Convergent Series

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

Archive for July, 2015

Sili, Sillier, Silliest

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/07/30

Lately it seems that all I’ve managed to post about are shows, not the creative process. I do love shows, parties, festivals, and more. I want people to see my creations, those are great ways to enable that, and talking about those is generally considered to be a way to help in finding an audience for my works.

But I also enjoy sharing information about the processes involved in my artwork so I’m going to try to slip in one of those posts today. I’ll discuss a technique I use at times that I only just realized I haven’t written about here: using a little electronic die-cutting machine on my metal clays.

As far as I know, Wanaree Tanner is the one who got the ball rolling on using these with metal clays, traveling around doing workshops and promoting the use of the Silhouette Cameo several years ago. It seemed to me that the thing she promoted most was using them to create your own elaborate bezels for setting stones. She doesn’t seem to be making such a big deal about the Silhouettes any more (though anyone who follows her work can see where she’s still using hers).

I can appreciate the way she simplifies the making of such bezels with that tool; it’s just not a style I want to emulate all that much myself. Cindy Pope seems to be the person now leading the charge with Silhouettes and metal clays, making layered designs, etching words and patterns along various shapes, and doing all sort of things I find much more up my alley, design-wise. (Cindy was also a great house-mate in CA and then host in OR the last time I went out to the west coast!) The photos with this post will illustrate one of the very simplest applications of these cutters.

Several years ago, I bought a Silhouette Cameo. I used it a few times with metal clays, enjoyed the results, but still found my own designs mostly going in other directions. But I do use that device at home for all sorts of useful little paper-crafting tasks which is really what that machine was designed for.

Of course, not long after I bought my Cameo, Silhouette America came out with a new machine, called a Portrait (more compact than the Cameo), and then a newer version of the Cameo (with a touch screen instead of the buttons that both the Portrait and my older Cameo have)! I guess those are why the one I got was available at a really good price at that moment in time! But that’s fine, because they all use the same software, and attachments, and so on.

The biggest difference is that the Cameo will cut up to a 12″ width, while the Portrait only goes to 8″ across. Your big scrapbooking papers, wide vinyl, etc., are going to be 12″ across, so the Cameo is best if that’s the sort of thing you’re ever going to do. Metal clay folks work with small bits of clay, however, ones that are typically just one or at most just a few inches across, so the Portrait is more than enough if you’re never going to work on big projects. At one point (after several months of really good sales at my end … and another really good-price offer at Silhouette’s), I bought a Portrait. I figured that having two could be useful: it would allow me to have one each at home and in studio and, even better, it’d give me more options when I finally get around to trying to teach a workshop on using the tools. (Whatever I’m doing, I’m still always thinking about teaching it to others!)

My Portrait now sits on the table next to the computer in my studio. I’m still not into making Sili-cuts as my primary design tool but, now and then, such as times when I’m feeling a bit of a creative block with other methods, I’ll sit down at computer, sketch out a few simple designs, and use those to cut out a few pieces. Just making something, getting a feel of accomplishment, will usually get me out of feeling stuck again. (And that’s probably why I don’t post much about those creations — they feel more like little “interim activities” to me and, once I’m over whatever stuck-ness I was feeling, I’m not particularly inclined to write about them … much as I do enjoy the process (in limited amounts) and appreciate the opportunities they provide.)

So there I was one day a few weeks ago, with a brand new tube of “One Fire Brilliant Bronze” clay powder. This was the only one of Hadar’s basic “One Fire” clays I’d not yet tried. I wasn’t feeling stuck or anything, I was just looking for something simple to make to try out this new-to-me clay. I had fought a bit with the older Quick Fire Brilliant Bronze: I did like the bright golden color; my problem was that I kept facing challenges with the “bottom side” of textured, reversible pieces I’d made with it. (And regular readers of this blog will know that textured, reversible pieces make up the majority of my creations!) The thing is, with pieces cut on the Silhouettes, you really want one side of the piece to be flat: that helps it to stick better to the cutting mat! So, I thought, if I’m ever going to try this One Fire Brilliant Bronze, using it for plain-backed Sili-cut pieces seems to be the way to go.

So, I mixed up a batch, took a part of that and added a bit of glycerin (which gives the dried clay a tiny bit of flexibility, which is extremely useful as you’re separating your just-cut pieces from the cutting mat!). Then I rolled out a few small pieces with light- to moderate-depth textures on one side only, and set those aside to dry while I sketched a few sample designs. Not imagining I’d have any reason to write about it, I didn’t stop to take any photos. I loaded the clay pieces onto the cutting mat of my Portrait, and cut away. The cutting was the easy part!

As always with a new-to-me clay, I did NOT fill up the kiln for my first firing. I started small, taking just one pendant and two smaller, matching pieces (an earring-pair) and fired those. Massive fail: bubbles and cracks: overfired by a lot! I took another earring pair, dropped the temperature, and tried again. Overfired again but, OK, not quite as much. Another pair, dropped the temp a good bit more, tried yet again. Still a bit bubbly, meaning they were still overfired. To drop any lower, though, I’d be going well below the recommended temperature for that clay, so I went online and asked Hadar herself for some advice. She said the firing range for that clay was actually rather large, she often fired at a temperature close to where I had ended up. Since I know my kiln does actually fire a bit hotter than where I’ve set it, it only took me two more tries before I got things to work out the way I wanted!

But, while waiting for Hadar to reply, I fell into one of those pits where I couldn’t think of anything else to create. So …. I mixed up some .960 clay, and rolled out a number of small, thin sheets of that with textures on just one side.

Aside: My .960 was made by mixing .999 PMC Flex, which serves the same purpose as the glycerin, and .925 PMC Sterling, which gives more strength to the thin pieces that are at the limit in terms of thickness hat the Silhouette Cameo and Portrait machines can cut. I used .960 instead of straight .925 because its firing is as reliable as the super-easy .999 fine silvers…

To keep things simple (since I was just trying to perk myself up during a brief lull!), I used the same sketches as I had for the bronze, cut out nine (9) silver pendants and six (6) pairs of earrings (shown in the first photo in this post), cleaned them up a little bit as needed, and fired them right away.

When I finally got a Brilliant Bronze piece to fire successfully, I took a photo of it.

I then fired all the remaining Brilliant Bronze pieces I had waiting and, when those came out fine too, I polished everything up and took a photo. Well, this isn’t quite everything: it’s just pendants (not any of the earrings) and only the ones for which I had enough chain! I’ll have to get some more for that, and finish off the rest. But I am feeling a great sense of accomplishment!

A few final notes:

  • Hadar also now has a number of “One Fire Flex” clays (not every color in her range, but many of them). The were designed specifically to be used with electronic die-cutters, like the Silhouettes and other machines on the market. I have purchased a bit of that, but have yet to try any. Since the winter of 2007-08, I’ve been adding glycerin to clays (in varying amounts, and to different clay formulas, depending on the amount of “flex” I want in my dried clay, anywhere from just enough to peel away a cutting mat without breaking to wiggly-enough to tie a knot!) and, while it can be nice to get a little flex without having to do that, it’s now so second-nature to me the need to switch is just not urgent…
  • Silhouette America had at least one model before the Cameo, which I think was called an SD (for Silhouette Design, I would think), and they’re about to come out with yet another newer one, the curio (yes, they use lower case for it). The bed of curio will be even smaller than the Portrait, but it will be able to cut thicker materials, meaning thicker layers (less fragile after firing) of metal clay! (Though the Silhouettes are all at the low end of cutting-force compared to other electronic die-cutters, so the curio will still be limited by that with regard to some other materials.) Still, though I’d love to have that option, I need to sell a lot more pieces before I spring for yet another machine… I don’t see the curio replacing my Cameo but, if I were just starting out now, I’d get it instead of the Portrait. Still, having all three could be useful for workshops next year…?!
  • I’ve fired a few more loads in the two weeks since the adventures reported above and, at the same temperature (even just a tad lower with the last, very-full load); all have turned out fine! I’ve heard / read about some people who say they don’t like Hadar’s clays because they seem so fussy. My personal experience is that each new one does seem to have its own personality, what it’s like to work with and to fire, but once you find its sweet spot, it’s then at least as reliable as any of the others on the market. Regardless of whose clay I’m using, the scientist / engineer in me is fine with starting off slow, observing what happens, building my understanding, and then taking off! The next time I go on a real Sili-binge, with much more elaborate constructions, I’ll try to remember to illustrate those here too, eventually. It really is a fun little tool!

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Arts on the Riverwalk 2015

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/07/18

I’m late in announcing this one, but I’ve got two pieces (a “pillow” pendant and a multi-part “spools and lentils” necklace) in another show up at the Confluence Cafe in New Castle, PA. The show opened back during the Arts on the Riverwalk weekend, July 10, but it will stay up for a while, through September 10, so interested folks around here still have plenty of time to check it out.

New Castle is sort of at the limit of what I think of as my “local” area (and, I’m just at the edge of the region the Hoyt Center for the Arts there considers a “local” artist, so at least we match there!). I wish I lived a bit closer, because The Confluence Cafe is just a nice little space! How can you not love a place that uses their chalkboard, not for menu specials, but instead for thoughts like those in the first photo shown here!?

I’ve got a ton of other things going on right now, so the rest of this post will just contain a few of the better photos I managed to capture of the pieces on display. That is, these are the shots that I thought turned out OK; I was talking with friends as I snapped away, and didn’t realize until I got back and started to post that I’d changed an option on my camera and messed up some of the photos, including the ones of my entries! Clearly, I’m not quite as familiar with that new toy as I’d thought. Oh well, these 16 pieces are less than a third of the 51 total entries, but they’ll give you an idea of how strong the show was. (As usual, clicking should open a new page with a larger version of each image.)

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PSA’S 2015 Artist’s Choice Exhibition

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/07/12

I had a great time last night at the opening of the latest show sponsored by the Pittsburgh Society of Artists.

I was delighted to find my entry, a pendant, in the “jewelry nook” between the two rooms downstairs at the Panza Gallery in Millvale, PA. I displayed it in a frame which led the folks hanging the show to place it on the back wall in that nook, which I thought was a great location. You just might be able to spot the frame way in the back of the first photo here! (If you want to see the actual piece, I offered up a photo of that in my last post.)

Aside: I keep going back and forth over whether to display pendants in a frame or out on a bust form. For art-jewelry shows, specifically, I’ll usually hang a necklace on a bust, assuming other jewelers will do the same and the sponsors will be prepared to handle the security involved in such a display. For art shows, on the other hand, where my piece may be the only piece, or perhaps one of only a very few, small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, well, though I do think of most show attendees as trustworthy, it hardly seems worth the risk to make my entry so easy for even just one nefarious person to pocket. Does that make me paranoid? Maybe. But I know other art jewelers who won’t even enter shows because they’re worried what might happen to their pieces, and I am willing to put my work out there. So, maybe more cautious than paranoid? I admit to being a bit shy personally, but I’ve always enjoyed having my work out there for others to see and consider, and I’m always thrilled to have intelligent conversations about such creations.

Back to the show itself: I’d never been to an opening at this particular gallery before, so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect in terms of number of people, ease of parking, or anything else. But we found an easy parking space just a block away and, even with that the turnout seemed great: these photos were taken well into the evening, after a number of people had already left, which meant I could capture a few shots that showed some of the art as well as people… For local readers I didn’t see last night, maybe you’ll get over to the show between now and July 24. If you do, please be sure to let me know what you thought of it all!

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My First Show as a Member of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/07/03

Somehow, we’ve sped into another month already and on Friday afternoon I dropped of my entry for another Members-Only show, this time for my first opportunity with the Pittsburgh Society of Artists since being juried into that group. Details of the show’s location, dates, and hours are on the “postcard” shown to the right (as usual, click for a larger image where the details should be clearer). I’m so happy to have gotten in this year, and thus find myself able to participate in some of PSA’s 50th Anniversary events. (Though after all my years in community / public radio, I will admit that I still first register the acronym PSA as Public Service Announcement…)

It was fun to see the entries from a number of other PSA members when I dropped off my selection: I got there a little over half-way through the times allotted for that, but I only thought later that I could have asked what proportion of the expected pieces had arrived by then. No matter — I’m still looking forward to seeing the entire show once everything is in place!

For my local readers, please note that the show’s Opening Reception will be on Saturday, July 11, from 6 to 8:30 pm. I’m planning to go, and I sure hope I’ll see some of you there too! Do let me know if I should be on the lookout for you! Or, even better, let me know if you’d like to carpool. (And, if you’ve never been to the Panza Gallery before, let me know that and I’ll share what I know about parking in that area.)

Ahhh but what to enter?! I debated and debated that with myself until almost the last minute. Finally, I went with the idea to let it be one of the pieces that had gotten me into the group in the first place, the one that resulted from my “Combining Inspirations” from several of my favorite artists.

My hesitation about entering that one was whether or not I should hold it back to use as a sample in upcoming workshops. But I’m happy with the approach to making those, and I’ve been further exploring this approach by making a few other variations to show off in class, so I convinced myself that this is the one that should be given the opportunity to be seen live by a wider audience and, hopefully, find appreciation in a new home!

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