Convergent Series

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

Archive for the ‘General Techniques’ Category

Another “It’s Always Something, Isn’t It?” Situation

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/10/26

Another gap in blogging, it seems: I guess I could just post text without photos, but somehow my writing-mind goes blank without images. And I’m really short on images at the moment: the little camera I use here for jewelry photos died right after my last post. Given the symptoms, I don’t think it’s a mechanical failure of the basic camera mechanism; this is a little digital camera and it looks to me like something has gone haywire in the digital processing part of the device (some “chip” issue). Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t had time to even figure out where to take / send it to see if it’s something fixable (in an affordable way), or if I’ve been pushed into replacement-land (i.e., expense). Sigh.

I borrowed a camera for a few hours today for something else I had to do (i.e., photos required, deadline firm) and, while I had it, grabbed a few quick shots of new jewelry items. The ones I include with this post show a pendant in Copper and Bronze. One side (bigger image here, right) shows some “cane slices” from fairly near the end of a cane (where the disks of each metal are fairly large). The top one, in fact, had a huge copper center. I could have drilled into that and added some bronze but, I will admit, I took the “easy way out” for a change: I saw that space and said to myself, “If I put this one at the top, I can drill a hanging-hole right through that copper area!” I’m happy with that solution.

I’m OK with the fact that it developed some gaps between the square elements as it was fired. I did spend some time debating with myself whether to fill the gap between the copper and bronze rings in the fourth element down from the top. That also appeared only after the whole piece had been fired, so patching would have required a second firing (and, thus, possibly more gaps elsewhere that might bother me more). The “ridged” area between the third and fourth elements only showed up this clearly after I’d polished the whole thing and applied the patina solution to bring out the contrast between the two metals. I could probably have gotten that out with a file but, afterwards, the whole piece would have needed more polishing and another round of patination. This is a small, relatively simple piece, meant to be a somewhat inexpensive option for someone who likes my work in this technique but doesn’t want (or can’t afford) the larger, more complex ones. Doing either of those “repairs” would have bumped the price up (or forced me to take a loss on that time and energy). I love the look of this technique when it all works perfectly, but I’m torn about how many pieces to make using it because of the time it takes (both just to do it at all, and then to do all the extra “fixing” it so often involves) compared to the prices at which I’ve seen these pieces sell (or, when marked higher, not sell…). Clearly, this is a situation where artistry bumps right up against reality! Does that happen to other people? How do you deal with it?

Of course, this being me, the piece is reversible! The other side (smaller image here, left) has copper in a sort of woven design (that reminds me of some of my mother’s wicker baskets) embellished with three bronze bars. The techniques used on that side are just so much more reliable. I am constantly asking myself, “Should I just stick with this sort of work, overall?” Questions like that come into extra-sharp focus as one addresses the issue of replacing equipment like a jewelry-grade camera. (Trust me: for this, I need a camera with a particularly good “macro” mode, one that not only shoots good close-ups but also captures those colors especially well.)

But I’ll worry about camera later. I have a whole collection of bronze and/or copper pieces made and fired, but somehow not quite finished. Some have not yet received any polishing, let alone any other finishing. Some are polished but need a patina to either accent their textures or contrast the different metals used. Some have made it through all of that, but need to be hung on something. I’m hoping I can borrow camera again to photograph those when they’re done, and then I’ll enter them into inventory and make their sales-tags. I’ve got a week to get all that done (along with my next assignment for the workshop I’m doing with Hadar); then I’ll clear off my worktable, wash all the tools and such, set the space up in its workshop configuration, and turn back to silver for a few weeks.

The next workshop I’ll be teaching will be another silver one: we’ll be making reversible pendants, textured on both sides, and curved into interesting shapes (domed disks, wavy oblongs, free-form curves, etc.). It’s a great project for beginners (first timer through advanced-beginners…), and is scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, November 9. There are still a couple seats open … so do let me know if you’d like to join us!

Advertisements

Posted in General Techniques, Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Two More Hollow Beads

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/31

While I’m still thinking of it, here are a couple other hollow beads I’ve made recently, and the armatures on which I built them.

Well, let me start with the armatures. In the first photo, you can see two oval-dome parts of a graduated, five-part “doming plate” that is sold specifically for use with metal clays. (This one actually belongs to a friend, who won it in an online contest!) Below that is a square, blue, glass “rock” that is sold in the floral-arranging section of a craft store. (That is mine, one of three I found in the back of a drawer in a house I rented for a while. I liked their sea-blue color.)

The first piece shown here, reversible with both sides in the photo to the right, was made with the glass rock. I covered it with a plain layer of bronze clay, let that dry, cut it open to remove the rock, and pasted the two parts back together again. Once that seam had dried, I then covered it with what I thought of as three different “blankets” — each with a different woven texture using a different metal (all from Hadar’s Quick Fire clay powders). The first layer was bronze which, when fired, had a lovely sort of blanket-y color that I left alone. The next layer (the wavy weave) is rose bronze, and the outermost later (a straight weave design) is copper. I did them in that order because I’ve found that copper layered over bronze, with air-filled gaps in between, sometimes alloys into odd colors. The rose bronze serves as a sort of buffer to help avoid that. (And, I just like the color of the rose bronze metal!) Both the rose bronze and copper were polished with radial bristle disks and silicone wheels to bring out their shine.

The second piece shown here, also reversible, with both sides in the image to the left, is all bronze, and was made with the second-largest shape on the doming plate, with some additions. First of all, I cut a flat oval shape just a bit larger than the dome. I let that dry, attached the dome, and dried it yet again. Then I rolled out a thin, textured layer and “draped” that over the other side of the flat oval. I used a straw to prop open a place near the top, to serve as a bail, trimmed the rest to match the oval, and let it dry one more time. After cleaning it up a bit, I fired it. I decided to polish this piece using the same tools as I had on the “blanketed rock” piece.

Although these are both relatively simple pieces, they illustrate one of the things I find so very engaging about working with metal clay: the wide range of creativity it brings out, not just in the designs one ends up making, but also in the range of items one can either find or adapt to use as “tools” to aid in the making. Maybe I can remember to show more of those over the next few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment describing other such items in your “tool” stash!

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hollow Bead Armatures

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/21

I like making hollow beads. I sometimes wonder how much of my fascination with them is because the first piece I ever made using metal clay was a hollow bead, shown to the right, and how much is simply because they can be both fun and interesting to make. I’ll never know the answer to that, but I expect to continue enjoying making them.

In the class where I made that bead, I dried the pieces for each side over a light bulb. The nice thing about light bulbs is that, if you prop them up with the screw-end down, their tops really are nice and round. Why does that matter? Because it means you don’t have to worry about centering, or otherwise specifically positioning, your clay on it to dry. You just move it onto the bulb, carefully press it down to match that curvature, wait for it to dry, and admire the nicely symmetric results.

There are a few minor complications with using a light bulb. Nothing serious, but things to consider. How will you prop the bulb? In that first class, the teacher had two kinds of holders: one was a small paper cup turned upside down with a slot cut into the base and the other were small blobs of polymer clay into which she’d pressed the end of a bulb to form it before curing that clay. (Of those two, I have a small preference for the paper cup approach (as shown here, to the left) simply because, when I’m storing enough of those to use for a class, I can stack the cups so they take up very little space.) Another consideration is that you are then working with (i.e., moving around) a piece of oiled (i.e., slippery) glass, where slippery means easy to drop and break. Can’t you just hear the “voice of experience” there?!

So, what else to use for an armature? A few of the things that I’ve tried (some of which are shown, to the right) include the following:

  • plastic eggs (bottom), but you have to take care to use the “round” end because, with the “more-pointy” end, then you do need to take a lot more care with how you position your clay on it to dry;
  • measuring spoons (top) but, again, you need to take care to get round ones;
  • ping-pong balls (middle row), which I like to cut open so they don’t roll around, and
  • plastic paint palettes (not shown) which, like the other items shown in this colorful collection, are also “open” on the other side, so you can turn them over and position your clay on the inside too, should you want to do so.

Which armature is best? I don’t have any one favorite. So, how to choose which one to use? Me, I think about the size of the piece I want to make, and the amount of curvature I want it to have, and pick whatever happens to match that the best. And sometimes, yes, I do return to the old light-bulb trick, as I did with a piece I made recently out of Hadar’s Quick Fire Bronze clay. This piece was not going to be round (like my first-ever piece); I wanted this one to have more of a “trapezoidal” shape (i.e., a rectangle with only two parallel sides). This piece would be fairly large but, because of its non-round shape (meaning it would end up having four “side” or “edge” areas that I would then have to fill), I did not want it to have a lot of curvature. Instead of a “standard” incandescent bulb (as used with that first-ever piece), this time I used a larger round “vanity” bulb. With those, instead of turning a cup upside-down to hold the bulb, I’ve found that they fit nicely inside a large cup. So that’s how I positioned my two “trapezoid” pieces for drying. Since this was the last piece I started one day, I just positioned them over the bulb, made sure all the edges were tucked down smoothly, and left them to dry over night. As I was packing up my camera, for no obvious reason I decided to snap a quick photo of them before I left.

The next morning, I was surprised (which, in fact, surprised me even more: I was surprised at my surprise….) to find that, once dry, they had released themselves from the bulb, and slid down to the side, where they were caught by the cup holding the bulb! Whew! I would have been very disappointed if the dry pieces had fallen from a noticeable height onto the tabletop and, perhaps, even then bounced down to the floor (as could have happened if I’d stuck them into an overturned cup) and, quite possibly in their “dry clay” state, cracked or even broken apart from the fall. (Yes, I know how to patch them should that happen, but it takes time and effort that I’d rather just avoid. And pointing that out to you, dear readers, is the whole reason I decided to write this particular post!)

Since I mentioned the “edges” this piece would have, this next photo (left) shows the opening along the “top” of the piece after I’d attached the two main elements. (I hesitate to call them the front and the back because, like most of my work, this piece is fully reversible: it has two different fronts!) I’ve got it standing on quadrille paper (with 1/4 inch squares) to help give you a sense of its size. Once I had covered each of the four edges (the openings that I’d wanted to keep to a relatively small size by using an armature with a relatively shallow curvature), I inserted a bronze “embeddable” bail in the top and fired the piece.

And I was delighted with the result. My original plan had been to finish this piece to a high shine but, given the colors the kiln decided to give it that day, for now at least I’m leaving it like this. Yes, I know, the colors are somewhat ephemeral. I’m experimenting with a new acrylic coating to see if / how it may help to preserve such colors. So this piece won’t officially be going up for sale right away, until I can see how it holds up. You may, instead, see me wearing it as part of the testing process. (Which I find to be another part of the “fun” of making pieces like this.) But, what do you think: if the colors do hold up, should I leave it like this, or remove the coating and polish it until it shines?

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

How long did it take you to learn how to do this?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/05/30

So far, I have not made many pieces out of steel. I have used bit of steel as small accents, but only a few times as the main element in my work.

But, over the last few weeks, a number of us who work with and teach about Hadar’s Clays have been doing some explorations with the “Low Shrinkage Steel XT” product. Shown is a photo of a dozen pieces, which are about half of the ones I made during this exercise. While most of them turned out pretty much as I would have expected, there were a few surprises that I’m still trying to understand. I will likely have to make a few more pieces like the surprise-ones (when I find some more time to just explore), to see if the pattern repeats or if the surprises were nothing more than the occasional surprise.

Specifically, we’ve been looking at shrinkage. All metal clays shrink from when you first shape a piece in that medium to when it ends up as fully-sintered metal. Different products shrink different amounts. Some shrink more as they dry (go from wet clay to what we call greenware); others shrink more as they are fired (as the binder burns out and the atoms sinter (arrange themselves into a regular metal structure)).

Even working with just one product, different pieces will shrink different amounts in different directions. This leads to some interesting results, such as the fact that rings (usually) shrink smaller (though how much depends on the size and shape of the ring), the clay around cracks (usually) shrinks away from the opening (thus making it look larger after it’s been fired), and holes (usually) remain about the same size (depending on how big and what shape they are in relation to the clay around them).

With my background in mathematics and statistics, I tend to think of shrinkage as a “degrees of freedom” issue: if a clay wants to shrink a certain percentage and, for some reason, it can’t shrink that much in one direction, it compensates by shrinking more in the direction where it has more freedom to shrink. Except, it’s nowhere near as exact as that might make it sound…. It may vary from one time to the next. It may also vary from one artist to the next.

Why? Is it the amount of water in the clay? The humidity in the air? The altitude at which you work? The attitude with which you work? Phase of the moon? I could go on, but I think you get the idea: some variations are fairly clear while, for others, your guess is as good as mine! (Feel free to suggest additional ideas in the comments: I could use both solid suggestions and a few good laughs!)

But I write all this simply because I wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoy exploring this entire “powder metallurgy” process: trying slight variations that go increasingly farther away from an original starting point just to see what happens. That is, in relation to the question in the title of this post (which I’ve been asked more times than I care to count) my answer is this: I hope to continue to learn as long as possible. I want to keep adding more information to my store of knowledge but, at the same time, I hope I’m never done learning!

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pre-firing Hadar’s Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/04/14

A Bit of Background (skip to next section if you already know the science behind metal clay firing):

Stainless Steel Bowl with
base metal greenware
(yellow bronze and
burnished brilliant bronze).

The firing of fine silver metal clays is easy! Design, construction, and finishing are each more complex than the firing itself. Yes, firing does involve some details but, once you’ve sorted out placement, position, temperature, and time, you may just turn on the kiln and go do something else while the binder burns out, the metal particles sinter, and the load finishes.

Metal clay artists working with other metals, however, know that the firing process for those is much more complex. The difference is that precious metals don’t react with oxygen when they’re heated, but non-precious metals do react. This may cause undesirable color changes (such as firescale from the copper in sterling silver). Even worse, though, these reactions can change and damage the actual structure of the solid metal even if you’re working it at temperatures lower than where they’d melt. (This is not specific to metal clay: you can destroy other metal forms the same way.) Could you just restrict the amount of oxygen during the sintering process? Not exactly! Because the “clay” in metal clay involves binders, you first have to burn off all the binder before the metal particles can sinter. And, to burn off the binder, you need oxygen. In short: at first, you do need oxygen and then, later on, you don’t want to have it.

So each “base metal” clay product provides its own instructions for firing. These offer their approach for how to (a) allow enough oxygen to burn off the binder, while (b) still allowing the metal to sinter successfully. If you understand that as the goal, and like to play around, you can try various ways to make it happen regardless of what any particular manufacturer recommends.

(A couple of years ago I wrote a series of ten posts about my experiences firing Art Clay Copper according to their instructions. In the end, I decided that I was going to abandon Art Clay’s all-open-air approach, and stick to one of the strategies that restrict oxygen during sintering even for that product.)

Now, to the Point of this Post:

For many years, in the instruction manual provided on her blog, Hadar Jacobson recommended a two-phase firing schedule for her clays (which also required a cooling phase in between). It took a long time to complete a full firing cycle (basically an entire work day), but it worked. The length of the firing process did somewhat limit the number of production runs a metal clay artist could complete, depending on how many kilns you had available, but it was even more limiting in relation to most class and workshop settings.

At some point in the last year or so, Hadar started talking about a different approach. This one used something she called pre-firing (a relatively short (half-hour-ish) firing on top of carbon to burn off the binder) followed by one full-scale firing (where you then cover the pieces with carbon and fire for a couple hours to sinter the metal). Best of all, there was no need to wait between the two! Once pre-firing was done, you could proceed straight to the final firing. That pretty much cuts in half the time required to fire a complete load.

Hadar offered two suggestions for doing this pre-firing. In each, you place the pieces on top of a layer of carbon inside an appropriate firing vessel. Then you burn off their binder either:

  • on the top of a gas stove burner, or
  • inside a kiln.
No Flake Foil Box with
six pieces of
base metal greenware &
one repair to re-fire.

Regardless of which device you chose to use, you would then cover the pieces with carbon and follow up with a firing that was pretty much the same as her old phase-2 process.

I tried it both ways and, suddenly, I began having all sorts of problems. Yes, they were ones I had seen before, but then only rarely, and they had provided enough clues for me to quickly diagnose any problems and fix them. Now, however, I was not finding ways to fix things. And, hey, the old method might have been long, but it worked for me. So I kept on using it.

But with the latest version of her Instruction Manual, Hadar has stopped even mentioning the old way. And pretty much everyone in the group of teachers going for accreditation in her program seemed to have shifted over. So, sigh, I’ve spent the last few weeks simply trying to figure out open-air pre-firing for myself.

I have not yet mastered the in-kiln method, but it seems I’m not the only one having some trouble with that one. The problem there is that, sometimes, part of the binder on the “down” side of pieces does not burn out, so the metal then cannot sinter. This may stem from the fact that, with no heat coming up from the bottom, the carbon is insulating that area too well. Heat will reach that side of each piece, eventually, once the carbon itself gets hot enough, but that may risk leaving top-sides exposed to oxygen for too long. Another approach, trying to solve that by turning the pieces over during the pre-firing, means handling very hot pieces in their most fragile state, de-bindered but un-sintered. No, thank you! Some people seem satisfied to solve this dilemma by simply firing their pieces twice, once with each side up; but if it takes that much to get them to sinter I figure I might as well just stick with the older method.

Stainless Steel Bowl with
de-bindered base metals.
(Re-fired piece is the one not black.)

But I think I am finally getting the hang of the stove-top method!!! The problems I’d been having were that my pieces were curling and/or cracking, which I knew meant they were getting too hot too fast. Hadar kept talking about turning the heat down if you saw the pieces on fire, but I never saw any flames. She talked about turning the heat down once you saw binder-smoke starting to appear, and I was taking a lot of care to do that immediately. She and the other instructors talked about how long their pre-firings took, and mine were well within those limits. After multiple attempts, I finally figured out that I really did have to heat the pieces on a very, very low flame. Maybe it’s just my stove, but I’m down to a mere fraction of the flame I’d use simply to boil water. Curiously, doing it this way does not seem to take much longer over-all than what I’d been doing before: it takes a bit longer before I see any binder burning off, but the pieces blacken completely rather quickly.

Another problem I’d had was that sometimes one or even a few pieces would not seem to burn off their binder. But I’m getting better at moving the container around over the flame, when that does happens, which seems to solve that.

I am still having the occasional failure (i.e., a bit more often than the old way), but I’m clearly making progress here. All seven butterflies in my last mid-fire load, for example, turned out fine.

Seven Butterflies
with two polished
to confirm sintering.

But, there’s something else to consider. In addition to the time that is “lost” to the occasional failure, one also has to actively watch the entire pre-firing process. You can’t do anything else useful. Well, maybe you can; but I sure can’t. It happens too quickly to catch a brief nap (yeah, I’ve been known on occasion to sleep through an entire silver-load); and it takes too much attention to spend time doing fine-finishing on pieces from the last load (which is what I usually try to do during firings). With silver pieces, I never really counted any “firing” time into their cost because I could accomplish other things while that was happening; with these pieces, however, now I do have to factor that into the price I charge for them. (I’d have that same dilemma with the in-kiln pre-fire method.) So I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about all this, but at least I have that feeling of accomplishment over approaching mastery of what currently seems to be the most popular method for pre-firing Hadar’s clays.

Seven Butterflies with
preliminary polishing complete.

By the way, even though I really am kind of swamped with to-dos, I finally figured out a way to add captions to photos that would work with this blog! It was easy, once I spent a bit of time on the task. I mention it, however, because there are some other metal clay hints buried in those notes; I’m really hoping to find time to write more about other aspects of firing in the coming weeks….

Oh, and all the pollinator-pieces used as illustrations here will be available at the Western PA Garden Marketplace on April 20. It’s not an art-event: the emphasis is on gardens and landscaping. My being there is just a little “bonus” treat, on top of all the plants and garden supplies. But if you’re reading this from the western PA area, it’d be great if you were to stop by and say “Hello!” on Saturday.

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Bits & Pieces

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/23

I’ve been meaning to write for a while about several questions that often come up in workshops, especially with beginners when each person is allocated a package of clay and then finds they don’t use all of it: why did you give me more than I need and how do I save it for later use?

I see the answers to these questions as being connected, but let’s start with the first one: for many “projects” it is just worth having a bit extra as you roll it out, so you’re sure to get a big enough area to cut out the shape you want. While this remains true no matter how experienced you become, it is especially important for beginners who are just learning the various ways to manipulate clay.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated. Silver clays come in a well-sealed package, and can remain in great condition for a rather long time inside that. The trick is that, once the package has been opened, all sorts of things can happen. At a minimum, the clay dries out. If that happens, it can be rehydrated: ways to add water to get it back to working consistency is something I’ll try to remember to write about at some point in the future (even though it’s not something I encounter myself on a regular basis any more…). If you’re going to use the remaining clay again fairly soon, you can just try to keep it moist. There are all sorts of products you can buy, or build yourself, to create a little humidified storage environment. The problem with doing that for any length of time (and something that the product vendors rarely address) is that your clay can easily become contaminated with mold. Now, you can add something to the environment (not to the clay itself, but simply inside your storage box) that can help retard mold growth. White vinegar or lavender oil are examples of some mold retardants. And, even if your clay does acquire a bit of visible mold, it’s not a crisis. At that point, your options are to scrape off the mold or to just work with it. (You do have to take care with the latter because the extra “space” taken up by the growing mold may create spaces in your fired piece that may influence its look and/or interfere with its strength.) But, in my experience, there’s a much better solution: don’t even try to store it!

That is, my general answer to both of the original questions is this: why not see if you can just use up any remaining clay in some creative and productive way?! Add to your current piece, or make something else.

One of the earliest “lentil” shape beads I ever made is shown in an old photo here, to the left, strung with some Russian jasper and green glass beads. (It’s also one of the pieces that led me down the path of making reversible pendants!) Its other / first side had a more elaborate design; what at the time I thought of as the “back” had the simple, low-relief, fleur-de-lis pattern shown here. After decorating the first side, I had a bit of clay left. I rolled it all out, just two cards thick, which got it big enough that I could cut out a small square. I put that on the same drying form I’d used for the lentil (so it would have the same curvature) and cut a circle out of the center of that. With the clay left over from trimming the square and cutting the circle, I made a number of little balls and let those dry too. Then, I moistened the center of the fleur-de-lis side and the underside of the open square, and stuck those two pieces together. Once those seemed secure, I added more water inside the open circle, and pressed the little balls into place. Having the circle around the outside of the balls gave me a way to make sure I could attach all of them securely, to that ring and to each other, rather than trying to count on a small point of connection on the bottom of each ball. And, suddenly, after investing only a few more minutes and a tiny bit of “left-over” clay, the piece became reversible, which sure seems like a good deal to me!

Of course, if you have more clay left over, you can always make something else with it. All of the elements in the silver and bronze earrings shown in the smaller image to the right were made when I had some larger leftover bits. After completing other pieces I’ve often used any remaining clay to make little patterned disks, or cut out little textured designs, and just set them aside to dry. When I’m firing up a load in my kiln, if I have a bit of extra room, I pop them in. When I have a few spare minutes–with metal clay, one always seems to have moments of waiting for something else to happen … to dry, to rehydrate, to finish firing or cool off, for example–I will go through these bits and pieces, and assemble them into something interesting. Their small size, of course, means they often (but not always) become elements in earrings.

Sometimes I’ll add other elements to such “bits and pieces” too. The orange-and-silver earrings shown at the very top of this post were done that way. When I fell in love with the little colored lucite flowers, I bought a small collection of them to use both for my own creations and during workshops. For several months, whenever I’d have a little bit of clay left over, I’d make a little flower disk or leaf of some sort. I kept track, so that I’d end up with matching pairs, but I didn’t worry about completing any particular number at once. I just used up what I could for some larger shapes, made smaller ones when I had less clay left, and made other small elements or even just tiny balls with the very end of the clay I had on hand.

In fact, for silver pieces that I intend to fire first and figure out how to use later, those I make flat. Then, when I do decide where I want to use them, if they need some shaping for that particular purpose, I can use the “traditional metalsmithing” technique of dapping the fired pieces to shape them as needed. That’s what happened to the little flowers I set on top of the blue-and-white glass beads shown with the earrings in the final photo here. In fact, though I made those flowers specifically to use with these beads, I could not have domed them to match their shape in the “dry” state because I punched them out of a little bit of extra / scrap clay that I had mixed up so it would remain flexible as greenware. I had finished the project I wanted to make with that clay and had some left then too. Since I knew that “flex greenware” clay that has been rolled out is great for using with paper punches, I used some of my leftover clay to make a small sheet for punching. I then made these flowers but they had to be fired flat … since they were too flexible to hold any other shape. (I also rolled the final bits of that flex-clay into long “snake” shapes that would remain flexible and could be used to embellish other pieces later on.)

I will note that, while fired silver and copper clays can be dapped after they’ve been fired to metal itself, the various bronze clays that I enjoy working with cannot be formed much (if at all) after firing. That’s just the nature of bronze, not simply the fact that it came from metal clay.

I do sometimes wonder how much this is something I do, myself, verus what other metal clay artists do with their leftover bits of clay. I know that a number of you do read this blog (without commenting) but I sure hope you will speak up now: Do you do this too? Or what?? And, why?

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Some Thoughts on Finishing: Strength!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/10/08

One more comment, now that I’ve started down this route. And then I really have to get back to other things….

I have heard people say that they tumble their pieces to work-harden them. Personally, I don’t believe it works quite like that. And it’s not just a theory; it is based on at least one example (well, one series of examples) from my own personal experience.

When I got my first rotary tumbler (the one with the smelly barrel that I hated, which I mentioned two posts back), part of the reason I did so was because I’d heard people talking about work-hardening via tumbling. And I’d seen how mixed stainless steel shot did appear to bang on pieces as they tumbled, so it seemed to make sense. Since I’d started playing around with making rings, I wanted them to be as strong as possible.

Especially because I wanted to make a few adjustable / by-pass / wrap-around rings: the kind that do not have what I think of as the “extra strength of internal connectedness.” (If there is some official technical term for that, I’d appreciate learning what it is! What I’m referring to is how much harder it is to bend the band of a continuous ring, compared to that of an adjustable one.)

And, yes, I do understand that fine silver will never “work harden” to the extent that sterling silver will. (But it does get harder with working than it is after being annealed, and heat anneals it, and firing uses heat, and hammering will un-anneal it even if it does not get it quite as “hard” as work-hardened sterling.)

So there I was, working with fine silver metal clay, and I was willing to make thicker bands to help compensate for its softness; I simply wanted my rings to be as strong as I could make them. And I’m here to tell you that, in teaching myself to make them, I found out that tumbling does NOT yield full strength. If you think it does, you are wrong! I’m not saying it has no effect in that regard: tumbling is better than doing nothing. Yes, in the past few posts I’ve said that the shot does bang on pieces as they’re tumbled, but perhaps I should have used the word peck instead. Thousands, even millions, of little pecks does not equal a handful of good hammered whacks! Those pecks do appear to add a little bit of strength [later clarification: but just to the surface, not the whole way through the piece] which may be enough for earring elements that are not going to take much of a beating while worn. I have not found it to yield the strength needed for things that will get knocked around, such as rings, bracelets, cuff links, etc.

I know that some people will tell you that tumbling is adequate. But you can verify my statements by doing something very much like what I did: Just make yourself a pair of wrap-around rings. (They are the easiest project to use for this test. If you don’t know how to make them, there are sample projects online. Here is a very simple one that is actually pretty good, except for the line that then suggests tumbling to work harden the final results, sigh.) Your two rings need not be identical in design. (I’d suggest making them at least slightly different so you can clearly tell them apart!) But, for this test to be meaningful, they should be very close in size and thickness. Fire them to the maximum (2 hours at 1650 degrees Fahrenheit). You can curve them in the moist clay state and dry them in that shape, but it’s probably better if you fire them flat and carefully curve them after firing: bending a fired-flat piece into shape can be another very useful step in the work-hardening process! (I’d guess that’s the reason Nettie’s project, linked above, has you do that.) But if you are more comfortable shaping them in the moist-clay state, that’s OK; just make both of them the same way so that doesn’t add an extra “effect” to your test.

After your rings have been fired, you should shape or adjust them, as needed, to get a good fit. Tumble one for as long as you think is necessary. Then, take a hammer and a bench block and really work-harden the other one. Or, if you prefer, you can tumble both and then just hammer-harden one of them. (If you don’t know how to do that, either find a local metalsmith who can teach you, or let me know and I can make some suggestions. You really have to know what work hardening means for this test to be valid; but as you keep working on the piece, you should figure it out!)

Finally, with your bare hands, try to open or twist each of them. If you work hardened one correctly, you will feel the difference immediately!

(Full disclosure here: it did take me several tries to really grasp how to do this. At first, I was way too gentle with my attempts to hammer-harden my by-pass rings. But I kept thinking that they were just too soft: no way I’d sell them like that, I didn’t even want to risk wearing them myself. But I also wanted to keep the lovely metal-clay-style texture on my rings. So it took some experimenting with different hammers and mallets, steel blocks with and without some protection (e.g., a bit of leather), and more, even including some consulting with a local metalsmith (and author, Jan Loney) before I really grasped all this. A well-hardened ring will still be “adjustable” but it will become noticeably, ummm, harder to do so.)

For that matter, if you want to take this experiment to the next level, make one pair out of fine silver metal clay and a second pair out of the sterling form, fire each pair as recommended for its type, and do the same test with each pair. The kind of knowledge you can get from such an experiment will go a long way to building your understanding of the metals involved.

And you’ll get a nice collection of rings in the process: to wear yourself, to give as special gifts, or even to sell to help recover the cost of the clay used in this learning episode! (Be sure that any test-rings you pass on to others have really been work-hardened as much as possible…)

Happy claying to all!
-cs

p.s. I learned that lesson early on in my explorations with metal clay, when only the fine silver clays were available, though I did play around with annealing and hardening bits of both copper and sterling silver to get a feel for what was going on. All those results had such a physical feel to them, ones I had no idea how to capture in a photo so I did not even try. But I will close with a photo of a more recent ring; it’s about a year and a half old now. This one does have a connected, continuous band but, because all the flower-petal layers spin around the post holding the ruby, it still posed some particularly interesting challenges in my quest to find effective ways to work harden each and every the element of all my creations….

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Some Thoughts on Finishing: Design Considerations!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/10/07

Continuing thoughts from yesterday’s post, where I said I was prompted to write some notes by recent comments about tumbling on the Metal Clay group on Yahoo, here I am going to try to make a few points about the intersection between design and finishing that I’ll illustrate with some photos of pieces I was making as I was coming to grips with some of these concepts myself. I apologize for the quality of some of the photos; while the last one was taken recently, the first five were all taken years before I even thought about starting this blog.

The lentil bead, shown to the right, is the very first piece I ever made using metal clay techniques! At that point, I was focused mostly on the mechanics of construction. While not ignored completely, design was really low on my priority list. I just wanted to make something that worked. This one was tumbled by my first instructor in her rotary tumbler with stainless steel shot. I was perfectly happy with its all-over shine. Well, to be honest, I was utterly thrilled to have made something that could appear that evenly shiny! I did add a slight liver of sulphur (LOS) patina to help emphasize the textured design.

After that, I went on to try making more pieces myself. In general, they had an overall texture of some sort or another, with embellishments or impressions or openings added to that. I tried constructing a variety of shapes. Eventually, I decided to try making a small “pillow” shaped bead, and my first attempt at that is shown in the pair of photos to the left. The top image shows the piece, with its just-fired look straight from the kiln. By the time I tried this, a friend had found a small kids rock tumbler that we’d appropriated for use with tiny fine-silver loads.

Now, the thing about this pillow bead is that, although there is a bit of a textured design on it, much of its surface is just plain smooth. And shot polishes up a piece by banging on it. The bangs are very slight (I’ll say more about this in my next post, on work hardening) and, while the results of those bangs really are not very obvious in highly textured areas of metal, they seem much more obvious on a large smooth surface. I don’t know: could this be why some people report tumbling their silver for 24 hours or more?! The instructions for the rotary tumbler I now have (see my last post, towards the bottom) say that loads should be done in two hours. Back when I was trying to polish this piece, I think I probably ended up running it for 3 hours or a bit more (checking its progress periodically) and it did get better with more time. But, at that point, I decided it had been beaten up enough. Though there is nothing terribly wrong with the results (click on the photo to get a bigger version that may (or, sigh, may not) make this clearer), it just does not look quite as even as I had gone to great pains to make it. And the unevenness did not jump out at me when it was in the kiln-white stage that I so happily noted (with some white-balance error on the camera…) before I tried to tumble it.

All of which taught me that, while tumbling can be great for some surfaces, it’s not necessarily great for every surface.

So, when I fired the next pillow bead I tried, I did not just plop it into a tumbler. I simply checked that it looked OK out of the kiln, and carefully set it aside. In a couple months, I’d be going to a PMC Guild conference, and I was signed up to take a pre-conference class. I decided I’d take this piece with me, and ask the instructor for suggestions on how to finish it.

Lo and behold, for the class she had a magnetic pin polisher for us to use! When I told her what I was hoping to be able to achieve for this piece, she suggested that tool immediately.

Here’s the thing: with a rotary tumbler, you put pieces in and then check on them periodically. After a couple of hours, in general, they appear done. Until they are done, they are simply not-done. It’s hard to describe, but easy to see. I think that what I’m seeing is that the shot keeps banging on the piece until it’s all evenly shiny; when it’s not done, it’s just not yet even. But with the magnetic pin polisher, pieces go through states. It goes from kiln-white to gray to brushed/satin to reasonably smooth to shiny. Oh, and it does that quickly: 10 to 15 minutes usually gets a piece through the entire cycle! You can just take a piece out whenever it’s reached the stage you like. You can leave it like that, or move on to hand tools (e.g., a flexshaft) to further finish select areas. The creative possibilities are thus multiplied!

So, for my second pillow piece (shown, right, both sides), I took the piece out when it had reached a nicely polished but still somewhat satin-y stage. I then applied a patina with Liver of Sulphur: I didn’t really care what specific color I’d achieve (knowing that would change over time anyways), but what I did want was to “help the design to pop” from the contrast. On the bamboo side, I just wiped the patina off the high points with a Sunshine cloth, which pretty much preserved the satin finish overall. That was my goal: to give it a look that corresponded to my memory of misty mountainside bamboo gardens from when I’d visited China (in the late 1980s). On the birdcage side, I attacked the high / smooth areas with a Pro Polish pad, which did result in a slightly more polished, shinier, finish while leaving a rougher surface in the hollows. That kind of variation is exactly what I wanted.

I think that sort of variation is reasonably visible in that pillow-piece photo. I’m not so sure it’s as clear in the lentil bead shown next, to the left, but I’ll still try to describe what I see in it. At that point, I had moved on to exploring the construction of hollow beads with openings in them, varying the size and location of those. Some pieces had little gems inside, others had little textured embellishments. This one simply had a nice, smooth disk. (‘Twas a fluke that resulted from the design I’d pressed into the other side, but I decided I liked it.) What I then wanted was for the inside to end up with a satin sort of look. If I’d put it into a rotary tumbler, first of all, that central disk would have ended up all very shiny but, beyond that, I could not be sure that the shot would be able to polish all the way to the edges inside and that difference might be visible through an opening that large. Again, this is a case where the magnetic pin polisher came to my rescue on the design side! I put the piece in it for (I did not keep notes but assume it was about) 8 to 10 minutes. Once I’d taken it out and rinsed it off, I continued to polish the high points on the outside by hand, using a stainless steel burnisher of some sort (it’s been a while now: I think I was still using stainless steel cutlery at that point, though I may have gotten my first actual burnisher by then).

Similarly, with my biggest-ever pillow bead, with one side shown to the right, I did not want all of it all shiny either. I’ve seen a number of pieces made by others using this same texture, and what I wanted for it involved having more contrast between the peaks and the valleys. Magnetic pin polisher to the rescue again! The whole piece was finished to a brushed look, then I went after the peaks and edges with a burnisher.

I know I had my first stainless steel one by the time I made this piece, because I do remember using that burnisher for setting the moonstone. Since I’m admitting all sorts of things here, I will also say that’s only the second stone I ever bezel-set. It was, in fact, almost my first. Until I had the thought that maybe, just maybe, I should try it first on a smaller piece. This “pillow” had been an experiment to see how big of a hollow piece I could make and have it not slump. This one did give ever such a tiny bit in the firing, but it did so in such a way that it really went “with the flow” and looks intentional. Whew! This was back before prices, of silver itself let alone the manufacturing mark-ups, started creeping up. Even then, risking something well over an ounce of silver on an experiment was an adventure! But (true to form, I guess), I digress, so….

Let me close with a more recent piece that is another example of how I see finishing and design to interact on so many levels. In the case of this bronze piece, left, the mini magnetic pin polisher would not have been a good option: its pins are so tiny, they’d have worked their way into the design in ways that would have been impossible to remove. But, even more than that, I just loved the coloration that the kiln-gods chose to give this piece on the flat side, the one with the butterfly. Though I don’t often try to preserve colors in my metal pieces, this was one where I really did think that was worth trying. Problem was, the kiln-color on the other side was sort of yucky. It really was calling out to be shined up. But, if I’d put it in my rotary tumbler, that would have affected the butterfly-side too, removing all the kiln-colors and leaving it just shiny-yellow. There’s no way I wanted that! So I took out my rotary tool and started working my way through various attachments on the curved side. This being bronze, I know I started with some radial bristle disks (yellow, red, blue). Since I hadn’t planned to write about that process (I put far more thought into the color on the other side!) I didn’t keep notes but I also know I didn’t do anything special. Which means that, after the radial bristles, I gave it another quick hit with either a silicone or a rubber polishing wheel (most likely, whichever happened to be closest to my hand at that moment or else, since this is a recent piece, I’d be more likely to remember).

But the reason I wanted to end this post with that piece, in particular, is because the thread in the group that started all this was from someone asking about tumbling her bronze because she was not getting the results she wanted from the burnishing technique she’d been using. I’ve not seen any of her results, so I’ve no clue whether or not she’d consider this acceptable or not. All I know is how happy I was with this particular result, myself, achieved without using any sort of tumbler.

There’s one more issue I’d like to address about tumbling. But I’m out of time now. That one will have to wait for tomorrow….

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Some Thoughts on Finishing: Equipment!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/10/06

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the big (i.e., international) Metal Clay group on Yahoo about tumbling and other methods of finishing pieces. I’ve just been waaay to busy the past week or two to comment on individual posts. With a few minutes right now (curiously enough, because I finished a couple other tasks early while I tumble pieces for students from a recent workshop!) I thought maybe I’d start on some posts with a few of my thoughts on two aspects of this issue: (a) deciding how I will polish (and otherwise finish) a piece and (b) what equipment I do and do not use.

Now, in practice, I believe that the design-part should come first, and the equipment-choice second. But to talk about design issues, I will need to mention different kinds of equipment. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, that could be a problem. So I’m going to start by mentioning just a few of the possible tools one could use. And I’m going to present them in the order that I discovered them, because I’m sure that affected my understanding of them.

As I think I’ve mentioned here before, though I first discovered metal clay while I was living in California but visiting my family home in Florida, I didn’t actually start working with it until after I moved to Pennsylvania. I’d read a lot, had tons of questions, but figured that (rather than waste product experimenting on my own) I wanted to start by taking an introductory class. We made a lentil bead. The instructor (Donna Penoyer) fired it after class, and tumbled it with stainless steel shot in a rotary tumbler (more on these in a moment), before returning our pieces to the shop so we could return and pick them up. I was happy with the piece. I then added a very light patina with Liver of Sulphur, before stringing it to wear. Shown to the right (in the first jewelry photo I ever tried to take … and it shows!) the thing that jumps out at me about it, now, is how evenly-shiny it is all over.

For the next few pieces, ones I made on my own or with a long-time friend (Bonnie) with whom I’d reconnected after my move (and who’d also taken one intro class!), we fired them with a creme brulee torch, brushed them with a brass brush, then burnished them by hand with stainless steel flatware. Yes, that’s right: I did buy a brass brush with my first order of clay, but we had no additional “equipment” for polishing. So I dedicated a knife, spoon, and fork to jewelry making! That approach, though admittedly slower than tumbling, kept me going for months as I spent the odd bit of spare time learning and exploring! Over time, eventually, I did buy an assortment of burnishers but I still pull flatware out during workshops to show that you don’t actually need anything fancier. You may want it, but you don’t necessarily need it!

Not too much later, Bonnie somehow ended up with a child’s plastic rock tumbler. They’re small and lightweight, meaning amazingly under-designed for actual lapidary work. But we cleaned up the barrel, and got a one-pound package of mixed-shape stainless steel shot so we could use a few scant ounces to try tumbling a couple pieces at a time. I would never recommend that someone go buy one of these for this purpose but having access to a rotary-shot tumbler to play with a few times did offer me the chance to explore the finishing process while I decided what I wanted to buy. (I’ll talk about that in the design-post.)

With that experience, I’d decided I didn’t want to start out with a rotary tumbler: I had fallen in love with magnetic pin polishers! The standard ones of these cost start at a price comparable to a full-scale metal clay kiln, and go up quickly from there! For a full-time bench jeweler, that cost can be justified because those machines work their magic so much more quickly than do rotary tumblers. For a part-time art jeweler, however, that seems like a lot of money. But then I found this little item (shown, right, with a blue base) for about $150. Still not cheap, but a price I found manageable. The cup is about the size of a measuring cup, a tad under 3 inches across, but all the action takes place in the very bottom. So I can’t do a lot of pieces at once, and I can’t do anything that’s more than about 2.5 inches across, and for really thick 3-d pieces, I may have to turn them over manually. But I rarely have any reason to exceed its capabilities. Sometimes it’ll take me several cup-loads to finish a kiln-load, but since this machine will complete the job in around 15 to 20 minutes, that means I could do six to eight loads in the two hours that is often quoted for a single load in a rotary tumbler. I must note, however, that while the time savings is a big benefit, the real reason I love this little item will be discussed more in my post on design considerations!

Before moving on, I will say that I’ve seen that some people in the MetalClay group are using a different “under $200” magnetic pin finisher (see photo here), and there seem to be larger (pricier) versions of that model. Overall, the cup on that one is reported to be 3.5 inches across, so a little bigger than mine, but there appears to be some kind of a post sticking up the middle. That would seem to severely limit the size of any individual piece one could put in it to not much bigger than one inch across, if that. (If you have one and want to say any more about that, please feel free to leave a comment!) That one also has a timer, which can be a nice convenience but is also yet one more thing that can break. So I’m neutral on that.

The next piece of equipment I added was a rotary tool. (If you somehow landed here without being familiar with them, I’ll just say that they are like small electric screwdrivers, except you can add all sorts of other attachments to them besides screw-drilling bits.) These are sometimes referred to by brand (e.g., Foredom, Prodigy, Dremel, etc.), and sometimes by handpiece style (e.g., flexshaft). A few of my favorite attachments for polishing (in no particular order) are silicone wheels, rubber wheels, fiber wheels, radial bristle disks and (least often) sanding drums or split mandrels with sandpaper. Other essential but merely human-powered tools that I use include steel bench blocks and an assortment of hammers and such. (I don’t plan on discussing any of that in detail right now. I will likely do so eventually. If you want to talk about them before then, just let me know!)

And then, yes, I did go and get myself a rotary tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot. I tried the inexpensive route first, the kind with an imported rubber barrel. It didn’t stay long: the smell of the rubber was just worse than I could bear. I kept having the feeling that I was at the gas station, filling my car, and that the pump was overflowing and would not shut off: that’s what it smelled like to me. I left the barrel out in my garage for six months, to see if it might “air out” over time. No such luck. I sold it to a student who did not seem bothered by the smell. Then I went and bought one made in this country, the kind that has a hexagonal plastic barrel. I still use the mini-mag one more often but, when I want a rotary tumbler, this one does the trick.

This particular model has gotten some negative reviews online, but I don’t consider any of the issues reported to be a big deal at all. Some people complain that the steel shot in the plastic barrel is noisy and, yes, it does make more noise rattling around in plastic than it does in a rubber barrel. But all tumblers sound noisy to me, so I put them in the next room anyway; in that case, the sound of this one does not bother me. It doesn’t have an on/off switch, but I plug it into a power strip that has one, and just use that. (And a power strip is easier to replace than is a tumbler whose switch has died. And, further, I find it convenient to operate the power strip switch with my foot, rather than having to touch a button on the machine with sometimes-wet hands.) It is possible to have little bits of the shot land in the odd small spaces at the top of the barrel (from where the hexagonal sides are spread out to meet the round lid); but a magnet captures those easily and I can just plop them down into the barrel so I never gave that a thought until I read about it later on. (Did the writers perhaps not think to try a magnet?) The lid is the one part that took me a few tries to figure out but, to be honest, so did (in a different way) the one on the rubber barrel. There is a sort of “art” to getting it on just tight enough: not so loose that it leaks, and not so tight that it’s hard to get off. But with a bit of determination, I figured that out too. The only problem reported with which I do agree is that it is possible to have very thin bits stick between the barrel and the lid. But I rarely make metal clay pieces thin and flat enough to get caught; some earwires can get that thin but those are not something I’d tumble anyway. (I’m not doing mass production. I can hammer the odd earwire to work-harden it (more on this in a few days…) or, since I often use Argentium for them, it is even easier to heat-harden that!) Still, though I’m glad I have this one, I don’t use it all that often: mostly, I use it for pieces from beginner classes, where students have not yet learned much about finishing. Just like my very first piece, an evenly-smooth shine everywhere works just fine in that situation. And if folks say they want a more nuanced finish (yep, that’s the big design-related issue!) that’s a perfect lead-in to the fact that I offer workshops on finishing too.

The other major finishing tool that some artists seem to have is a vibratory tumbler. I will admit that I’ve never used one of those. (I’d be game to try it, if you happen to have one that you’d like to offer up for my examination!) At this point, the (many!) finishing tools I have acquired over the years seem to be meeting my needs. If (when) one of the tumblers should go out, then I may make a serious attempt to look into these. At this point, at least, I’ve got nothing at all against them; I mention them simply to acknowledge that they could be on the discussion list too. But, for now, I want to spend more time making new pieces, rather than simply acquiring even more tools I may or may not ever use.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to write some things about how the tools I do have interact with the designs I try to create. I find the interactions between them, and how that has influenced my understanding of design, to be the most interesting aspect of all this!

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Yep, I’m still a bit baffled….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/09/10

This will just be a relatively quick little follow up on my recent load of “crispy” bronze and copper pieces.

The two draped pieces actually polished up nicely. Somehow that even helped with the clunky sound they were making, that had made me even more dubious about their quality. The more-irregular one, of course, is still riddled with cracks and tiny holes: it will just look prettier in my “do as I say, not as I do” box of “teaching moments.” But none of the polishing added to the disintegration of that piece, nor did it reveal any holes in the rounder one. OK, so far.

I have not yet tried to polish the tulip with a copper flower on a bronze background because I know that one will take a good bit of work. The other two tulips turned out OK, but not as nice as I’d’ve liked. The bronze (flower) on the one to the left had actually bubbled a tiny bit and, although that did look OK after some grinding, sanding, and polishing, once I exposed it to the patina solution, small spots appeared where the edge of the blisters had been. I’m thinking that the tin in the bronze must have somehow “disappeared” at those points, leaving more copper to react with the patina chemicals. And, despite a lot of grinding on the other one, I did not seem to have eliminated all signs of the earlier cracking.

I have enough else to do right now anyway, I may just put those into the “seconds” bin that’s always seemed popular among my teenage visitors. Less than ideal, but perhaps not a total loss.

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Well, gosh, was that ever exciting…!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/09/09

For a number of reasons not worth going into here, I’ve been a bit distracted lately. No crises, just too many things that need my attention all at once. (Yes, like most 21st Century American women, there are always a lot of demands on my time. But sometimes the number just sneaks up over the top of what is manageable.) And then, there are the days when you think you really are accomplishing something, at last, only to find out that was not the case. This post is a tale of both of those at once.

But, since this is a metal clay blog, let me begin by reviewing the process for firing items made from Hadar’s clay powders. The first photo with this post shows three pieces that had been fired earlier, had cracked a bit in that process, were then patched, and had just been refired in the session to be discussed here. That kind of cracking happens sometimes when mixing copper and bronze, as in these pieces, and the patching and refiring—often multiple times—is just part of the game if you want those mixed-metal (sometimes referred to as “married metal”) looks. (I’ll talk more about that more some other time….)

For full details on the firing process, of course, you should always check Hadar’s blog itself. But, in general, there’s a multi part process:

0. You mix the clay, form the piece, let it dry, and then…
1. You burn off the binder, taking as long as you need according to the size of the piece(s) as well as the method you are using (for jewelry-size pieces, this can often range from a quick 1/4 hour to 2 full hours; larger pieces can take even longer) and, finally
2. You “sinter” the remaining powdered metal into a more solid form during a two-hour firing process.

This discussion addresses only steps 1 and 2. (I started counting at 0 because the final two steps are often referred to as Phase 1 and Phase 2 firings.)

When Hadar first introduced her clays, the basic process went like this:

A1. Fire the pieces buried in carbon, uncovered, in the kiln. Let everything cool back to room temperature.
A2. Top up the carbon, if needed, and refire the still-buried pieces, uncovered, in the kiln.

Later, although she says that the above process still works, Hadar introduced this alternative approach:

B1. Fire the pieces on top of a layer of carbon, covered, on a gas stove-top.
B2. Immediately and carefully cover the pieces with carbon, then fire them (cooled or not, either way is OK), uncovered, in the kiln.

(There is more to all of it, but we can ignore that for now….) In each case, between step 1 and 2, the pieces are fragile: you have the formed-shape, but it’s then composed entirely of metal powder with no binder holding it together any more. It’s very fragile. I have been under the impression that a few of the main differences between the A and B approaches where that:

– The full B-process takes much less time and consumes less energy than A, but…
– Pieces in the B-method are at a very slightly higher risk of being cracked as you move and bury them.

I’ve been using both, off and on / back and forth, depending on whether I had time to actually watch Phase 1 (B) or didn’t want to watch but could wait longer (A). All the pieces photographed for this post were fired, in a single batch, using the B-process. Two of the three oval pieces (above) were polished up a bit after being fired in the same batch; the third one (left-most) and both of the two round pendants are shown just as they came from the kiln. The thing you can’t really tell from a photo of the two “draped” ones is that they feel, oh how to say this, sort of “crisp”!?

Yes, and the point of this whole post is to admit that I’m the one who crisped them up!

As I said at the start, I had a lot of things on my mind as well as a few people doing things in my studio as I began firing these. I was carefully watching the Phase 1 firing on top of a propane camp-stove on a rolling cart. Some unexpected visitors arrived, adding to the activity in the room. While enjoying the company, all I really wanted was to finish this firing, finish answering questions, go home, and have a nice dinner. I was trying to keep everyone moving along, introducing and talking and answering questions and what-not. When Phase 1 finished, I had to figure out where to put the hot lid safely out of range of the curious visitors, as I rolled carts around and proceeded to the two-hour Phase 2 in a kiln. I got everything situated, got the kiln going, spent the next hour getting questions answered and projects finished, got everyone out of the room, and was walking back to my little “office” area to finish up some paperwork when I looked at the table next to the kiln and thought, “Why is that cup-full of carbon just sitting there?”

OH, NO! I had forgotten to pour it over the pieces after Phase 1. They were in the kiln un-buried in carbon! The whole thing with these clays is they need to be fired in a “reduction atmosphere,” that is, with the carbon reacting with the oxygen in the air inside the firing chamber and thus reducing how much of that oxygen is available to react with the copper at kiln-temperatures. How much? Well, that’s not as clear. But that’s the basic principle, the way to avoid damaging the structure of the metal….

No, NO, NOOOO! If it had just been a few minutes, well, maybe. But we were an hour into a two-hour firing. Were they all ruined? Was there anything I could do?!!

I quickly increased the amount of heat-resistant material I had in front of the kiln, put on my high-heat gloves and IR-safety glasses, grabbed a few tools, took a deep breath, and opened the kiln. One obvious concern: what might the “thermal shock” do to the pieces or even to the kiln itself?!! I whipped the bowl out, set it down, closed the door as quickly as I could. Everything was glowing! In another context, it might have been considered a lovely color, but not here. I gently poured the cup of carbon over the pieces, took another deep breath, re-opened the kiln, replaced the bowl, closed it all back up, took off the safely gear, sat down, and started shaking. What had I just done? Would it work? Should I have just given up on that load? What about the kiln?

And the phone rang. I answered it. A long-time friend, someone I talk with only occasionally, was on the line (er, with cell phone, perhaps I should say in the air?). It had been no more than a minute since I’d closed the kiln back up. (As I reached over to answer the call I was, in fact, thinking how glad I was that the phone had not rung while I was in the midst of that attempted “recovery” process! Even if I had not stopped to answer it, that would have been another distraction at a crucial moment: whew!) My caller asked how I was. I was still shaking a bit, and surprised by the call. I said, “I don’t know. I may or may not have just ruined a whole bowl-full of jewelry pieces.” He’s a sweetheart, someone who has been all “You go, girl!” about my journey down this jewelry-making path, and he launched right into some nice little comments about how “things” sometimes happen and I shouldn’t beat myself up or question my abilities, I was good at this and he knew I knew it, …. When he finally paused for a moment I said, “Thanks. I love your support here. But what really has me worried is that, between the time I spent making pieces, firing some of them once, patching them, making a few new ones, firing those …. if I’ve lost them all, then I may just have lost hours that I simply do not have to spare right now. And it’ll be almost an hour before I know how much time I have just wasted by letting myself be distracted.” Luckily, there was nothing more in danger right at that moment, so we quickly moved on to chat about other things for a while. I didn’t get the paperwork done but doubt I could have concentrated on that anyway. I did get to catch up a bit with someone who’s known me since my teens, and we talked for longer than I’d’ve given myself if I’d still been focused on … paperwork.

So, what’s the outcome?

There was one small crack in the kiln-wall beforehand, and it’s now a bit bigger. Not a serious problem, I think, just one burst of extra-quick aging. I’ll simply continue to keep my eyes on that, and hope there’s nothing more.

The three mixed-metal tulip-ovals had been previously sintered (and were just in that load having some cracks patched) all look like they survived. The patches sank down too much, which may or may not have happened anyway. I can try to polish out the cracks, or else patch the patches and refire them. They don’t seem to exhibit much in the way of the various copper-oxides that we’re trying to avoid via the carbon firings. At this point, though they may not end up being quite as strong as I’d like, I still think they may be OK.

The other two all-bronze draped pendants, well, as I said, they are crisp. The slightly-bigger, slightly-more-irregular one is criss-crossed with cracks and holes. Yes, not just cracks (which I would not have expected from in this single-metal piece) but also little holes that you can actually see light through (which I’ve never seen before, and which are too small to really see in the photo, even if you click to see a larger version). I figure that piece can go into one of my “teaching moment” displays. The other one, well, it doesn’t have all the same cracks and holes, but there’s something odd about it. Maybe it’s just the way the edges curled up, and I’ll get used to it over time, but it sounds a bit crisp too. I may hold onto it, but it’s not one I’d wear because I don’t want to “advertise” a piece I’m unsure about. I may give it to one good friend who I’m pretty sure will be OK with my saying, “I can’t sell this because I’m not sure it will hold up. But if you want it, you can have it on one condition: if/when it breaks or does something odd, give it back to me so I can what happened. I’ll replace it with something else.”

And, finally, there’s that thing about time, and being overloaded just now: which clearly means it’s time to end this post, get some other things done and write about those later on, once I’ve managed to catch my breath again. Oh, and I’m sorry this is so long. It takes me longer to write shorter pieces—to do the editing needed to end up with a shorter piece—and I’m still feeling waaaay behind. So I hope you’re OK with this rambling version of the tale….

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sometimes I compare beading to framing….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/08/06

Much of the time, on this blog, I show a piece when I’ve completed the cycle of converting it from the “raw” form (metal that feels like clay) into its “finished” state (hard metal). With earrings, of course, I’ll show those complete, meaning connected to earwires (or posts or clips or…); that is, ready to wear. But I often will post here photos of pendants in a very plain state: just sitting there or, at most, strung on a simple cord of some sort. In this context—that is, since this is a ‘blog that’s mostly about using metal clay techniques—that seems appropriate to me.

And, sometimes, I actually offer them for sale that way. Why? Well, to me, there’s a lot of “artistry” in that main piece. While I do hang pendants so that they are wearable immediately, I don’t see why I should force everyone to buy an expensive chain or other fancy decorations simply so they can own a piece of my art jewelry. What if they like the main piece but not the other doo-dads? What if they already have a wonderful chain or necklace that they think would complement my little piece of metal art? Many of my beading-friends see my simply-strung pieces as incomplete. While I understand that their artistry is in their beading, and appreciate it for what they can do, I just don’t think every piece needs that double-dose of artistry (both in the focal bead and in the hanging mechanism). It’s almost like I see myself as I view a print-maker, photographer, or other 2-D artist, for example, who offers a number of pieces simply matted. I’ve bought plenty of those over the years, and then framed them as I want (keeping or even changing the original matte board) so it will fit in where I want to hang it.

Of course, those same 2-D artists will also have a select number of items available that are not just matted, but also framed and ready to hang. I have bought a few of those (though, nowhere near as many as I have un-framed) and I do offer a few pendants hung on something a bit more elaborate. I try to do that in such a way that the beading or chain complements the focal piece without competing with it: trying to find the right balance between adding an interesting touch without going overboard. So I thought I’d wrap up my recent round of reporting on the “push” pendants, for the moment at least, by showing what I ended up doing with (adding to) a couple of those pieces.

In closing, I will ask: do you agree or disagree with my comparison of hanging pendants to framing pictures? Answers, and other comments, are welcome!

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Color Shifts!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/25

After designing a piece, working with metal clay to create it, and firing it in the kiln, there remains another step to consider: post-fire color of the now-all-metal creation. There are lots of ways to add color to a piece, and I’m not about to go into all of them now. That is, for this post at least, I am not going to address deliberate colorings like enamel, resin, colored pencils, inks, various forms of plating, and so on. I am going to make a few points about several of my newer bronze pieces and will mention only in passing the “Liver of Sulphur” (LOS) patinas that can produce such nice (but somewhat unpredictable) colors on fine silver (and black or near-black on silver, copper, etc.)

Instead, what I’m thinking about today are the kiln-produced colors that sometimes appear on bronze pieces (and, to a lesser extent, on copper ones). Now, the thing is, they are basically unpredictable. You get what the kiln-gods decide to give you that day.

If the pieces come out a dark gray or black color, I will usually just polish that off. I wrote a series of posts in April of last year with “before, during, and after” photos using Hadar’s Clay Powders, and one of those showed pieces with a lot of this mostly-icky black coating that is best just polished off. That is why the first photo with this post (above, right), of a rectangular bronze piece, shows it all shiny: that side came out of the kiln all dreary gray except for one small, dreary, brown spot on its edge. (It was so dreary, in fact, that I didn’t even think to take a photo of it in that state.) But you’d never know that now from looking at its bright, polished surface if I hadn’t told you, would you?

Then again, sometimes pieces come out of the kiln with stunning colors. The second photo (left) shows two other pieces that came out of that same load. (As ever, a click should get you a bigger version of any of these.) When people see pieces with colors like that, they always respond with all sorts of exclamations of “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh”!

Which I fully understand. Except I know that those colors are basically ephemeral: there for your enjoyment at the moment, but nothing that will remain so brilliant for very long.

If I make a comment to that effect to the piece’s admirer, novices are often generous with suggestions. And I do appreciate the offers. While I am open to new ideas (especially since many of my students are artists with experience in other media), there’s also a good chance that I’ve already tried everything that’s being suggested, and then some…. The third photo with this post (over to the right again) shows two of the many things that one might consider trying.

Of the two pieces shown there, the one on the left has been lacquered. Notice how the nice, variable, kiln-green has all gone a sort of even brown shade, and the lovely bright scarlet has turned a much duller orange. I don’t dislike those colors; they simply are not the ones I was trying to preserve. In fact, I only rarely use lacquer on my pieces. It does provide some protection in the short term but, once it starts to wear off, then you have a piece that darkens in those spots but not in the ones where it remains. I do keep trying various kinds of coatings, here and there, just to see what happens, but they are not a major part of my routine. (Similar shifts and dulling of bright colors happen to LOS’d silver that emerges all brilliant and lovely.)

More often, I will do what’s shown on the piece to the right in that photo. That is, instead of the “high polish” of the rectangular piece, I will give it a “light polish” like this, often highlighting one or more select areas with a slightly brighter shine. I chose to include here a piece where I’d done that so I’d have an example I could show folks, later, who seem very surprised when I say that another reason the original colors are ephemeral is that, if they are deliberately polished or rubbed enough in normal wear, the colors will go away. Except that’s exactly what polishing does: the color is only on the surface and polishing that removes whatever reaction has happened there while also laying down the metal “crystals” so they reflect light in their “typical” color range. (Again, this can be compared to what happens with silver, both in the disappearance of the “kiln white” (or, in some cases, “kiln glitter”) and the dulling and/or shifting of colors from LOS or other patinas.)

Except, the crazy thing is, just like everything else involving these colors, you can’t quite count on all the things I described above. Some, yes, but not everything. Shown below are two shots of the “other side” of the rectangular piece with which I opened this post. This side came out of the kiln with lovely colors. I considered polishing the dragonfly, but decided to leave it alone at least for the short term, and grab a photo of how it looked with no post-fire treatment. Later, when I got the lacquer out to use in coating the round piece, above, I decided to hit this piece with it as well. And, here, the color shift was much less dramatic!

straight from the kiln after being lacquered

I’m not complaining: I liked the colors here and I’m glad they didn’t shift. I’m just saying, if you happen to get this the first time you try a protectant product, don’t assume that’s what you’ll get the next time.

And I also recommend learning to appreciate and celebrate ephemeral beauty, in jewelry and otherwise.

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Pushing, in more ways than one….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/18

About a month ago, I wrote a post about some pieces I am calling “Push Pendants” because they are made by pushing some metal clay through a piece of metal mesh. Given that I like making reversible pieces, furthermore, if you read my last post you would have seen a photo of the “other side” of yet another one of these pushed-pieces. The first photo with this post shows its pushed-side, all polished up to a nice shine. (You should be able to tell from the shape which (un-polished) “other” side it matches there….)

They’re fun to make, and I admit the original idea was not mine. They are adapted from a slightly different project I noticed a while ago in Mary Hettmansperger’s delightful book, Mixed Metal Jewelry Workshop. The approach used by “Mary Hetts” is really simple: you make the combo, fire it, then frame it in sheet metal. (Check out her book for all sorts of other useful details!) That strategy minimized one major potential issue: as the clay is fired–both burning off binder and sintering the powder into a solid metal–it shrinks. The wire mesh does not shrink. Warping and cracking can occur in the parts that began as clay! Her process minimizes that as a problem by having you frame the sintered metal with some other solid product (e.g., sheet metal, but you could use wood or fiber or plastic or whatever else you want). First of all, you don’t get very much cracking that way; secondly, you can probably just cover up any you do get.

But I started to wonder: what if you just framed it with more clay from the start? How much of a problem could that be? What are the variables involved? How much more difficult would that make the whole task? Would it still be a good project for a workshop that included both experienced and novice metal clay artisans?

After several months of experimenting (and confirming a few of my suspicions with Hadar Jacobson at the recent PMC Guild conference), it is looking to me as though:

  • With these, it helps if you are someone who is willing to accept what the kiln gives you: they’re not totally unpredictable, but even tiny variations in construction can have very noticeable effects!
  • Giving the piece a bit of curvature, a hint of the direction in which you want it to warp, can be helpful.
  • Really thin surfaces, front or back, do tend to crack.
  • Thicker surfaces have a more complex relationship to the warping and cracking, but there are ways to minimize such problems (and to make it easier on yourself to patch cracks and refire if you find that desirable).
  • The position of the mesh in relation to the frame matters as to whether and how much the piece will crack along the side.
  • The variance in shrinkage rates across the different clays makes a difference in the patterns of shrinkage and warping in these pieces. The pattern of least to worst is predictable; the exact extent seems not to be.

I’ve had people ask me why I bother with these clays if I have such problems with them. Well, the answer is that both the explorations and the results are, overall, delightful. Most of the time, pieces do turn out fine. And some of the so-called problems that do occur are ones I’d never have with silver because it’s just much simpler and more reliable to fire. But I realize that others happen because I try things with these metals that I would never think to try with silver or, if I did think of them, would be unlikely to try because of the price of silver.

In this example, besides simply pushing clay through mesh, I feel like I am pushing the envelope; that is, I feel like I am also extending the current limits of the clay’s performance, going beyond some commonly-perceived boundaries of working with it. I find the process of exploration to be fun, itself, in addition to any reactions I have to the resulting pieces or the subsequent workshops I may teach from what I’ve learned.

Posted in General Techniques, Learning Metal Clay, Teaching Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Contrasting Textures in a Design

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/10

In my last post I said, about the design of a ring with a butterfly sort of camouflaged against some roses, “I know that the butterfly would stand out more from the flowers if I’d used textures with more contrast.” When I teach, I try to take a few sample pieces to illustrate such a statement, so I thought I’d post a couple of those here too.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to make pieces I consider to be “reversible” ones. One side may well be more “striking” than the other but, even with those, I figure that there are days when a person may want a look that is more or less flashy. Both of the pieces illustrating this post are examples of the “other” side of a piece (so you may see them again at some point if / when I choose to talk about other aspects of their construction.). But both of them illustrate how a simple variation in the texture can help an embellishment to stand out.

The first piece, in bronze, shows a dragonfly with a simple “sandpaper” texture floating over a span of leaves and tendrils. In this case, the colors are simply from “the luck of the kiln” although, if I wanted, I could further differentiate the dragonfly foreground from the leafy background by polishing one and leaving the other untouched. (I’m actually still thinking about whether I may do that.)

The second piece, in fine silver, shows a butterfly with a “smooth” finish impressed into a span of cattails. The liver-of-sulphur (“LOS”) patina that gave me some nice blue edges also helps with the differentiation.

In both cases, the relative plainness of the insect shapes help them to stand out a bit from the deeper textures of the vegetation. Of course, one could also do this the other way ’round, say, with a highly-textured insect on a leaf-shape with just a bit of simple veining.

Hmmm, maybe I’ll make a few of those the next time I go on a pollinator-design binge.

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How much to polish?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/06/15

How much to polish is a recurrent question with my work, one that has been reappearing even more often since I started doing more work with different bronze formulas of metal clay.

I’ve been using that photo to promote some workshops I’ll be teaching later this summer (at both Mars Beads and Zelda’s for sure, but I can schedule a session in my studio too if you’d like). You may have noticed that I polished the “sandy border” around the circular one, but not on the rectangle.

In many cases with metal clay, and the various bronze formulas in particular, polishing is something that one can’t always decide for certain at the design stage. Sometimes you have to wait until a piece comes out of the kiln. So far, I have polished that one border the round piece in both the first and last photos with this post. (I also polished its “other” side.) And that decision was an easy one: it emerged from the kiln simply looking dark, so the polishing brightened it up, whereas the rectangular one just showed up with more interesting colors.

But the choice is not always that stark. I’ve made even more than those two. Here are a couple others I have on hand:

With those, I’m still debating: will I polish any other borders? Will I polish some of the interior sections? Should I let them age naturally, or put some sort of protective coating on them (knowing that any coating will not be permanent anyway, though some do last longer than others…)?

In the end, I’m sure I’ll end up doing some mix of all that. I just need to decide which area gets what treatment. (On, and, of course, all these pieces are my usual reversible designs, so the questions arise with the very different designs on their “other” sides too!)

But it’s part of why there is often no simple answer to the question, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Starting Out by Layering.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/29

OK, now, let me get back to silver again…. While I’m perfectly happy to have beginners in sessions like the box-pendant workshop I mentioned in my last couple of posts, I also enjoy offering start-up workshops with much simpler projects. Especially with silver: many people are happy to dive right in and try it but, especially given the price of silver these days, some may be more hesitant, concerned about doing something wrong, perhaps not yet fully grasping how easy it is–with metal clay–to just squish it up and start over! (Well, there are a few limits, but it sure is easier to “just start over” without any waste using the metal clay approach than it is with traditional metalsmithing.)

In the past, I’ve offered a collage / mosaic class that’s pretty straightforward; this summer I’ll be offering one (or more) with the option of doing a somewhat simpler layering approach.

With this post are photos showing both sides of three of the sample pieces I made for this. I try to make ones that I can use to present a number of design and construction issues.

Just few of the points I can make with these are issues involving: using a texture stamp, creating your own design, and combinations of those; deep versus shallow textures and various ways they interact; rolling “coils” and “balls” of clay and different things you can do with those; pre-fire finishing of textured versus plain areas; and more.

Of course, we’ll also cover the different methods of joining pieces–wet to wet, wet to dry, and dry to dry–and how to “reactivate the binder” in dry elements for secure joins.

Also, using these (and a number of other examples I’ll bring to class), we can discuss a range of ways to hang a pendant. Of the three sets of images I chose to show here, my own opinion is that:

  1. one works just fine in general;
  2. one is OK as long as you pay attention to what you hang it from; and
  3. one needs “something else” (which I’ll take to show) to make it work reasonably.

Can you tell which is which?

Also, later this summer I’ll be offering one or more Add-a-Cab workshops. Folks who’ve taken a class from me, or from someone else, or who’ve made a piece on their own, will be able to come and add a (most likely 6 mm) cabochon to it. This will be an introduction to stone-setting, so you can see what’s involved, before you get into doing something more complicated (which I’ll address in other workshops later on). I may use one of my layered pieces in the demo for that. I think I’ve picked one out for that purpose, but I’m still debating if that’s the right one. If you have a suggestions there, feel free to chime in with a comment on that too.

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Speaking of Box-with-Pearl Pendants….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/25

Even though my last post did open with a comment about silver projects, it may have been a bit misleading. So, just for the record, while silver is great for making the pendants described there, not required! It is, for example, perfectly possible to make the Box Pendant with an Inset Pearl in bronze.

After making several samples to use in discussing various aspects of the design and mechanics of the project, I thought of one other issue regarding placement of the pearl in relation to the hanging mechanism that I wanted to remember to mention in class. Rather than sink more money into making yet another silver piece to illustrate this, I figured I might as well make it in bronze. (I’ve got a couple workshops, after the pearl box pendant one, that will use bronze in various ways, so I can also use this as a way to segue into that in class….)

I didn’t have any bronze wire in the right gauge to use for setting the pearl, so I tried a piece of copper I had that was the right size. And, hmph, it broke off as I was trimming it to size. (This was jewelry-grade copper, and I fired it just to the bronze-sintering temperature, so it should have held up…) The good news is that at least it broke off perfectly flush with the little plug into which I’d set it. So, rather than attach the pearl to that post, I simply attached it directly to the plug. Not ideal, but it’ll work for a demo. I’ll have to get some bronze wire that size because, in other gauges, it’s held up just fine through even multiple firings. And wear this piece around for a while, to verify that such an alternative connection will hold well enough.

It’s a tough job, wearing all this jewelry, but someone has to do it…..

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another Round (Oblong, Square…) of Box Pendants.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/23

Recent posts might have you thinking that I’ve been focused solely on various bronze and copper projects. While I have been having fun with those, I’ve been making plenty of silver pieces as well!

And, despite the comment in my last post about spending time over the summer exploring new approaches, much of my time is already scheduled for a range of activities, jewelry- and other-wise! In addition to trying out new designs and approaches in the art-jewelry side of my life (the Three Rivers Arts Festival is fast approaching!), I’ve also got classes set for several shops, more under discussion, and I’m collecting information from folks who’d like to come to my studio for workshops too. (Since I’m in control of the studio schedule, I can set things up there by request on much shorter notice!)

Last year, I taught a number of workshops involving reversible pendants, where both lentil beads and box-style pendants included the option of a sort of shadow-box opening. In those, we either textured the “inside” of the side opposite the opening, or layered a small decorative element onto it. Either of those could be viewed through the opening. I’m planning some new versions for this year: the first one will be a box-style pendant but this time the opening will hold an inset pearl.

Participants will not be forced to make their piece reversible but, this being me, I’ll encourage everyone to do so! The photo-inset shows the “other” side of these sample pieces. (Sorry the photo isn’t that great, even if you click to enlarge it; long story, but I’m still awaiting the return of an essential piece of the photo-setup in my studio and I just can’t get enough light for decent shots at the moment.) I’ve got one of these classes scheduled for June 2 at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company. I’m hoping to offer it a couple times more over the summer and then, if there seems to be enough interest, to offer a lentil-shape version later in the year. Let me know if you’d be interested in taking one somewhere … I’m really looking forward to these!

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Following Up with Alice.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/12

Or maybe I should call this post “Slipping Up…”?

Though I hope others find something of interest in this note (like my last post, another example of a piece that just evolved during some demos), my reason for writing about this one is a little exchange Alice Walkowski and I had early this year about a technique (borrowed from the pottery world) called slip trailing, some of which may be found among the posts here (on her blog) and here (on mine).

But, let’s start with the first photo. I had cut the “sunshine shape” out of bronze during a demonstration. At the time, I was making several points. One was about taking care at corners, points, hollows, and such, (regardless of whether you used (my favorite) press-down cutters or (as books and articles often describe) drag-tools with templates to make your cuts). Another was about how, if you had a texture sheet with several different designs on it, you could sometimes get an interesting look by letting the area you cut out cross over from one pattern into another. Because I was focusing on all that, I did not bother to texture the other side before I cut it out. But I liked the result enough that I didn’t continue, as I often do in demos, with just squishing my clay up to reuse later on: I kept it, and let it dry as it was.

As I also reported recently, I’d demonstrated several examples of making and then joining links “invisibly” so I had a pair of linked rounds lying on my worktable. I added them to the “plain” side of the sun-shape. Again, I included my little talk about how, although many metal clay artists would use paste for the connection, I don’t get why so many people do it that way. I use plain water plus a brief moment of patient pressure (no longer, overall, that opening and closing a jar of paste…) and, neat and easy, it works just fine!

Then, someone just happened to ask me about slip trailing. They’d read about it, but didn’t quite get how it worked. So I moistened up some rose bronze clay, and used that to fill an empty, clean syringe so I could start to show the process. But, as can happen in quick, impromptu demos that get me off track of what I was planning to do, I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have to the thickness of the moist clay I was loading into my syringe. And a big “plop” landed on my careful (if quickly-sketched) design, covering several “rays” all at once.

I cleaned it up a bit and then tried, without as much success as I’d hoped, to add a dainty “plop” on the other side, to at least offer a bit of balance to the piece. But it just seemed to continue its own ungainly theme….

Refusing to acknowledge any sort of crisis regarding my lovely textured-star shape, I explained that piece was just telling me what it wanted. So I dribbled on some more goopy rose bronze and then added a few “highlight blobs” of copper clay too. The end result is more “turbulent” than what I’d planned to do, but I decided to just fire it anyway and see what happened. And I think the “stormy” look is just fine, especially in contrast with the precisely-textured first-side. Two different looks in one piece, as I often say!

And besides, by that point, what other reasonable choices did I have? I hope it will find a home with someone who can appreciate the mixture of precision and wildness across its two sides. Some may not, but I’m sure a very special person will, in the end, resonate with it!

(By the way, I did do a second demo using another base piece I had on hand, showing how the results can vary with different consistencies of slip. Much more successful! For reasons not worth going into here (though Alice knows at least one reason why…), I haven’t yet managed to capture a photo of that piece.)

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Having Fun with Bronze, and More.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/07

It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything with metal clay recently: I’ve just been so busy with that and other things I haven’t had time to sit at computer and muse. I’m also assembling some new projects for workshops (which I’ll discuss in upcoming posts), so I’m again paying a lot of attention to process: to what I do for a specific reason versus what I do out of sheer habit.

The photo with this post shows both sides of a little piece I made during several demonstrations of working with metal clay in general, and bronze clay in particular. I made the various elements separately, to illustrate a range of techniques at different times. I showed the application of a simple texture with the hibiscus, and the use of a pastry cutter to get the oblong shape.

What started that: I was saying how much I really do like to use cutting forms with metal clay–special “clay” cutters, pastry cutters, even scissors, anything where you are pressing down into the clay. Whenever I can figure out how to do that, I prefer it to the often-suggested needle tools (or X-acto knives) that drag through the clay. The “pressed” cuts are so much cleaner, and it’s very easy to smooth out any small imperfections while the clay is still wet with a finger or other small tool. A “drag through” tool, even a needle or blade with the finest tip, still leaves a rougher edge. You can try to smooth such cuts while wet, but it’s rarely as effective, so you’re forced to sand more and create more “dust.” (“Refine the edge” is the term of art for that process.) Although you can salvage much of the dust, there will still be some that drifts off; besides wasting any metal in that, you’re also wasting time with sanding and clean-up. That may seem like just a small amount of either time or metal, but the “waste-cost” does accumulate with each piece made (especially if, unlike this example, the dust is from a precious metal such as silver!).

Plus, if I want a shape for which I don’t already have a cutter, I can always just make one. I admit that I am someone who’d rather spend my time making a cutter than making dust and then turning that into paste (which is another metal clay “staple” that I do use, but only very rarely)!

Then, in another setting, I showed how to cut out washer-shapes, and how you could even reshape a round washer into another shape, such as the oblongs shown here. In yet another, I showed how to attach two washers to each other with an “invisible join” (here, in yellow bronze; and how to do that with water only, not paste) and how to cut washers and other dried pieces to use in various ways (in rose bronze). At one point, I even made a little ball (in copper) to demonstrate that technique.

Finally, looking over the bits and baubles I had scattered across my worktable from all of that, when I was talking about how I attach pieces of dried metal clay with just water (so yet another situation where I don’t need “dust” to make paste with!), and it just struck me how to assemble those particular bits this way.

Most of the time, I enjoy methodically developing and then executing a deliberate design. But, sometimes, it’s such fun to just let a piece evolve on its own.

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

More Mixed Metals

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/04/14

It seems like I’ve been working forever on several mixed-metal pieces, but at last I have one for which I can write a little report.

This one contains my current-favorite three-metal mix: bronze (in the traditional yellow-bronze color, used here as the base), rose bronze (in the slightly more pink color, used here for the bail), and copper (a reddish-brown used, along with those two bronze formulas, in another of my reversible pieces, in the decorative designs on both sides).

Well, technically, all of the metals contain copper: bronze is made from copper and tin. Yellow bronze gets its color (and strength) from a very particular mix of the two; rose bronze shows by its color that it has a higher proportion of copper in its mix, while white bronze (not shown here) contains a higher proportion of tin (which gives it more of a “white metal” color that is lovely, but also makes it trickier to work with (both finicky to fire and potentially as fragile as glass in its final form) so I use (and write about) it much less often…).

The three “flower disks” overlays are, from top to bottom, made from rose bronze, then yellow bronze, and copper. The copper has begun to darken a bit, as copper will; I put the rose bronze disk as far away from it as I could–the rose one will likely darken more than the yellow bronze (which often ages to a greenish hue), but less than the copper. In the middle, the smooth surface of the yellow bronze flower seems to give a very slight hint of the copper in it, more so than does the sandpaper-texture backing of the same metal. The contrasts possible with these metals make exploring them a delightful experience.

Most of the time, anyway (which accounts for part of the delay between posts recently). The other side (photo below / left) has a brushed-satin finish. Here, the bronze base also keeps its yellow color (the reddish tint towards the bottom is just a reflection of the red shirt I was wearing as I took this photograph!), but I applied a bit of patina-solution that would accentuate the differences in copper-content among the metals in the design. The twist inlaid down the middle shows, from the top, rose bronze, copper, yellow bronze; then another twist of rose bronze, copper, yellow bronze; and ends with a tiny hint of rose bronze again. The challenge in hand-finishing this side was to get a smooth, even surface so the patina-solution would not “pool” on the bronze and appear as a smudge (or worse, the start of some rough corrosion) which took several (rather frustrating…) tries. But I kept at it, because the fun part was seeing how the copper stripes darkened just the same as an aged penny would do, while the rose bronze has a sort of dotted appearance featuring a range of hues in a slightly more yellow range.

Now, all I have left to do is to hang it! I plan to use a soft, supple, satin cord, and slip a simple larks-head loop through the bail. One question is whether to crimp metal findings on the cord’s end, and then add a jump ring and clasp, or to skip the findings and instead use a pair of sliding Chinese button knots (thus, making its length adjustable). I’ll answer that once I’ve decided which color of cord to use. (From different sources, some are harder to knot than others: O the tension between artistry and practicality!)

I bet you can understand why I call this piece Three Flowers with a Twist.

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Three-Metal Mosaic

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/23

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post describing and showing a pendant I think of as The Little (Oblong) Piece that Could (because, with each problem, I’d pick it up, dust it off, say a few words of encouragement, and keep it going to completion…).

On one side of that, trying to develop a collage (or mosaic) design, I was applying a series of pieces that went straight across the “base” piece. I’d moisten the base and the mosaic piece, press them together, and wait for that to dry. Then, I’d repeat the process with the next collage piece. But the backing piece, which would of course soften a bit as I applied each next piece, kept cracking along those long and straight borders, so I ended up adding a series of elements to the other side to reinforce it all. That was not a problem, of course, because I like making reversible pieces; I actually found it interesting to think about what I might add from both visual and structural considerations.

Still, there is another way to approach this issue right from the start: design the piece so that no border between the mosaic elements goes entirely across the piece! That is, use the collage pieces to provide the necessary structure right from the start. A very basic example of that is one of the Three-Metal Mosaic pieces I made earlier this winter.

The base of this piece (not shown) was made from Rose Bronze, as was the center rectangle (which is shown in the photo to the right here). Then, going clockwise and starting in the upper left corner, I added alternating “mosaic tiles” of copper and yellow bronze. Although there is some lining up of pairs, I was careful to have no “line” extend the whole way across the piece in any direction! This is the simplest way I know of to avoid the problem I kept having with The Little (Oblong) Piece that Could.

Once I had all these tiles fully assembled, I tidied up the edges as needed (with just a damp sponge; sanding only a tiny bit at the corners, to round them off slightly), and added the Rose Bronze bail. The colors you see are mostly just the differences between the three separate metals, enhanced a bit by some green kiln-produced coloring on both the yellow and rose bronze textured “tiles” in the mosaic (but not, curiously, on the smoothly-extruded bail).

Who knows why, but I don’t seem to have a photo of the other side. Still, trust me, this piece is another of my fully-reversible designs! The other side was made using a delicate texture of tiny flowers, and then embellished with “vines” and “coils” in the three different metals. Since it was while looking at some mosaics in one of the museums I visited last week when I began thinking that I didn’t remember writing a follow-up post to the one about The Little (Oblong) Piece that Could, however, at least I do have this shot of the side that matters for this comparison.

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

What I did last week (part 3…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/01

Well, by the time I’ve managed to get around to posting this, I’m really talking about the week before last, but I figured I’d keep the same basic post-title I’d started this series with, and just keep going.

After writing last week about making some textured domed disks, so that I could use them in a bracelet inspired by Maria Richmond, now I’ll talk about how I’d imagined completing the project with an idea inspired by a post by Hadar Jacobson about making magnetic clasps from steel metal clay.

I thought I’d do pretty much just what Hadar suggested. The only difference was that I used a textured layer of her rose bronze clay, rather than the smoother layers of yellow bronze and copper she showed in her instructions. I draped that over a dried layer of her pearl gray steel. After letting it all dry, inserting a bronze wire bail, and “refining” everything, I fired it as recommended.

The rose bronze cracked. The steel under-side (not shown) seems fine.

I tried again, this time using textured copper draped over pearl gray steel.

Again, the steel under-side (not shown) came out fine but, also again, the copper over the top cracked.

I patched and otherwise repaired all three pieces, and refired them.

You can see that much of the wonderful kiln-induced coloring disappeared. (Compare that photo to the first two above; the colors were also mentioned in part 1….) No crisis there. One copper piece (top, above) shows only a tiny bit of cracking, at its edge. That’s not ideal but, at this point, I’m likely to leave that alone because, sigh, the other two came out worse than before! What happened? My guess (and this is only a guess), is that the steel (which sure had seemed to be sintered) had sintered some more (that is, it became denser and thus shrank some more) and the movement associated with that further shrinkage in the steel is what led to the additional cracking in the copper or bronze layer.

If I’d known that was coming, I could have measured everything much more carefully at each step along the way, and used that as a way to test my hypothesis (i.e., the guess, above). But I didn’t know; I just didn’t think to stop and take the time to measure….

Since I’d been stuck with refiring anyway, I tried a couple more. Shown, below, are the initial results from again using rose bronze and copper, respectively, but this time draped over clay made from Hadar’s newer Pearl Gray Steel XT powder. (They differ in size because I made my original textured dome elements in two different sizes as well; I point that out simply so you won’t think any difference you see could be due to variations in shrinkage. That was just my own doing….)

OK, much better! Much less cracking with that mix! Again, sanding the steel on the other side shows that it appears to be sintered. I’m not about to test that by refiring either of these. I’ll just live with a few hairline-crack issues on these pieces; all that means is that I’ll have to think especially carefully about how I use them.

Sometimes, even when I don’t think to do pre- and post-fire measurements, I do still come up with “Plan B” ideas. So, while I was at it, I made a couple toggle clasps using Hadar’s regular (i.e., yellow) bronze powder, to put in the box when I was (re-)firing the other clasp elements. Again, they were made in two different sizes. Their textures, curvature, and size match the domes I made to use with the coils; I added a heavy-gauge bronze wire loop to the toggle bars. In this photo (and the last one above), I show them after firing and after I’d brushed them just enough to confirm that they’ve sintered. I’ll shine them up a bit more before I go to use them in a piece.

Though none of the pieces from my last firing show the lovely kiln-coloring I got with the earlier batches, I do believe that there will be enough acceptable elements in all this that I can finish off my first round of bracelets with a few components left over. Earrings, perhaps? Or the start of a necklace?

[Update: I just added the “oops” tag I’d oops-ily omitted from the original post.]

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The lifespan of a no-flake-foil firing box….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/30

I folded this little firing box out of No-Flake Foil (from Cool Tools) some time last April, although I didn’t record the exact date because, at the time, I had no clue it was ever going to be worth noting.

I first wrote about this particular box in a post last July, after I’d noticed a little flurry of discussion about what people used to fire the copper, bronze, steel, or other metal clays that needed to be buried in carbon. At that time, I said it had held up just fine through several dozen firings.

I do tend to fire pieces in spurts (some weeks, nothing; other weeks, multiple loads) but, since then (especially, prior to the last “Holiday Season”!), it has survived dozens more.

The last time I emptied it out, however, during this past weekend and after it had provided almost ten months of regular service, I was sad to note that it has begun to sprout a few little holes. They are tiny and not easy to see (so of course I highlighted them with big red arrows for you in the photo!). But I know they signal the beginning of the end for this particular box.

So I thought I should note the date that it has been retired from duty as my primary firing box. My number-two box will step into that role. The experimenter in me isn’t quite ready to part with number-one yet, of course, so I’ve got it stashed away at the moment. I may try using it again a few more times, just so I can document its demise for my own information.

But, really, it’s just foil. There may be nothing more worth noting about it, except that I am amazed, and delighted, that it has already done so well for this long.

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What I did last week (part 2…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/23

OK, so why did I go off making those domed disks described in my last post? Well, I started them as soon as I received this photo in the mail:

That’s not a piece of mine. It was made by the very talented Maria Richmond, and it was included in an email from the delightful Zelda’s Bead Kit Company, to illustrate a workshop that Maria was to teach there last week.

I’ve wanted to take one of Maria’s workshops for quite some time now; but never managed to have both time and money available to coincide with the projects of hers that interested me the most. But when I saw this one, I contacted her right away, to ask about the size of the disks, and learned that they were some “antique enameling disks” that Maria had bought online to include in the materials-kits for the sessoin. Yes, they are very nice disks, and it’s great that they are now going to good use. But I saw that bracelet and immediately pictured making it with hand-made, textured domed disks, designed and developed using metal clay techniques!

Thus the little collection I made last week: two different metals (copper and rose bronze, from Hadar’s metal clay powders), some of each in two different sizes, all with a deep “rose” pattern on their convex (domed) side, and with either a much finer “rose” pattern or a shallow “fern” or “swirl” on the other (inner, bowl) side (varying in such a way that I could easily tell which was made from which metal). I made those to take to Maria’s class, about twice as many as I thought I’d need, plus a few smaller ones in case I needed some minor adjustments in length.

Now, my larger pieces are slightly bigger than Maria’s disks, and my smaller ones were not quite as big as hers. It looked like five of my bigger ones would come out to just a smidge under six of hers, which seemed like a size I could wear. So I just used those, rather than try to tweak the length any further by varying the size of the pieces.

Following Maria’s instructions in all other regards, the photos to the left and right here show how my bracelet came out. I was delighted.

Maria’s sample, and all of those made in the workshop except for mine, were made entirely of copper elements (not just the disks, but also the coils, links, jump rings, and clasp pieces) and, as a last step, darkened with Liver of Sulphur (“LOS”). I chose, however, not to use LOS on mine. I figured that would overpower the kiln-colors that I liked; the metals will darken soon enough on their own with age.

Then, a few minutes after I finished mine, as I looked at it on my arm, trying to decide which side should face out, I had a real “Aha!” moment. I took it completely apart and, when I reassembled it, I alternated both metals (rose bronze – copper – rose bronze – copper – rose bronze) and the orientation of each piece (rose up, coils up, rose up, coils up, rose up). I then bent the wire-wrap connectors a bit to encourage everything to lie in a particular orientation.

But, even if it rolls up and down my arm, this way I am more likely to have some elements land wire-coil up, and others, rose-dome up, thus featuring both Maria’s wire-work idea and my own metal-clay approach, respectively. (We’ve already discussed the possibility of jointly offering something along this line as a two-part class later in the year.)

And, yep, it’s a two-sided bracelet. Somehow, I just can’t help but make fully reversible pieces. Stay tuned: I’m hoping to find time to finish up yet another variation or two on this in the next week or so.

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What I did last week (part 1…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/22

The simple answer to, “What did you do last week?” would be, “I made up a handful of textured, domed disks to play with.”

In the rest of this post, I’ll discuss (with illustrations) just what I did. In my next post, I’ll explain why I did that. I hope to add another post, eventually, where I’ll review a few little tweaks I just happened to add to the plan…

I didn’t think to stop and take photos of the earlier stages in the construction of these pieces. Mostly, it was just the usual routine for working with metal clay. I began by mixing up small batches of several of Hadar’s metal clay powders that I wanted to use. The clay was then rolled out, textured (in general, on both sides), cut, shaped, dried, drilled, and in just a few cases, further “refined” (e.g., a few pieces had their edges sanded down just enough so the final result would be even and smooth) before going into the firing pans.

At this point, I started taking photos. (I have found myself tending to take a quick snapshot of each shelf or pan as it goes into the kiln. That way, if anything seems odd afterwards, I’ll have a record of what was where. Though, my usual load involves one-of-a-kind work; with so many similar pieces in this load, that isn’t going to tell me very much, is it? Oh, well.)

This photo shows the thirteen pieces I made. Ten are basic domes. The other three (to be discussed later) are the ones with little wire loops attached to them. (Click on photo to enlarge it, if necessary, to really see any such details….)

The pan to the left contains pieces made mostly using quick-fire copper clay; to the right, mostly using rose bronze metal clay. (One or two of each also contain some pearl gray steel, but those are the ones I’m going to hold off discussing for a while yet.)

The next photo shows two of the copper domes, just as they came out of the kiln. Note the lovely color on the one to the right (convex side up). That was a surprise! (And it’s what prompted me to start my tale here, with the disks themselves, rather than just with how I used them.) I am not used to seeing much color variation on fired copper, at least not seeing it as vividly as I often see with the bronzes. My fired copper usually just looks dark, like the one on the left. Several (though not all) of the copper pieces showed delightful color this time. And the brightest colors all appeared on the convex sides, the side that I had placed face-down during the firing.

This next photo shows two other copper pieces, less colorful from the kiln, and therefore all polished up to a reasonably bright shine:

Here are four rose bronze domes, straight from the kiln. Again, these all show the side I’d fired face-down. In the past, when the bronze pieces came out with colors, it has seemed that the nicest ones seem to appear on the side positioned that way. (Though you can’t count on seeing that at all: you just have to be thankful when you do!)

Then again, this time I noticed some pretty interesting colors on the sides that were face-up as well! The pieces shown in this next photo are just the same four, from above, turned over.

A side note: All thirteen pieces had the same “rose” texture on their convex side. The other side, however, got a slightly different treatment, depending on which metal I was using. I wasn’t sure how much I might care to know which was which as I was later working with them, but that seemed a simple yet unobtrusive way to distinguish the different metals if I wanted to quickly tell them apart.

Here are a couple more rose bronze disks. On the piece to the left, note the little red dot just to the left of the hole at the bottom.

Now, I admit, I didn’t note anything particularly memorable about that dot, itself, until I turned the piece over. Hmmmm. I wonder what tiny bit of something got into my carbon, to create the little, tan “washer” image on this side? You should be able to see it clearly at the bottom of the piece here on the left, just to the right of the hole. Its center matches the position of the red dot.

Well, I’ll never know the answer to the question of what caused that. But, here, you can see all ten disks after I finished polishing them up by varying amounts:

Knowing that the kiln-induced patina-colors are rather ephemeral, that they’ll wear off the high points, at least, as the piece is touched, worn, jostled in a jewelry box, etc., I decided to polish that off all the high points on the convex sides, while still leaving some down in the hollows. (I did give a full polish to a few select pieces that did not show much range in color.) Then I fully polished the concave sides—for several reasons, the decision to go for a full shine there was somewhat beyond my control. Partly, it had to do with how I intend to use these (see my next post). Also, it was due to the polishing tools I have that made it easy for me to limit what I’d polish on the “outside” to just the high points, but that meant I pretty much had to do a full-scale polish down in the “inside” anyway (or else, spend a lot more time on these than I thought they warranted). That was fine. I am happy with the results so far.

Please stay tuned to see what I’ve begun doing with these….

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Third blob’s a charm….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/13

I haven’t updated blog, nor done much of anything non-essential, for over a week. I have read and commented at a few other sites, but that’s easier than coming up with something new myself, given the massive sinus & such infection that invaded my head. I’m perking back up — just in time, I might add, so I can lead a (very full, I hear) Curved Oblong Pendants workshop at Zelda’s this weekend — and I have begun composing several other posts in my head which will materialize after that (and maybe after a couple more classes too … I really am way behind on many fronts). But here’s a quick one in response to my friend Alice’s recent post Third time is NOT a charm!

Alice was talking about slip-trailing, which is a technique borrowed (as far as I know) from pottery. Thinned-down clay (slip) is poured (trailed) across a piece. Some metal clay folks do extremely precise designs, carefully dripping tiny amounts of slip at a time off the tip of a paintbrush; others do more random designs (as I did in the first photo shown with this post, above) by letting it dribble out of the end of a syringe that you hover over the piece, often moving that around in a somewhat random pattern. (Other tools, and combos of those approaches, are also possible, but I won’t go into all that now.) Alice wrote that she and a friend tried this recently (Alice has done this a few times before) and, though the friend seemed to achieve some good results, Alice ended up with some “blobs” that she was less than happy with.

Now, I could have just left a sympathetic comment on Alice’s post, but the reason I’m writing all this here is so I can show her (and you too) the second photo. It’s also a slip-trail design, but what you see is nothing like I had in mind when I started it. My goal had been something geometric but, as Alice herself often says, sometimes a piece will tell you what it wants to be.

And this one was quite emphatic. I trailed the line down the center. Fine. I trailed a second line. Blob! Not sure what to do with that, I trailed a third. Another blob. I sat there, frustrated, looking at the blobs.

And I saw tulips! Two distinct flowers, which led me to imagine a third tulip-blob that had simply grown off the top of the frame. And that was it: the piece had told me what it wanted to be. I took out a paintbrush and very carefully squeezed in just a few tiny leaves, to help confirm the image.

The only problem with writing this post, of course, is that I’ve now publicly admitted that the design on that piece was sheer luck. Or, maybe the artistry in it was recognizing the luck?

Here’s wishing Alice, and all my other readers, the ability to recognize good luck when it pops up in front of you!

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

How much to polish?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/12/23

Here’s another butterfly from my recent little extravaganza making bronze pieces alluding to pollinators. I had this one out at the recent open house at Zelda’s, and got into a discussion with another artist (Jan) and a couple other customers from the store.

Jan had taken one of my butterfly workshops where she made several gorgeous silver pieces. I’d tumble-polished them to an even, high shine for her, per her request. And she had them on display, for sale, at Zelda’s. At least one of the customers indicated her opinion that I should have polished my bronze ones as much.

While I did polish the butterfly in this photo a bit, I chose to not take it to that same high level of shine. Why? Mostly because I liked the hints of color hiding down in its hollows. (Same thing with the butterfly shown in my last post.) To me, those subtle hints of color are part of the appeal of the bronze.

To you of course, it may just look like it still needs to be polished some more. If that’s what you want on a piece you’re thinking of buying from me, please just ask! Once I’ve polished it, however, all of it will have that dark-golden yellow tone that bronze takes on. All of the other tints will be gone.

I have done that for all sorts of pieces, but it’s just not high on my list of surface treatments for butterflies. I guess I imagine my Lepidoptera, to appear colorful.

That discussion did prompt an idea for me, for a project for next year: to make a series of pieces that are, not identical, but similar, and finish them in a series of ways. One like these butterflies, another with a solid-color satin finish, and another that is as shiny as I can get it. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the results to appear here, but know it’s on the to-do list at least. If you have done anything similar, please let me know, and we can compare notes!

In the meantime, I’ll close with images (regular readers of this blog may have already seen them) of two silver pieces I’ve made that are much shinier (though I’m not sure how fully that appears in the photos). The pendant has had a bit of patina added down in the lines of its pattern; the ring has some color in the ruby stone that’s set on the top.

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

And some Holiday-colors now too.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/12/06

Today’s “colorful” story starts with the fact that I’ve had a disk with a sort of “dotted web” design sitting around for quite some time now. As in, for several years. In the dried-clay state, just a disk, pattern on one side but nothing on the other yet, no bail, etc. I made it quickly at the end of a “clay play day” with other members of my local Metal Clay guild. One of those moments when, rather than pack up the rest of my opened but unused clay with no idea when I’d have a chance to get back to it, I just made something, thinking I’d figure it out later on. I will often finish off a pack that way except, usually, it doesn’t take quite so long until I complete a piece started under those circumstances.

With the price that silver got up to this past year, last spring I decided I needed to get more of my UFOs (Un-Finished Objects — especially the silver ones) into a finished state and off to new homes. (Thus earning enough money to buy more silver, of course!) This being me, however, I had to at least try to make it reversible. So I cut out three deckle-edge strips and added them, mosaic-style, to the other side. (Yep, I cut three different pieces of textured clay using crafting scissors with a deckle edge pattern.) And I added a bail. But it still didn’t feel “finished” to me yet, so I set it aside for another four months, completing a good number of others in the meantime….

Finally, as I was finishing off a few other pieces (ones that I had designed and executed in a much more timely fashion), and adding some gemstones to those, it hit me: what this piece needed was a colorful stone. I kept turning it over and over, trying to decide which side should get that addition. Both of them kept calling out, “Me! Me!”

After maybe two months more, I finally gave in to what it was asking for: each side got its own gem! The decision to put a jade piece on the “web” side was easy. I kept debating over the other side and then I remembered that I had some citrines that were on the red end of the orange range. If I used one of those, I could make a reddish-and-green piece that might jump out as a great gift for someone during the Holiday season, but would still be versatile enough to wear year-round.

The end result, at last, is shown here.

Posted in General Techniques | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: