Convergent Series

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

Archive for October, 2014

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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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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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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