Convergent Series

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

Archive for November, 2011

Speaking of metal-colors

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/30

Writing my last post got me thinking about metal-colors, so I thought I’d post a few more pictures.

The first photo, at the right, shows a piece with alternating strips of copper and bronze. (In two places, there’s a mixed-metal layer sandwiched in there too, where I used clay containing small, leftover scraps of copper and bronze kneaded together: can you spot them? Click the photo if you want a larger image.) The piece was polished pretty well although, given the tools I have available, the only way I know to get it super-shiny would have also obliterated the slight waves between the layers, so I made a choice when to stop. I wanted to leave a bit of the natural variations between the alternating strips, and I’m happy with the slight satin finish overall.

After a good polishing, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the different metals. So I then used a product called Baldwin’s Patina to bring back the contrast between the polished metals. The copper should continue to darken, very slowly; the bronze may eventually age a bit too, but that should happen even more gradually.

The second photo, left, shows an all-copper piece I made several weeks later, another one of my “draped metal” designs. Can you tell I’m having fun with these?! It’s especially delightful when I work with Hadar’s copper clay, since that one has a texture that feels almost like silk: soft and luxurious to work with!

The draped portion has a very light, random, texture (from sandpaper). After being fired, it was given a light polishing (with those 3M radial bristle disks I’ve mentioned in some previous posts), and then left to age naturally (much as a copper penny will darken over time). At this point, the shiny ball elements do seem ever so slightly paler than the textured area. Overall, however, the piece has darkened more (more quickly) than has the smoother, patina-treated piece shown above. Go figure….

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Snowy White versus Shiny Silver

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/28

As I was polishing up a few pieces recently, I decided to take a “comparative” photograph that I could save and use when discussing a certain point in some of my workshops. (In my studio, I often have a few examples available, but sometimes I don’t think to pack them up when I teach at other sites…) And, while I was at it, post about it here too, for anyone curious about the topic.

Q: What topic? A: When you work with fine silver metal clay, and fire it (either with a torch or in a kiln), what’s the “white stuff” (or, sometimes even, “glittery white stuff”) you see on the piece?

The answer to that question is: it’s the silver! When the clay is fired, and the binder burns away, and the silver atoms move in closer and re-organize themselves, then they tend to form a crystal structure such that they are all lined up and the light reflects off them in all directions, giving a white appearance. Depending on exactly how they line up as they cool, it may be more of a white-white or a glittery-white, but it’s still white. (I’ve no idea if this is technically accurate but, in the mental model I have of this, I think of it as comparable to how snowflakes form. As in how, under different circumstances, it will end up heavy or fluffy, etc.) Metal artists then use one or more of a range of techniques for burnishing the silver, polishing it, forcing the crystal bits to lie down all in the same direction so the light reflecting off them has that normal, shiny, metallic color. (Other metal clays will produce a similar effect in their all-metal end-product. On a number of occasions already, I’ve posted about the range of colors one sometimes gets when firing copper and, especially, various bronzes. It also happens with gold and steel, though I don’t recall ever stopping to capture that in a photo … yet.)

In the shot near the top of this post, the bottom two pieces remain in that “kiln-white” color, while the top two have been polished to more of a silvery-metallic look. More polishing could get them even shinier, but I thought that was enough for those pieces, at least for the time being.

As for the snowy-white ones, they do have to be polished: That finish is not stable. Anything you do to it (from the lightest rubbing to bumping it and so on) will undo-that “white” look. It won’t necessarily make it all shiny, but it will turn that part so it’s more clearly a silver shade. So the safest thing is to just polish it from the start, to whatever extent seems most appropriate (to both your artistic vision and your technical skills; for example, one could polish the high points to a very shiny state, and leave the more-protected valleys with some of the white look).

I’ve just finished adding a patina to one of the polished pieces with some “liver of sulphur,” so I will close for now with a photo of that.

Posted in Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

And a good time was had by all….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/27

…Or, at least, that’s how it seemed out at the “Preview Party” for the Sweetwater Art Center’s “H*liday mART” last night.

The show runs through Sunday, December 4. Feel free to check Sweetwater’s own website for more details, including the normal show hours and their list of special events (e.g., happy hours, luncheons, and light-up night dinner).

(The “panoramic” photo with this post was a photo-merge of several different shots I took from the upstairs balcony show area. So, um, please excuse the two-headed / three-legged people who were near an edge and decided to move while I was capturing those images.)

Posted in Events | Leave a Comment »

Plan – Execute – Be Surprised…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/26

Another unplanned gap in posting here, sigh. I just did a couple of things that, I’m told, are not what others think of as typical for a grandmother. What can I say? So what if I went to visit the week before Thanksgiving? And spent part of the time helping the younger one with his statistics class? Between my schedule and theirs, my interests and theirs, it sure made sense to me.

For reasons not worth going into, however, on top of that there was also a bit of a problem with ‘net connections. I could get on, but it involved either various contortions (due to short cables instead of my usual wireless set-up) or tiny keyboard (on phone instead) rather than comfortable seating. So I just figured I’d take time to enjoy the people I was with, give thanks for that opportunity, and think about posting again after I got back to my own home. Even though, now, I’m into the crush of holiday-events, I’ll keep trying to find spare moments….

So, given those surprises, let me re-start with something else that surprised me.

Regular readers of this blog will have already seen the piece in the upper right of the first photo with this post (the one, in that photo, with the black cord). It contains a draped-disk of bronze positioned on a square of rose bronze. The other piece in that photo, in the lower left position and not yet hung from anything, includes a draped-disk of bronze positioned on a square of copper that I finished about a month later (just a few days before I headed out of town).

To summarize: both the draped disks are made from (regular) yellow bronze; the backing disks are made of either copper or (special) rose bronze. At first glance, all the colors seemed fairly close to each other: both yellow-bronzes looked the same, and the copper was pretty close in color to the rose bronze. There was just a tiny bit of “aging” visible on the older, all-bronze piece. I liked how both of them had turned out, so they were among the ones I packed up with chains, beads, stringing material, crimps, jump rings, clasps, plus of course a collection of tools, and headed south on my trip to spend time with “the kids.”

A day or so later, I took out the first one, and chose an assortment of items to hang it from. On multi-strand beading wire, I made little segments of some copper- and bronze-colored freshwater pearls, connected them with chain segments, added one of my hand-made bronze toggle clasps (embellished with a little coil of copper), and connected all the bits together. So far, so good.

The next day, I took out another assortment to work on. This time, I used bronze wire to build up little segments of goldstone beads, and connected them with bits of chain (different than I’d used the previous day). There were more events going on that day so, once I had what I thought was a good length of that, I went off to play.

On the third day, I took out the bronze on copper focal bead. I wasn’t particularly surprised that the copper had begun to “age” already, darkening more (much more quickly) than had the rose bronze piece. But I did find three surprises: (1) the yellow bronze on this piece had started to darken with a distinctly green-ish hue; (2) there were bits of copper near the draped dome that (I am guessing) must have alloyed with the bronze in that (to a sort of rose-bronze that had not been immediately apparent) and those areas were not aging as quickly, leaving them a bit lighter; and (3) that this difference (alloying?) was also visible on the flat side of the piece, where a huge “central’ area of the texture was slightly lighter too. Once I recovered from my surprise, I decided I was delighted with these changes. I finished assembling everything: two more pieces done and ready to be given the opportunity to go to new homes themselves.

As soon as I got back, these were among the pieces I delivered to the Sweetwater Art Center for their annual (and delightful) “h*oliday mART” show. If you’re in the area (they are in Sewickley, PA, just down the Ohio River a few miles from its beginning in Pittsburgh), do check it out; it’s one of my favorite local art shows each year. It will run from November 27 through December 4. (Well, actually, it opens with a preview party / fundraiser tonight, and I’ll be there!)

Posted in Learning Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

It’s always something, isn’t it?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/12

Sorry I’ve appeared quiet here lately: It’s busy-season once again. Why do the peaks of show-prep and garden-season always coincide? Both spring and fall! Life is pretty full already, on an ongoing basis, but when the crunch-times hit, well….

Anyway, I’ve been busy, happily-busy but busy nonetheless, building up inventory in advance of the special holiday-sales season. And, as I mentioned in several previous posts, working in non-precious metals seems to ramp up the time-commitments even more, with extra time in clay prep, kiln-tending, post-fire finishing, and such.

Plus, there are always surprises. I was making a number of “focal beads” in a range of combinations of copper and various bronze formulations, and thinking about how I would hang them. So I decided to stock up on a few hand-made bronze toggle clasps while I was at it. Five are shown in the first photo with this post, above.

Basically, that’s what they looked like straight from the kiln. The more-metallic looking one (upper right) was given a quick polish (with one of the 3M radial bristle disks—if you want technical detail, ’twas the yellow one @ 80 grit) just to test whether it had sintered properly. I’ll get around to giving all of them a proper polishing as soon as I can.

But the thing about time and surprises and such is this: one of the five toggle bars I made to accompany those came out with a big crack. (See the lower-left piece in the second photo, which was enlarged a bit to show more detail.) And, of course, it did so in the last batch I’d planned to fire at the moment using the usual “bronze” schedule. (A copper load is ablaze as I write this, but bronze will melt at copper temperatures….)

The crack is mostly aesthetic. That is, there’s enough still holding that I’m not worried about its breaking. It’s just that I have to patch the crack — which will both make it look right and further strengthen it — and then refire the whole thing. Though that’ll mean hours-more of kiln-tending… Might as well sink time into making a few more piece, and fire them at the same time while I’m at it…. That, of course, is part of the “addiction” of working in this medium!

And then I’ll start assembling elements, deciding which clasps I want to go where, and polish and/or patina them as appropriate to where they’ll be going.

The re-fring is not a crisis. It’s just another one of the seemingly infinite “time sinks” this time of year. When I really want to be out in the lovely autumn light, playing in the gorgeous fallen leaves. Will I ever get far-enough ahead to manage something like that?

[Update: I just added the “oops” tag I’d oops-ily omitted from the original post.]

Posted in Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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