Convergent Series

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

Archive for April, 2011

To answer Coral’s question….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/28

Last night was the first part of a 2-session class at the delightful Zelda’s Bead Kit Company. The plan was to use metal clay on the first night to create our own custom-made toggle clasps and, if desired, focal beads. I’d take them back with me to fire and tumble-polish them the next day. Then, on the second evening, everyone would return to Zelda’s for a quick lesson on work-hardening and applying a patina, after which we’d select beads and make ourselves some wonderful bracelets.

One of the participants last night had a number of questions about kilns for use with metal clay. One of her questions was how many pieces you could fit on one kiln shelf. Well, the answer is, just about as many pieces as all of us made last night! Here’s one of my kiln shelves (the upper right corner has been missing since I first got this shelf…) ready to go into the kiln (though I moved Ellie’s toggle bar, up on the top row, down a little bit just before I put it in).

With firing more analytical than creative a process, if you were in the class and are looking for your piece, know that the pieces are spread around the shelf in roughly the same arrangement as participants were seated…. They’re firing as I write this. With luck (but with no promises), I will remember to take some photos of the finished pieces to share here too.

Posted in Teaching Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

This weekend: Art All Night

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/26

As the end of April approaches, it’s once again time for Art All Night!!! Are you going? This year, it’s going to be held in the same location as it was last year, at the former Iron City Brewery on Liberty Avenue, basically between the Bloomfield and Lawrenceville neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

I’ll end this post with images of my metal clay entries from 2009 and 2010. I won’t give any clues yet about this year’s entry: just come on over to Art All Night to see it. The show runs from 4 pm on Saturday, April 30, through 2 pm on Sunday, May 1.

In addition to entering a piece, I will also be participating in the On-Site Art activities. A few of us from our local chapter of the PMC Guild will be giving demos of working with metal clay. We’ll be there from 6 to 10 pm on Saturday night. Hope you can make it! (I’ll get photos from this year’s event up here at some point, but I’m way behind schedule so don’t hold your breath waiting….)

Moon ‘n At

MagicCarpet (woven frame side)

Magic Carpet

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Back to working with silver for a while….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/20

My head is still swirling with ideas for working with copper, bronze, and steel metal clays, but I need to get back to silver again for at least a little while. I’ve got several classes coming up, scheduled months ago but now looming, and I need to prepare some sample pieces, plus some components at various intermediate steps in the process to use as illustrations.

I really do enjoy teaching this stuff for its own sake, but I find a big side-benefit of teaching to be the way that forces me to make up more samples than I might otherwise be driven to try. I keep a few pieces on hand, but this leads me to make extra variations each time. I think it’s good for class participants to see a range of examples, which is just the “kick” I need to move beyond my own comfort zone, try different designs, think of new approaches, and thus make different pieces that I can sell to fund the next round of explorations.

Or, sometimes, to just give away. The fairly simple focal piece and matching clasp in the photo that accompanies this post were made in my last workshop on clasp-making: I just picked up some paper-crafting scissors and used those to cut some of the edges while I was talking about how you can adapt tools from almost any medium for work with this one. I then gave them to my friend, Trish, to use in a bracelet. Next week, on April 26 and 27, we’ll be teaching that one at her shop, Zelda’s Bead Kit Company.

If you can’t make it to that session, check out the bar down the right-side of this blog for some of the other workshops that I have in the works. If you’d like a class on another topic, or at another time, do let me know: one of the great things about now having my own studio to work in is that I can also schedule “semi-private” sessions at the last minute, as long as I know that enough people are interested. Or, if you prefer, I can travel to your site. Even when I don’t remember to stop and blog about all this, I’m always happy to create opportunities for sharing the delights of how to play with clay.

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Last of the notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/12

First of all, for you (as “they” say) dear reader. I’ve been writing away here about Hadar as though everyone already knows who she is. One thing that surprised me about the recent workshop here was that, although most of my classmates were very familiar with her art jewelry work, owned her books, read her blog, etc., not everyone was or did. How could I tell? Mostly by their reaction to the array of pieces she spread out on one of the large tables for us to examine (shown here), and by the ones that she passed around to illustrate various points during her presentations. I didn’t bother trying to take photos of them at the time, because I knew I could find Hadar’s great photos themselves via the various links I just provided above. If you’re not familiar with them, please go take a look. The art jewelry link features plenty of “eye candy” for you to admire (and, perhaps, even purchase), while the other two have a mix of text and photos if you’re hooked by this and want to learn more about how it all works.

Since I started this series of posts with a snapshot of Hadar, I’ve decided I’ll close this set with one too. Shown, she is “sifting” the finished pieces from their carbon bed, but she’s pouring the vessel contents from such a height in order to let the very lightweight ask blow away in the process. (This is better done outdoors than in your workspace, but that’s a topic for a post at some other time.)

I got a real kick out of watching Hadar do this! Though large in “our field” she is not a very tall woman. To get the effect she wanted in this particular setting, therefore, she had to really reach to get the full vessel far enough above the sifter and collection bowl. It made her look, to me at least, like she’d stepped right out of a modern-day Avalon as some sort of “high priestess” making an offering in honor of the “goddesses of metal clay.” It was delightful to have her cross the misty skies to share those rites with us, and to encourage us to follow our own paths to enlightened and creative artistry. Thanks, Hadar!

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Some more notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/10

I don’t want to go on forever about this, but I am using this blog to keep some notes for myself about our recent workshop with Hadar Jacobson, as well as to write some comments for others to read. So, if you’ll bear with me, this post will cover a number of “loose ends” from that, then I’ll probably add one final note, and then I’ll move on to posting about other things.

The photo at the left shows Hadar’s own design for “firing vessels” that are made using a piece of “ceramic cloth” formed into a bowl shape and held together with stainless steel T-pins. In this workshop, we started out having three kilns available to us, so here you see three vessels lined up with the results of a test-firing in each of those three kilns. Test-firing means to run some “test pieces” through the entire two-phase firing process each and every time you change any (one or more) of the variables: try a new kiln, use a different size or type of firing vessel, introduce a different carbon (type or supplier), make pieces out of a different metal or brand of clay, etc. In fact, we also tested and then used a fourth kiln later on and, at one point, tried a different material for firing vessel construction that required its own test as well. (I’ll try to remember to write a bit more about testing and test pieces eventually, whenever I get around to trying out in my own kiln some carbon from a new source.)

The vessel on the bottom in that photo (far left, if you faced the table straight on) shows a bit more ash than do the other two, but not enough to be of concern. Once the test pieces had been sifted out from the carbon, we examined each piece by looking at and feeling it. Since they all seemed ok, the next step was to begin to buff a “back” edge very lightly. (Of course, I hear that and think, “Wait! My reversible pieces don’t have a back!” There’s no problem, of course, if the piece has sintered. If it hasn’t, then I’ll just be stuck with doing any necessary patching on one of the two “front” sides of the piece but, hopefully, that will be a rare occurrence.) Once they pass that test, they can be sanded a bit more aggressively.

As I know well from previous experience, when Alice and I were experimenting with these clays on our own and together, an unsintered piece typically makes its condition known very quickly. Luckily, all of our test pieces seemed just fine. That meant we could proceed with both firing some of the pieces that had taken more work to construct and the lesson on all the steps for post-firing polishing.

I will mention that Hadar had brought an example of an unsintered piece so folks could see what one looked like. Because I’d wanted to ask her a few questions about “sintering issues,” I had also brought a couple problem-pieces. So we were both able to share our examples for everyone to learn from, in addition to having the successful pieces from our kiln-tests to use in the polishing demo.

Speaking of firing our actual artworks, to the right here is a photo of the first vessel loaded up and ready to go. Several things to note:

  • Each piece is at least half an inch from the edge of the vessel and from all of its neighbors.
  • Each piece is positioned horizontally. Some people write or teach about positioning them vertically. That does allow you to fit more pieces in at one time, but Hadar insists that there can be enough of a difference in the amount of heat reaching the top and the bottom of a piece that one end may sinter while the other does not. She says she has not found as much discrepancy edge-to-center as she has top-to-bottom, so this way produces more consistently successful results.
  • The pieces are positioned in a single layer. Once again, you can fit in more pieces if you use multiple layers, spaced at least a half inch apart, but Hadar reports more examples of unsintered pieces from that arrangement. Better to just do as many different firings as you need than to have to worry a lot more about sintering with every single piece.
  • The “front” of the vessel should be clearly indicated. Here, it is marked with a T-pin, though that doesn’t really show up in the photo. In top-loading firebrick kilns that have heating elements running around all four walls, this is not crucial. In front-loading muffle kilns, however, with elements on the back and sides but not on the door in front, this is necessary. Since we had a mix of the two types of kilns, better to be safe than sorry, and just mark all the vessels. (Remember: once the pieces are covered with carbon, you can no longer see what’s where! That’s why you mark the outside of the vessel itself. And you do it in a way that will survive the firing, in case you need to remove the vessel from the kiln between the two firing phases, especially because the pieces are extremely fragile at that point.)
  • In a front-loading kiln, in most cases, pieces should be placed around the back and sides of the vessel. Not in front, towards the door.
  • In either a front- or a top-loading kiln, in most cases, pieces should not be placed in the center of the vessel.
  • The one exception to the previous two rules is this: If you have one of the really round firing vessels, you may want to test whether pieces placed in the center, or near the front in a front-loader, will sinter. In some cases, this does seem to work…
  • It is best to fire together only pieces that are roughly similar in size. If you mix sizes, curiously, the ones most likely not to sinter are the smaller ones. (Yes, that;’s what Hadar said but it’s also something I have observed.) It seems almost like the big pieces somehow draw the sintering-heat away from the smaller ones… Experience has shown that, the more even the size of your pieces, the more even will be the sintering. (Here’s yet another situation where I wish I better understood the whole science of these processes!)
  • You can make a few exceptions to those rules, if you know what you’re doing, and take care in the process. In the load illustrated above, for example, Hadar placed pieces of similar size around three sides but, finding she had one small piece left, she put it on the fourth side with extra space around it and fired this in a top-loader.

The next photo on the left shows our first load going into a front-loading muffle kiln. Note that:

  • The vessel is raised up on kiln posts, so that air can circulate all around it.
  • There is no lid on the vessel.
  • The vent-hole plug has been removed.

The last photo, below, shows our second load as it began to fire in a top-loading firebrick kiln. While you can’t see inside this one, it also has the vessel raised to allow circulation, and it does not use a lid on the vessel here either. The purpose of this particular photo is to show that:

  • While there is no actual vent-hole on this kiln, an equivalent effect can be achieved simply by placing the lid slightly askew.

Whew! That covered a lot more than I was expecting when I started this post. What can I say: the workshop was just loaded with interesting and useful information!

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Passing 40….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/09

Yikes … 40 …!

No: not the age of 40. No: not the speed limit. Yes: the price of silver.

I wasn’t paying attention to prices yesterday (busy day…) and missed it at the time, but silver crossed the $40-mark on Friday.

Then, apparently, investors convinced themselves that it really is going to keep rising, and they managed to drive the nominal price up to just a few pennies shy of $41 per ounce. (Speaking of pennies, all this is driving up the price of copper too … just not as much … yet.)

Yeah, I get the “economic theory” that drives investors to metals, and especially to “precious” metals. I just happen to think that many of the things that can be done with those materials should be even more precious. Why do “they” want to destroy the simple pleasure that can be drawn from small precious metal artwork and adornments? Why do the rest of us let them? What are the alternatives, for them and for us?

Why can’t “those people” go find something useful to invest in? Something practical? Something for the good of others too? Something that would benefit society? Something that would still be of benefit to them (yes, I understand that part) but something that doesn’t have to mean the detriment of others at the same time? Why is it you versus me?

Why can’t we revise the basic definition of good to mean only if it’s good for all?

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More on Working with Combos of Hadar’s Clays.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/08

Several of my posts so far this month have included “after” photos of my new bronze + copper pieces, some with steel too. The opening shot in my very last post (below) showed a before-piece of “greenware” clay (dried but unfired). But, what happens in between those stages?

Well, let me tell you, each piece goes through a phase in the middle when it barely resembles what it looks like at either end! The opening photo with this post shows all the pieces from the first round of firing in Hadar Jacobson’s recent workshop in Pittsburgh. No, I did not switch to black-and-white photography for any of the images on this page! This is how they came out of the kiln! Sort of center-left you can see my round “gear” piece. I think those are Deb’s “people” just under it; then Donna’s triangle-shield, upside-down-and-backwards, under that; then maybe the back of Stephania’s obong under that. I’d love to have photos of my classmates’ finished pieces so I could better identify more of them here (hint, hint: I know some of you are out there reading this…), and maybe I could even post a few of their finished pieces while I’m at it (repeat hint).

But, since what I have to work with here are my snapshots, let’s talk about the gears to the left. The rumor that eventually developed later was that, because of their varying shrinkage rates, copper inlaid in bronze is less prone to cracking than is bronze inlaid in copper. And, yes, this is bronze inlaid in copper … and it sure shows some cracks!

And, of course, this “gear” was a particularly challenging choice for doing it “backwards” because it’s connected the whole way around! Not a crisis, but it means this needed to be cleaned, patched, and refired before I could proceed with it. I did say I was in the workshop to learn, so I’m glad I had the chance to learn about such problems, and their solutions, right there in class!

While I was taking photos, I made a point of capturing the other side as well. The “wheel” showed evidence of cracking too. Same situation: all the bronze components were “connected” to each other, so the only way they could shrink as much as they wanted was to open up some gaps in the bronze. Since the fired sections have already shrunk as much as they are going to shrink, any patches should fill in safely without causing more problems. (“Should” of course, is the important word in that sentence… There’s always the chance that it can take several tries to get the patch right … among other things that can continue to challenge too.)

So I patched it, and got it in the next round of firing. The photo to the right shows the next three of my pieces that got fired, all on the second day but spread across different kilns. They are, from left to right:

  • The first piece I achually made, wheel on front and “hidden bail” behind, that didn’t get fired until the second round;
  • The fourth piece I made, the one with the canes, whose topography clearly illustrates here the difference in shrinkage rates between the bronze (shrinks more) and copper (shrinks less); and
  • The second piece I started (its wheel-side showing here too), the first one that was fired, but now you can see what it looked like after being repaired and refired.

The “first piece” (leftmost in the above photo) was fired in a different kiln from the other two. The pieces from that load were crash-cooled with water, which makes it a bit easier to just use your finger to rub off some of the black coating. If you want your pieces to have that old, rough, and worn look, that’s clearly the way to go. (Sometimes you can find great colors hidden underneath the black, but that will go away if you start polishing.) But if you want a more clean, sleek, and modern look, it doesn’t matter as much. Regardless of how you cool it, there’s still a lot of polishing to be done.

I include a photo of Michelle kitted up with a safety mask since we didn’t want to be breathing any of the stuff that’s being ground off! Here she’s using sandpaper fitted into a slotted mandrel on a rotary tool. I can’t say whether, at this point, she was grinding off the black crud, or grinding the copper down to the level of the bronze, or smoothing out the copper and bronze to a nice, even finish; though she would definitely be using a different attachment if she were matting that perfect-polish back down to a slight satin effect that is useful in working with a patina to accentuate the different metals.

One thing I can say for sure is that this takes a lot longer than what many people do with silver (dump it in a tumbler and go spend your time doing something else constructive). Even for those of us who hand-finish a lot of our precious metal pieces, this stuff takes a lot of time and effort merely to get it to a state comparable to the starting-point with those.

So that’s a heads-up / reality check (depending on whether you are a shopper or a maker, respectively): even though the “base” or “common” metals may come in less than do the “precious” ones in sheer materials cost, the extra time and attention needed to first “fire” and then to “finish” a piece is going to add a good chunk back to its final price….

Other than that, though, it sure is fun to watch each piece evolve! I think Stephania was the first person to finish her first piece. (If she wasn’t actually the first to finish, she was surely the first classmate I caught wearing her initial creation with an aura of success!)

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Cane Designs and Mokume Gane Effects with Hadar Jacobson

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/06

On the second day of Hadar’s recent workshop in Pittsburgh, we focused on (a) making and using extruded “canes” and (b) creating a sort of “mokume gane” effect (although without using quite the same laminating steps of true mokume gane as practiced by metalsmiths for several centuries and recently adapted for use with polymer clay).

It dawned on me at home after the first day that I had not stopped to take any photos of my pieces at any point in the “clay” state. I didn’t take many the second day either, but I did think to stop and take the one shown at the top (right) of this post. (The little thumbnail-size shot looks much drearier than the piece looked in person! The photo was taken in our classroom with just a bit of daylight through the window on a gray late-March day: clicking on the shot here should open up a new page with a larger and slightly less-dark version.)

The second photo (left) shows the same piece after it has been fired and finished. The six circular “canes” are made of bronze and copper. The whole piece was wrapped in copper. It was then topped with a bail that was made with a bit of “leftover” clay that was a mix of both metals worked together so you can’t distinguish them, yielding a bail that just looks slightly lighter than the rest of the edge.

Although I do like the effects one can get with canes, for some reason it’s never been a technique that held a lot of interest for me as a maker. Thinking about how it’s done can be kind of fun but, even during the time when I was happily exploring polymer clay (before I got hooked by metal clay), I just never felt compelled to make many of them myself. The approach we used for this was interesting (and will be described in Hadar’s next book); I enjoyed making this piece; and I’m sure I’ll try a few more out of curiosity … but I’m still not sure how much of a future this technique will have in my repertoire. Some, yes, but how much remains to be seen.

I did find the next step, however, creating mock mokume gane, to be much more fun and intriguing! Why, I’m not sure. Probably because I want canes to be exact and, done as we did in this workshop, they just never will be. But mokume gane is, by its nature, somewhat unpredictable (not entirely so, but somewhat), so it’s easier for me to “let go” and just see what happens. Plus, I find a certain intrinsic satisfaction in the way it comes out two-sided automatically. Both sides exhibit the effect, even though they are not identical.

I had a small amount of prepared clay left after making the hexagonal donut shape, so I smushed it into a little triangle shape with my fingers and added a bronze wire bail. The wire we had was, I thought, a somewhat small size for the bulkiness of the pieces we were making, so I made it into a double-loop to give this bail a bit more heft.

Oh, and both of these last two pieces shown here were made out of a three-metal combination: copper, bronze, and now also “pearl gray” steel.

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Inlay Projects with Hadar Jacobson

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/04

In Hadar’s recent workshop here in Pittsburgh, the first project we covered involved making an inlay of one metal (clay) into another one. We began by working with copper and bronze.

Long-time readers of this ‘blog may know that I have been quite happy working with Hadar’s various clays individually. I’d read about combining them (e.g., in her book, Mixed Metal Jewelry from Metal Clay) but, right around the time I started to think about actually trying that myself we started talking about bringing her here to teach it. Since I had enough other things to do and try and experiment with, I just figured I’d wait until I could learn how do do it right from the start.

(The decades-of-experience educator in me is always in conflict with the creative spirit in there too. The latter wants to charge ahead, just try things, and see what happens. The former knows that it’s much (much!) harder to unlearn bad habits than to learn how to do anything right from the start. For me, time is often the simplest mediator between those two. There’s just never enough time for everything. If I really want to try something now, well, I go ahead and do that. But, if I have a list full of things to try, and the definite opportunity to learn some of those from an expert not-too-much later on, then I’m fine with using that as one factor in how I order things on the list…)

So, back to the first day in Hadar’s workshop. Inlay. She mixed up some of my copper to use for her demo (on both doing the mixing and starting the inlay). Since I had that already mixed when I went to start, my first trials involved a copper base (conveniently left to dry while I then mixed up the next material for use) with bronze as the inlay.

As I mentioned last time, I made the first piece just as instructed: texture the copper (I used a metal “wheel” shape Hadar had brought); cut out the shape (I used a circle cutter I had brought); let that dry; inlay the bronze, add an “invisible” (from the front) bail to the back; let that all dry; sand it down smooth and patch as needed; then put it onto the tray of pieces to be fired.

As often occurs with this medium, while “waiting for something to happen” (e.g., some bit to dry), I started on a couple more pieces. For the second, I used the same “wheel” shape for my inlay-depression. But I marked the center so that, on the other side, I could position a “gear” shape for a reasonably well aligned (for first attempt, at least) inlay depression on the other side.

And, with just a little copper clay left mixed at that point, I also made one more base piece, an oval shape, also reversible, with different sorts of “branching” textures on each side (that I showed both last time and at the start of this post).

Had I been thinking, I’d’ve made at least one of the others an inlay of copper into bronze. But, first time around, I was just repeating, for practice, without thinking of much more than the one change that I most wanted to make: to produce reversible pieces.

Hadar walked past just as I was turning over the two-sided wheel-gear piece on my drying plate. She stopped, looked at it a moment, and stated, “So, you’re going to be one of those students who has to make the project more difficult.” Well, yes, of course! All those years I spent also teaching teachers about teaching have shown that I’m typical: teachers are often the most “challenging” students! I’m here to learn as much as I can! That’s only the first variant I want to try but, if I’m going to have questions about even just that, I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to ask them here!

The photos with this post show my first three inlay pieces, fully finished. But getting them to that point is enough of a story in itself, I’ll have to tell that in a separate post….

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Hadar Was Here!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/01

It’s time for me to admit the real reason why I’ve put so much effort lately into fiddling with various aspects of working with copper (and a bit with bronze too, though I didn’t take the time to write about that): I wanted to get my brain out of “silver-only” mode in preparation for a workshop with Hadar Jacobson.

I’ve been a fan of her work — in any metal she chooses — since I first discovered her, years ago now. I’d been working on plans for a trip back to the west coast (where I’ve lived, at several different times, in a different location each time) and had been trying to figure out how to work in a study-visit to her studio (in Berkeley, CA) when our local chapter of the PMC Guild (MetalClayWesternPA) started talking with the chapters in Columbus and Cleveland (Ohio) about sharing the costs of bringing her across the country to do a series of workshops here. I have been looking forward to this since last summer and, I’m delighted to say, she certainly lived up to expectations!

Both Columbus and Cleveland opted for two-day sessions, but our members voted to go for thee days and I am sure glad we did! There was just so much information to absorb, and try, and adapt, and think about, and experiment with, and compare notes on, and…..

There were a dozen of us, and four kilns. Each kiln had to be be tested (in a two-step firing process!) before we used it. Then, each piece had to go through a two-phase firing, each phase takes several hours, and everything has to cool down between phases. Oh, and each kiln had to be run on a different electrical circuit! We met in a community center (an old school building, one that’s been around for over a century -> at best one circuit per room) with lots of young children and elderly seniors wandering about. That meant we had to be careful where we located the kilns at different times of the day or night! And that involved moving them around, and being extra-careful with any loads we had to move after just one firing (when the binder has burned off, and each piece is very fragile). Which of course just added to the “adventure” of it all!

In a single firing with precious metal clays (silver and gold), you can tightly pack lots of pieces onto a kiln shelf, and cram several shelves at once into the kiln. With non-precious metals (copper, bronze, and steel), pieces are typically positioned in just a single layer per load, and you need to leave at least half an inch between everything, so you can fire only a very few pieces at one time.

We covered two major techniques (inlay and caning), with a number of variations on each of those. (My first one was done exactly as instructed–design on front and “hidden” bail on the back–and I am happy with it but, for all the rest I reverted to my normal mode of making life more complicated, as shown at the left, by having them fully reversible….) In those three days, I was able to complete half a dozen (6) good-size pieces. I did manage to get all six of them fired during the session, though I had to finish “finishing” four of them afterwards. On the last afternoon, I rushed to begin making ten more small pieces that will eventually be used to make five pairs of earrings. But they were merely started, and need a good bit of pre-finishing, then to be fired and, finally, lots of polishing. I chose to try just a couple specific techniques during the workshop, and to thus reinforce my learning by making several pieces each way, but I look forward to trying the rest on my own in the coming months.

Over the next week or two, I’ll try to write and illustrate a few posts about the workshop, and to show more of the pieces I made in it.

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