Convergent Series

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

Archive for September, 2014

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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