Convergent Series

learning, using & teaching metal clay, and other aspects of life

This time, it’s more Intermingling than Interlude!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/10/18

In just one week, I plan to go all out on a combination of two of my major interests: metals and gardens.

“In 2014 the Penn State Master Gardener Program of Allegheny County partnered with the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation to develop a comprehensive plant survey of the lands in and around the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, PA. Eight Master Gardeners set out to learn more about the succession of native, aggressive and/or invasive plant species that are surviving, and even thriving, in these disturbed soils.

“As part of this research, the group was charged with developing an interpretive component to educate the public on best practices in environmental stewardship. For previous projects, this interpretation often materialized in the form of a booklet, poster or on-line resource, but given the nature of the Carrie Furnaces (pun intended) and its history and connection to iron, a multidisciplinary team in science, art, history and industry was created to develop a unique approach.

“Their decision was to create ten interpretive plaques, cast at a live iron pour event and designed to lead participants through the fields and structures of the site, providing a narrative of the wild gardens taking over the former industrial landscape of the Carrie Furnaces. Designed to allow the visitor to take rubbings, these plaques will include botanical illustrations of the local plant community. The illustrations, provided by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, will highlight features such as bark, fruit and leaf form for easy identification. The images are paired with narratives written by Penn State Master Gardeners on plant succession inclusive of soil conditions, environmental factors and the potential for future plant communities.

Rivers of Steel is hosting the iron pour event on Saturday, October 25th from 2PM to 7PM at the Carrie Furnaces site. Under the direction of Joshua Reiman, Visiting Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, Casey Westbrook of Carbon Arts, and local iron-caster and fabricator Ed Parrish, Master Gardener volunteers and CMU students will pour over 1600 lbs of iron. This collaborative iron pour will provide a first-hand look at the process and skills of casting molten iron into pattern molds. This same process produced the iron that built our nation and many of the world’s largest structures during Pittsburgh’s legacy era as “Workshop of the World.”

“Historical/garden tours of the site and other activities are planned for this unique event.”

(The above description was taken directly from the Master Gardeners announcement. Tickets ($10) are available in advance or at the site that day.)

Though I was not directly involved in the development of this project (I was busy with the Edible Teaching Garden instead), I am delighted to be able to volunteer at the Casting the Iron Garden event itself! No clue what I’ll be doing: besides taking photos on behalf of the Master Gardeners, I’ll probably just be taking tickets or escorting visitors to the various presentations that will be offered (starting at 2 pm) before the furnace is tapped and the pour begins (scheduled for 4 pm). To find me just know that, along with all the other volunteers, I should be wearing a t-shirt with the same logo as is on the poster. One major difference is that I may be the only one also wearing one of my own “Rivers of Steel” pendants. (That particular piece, Our Three Rivers Weave Us Together, is probably not the best, style-wise, to go with that shirt, but I think I have to wear that one for the sentiment of the day! I may just have to remember to use a bit of chain as an extender, to get it to land in a good location….)

Do let me know if I should be on the look-out for you that afternoon! It’d be great to see some familiar faces: garden-friends, metal-friends, and more!

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A second second-report on the new “PMC Flex” clay.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/10/18

In other words, this is merely a follow-up to my earlier “second report” on PMC Flex (which I thought I’d posted earlier but just noticed I had not…) I’ll use subsequent “numbers” on later projects.

I really am working on some other designs using PMC Flex, but must-do-now tasks keep interrupting my explorations, and then I get inspired to try something else, and I end up having lots in-the-works but not yet finished and ready for reporting. As usual! But my earlier post had stopped before I’d gotten through the entire process with even my first little pair of earring elements. They are now finished, so I’ll at least take the time to finish their documentation too.

Since I last wrote, somewhere I viewed a series of pages (annotated images, but I forget where, and even whether it was a slide show or a .pdf file or…) that contained another “introduction” to the PMC Flex product. But I’d started playing with the stuff even before that was available, so I’d been just sort of guessing as I went along … based on my prior experiences with diy-flex (where you add glycerin to various regular metal clays). That “intro” also talked about heating the clay at 300°F for some amount of time, not so you could sand it (as I’d mentioned in my last post) but in order to help it hold its shape during firing. OK, now, the do-it-for-sanding idea makes a little bit of sense to me (even though I long ago learned how to work with clay in a way that will greatly minimize (though not always eliminate) sanding) but that one baffles me even more. If it’s going to distort, I’d think it would do so at the binder-burnout and/or early-sintering stages; either way, if it’s going to need support to get through that part of the firing process, I just don’t see how having “hardened” it for room-temperature handling is going to make much if any difference. (Hmmm, maybe that file was taken down and that’s why I can’t find it again now when I want to reference it? Or, if you truly understand what I’m missing about all this “baking” please contact me to discuss it! Yes, there are a few instances where I can imagine it would help, and I’m trying to explore that a bit too. But I simply don’t see why it should, in general, be required….)

Anyway, long before I saw that, I’d already fired my first two little pieces by just placing the still-flexible greenware flat and unsupported on my kiln shelf.

Now, to be honest, I had thought I might place them on some vermiculite in a little silica crucible I have. Except, I’d just taught a morning-only workshop where students made at total of 19 pieces (using PMC3 and PMC Plus that had been ordered well before the Flex was released). I had to get those pieces fired and returned to the participants. With this particular group I was not going to have a follow-up finishing session, where I could show them how to re-shape any that had “shifted” during firing. Though many were ones I could place flat on my kiln shelf, there were enough that had gentle curves I wanted to support, so I squeezed all of those into the vermiculite. Since I didn’t want to wait to fire my two little earring pieces, flat on the shelf they went too (as shown in the second photo with this post).

And I think they came out fine! I added a small glass bead to each for a touch of color, and hung them on ball-end sterling earwires. I’m calling the “Almost Möbius #1″ (the number because, though I’m sure I’ll never make another pair exactly like this, I can imagine myself playing around some more with the Möbius-band idea).

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Another Anniversary: Four Years … and Another Open House!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/10/09

Yes, the room has evolved a bit over the years! This is what it looked like at the beginning of October, four years ago:

And this is what it looked like at the start of October this year, set up the way I tend to have it when I’m working there on my own:

The table in the middle, to the right with a bright blue tablecloth on it is where I work with base metal clays (i.e., bronze, copper, steel), while the one to the left with a white tablecloth is where I work on precious metals (e.g., fine silver or gold). I spent my early metal clay years (back when the only options were among the precious metal varieties) working on a single “TV tray table” in my family room, but now I just love having the space to work that way: it just seems practical to me, as a way to help me remember which clay I’m working on and whether I have to clean off a tool if it’s coming from the “other” table, to avoid cross-contamination. (There’s nothing special about the colors, just that they differ. When I teach a workshop using all one kind of clay, both tables get covered in the same color, and tools can move across without giving it a second thought….) The “CD cabinets” with all the little cubbies behind those work-tables are segregated by metal-type: when I put things away, they go on the side where they were last used. Or, if I’ve already cleaned them up and they can go anywhere next, there’s space designated for that too….

Ahhh, but which side do you think I use when I’m working with sterling silver, since sterling is an alloy of silver and copper? (Leave your guess as a comment on this post!)

Except, right now, I’m not working with metals. I’m trying to clean the room up a bit, put away all the tools (a good excuse to look at the set-up and decide if I need to rearrange few more things), and turn it into my “shop” layout:

Because EcoFest will be happening all over the community center this Saturday, which is an excuse for me to hold an Open House. Here’s an example: two new bronze pieces I’ll have available:

(Sorry for the harsh color of that last photo. In person, they’re still bright but somehow much “softer” in color. Two of my overhead lights are out, one of my photo-station lights went out. (I’d bought a two-pack, so I tried to use the other one, and it’s not working at all either… And, no, it’s not the lamp. I tried the bulbs in a different lamp that I know is working, and they don’t turn on there either.) I’ve been drowning in different deadlines the past few weeks, and I just haven’t had time to deal with specialized light bulbs. And I still have a backlog of PMC Flex pieces to finish, fire, polish, and write about.

If you’re in the SW Pa area on Saturday, October 11, though, do stop by and I’ll be happy to show you what-all I have finished and what-else is in the works. I’ll be there from 10 am to 2 pm. Even if you can’t get to my studio on Saturday, you’d also be welcome to come to the next meeting of the Western PA Metal Clay Guild on Sunday, October 26, from 11:30 am until around 3 pm. I do have to finish off some of the Flex pieces by then, because that’s when I’d promised to do some demos and, if folks want, hold a mini-workshop on Flex. That won’t be in my studio, though; it’ll be in the Art Room at Rodef Shalom (in the Oakland neighborhood, near Carnegie Mellon). One place or another, for those near here I hope to see you; or, for everyone, at least, to hear from you….

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A second little report on the new “PMC Flex” clay.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/22

I’ve got several other high-priority things going on right now, but I just can’t resist sneaking a few moments here and there to play with this new toy!

(Sorry that the photo-colors are all over the place because I’m just shooting on my work-table as I go, not stopping to move everything over to my photo-table. And the light at my work-table varies by time of day and by which of the overhead lights are or are not on at the moment. I work in a building that’s over 100 years old, and much of the wiring is very old too.)

Fresh from the pack, when I try to break off a piece of it, it gives way in the same (what to call it? stringy? gummy?) way that diy-flex (regular silver clay with some glycerin mixed in) does:

There’s nothing wrong with clay that does that! I just note it here, in case you’re wondering why this happened to your clay. It’s normal!

Right away, I decided to use a little “cherry blossom” texture (that I got ages ago at Cool Tools, but seems to have been discontinued…) and a butterfly-shaped pastry-cutter:

You can see (especially if you click on the image to enlarge it) that the edge of the cut is rather rough. Normally, I would smooth that out as much as possible while my clay was still wet; but I know that a lot of metal-clayers just leave it and sand the rough bits off later. I am just not into sanding clay if it can be avoided, so even when I find I’ve missed and left a rough edge behind, I still use a bit of water and various other tools to smooth out my clay. For this little test, then, I just left the edges as they were, to see how much I could smooth it once it had “dried” using my usual tools:

Pretty good!

My plan had been to cut a matching shape out of the interior of this butterfly, using a paper-punch I have. Except, it seems I had not marked that punch (for my own short-memory benefit) before I made this piece, and only at this stage did I realize it was one of my “thinner” ones … meaning this piece was one-card too thick to fit into the punch. Oh well, I’ll deal with cutting it, a different way, later on. For now, let’s just look at another little play-thing.

I had rolled out another little sheet, trimmed it down to a rectangle, and cut that in half. I left the pieces to air-dry overnight, and returned to find they were curving apart. I’ve seen a couple other early-testers mention curving, and having to press their clay down, but I’ve not seem that. The only curving I’ve seen has been like this, left to right:

Still, this is “flex” clay, so I never worry if it curves much in any direction. It’s simple enough to ease it back into shape:

The problem I ran into was with my next step which, of course, I did not stop to photograph. I had wanted to try something with this clay ever since seeing the little video that Mitsubishi had put out on YouTube about the product:

In it, they talk about how easy it is to let the clay “dry” and, since it remains flexible, you can still form it into a ring. Now, the one thing I’d always had trouble with, using the diy-flex clay, was when I wanted to join ends of “dried” flex-clay together. I found that to be far more difficult than with “wet’ clay. But I really didn’t want to invest the time in a ring first-time out. So I thought I’d just try making a couple little “Möbius bands” … where you take a strip, flip one end, and join them together. (With paper there’s tape to show the join. With clay, you get a true “Möbius” shape, where you can take a pencil, draw a line down the middle of the band, turning and drawing as you go, the whole way around, and end up where you start: there is no front or back, top or bottom of the strip. It’s all on the “same” side! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you already know that I love to make reversible pieces. Continuous ones are even better!!!)

If you watch the video, you’ll see them make it look so easy! And I’m here to tell you their secrets: First of all, you can see the “cut” in the video stream where they left out a bit of the fussing needed to make it work (it IS possible, even with diy-flex clay) but, even more important, their band is perfectly smooth. That makes it much easier to get the join to work, because you can fuss and fill and sand it all smooth again. But I like textures, and I don’t like sanding. It’s not like it wasn’t going to work at all, but I soon realized (soon … after a twist, some water, some squidging together, some tape to hold it for a while, etc.) that it was not going to be quick and simple. I’ll work on that idea a bit more but, in the meantime, I moved on to test-plan-b for these strips.

I let the newly-damp parts dry again. I trimmed off a tiny bit at the ends that had gotten smushed; I also trimmed the second piece to match. I then gave each piece a twist, folded the ends up so the tips aligned, added a drop of water, and clipped them together:

Now, I could have gotten that shape with non-flex clay. But I would have had to do everything while the clay was wet. Or, more accurately, while it was starting to dry out, which can sometimes be a problem for me (especially when trying to make two matching pieces) and is far more often an issue with students when it all starts to crack. So, in that sense, the PMC Flex does make this project now far easier to do in a beginner class.

And, doing it this way, I could still try using a paper punch!

Not one of the fancy crafting punches, as I’d planned with the butterfly, but with a plain, small hole punch. Yeah, I could have drilled a little hole with a drill bit, but this turned out to be way more fun, once I’d gotten over the surprise!

With non-flex clay, I’d never have tried that. (I’d’ve just used a drill bit.) But, with flex, even though the piece slipped down into the punch-opening (gasp!), it was really easy to pry out–carefully–with no harm done! (I took the little “holes” I’d punched out and wrapped then with a bit of moist clay. I wrapped that in a piece of plastic, and put it back into the foil pouch. And by the next day, it had all rehydrated to the point that I could not find the little bits any more.)

The thing is, if you look at the piece lying along the bottom of the photo above, you’ll see that both it and its mate (though harder to see in the punch) have a very straight, sharp edge along what will be the top end when hung. I didn’t want that sharp edge with the rest of these curves. Had I planned to do this from the start, I would have smoothed all those corners while it was still wet. But now I had dried, attached, and punched clay, and I needed to soften its edge.

With non-flex clay, I’d either wet and smooth it (as I discussed earlier in this post) or I’d take out a bit of sandpaper and smooth it down (I may try to avoid sanding when I can; but I have no qualms about doing it in situations where it really is most appropriate…). With diy-flex clay, however, I always found that sanding was pretty difficult. Actually, the fact that I really enjoyed working with diy-flex is what first led me to figure out all sorts of sanding-alternatives! Once I started using them, I just let them spread over into my non-flexible greenware too, thus replacing much of the sanding I’d earlier been taught.

But the video and the package insert talk about how you can “dry the object by heating it to 300°F for 20 minutes.” Hmmm, I’d never even though to try that with diy-flex clay with glycerin in it. And, as of my writing this, I still haven’t … with neither diy-flex nor PMC Flex! I think those two references may have caused a little confusion via some “social media” posts, where people talk about “baking” their clay. Personally, I never saw any reason to “bake” it until you want to make it hard enough to sand. (Or, if you want to harden it in the process of building some complex 3-D structure, but I’ll get to that in some other post … much later on.)

For now, I just want to go on record as saying that you can sand PMC Flex gently in its flex state, without any “baking.” which is what I did here:

I didn’t change it a lot, but I did round out the corners as I’d wanted, while it is all still flexible.

That’s all I have time for tonight. I’ve also started on a woven-silver piece that I hope to report on next.

I’m teaching a fine-silver workshop this week (non-flex: had to have that clay on hand before the PMC Flex was actually shipping, but I’ll show of the Flex a bit since I have that first trial batch), and I will report on firing this clay once all the student pieces have been fired.

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Flexible Greenware, or What Metal Clayers Mean by Flexible Clay….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/19

There’s a lot of “buzz” today in the Metal Clay community: Mitsubishi has just released a new fine silver product they’re calling PMC Flex. Well, it’s been available in Japan for a couple months now; the rest of the world is able to order it starting today with, I’ve heard, shipping to commence on Monday. I was lucky enough to get my hands on some of it just this week, so I haven’t had the months of experience with it that some of the official “early testers” have had, but I wanted to report my very first reaction….

First, though, some background. I’ve been working with clays that remain flexible after drying almost as long as I’ve been working with metal clay. I will say, that I find the term “flexible clay” to be a bit confusing: all clay is flexible when you’re working with it! The ones I’m going to talk about today are the ones that remain flexible, that do not get really hard, until they are fired in some way.

Three Woven Silver Pendants (Class Samples)The center pendant in this group of three (photo, left) was one of the first pieces I ever made this way. It was after I’d used some clay at an event where I gave repeated demos, working and reworking it, exposing it to oil (so it wouldn’t stick to the textures I was using with it), adding water (to replace what had evaporated during use, but also risking the washing away of some product, silver and/or binder). By the end of the day, the clay had gone rather funny: it wasn’t acting like clay at all. It had gone from sticky to slippery. It didn’t leave bits stuck on tools or hands but it did sort of slime everything it touched. Was it destroyed? I had no clue. In the very first class I took, I’d been taught that you could extend the working time of clay by adding a very tiny bit of glycerin, but one should take care to not add too much. (And … I later heard that same instructor say she no longer recommended doing that.) I’d read in some online group that you could “revive” clay that had gone “off” by adding a bit of glycerin to it. I’d also heard or read somewhere (in a class? online? this was years ago now..) that you could make clay that would remain flexible after being allowed to dry if you added a good bit of glycerin. No specifics. Nothing about how much, or how one should do it, or just what would happen if you added too much (other than, obviously, thinning the silver out so much that it could not sinter in the kiln). There were just vague comments. Questions I’d seen about such details had remained unanswered. But … I had some glycerin on hand: what more did I have to lose beyond this clay that was unworkable? Why not try it? And, while at it, why not try to go the whole way?

I added some to the wad of muck I had. I kneaded it in. It went even more funny, and not in a humorous way: by then it was falling completely apart. I tried to not panic. I attempted to knead it some more, and it seemed to start getting better. I kneaded a bit more, and worked a bit of water into the clay too. I began thinking this might work, after all, so I rolled it into a neat ball, wrapped it up air-tight, and went to bed, hoping that would all soak in better with time. The next morning, I took the clay out of the plastic, and it seemed much more workable. It didn’t feel like clay fresh from a new pack, mind you, but I could roll out a couple small pieces and texture them. I let all that air dry while I did whatever all else it was I had to do that day (years and years ago now). When I got back to it that evening, it was wonderful: dried out enough that didn’t feel like I could smash it with clumsy fingers, but still soft and pliable enough that I could cut it with scissors and begin to weave it together. I couldn’t get the strips really close together, but that was fine. As I said, above, that weaving is shown in the center of the group of three. (The frame around it was made from fresh, regular clay.)

I had a little bit left from that test, so I added a little more glycerin, kneaded it in (it was easier this time), waited maybe an hour or two, then I rolled out a couple more small bits and left those to dry overnight. Voila! The dried clay was enough-more flexible that I could weave the strips much closer together: the pendant to the right in the collection was the result of that.

(The one to the left in the trio was made later; the photo is an old image, taken to promote one of the first “woven silver” workshops I taught.)

But this getting-more-flexible trend was appealing. I had just a tiny bit left, so I added one more drop of glycerin to that. (Proportionally, with how little I had left, that was a huge amount more!) Again, I kneaded that in and wrapped it up. The next day, I found it that my final scrap was flexible enough that I could tie it into this little knot. I used the entire last bit in making this, spending time adjusting the knot to the middle so the ends would line up, meaning I didn’t have to trim any off. I used fresh wet clay to add the little coil along the top. Once that had dried (hard), I made a loop from fine silver wire and embedded that into the top. I apologize for the quality of that image: it’s a detail from a very old photo, but it’s all I have to show of that piece now.

Magic Carpet (striped frame side)Over the next few years, I continued to make my own silver clay that would remain flexible as greenware, playing with weaves, knots, twists, and other shapes in various ways. The curved-square piece to the left (which I’ve called Magic Carpet in public but is, to the mathematician that’s still quietly in me, a basic example of creating a bit of hyperbolic space…) is but one of such explorations. I learned about Hadar Jacobson and that, in her first book, The Metal Clay Handbook: Textures and Forms, she talked about this, which is one of the main reasons I bought that book … which, eventually, led me to learning much, much more from her and her approaches!

When Hadar came out with her clays, I played around with them for a bit. But I didn’t go all-in for her clays until two things happened around the same time: Hadar herself came to town (well, our local metal clay guild chapter brought her in!) to teach a workhop on her “married metals” approach (which I took), and I started playing around with adding glycerin to her original line of clays, which she now calls the “flex” powders, because they are the most (not the only, but the most) conducive to having glycerin added to yield clay that stays flexible if you want that. (If you want the clay to dry hard, just don’t add anything besides water to the powders.) Mixed Metaphors, shown to the right (before it got its bail and went to live with my cousin Debby) is one example using copper, bronze, and a little bit of steel while combining married metals with weaving.

The other thing that people do with glycerin-enhanced metal clay is to cut it with electronic cutters, like the Cameo and Portrait products from Silhouette. (That was actually one of the things I’ve been hoping to write a bit about this coming winter!) People started by cutting out the very thin PMC+ “sheet” product with that. (I don’t know this for sure, but it would not surprise me to learn that “sheet” was the inspiration for trying glycerin! Though “sheet” acts somewhat differently than does glycerin-enhanced clay, with both the point is that they never quite dry out completely, and thus remain flexible. While sheet does make nice, plain embellishments, the advantage to glycerin-enhanced clay is that you can add textures in various ways, and make it thicker or thinner as required for your design.) When folks started trying to cut sheets of regular clay with it, the question became whether it would be helpful (or not) to add glycerin. (The short answer is: sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. The full answer, available now in various online sites, will be tackled here in future posts … eventually!)

At last, on to the new PMC Flex fine silver metal clay. Needless to say, when I first heard about the new PMC Flex, I was both eager to try it it and wondering why one might purchase that rather than just go the DIY route. When I first got my hands on a pack of it, I began by trying the techniques I have in finger-memory, the ones I’ve been doing and teaching for years, just to see how it performs. The very first thing I did was to grab a little piece of it (a bit less than 1 gram), and roll it out into a “snake” or “rod” shape. I left it to dry over night.

The next morning, I measured it: 3.25 inches long, and the size of 15 gauge wire. (Clearly, it will have shrunk a bit while drying, and will shrink even more when it’s fired. But that’s it’s “dry” measurement.) It seemed like it would bend, but felt a little stiff. I’ve had that experience with the glycerin-enhanced clays too, and found that gently “working” the piece along its length will often make it more pliable: I tried that with this piece, with the same good result.

I then tried to tie it into a knot. The photo shows how far I could get it to go before feeling a lot of resistance. (The calipers shifted a bit as I was setting up the photo, so they represent a visual guide and not an exact measurement, but that’s OK for this very-preliminary report…) If I want more elaborate knot designs, I know how to get a tighter bend with my DIY-flex (as shown, for example, even in my first silver knot above, which began with a bit of clay about the same size as this). Still, this PMC Flex will clearly be great for a variety of other applications. I plan to write more about those, with photos, in future posts. As ever, as time allows…. But I’ll close by saying that it is a lot of fun to have such a delightful new toy to play with!


Update:  With Hadar Jacobson’s Flex-clay powders, one trick to slightly increasing the flexibility of a piece of “dried” clay is to refrigerate it for a little while.  I tried that with the above piece and it seemed as though it was going to let me pull it a little bit tighter.  That is, until is broke just about in half.  I’ll use the two pieces some other way, but figured I should note that (as a reminder to myself, as well as information to you…).

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One More Garden Interlude: Field Day at the Edible Teaching Garden. Plus Fall Open House Dates.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/12

Yes, I do have art + jewelry topics in the queue to write about, but my spare-moments-brain is still focused on garden events. Our “Field Day” Celebration at the Edible Teaching Garden is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, September 13, from 12 Noon to 2 pm. It’s free, open to the public, and we’re hoping we’ll have a great turn-out. If you’re in the area and able, please do stop by.

The Edible Teaching Garden, maintained by the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County, is located in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, at the corner of Thomas and Lexington. Folks around here seem to go by landmarks a lot, so the other way to describe it is this: just one long-block down and around the corner from the East End Food Co-op, sort of across the street from Construction Junction and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative ReUse. (It’s directly across from the Allegheny County Police Headquarters: on our volunteer “work nights” we often see the local TV news folks shooting their “live” reports on “our” sidewalk, with that building behind them. But Construction Junction and PCCR are “more art-related” ways to describe where it is: see, I really am trying here!) The first photo, above / right, just taken on Wednesday, shows our branching sunflowers (they were a donation, and we don’t know the exact variety), our amaranth (that one is called Love Lies Bleeding), and hints of more, along with a few of our volunteers who were finishing up a discussion about some plans for Saturday.

We’ll be working in the garden for a month or two more (the timing will depend, in part, on the weather), but I’ll be shifting back to spending a lot more time on my Art Jewelry and Other Small Adornments, in preparation for the upcoming holiday-sales season. In fact, I just finished the first steps in making a few more dohgu oki (tool rests), my variation on hashi oki (chopstick rests) that I use as holders for small tools (though they would also work for chopsticks if you wanted). I tried a new approach for shaping them that worked really well, so I’m happy about that! I hope to get those finished and fired this weekend too! This particular batch, mostly Friendly Bronze, has a butterfly theme, in honor of the “parsley worm” (the caterpillar form of a Swallowtail Butterfly) that Eric found in our parsley bed. I’m really glad he rushed over to get me so I could capture a quick photograph:

Last fall, I sold a number of dohgu oki in the Open House I held in my studio the day that Indie Knit and Spin was happening in the same building. I’ll be holding another open house to coincide with that again this year (the date is November 15). Even before that, I’ll be having an open house to coincide with Eco Fest (that date is October 11), so I figured I should get a head start in stocking up on those. Lots of good dates in this post: I hope many of you will be able to join me for any or all of those!

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Hot from the Kiln (or, A Little Steel to New Castle)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/05

Here’s a peek at another of my Three Rivers pieces.

I say “peek” because the main image shows what it looked like straight from the kiln, cooled off a bit but not cleaned up at all (which should be pretty obvious, from the carbon-crumbs still clinging to it…). Just peeking out from behind is a hint of what it now looks like, what you’ll see if you find me wearing it tonight at the “Public Reception” up at The Confluence in New Castle, PA.

This is a Pittsburgh piece for sure. I embedded a trillion-shaped CZ into a little steel frame and positioned that at “the Point.” The “neighborhoods” are made from copper, with various garden-theme textures. I used those to reflect how much I appreciate all the green space in Pittsburgh.. I even continued that idea on the other side, which is all-copper with a rose-themed texture. The three rivers are made from bronze, with “expansion joints” positioned to reflect the locations of the major bridges. It is technically-convenient to add a few of those gaps, so I figure I might as well make them design-appropriate while I’m at it….

That sort of problem-solving is part of why I have so much fun working in this medium of powdered metals! What captures your interests that way (whatever is your favorite medium…!)?

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Another Garden Interlude: North Park Demonstration Garden

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/08/29

North Park Demonstration Garden I spent this afternoon up at the North Park (Allegheny County, PA) Demonstration Garden, another of the wonderful teaching-gardens maintained by the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.

I took a couple panoramic series of photos of the garden and, later on, explored a couple of options for “stitching” the various images together. I still have not figured out how to get WordPress and GigaPan to talk nicely to each other, however, so I’m not embedding the full panorama here. Instead, I include a tiny “snapshot” from it: just click on the image to the right here and you’ll be taken to a different site so you can see one of them. (Alternatively, here are links to: a full 360 image, from near the war memorial cannon, and a little less than a half-circle, facing the other direction.) At the GigaPan site, be sure to play with some of the options for zooming in and exploring the images! I wish I had more time to “play around” with more of that kind of photography. (And, of course, money for a much better camera…)

I’m still hoping to get down to South Park Demonstration Garden, to GigaPan that one. I’m just not sure if/when I’ll manage that though, at least not this season. If I think I’m only going to get one shot at a garden in a season, I do like to wait until it’s in full glory, and that seems to be when my schedule starts getting crunched again.

Among other things, I’ve got the Public Reception at The Confluence in New Castle next Friday, September 5 (5-7 pm), and the Public Field Day at the Edible Teaching Garden on Saturday, September 13 (12N – 2 pm). It sure would be great to see some local readers of this blog at one or both of those events!

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At a Confluence: Updates!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/08/25

This post will follow up on my earlier post about the show, At a Confluence, that’s running from August 15 through November 13, 2014. First, since I just included a link before, without details, this time I’ll include some specifics right here on the post:
The Confluence
address: 14 E Washington St, New Castle, PA 16101
phone: (724) 698-7604
hours: Mon – Sat: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm

Next, I’m thrilled to report that one of my pieces, Sparkle (Together) on a Stormy Night (shown, right), earned a “Merit Award“!

And … there’s going to be a Public Artist Reception on Friday, September 5, from 5 to 7 pm. If you can get yourself over to The Confluence for that, it’d be great to see you there!

Finally, if you’re not already familiar with The Confluence itself, here are a few things you might find interesting: It’s a social enterprise venture developed by Cray Youth & Family Services of Lawrence County, PA, to (in their words): generate revenue [via both sales & donations] to help support their critical and life-changing programs; offer free events that build community; provide a safe gathering place for all children and families; and provide employment opportunities to young people.

While I am certainly delighted to be a part of this art show, and proud to be recognized with an award, the thing that really makes me happy is that it’s all a part of such a great enterprise. This is a case where, by asking you to join me, I’m hoping you will help support this whole project.

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On another note: Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/08/18

Several math-related things caught my attention in the news last week. One involved a change in how silver prices would be “computed” and I thought maybe I’d write a little note about that.

But, instead, I’m going to add a note here because the Iran-born, female, geometer Maryam Mirzakhani won a Fields Medal. As a teenager, she won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads and headed off to college … a decade after I’d finished grad school, and just before I became (in the summer of 1995) a Member of the Technical Staff at the (now defunct) Geometry Center.

“Geom” was a really wonderful little mathematics research and development center at the University of Minnesota, funded for several years through the Science & Technology Centers program of the National Science Foundation. It had a great, unified, mathematics computing environment that supported math and computer science research, mathematical visualization, software development, application development, video animation production, and K-16 math education. On the wall in my studio now I have a group of four posters from my old math-days: two that used computer algebra systems (Maple; Mathematica) from my work before moving to Geom, and two specifically about Geometry Center projects (tiling space with triangles; knots and hyperbolic space). Farther down the wall, I also have one of Escher’s Metamorphose prints (the one that comes in four parts); that one was a gift from a long-tine friend, Donna, who was in school with me (two different universities, just by coincidence!) both as an undergraduate (when she studied physics) and during grad school (after she had switched to computer science).

When people come to my studio and ask, “how long have you been doing this?” of course, what makes that a bit of a challenge to the answer is, “what’s ‘this’?” Depending on how much detail I sense the questioner wants (which I may or may not sense correctly, of course), I may talk about when I started in this powder-metallurgy medium, or when I started as simply a hobbyist in other art-forms before that and how some of those were more or less visual than my current one (e.g., radio theatre was a different creative outlet I followed, for over a decade…), but I eventually point to those four posters and say, “But that’s the kind of visualization I did for decades, to earn my living.”

Now the exact image from the Not Knot poster (shown here) was made, not by me, but by Charlie Gunn for the video of the same name. Another of the posters shows an image, by Scott Kim using Mathematica, of five interlocking tetrahedra … that makes the Rio Rewards PMC Certification silver tetrahedron project look simple by comparison…! But I was using the exact same tools to create the same and similar images, and researching how visualization might help students to understand the concepts involved.

So how does any of this tie back to Maryam Mirzakhani, other than that she has worked on “geometric objects whose points each represent a different hyperbolic surface” and, more recently, on “the symmetry of surface geometry”? Well, as I was going through school, I know I was repeatedly told by male teachers and classmates that I was OK at mathematics, where OK was often clearly intended to mean something like, “better than most girls I know, but watch out because this really is a field for guys.” (Not always, of course; but often enough to be discouraging. Donna would talk about hearing similar tones about her work.) In fact, one of the major reasons I went down the path of trying to understand how students learned math and how high school and college teachers might better teach it was because I wanted (I’m about to end this by mixing a whole bunch of metaphors: sorry!) to help level the playing field in mathematics by raising the tide for everyone, male and female. I just hope that, at last, having a woman earn a Fields Medal will be another step down that same path, and will encourage more young women to follow it too. It really can be fun and, now, rewarding too!

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“At a Confluence” at The Confluence

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/08/15

confluence |ˈkänˌfloōəns; kənˈfloōəns|
noun
ORIGIN late Middle English : from late Latin confluentia, from Latin confluere ‘flow together’

  • the junction of two rivers, esp. rivers of approximately equal width
    here at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers;
  • an act or process of merging
    a major confluence of the world’s financial markets.

Many thanks to my fellow Koolkat artist Judi Erno for giving me a heads-up about the exhibit, At a Confluence, juried by the Hoyt Center for the Arts, and to be displayed in the Art Gallery at The Confluence coffee house in New Castle, PA, from August 15 to November 13, 2014. Judi saw the Call for Artists and recognized how perfectly my new series of pendants might fit with that theme. I’m delighted to report that two of my pieces have been accepted for this show:

Zipping Along Together
Bronze on Copper
Sparkle (Together) on a Stormy Night
Copper on Bronze with CZ

The At a Confluence exhibit runs from August 15 to November 13, 2014. Should you find yourself in that part of Western Pennsylvania during that time, do check out the show, as well as the reading room & lending library (with delightful artist-created shelves!). At the coffeehouse, you can also enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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This Month: Way More Gardening than Jewelry-blogging

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/07/31

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! I’ve been busy, making art jewelry and other small adornments, teaching others to do so, exploring some new ideas, trying to trouble-shoot some earlier problems, and visiting several summer art shows. But … I’ve also been spending a lot of time gardening, and that is what has really eaten into my blogging time. Sigh!

Now, if you were to look at my yard at home, you might not think I’ve been gardening all that much. Because that’s not where I’ve been doing it….. I volunteer with the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County, and I’ve been busy working at, photographing, and helping with some planning and communications with several of their “Demonstration Gardens” including (but not limited to):

The Edible Teaching Garden, my most-regular activity, in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA:

The Garden Table, another garden containing (but not limited to) edibles, supplemented by little artistic touches, in Wilkinsburg, PA:

At the Carrie Furnace site, a historic treasure containing elements of public art, though gardeners also notice the ways in which nature is recapturing this former industrial site, in Rankin, PA:

And, just for the fun of it, during a walking tour led by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art, held for the Pittsburgh Foundation, I also captured a few images of some of the urban plant-life and inspiringly-designed utilitarian features, in addition to the specific tour-items:

And that’s just my past week…. Click on any of the above photos and you’ll be taken to where you can see bigger versions of them, and where you can browse some of my other albums and galleries holding snapshots of both gardens and art.

I really am hoping to get back to blogging again relatively soon, with that “relatively” qualifier added because I do have to devote some time to that much-neglected yard and garden at home too…. Wish me luck! (Better yet, c’mon over and help…)

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2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival begins at Noon Today!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/06/06

The 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival opens today (June 6) and runs through Sunday of next week (June 15).

The Artists Market will be open from 12 Noon to 8 pm each day.

Again this year, my work will be in the Koolkat Designs Gallery booth, by the Gateway Plaza fountain.

Three Rivers of Steel PendantThree Rivers of Steel
Our Rivers Weave Us Together PendantOur Rivers Weave Us Together

This year, I’m showing pendants—lots of pendants but only pendants—made from various metal powder formulations in copper, bronzes, and steels. Some are ones I’ve already written about (e.g., here, and here), but I’m particularly excited about my new Three Rivers series: three of those items are shown in this post.

To the left are two “Rivers of Steel” pieces, made to honor the role of the steel industry in the development of the three-rivers areas of Western Pennsylvania, Northern West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River at “The Point” in Pittsburgh, PA (where the festival is being held). Below-right is one of my new “Golden Rivers” pieces (though those rivers are actually made of a golden-yellow bronze) in honor of the region’s more recent achievements in the post-steel era.

Three Rivers Circle the Point PendantThree Rivers Circle the Point

The festival’s individual artist booths rotate in and out over the course of the festival, with each one there for somewhere between two and five days only.

But the “Gallery” booths will be there for the full ten days! Those of us who have been invited by a gallery to participate are not listed individually as market participants. Though we do lose out on that bit of publicity, on the other hand we’re the only ones whose work can be there for the full ten days. So you need not time your visit to find our wares: Just come on down any time the market is open!

Another big advantage to participating in a Gallery cooperative is that I have more time than the individual artists do to explore all aspects of the festival, which sure helps me to remember how much fun all this is!

If you want to see me in person, I’ll be working at the Koolkat Designs booth for sure on Friday, June 6 (12 – 4 pm), and again on Sunday, June 8, (4 – 8 pm).

But I’ll also be around, off and on, there and elsewhere, just enjoying all the music, art, artists, art-lovers, and more, filling up the downtown area for those ten days. So do let me know if/when I should be looking out for you at the Festival!

~~~~~~~~~~

Also, my ‘net connection was flaky all of Wednesday and Thursday, and I just have not had time to try to track that down. Sigh. So my apologies in advance to my blog’s “followers” who may see some later “updates” simply because my plan is to try to come back and see if I need to fix the alignment of photos, captions, and text here once I sort that out. O the joys of technology!

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This Sunday: Creative Marketplace in Verona (for the second year!)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/05/30

Once again, I’ll be joining some other members of the Western PA Chapter of the Precious (and non-precious…) Metal Clay Guild out at the Creative Marketplace that’s to be held in the Municipal Park (down by the Allegheny River) in Verona, PA this Sunday, June 1, from 11 am to 3 pm. I will likely take off by Noon, myself, but I’ll leave a collection of pieces under the care of my fellow guild members. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by!

The photo with this post shows two of the pieces I’ll have for sale there. The rectangular one was made from Hadar’s “Dark Champagne Bronze” and I’ve embellished it with a “clear” CZ stone on this side, to add an extra bit of sparkle. The round one was made from Hadar’s “Friendly Copper” plus a “lavender” CZ (which is more sparkly in person than this photo might lead you to believe; though the “clear” one is much brighter still…). On their “other” sides, the designs involve several layers, to add more visual interest through varying depths.

Many of the pieces I’ll have for sale (including these two) were textured using some interesting vinyl wallpaper bits and pieces I was lucky enough to get last month at a “designer samples” give-away sponsored by the wonderful Pittsburgh Center for Creative ReUse. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with those: the underlying texture and the printed-on pattern are often very different! The pattern is what your eyes first see on the sample, but it’s the texture that shows up on these pieces. And as you can probably see here, while some of the textures end up looking fairly rough, some come out all smooth and shiny, and still others can be polished to reveal interesting contrasts. Until I figure out for sure which samples yield which results, I’m sticking to making fairly simple pieces with them. Most of the pieces are reversible (of course!), but still just basic shapes with small highlights (rather than the more complex, and longer-to-make, ones like various hollow bead structures with different kinds of openings, channels, etc.).

For marketplace customers, of course, that means these new pieces of mine will fall into the more “affordable” range this Sunday!

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Softly Draping Hard Metals

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/05/25

I have to admit something: I love “draping” metal clay! The clay is so soft and pliable, and the end results are so satisfying!

I am impressed with many of the effects that can be obtained via various “metalsmithing” techniques, but this draping is just sooo different from working with “solid” metal (sheet, wire, etc.). Yes, there are a lot of little “tricks” involved in successfully draping a mix of powdered metal, binders, and water, but it still is a relatively easy process for achieving a look that is much more difficult to achieve via any methods used with, say, sheet metal.

All the photos in this particular post were made with Hadar’s new-ish Friendly Bronze metal clay powder. At one point or another, I’ve draped every clay I’ve ever tried: every brand, every metal, etc. (OK, no, I haven’t done this with gold. It should work, but I don’t feel I can afford to use gold for anything this big. Of course, if you can afford it, I’d be absolutely thrilled to “drape” a gold piece for you on commission!) But all the different brands of silvers, coppers, bronzes, steels: yes! I’ve draped those.

In fact, there’s one very-special thing I do with draping that I teach in my metal clay workshops. Yes, while I do share a lot here on the blog, there’s even more that happens in person! You see, this little post is not only about draping metal clay. It’s also a little bit about workshops. (My plan is to mention workshops a few times, in this and several other posts over the next few months, then tie that together with one specifically about classes and workshops, both ones I offer myself and those offered by others.)

Anyway, the two draped oblong shapes are ones that I made in advance of a recent workshop. They were fun to make. I fired them both before the class; they ended up being about 37 mm long (excluding bail) and 25 mm wide. The idea was for me to have finished polishing one completely, and use the other one in my demonstration illustrating some techniques (and potential issues) in polishing such drapings. They also served to illustrate two of the many different bail-mechanisms that can be used for hanging the piece.

The long and narrow piece was begun during the in-class demo. It illustrates a different kind of draping, and a different kind of bail structure, both of which are harder to describe (but still easy to show) compared to the first two (oblong) pieces. It’s 66 mm long by 24 mm wide, and contains a little over 24 grams of metal.

The last photo shows two sides of a fourth piece. Also constructed mostly during in-class demos, it’s the biggest of this lot: 45 mm high by 56 mm wide. It weighs a little over 33 grams (including a CZ on each side, but excluding all the chain on which it’s hung). While I was manipulating it in class, we talked about things like overall size and weight versus maneuverability and polishing constraints. (You may notice this piece has a separate backing, while the two oblong ones do not, and the longer-narrower piece folds over on itself.)

Have you tried draping metal clay yet? If so, please leave a note about it in the comments!

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This Weekend: Open House and More in Regent Square

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/05/16

WSCC posterThis Saturday is the annual community-wide Yard Sale organized by the Regent Square Civic Association.

Because there will be all sorts of folks wandering around the neighborhood that day, it’s also the first day of the Wilkins School Community Center‘s Spring fundraiser, the Herb and Used Book Sale from 9 am to 3 pm. (See the poster, above-right.) There are tons of books available for $1 each (including lots of children’s- and cook-books) but, if you want any of their plants, it’s usually wise to arrive early. (The hanging baskets, in particular, are looking gorgeous this year!)

Square Pendant in Four MetalsAnd, because there will be all sorts of folks wandering around WSCC, at the same time as the Herb and Used Book Sale I’ll hold an Open House in my studio too. For years I’ve been describing its location as “upstairs, above the front door” at WSCC, but I now have a room number: it’s 25!

In addition to my usual Art Jewelry selections, this year I’ll have a collection of Aloe Vera plants for sale too. I see those as consistent with my art because they are great to put on burns, as in those little mistakes with torch or kiln…! I’ll have a few of the plants outside my room for “early birds” to buy on the “honor system” … and will try to get there by 9 to open up the room for the jewelry. (I’d planned to be there in plenty of time for 10, but just realized the WSCC sale starts at 9 this year….)

Then, on Sunday from 12 – 3 pm, WSCC will continue their Book Sale (a whole bag for just $5!) and I will be there running a workshop from 12 – 5 pm. If you can’t get to Regent Square on Saturday, you’d be welcome to stop by on Sunday instead, as long as you understand that the class is first priority. You’re welcome to look at what’s on display, and I can stop and talk to you for a few minutes during various break-times.

After that, the next chances to purchase some of my creations will be in our Metal Clay Guild’s booth at the Creative Marketplace in Verona on June 1, and then in the Koolkat both down at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 6 to 15. More on those shortly! I look forward to seeing and talking in-person with some of my “local” readers at one or more of these events!

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Trying Hadar’s New Friendly Rose Bronze

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/25

Another new formula to play with, another Crystal Bead Bazaar bracelet challenge to enter: guess what I managed to combine … again … eventually! I was incredibly late with my entry but … better late than never!

The challenge was to create a bracelet with an “Edwardian” look. Now, that was a real challenge for me: I’m just not a lacy-gossamer-Edwardian kind of person. (The Edwardian era coincided with Art Nouveau. I love Art Nouveau!!!) But, I finally found time to do some research into Edwardian jewelry, and found that these other two trends also fell into that category:

  1. Botanical influences. OK! I enjoy making flower-designs.
  2. Settings that included Green + White + Violet stones as a code for Give Women the Vote. Yes! I am delighted to do include those too.

The result: I made my own flower-beads out of Hadar’s Friendly Rose Bronze, set them with Green (nephrite jade), White (cz), and Violet (amethyst) stones, strung them on copper wire, connected everything with bronze jump rings (and a bronze clasp, not shown).




If you like it, I’d sure appreciate your voting for my entry.

[Note, that "voting" for that piece via a "like" on Facebook worked only during April, 2014. They announce only the first-place winner, which was not me, and not a surprise since I submitted my entry rather late (though I was not the last to do so!). But here's a big "Thank you!" to everyone who did vote for it! I'm hoping to enter again in a couple of months, and will post that again here....]

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This Weekend: Art All Night

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/23

Yes, once again, the last weekend in April brings the wonderful event known as Art All Night. As ever, it’ll be in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This year, it’s going to be held in the same location as it’s been the last two years: just east of the 40th Street Bridge, down next to the Allegheny River.

If you’re not familiar with the event, it is an absolutely amazing community-based celebration of art!

Details are at the event’s website: artallnight.org

Or, if you prefer, here: http://www.facebook.com/artallnight

No Fees. No Jury. No Censorship. One entry per artist. Drop-off times are 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday: thousands of entries will be hung in that short time-span. (I’m entry #2793, and I’m sure there will be more registered after mine!)

The show will open at 4:00 pm on Saturday, run through the rest of the afternoon and evening, keep going all night (yes, really!), run on into Sunday morning and early afternoon. After tens of thousands of people have explored the exhibits, listened to the music, watched demonstrations and joined in on the various hands-on activities, it will finally close at 2 pm on Sunday….

Participating artists can (must!) pick up their entries between 2:30 and 5:30 on Sunday. Bids are passed on to the artists, and it’s up to them to contact their potential customers after the event. (There’s also an auction of pieces created at the event. Funds from that go to the organization, to help keep Art All Night running every year. This year, 2014, is the seventeenth (17th!) time it’s been held.)

Those who know me “in real life” know that Art All Night is one of my very top-two favorite events of the year. (I can’t rate them against each other: they are too different for that. The other is the Edible Flowers Food Fest, but that’s going on hiatus for 2014 since the leader of the EFFF is also hosting the Garden Writers Association‘s annual symposium (their 66th) here this year. Which makes this year’s Art All Night even-more special!)

I include a photograph of the piece I’m entering this year: The Pittsburgh Point: Three Neighborhoods and Three Rivers in Three Metals. It was made using Hadar’s Clays: Champagne Bronze, Friendly Copper, and Low-Shrinkage Steel. It is, in fact, extra-special to me because I made it in the Accreditation Program workshop I attended out at Hadar’s Studio in Berkeley, CA, this past February. (Hadar herself took this photo with it on a steel cable she had out there! I’m entering it with a bronze-color satin cord to which I added findings.) I really enjoyed making it. Better yet, it inspired me to start a whole new series of Three Rivers pieces for the Three Rivers Arts Festival this June. I’ll again have pieces in the Koolkat Gallery booth there … but I’ll write more about that later on.

Until Sunday afternoon, I’m all Art All Night! Let me know if I should look for you there!

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NEW CLASSES! Copper, Bronzes, & Steel: A 4-Part Series in May

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/08

In addition to the workshops I’ve offered in fine silver for what seems like ages now, I’ve also been teaching classes in these non-precious metals too, mostly on-demand private or semi-private sessions, plus a few in local bead shops. All were relatively short, covering just one or two techniques in one or two day (or evening) events only.

Now, I’ve taken the best of the best and spiffed them up with some of the things I’ve learned in the last year with Hadar’s group of teachers worldwide. And I’m thrilled to be offering that great new combination in a four-session series, on Sunday afternoons in May, in my studio in the Regent Square (Swissvale) neighborhood, just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Whether you’re a beginner, or already have some experience with metal clay, you will make at least four separate items: a bracelet, a pair of earrings, and two pendants. Some may involve a single metal; others will combine various bronze formulas with copper and/or steel. You’ll learn every step of the process, from design through basic construction and on to final finishing for your pieces.

You’ll get to use at least three different metals (from yellow bronze, champagne bronze, dark champagne bronze, iron bronze, rose bronze, copper, and/or steel). Don’t know the difference between them? You’ll learn that too!

We’ll meet each Sunday in May (4, 11, 18, and 25*), from 12 to 5 pm. That’s 20 whole hours of instruction in a small class (max 6 students)!

* Yes, May is such a busy month! We will meet on Mother’s Day. But let me know if you’re hesitant to sign up simply because May 25 is part of the Memorial Day weekend. Several alternatives for that final date are possible!

Posted in Events, Studio, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Trying Hadar’s New “Friendly Bronze”

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/03/19

While I was out at Hadar’s last month, finishing up my teaching-accreditation requirements, I got a chance to try several of the newest “friendly” (i.e., one-fire) clays that she has produced (and just now made available in her store).

This post is about “Friendly Bronze.” Hadar developed that one specifically to enable the production of various “married metal” designs, which I plan to discuss in some future posts. Before going into such complex designs, I wanted to try out Friendly Bronze just on its own, to get a feel for working with, firing, and finishing it.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been happily making pieces out of Hadar’s Quick Fire Bronze XT for years (an example from last summer is shown in the first photo, left), despite the fact that it took 8 to 12 hours to complete a firing. (Yes, it takes that long for “quick fire”! But that process includes two firing phases with cool-down in between, so it’s the heating up, cooling down, and reheating of the whole kiln that takes all the time. The sintering part itself is relatively quick.) The whole heating up and firing process of the “friendly” clays, on the other hand, can be completed in just under 3 hours: much better!!! So, back home and on my own, I decided that my first trial run of Friendly Bronze in my own kiln would be a variation on one of my (other, many…) favorite pieces I’d made using some of Hadar’s earlier Quick Fire clays. That one was my own metal-clay-based variation of a “Coils and Domes” bracelet that Maria Richmond sometimes teaches (here and elsewhere) that I wrote about a couple years ago. (Photo repeated here, right. I used “Quick Fire” Copper and Rose Bronze for that one…)

The metal elements for that project can be relatively simple, since they’ll be embellished later on. So I thought they would make good “test pieces” for my first firing of Friendly Bronze. I know that some people just make a plain strip to use as their test piece. And that others jump right in and start an elaborate piece without testing first. Me, I prefer a middle ground: fairly simple, but still something that I can use in a product creation. A handful of little domed hearts seemed perfect to use as my test pieces! I’ve included little photos showing how dark and colorful the results can be (hot from the kiln) as well as how they turn a nice yellow-bronze color with even just a light polishing (the photo shows them a little over half-way through my polishing process).

But I will admit that I had yet another reason for doing that: I wanted to enter the February 2014 Bracelet Challenge on Facebook sponsored by one of my local bead shops, Crystal Bead Bazaar. I needed to dream up, make, and photograph something in less than two days! (Well, I did have a month to dream it up, but I had to make it after getting back from several weeks of travel … on a trip that my luggage full of tools took several more days to return from. But that’s another whole story!) The challenge has a theme each month, and the theme for pieces made in February was “Romantic.” So, instead of wire-queen Maria’s wrapped-coils added to antique enameling-domes, I figured I’d add wired-up beads (in sweetheart-pinks, blood-bond red, and romantic-rose shades) to those brand-new rose-patterned domed-bronze hearts that I made (along with an open-domed heart and clay-tipped wire arrow for a toggle clasp). As far as I know, my entry is the only one that used any metal clay processes!

For the metal-clay part, I just mixed up about 20 grams of Friendly Bronze, rolled out five hearts (using a rose-pattern texture sheet on each side — the same one I used for the domed side of the first pendant shown above!) and dried them over the round domes on a paint palette (a slightly shallower one that I’d used for the bracelet shown above). For the bracelet’s clasp, I made a sixth heart that I also domed but, before it dried, I cut out an inner heart opening. Then I cut a piece of 16 gauge bronze wire, added a hanging-loop, scored each end a little bit, and added a bronze-clay arrow-tip and feather-texture end (actually, just between you and me, for the latter I used a tiny segment of a very geometric, non-feathery design). Once they were dried and all cleaned up, I fired them in carbon according to my usual variation on Hadar’s schedule.

(As I’ve mentioned before, my kiln tends to fire a bit hot, and to spike even hotter just as it reaches the goal temperature. To accommodate the former, I drop Hadar’s temperature by a specific amount; and to work-around the latter, I program a two-segment firing, where I stop it short of goal for a few minutes and let it spike there, then ramp the last few degrees very slowly to keep it from doing that any more. But that’s just a case of knowing my own kiln. A terser person would just have said she fired them according to Hadar’s schedule, but I know some of you read this for the tips I hide in my lengthy prose!) Everything sintered beautifully, and was as easy to clean up as any other bronze I’ve ever used. And I’m thrilled with the final result!

If you like it, I’d sure appreciate your voting for my entry!

[Note, that "voting" for that piece via a "like" worked only during March, 2014. They announce only the first-place winner, which was not me. Since the vote-closing time was not announced in advance, I can't be sure where this one ended up. But it did seem to have a strong hold on second place for most of the month. So here's a big "Thank you!" to everyone who did vote for it! I'm hoping to enter again at some point, and will post that again here....]

Posted in Challenges | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Just Some of What I’ll Be Making-With!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/03/08

I thought about using the photo I include here as the “punch line” to the post I wrote yesterday about shopping, then decided it deserved its own little spot.

The twenty-four tubes in the front are most (but, aack my wallet cries out, not quite all) of what I had shipped back from the workshop at Hadar’s last month: all five of the new clay powders we were able to try out: Champagne Bronze, Dark Champagne Bronze, Friendly Bronze, Friendly Copper, and White Satin. The seven tubes along the back contain prepared clay (i.e., already mixed with water) that I hadn’t yet finished off so, in addition to the new five, there’s also some Low Shrinkage Steel XT and Pearl Gray Steel XT in that row.

What’s missing from the photo? Well, I store my clay in a repurposed CD cabinet with lots of little cubby-holes. I already had spots for the two older steels; had those put away before I thought to take a photo; and then couldn’t even remember how many new tubes I’d added to the existing stash… The thing is, Hadar has at least one more “friendly” clay coming out (i.e., that debinders and sinters in a single firing comparable in length to that of the much-easier-to-fire fine silver), and it’s a Friendly Rose Bronze. I’ve loved working with her original Rose Bronze since I first got my hands on it, so I know I’ll be ordering some of that before I’ve worked my way through all these.

Not to worry, though, I’ve got a workshop series coming up in April and May. It’s based on the Teacher Accreditation program from which I just graduated, expanding offerings I’ve been offering for several years. I’ll be ordering more clay powders for participants to use in that, and will get myself some Friendly Rose Bronze then. (And, no, I don’t know the date when they’ll be officially released to the public. As an Accredited Teacher of Hadar’s Clays, I can get small amounts early, not enough to stock a reseller’s shop, but all that I need for my own testing and teaching, which is great!)

So I need to stop nattering here and go make some pieces to sell, and teach some workshops (including several more using fine silver this month!), to bring in enough money to pay for all these purchases: the travel and workshop expenses, studio rent and insurance, as well as the clays, beads, chains, and all!

~~~~~

p.s., There are still some openings in my various classes and workshops, so do let me know if you’d be interested in taking any of them! (Although, since some have far fewer open seats than others, I suggest you let me know quickly….)

Posted in Shopping | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I’ve been shopping….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/03/07

I hang out with beaders even though I don’t do a lot of beading myself. (I’ve discussed that in several other posts, with topics such as finishing, framing and wrapping … as in wrapping a package, not the wire-wrapping my bead-friends will think of first!) Still, I like the bead shop “culture” and the exuberance of some larger bead shows (not so much the huge, exhausting ones; I prefer “medium” sized shows … ones I think of as being bigger than a typical shop): I enjoy spending time at those, shopping, just looking, and talking with others I meet there.

So in my recent West Coast trip, I had a great time checking out Harlequin Beads & Jewelry in Eugene, Oregon. Sally and John, the friends I was visiting, had a few other commitments on the Friday afternoon. John biked over to the University of Oregon, where he’s auditing a class. Sally and I went out to lunch, followed by a stop at Harlequin where we both picked up some items. Then, while she went a couple blocks away to work for a couple hours, I sat in the shop working the bits Sally had bought into a necklace she plans to give to her granddaughter. It had adorable little shamrock and Celtic knot beads (for her Irish heritage) in sterling silver that I interspersed with sapphire-colored crystals (the color of her birthstone) and finished with sterling chain and clasp. Too bad that I didn’t get a decent photo of that. But I can show you the two strands of beads I brought home for myself…

The day after I got home, the Intergalactic Bead Show was in town. A number of my local bead-friends added a lot to their stashes from that! I got were a few chains (one a very practical copper, two a nice but slightly pricey rose gold). I did pick up just couple strands of beads too, in colors I thought would go with some of the copper and bronze I’ve been working with lately. Still, my haul from that was tiny compared to what I know some others headed home with.

The next weekend, when Bead Mercantile came to town, I heard much less about stash-building. I’m not sure if those friends were shopped-out, or what. But, personally, I was much happier with what I found there, even though I will admit I didn’t buy any beads from the traveling vendors there either.

With my own travel-bills yet to pay, I restricted my bead-buying there to “local artist supports other local artists” purchases:

Jessica Rutherford was there with some of her gorgeous hand-made glass beads, but what I took off her hands were a few items from her “stash clearing” sale, big jade washers and double-drilled snowflake obsidian beads, all of which will combine well with other beads already in my own stash.

My one real splurge in all this shopping involved two lovely hand-made glass beads from Karen Leonardo. I’ve admired her work for years, thinking that many of her designs in glass exhibited a style and sensibility compatible with what I often try to do in metals. It may take a while for my clay to tell me how it wants to play with either or both of these beads, but now I can take my time admiring them as I contemplate that. The hard part is going to be putting up for sale whatever the result ends up being!

Finally, though, I know that if we want vendors to come to town, we really need to support them when they do. So I spent the rest of my money buying chains! The lucky-thirteen different styles or colors shown below (in increasing-price order, from left to right) were chosen because I thought they might go well with pieces made from the same metals as shown in my own hand-made piece I display with them (it’s Low Shrinkage Steel, Copper, Champagne Bronze, and Dark Chanmpagne Bronze).

Now it’s time to get back to work. I’m preparing for a class I’ll be teaching this weekend (a mosaic project in silver), and hope to return to making next week.

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Trying Hadar’s White Satin Steel

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/19

Another new clay means another trial making rings!

Though I love rings–both wearing them myself and admiring those on others, in shops, at galleries–and I love making small adornments using metal clays, in general rings are not my favorite things to make. I’ll leave the reasons for that for another post specifically about rings. Why? Because today I want to talk about rings made from another “new” clay! Now that I’m comfortable with a number of different types of metal clay, one of the things I often do to try to get myself comfortable with a new one is to make myself some rings out of it–to test what it’s like to work with–and then wear them everywhere–to test how they hold up.

So one of the first things I made when I got my hands on a (pre-release!) tube of Hadar’s new White Satin Steel was to try making a couple of rings. I wasn’t going to be able to make them my favorite way (with a steel, I was not going to count on being able to fire the shank first and then form it around a mandrel–a method that pretty much guarantees it will come out a perfect fit–and I was too eager to try it to first make a little test strip to see if/how I could manipulate it, though if will try that eventually…). And I didn’t want to make a ring using the “common” metal clay way, shaping a band in the clay-state (with lots of potential shrinkage-issues during firing). So my first White Satin Steel rings were a pair of seamless stackers with each one textured on one side (using the “eastern paisley” design from Cool Tools) and plain on the other side.

My plan was to make them two different shapes, and wear them with the “plain” sides together. And, no, they didn’t warp during firing: I made the openings oval on purpose!

I usually make my rings either oval (as shown here) or square-ish (a rounded-corners trapezoid). The latter is easy with metal I can whack around something like the finger-shape mandrel from Rio Grande. Since I wasn’t yet ready to try that with White Satin Steel, I just cut the clay itself with an oval opening. Hadar said rings would shrink about 3 sizes, so I used that for my beginning estimate.

Though, since I was making my rings oval, I did cut the opening a tad smaller than that. What I really did was to fit a narrow strip of metal inside a ring sizer at the +3 size, but then trim it a tad smaller. I then shaped that into an oval, and used that to cut my clay. The reason for down-sizing a tad is that, to put on an oval ring, I turn it sideways until it’s passed over my knuckles, but then turn it back up to wear. The “twist” allows the larger-direction opening (still at the +3 size) to fit over the larger-dimension part of my finger. But when it gets twisted back again, the straighter side (now smaller and narrower) holds each ring upright better, so I don’t have to keep straightening them.

The rings shown here were fired and then polished. And they did come out fitting the finger for which I was trying to make them! Since they are steel, which will rust, they were sprayed with an acrylic protectant. Since they are rings, I have no clue how long that protection may or may not last. That’s what I’m now trying to test! I’ve been wearing them off and on for almost two weeks (more on than off, but nowhere near constantly) before taking these snapshots. They seem to be holding up fine in the short term. It’ll just take more time to see how they do over a longer stretch.

In the meantime, I am very happy with the results so far, and I hope you appreciate this early-report.

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

I Made It Onto “Hadar’s List”!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/14

It has been one long, fun, hard, exciting, challenging year, with lots I’ve learned and still more I’ve been inspired to explore further, but I’m now a “graduate” of the Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers’ Accreditation Program.

As I write this, there are about two dozen of us around the world. Maybe a dozen or so more should be added in the next month. There’s a second group that should finish before the end of the year. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to spend the past year working with such an amazing and wonderful group of artists and explorers.

I look forward to the adventures we’ll continue to have together, and to continuing to share them with my students and with all my other readers here. Check for links to my workshops down the right side of this blog. My first four-part series based on this program will run in my studio during April and May of this year. (I’m still teaching silver too, and have four individual classes set up for that in March.) Do let me know if you’re interested in either the silver classes or the base metals series … or both!

Posted in Hadar's Teachers, Learning Metal Clay, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Update on the Lifespan of a No-Flake Foil Firing Box

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/10

A few days ago, I was talking with another metal clay artist about how I fire bronze, copper,and steel in vessels I “fold” myself from sheets of steel “no-flake” foil, when I realized it had been two years since the last time I’d mentioned them here.

Which I find interesting: in three years, I’ve used three boxes! Counting them up, I figure I put a box through a firing somewhere between 1 and 2 times a week, on average. But few things in my life are average…! No, really, it’s more like 6 or 7 times a month, but even that tends to happen in maybe two “bursts” of several firings in quick succession, then it’s several weeks before I do that again.

Something I learned from my first no-flake foil box, plus discussions with others after I wrote about that, is that the foil tends to crack open along the top edge of however much carbon is typically used. So, with my second box, I started out by piling the carbon a a little bit higher than I’d been doing. Then, when some cracking started to appear, I could just lower the level a bit, and get a number of additional uses out of it (because the holes–eventually stretching into a longer tear–were then above carbon, it didn’t leak out)! With the extra firings, it also began to crack along the top-most folds: what that meant is that I tried to be a bit more careful as I handled it, especially when moving it in and out of the kiln. Eventually, though, I decided I was carrying conservation perhaps a bit too far: after at least 75 firings over the course of a year, I took its picture and retired it!

Box #3 has lasted even longer! It has handled 80-some firings over almost 14 months. I did not keep fully-detailed records but, between the notes I do have and my general memory of the past year, I’d say that for its first year, I did a higher proportion of firings in the mid-fire range, and a smaller share in the high-fire range, than I had done with the first two boxes. That seems to have reduced the number of little holes it developed, so there were fewer to spread into wide-open cracks.

That is, until the start of this calendar year. That’s when I started playing with Hadar’s One-Fire High-Fire Trio. The single firing needed to both de-binder the clay and sinter the metals is a real treat, but when I started firing batch after batch in the high range, I noticed that the sides started warping out. So, even though Box #3 does not have any big holes, it is now being retired because I can barely fit it in he kiln any more: it is in danger of hitting the kiln’s thermocouple!

But. I still think that these boxes are well-worth their cost! Do you?

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Another Quick Peek—Another New Ring

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/08

Here’s another Champagne Bronze ring, this one topped by (hey, I just couldn’t resist it) a Champagne CZ. This one took a little while to tell me what it wanted to be….

It incorporates several of the other bits I said I’d try to write about another time in an earlier mention of shrinkage. The strip that I bent into this band didn’t shrink anywhere near as much as I’d expected, which caused me to re-think how I’d assemble it. The oval pieces on the top shrank about as much as I was expecting in length by width but, as far as I can tell, they shrank not at all in height. And that height matters in the re-design of this ring too: I’d thought I might make it so that they could spin (like the petals in my fine silver flower ring with ruby), but their thickness made that difficult. Yeah, I know ways around that, but this was just a supposedly-quick little trial piece, so I tried something else, to confirm how well they’d fuse in place. That did work out well and, again, I like the color (even though it still looks a bit more like sparking rose´ than champagne to me, though not quite as much as the first one I tried).

I can of course make a bronze spinner later, when I can find time to do more accurate calculations on the shrinkage and actually plan it out. For now, I’ll just wear this one as-is, and quite happily, as a test of how rings made this way with this new product will hold up. Which is probably all for the good anyway, as I’d’ve treated a spinner as a special-occasion ring, when having another nice Champagne Bronze ring for everyday wear is far more practical.

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Quick Comparison of Two Bronzes

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/05

Have you been wondering why, so far, all my posts about Hadar’s new One Fire Trio have mentioned shrinkage? Every single metal clay piece of any sort will shrink during processing: as you let it dry (i.e., as the water evaporates), burn off the binder and, finally, sinter it. During each of those steps, things contract a bit. Exactly how much varies by product and technique, but it still happens. For many items, this either isn’t an issue (so what if a lentil bead comes out a tad smaller) or it can even be an advantage (for sculptural pieces, being able to work a bit bigger and have details end up magically smaller can be a real treat).

But, for rings, where the band-size really does matter, then shrinkage matters. A lot. Which is why several of my recent posts have noted shrinkage among the various One Fire Trio products in particular.

Even though I’m still puzzling over that, I have to tell you that there is one feature of Hadar’s new Champagne Bronze powdered metal clay product that I just love: with Champagne Bronze, I can bend ring shanks around a mandrel!

Years ago, working with fine silver, I figured out a way to make rings that I love (and that I later found out that some, but apparently not a high proportion of, others use and love too), a way that removes most of the shrinkage concerns. I make the strip that will become the band first. And fire it as a strip, so it shrinks. Then, I bend the fired-strip into the ring shape that I want, fiddle and adjust and tweak it so that it’s exactly what I want. I add any top-decoration to that, and refire the whole thing. The bit on top will shrink a bit, but if my estimate of that is off a fraction of a millimeter, it’s rarely noticeable. But the already-fired band should (if it was fired properly the first time) come out the same size it went in. To be sure, that approach does not work for every possible ring design but, for the ones where it does— Voila!—there are simply NO sizing issues.

That was a real advantage when I made the spinning-flower ring with ruby, shown first above. When I ventured into Hadar’s Smart Bronze (another one-fire clay), I was advised against trying to bend that, so I had to use the “traditional metal clay” methods with it. Though I like the two rings (second photo) that I made with it, neither ended up sized quite the way I’d wanted. They’re for me, so I just wear them on different fingers than I’d planned; the only problem with that shift is that I can’t wear them in combination with some other rings the way I’d wanted. (I don’t wear rings when I work, but I love wearing lots of them when I’m out and about.)

What I’m reporting today, however, is that my first Champagne Bronze ring fits beautifully. I include a photo of it, below, paired with one from my first attempts with Smart Bronze. The difference in the size and shape of the decorative top was intentional (i.e., I’m not trying to illustrate shrinkage this time); the image does, however, give you a good hint as to the difference in the color of the two products. (Next to Smart Bronze, this does look a bit pink. Next to Copper, or even Rose Bronze, this looks to be much more of a yellow-bronze tint. I’ll try to post a few more comparisons, using some other pieces, but it may take me a while. There’s lots to do right now, too much to justify all the time I’ve spent with Champagne Bronze and Friendly Copper. But, me, I just felt I had to try to complete at least one such ring! So … more when I get caught up elsewhere.)

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

One Thing Just Leads to Another

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/01

If you’ve stumbled across this blog / post without a lot of previous metal clay experience, you may want to just click on the photos to enlarge them and read the brief notes there. For the rest of you, I’ll start by asking if you remember the earrings I wrote about last week?

For today’s post, I’ll start by saying a little about the steps I went through in making the bronze-parts of the two-metal earring pair I described earlier.

  • Grab a good-size chunk of Champagne Bronze clay.
  • Roll it out to a thickness of four cards.
  • Position cards around it, two cards high.
  • Use a thin, straight edge to cut two distinct sets of five intersecting lines. (This was done freehand, so their positions are similar but not identical.)
  • Use a circle cutter to make two “large” circles.
  • Use another circle cutter to make a “small” circle inside each of the “large” ones. (Again, done freehand, so their positions are similar but intentionally not identical.)
  • Do all the usual clean-up and drying of the various bits of clay.

When the circles had dried, I used the small, matching “inner” circles (where each set of lines all intersect) over some Low Shrinkage Steel XT to make the earrings I mentioned before. So far, so good.

Looking at the dry “outer” circles (washers, actually: the larger circles with their centers removed), I had another idea. Using a texture sheet with some concentric circles, I rolled out two more sheets of clay, one each from Friendly Copper and Low Shrinkage Steel XT. Then I centered one of the bronze “washers” over each of those, and cut a matching circle out of each clay. Finally, I rolled out another pair of those two clays, this time using two different “flowered” textures, and cut out a third circle of the same size from each of those. Both the circles- and the flower-design were rolled to four cards at first and then, with the textures, down to two cards. (I didn’t roll the clay with textures on both sides because: (a) I hadn’t yet decided for sure how I would use them, and (b) I wanted to center the designs on both sides the way I wanted, and doing that separately for each side was easier.) I set all those aside to dry (as well as a few other bits I’ll try to write about another time), figuring I’d use them for something….

A few days later still, I got to wondering about the “high fire” temperature of these new “one fire” clays. In general, even with this new trio, it’s the bronze that’s going to limit how hot the product can get during the sintering process. Would the “bronze embeddable” bails survive that heat? (I use them myself, on occasion, and I often offer them to students, especially in introductory workshops, because they can save a bit of time when compared to having to make one’s own bail.) So I took one of the bronze washers, attached the copper disk with circles and let that dry, then positioned the embeddable bail and attached the copper flower-design disk. Once all that had dried, I filled in a few little gaps, dried it all some more, and finally fired the piece.

The results were interesting, as shown in the first photo, above. It all sintered just fine. The bail did blister a little bit: not enough to ruin it, but enough that any metal artist “in the know” should be able to spot what happened. But I still think it’s interesting.

There was one small blister on the sintered bronze section. My first thought was that I’d overfired the batch a bit, but then I realized it was exactly over the post on the embeddable bail. Silly me, I didn’t think to capture a photo of that: What I did was to immediately see if I could polish it out. Easy! I’m not done polishing this piece (it was just a spur of the moment creation, not a planned project), but I think the photo I include here (click on it for a bigger version) gives you a hint as to the blistering on the bail (in case you’re someone who uses them too), and to the way it does look like the disk itself will polish up nicely with a little more work.

There’s one other item worth noting: how the bronze in the bail alloyed a bit with the copper on the other side! Look at the side shown to the right in the first photo, up near the bail, and notice the golden-colored patch. Alloying! Again, artistically, I’m OK with its looking like that. But it’s good to know it will happen.

A few days later, I got to wondering, would the bronze wire I sometimes use with such pieces show the same blistering? [Later clarification: I've used that wire in the past with pieces made using Hadar's Quick Fire bronze. That's a clay that takes a two-phase firing and only mid-fire temperatures and it's always held up beautifully in pieces fired that way. Here, I'm otherwise reporting on the newer one-phase high-fire clays.]

So I made a simple wire-loop bail out of phosphor bronze (melting temp listed as 1800°F), then took the other (matching) bronze washer and the Low Shrinkage Steel XT disks, and assembled it the same way as I’d done before. I fired that using the same schedule too.

And, again, I noticed a bit of blistering on the bail and, with this wire-design, a bit of fusing across the loops. Again, I think that slightly grainy look is OK. Other than a quick clean-up, I have not yet stopped to polish this one at all. But I decided to post about it quickly because, this time, the main piece shrank much further away from the bail. In its clay state, the loops were pressed lightly down into the piece, but the post-firing separation is visible in the photo. No alloying with the steel though, which is also good to know.

But you have to see the two together to catch what surprised me the most: the difference in shrinkage! They started out exactly the same size, and look how different they are now. The current (as I write this) Hadar’s Cheat Sheet (.pdf) says that, on their own, Champagne Bronze shrinks about 30%, Low Shrinkage Steel XT about 28%, and Friendly Copper about 25%. Combos will be limited, to some extent, by the least-shinkage clay in the mix. But there’s only a 3% difference between LSStXT and FrCu, and it sure looks to me like there’s more than a 3% difference in the results here. What I can feel, but can’t really show here, is that there is maybe a 3% difference in height but it’s in the wrong direction. The one made from copper is a teensy bit thinner (i.e., more shrinkage, not less).

I really do like the results I’m getting with these clays, and the 3-hour firing time is a huge help compared to some of the others. But, with the others (and any of the “older” clays, both precious and non-precious), I think I have a pretty good feel for the shrinkage. With this new One Fire Trio, I’m still exploring….

What are you finding with them? Do leave a comment!

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A very quick shrinkage comparison of Hadar’s “One Fire Trio”

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/01/25

Here’s a photo showing a few more little bits from my first trial firing of Hadar’s One-Fire Trio. Though I didn’t start out by making them as perfectly-similar as would be required for a scientific comparison, I did roll and cut them to the same size. So, in order, from the most shrinkage to the least are: Champagne Bronze (C), Low Shrinkage Steel XT (L), and Friendly Copper (F).

I’ll have to see if the apparent ratios continue to hold with other cubes. (That is, some differences could just be due to my having mixed more or less water into the different products. And I just stamped the letters in by hand, which could have changed the shapes a bit too.) But, with the other pieces I fired at the same time, the ratios do seem to vary depending on the shape of the piece being fired. I don’t have enough data yet to be sure, and these cubes are the only items where I made three matching pieces to start with.

But I will say that, while the Champagne Bronze cube did shrink somewhere around the proposed 30% rate all around (per the Cheat Sheet for Hadar’s Quick-fire Clays on her blog), a ring shank made from the same batch shrank barely 15% in length and a bit less than that in width. (Its height/thickness is just too small for me to accurately measure whether all the remaining shrinkage went into that, or not.)

Still, I figured I’d share the preliminary results. Please add a comment if you try these clays and find results that are either similar or different!

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Trying Hadar’s New “One Fire Trio”

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/01/24

It’s taken me a while to post again as the state of mini-crises has continued, but I won’t bore you with those details. Instead, I’m delighted to report an exciting new development: At the start of the year, Hadar announced a new One Fire Trio that includes two new metal clay powders that, along with one of her older ones, can be de-bindered and sintered in just one firing (rather than the two separate ones that many others require). Their total firing time is just under 3 hours. Wow! Compared to the usual 8 hours (if you fuss in between) or 12 (if you don’t fuss but do sacrifice more carbon), that’s a huge difference!

The older member of the trio is Low Shrinkage Steel XT. On its own, it could be fired in a single kiln-run, but that limited the combinations in which it could be used. Also, it’s a high-fire clay, so it could only be used in small amounts with some of her other clays, the ones fired at lower temperatures. But, with the introduction of two new clays—Champagne Bronze and Friendly Copper, both of which also use high-fire and single-phase processes—it is now possible to produce more combinations.

Each of Hadar’s metal clay powders have their own advantages and disadvantages compared to the others. No one product (or small set of products) from her or (or any other producer) is yet able to achieve everything an artist might want. But each new combination offers new opportunities, which is what makes them so exciting! I am sure that some people got these clays and proceeded to develop complex creations. But me, I prefer to get to know the clays in simpler ways first, to discover their advantages and limitations. I have a few more-complex pieces in the works, and I’ll get around to completing their construction and firing them eventually. This post will show a few of the simpler pieces I tried first.

The earring pair to the left was made with Friendly Copper. The pair to the right used Low Shrinkage Steel XT in back, with the embellishment in Champagne Bronze. After firing, the copper and bronze were very lightly polished (just a quick pass with one set of (3M yellow) radial bristle disks); the steel is as it came out of the kiln; the earwires are anodized niobium (that I just happened to have handy). If / when I can find the time, I may fiddle with finishing them a bit more but, for now, I just could not resist offering this quick sneak peek!

The second (smaller) photo shows the other side of the steel pair, after each piece has been quickly polished in the same way as the copper and bronze on the fronts. I did that because I wanted to show the polished-steel color on its own, even though I liked the black+gold contrast in the combination on the other side of these. (Although ensuring that the black will stay black—neither shining up to gray nor rusting out—will require some of that additional finishing I just mentioned….)

One note on firing: Hadar says that firing any of the clays in this trio takes her 2:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes). For these, I used a brick kiln, outdoors on a covered patio, when the air temperature was around 25°F (-4°C). I also know that this particular kiln tends to overshoot the goal temperature early on in the firing process, regardless of the temperature of the air surrounding it, though it holds the temperature fine once it’s had the chance to swing up and down a few times. My work-around for that is to set a two-step program, where I first get it near the goal temperature and tell it to hold there for a couple of minutes (allowing it to spike higher there), then ramp it slowly to the real goal where it can hold for the required firing time. With those two differences between my set-up and hers, firing these pieces still took only 2:58. As I said above, that’s a real treat!

Another note on my kiln: I don’t leave it outside all the time. I keep it inside and just haul it out when I need to fire it. (If I fire it indoors in winter, when I don’t have any good way to vent it and I’m using carbon to provide an oxygen-reduced atmosphere inside the kiln, my CO detectors signal a problem!) Hauling it in and out takes only a few minutes each way, so it’s not a major problem, even when the temperatures are in the 20s. But, they’re currently hovering around 0°F, and that puts enough of a strain on my furnace, me, and more. I’m not leaving doors open to move kiln, kiln “furniture,” the stand, various tools, power strip, gloves, safety glasses, and more both out and then back in again.

In other words, even though I have more pieces underway, it may be a while before I get around to firing them and posting the results. It’s just winter … and I don’t mind at all living at winter’s pace … for a while.

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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