Convergent Series

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

Archive for the ‘Misc. Musings’ Category

Silver Metal Clay on Pottery

Posted by C Scheftic on 2017/02/22

For reasons I’ll explain at the end, here are a few examples of pottery I’ve made over the past few years to use in some of my early experiments in adding silver metal clay decorations to them.  Since I’m showing here my first experiments with various techniques, for those I chose to not risk my best pottery pieces and the decorations were deliberately kept very simple. But each of them does seem to have a little story to tell!

  1. I threw, bisqued, glazed, and fired these pieces.  The same electric kiln was used for both firings.  The relatively rough glaze was a deliberate choice … I then smushed some clay onto the surface and fired that with a creme brulee torch to sinter the silver.  For my first-ever attempts at these, I was happy with these results.
    Two Bowls with Fine Silver Silver
  2. I threw several pieces, cutting ridges into their outside surfaces. After bisque-firing those (in a different electric kiln), I glazed the inside and smushed silver clay onto the outer ridges, then fired those (in a gas kiln).  Most turned out wonderfully, and I’ve already sold all of those but the one shown here.  Part of the back of this one did break off. (I used the same glaze inside this one as on the piece in item #3, below.) The fault could have come from either a flaw in the pottery (perhaps I’d cut a ridge a little too deeply?) or because I’d applied the metal clay a bit thicker there (and the shrinkage as the binder burned off and it sintered was too much for the pottery clay), or even from both of those combined… I haven’t yet gotten around to trying to distinguish among those possibilities.
    Bowl with Fine Silver (glazed inside, silver outside)
  3. I threw, bisqued, glazed, and fired this piece.  (Those firings were done in the same electric / gas pattern as #2, above.)  Then I rolled out some “snakes” of a low-shrinkage silver metal clay and spread a tiny bit of overlay paste onto them (in the setting where I made this–not my own studio and I’d forgotten to take a tiny paintbrush for this step–that was far easier than applying paste to the pot). I pressed those onto the vase, and fired this piece yet a third time (and in yet a different electric kiln, a small one that another artist had for firing metal clay molds).  The clay shrank: the upper snake held at the ends but cracked open at roughly 1/4 of the way from one end; the lower one held along its length but pulled up into itself leaving a little smudge of silver paste at the end and at a few places along its side. The little “splats” of silver must have been a bit of clay/paste from my fingers as I was sticking it all together. I didn’t notice those until after the firing, but I really like that accidental result. Now I want to figure out a way to reliably recreate those, especially like the one above and to the right of the top snake!
    Pot with Fine Silver
  4. I threw this piece and bisque-fired it (in an electric kiln).  I applied glaze to the outside.  I rolled several “snakes” of a low-shrinkage metal clay, wet them on the bottom, and applied them in a “spray” pattern to the unglazed inside bottom and edge.  The piece was fired in a gas kiln.  When removed, the silver looked sintered and the patterns were all still intact.  The piece was immediately (i.e., still hot!) dropped into a newspaper-filled can, and covered.  (Those who know the process will recognize that as a “raku” firing!)
    Wide Bowl with Fine Silver (balled by raku)
    This outcome was my biggest surprise! The gas kiln did not over-fire the silver, but the fire from the raku-process did then get the inside of the can hot enough to completely melt the silver!  You may just be able to see some faint hints of where part of the pattern had been: tan spots where some of them were even show little trails of tiny silver balls.  But most of it pulled up into two balls in the center! (Another small bit from the edge must have just fallen off in the raku-can and disappeared as it was emptied out. That’s experimentation!) I was able to get a number of pieces with ball-decorations to survive the raku process (similar look to both #1 and #2 above) and turn out beautifully, but I have yet to figure out how to approach, in raku, designs like those that later developed from the technique I first tried with #3.
  5. While I’m sure that many readers with metal clay experience will have taken their clue from the size of the silver balls and snakes above, I will end with another little pot from that session.  The pencil is there to give you a sense of scale for all these pieces! And if you look carefully, you should be able to see the small (3 mm) clear cubic zirconia I’d set into the wet clay.  All the ones I made with those did survive all three firing steps (bisque and two-part raku).
    Green Crackle Pot with CZ
    While the previous items all show my very first attempt at each technique, this was my second try. The very first piece did have one very tiny crack just off to the side of the CZ, visible but with no obvious damage to the structure. That was probably due to my having used too-wet clay until I figured out that I could set CZs in stiffer clay. That bowl did have a great shape, and another artist really wanted to swap me some art-glass for it!

I’ve been playing around with miniature pottery, off and on, with and without such embellishments, for several years now. Though I have been offering my miniature pottery for sale at various shows, I haven’t taken the experimentation seriously enough to feel inclined to write much about it. (And I’m not teaching this, at least not yet, so I don’t have that inspiration for writing about it either…)

But I decided to post these examples after seeing some experimentation that Terry Kovalchik has been doing, and writing about, with painting silver clay paste onto pottery shards, and reading some of the reactions he’s gotten to that in the Metal Clay Now group on Facebook. (Metal Clay Now is a “closed” group, but readers of my blog who use Facebook are certainly welcome to ask to join it!)

While many of his results are superb (as usual!), Terry has reported some further breakage of the clay shards during the sintering process. But, like my #2 above, that could be from any or all of: a weak spot in the pottery (at initial construction or from whatever created the “shards”), the shrinkage of the silver clay (how thickly or how evenly it’s applied, exactly how it aligns with any weakness in the clay body), or any number of other little peculiarities. So I thought it was time for me to bring out a few of my explorations too, and maybe others will start to chime in with what they’ve tried and how it’s worked out for them.

If you are working with similar combinations, please leave a comment: I’d love to hear from you, see some of your results, and compare more notes!

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Posted in Misc. Musings, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

December 27, and I was mowing my lawn?!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/12/27

And now, a little diversion from art into practical issues of life.

Six weeks ago, I thought I’d put my lawn mower away for the winter. The last leaf pick-up the city offered was on November 10, which is later than it’s been in other recent years. By then, I’d gradually trimmed the grass down for its last mowing, cleaned up the mower for the winter, and tucked it away.

I knew, however, that I wasn’t done. My trees still had leaves! I’d cleaned up those that had fallen from the apple tree and other shrubs along the sides and in the back, and I was willing to let any remaining ones that fell just be for a while. I leave stray apples down in the back yard too: deer from the park can come and find them during the winter! Then I do the final clean-up there in the spring. But I try to keep the front tidier.

By Thanksgiving weekend, the sweetgum tree in front had dropped no more than 100 leaves: the many, many thousands it bears usually fall over the course of that whole month. At the end of November this year, I just shoveled up those first few and dumped them in the compost. And then the busy-season started: shows and events and last minute requests plus gatherings and baking and decorating and visitors and whatnot. The first week of December, only a few more leaves dropped. Then, suddenly, a week before Christmas (during my last Trunk Show of the season), there was the first real deep-freeze, followed by a quick warm-up with heavy rain, and they all dumped straight down in a day or two, piled up in a soggy mess. I guess that’s better than dry and blowing all over the neighborhood! But these were clumped together inches deep on the eastern-third of my front yard under the tree. Every now and then I’d find a few spare daylight hours when I’d think I could try to work on that, but those just never happened on dry-enough days.

Still, despite a lot of rain, it rarely went below freezing. The grass kept growing. And with short days, it seemed to do the thing plants do during their “growing season” when there’s not enough light: it shot up another six inches or more!

I thought maybe I’d try to deal with all this yesterday, with temperatures in the 60s (SW Pennsylvania the last week of December, and temps in the 60s?!!). But it rained all day. I did, at least, take down the “window boxes” full of flowers that I hang from the porch railings. I could, of course, do that from the shelter of the porch.

Today it only reached into the 40s, but it was clear. I didn’t have as much free time today, but I did manage almost four hours out there! I raked up about 80% of the leaves and sucked those through my mulching leaf vacuum. (I wouldn’t have had to rake if they’d been dry. But wet, they stick together and clog up the machine’s nozzle unless I “fluff” them up.) The rest just got mulched in with the grass when I mowed the lawn.

Since we’re just past the solstice, the days are short: so my last hour out there was after sunset! A few days shy of the new moon, there was no helpful light from that, but streetlights and holiday lights did offer some aid. By the time I’d finished collecting leaves and mowing, however, the mower, leaf vacuum, rake and shovel all went straight back into the garage. And the thing I’m debating tonight is whether to take time in the morning to clean them up again for winter storage, especially the mower, or just figure I may need it again in a few weeks.

I can’t believe I’m having that thought! I also can’t believe that it wasn’t until well after dark before I said to myself, “I really should have thought to take a photo while there was still some light!” Oh well. I hope you enjoy the story!

Posted in House & Home, Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

An Important Question, prefaced by a couple laments….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/08/23

My question, dear readers, is at the very end of my two long laments in this post. If you want the short version, just scroll down to that….

1. RIP Picasa. That’s the saddest part of this post.

I loved Picasa! If you’re not familiar with Picasa, it was the photo-sharing service that I’ve been using for images on this blog since I started it. (The photo illustrating this section is the same one I used on my first post on this blog: an old image of the first metal clay piece I ever made!) Google has “retired” it.

Picasa had a desktop application; it was fine but I have other tools I often use for editing, file transfers, and such, so that’s not what I’m mourning.

Where I’m feeling the loss involves their web-based photo sharing! I’ve not tallied the exact number, but I have put thousands of photos there, organized into albums by topic or event. There was a total-memory limit, but I was conservative, posting copies of my images that were too small for most print situations but generous for general web-viewing, because making them accessible on the web was my goal. (In about eight years I had not yet used ten percent of the quota.)

What a really valued was their click-able options for including either a tiny (“thumbnail”) or small version of photos I wanted to share in this blog. Readers could get a view of what I was trying to illustrate while taking up only a small amount of bandwidth / data usage. If you wanted to see more, you could always click on any image to have a larger version open in a new tab or window. That whole operation was seamless, for me as the writer as well as for you as the reader.

Now, the good news is that most of the small views are still available in these posts, so readers looking at older posts (e.g., finding them in web searches, which I can see happens a lot) can still get the idea of what I’m talking about when I reference them. A few seem to be missing, from when I wasn’t thinking and clicked a different spot while connecting, but those will be easy to fix (ha: when I find the time!). The bad news is that all the click-to-enlarge photos are gone!

I have not lost my originals. I will admit, however, that those are not as well-organized as what I had on Picasa. I worked from various different locations, and backed up my originals from there as I went along, so they are scattered about in different places … which had not been a problem in the past, because if I wanted to find the big originals I could always go to Picasa and find the little clues I’d hidden there for myself as to where they were… Grrr!

I can still get to all of my public albums via Google Photos. I strongly dislike the design of that interface! I’m not going to go and re-do the links to display all the photos I’ve already posted, but I feel zero inclination to use that for any more of my images. Google claims it’s better for mobile applications, but I’m trying to share photos outside of just Google. For my own purposes, I find it awkward to use. And, yes, I an used to switching between lots of different applications, so it’s something more than that.

I have a few photos on Flickr. I really only used that when I wanted to participate in some Flickr-group thing (e.g., Vickie Hallmark’s Month of Earrings challenge back in 2010, which began here) that required you to link to Flickr files. But it took several more steps to be able to include one of those shots in my blog, so Picasa was my default for here. Flickr did improve the interface a bit over time, not as good as Picasa’s was but less clunky than it had been. My primary concern for shifting over there right now is that Flickr is part of Yahoo! and Yahoo! is having its own issues at the moment…

I have a bunch of photos on Facebook, but there is zero way to keep everything organized there. Yes, I can create some albums for posts on my own timeline. But, aside from the fact that some places I want to share them on Facebook won’t let me share them from those albums (no, they want me to upload a version of the file specifically for that situation…?), photos I put there are really only easily made public within Facebook. That’s too restrictive. For my primary stash, I want my public photos to be public, and I want my restricted-access photos to be available to people to whom I provide access myself, and both settings should be regardless of whether viewer is currently, or ever, logged in to Facebook or any other service!

I have an account on Instagram, but don’t see a way to organize things there. It’s just a chronological stream. Or am I missing some key feature: can I create albums there? If so, can I sort them various ways (e.g., by first / last date or title)?

I have a couple of YouTube channels. I’m working on some videos for those (that I’ll write posts about eventually). But that’s different from what I want to do with photos here. I have some GigaPan albums. But those are mostly for other kinds of projects I’m involved with entirely.

Yes, for this blog, I could just insert photos directly via WordPress. I may be forced to do that here until I can find a new service that helps me keep my photos organized. For that matter, I have a whole domain, and could share photos from there! Except then I’d have to access them by file-name rather than by image-appearance, and my memory works far better and faster when it’s processing images.

I know that I have lots of options, mentioned here and otherwise. I’m not seeking a service that does everything. But I do need to find a good replacement for the sheer organizational assistance that I had with Picasa…..

2. WSCC’s woes.

Which brings me to my second lament: the building where I have my studio is having its own issues. The connection should become clear in a few moments.

My Studio Space, before I filled it up!I love the space I have at the Wilkins School Community Center. I looked for studio space for several years before I found that spot. I can’t imagine not having it, nor finding a place with the features I love about it anywhere else. (The photo illustrating this section shows what the space looked like the day I first saw it and decided to rent it!)

The site is a decommissioned school building, still owned by the borough but managed by a local community group that gets to use it in exchange for handling all the maintenance. And in a building that is 89 years old, that is piling up. I’m on the top floor, but in the middle, so I didn’t suffer much from the roof leaks that were fixed a few years ago. I was delighted to be among the first rooms to have its overhead lights replaced. Being on the top floor has sheltered me from various plumbing / drainage leak issues; there are no “private” rooms in the basement, in fact, so it’s just private parties renting the kitchen and auditorium who have suffered from those (and, of course, the center itself, when it loses room rental income while incurring plumbing costs…). And now, there is crumbling concrete and masonry on the outside that is going to involve some hefty repair costs. I’ll probably post info about calls for local support for that in the near future. For now, there’s one more item to address…

Regular readers may have noticed my comments in recent months about issues with internet access. I really have no clue what went wrong there. The Linux group who manages that for the center (in exchange for reduced rental rates for their meeting spaces… are you getting an idea of how the whole system operates?) said we needed some new equipment. Now, Amy and I, who have rooms on the top floor, are puzzled by this. If we’d brought in new, more modern devices, ones that didn’t work on the old set-up, that could have made some sense. But we’re still just trying to connect devices that we used to be able to connect, but now we can’t even find a signal… One can frequently be found downstairs, and at times there is a weak one in the upper hallway, but once you go into the upper rooms, the signal is gone. A parade of people have been in and out, working on some bit or another of the system, for months. They don’t tell us when they’re coming, report that they have fixed something and it’s now all working again, but when we get in to our rooms, no, we still don’t have a signal. If I sit with my laptop in the hallway I can work, but the laptop has its own problems, and the hallway is noisy and full of echoes and other distractions that I prefer to avoid. My favorite machine, a desktop device I have tucked away out of sight of casual passers-by along with my wireless printer, now sees nothing. And because net-access in select rooms is just one item in a huge list of maintenance issues, there are long gaps between attempts to get it working. The latest story is that someone else is coming out to see if they can resolve this (by switching to a different ISP) in early September. Here’s hoping!

Until those problems started, I’d had a pretty good system working in my studio. Those of you who use metal clays know that there are times when you are “waiting for something to happen.” For moist clay to dry. For dry clay to rehydrate. For a kiln to fire. Etc. Sometimes those steps can be rushed, but often the final outcome is better if one can wait patiently. I can fill in the gaps with other construction or finishing processes, of course, but I would also often fill in the gaps with tech-tasks: editing photos; uploading those; tending to blog, Facebook, etc. In the gaps, they didn’t seem like chores: they were efficient, effective uses of waiting-time. But if I have to take time to tend to them after I’ve left the studio and gone home, which is supposed to be my refuge and not my work-place, then much less of that gets accomplished. And it spirals down even further.

I haven’t been writing about all my recent explorations (e.g., with various forms of “flex” and/or “sterling” clays, more experiments with cutting and engraving with the Silhouettes, excursions into different forms of clay entirely, and more!), which means I’ve actually been thinking less about possible variations … because those come to me while writing … which means I haven’t been making quite as much as I could either.

It also means I haven’t been able to spend gap-time there exploring alternative photo-sharing sites. Which leads to….

3. An Important Question: What’s a good photo-sharing service, and why?

The net-access issues I will leave to the community center’s governing board, but I sure could use some help identifying a good photo-sharing service. When I do manage to get online, I can do searches and read reviews but (a) I find a lot that are out of date, which I’m sure of because Picasa is listed as being among the best yet that’s what I’m being forced to replace, and (b) I’d also appreciate being able to see (and discuss) what folks who are at least somewhat “like me” are using!

  • I’m not trying to post photos to sell so, while I can add a bit to my jewelry sale prices to compensate for additional overhead, I can’t offset much price for the service that way.
  • I need space for a lot of photos, but few of them need to be super-high resolution: my aim is easy ‘net-access, not best-print quality.
  • I want an _easy_ interface for getting a link I can stick in a blog post, a Facebook post, etc.
  • I want an _easy_ way to reference photos of different sizes (e.g., tiny for a blog sidebar, small for a post, medium when I want to show off some special feature).
  • I want settings that allow me to switch between:
    • full-public access (my primary use, where people like my blog readers can see my images without having to be logged in to some service),
    • various forms of limited access (I don’t put anything online that I’d be concerned if it went public, but I may for example want to limit access for certain images that are part of a collaboration), or
    • private, just for me ( I often use the latter while building a story, and then open up access when I have a collection ready).
I sure hope I will get some good recommendations, in comments here or via email. Thanks for ANY help you can offer at this time!

Posted in Misc. Musings, Photographing Jewelry, Studio | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

I found it!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/07/16

I found the missing Friends & Lovers bracelet!!! I’ve written about this one before.

I first wrote about it in 2014, when I created it for a Valentine’s Day Romantic-theme challenge. It contained domed hearts that were the first trial pieces I made in my own studio with what Hadar was then calling Friendly Bronze (and now calls One Fire Bronze).

The next time I wrote about it was in 2015, when I thought I must have “put it somewhere safe” before an Open House in my studio … because my cousin, Debby, wanted to buy it to wear at her son’s wedding. But then as the big day approached, I couldn’t find it. So at pretty much the last possible minute, I made her another one, Love & Commitment.

Well, I’m here to tell you now that I hadn’t put it away for safekeeping. I had put away a couple other pieces that were already promised to customers, and I found them as expected after the show. I wasn’t sure that’s what I’d done with that bradelet, but I couldn’t imagine where else it could be. Even after making a replacement for Debby, I’d periodically look for it. My studio has many, many little cubbyholes and boxes and drawers full of bins and yet more boxes, so any time I’d decide some section needed to be cleaned up a bit, I’d check all the nooks & crannies to see if the missing bracelet was there. No luck.

But, this week, I was shuffling around some shadow boxes I use when I display pieces in gallery shows and, as I pushed one back into one of the sections in the bottom of an old china closet I use in my studio (for art & jewelry displays on the top, and supply storage below), for some reason that big one didn’t want to go in the whole way. So I got down on my knees and pulled out a couple other frames in the back to see what was wrong. And there the bracelet was, in the very farthest back corner. I have NO IDEA how it got there. None. None at all!

Funny thing is, I discovered it just about a year to the day from when I first realized it had gone missing. I remember when that was because another cousin, Marie, is here now on her annual visit east from Calinfornia, and it was during her visit here last year when I first discovered that I’d misplaced it (though I didn’t admit that to any of my cousins until a couple months later, shortly before the September wedding).

Regardless of timing, I am glad to have recovered it!

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

Well, that was a surprise!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/06/30

As promised in my last post, here’s the story behind the earrings whose photo I posted there….

1. In my fairly early days working with metal clays—as soon as I’d moved on from just using a creme brulee torch and bought my first kiln but when I was still working on tray-tables in my family room, years before I started this blog or opened my studio—I found much inspiration in the work of CeCe Wire (one of the pioneers in metal clay techniques), and one of the things I had fun doing was making pieces that played with shrinkage. I learned about the concept in her first book, from 2003, Creative Metal Clay Jewelry: techniques, projects, inspiration, and had that reinforced when I earned my PMC Certification in a course with her, in Baltimore in 2007.

At that point, I’d make a small piece (earrings or small pendants) out of the original PMC Silver formula (no longer available), that had a shrinkage rate of 28% (and had to be fired in a kiln for a full two hours). I’d embellish it with Art Clay Silver, that had a shrinkage rate of 10%. Why those two? Because their shrinkage rates were the farthest apart of all the clays at that time on the market.

Because it was constrained by the low-shrinkage clay, the high-shrinkage clay would curve and distort in interesting ways: the fun part was trying different locations for connecting the clays to discover what results I could produce. (This was also back in the day when the nominal price of silver was a mere fraction of what it is today…. I am so glad I started that early! Even then, I did feel limited in how much sheer experimenting I could do, but nothing like it would be today….) I did some other clay combos too, but that particular pairing consistently yielded the most interesting results. The relatively high shrinkage of “original” was the key, no matter what other clay was combined with it.

I stopped doing any of that when Mitsubishi discontinued their original formula. Like many others, I was sad to see it go, but I created enough designs in other ways that the loss didn’t feel as devastating to me as it did to some folks. Since then, a few other silver clays have come on the market with shrinkage rates in the range of 20 to 25%, and at times I’d think about reviving that old technique with them, but then would get caught up in other project ideas and that would slide way down on the priority list.

2. I have written here before about how I try to not store “leftover” clay. I just keep making things until I’ve used a packet all up. Some of my earrings are made with leftover bits. Little embellishments can be cut out or coiled up, dried, and used in later creations. The last few dregs can be shaped into little balls, dried, and stored for later use too. If I don’t have time at the end of a work session to use everything up, I will store the last bits for a brief time, but I do try to form those into something useful as soon as I can.

3. Last month, for various reasons (e.g., different projects, classes, demonstrations), I used a number of different clays, including these (as well as several others, but these are the ones relevant to the rest of this post):

Clay Formula Shrinkage Rate
PMC 3 12%
PMC Flex 15%
PMC Sterling 15% – 20%
.960 made with PMC3 Question #1
.960 made with PMC Flex Question #2, this post’s inspiration…

Re Question #1: In a comment on the post where Celie Fago introduced the idea of home-made .960, Holly Gage estimated the shrinkage of PMC3 and Sterling to be about 13%. In a post that further disseminates the idea of using .960, Emma Gordon writes that “You can use PMC3 syringe with it, no problem.”

Now, maybe I’m missing something obvious, but if folks are combining PMC 3 syringe clay with .960 made from mixing PMC3 and PMC Sterling, it seemed as though I should be able to combine PMC Flex lump clay with .960 made from it and sterling: their nominal shrinkage rates are even closer! I had a bit of Flex.960 left from one activity, so I used up those dregs making a couple little pairs of earring bases. Flat ones. Definitely flat. I had a bit of regular Flex left, so I twisted a little spiral-pair for one set of earrings, and made a little twisted rope to embellish the other pair. (With the last few bits, I made a number of little balls which I then accidentally knocked all over my studio floor. I’ll hunt for those eventually!)

And when I fired those two pairs of earrings … the photo below shows what I got! Can you see how far they’ve curved?!! I’m not disappointed in the results. In fact, I’m happily reminded of those early CeCe-inspired domed pieces that were so much fun. It’s just that this is not what I was expecting! The shrinkage rates on these clays are nowhere near as far apart as what I was using in all domed pieces I was making a decade ago — I would have expected this with those. Just not now.

I guess this is telling me I need to find some time (where?!!) to do some more experiments! If you’ve experienced anything like this, intentionally or not, please let me know.

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

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

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/01/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in General Techniques, Misc. Musings, Teaching Metal Clay | 1 Comment »

One more thought on using my tumbler…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/01/15

Well, it’s about time! Last night, I finally took two minutes to figure out how to “publicize” a blog post on Facebook. (That time was split between finding where the settings were and choosing among the options available.) And I used that feature for the first time with my last post. This morning, I found the following exchange over there:

Now, Alice is correct. So I could have just “liked” her comment but, well, I admit I don’t know how to be terse, and I thought it was worth trying to be clear about what was going on, for anyone else who might stumble across the discussion here. So I decided that another blog post was in order. Once I’ve got it ready, then I’ll go “like” her comment and share this post too.

This is what my rotary tumbler looks like when I’m ready to use it:

There’s a brown paper bag folded in thirds and stuck under one end. Why?

Well, I don’t think it’s specific to this style of tumbler, though it may be a bit more common with these than with some others. But I discovered this trick with the very first tumbler I ever used: a little, all-plastic, undersized for its intent, rock tumbler for kids. The key is that the barrel has to be in good contact with both rollers, both of which have to be able to turn smoothly.

In an ideal setting, the base would be flat on a table. The motor would turn and the belt attached to it would turn the roller in the middle of the base. That would turn the barrel. Because the barrel is also supported by the other roller–the one at the end–that one would turn too. Thus, the motor, belt, both rollers, and the tumbler would all roll around together.

But, with this particular unit, if I simply put the base flat on the table and set the filled barrel on it, then the roller in the middle–the one that’s driven by the motor–that one turns just fine. That’s my clue that the “belt” connecting it to the motor is adjusted correctly. (If that roller slips, or seems to stick, that’s a sign that the belt needs to be adjusted which, for the record, is a routine maintenance task.)

In my case, however, this barrel would just turn in fits and starts. The “other” roller turns only when the barrel turns, so it’s not helping either. It seems to me that there are two possible solutions (though I do welcome other informed suggestions…):

  1. Slightly raise the end with the motor on it. This pushes the barrel onto the roller at the “end,” which forces that one to move along with the barrel.
  2. Slightly aise the end opposite the motor. This pushes the barrel onto the roller in the “middle,” which reduces the role of the one at the outside end.

I’ve tried it both ways and, in fact, both seem to work. But, as shown in my photo, above, I tend to set things up the first way, so the end with the motor is just slightly higher than the other end. In my logic, the second way seems like it’s putting extra pressure on the motor to do all the work. The first way seems to force both rollers to contribute to the effort, and that’s why I prefer to set it up that way.

If you have any other suggestions, or a better way to explain what’s going on here, please contribute to the discussion via the comments below!

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I love my clear plastic hexagonal tumbler barrels!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/01/13

An art-jewelry-friend of mine, Zoe Nelson, posted this in a metal clay group on Facebook last week. But I check Facebook only sporadically, so I didn’t see it until a day and a half later, by which time she’d already received dozens of suggestions and found a neighbor whose car-repair tool (an oil filter wrench) actually helped to solve the problem.

Until then though, none … none! … of the suggestions were how I would have responded: a few were halfway-decent alternatives, a few were complaints rather than solutions, some were simply sympathetic notes, and the rest were ideas that were far more complicated than I’d’ve thought necessary, a few even likely to damage the barrel. Thus, this blog post, at last, that Zoe knows I’m writing for her (and any others in a similar predicament!) to have for future reference.

I did make a range comments about my tumbler that uses these barrels, and more, a few years ago. (Looking for the link — gosh, that was way back in 2012!) So I have over three more years experience with it since then.

Yeah, the clear plastic lid can be a bit tricky. But (just as Zoe said in her Facebook exchanges with her readers) I’ve had as much trouble, in different ways, with the lid on the kind of barrel that’s made out of black rubber. While your experience may differ, I will take the clear plastic ones any day!

You can follow the link above to read the pros and cons I wrote back in 2012 (and see a few more photos, plus other alternatives, if you landed here without a lot of knowledge of tumblers), but here are the things I want to say now that relate specifically to Zoe’s problem and anyone else who may encounter a similar one.

First of all, let’s try to prevent the problem from the start:

  • After you’ve filled your barrel with shot, water with either a bit of dish soap or burnishing compound, and the pieces you want to tumble, do this: Dip your fingertip in the liquid and run it around the rubber ring that seals between the barrel and the top. You don’t need to soak it, just get it slightly damp. This seems to help it form a good seal.
  • Then put the lid on and turn it backwards until it feels like it is seated correctly and fits smoothly. (I don’t do this all the time, but if it seems to stick at all at the next step, then I always back up and do this!)
  • Turn the lid forward to tighten it. It should turn smoothly and freely: if it doesn’t, stop! If you have trouble getting it on, you will have more trouble getting it off! It should tighten easily. If it’s catching, it’s not seated correctly. Back up a step, and repeat that one and this until you get it to close up easily.
  • Then, tighten it a bit more so that it seals. The lid does need to be tight, but not super-tight. Tip the barrel sideways and turn it around a couple of times (like it will turn on the base), and see if it leaks.

    • If it doesn’t leak, proceed to start tumbling.
    • If it does leak, try to tighten it a little bit more and repeat the test. (If there is some liquid in the little “gaps” in the big part of the barrel, where the straight edges connect to the rim, that might be all that’s leaking. So test it for a bit longer and see if it stops dripping once that has emptied out.)
    • If it continues to fail, don’t over-tighten it! Spin the lid backwards and, if it moves smoothly, go ahead and try to re-tighten it. If it doesn’t move smoothly or still continues to fail, just take it off and start from the first, seal-lubricating step above (checking to see if it may be time to replace that rubber ring).
  • When you’re done tumbling, the lid should come off…. It may take a bit of effort (you did have it sealed up well, you know, so it wouldn’t leak!), but set it down flat on a table, hold the barrel, and figure out how to push down (to press against that great seal you managed to make) and turn the top, let up and turn if you can, push a bit more if necessary and keep trying to turn, until it starts to move.

Now, if that last step doesn’t work, ignore all the suggestions about things like cooling the bottom while heating the top, or hitting the edge of the lid with a knife, or trying to pry the lid off, or any of the other tricks that people have tried in their kitchen, and use the method that I always use in mine and which has always worked on my clear plastic tumbler barrels too. I will quote it directly from the funny but still useful book by John and Marina Bear that is illustrated to the right (just so you get an idea of what the whole book is like, in addition to the tip on what to do…):

Problems with Utensils
Stuck bottle or jar tops

H. Allen Smith revealed to the world the technique for opening all screw-top containers. Now there are untold millions of us who face Mount Kisco or wherever it is he lives and say thank you every time we are faced with an obstinate top.

The technique: Bang the top flatly on a hard surface, like the floor. Not the edge, but the flat surface of the top. Just once. Hard. That’s all. And to think of all those jars we used to hold under hot water.


(Not that I want to date myself here, but I found that book in what must have been just a few months after this version was published. I have the 1973 UK edition: that’s the year I moved there — my second real full-time job after college — and I suddenly found myself cooking in a somewhat different kitchen using a number of unfamiliar local ingredients, and in London at that time there was a waiting list of over a year and a half to get a phone installed! (I was there for only two years, to the day! So I never even applied to the waiting list. We had postal service twice a day, and lots of people I knew didn’t have a phone either: we could simply write letters back and forth to make plans for the evening! But I digress…) Transcontinental phone calls back then would have been way too expensive anyway… so I had no way to call my family or old friends for help and there were times when I just wasn’t ready to admit to my new English friends some things that tripped me up. The book was a hoot — written by former New Yorkers living in the UK — so although it did use the British terminology I was just beginning to learn, the attitude sometimes felt familiar. And it was helpful too! People seem to either love or hate that book, and I’m one of the former….)

Anyway, there may be a few “bad” clear plastic tumbler barrels out there (and others that have been damaged by mis-use) that are harder to tighten, and those will also be harder to open. But I have two myself: one marked A for the Latin Argentium aka silver (or other precious metal) pieces, and the other, marked B, for pieces containing any form of Base metal. I’ve used a few others at meetings or workshops. I’ve seen people struggle to get them to seal and I’ll admit I struggled with mine the first few times I tried to use them, until I got a feel for it. Like riding a bike (or rolling out metal clay) once you "get" it, it seems easy!

And, every time I’ve had a problem closing any of those barrels, I’ve just loosened the lid, spinning it backwards until I’m sure I’ve got it seated right, and closed it back up with little difficulty. If I tighten it just enough to get a seal (and even that does take a bit of practice to get the feel, but it will come if one remains calm and pays attention), it may take a bit of oomph to get it to start to open, but it will come loose again. Or, if it does resist, just use the tip above: lid down, flat, once, hard.

Because we do need to be able to retrieve our beauties once they’ve completed their tumble-burnishing, don’t we?!!

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Year #7: Here we come!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/01/07

Am I really already into my seventh (7th!!!) year of musings here?!  Hard to believe that, but it’s true.

I’m a few days late with this one, but things got even crazier than usual at the end of the year.  So instead of posting on my New Year’s Day blogging anniversary, I’ve managed to do this on an alternative holiday, one of several for Christmas as calculated on the Julian Calendar.  What can I say: I do understand the math involved, and why not find another reason for a celebration!

Part of my year-end disruption was due to the main interstate highway near my house (locals call it the Parkway East) being closed for a week so the city could demolish a deteriorating bridge that crossed it.  (How bad?  So bad it had made it onto 60 Minutes last year!)  There had been a temporary fix a while ago: they built a second bridge underneath it, not for anyone to cross mind you, just to serve as a sort of diaper to catch the bits that were falling off the upper bridge so they wouldn’t land on cars driving down the interstate highway!  So the demolition involved covering the interstate with lots of dirt, imploding both bridges down onto the pile, and then hauling everything away.

Now, I tend to use the back roads and simply avoid that stretch of freeway, so the closed road itself was not the problem. No, the problem was that no matter where I wanted to go, I’d’ve had to drive on, or at least try to cross, the detours. For a day or two, no problem; but for a whole week, well, I just left town. Here’s what I missed:


(I like the angle of that video: it shows both structures being taken down, but it definitely plays with the speed (slowing it at the beginning, and speeding it up later on). A more accurate idea of how it went can be found here, though that one was shot from much farther away in a city park, the closest that a “civilian” could get … while I was hundreds of miles away!)

I hadn’t decided exactly how long I’d be gone.  I had friends coming to town from across the country that week and I did want to see them.  But then there arose another complication: if I stayed in town, there were to be several days when I couldn’t get into my studio!  The general community center activities that go on in the building were on hiatus for the week between Christmas and the New Year, and they decided that would be a good time to paint all the public-area floors.  So I left late the night before I thought both the highway and the building were closing, only to learn the next time I checked email that, at the last minute, the painting had been delayed for a few days.   And the Parkway was still closed.  So I didn’t come back early, but instead stayed away a while longer.  And then … yes, there’s more!  The painters took longer than expected, and didn’t quite finish everything, but their time was running out because the community center did have events planned.  I never got the all-clear notice I’d been promised but, finally, I went over yesterday and found that I could get in.  So, now I’m writing!

Happy New Year!  Here’s hoping that everyone’s complications are finished from last year, and we can just get down to some serious work in the realm of having fun in this new one!  The photos with this post showing a pendant from several different angles are one that I started making last year….  It’s made from .960Plus silver clay (a mixture of .925 PMC Sterling and .999 PMC Plus).  That’s the clay we used for the Button Making class at Indie Knit and Spin last November.  I had some mixed clay left over after I’d finished doing my demonstrations in the class but, rather than think about how to store it, I went the route I usually take and just made something with it! (For technical accuracy: the spiral is from plain .999 PMC Plus that I had left over from the previous day….)

Because having several layers loop over the top to form the bail meant that area was thicker (and thus, likely to take longer to fully dry), I didn’t fire it right away with the class pieces.  Instead, I waited until the next month when I made some earrings.  I’d used .960Flex for those, but the same firing schedule works for any form of .960, so I fired this pendant with those earrings.

Having made the earrings just in time for my last Holiday-season show last year, I polished and added a patina to them, but I ran out of time before I got to this big piece.  The first thing I did when I got back into my studio was to finish it up, so I’d have art-jewelry photos to accompany my first post of the year!  I’m happy with how it turned out.  I still have to select a chain on which to hang it.  But I’m back in the groove for the year, and looking forward to new adventures.  And I hope you are too!

 

Posted in Misc. Musings | Leave a Comment »

Good grief: I can still read it!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/12/20

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night

Good grief

I can still read it!

This old Peanuts strip was reprinted in this week’s Sunday comics. I do wonder what its original publication date was. It did take a few minutes before all the necessary Gregg shorthand symbols came back, but I found it to be an interesting trip down memory lane.

(As soon as I realized that his notes matched her her words, I was able to use that to help me remember which was what; though I swear that he noted her request as a blue setter, not sweater, which could be very interesting!)

If my mother were still alive, I wonder how long it would have taken her to read all of it. She’s the one who insisted I take shorthand in high school. Not so I’d be prepared for the secretarial work that she had done (though having that as back-up plan was not out of the question) but because she believed it was a skill that was generally useful. (Then again, once I’d begun to learn it, she suddenly realized she could no longer hide notes from me by writing them that way!)

I used some shorthand in high school, but much more once I got to college simply because I found myself trying to take more detailed notes then. I didn’t take notes entirely in shorthand, mind you. I wrote out many discipline-specific words longhand, rather than try to sound them out in shorthand style. But being able to use shorthand for a lot of my notes did save time, better enabling me to keep up with the lesson while still taking notes. Sometimes I’d transcribe them back to longhand; but usually, if I did that, it was during a review-session before exams.

So it was funny, in college, when a friend who’d skipped a class would ask to borrow my notes. I’d usually just answer “sure” and hand them over without thinking. And the person would come back in just a few minutes with a puzzled-looking face, and that’s when it would hit me, “Oh, don’t you read shorthand?” Hmmm, it just wasn’t a class that the majority of academic-track students heading to my university had taken!

But now this has me thinking. I’m not a big fan of jewelry with words on it, but some shorthand symbols do have interesting shapes. (If you know Gregg shorthand, you will know whether or not to agree with my feeling that I’ve always enjoyed writing “after” that way. I’m less sure about putting that symbol on artwork, although this thought-exercise has me realizing that I’ve already used “before” on a number of pieces, as well as “great” and “correct” and even “rarity”!) Don’t hold your breath waiting to see any … but I may have to find an old shorthand dictionary at some point and just scan it for interesting shapes that represent words I might like to use. I’ve no clue how many I may ever end up making, but I think I have to at least try it!

If I were to do that, how many of you could likely read what the symbol said?

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Hey, what’s up with Carol & Convergent Series this summer?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/08/10

This has been and continues to be a great summer … except for blogging, trying to maybe work on a website, and other such “online” tasks.

Now, there are several reasons for this that I’m not going to go into just now (e.g., and in no particular order: the instant-gratification time-sinks like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., that are full of interesting tidbits but require slogging through far too many individually-irrelevant items to find them; various great travels with friends & family; car-maintenance nonsense that tied me up for a week before getting fixed; ordering, having to wait for, and then trying to learn a new camera; taking workshops & teaching private lessons; my ongoing efforts with the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County especially at the Urban Edible Teaching Garden; and more!).

The thing I will describe in some detail is that ON TOP OF ALL THAT, the internet connection in my studio is failing. It’s definitely the internet-part, not my own computer, as confirmed by the experiences of others in the building, my taking in other devices that work fine via other connections, etc. And there is no easy way for me to fix that.

I mean, how can one complain when one pays nothing for the service?! Yes, I pay a monthly rental for the studio space, all “utilities” included. I get heat for free. I had to buy my own window air conditioning unit, but they put in an extra electrical line that I can use at no extra cost for the AC in summer, or a space heater to supplement battle between the furnace and the leaky windows in the depths of winter, or my kiln (just one of those at the same time mind you but, for the price, that’s ok with me too). There’s water (restrooms, kitchen, and big utility sinks) and trash pick-up and they take care of clearing away snow outside in the winter. And so on. And the building even has a “business class” internet connection, which has let me post away happily for the past few years.

But my studio is in a “community center” building. The folks that run the center just live in the neighboring community; they organize things through phone calls, visits to each other’s homes, or even just walking around “the Square” (as the neighborhood may be called); they do hold only an occasional formal meeting in one of the center’s open rooms when they want input from the community. But the important thing with respect to today’s topic is that they don’t work in the building at all. They have no need for internet service there. And the center’s budget goes for things like all those utilities and maintenance items and such.

So where do the ‘net services dome from? Well, there’s a local Linux User’s Group that used to meet in the building every month. The are the ones who really wanted the ‘net, so they made a deal with the center: they’d provide it, anyone could use it for free the rest of the time, while they’d get a comparable discount in the rental they paid for the meeting room. That worked wonderfully for my first years in that building! (Well, it was configured so you had to re-sign-in every hour or two, so I’d have to time any long sessions (e.g., system upgrades) to fall between that, but again, for the price, that was never a major inconvenience.)

Except, recently, that group has been rotating their meetings around among other locations. Lots of groups do that (including some I’m a part of), so it does make sense. They have left their conmputer and routers and such at the center, and they are still paying the bills, but something is very wrong with it. And they aren’t coming to fix it. And the center-folks won’t touch it because it’s not theirs.

I could take my computer home (nice desktop model with a huge screen) and connect from there. But it was just so very convenient to have that beast in my studio! Especially with metal clays, there is a lot of time that goes into little bursts of just “waiting for something to happen” — waiting for some moist clay pieces to dry before being able to proceed, or for some frozen stash to thaw, or for a kiln-load to finish firing, etc. Those moments are when I would easily catch a bit of “online time” in my studio. And, yes, I could still catch some via one of my “mobile devices” while at home, but for writing and doing photos and such, I just so much prefer the good, big, fast device I’d hooked up in my studio between my big, bright windows and my tidy little photo-taking table. Besides, I don’t have anywhere near as many “gap times” at home, and I’ve already found ways to use the few I do have productively.

So, I don’t know what to do. The big beast is big! If I were to take it home, I’d first have to figure out where it would go, then I’d have the hassle of packaging it all up and hauling the huge box down three flights of stairs at the center followed by up two more flights at home. If there is any chance the ‘net services will return in the next few months, it will just be easier to wait. Until I know more about the possibilities, though, I’m not going to put myself through everything involved in moving it. Instead, I just ask that you bear with me for a little while longer. I’m fine otherwise. (To illustrate, I’m including two photos from last month’s great road trip across PA with my cousin Marie from CA. The first, with my cousins, her nieces, Becky and Katie, at Phipps Conservatory; the second, at Ohiopyle, after we’d spent an afternoon at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.)

Thanks so much for your patience!

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More Fun at Three Rivers, or Ivy Woodrose is simply charming!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/06/07

I have loved jewelry for ages. Not mass-produced jewelry, but special kinds of pieces ranging from unique antiques to modern artisanal pieces. Talking with colleagues as we staffed the Arsmiths of Pittsburgh booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival yesterday, I noted that it’s an interest I shared with my mother. Kate said that, in contrast, she and her mother did not share that at all. Now, it’s not that my mother and I liked the same pieces: our tastes were not mere miles apart, the scale was more like galaxies. But we did both relish finding unusual pieces, and we could pretty reliably spot something that the other would just love. This was in complete contrast to clothes: we could rarely buy clothes for the other that the recipient could even tolerate. But we had great success with jewelry exchanges! And then there were further delights when, shopping for the other, we’d also find treats for ourselves….

In the 1990s, I started experimenting with making some jewelry. My earliest attempts were simple beaded creations of various sorts. I also dabbled a bit in glass-work and polymers and wood and more, but never felt the urge to go full-scale on any of those. Long before that I’d also dabbled in traditional metalsmithing and pottery: those were both far more interesting to me than later media but still had not completely grabbed me. I first heard about metal clays while I was in my beading heyday but for various reasons (including but not limited to a more-than-full-time academic post) I just wasn’t able to pursue it at all at that time. A few years later, enough had changed in my life that I could try to pursue it. I started out slowly but, eventually, I decided to kick it up a notch, moving things off the tray-table in my guest bedroom and into a full-scale studio. By then, my mother was gone and, in fact, I used a fair portion of my “inheritance” from her to set all that up. I figured, if it didn’t work, at least I’d know that I’d tried but, if it did work out, I’d have her (and my dad) to thank for it.

The thing is that now, since both my mother is gone and I’ve started seriously making more jewelry, I’ve pretty much stopped buying it for myself…. Clearly, I can wear anything I’ve made whenever I want (until I sell it), but an even bigger part of it is that I do have a fair amount already, not a whole lot, but enough that I certainly don’t need any more. I still enjoy looking at it, and I believe in helping support other artists, so I do still buy pieces now that I can give as gifts. I’ve continued to buy non-jewelry art for myself and I’ve exchanged pieces with other jewelry artists. I also make a point of taking several of my art- and jewelry-loving friends to shows where I know there will be art jewelers whose work I think they’ll like, and encourage their purchases. But I’ve bought very little jewelry for myself.

But more than zero. And today was one of those “exception” days: I bought a pendant from Ivy Woodrose (aka Ivy Solomon)! I’ve admired her work for years!! I never imagined meeting her in person but there she was, two booths up from the Artsmiths this weekend! I asked if she’d been there before and I’d somehow missed her but no, this really was her first time at Three Rivers. I went up yesterday and gushed and drooled and embarrassed her with my admiration, then went back today with some cash and, after a very lengthy and delightful discussion about techniques and products and sources with this absolutely charming artist (and her congenial husband), I actually bought a piece!

It was a difficult decision, balancing what I wanted against what I felt I could afford. The one I chose has fewer different colors than I first thought I’d pick, but I couldn’t find one with lots of colors that fit both my budget and my personal style. (One or the other, but not both…) I spent a long time debating between this and another “floral” one. That one had more, smaller flowers and thus could fit more pinks and reds and several greens (and far, far less yellow!) than this one. I listened to her talk with other customers about how she’d be happy to listen to the colors the person wanted and the budget she had, and could send her pictures of other pieces that either she had or could (re-)make to suit the person’s taste. But, having decided to get a piece, I just did not want to wait. So here’s the one I picked, and I’m thrilled to have it:

In person, the colors in this one are far brighter, more vibrant, than I was able to capture in this photo. (Sorry, Ivy!) But the image in this one is what captured my heart: the sun / sunflower at the water’s edge (which way is the viewer facing?!), with a hint of sunlight on the water and oddly-geometric constellations / clouds in the sky beyond. Though living in Pittsburgh now, I’ve spent a good third of my life so far on one coast or another, and much of the rest along lakes or streams, loving the water and sunsets (and sunrises too, though I’m less often up for those…) and gardening too. The appeal of the image in this piece, in particular, for me is the way I feel it reflects the following quote, one of my favorites from Douglas Adams (in Mostly Harmless):

“We all like to congregate … at boundary conditions …
Where land meets water. Where earth meets air.
Where body meets mind. Where space meets time.
We like to be on one side and look at the other.”

In the end, the one big problem I’ll have with this piece is that, instead of wearing it, I’ll want to be on the other side so I can look at it myself. But I’ll find a way to manage…

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Happy “Super Pi Day”….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/03/14

Well, the long-time math-teacher in me can’t let today’s opportunity pass without at least noting today’s date. I may not do this every Pi Day (3.14 in month.day format), but somehow I can’t let pass the only one this century that goes into extra digits (3.14.15 in mo.da.yr format) without saying something. And, of course, simultaneously wondering how “the ‘net” will do with, I am sure, a lot of people (in each US time zone, at least) trying to post at exactly 9:26 (am or pm) on that date.

You see: 3.14.15 9:26:53.58979 –> 3.14159265358979 –> Pi,   (usually written as the Greek letter Π), which represents the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle…  Like the outside of a nice, round, freshly baked and cooled pie that you’ve just sliced right down through its center….

Nor can the metal clay artist in me ignore a day when it’s suggested to celebrate with a Pie (or two, or more). As I teach how to mix powdered metal plus binder particles into something that feels like dough, then how to roll it out into the desired shape and move the clay into its final position until, at last, firing (baking) it, I often make reference to any pie-makers in the group regarding how similar those actions are in the creation of both pies and metal clays.

And while I don’t typically flaunt my background in math and math-related areas, those familiar with such subjects may also find it relatively easy to pinpoint the occasional mathematical influences in much of my work.   Not exact representations, mind you, but ideas influenced by math-sketches I’ve drawn countless times while teaching it.  Here are a few more samples of that:

But that’s all for the moment: I have pies in the oven that should be done at any moment now! Just in time to go celebrate Pi Day all day! May you find great ways to celebrate the day too.

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On another note: Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/08/18

Several math-related things caught my attention in the news last week. One involved a change in how silver prices would be “computed” and I thought maybe I’d write a little note about that.

But, instead, I’m going to add a note here because the Iran-born, female, geometer Maryam Mirzakhani won a Fields Medal. As a teenager, she won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads and headed off to college … a decade after I’d finished grad school, and just before I became (in the summer of 1995) a Member of the Technical Staff at the (now defunct) Geometry Center.

“Geom” was a really wonderful little mathematics research and development center at the University of Minnesota, funded for several years through the Science & Technology Centers program of the National Science Foundation. It had a great, unified, mathematics computing environment that supported math and computer science research, mathematical visualization, software development, application development, video animation production, and K-16 math education. On the wall in my studio now I have a group of four posters from my old math-days: two that used computer algebra systems (Maple; Mathematica) from my work before moving to Geom, and two specifically about Geometry Center projects (tiling space with triangles; knots and hyperbolic space). Farther down the wall, I also have one of Escher’s Metamorphose prints (the one that comes in four parts); that one was a gift from a long-tine friend, Donna, who was in school with me (two different universities, just by coincidence!) both as an undergraduate (when she studied physics) and during grad school (after she had switched to computer science).

When people come to my studio and ask, “how long have you been doing this?” of course, what makes that a bit of a challenge to the answer is, “what’s ‘this’?” Depending on how much detail I sense the questioner wants (which I may or may not sense correctly, of course), I may talk about when I started in this powder-metallurgy medium, or when I started as simply a hobbyist in other art-forms before that and how some of those were more or less visual than my current one (e.g., radio theatre was a different creative outlet I followed, for over a decade…), but I eventually point to those four posters and say, “But that’s the kind of visualization I did for decades, to earn my living.”

Now the exact image from the Not Knot poster (shown here) was made, not by me, but by Charlie Gunn for the video of the same name. Another of the posters shows an image, by Scott Kim using Mathematica, of five interlocking tetrahedra … that makes the Rio Rewards PMC Certification silver tetrahedron project look simple by comparison…! But I was using the exact same tools to create the same and similar images, and researching how visualization might help students to understand the concepts involved.

So how does any of this tie back to Maryam Mirzakhani, other than that she has worked on “geometric objects whose points each represent a different hyperbolic surface” and, more recently, on “the symmetry of surface geometry”? Well, as I was going through school, I know I was repeatedly told by male teachers and classmates that I was OK at mathematics, where OK was often clearly intended to mean something like, “better than most girls I know, but watch out because this really is a field for guys.” (Not always, of course; but often enough to be discouraging. Donna would talk about hearing similar tones about her work.) In fact, one of the major reasons I went down the path of trying to understand how students learned math and how high school and college teachers might better teach it was because I wanted (I’m about to end this by mixing a whole bunch of metaphors: sorry!) to help level the playing field in mathematics by raising the tide for everyone, male and female. I just hope that, at last, having a woman earn a Fields Medal will be another step down that same path, and will encourage more young women to follow it too. It really can be fun and, now, rewarding too!

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This Month: Way More Gardening than Jewelry-blogging

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/07/31

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! I’ve been busy, making art jewelry and other small adornments, teaching others to do so, exploring some new ideas, trying to trouble-shoot some earlier problems, and visiting several summer art shows. But … I’ve also been spending a lot of time gardening, and that is what has really eaten into my blogging time. Sigh!

Now, if you were to look at my yard at home, you might not think I’ve been gardening all that much. Because that’s not where I’ve been doing it….. I volunteer with the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County, and I’ve been busy working at, photographing, and helping with some planning and communications with several of their “Demonstration Gardens” including (but not limited to):

The Edible Teaching Garden, my most-regular activity, in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA:

The Garden Table, another garden containing (but not limited to) edibles, supplemented by little artistic touches, in Wilkinsburg, PA:

At the Carrie Furnace site, a historic treasure containing elements of public art, though gardeners also notice the ways in which nature is recapturing this former industrial site, in Rankin, PA:

And, just for the fun of it, during a walking tour led by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art, held for the Pittsburgh Foundation, I also captured a few images of some of the urban plant-life and inspiringly-designed utilitarian features, in addition to the specific tour-items:

And that’s just my past week…. Click on any of the above photos and you’ll be taken to where you can see bigger versions of them, and where you can browse some of my other albums and galleries holding snapshots of both gardens and art.

I really am hoping to get back to blogging again relatively soon, with that “relatively” qualifier added because I do have to devote some time to that much-neglected yard and garden at home too…. Wish me luck! (Better yet, c’mon over and help…)

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Wrapping Up One Year and Opening the Next…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/01/01

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it’s time to write my fifth New Year’s Day post.

A while ago, I wrote a piece where I said that sometimes I compare beading to framing. That is, some 2-d artists offer a mix, where some pieces are “basic” ones and others have been “framed.” So the buyer has a choice: they can take the piece home and hang it plainly, or they can add their own framing. Or they can buy an already-framed piece. And I tend to offer pendants, for example, where most of them are on a plain cord so you can wear them but let the unique, hand-crafted piece itself be the focus, or you can take it home and add your own fancier chain or even string it with some beads you have. Or I have a few that I do hang in other ways, so that is an option for people who prefer that.

I got to thinking about that again, in a slightly different way, the past few weeks. ‘Tis the season for wrapping and unwrapping gifts, and for wrapping up one year and unwrapping the next. With this post are photos of a small sample of pieces I made in the process of wrapping up 2013, as I prepare to offer them in opening up 2014 … as objects of art themselves at first and, until they find new homes, as samples for a new workshop series that’s under development. For some reason, these three told me they didn’t want to be hung simply but, instead, preferred to be wrapped up with ribbons or other forms of decoration.

The “sometimes I compare beading to wrapping” analogy hit me as I hung the first piece illustrating this post (above) a hollow bronze “box” accented with copper, rose bronze, and yellow bronze. I just felt it needed to go on the collection of ribbons shown in the photo. (And the inset confirms that, yes, I’m still making reversible pieces.) With all the gift-wrapping that goes on this time of year, I felt that those ribbons wrapped up the “box” in a way that still kept the focus on the special bronze element. You could choose to take it home and hang it some other way, if you wanted, but it’s nicely wrapped just as it is.

With the second piece (left) as I made the hollow “draped” pendant, I just knew it was one of the pieces that I’d want to hang some other way, so I made a toggle clasp to match it. Then I hung the main bead on a piece of bronze wire, with some tiger eye beads that seemed to go with its coloring, plus a few spacer beads (mostly to protect the tiger eyes from the ends of the wire wraps), and then used some brass chain between all that and the clasp.

With the third piece, a hollow bead then “wrapped” in several different textured layers, I went even further. This time I added jasper, petrified wood, and garnet beads, linked together with bronze wire, plus a bit of brass chain (not shown here) near the lobster clasp I used as a closure.

Three different ways of “wrapping” a piece up in a somewhat decorative fashion. I hope those who wear these pieces (or even just view their photos) will appreciate the original bronze “focal” beads as well as the way each one has been wrapped up for them to wear. As to the workshops, I hope to have that schedule posted (at least in draft form) within a week.

In the meantime though, I still have a bit more New Year celebrating to do. Here’s wishing you a happy and productive 2014!

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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!

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Friendly Exchanges

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/04/06

Now that the shop known as Zelda’s Bead Kit company has closed, I don’t have going down that way to teach (or even just to shop) as an excuse to visit with Trish Morris. But I headed down her way t’other day for several reasons, and stopped by her new digs for a few hours.

We both worked on some of our own projects for part of the time; then we helped each other out with a few tasks; and we ended up exchanging a few pieces too.

The photo with Trish herself in it shows her wearing one of my butterfly pendants, a three-metal version, that she hung on some copper rolo chain she had left. Most of my pollinator pendants involve two metals. Sometimes, however, I’ll use just one and, occasionally, three or more. This is one of the three-metal ones: on one side, the wings are made from yellow bronze; on the other, from rose bronze; and the butterfly “body” segments are copper. Trish is also wearing a three-strand copper bracelet with pearls that she was inspired to make that afternoon. Two strands had copper beads (two different styles), and the third used up the remainder of her rolo chain.

She made me one of those bracelets too, and I just love it. Mine also has three strands (two with those copper beads and, since she’d run out of chain, the third has black beads), plus the coiled wire and pearl dangles. The second photo with this post shows it next to another copper bracelet I have. That one was a hand-made gift to me from another art-jewelry friend, Barbara Kaczor, several years ago. They just happen fit very well together. How lucky is that!?

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Found!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/03/16

My bifocal safety glasses have reappeared! I am delighted!

They went missing months ago. I forget when. Maybe October? Sometime back during the big making-rush before the holiday sales season.

I kept thinking, “Where could they have gone?” And, eventually, “I really need to replace those.” Then, when I was off placing an order for something or other, I’d forget about them—didn’t need them to do that! Later, when I wanted to use them, I’d remember. And think, no, they cost enough as it is and I’m willing to pay that, but I’m not going to pay an extra full shipping and handling charge just for them. Next time I place an order…. And the cycle continued.

Today, I was working on some pieces for an assignment in the accreditation program for Hadar’s Clay teachers. I’d finished the necessary pieces but thought, hey, why not make a few other things too, to be efficient and fire up a full kiln-load. I was just finishing up on a few flower-theme pieces for the Western PA Garden Marketplace on April 20 when, carrying several from the dehydrator back to my worktable, I dropped a little dried-clay (“greenware”) tulip onto the floor. Being still-fragile in that state, it broke into several pieces. And they went heading in several different directions. As I was crawling around on the floor trying to retrieve those, something caught the corner of my eye. What is that, I thought?

I reached under the middle of the futon in a corner of my studio. I had to lie down on the floor and stretch to reach the black “thing” I could barely see. When I got my hand on it, I was suddenly pretty sure what it was, but I actually had to do some maneuvering to get it out from under the base of that seating. And, yes, it was the missing bifocal safely glasses!

I have no idea how they got there. I have no idea how I did not see them when I moved everything around doing a major clean-up before the Art Buzz tour last December. I suspect that they may have gotten extra-hidden by all that moving, because there’s no way they could have just fallen down to where I finally found them. But who knows….

All I know is that they are back and I am very happy!

They are an incredibly useful tool!

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Translation, please…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/28

Here’s something else I make at times, something that ties in with the theme of my last post about using bits & pieces of clay that may be left at the end of a session. (Well, sometimes I deliberately save little bits of clay during a workshop, so I’ll have some left in case a student has a question that’s best answered with a quick demo. That’s actually how I ended up with so many of the oak leaf bits shown here….)

Can you help: I’m trying to figure out what to call the resulting pieces!

My inspiration for little pieces like these are “chopstick rests.” In transliterated Japanese, I am familiar with the term hashi oki for that use. According to Wikipedia, the transliterated Chinese term is kuaizi zuo. Shown are examples of such little items that I sometimes make with the remaining bits of clay at the end of a session. All of these are bronze. If the kiln happens to produce lovely colors, I leave them as-is; otherwise, I polish them up well; I tend to combine them in non-matching mixes. (Having three such pairs itself is unusual! And, yes, the photo deliberately shows an odd number of them!)

Sometimes I make slightly larger, more complex ones too, and do that more-deliberately (that is, not just with leftover bits of clay!). I’m completely sold out of those right now, however, and don’t seem to have any good photos of ones that have moved on to new homes. But in his excellent book, Metal Clay Fusion, Hawaii-based artist Gordon Uyehara includes a sample project for making several different styles of seashore-themed hashi oki, so metal clay artists may want to check that out.

The thing is, now that I’m located in Southwestern PA, I don’t come across many chopstick-users. When I host a dinner where I set the table with those, I often have to teach diners how to use them! Even when people are already comfortable with them, often they are still not familiar with the use of little stands to keep the chopsticks both in place and off the table / tablecloth itself.

I do, however, know lots of artists and craftspeople who use specific hand tools that might benefit from a creative little resting-place. Shown farther down this post are two of the tools I often use, a colour shaper and a ball burnisher resting on another such piece on my own worktable.

What should I call these items when used that way? Now, I do believe that oki is fine to use for the “stand” or “rest” part of the name. But hashi for “chopstick” is not. What is?

I asked the person who teaches Aikido Kokikai down the hall from my studio (and has spent time studying that in Japan). She was, of course, a bit concerned by my “westernization” of this “traditional” idea: why not just call it a tool rest? When I explained how much I valued the “art” aspect of hashi oki, rather than the strict utilitarianism of a “tool rest,” she was a bit more willing to consider this. Not a native speaker of Japanese, however, she said that the best phrase she could come up with was dohgu oki. Except, she said, dohgu expresses the idea of equipment, more than a simple hand tool, but she could not think of a Japanese word or phrase for the generic idea of a small hand tool like this.

If you can help me out with this, please leave a comment on this post. (Make sure to leave your email address–this is something I can see but it is not automatically posted in public with your comment.) If I end up using your suggestion for this, I’ll be happy to send you a little set of these pieces if you’d like. (If several people suggest the same name, and I pick that, then I’ll draw one at random.) The offer remains open until I pick one and post my choice in the comments.

Please help, if you can! Thanks….

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Happy New Year to All!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/01/01

NewYearFireworks_fromWordpressCan it really be the start of Year #4 for this blog? Already?! My, how time flies when one is having so much fun!

Most of the time, that is. I’m afraid it may have looked like I’d stopped blogging last month: my apologies!

I did need to take a few days off after the Art Buzz weekend, but I really had planned to get back online quickly and at least write a note of appreciation for all of the people who stopped by. It was great seeing and talking with everyone, sharing cider and cookies and stories and jewelry (of course!) and more. I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who attended any of my other shows or shopping opportunities this past year.

But then I just got sidetracked. No, not by holiday-season activities (though there were lots of those). No, not by visitors from near and far (though there were plenty of those too). I really had planned for all of that. What did sidetrack me on top of all that was a construction project at home, something I’d been trying to make happen for at least as long as I’ve been creating this blog.

I’d been hunting, off and on, for a contractor to work with: do you know what that’s like? Some didn’t return calls, others did but then missed scheduled appointments, some did eventually show up but then came back with bids that were way out of line (either far too high or even suspiciously low) compared to what I wanted to have done, way too many submitted proposals for projects they wanted to do that bore little to no resemblance to what I thought I’d explained I wanted, and so on. Each round of unsuccessful negotiations left me discouraged. I was starting to feel desperate: what had started as a simple extension of an earlier addition to the house (done by a previous owner) had, over the years, expanded into one that also included some very important repair (re-doing the roof of the earlier addition, which involved reconfiguring windows and more!). Finally, I found someone who gave the impression of both understanding what I wanted and having the ability to execute that plan … if, for a project likely to take four to six weeks (more if there were weather-related delays), they could start it within the next week, meaning start it ten days before Christmas. Yikes!

So every aspect of my daily schedule, many of the holiday-season plans, along with at least half the rooms at my house, were suddenly upended. Yet I am thrilled to have this project underway, and delighted to watch its daily progress.

Amidst all the confusion and after all my other daily obligations, I am also sketching new ideas for 2013’s art jewelry and other small adornments. I am seeking sources for a few specific items I’ll need for several completely new designs I want to try to create. When I do manage to get online, I am trying to sort out a handful of technical issues so that I can run a reasonable mailing list operation.

But, with my physical environment in so much flux right now, blogging is just falling off the list. I’ve noticed that a few other bloogers I follow have given it up lately (some just disappeared for months on end; others at least stated they were going on hiatus to rethink whether they’d be back) but I wanted to let folks know that is not my intent!

I expect to be back here in just a few weeks. I’ll clean up the side-bar entries and I’m hoping to get back to my earlier rhythm of posting an average of about once a week (occasionally more often, when I get on a roll about something). There will likely be another lull or two later on (two more remodeling ventures: overhauls to kitchen and garden, both of which have been waiting for this roofing+addition project to be completed) but I’ll try to at least give a note of warning when those are about to occur.

Which means I really am looking forward to 2013. And I hope you are too, dear readers!

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Catching up, or at least trying to….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/11/19

I love autumn! Love, love, love it!

I love the “crispness” of the air, between the melting-heat of summer and the freezing-cold of winter. I am happy to get outside and do things, without feeling like I’m going to melt if I take another step (yes, I am very sensitive to the heat!), and without the encumbrances of frost-protective gear.

I love the colors of the sky in the fall, with the sun at that lovely mid-way angle. And I love the changing colors of so much of the vegetation, as the chlorophyl production stops pushing all the green colors and the other hues that have been hiding in the plants get a chance to shine on their own.

I come out of my shell then too, happy and eager to catch up on everything that needs to get done.

And then it hits me: there is no way to catch up. No way….

How can this be? It’s not even necessarily that I’ve let things slide, myself. A few things, sure, but much of the time, things just seem to pile up despite my best efforts. And, for once, I have a simple pictorial illustration of what I mean.

I opened this post with a photo (above, right) of a few leaves that were in my yard on the 9th of November this year. They fell from the sweetgum tree in my front yard. I am sure of the date because that Saturday, the 10th, was the day that my city had designated for its one and only pass through to collect household leaves for their composting program.

The second photo with this post (left) shows the sweetgum tree in the yard of my next-door neighbors on that very same day. With just a few leaves left on their tree at that point, I am sure that they were very happy to have this public service offer.

Now, if you’re not familiar with sweetgums, these leaves are big. The smallest ones are the size of my hand: palm, fingers, thumb, maybe a bit of wrist too … everything. And the largest ones can be much, much larger. And there are lots of them. During and after the falling of the sweetgum leaves themselves, there is another phase of clean-up to do too, involving raking and collecting all the sweetgum-balls that will eventually fall. (Kind of reminds me of the balls on the tree that Lois etched onto copper, which I showed a few posts back, except there are many orders of magnitude more balls all over the sweetgum trees. If you enlarge the photo of the nearly-bare tree next door, you may be able to get a glimpse of them. Everywhere.)

When I last lived in California, I had a pair of sycamore trees in my front yard. Those dropped balls too, pretty much all in one quick load in the fall. They did take a bit of work to clean up, but I could do most of it in one shot, and then just finish with a couple quick follow-ups involving a few stragglers. Moving to Pennsylvania, I had no clue how different these sweetgum balls would be! You get a few of them with the leaves in the fall. Then more come down with each snowstorm, so you’re shoveling those around as you try to clear walks and driveways of snow and ice. Once that melts, you can really clean those up; but now you’ve moved them twice! Then more come down as you’re trying to prepare beds in the spring. And a few will hold on just so they can fall and try to twist your ankle during summer lawn-mowings or as neighbors stroll the street. My sycamores in CA had other problems (as many gardeners there would say, “when you have a sycamore tree, you have a sick tree….”), but their balls were not an issue.

So, having said all that, let me show you what MY sweetgum tree looked like, a whole week AFTER the city’s one and only leaf collection day. Clearly, in addition to having to deal with all the balls that will drop all year long, I will have to deal with all those leaves on my own too.

Now, this is not a crisis. I get to look at the lovely colored leaves outside front windows for several weeks longer than anyone else on my street. And I have a tool that’s a reverse-leaf-blower: that is instead of just using energy and making lots of noise to push leaves around, this one actually sucks them up and shoots them through a chopper mechanism into a bag. One bag from that is the equivalent of 4 to 5 regular “leaf bags” full of leaves, and I can just dump it into a composter. All of that is very good! (If you know about composing: I’ll dump that into my “browns” bin and, all year long, as I add “greens” to my “active” bin, I’ll scoop “browns” out of that bin to mix with the “greens” to help keep the “balance” right. I only compost leaves that have fallen onto my yard: ones that go onto the street, with the extra pollutants that can collect there, will get raked into “leaf bags” and put out with my trash. Sigh.)

But, whether I vacuum up and compost my leaves, or rake them up to add to the trash, the point is that I am taking time to do all of it (and, um, yes, I admit it, then to blog about the episode too…). But I’m not doing what the majority of my neighbors are doing, and simply raking leaves out for the city to collect. No, the tree in my yard simply won’t let me just say, OK, this year I’m way too far behind on too many fronts, let the city compost them them.

I have no idea why. But it’s one example in a very loooooong list of things that I really am trying to catch up on. And I wrote this because I needed to take a few minutes’ break from metal-clay work in the final sprint of preparations for various holiday-sales events. I’ll be posting information about those next. As I make all these great new pieces, I am stacking up ideas in my head (and in draft-reminders online) for some posts about working with metal clay and other jewelry elements: those should be coming along again right after all that.

I don’t even need to get caught up completely, just caught up enough! Do you know what I mean by that? Whether you feel caught up or not, I do hope everyone reading this is having a great autumn season too.

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Goodbye And Hello….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/09/30

I remember, when I was a child, being puzzled by the expression, “The King is dead. Long live the King,” until I heard the variant, “The King is dead. Long live the Queen!” Oh, I suddenly realized, they’re focusing on the continuity across two different people! For some reason, I was reminded of that as I thought about what to write today, except that I’m not writing about a death and I do want to say something about just one person. And, yes, I know I’m babbling, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right words….

Three years ago, Trish Morris signed a lease for an interesting little space in Bridgeville, PA, and opened a bead shop that everyone knew as Zelda’s. Her tag-line for the place was, Everyone Here is Happy!

Though it was often a traffic-congested slog for me to get down there, I made the trek once or twice a month … because it was always worth the trip!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I compare beading my art jewelry pieces to framing of prints and photos, explaining that I offer a lot of pieces “unframed” so you can hang them as you wish, while I do “bead up” others for those who prefer that sort of product. I do the same thing with workshops: many of them feature the making of a particular kind of “focal element” that you can wear alone or add to as you wish, while a few are extended into the process of making fully-beaded pieces (i.e., where we make a focal element and a complementary toggle clasp, then string those into a fully-beaded bracelet or necklace).

And, for the past three years, I’ve taught classes covering that same mix down at Zelda’s (in addition to those in my own studio, and at a few other places). That’s why I made all those trips: because of the warm atmosphere that Trish and others tried to create at Zelda’s, because of the delightful customers who frequented the shop and signed up for my classes, and because I could then spend some of my earnings in the shop buying lovely beads for when I wanted to make more elaborate pieces myself.

Except, while everyone called the place Zelda’s, if you looked closely at the website and the email addresses, they declared the place to be Zelda’s Bead Kits. Kits? What kits?! Well, yes, there were a few. But, for a whole variety of reasons (some obvious, some less so), they were just a minor part of the business. Trish had opened the shop thinking that, if she needed space to store supplies and assemble kits, why not just open it up to others too. Except (as most business owners will understand immediately!) she found out that running the shop took up too much of her time. She was unable to focus on the part of the business that had inspired her in the first place, and this was not making her happy. (Remember that tag-line…)

So, when her lease came up for renewal, Trish made the difficult decision to close the shop. She ran a month-long closing sale, and is moving any remains out today. The shop will be missed. Trish is still hoping to develop the bead-kit business: I hope she does, for her sake, and that it is successful.

Clicking on most of the photos or other images in my blog posts will usually take you to larger versions of themselves, but the two with this post (which, I admit, I “borrowed” from Zelda’s website anyway) both link back to Zelda’s. As I write this, it’s still showing all the information from the Bridgeville store, but I hear there’s an update to the new incarnation for Zelda’s Bead Kits is in the works. I hope her dancing-frog logo is both waving a happy good-bye to the physical store, and a happy welcome to the new kit collections that may soon be available online.

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Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/14


Happy
Valentine’s
Day!

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A few quick notes on SOPA / PIPA.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/18

Stepping outside my metal-clay world for a moment, I have signed up with WordPress to display a “Stop Censorship” banner on this blog from Jan 18 (today) through Jan 24 (the date the US Senate is set to vote on SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act).

Clicking on the banner will take you to the website of americancensorship.org where you can find more information, links, petitions, and so on, about all this.

Please understand: I support copyright. I oppose piracy. Strongly, for both.

Full disclaimer: I have produced materials that are protected by copyright. In another part of my life, I have taught about copyright to school teachers, student teachers, university faculty, and graduate students, in both on-site and on-line workshops.

Copyright in the USA is included in our Constitution, which states that “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

That is, because the intent of copyright protection is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, authors get a mini-monopoly as one inducement to develop new work.

There have been historical limits to copyright as well (e.g., in certain specifics of how the laws apply to libraries and schools) when it appears to conflict with the overriding public interest of encouraging further development. These limits had been considered acceptable because the intent of copyright is to promote progress, and not to promote the author’s own interests nor specifically to increase the author’s own wealth … nor, by extension, the specific interests or wealth of a corporation that buys all or some of an author’s collection of copy-rights.

In recent years, however, some corporations have lobbied for passage of laws that have slowly morphed that understanding in favor of corporate power and wealth over individual progress. While some of the impetus behind recent changes have been due, to be sure, by the illegal actions of some who have chosen to trample on the fair rights of individual authors, creators, and inventors (via actions which I deplore), many recent extensions to the copyright laws have done more to extend corporate financial interests than to actually try to deal with those issues … and have done so in ways that prevent progress more than promote it (which is simply not acceptable either).

At last, with opposition to SOPA and PIPA (the Senate / House versions of a proposed law, respectively), a mix of individuals, groups, and companies have managed to gather some momentum to say, together, “Wait a minute. Many of us do understand copyright, benefit from it, and want to protect it too. But this is not the right way to go about it!”

In a Congress that finds stalemate on so many issues, how is it that you were able to come to agreement on this? Whose pocket are you in this time? Which lobbyists are promoting this? Can’t you stop, take a deep breath, and involve some technology experts in the discussion? (Especially those from the “open source” community, of which WordPress is a part (which is one reason I chose it for my blogging platform!), and not just those from the “all-proprietary” realm…) Can’t you listen to those who are trying to tell you the ways that this so-called “solution” is potentially worse than the original “problem”? Find a better solution, please!

I encourage anyone who happens to read this to urge your legislators to support Copyright as our Founders intended. Limit corporate intrusion into our democracy. Stop censorship. Find effective and appropriate ways to enforce the anti-piracy laws we have already. Oh, and don’t be an intellectual property pirate yourself. Yes, that combo is a tall order, but it’s what we need to do, all of us, so that every individual in this country can have the opportunity, if they wish to take advantage of it, to continue to promote our “progress in science and the useful arts”!

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It’s always something, isn’t it?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/12

Sorry I’ve appeared quiet here lately: It’s busy-season once again. Why do the peaks of show-prep and garden-season always coincide? Both spring and fall! Life is pretty full already, on an ongoing basis, but when the crunch-times hit, well….

Anyway, I’ve been busy, happily-busy but busy nonetheless, building up inventory in advance of the special holiday-sales season. And, as I mentioned in several previous posts, working in non-precious metals seems to ramp up the time-commitments even more, with extra time in clay prep, kiln-tending, post-fire finishing, and such.

Plus, there are always surprises. I was making a number of “focal beads” in a range of combinations of copper and various bronze formulations, and thinking about how I would hang them. So I decided to stock up on a few hand-made bronze toggle clasps while I was at it. Five are shown in the first photo with this post, above.

Basically, that’s what they looked like straight from the kiln. The more-metallic looking one (upper right) was given a quick polish (with one of the 3M radial bristle disks—if you want technical detail, ’twas the yellow one @ 80 grit) just to test whether it had sintered properly. I’ll get around to giving all of them a proper polishing as soon as I can.

But the thing about time and surprises and such is this: one of the five toggle bars I made to accompany those came out with a big crack. (See the lower-left piece in the second photo, which was enlarged a bit to show more detail.) And, of course, it did so in the last batch I’d planned to fire at the moment using the usual “bronze” schedule. (A copper load is ablaze as I write this, but bronze will melt at copper temperatures….)

The crack is mostly aesthetic. That is, there’s enough still holding that I’m not worried about its breaking. It’s just that I have to patch the crack — which will both make it look right and further strengthen it — and then refire the whole thing. Though that’ll mean hours-more of kiln-tending… Might as well sink time into making a few more piece, and fire them at the same time while I’m at it…. That, of course, is part of the “addiction” of working in this medium!

And then I’ll start assembling elements, deciding which clasps I want to go where, and polish and/or patina them as appropriate to where they’ll be going.

The re-fring is not a crisis. It’s just another one of the seemingly infinite “time sinks” this time of year. When I really want to be out in the lovely autumn light, playing in the gorgeous fallen leaves. Will I ever get far-enough ahead to manage something like that?

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

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What constitutes a “fair” price? (part 2 of 3)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/10/26

In Part 1 of this series, I raised the issue of how to determine reasonable prices for the pieces I create, prices that appear consistent across various designs and media. This is getting trickier as I have added materials such as bronze, copper, and steel to my repertoire, and thus moved beyond the silver and, occasionally, gold that I started with. In that previous post, I talked about issues such as the time directly involved in various aspects of creation, including that devoted to preparation, firing, and finishing of each piece. In this one, I will address a number of business-side issues: they include some aspects of creation that are perhaps better grouped together under the category known as …

Overhead. Even though the bronze / copper / steel raw material itself costs less than silver, there are many other higher or additional cost involved in working with the non-precious metals. Here are just a few examples from “behind the scenes” with those:

  • Beyond how the firing requirements of these metals impact my time (discussed last time), each piece that size also puts 8 times the wear & tear on my kiln when compared to a similar piece made from fine silver. On top of that, other kiln-related factors like the time and temperature combinations and the oxygen-reduced atmospheres used with these clays will further shorten the expected lifetime of the kiln. While I do still expect the kiln to last for years, I also figure that I need to add a bit more to the price of each base-metal piece so that, when the time comes, I will be able to replace that relatively expensive piece of equipment earlier than might otherwise be expected.
  • Covering the cost of firing boxes and carbon will also add a little bit to each copper, bronze, and/or steel piece too; they are not needed with the precious metals.
  • Each time I use a new kind of box or of carbon, there’s both time and material involved in testing the firing schedule. I should somehow spread that (small but real) cost over a range of subsequent pieces too.
  • I’m still working out which tools to share across the various metals (meaning I have to spend time cleaning them thoroughly each time I switch between the precious and non-precious metals) versus which tools I use often enough that I should just buy another copy of the same one to use with the base metals (and clearly label each so I don’t get them confused, and have to spend time washing anyway). Either way, however, there are small portions of the total cost to be spread across a number of items I’ll make with them.
  • I ended up buying a small refrigerator for my studio too: while there is a nice little bonus in having that to keep some lunch and beverage items cold, I see it as overhead for these pieces because I need to freeze any pre-mixed clay that I don’t use in a single session.
  • For pieces that require extra finishing time, there is also the cost of extra items used for sanding and finishing since they will thus wear out much more quickly. That also adds a little more to the cost of each such item.

That’s not even a complete list of the extra costs, but it’s a good sample of them. Now, none of those involve earth-shattering amounts. But there are other forms of “overhead” to be accounted for with every piece made, regardless of medium, and then every time you add a few cents for this, and then a few more for that because you’re working with base metals, and then you apply the appropriate mark-up factors (e.g., gallery commissions) to the whole thing …. well, the sum-total of such additions simply runs up the final price of any artwork.

(It is probably worth noting that some price formulas treat various overhead costs in entirely different ways. Some approaches do exclude a lot of factors directly, on a theory that goes something like this: If, for example, Ethel’s studio rental is $X / month, while Fred’s studio costs half that and Lucy works out of her home, and they all do comparable work, does that automatically make Ethel’s products twice as valuable as Fred’s, and even Fred’s more valuable than Lucy’s? Instead, all three could charge an appropriate amount for their time, and then pay any rent out of those earnings. If Lucy and Fred are able to work in cheaper spaces than Ethel, then any money left over after paying the rent would result in a “bonus” for finding economical work-space. Even if I go that route, however, I still need to be sure I’m charging enough somehow to cover “overhead” costs out of earnings.)

But that’s enough from me now on overhead for now. Have you encountered any other important factors, ones that I’ve overlooked here, in working with base-metal clays, that you feel drive up their price? Stay tuned, too, because I’ve got one more post dancing around in my brain that addresses a few other issues related to all this. (The big question, as ever, is when I’ll find the time to get those ideas to move from my brain down to my fingers and onto a blog post! It’s likely to be at least a week, maybe more….)

[Update: Yes, well, that “maybe more” was right. I got sidetracked into a variety of other projects in a number of other areas. And, with metal clay, I’ve been trying to work out a number of new ideas. I’ll be discussing a few of those next. I do still plan to return to this topic but, when I didn’t finish it up in October, I’m thinking I may now just put it on hold until after the holiday season. More shortly….]

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What constitutes a “fair” price? (part 1 of 3)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/10/21

I sure like working with many of the “base metal” clays (various versions of copper, bronze, and steel). I like the results I can achieve. But I also struggle with how to price these: How do I find that balance point where customers think my prices are fair while I feel adequately compensated?

Now, I do understand the various “formulas” that makers might use to calculate the price for their work. I’m fine with numbers, whether straight from such a formula or even after “tweaking” them a bit. I can figure the cost of the materials, a price for my time and/or an amount for general overhead (rent, insurance, equipment, consumables, etc.), plus a factor for the retail side (to cover commission to a gallery, entry costs for shows, etc.). I will price a number of pieces, sort them by price, compare that to recent history of items that have sold or remain unsold, and look to see if anything seems out of line. I may adjust individual items up or down a small amount: I’ll then bring in a bit more or less on some individual pieces but, overall, I want prices to look both consistent and reasonable.

I have been getting some very positive responses to the look of pieces I’ve made this year in copper, yellow- and rose-bronze, and steel. But a few people have indicated that they would expect those to be very inexpensive, because of the material. I try to explain that the price includes factors for both material and time, and that the time for design and basic construction does not go down for a unique “art jewelry” piece just because the metal itself costs less. At that point, I’ll try to steer the discussion away from price and more into the artistry involved in various pieces.

But, really, there’s more to it even than that, things I don’t tend to go into with a typical customer. (I may cheerfully offer something like, “You’d be welcome to take one of my workshops, and learn what all is involved! This material is relatively easy to work with, and fun, and you’ll see how making a piece can take a number of hours. Give it a try!” If that gets a positive response, then I may add a few more details: “a minute or so of free lesson right now!” Though I aim to keep that light and non-technical, I may point out something like the extra steps it takes to combine several metals in a single piece.) Still, I find myself wanting to think through a bit of what else is involved, to get a better grasp on it myself. I figure I can share some of those details here … and welcome your comments!

Once I’ve figured out what seem to be the most important factors, I can try to figure out how to distill those down for a short response to a potential buyer. In this post, I plan to address prep time, firing time, and finishing time. In a day or two or three, I’ll add a second post looking at overhead costs; and finally (it may take me a bit longer to get to that one) I hope to post about some other factors, like learning curves, brand variations and, perhaps, a few other issues.

Preparation Time. I really like working with Hadar’s delightful clays. Each of those comes as a powder that must be mixed with water before you can use it. This is not difficult, but it takes some time. How much to mix? If you don’t mix enough for a particular session, then you have to take the time to stop and mix up more. So it seems better to mix up a bit more than you think you will need (although you then have to find a way to store the excess, which I’ll address in my next post, on overhead costs). That mixing-time adds to what you have to include in the time it took to make each individual piece: it doesn’t take a lot of extra time, but there is enough to count.

Firing Time. This is probably the biggest issue. Together, those four rose bronze pieces I posted about last week “filled” the firing box in my kiln. Because I need not worry about creating an oxygen-reduced atmosphere when I fire precious metals, had I made silver pieces the same size I could have fit at least four times as many into a single firing. (I could have fit at least twice as many on a kiln shelf (probably more!), and I certainly could have fired two shelves at a time.) And, since these clays must be fired twice, that means I could have fired thirty or more silver pieces in the time it took me to fire those four bronze ones!

(And, this particular issue gets magnified even more when you consider the “overhead” issues involved in all the extra firing. I’ll discuss that further in part 2.)

Finishing Time. Some designs (e.g., inlays and mokume gane effect) are very interesting to see and lots of fun to make, but do require that a lot of time and effort be expended on post-fire polishing to come out looking really great. Other styles (e.g., basic textures) are more comparable in the time they take to finish across all the different products (precious and non-precious metals alike). Still others, however, seem to come out somewhere in between (e.g., various “draped” pieces), and I’m still exploring how best to approach building those so that they are appealing to look at yet not way out on the difficult end of the scale to finish.

Those three aspects are probably the easiest to address, in very simple terms, concerning “hidden factors” in the price of a product. In subsequent posts, I’ll outline a few others. As ever, I welcome comments from fellow artists, students, customers, and other readers of this blog….

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/09/29

I just realized it’s been almost two weeks since I posted anything. Sigh… I realized that around the same time it hit me that it’s been just under a month since I last fired up my kiln. Yikes! Where has the time gone?!

It’s not that I’ve been completely slacking off, mind you. It’s more that I do not see this whole art-jewelry adventure as a “full time job” (and do not ever want to see it that way … by which I mean that, no matter how many or how few hours I work at it, I don’t want to ever let it even approach a feeling of drudgery!). So sometimes I decide to take things a little bit easier, to take time to just enjoy what I’m doing. In addition to the things I have posted about in recent weeks, I’ve attended market-shows, visited museums and galleries, and so on.

Mid-month, I held an Open House in my studio, where I did make a number of pieces just to demonstrate the process for visitors. Because those were done to illustrate one or more points about working with metal clay (rather than from some specific design I had in mind), I then just smushed most of them back up afterwards so I could use the clay in a more deliberate manner later on. I did finish and keep a few but, feeling no pressure to complete them immediately, I just set them on my to-be-fired tray for when I had more of a kiln load. I guess I could have taken photos and written about any or all of those activities, but I decided to simply enjoy doing all those things, without thinking about using them here. Same thing with most of the other activities I’ve been involved with recently, like events with the Master Gardeners (as well as with my own garden), spending time with friends visiting from out of town, etc.

We did have a meeting of the Western PA Chapter of the PMC Guild. That was on Tuesday, out at the Four Directions Jewelry Studio that chapter-member Barbara Kaczor recently opened out in Springdale, PA. The photo shows some of the folks in attendance that evening. (That’s Barbara on the left, standing up and leaning over between Alice and Michelle.) The group had not had a formal meeting in a while, so it was great to get together with everyone again, see what all they’ve been up to, and share inspiration and discoveries. As always, we started out with a Show & Tell session (which included metal clay pieces and traditional metalsmithing, but also reports of surgeries, weddings, and travels… we’re pretty flexible about what gets included!). We dealt with some “business issues” and had some refreshments (for which, thanks to new-participant Susie, I was not the only one who brought a dish containing edible flowers!). We finished up with a lively discussion of making your own textures using the “tear-away technique.”

Since that ran late, and Alice lives a lengthy drive away, she stayed over at my place. We went back to my studio the next morning, right after breakfast. Alice sat down at one table and began designing a bracelet she wants to make, and I spent a bit of time getting studio back in order for working. (It had been in Open House configuration.) I just sat down to start working when Alice got a text from her husband, asking if she’d be back in time to go out for dinner with “the Holders.” Problem is, she couldn’t think of anyone named Holder! After several more text messages, the situation was clearer: the “Holders” is what his phone thought he meant when he tried to type in “the golfers” — meaning the people that he was out with for the day! Once she finished her design, in its preliminary state at least, she decided that it was too complex to finish in one afternoon, so she’d be better off heading home. She said her farewells, and I got back to serious work.

I spent the afternoon and evening making several “trial” pieces out of Hadar Jacobson’s relatively new “Rose Bronze” clay! Though I’ve enjoyed working with many of her other products, that was my first-ever use of the rose bronze. Those pieces are in the kiln now: noting their firing in my log book is what showed me how long it had been since the last time I’d fired it up.

I don’t like to sit right in the room as binders are burning away, but neither do I feel comfortable just leaving the building as the kiln fires. So I took my laptop over to another room in the building that houses my studio, and started this post.

These pieces are only going to get their first-phase firing tonight; when they’re done, I’ll take them out of the kiln. They can cool down on their own, but too much carbon will burn up if I just leave them in the kiln. (That extra fiddling, and multi-phase firings, are among the reasons that creating with the base metal clays seems more labor-intensive than do the precious metals!) It may be a couple days before I find time to fire the second phase. I’ll post results, good or bad, once I see what I’ve gotten and done some post-fire finishing on them. Please wish us good luck!

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Where do other workshop ideas come from?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/13

I sure do think that it’s loads of fun to wrap strips of clay into cylindrical shapes … and, then, fire them so they turn into sturdy but lovely metal tubes! Do you? Have you tried it? Would you like to come to a workshop and make a few?

One fairly easy thing—something even an absolute beginner can do—is to overlap the material as you twist it around. This gets you a shape I think of as a “lapped cylinder,” one that’s open at both ends. Depending on the texture / design you have chosen, the pattern can remain the same along the full length of the cylinder (upper tube in photo to the right), or it can vary noticeably as you turn it around (lower tube in upper photo at right).

You can hang one or more of these cylinders from some fancy ribbon and you’ll have your very own one-of-a-kind piece of art-jewelry! You can use ribbon just as it comes from its package, or you can use any of a range of braiding and/or beading techniques to make it fancier. It can be as quick and easy, or as elaborate, as you want it to be.

(Not shown in that photo is the way you can even use a matching tube as part of a toggle clasp! I’ll write about bracelets again in a little while, and show that then.)

Cylinders that Can Spin. Little CylindersAn interesting variation on the cylinder involves capping one end and putting a small hole in that, just large enough for a piece of wire to pass through. Then, you can use a headpin (I often make my own!) to either: make a wrapped loop so you can hang the whole thing from an earwire (first photo to the left) or even use a headpin that’s long enough so you can bend it directly into a hand-made earwire (second photo, to the left). Though I illustrate only the second approach with additional beads here (I used crystal and glass), it’s possible to include them (or not) with either style, as you desire.

All of the cylinders described so far are possible outcomes for the workshop I offer periodically called Simply Stupendous Cylinders. Where did that idea come from? I wanted to find a way to offer a shorter, simpler version of a couple of my other favorite projects.

(1) Silver Spools involves another great project. It’s also appropriate for beginners, while those with prior metal clay experience will often have the chance to learn some new techniques. But the strategy used to construct spools just takes a bit longer to complete than does that for simple cylinders. Spools also use up some more material. So I like to offer the simpler version sometimes too, for those who want to try making some tubes but at a slightly lower cost.

Spinner Twists(2) I also love making and teaching others to make “twistie” earrings (or pendants) like the ones shown to the left here. I like their twisted shape, and I especially like the way they can be made to spin on their handmade ear-wires. Surprisingly, however, they are much harder than they may look to make! The Do the Twist workshop where we make these is one of the few I teach involving silver metal clay that I do not recommend for absolute beginners….

Here’s why: The “open twist” shape of this construction is just incredibly fragile in the greenware shape. The end result is sturdy enough, but even the slightest “wrong” move as you do any finishing or cleaning prior to firing can cause a “twistie” to snap into pieces. Then you have to decide: stick them back together (and risk snapping it somewhere else in the process), smooth off the ends of the pieces and just end up with shorter twists (though that smoothing can also lead to more breakage), or rehydrate the clay and try again another day (since, though no clay is lost, it still takes time to get it workable again)? That’s just not a set of choices I want to foist on metal clay beginners! You need not be an expert to make these, but I do recommend waiting until you feel comfortable working with metal clay in both its moist (lump clay) and dried (greenware) states before you tackle this approach. And the cylinders-class is one great way to gain the relevant experience.


If you’re reading this note within about a month of when it was first posted, you can look over to the right sidebar to see when I’ll next be offering the relatively quick and easy Simply Stupendous Cylinders workshop in my studio (in “Regent Square” in western Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh, Swissvale, Edgewood, and Wilkinsburg intersect…). If you’re interested, just let me know that you want to sign up for it.

If you’re reading this more than a month after it was first posted, you may not see it listed on my evolving workshop schedule. But, at any time, you are welcome to request any of my workshops (regular ones or something special), including the ones discussed here. I’m always happy to offer any of them (at my studio or even at your site) as long as I know there are folks interested in taking them!

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