Convergent Series

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

Archive for January, 2010

The eyes have it.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/29

Eye surgery is stressful.

Even if it’s a relatively minor procedure.

For example, yesterday, I had my eyelid-area numbed and the lids clamped to hold them open and steady. So I was awake, and looking out. Then hooded people wearing brightly-lit optivisors approached both of my eyelids (one at a time) with needles, scalpels, coated mandrels (aka Q-tips), and more.

I use the term coated mandrels because then that tool, like all the others, are things I use too!

I tried very hard to not think about how many times one of my tools had slipped even just a tiny bit while using them. The surgery itself was nothing, compared to the stress level from what I was seeing at the time. I tried to think about my breathing instead, as slow and calm as I could keep it. But still….

Afterward, all I wanted to do was to go home, crawl into bed, curl up into a little ball with the covers pulled over my head, shut my eyes, and sleep for a couple days.

Which is what I did, except for getting up every few hours to apply warm compresses and prophylactic antibiotics, and check for signs of infection. But, each time (for the first day), I just crawled back into bed for a few more hours of shut-eye.

I’m a bit concerned because I’m not sure that they got all the blockage that this procedure was supposed to clear up; but the world is still looking clearer today than it has for some time!

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A Tale of Two Rings.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/26

I made another attempt at a double-fire ring. I’m still in experimental mode, but the second one exhibited some definite improvements.

Two Double-Fire Rings.

On the left is the first one I tried using this particular double-fire approach, mentioned in my last post. Note where the shank meets the top section of the ring. On the right side (of the left ring), there’s a bit of a lump, where the shank that had already been fired did not shrink any more, leading the new clay to leave that lump there as it tried to shrink. On the left side of that ring, the problem is even worse: the clay didn’t simply form a lump, it actually cracked! On the bottom edge, by the way, both sides had the “lump” seen on the right side above. I know that a bit of patching and filing could make both of those problems disappear, but this is an experiment, so I’m not going to take the time to do that. I’ll wear it like that and see how it holds up.

But now, on the right, is my second attempt. Instead of topping it with a narrow, rectangular band, I tried a round one. This one did not exhibit either the lumping or the cracking.

Hmmm. I wonder how much of the difference was because there was just a tad more clay on either side of where the shank was attached, and how much was because it was a circle rather than a rectangle much wider than it was high? Suggests areas for further experimentation, doesn’t it?

(If you’re curious about this method, you may want to check out the work of Kate McKinnon. She is one of the leading designers to make rings this way, but as I recall the ones of hers that I have seen, I think they’ve tended to be round or square or some other shape with more “consistent” dimensions in various directions. Her (very interesting) book, Structural Metal Clay, does talk about making such rings, but does not include details like that.)

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Ringing my hands.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/22

I love rings. Have done so for years. I’ve bought some lovely ones, have received others as gifts: for years I’ve rarely left the house without wearing at least a couple rings.

Now, while I love metal clay too, I’m still trying to work up a passion for metal clay rings. In several of my earliest classes, we made rings. It’s a big deal, because you have to factor in the shrinkage as the metal clay fires.

I got a great feeling of _accomplishment_ from the first ring I made even though, from the design angle, the ring itself was not one of my all-time favorites. Here it is, in one of my early attempts at photographing jewelry (thus, the gray line down the inside is some quirk of the lighting; it’s not actually there on the ring):

Now, one way around some of the shrinkage concerns with rings is to make a flat strip that’s approximately the right size, fire it while still flat, and then bend it into the ring-shape. At that point, you can adjust its size and shape. Then you can add some other decorative piece, with various ways to connect that to the ends of your already-fired shank. One “traditional” option is to solder the components so they all hold together. Another “metal clay” approach is to use some form of the clay as your connector and refire the whole thing so the sintering will cause it all to hold together.

So, when Tim was here, one of the class projects was yet another ring. We used that “double-fire” method to build the ring. I was having some problems with it. Now, part of the problem was just me: some blocked ducts in my eyelids (leftovers from a “poison ivy incident” last fall, sigh) were making it a challenge for me to see really fine detail. Another part of the problem was that I was not confident how _what I was visualizing in my head that Tim was telling us to do_ would provide enough contact area to ensure a secure connection. I kept adding more silver clay (in the form of a paste supplemented by lavender oil), not trusting I’d gotten it right, and showing it to Tim to ask when I needed some more. He’d point out some issue, I’d add a bt more, and we continued like this for several rounds until he said it looked fine to him.

Me, I could visualize different constructions that should hold better. And those would involve the use of clay (“grout”) rather than paste (“simple glue”) to make the connections. Did my hesitations jinx the project? I don’t know about that but (a) in the end it came out too small (first ring I’ve ever had that happen with) and (b) after several times of putting it on and off a smaller finger than the one where I’d thought I’d wear a ring of that design, it did still pull apart.

Silly me: in my disappointment, I didn’t think to take a photo of it before I started fiddling with the components. I just took the shank, and used it to try a different construction technique.

Band from signet ring is reused here.

I’m much happier with that ring! Yes, there is a very slight crack–that happened during the second firing–and I see it’s already picked up a scratch in the couple of days I’ve been wearing it. I could fix all that, but I consider this a trial-ring, so I’m going to just continue to wear it as-is for a while and see how it holds up. The little almost-square piece with a cubic zirconia (CZ) set into it is what broke out of the ring as I’d originally made it in Tim’s class. I’ll put that aside, and find some other piece in which to use it.

And that is part of what I do enjoy about all of this: even a failure doesn’t end up as a total loss. I can reuse the components in different ways, and learn new things in the process.

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Returning to the lentil-bead theme.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/17

Of all the pieces I made in the second class with Tim, once again a lentil bead is my favorite individual piece.

But, between the two classes over five days, the reception our metal clay guild put on Friday night for Tim and metalsmiths from the area, putting up a friend for the duration, and more, I’m just too wiped out to say much more now. I’m fine, just tired…

More later!

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Just a hint of color.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/14

Metal-smith and metal-clayer Tim McCreight is in town, teaching several workshops at the Society for Contemporary Craft.

One of them is "PMC & Color."

I made a whole collection of small pieces, mostly simple charms, to color-up in the class, the idea being that they could end up on some sort of sampler piece, perhaps a charm bracelet.

Some of them turned out beautifully, a few did not react quite as I’d expected, and some remain to be finished. Tim covered a whole range of possibilities, but there wasn’t time for everyone to complete samples using every method that had been addressed. Each participant did have time to try out a few of the ones that captured their interest the most.

Charm: Copper-clad and ammonia-fumed.

One of my favorite methods involved copper-cladding. In this method, you use a bit of chemistry and a bit of physics, and what you end up with is a piece that’s covered in copper.

Now, why on earth would you take a piece of (relatively expensive) fine silver and cover it with a layer of (relatively less expensive) copper? Because, even if you like what are known as patinas, there are only a limited number of options for getting patina colors on silver. But copper is another story: there are all sorts of recipes going back centuries for getting patina colors on copper. So you coat (clad) the silver with copper, selectively remove portions of the coating, and then color what’s left.

Did you notice the copper on the image above? It’s there, in the hollows: it’s what’s been turned (by exposing it to ammonia fumes!) into the areas with that blue-ish green color!

I did not polish the copper off the the back before starting the development of the patina. So, um, it turned mostly black!

Clad and fumed, the back/bottom turned black! Clad, polished, fumes, and polished some more.

Not to worry though, it’s still easy enough to polish most of it off. Since these are just simple charms, on the other hand, I didn’t feel compelled to remove every last dark molecule.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to post more examples from this class and my follow-up experiments.

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Three Silver Spool Beads

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/10

Here’s a triplet of fun spool-shaped beads that I made last November:

Three spool-shaped beads.

They are delightfully easy to make. They are a bit fragile when you have the dried looped parts, before you apply the ends, so you have to work carefully. And they take a bit of “elapsed” time while you wait for each end to dry, before you can fire them and end up with such fine silver pieces. But I hope you agree with me that they’re well-worth the effort!

Here’s what I’ve done with them:

Three Spools strung with Onyx.

Personally, I do love the patterns in the black beads, as well as the silver beads.

The necklace uses a simple commercial clasp. I guess if I’m going to make more of these spool-beads (and I do think I will!), then I’ll have to come up with a home-made clasp to accompany them.

Back to the design-board… Your suggestions are welcome!

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Simple Domes

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/07

I like making domed shapes. Here’s a pair of earrings I recently made.

Spinner Disk Earrings

The process for making them from sheet metal was described in the July 2009 issue of Art Jewelry magazine, but of course I couldn’t simply make them that way. Not even the first time out…

Instead of using four regular metal disks, as in the magazine project, I used two of those (the copper ones), plus two made from metal clay (the silver ones). In the article, there was a small seed bead in front, but I had a bit of sterling silver wire that I’d messed up earlier, so I shaped that into two little spirals and hammered those flat to use in front. I then made the earwires from sterling silver wire, also tweaking them a bit from the way the magazine described it..

But the part that’s relevant to the “subject” of this post is that, furthermore, instead of just using flat disks (as the article had), I domed them. The copper ones were hammered first, to add a bit of texture, then “dapped” into a dome shape. The silver ones were textured early on: they’re made from metal clay, so their design was added when they were still in the clay state. I’d actually made them earlier, before thinking to use them here, and were fired flat. That converted the “clay” so what remained was just fine silver and when I decided to dome the copper disks, I was able to “dap” the silver ones too, so they’d curve the same way. When I made the earwires, then, I also formed them to match that shape as well, so they could still spin but wouldn’t wobble too much.

I like domes! Here’s the front and back of another pair of earrings I made a couple years ago. (Sorry the images aren’t too great: I’m getting a bit better with photos, but I don’t have any other domes on hand right now (they’re popular, and sell well!), so I dug this pair of shots out of my archives.)

Dome Earrings: Concave Side with LOS Dome Earrings: Convex Side (no LOS)

For those earrings, I shaped them into domes when they were still in the clay state. Moist clay. Rolled out flat, impressed with textured designs on both sides, cut into circles, and draped over a circular frame to dry into that curved shape. Then fired, polished, patina applied, and polished some more. In the grand scheme of things: easy!

I’ve used all sorts of things as the frame over which I’ve domed metal clay while it dried, including lightbulbs, ping pong balls, measuring spoons (dedicated to art, not reused for food), marbles, and more. The only trick is to find a shape that gives the desired curvature for a piece of the desired size. Oh, and to remember to make the piece a little bigger than you really want, because metal clay shrinks in the drying-firing-sintering process.

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“Lentil Beads” Are Fun

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/03

Thinking back on what I wrote in my first post, the thing that has stopped me from doing this earlier has been the photography part.

Now, I do know a lot of the basics of photography (for that matter, I have even taught it), but small little jewelry pieces are a bit of a challenge, and jewelry that is made of shiny metal and often set with sparkly stones can be even trickier to shoot well. And I have just been very hesitant to illustrate my blog with photos that didn’t reasonably represent the pieces I was discussing.

I haven’t yet gotten the photography part to the level I want. But I do still like making “lentil” shape beads like that first one. The snapshots with this post are of a more recent lentil bead.

Lentil (side with opening)

That side has an opening, with a view to some embellishments nested inside.

Lentil (side with CZ)

This other side features a cubic zirconia (CZ) and more of a patina (a coloring of the surface, in the valleys of the texture; patinas added to high points simply wear off, while those in the valleys will darken over time).

I plan to redo the bail (the wire at the top, from which it will hang).

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A New Year & A New Blog

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/01

Well, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now and, at last, here it is….

I feel so behind-the-times doing this now! It’s not like I’ve been oblivious to advances in technology. I got my first arpanet (as it was then known) account in 1978 or 79 (’twas that academic year, by now I just forget exactly when, possibly mid-year), I wrote my first web-page in 1993 (late fall of the 93-94 year), and so on. I just had lots of other things to do as well.

Back in that same 1978-79 school year, I also signed up for a course in jewelry design and metalsmithing. I’ll tell the full story of that some other time: the short version is that it was a huge disappointment, extremely discouraging, and I simply dropped out before the term was over. The interest wasn’t gone, but there were other activities that I found more rewarding.

I first heard of Art Clay Silver (ACS) in 2002: I saw a couple samples and a book at Crystal Creations / Beads Gone Wild in West Palm Beach, not too far from where I grew up. I was then living in California, was just back in FL visiting my mother, but my life was crazy-busy with work so I had no chance to really explore it. But I was fascinated. I finally got my hands on the stuff in October of 2006, by then I was living in Pennsylvania, and the class I took used Precious Metal Clay (PMC).

Here’s a photo of the first fine silver piece I ever made, in that class. It’s the shape of a “lentil” bead that is about an inch across, with some embellishments (the smooth oval and three tiny balls) added to the surface:

First Fine Silver Lentil Bead

Over time, I hope to post more about ACS, PMC, fine and sterling silver, other metals, and related topics. Plus, probably, miscellaneous other stuff. When I find the time…

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