This post is going to jump into the middle of a story about several different things I’ve been working on: adding a little bit of color to my creations by incorporating some glass (especially dichroic glass) and working with sterling silver metal clays.
Why start in the middle? Well, I really do miss writing about all the explorations I do in my studio. I haven’t been saying much about them lately because we still don’t have reliable internet access in the building … and I used to compose posts as I worked. You can probably imagine that, after a long day of working on explorations (and more), the last thing I want to do is go home and stay up for hours more writing from there. But it’s a gorgeous fall day and I suddenly decided to enjoy it by staying home this morning, sitting out on my back porch with a cup of tea, and writing about a piece I just finished on Friday.
I will provide a bit of background:
The second, or maybe it was the third, piece I ever made using metal clay incorporated a lovely, long, oval, pink glass bead, set with loops of syringe-clay to hold it in place. It was fun to do, but it took me a few more years before I got into adding glass on any sort of regular basis. About six or seven years ago, I went through a phase of using glass fairly often. Then I moved off in other directions, with what remained of my collection of glass pieces sitting in a corner of one of my stash-drawers. I’d acquire another bit of glass every now and then until, a few years later, I made a few more pieces using some of those, and taught it as the final project in a couple of private lessons and multi-session intensive workshops.
Probably the main reason I didn’t keep pushing with glass is because I’d felt limited to using PMC3 or Art Clay 650: those were the only metal clays that could reliably be fired with glass. Now, those are both fine metal clays: I have been quite happy using either one of them. But glass just isn’t happy at the 1650°F (900°C) for two hours that all fine silver clays require for the strongest sintering, even with those formulas. Although they will technically sinter at lower temperatures and shorter times, they still don’t get as dense, and thus won’t get as strong, as they could do at 1650°F for two hours. They do come out perfectly acceptable, and I hope people will treat any piece with glass somewhat gently … but I just like going for the strongest pieces possible.
Still, I do love glass. So this summer I made some more fine silver pieces with dichroic glass cabochons, called them class samples, and included that process in another four-day session I was scheduled to teach at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh. The first photo with this post shows one of the sample pieces I made for that class. While a couple of my samples used the same PMC3 and Art Clay 650 that I’d used in the past (mostly to refresh my memory of how I’d done it) this one and several others used PMC Flex. Flex is similar to PMC3 but it has a slightly longer working time (good for workshop students not yet comfortable enough with metal clays to work really fast) and it remains a bit flexible when dried (which makes it very useful for anyone fashioning the parts that capture and hold the glass). And, though there’s still the problem of not sintering to the maximum density possible, it does sinter reasonably well at temperatures where glass remains happy. So, for fine silver with glass, it seemed a good choice.
After I’d made those samples, on some of the hottest days this summer when I just didn’t feel like going out to work in my garden, I got to thinking about a possible new series of pieces, ones I’ve taken to calling my Urban Flowers. They are flower-like designs, but from my imagination. While they may be based on some actual flower varieties (and may or may not be named for their inspiration), I am not attempting to make biologically-accurate representations. They’re just a city-girl’s dreams. The textures come from urban life: wallpapers, flooring, construction debris, household objects, etc., and they feature glass (or, occasionally, something else that is commonly found in urban environments).
I’d been happily exploring these designs, mostly using PMC Flex, while working on some other styles completely and, for those, using diy-960 clays (i.e., mixing PMC+, PMC3, PMC Flex, and/or Art Clay 650 with PMC Sterling clay).
And then CoolTools released EZ960. OK, I didn’t really need it, as I’d been doing fine with my various diy-960 combos, but why not give it a try? Soon after, both PMC and Art Clay released their own silver-rich sterlings (PMC One-Fire Sterling, a .960 formula, and Art Clay 950, where the number designation has switched from a minimum Celsius firing temperature to a Fine Silver percentage). I got some of each of those and started testing them too. At some point, I hope to find a chance to write about all that testing. For now, though, let’s stick to the Urban Flowers story.
While I do love the color of plain fine silver, I can also appreciate the gain in strength that it gets when a bit of copper is added to produce sterling silver. And, as noted above, I much prefer to produce pieces that are strong. The 950-960 formulas will be stronger than a 999 fine silver; they get you to almost as much strength as you can get in the great 900-925 alloys. Plus, they have the benefit that they are as easy to fire as the 999 clays (i.e., much easier than the 900-925 ones, where having more copper complicates the firing). So, yes, any 960 (diy or commercial product) will be a compromise, but still an excellent choice.
With one exception: the 950-960 clays need temps and times higher than glass can take without just melting.
But, d’oh, why didn’t I think of this before (even with the .999 fine silver clays!)? I work with base metal clays, and I do some pottery, and we’re talking about multiple firings to get many of those to work. So here’s the inspiration I had, and the first (simple) piece I made to test it out….
I made an Urban Flower base out of EZ960: the petals, the stem (if included), the bail on the back … everything but the glass and the bit that holds the glass in place. I fired all of that according to the schedule for 960, to achieve maximum strength. Afterwards, I positioned a glass cab, surrounded that with a .999 fine silver washer shape to contain it, made sure that was well-attached to the already-fired petals, and fired the whole thing again at a schedule that worked for just the “bezel” and the glass. After a bit of tumbling, polishing, and patina, voila! It may not be perfect, but I am really happy with this result! (Though both the silver and the glass are brighter in person than they look in this photo….)
What do you think?
I do still need to figure out a reasonable pricing schedule to accommodate the fact that I’m doing two firings, and that attaching the unfired clay to the fired metal can be a little trickier than attaching two unfired elements. Though that will add a small amount, in the grand scheme of things, it won’t be much. Once I’ve found time to make more to extend the series, and refined the process of doing it this way, I can see how the time works out and apply that even to my initial-trial pieces too. The only real problem with this approach is the way the two firings will affect trying to do this in a class … but it’s just another reason to offer multi-session workshops, rather than the quick one-shot ones, when including easy but still advanced topics.