Convergent Series

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

Take a deep breath and “Don’t Panic!”….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/01/16

On the day I’m going to write about, I was already thinking about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when this thing occurred. (I’ll get to the thing in a moment….)

Why THHGTTG? Well, my favorite version remains the original radio plays; and within months I was volunteering with a radio theatre group that was forming at community-radio station WYEP-FM! (Over the decade or so that the group existed, I served as sound man (technical term for that role!), technical director, director, and producer.) When I saw the TV series, there were a few scenes that definitely impressed me, but mostly I thought that my imagination had produced a much richer galaxy than they’d been able to capture on screen (which is a huge part of what I love about audio productions). I went to the movie when it came out (much later, 2005) and I probably would have loved it if I hadn’t already been so spoiled by the earlier versions, but I remember two specific thoughts about that movie:

  • Though it seemed odd to have Simon Jones, who’d played Arthur Dent in both the radio and TV versions, replaced by Martin Freeman, that was still the moment when I realized that MF was an actor I hoped I’d be able to continue watching, and
  • Though it seemed odd to have Stephen Moore, who’d been the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the earlier versions, replaced by another actor, I just melted into my seat when I realized it was Alan Rickman‘s voice I was going to have the opportunity to listen to that evening.

So I was thinking about THHGTTG because I’d been thinking about the various times I’d seen / heard / watched Alan Rickman because this was on the day his death was reported. And when I thought I’d lost a student’s piece, I was already primed to quote from THHGTTG, “Don’t Panic (in friendly orange letters)”!

Lost a piece?! A student’s piece?!! Let me back up from the start. Late last week I got an email from some folks who’d “found me” online, checked my website and saw I wasn’t promoting any classes in the short term, but wrote me anyway. With a friend coming in for the weekend, they’d been hoping to find an introductory metal clay class. I responded that, though I didn’t have an “official” class scheduled, I could free up a couple hours on Sunday afternoon for a “semi-private / custom” lesson on basic techniques. My schedule was tight enough for the day that we wouldn’t have time to make anything elaborate, but there’d definitely be time for a few basic pendant and/or earring pieces: textured on both sides, cut into interesting shapes, embellished a little bit, domed for drying if they wanted, and finished nicely all over. They’d get a feel for working with the clay and, if they wanted, we could cover something more involved later on.

I’m very glad I made the offer: they came on Sunday and were lots of fun to work with! I showed some sample pieces where I’d embellished them with metal clay decorations, but also others where I’d kept the clay-design simple and embellished with beads and wire and such afterwards. It’s always interesting to see different techniques resonating with different people, and that afternoon was no different.

Having fit this into my schedule at the last minute, I said I’d fire and tumble the pieces over the next few days, would have them ready at some point, by the next weekend at the latest, and would send a note as soon as they were ready. So far, so good.

Now, most of the pieces were domed, so my plan was to fire them in a small crucible and provide some support for their shape by nestling them into fine vermiculite. Between all their pieces plus a few I’d made during demonstrations, the bowl was feeling pretty crowded. I wasn’t worried about pieces being so close they’d fuse. But I was a tiny bit concerned that, because having a lot of metal in a close space can help hold heat in that one area, I might have to drop the temperature and/or speed a bit. I could have just poured vermiculite on the shelf to spread things out, but I had a few scraps of fiber blanket, so I took a couple items out of the crucible and placed them on the kiln shelf with a bit of that for support, and it all seemed better.

What I did next is something I learned to do a long time ago: I take a photo of everything on a kiln shelf before I put the shelf into the kiln. I don’t necessarily keep those photos for very long. It’s just that, if I notice anything “odd” when the pieces come out of the kiln, sometimes it’s just useful to be able to go back to the pre-firing photo and double-check what a piece had looked like then.

So I fired them one afternoon, did a quick check once the kiln had cooled a little bit, saw that everything looked fine, and headed off to an evening meeting on another of my activities. I came back the next day, prepared to work on something while the pieces tumbled. In the workshop, I’d talked a bit about the different results I could get if I tossed them with mixed steel shot in my rotary tumbler for a couple of hours versus if I ran them for 20 minutes or so in my magnetic pin finisher. So I was sitting there, lining up the pieces according to which they’d asked to have treated each way, when I realized that one of the smallest hearts was missing.

No panic: I must have just missed taking it out of the bowl. I poured the vermiculite from the crucible into another bowl. No sign of it. Don’t panic! I started looking around my studio. No sign of it. Don’t panic! Because I hadn’t felt like taking time to set up the exhaust system (works fine in the summer; doesn’t have quite a good enough seal for use in cold, wintry weather … another project to finish), I’d just put the kiln on a cart and wheeled it into an unused room to fire the day before. Don’t panic! And I’d moved the pieces around, placing a few with support on the shelf in order that the crucible would have fewer pieces crowded in there, so could I have set it down and just missed putting it back in the kiln? No sign of it in the other room either. Don’t panic! I just kept repeating that to myself. I poured the little bits of vermiculite back and forth yet another time, still no sign of it. Don’t panic!

The missing piece was a tiny domed heart. Had it been something I’d made, I would have not had to repeat that mantra as many times: I would just have made another one and found something else to do with the first one if it ever turned up again. But this was not my piece; it had been made by a student. I could offer her some more clay and a chance to remake it. But the missing piece was one by the out-of-town visitor, and apparently she had been the person who’d been most enthusiastic to learn about metal clay and had encouraged a friend in Pittsburgh to find a class they could take together when she’d be here … and this was one of her very first ever pieces. I do remember how attached I felt to my first piece. I had to find this one.

Take it easy, Carol. Don’t panic! Just sit there and think. You took a photo before putting anything in the kiln. See if it’s in that photo (the one shown above). Yes! It was there. So … where did it go?!!

Hold on a minute. Don’t panic! You did something else, not your usual routine, when you checked the pieces last night. You’d been thinking it would be nice to have a good set of before-and-after photos, to show what “dried clay” looks like going into the kiln and how “just-fired silver” looks more white than silver. You took a photo last night so there really is no reason to panic: just check whether the piece was still there afterwards too.

Do my blog readers ever do those “Identify all the differences between these two images” puzzles? (1) One photo of these pieces was taken in the daytime; the other, after dark; so there is a slight change in the overall color tone besides just what is there in the dried- versus just-fired-clay. (2) In the pre-fire case, the shelf is sitting on my metal-top cart; in the post-fire one, I’d put a double layer of black “welder’s cloth” and “kiln posts” on the cart before setting down the then-still-hot kiln shelf. (3) The shrinkage that goes on with the binder-burnout and sintering=phase is visible, which I think is great! (4) But have you, my readers, found the missing piece yet? Is it there, after firing, or not? If it’s not, where could it have gone?

I’ll let you think about that for a moment. I’ll answer, and continue the story, in the comments section of this post. I’d love to see some of your comments there, too.

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One Response to “Take a deep breath and “Don’t Panic!”….”

  1. C Scheftic said

    Yes! Did you see it?! The little missing heart is there! It can be hard to see unless you click on the second kiln-shelf image to enlarge it. But the little heart that, in the first such image, is the second from the left in the second row is, in the after-firing image, in the same place but mostly hidden under the vermiculite! I’m not sure how or why it ended up down there. One possibility is that, in getting the still very warm shelf out of the kiln the night before, I’d happened to jostle things in exactly the right way to move everything just enough that some of the vermiculate surrounding that little heart moved to cover it. But that photo told me it had been fired in the crucible, which gave me a clue where to look for it.

    Instead of pouring the contents into another container, as I’d been doing before, I plunged my fingers in and carefully pinched small quantities out of the way into another bowl. I kept feeling around, with no luck. Don’t panic! I had well over 90% of the vermiculite into another bowl before I found it. The stuff had just sort of stuck to it and, because it was so small, it didn’t take much to hide the heart. But it was right there, had been the whole time. Hooray! Now I could start tumbling them…

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