Convergent Series

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

Archive for the ‘Misc. Musings’ Category

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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Posted in Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

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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Where do workshop ideas come from?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/07

I was over at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company a week or so ago, and noticed a box with these cute and colorful little Lucite beads. I think they’re so adorable—with several different leaves and flowers and butterflies—and I just couldn’t decide which color or design to buy.

How could I justify getting a whole collection of them? Even a single strand of one color and design contained more than I’d be likely to use myself. Why? Well, while I may make “similar” pieces in a “series,” I don’t go around making lots of multiples of the same design. So I rarely use lots of the same kind of bead.

But … I got to thinking, in workshops, my participants are encouraged to take my ideas, demonstrations, and samples as inspiration and then make something that adds their own special twist to it.

So … could I justify buying a collection of these in different designs and colors, and offer a workshop where I’d make these available as materials? Clearly, given the presence of these photos, the answer was, “Of course!”

Garden Delight Earrings is now on the schedule as one of the workshops I’ll offer in my studio at the Wilkins School Community Center soon after the fall series opens. This one will be on the evening of September 21. Though returning students are certainly welcome, this is one of the classes I’ve designed as a super-easy one for beginners. And because the silver elements themselves are likely to be relatively small, the materials fee for this one should also be very affordable!

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/05/02

… you may notice that I just changed its visual “theme.”

I had been using a WordPress theme called Garland, but I just switched it to Andreas09. I’m not sure about this one: much as I like “silver” in jewelry, I’m not a big fan of “gray” as a decorative color in other settings. But this theme had enough other features that I did like, so I decided to give it a try.

Why? Though I liked many of Garland’s features, I recently realized the “full site” was not showing up well on small devices. (The special version for those was fine, but if you wanted to view the full website itself, there were some problems.)

Andreas09 appears fine in both mobile and full-website versions. The part I’m less certain about is that it lets me specify some color choices, but not everything. For example, I can change the color along the top (which I have done, to one that seems to go well with some of my studio colors) and that leaves the gray sides alone. But, if I change out the gray along the sides, then both the top and the sides seem to change to that same color. And that’s a problem: The title at the top appears in white (so you need a dark background to see that) while the text down the sides is dark (so you need a light background). So for now at least, I’m living with the blue-ish top bar (which I like) and the gray-sides (which I’m telling myself are silver and that’s good).

Comments on this change are welcome! (Or, if you blog on WordPress and know how to tweak the colors on this theme further, please speak up.)

Time to get back to making jewelry though. I have several pieces that must be finished asap; after I’ve met that challenge, I’ll post photos from Art All Night and, from back before that, Terry Kovalcik’s workshop.

(I sometimes wonder if I’d be in fine shape if there were 28 hours in a day, and 10 days in a week…. Do you?)

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Passing 40….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/09

Yikes … 40 …!

No: not the age of 40. No: not the speed limit. Yes: the price of silver.

I wasn’t paying attention to prices yesterday (busy day…) and missed it at the time, but silver crossed the $40-mark on Friday.

Then, apparently, investors convinced themselves that it really is going to keep rising, and they managed to drive the nominal price up to just a few pennies shy of $41 per ounce. (Speaking of pennies, all this is driving up the price of copper too … just not as much … yet.)

Yeah, I get the “economic theory” that drives investors to metals, and especially to “precious” metals. I just happen to think that many of the things that can be done with those materials should be even more precious. Why do “they” want to destroy the simple pleasure that can be drawn from small precious metal artwork and adornments? Why do the rest of us let them? What are the alternatives, for them and for us?

Why can’t “those people” go find something useful to invest in? Something practical? Something for the good of others too? Something that would benefit society? Something that would still be of benefit to them (yes, I understand that part) but something that doesn’t have to mean the detriment of others at the same time? Why is it you versus me?

Why can’t we revise the basic definition of good to mean only if it’s good for all?

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Yes, it is a small world…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/13

When I teach metal clay classes, regardless of which clay we will be using, I always make a point of reviewing a brief history of metal clay: The products first released in the USA were from Mitsubishi Industries (PMC) and Aida Chemical Industries (Art Clay), both of which are based are in Japan. Those two are still the primary sources of silver and gold clays.

Some newer metal clays have been developed and released from other companies, in the USA (where I live) and elsewhere. But all metal clay artists should remember that our field has deep roots in Japan and, in particular, in that country’s scientific community.

After the earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan a few days ago, the latest word–at last–is that both metal clay teams (Aida and Mitsubishi) are safe, for the moment at least, as are their metal clay production facilities. This, of course, says nothing about their families, friends, and colleagues. Nor does it address the turmoil their country will undoubtedly face in trying to recover from recent events, both the original natural disaster, and the many man-made ones that are still unfolding upon that.

This post is just my small way of acknowledging their work, expressing my appreciation, and giving a small hint how much I want to wish them all well with what’s yet to come.

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Riding a few waves.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/02/13

Speaking of inspiration (as I was in my last post) here are a couple photos of three pendants.

I’ve made a number like this. No two alike, but generally long and narrow and curved with a tube along one concave section to serve as the bail (the part from which you hang the piece).

Where’d the original idea come from? A mix of sources. Having grown up near the ocean, having spent countless hours (as a teenager in particular) at the beach, watching the waves, seems to be one of the (many) reasons that I often think in wave-shapes. (See the toggle clasp at the bottom of my last post!) Having rolled out a number of long, narrow rectangles as I was playing with potential ring-shank designs, I thought to use some for other purposes. Wanting to practice making more tubes, this design is well-suited to using those. Having quickly sold the first few I made, there was incentive to continue. And so on….

But there’s something about those sales. I sell my pieces at a mix of venues: shops, shows, private sales on my own, etc. These wave-strips seem to sell very well at external sites. But I’ve never sold one of these myself!

So, while I see these pieces as fully reversible, I have no clue if my customers see them the same way. And, if they think there is a front and a back, which is which?

Your comments on such matters are welcome!

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Thanks, Cindy G., for the inspiration!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/02/12

Where do you get your inspiration? Your ideas for what to make?

That’s not a question I’d actually think to ask of many artists, though I have heard others ask it. (Of some artists, yes, I might think it, because I truly cannot imagine what would lead someone to make what they’ve produced. But only a few of those are ones for which I’d really want to know the answer, if you know what I mean… And, of the ones where I would want the answer, I’d be more likely to ask one or more specific questions, starting from a specific piece, rather than lead with such a general one.)

I just always figure, in general, that inspiration, while not always direct, still comes from some mix of internal and external sources: something you see or do or hear or … that connects to something you think or feel or wish or dream … that connects to the specific set of skills you happen to have or to be trying to acquire and strengthen … that combines with a variety of other bits of you and your life and comes out as the piece in question.

In the grand scheme of my own life, this idea of being an “artist” myself is a relatively recent development. For decades, yes, I admired art, and bought pieces I wanted when I could, while I worked in various aspects of “scientific visualization.” There I was trying to make concrete images of abstract ideas … so I’m having fun going in what feels like the other direction now. But one thing that has surprised me, since I got involved in all this, is the number of people who try to describe to me other pieces they want to insist that I should make. That is something I never would have imagined telling another artist. Am I a couple standard deviations off the norm on that? Do lots of people think that’s a good conversation starter, one to which I’ve just always been oblivious?

Wave and Curve Toggle ClaspNone of that, of course, applies to the photos with this post. What inspired me to make the above comments just now was simply the concept of where inspiration comes from! In the case of those earrings, above, it was Cindy, a friend from the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County. She came over to meet me at my studio one day, before we headed out on a project for that; she admired a necklace I had made (a couple years ago now, but whose clasp I still use as a class-sample) and commented on a couple pairs of earrings that I had on display for sale. Hearing her comments on both of those at the same time, it suddenly struck me to make a pair of earrings using a part of the design, and some of the same beads, as the necklace. They’re now for sale at KoolKat in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

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At least it’s cosy _inside_ my studio.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/01/11

The streets outside my studio were clear when I arrived at noon. I planned to meet a couple different people over there today. The first one was set to arrive at 1 pm, which is right when the snow started falling. The photo was taken around 4, while I thought there was still enough light to show the hill. It’s one of the lovely old brick streets in this neighborhood: great most of the time but slippery in situations like this. The snow was still falling when I left at 6:30, though just lightly by then. Hmmm, will I go over tomorrow?

I hope so! I’ll have to see what the weather brings. I have a number of pieces started and I’d like to make progress on them. I rarely start one piece and stick with it until it’s done. I’m far more likely to start several, and swap around among them. This isn’t a lack of focus on my part. (Yeah, sometimes I do have that problem, but it exhibits in other ways….) It’s more that I’ll start one and, while I’m waiting for that clay to dry some, I’ll start another, and perhaps yet another. Then I’ll move to a later step in the process for the first one. And so on. Sometimes, while working on one I’ll get an idea about something I’d rather do differently, on it or one of the others that are in the works. Nonetheless, that back-and-forth process seems to be more efficient than one-at-a-time. To me at least — what about you?

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Happy New Year!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/01/01

As I’m sure you know, people will often start a project with enthusiasm. Then, after a while, it starts to feel more like a chore, and they drop it.

Well, if it seems like a chore, that makes sense. The question, which applies to many aspects of life, is how to keep it fresh and interesting and motivating.

In that sense, the “it” can be anything. For me, in the context of writing here, there are several relevant “it” possibilities: the making of jewelry and other small adornments in general, making them through the specific application of “metal clay” techniques, and writing about both via this blog.

WordPress has launched a “program” to encourage people to continue to maintain blogs that they have started. There are two: postaday2011 and postaweek2011.

Now, for me, the thought of having to post every day holds no interest. To me, that would become a chore. But averaging once a week is about the goal I set myself when I started this, one year ago today.

I have not gotten upset with myself when, on occasion, I’ve gone more than a week without posting: if I didn’t have something to say, why write just to be writing? Or, if I was so busy, so otherwise engaged for a week or so, why stress out just to post, rather than wait until a better moment? As long as I averaged that pace over about a month (and occasionally posted more when I really did have more to say) that has seemed fine to me.

In that context, I am tagging this post as my entry into the “postaweek2011” program. I’ve no clue if I’ll both feel inclined and remember to tag every post that way: seems kind of silly to me to over-tag things. But I’ll try to remember to include that at least some of the time.

The thing I’d appreciate would be to see more comments in response to my posts. Through basic statistics such as number of hits, I can see that people read them (though I can’t tell who you are): Please speak up!

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The photo shown with this post is the same one I used when I launched this blog a year ago today: the large, central, “fine” silver bead is the very first one I ever made using metal clay techniques. Clearly, I’m still motivated to make small adornments that way!

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Where has the year gone?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/12/31

I started this blog on January 1, and here it is December 31. How can it be a year already? Weeks, sure. Months, possibly. But a whole year?

And quite a year it’s been too. The new studio tops the looking-back list for me, but then there are also all tne new projects, people, outlets, workshops, opportunities and more.

But I can’t ignore the fact that silver closed out the year trading at $30.92 per troy ounce. It had started 2010 at $16.85. For that matter, it had started 2009 at $11.33.

I wonder where it will be by this time next year? One business report indicates:

Gold rose to within USD 10 of a record high…, closing out an unprecedented tenth annual gain as the combination of a weaker dollar and global economic uncertainty seemed to pave the way higher next year.

The entire precious metals complex had a stellar run in 2010, led by palladium’s 97 percent rise, in a broad commodities rally that pushed the 19-commodity Reuters-Jefferies CRB index .CRB up 15 percent.

Spot silver, too, swept higher for an 83 percent gain on the year, as investors sought the white metal as an alternative to gold. It was the best-performing assets in the CRB, hitting a 30-year peak of USD 30.92 on Friday.

Investors: Please don’t limit yourselves to “plain” silver and other precious metals. Please invest in those of us who are able to turn them into lovely adornments!

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Merry Christmas!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/12/25

I’m taking a few days “off” from the making of adornments, so I can spend more time with a collection of friends and relatives.

But I thought I’d share this snapshot of one of my Christmas cactus plants … both this and the pale pink one are actually ablaze with flowers at Christmas this year, which is wonderful!

Here’s hoping you find a great collection of wonderful reasons to celebrate this holiday season, whatever holidays you may choose to celebrate.

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Two more tables, at last.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/12/20

At last, I got the two other tables I’d planned to put in the studio (though I still need to earn some more so I can add better chairs!) but I’m really torn over which way they should face.

Aesthetically, I’ve always thought they should go lengthwise, down the middle of the room. That corresponds to the shape of the room, but it also means I could sit “sideways” and see both out the window to the outside, and out the doorway into the hall, rather than having my back to one or the other of those.

The advantage to crosswise, however, is entirely practical: I can put the “small” ends right up against the wall, where the electrical outlets are, and run cords safely under the table, plus there’s less “conflict” between chairs and where the rugs meet.

For now, I just set it up with one going each direction. I figure I can try each for a week or so, and then decide…. Or, maybe I’ll end up rotating them between positions, lengthwise for when I’m working there on my own, and crosswise for classes?

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Come Home, Little Pendant, Please…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/12/15

I entered pieces for sale in several special Holiday sales events and was, overall, very pleased with how many of them went off to new homes.

Except for what happened to this one which, though rather simple, was kind of special to me because it’s one I made the first time I ever visited the wonderful, then-new studio of my friend Alice.

It wasn’t sold. (I even saw it on the table less than an hour before the show closed.)

The next day, it was checked off as still being in inventory when the organizers totaled up sales. But it was not with the rest of my work when I went to retrieve the remaining items.

I’m guessing / hoping that some other artist just picked it up with the rest of their pieces by mistake. It should have a tag on in with my name and contact information. I’m hoping whoever has it will find & return it.

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Gosh, it’s hot.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/07/07

Several days of this already, and more predicted to come. Heat index in triple digits, actual daytime temperatures well into the 90s, and barely dropping into the 70s over night.

This heat and humidity remind me of South Florida, where I grew up. And from which I left, one August many years ago. And, though I went back regularly to visit while my folks were still there, I didn’t return during the summer.

Call me a wimp if you want, but I simply cannot comprehend the thought of working with metal clay until things cool off a bit. Even though I normally move a kiln outside to fire it, at the moment I just cannot form a thought that involves generating any more heat anywhere.

I’ve spent a bit of time cutting out little paper templates, trying to figure out the mechanics of a few new designs. That’s as close as I can get, however, until the temperature breaks. Which is predicted for a few days. Loooonnnggg days. More here then!

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