all this rain, and I’m over it. Also maybe since I’m about to have a boy, I’ve been having the color blue on my mind. I just love summer and I’m ready for some warmer weather. I wanted to bring that feeling to life and what you wear either makes you feel good or it doesn’t. I have a little bit of that with me every day.”

Up next?

True to her hardworking form, Smith has gotten a collection done just before baby boy arrives, inspired by this oh-so-popular season of Love is Blind.

“The most random things can inspire a collection or design,” she says. “I binge watch a show to have some sort of noise in the background. While I was working on this last collection, everyone was talking about Love is Blind, so I chose to watch that, and they have those super colorful pillows in the pods. The collection will be inspired by those pillows!” 

This one’s set to launch the first week of April, so be sure to check it out, along with her other treasures, at designs-by-raquel.myshopify.com. You can also view her instagram @claybyraquel.

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