Great news! My four-week introductory series on working with silver metal clay still has a few seats available in “Session 2” — from 6 to 9 pm — starting next Thursday (Feb 23) at the North Hills Art Center, and we’ve agreed not to close the registration this afternoon, but leave it open until next Tuesday!
So if you forgot to sign up, there is still time. Or, if you didn’t notice the listing among my classes down the right side of this blog, didn’t check the Classes section of my website, and you’re not on my mailing list nor the one for the North Hills Art Center … well, now you know about the series and that it’s still possible to sign up.
We’ll cover the basics of designing, texturing, shaping, cutting, and refining pieces. You’ll make a woven piece. And a hollow one (open or closed design: you choice!). With every piece you make, pendant or earrings, you’ll have the option of making it reversible! By the end, we will also have covered various ways to polish and add patinas to your pieces, to help bring out the textured designs. And we’ll have lots of fun doing it all!
For my one- or two-day workshops, registration is usually cut off a week ahead: I need time to order the silver we’ll be using (and I sure don’t want to charge students for overnight shipping)! I have ordered silver clay for those who already signed up for this but, since I’m getting enough to cover all four weeks, I can sneak enough out of that for late-comers to use the first week, and replenish it in time for later evenings.
If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll be able to join us!
Also please notice (e.g., down the right side of my blog) that this session will be followed at NHAC by a simple, two-night introduction to making a beautiful piece out of bronze metal clay. Registration for that one will close on March 16. (Bronze is a little trickier to work with than silver, so you may end up making only one piece … but the materials cost less, so bronze worth risking for big “statement” pieces!)
This post is going to jump into the middle of a story about several different things I’ve been working on: adding a little bit of color to my creations by incorporating some glass (especially dichroic glass) and working with sterling silver metal clays.
Why start in the middle? Well, I really do miss writing about all the explorations I do in my studio. I haven’t been saying much about them lately because we still don’t have reliable internet access in the building … and I used to compose posts as I worked. You can probably imagine that, after a long day of working on explorations (and more), the last thing I want to do is go home and stay up for hours more writing from there. But it’s a gorgeous fall day and I suddenly decided to enjoy it by staying home this morning, sitting out on my back porch with a cup of tea, and writing about a piece I just finished on Friday.
I will provide a bit of background:
The second, or maybe it was the third, piece I ever made using metal clay incorporated a lovely, long, oval, pink glass bead, set with loops of syringe-clay to hold it in place. It was fun to do, but it took me a few more years before I got into adding glass on any sort of regular basis. About six or seven years ago, I went through a phase of using glass fairly often. Then I moved off in other directions, with what remained of my collection of glass pieces sitting in a corner of one of my stash-drawers. I’d acquire another bit of glass every now and then until, a few years later, I made a few more pieces using some of those, and taught it as the final project in a couple of private lessons and multi-session intensive workshops.
Probably the main reason I didn’t keep pushing with glass is because I’d felt limited to using PMC3 or Art Clay 650: those were the only metal clays that could reliably be fired with glass. Now, those are both fine metal clays: I have been quite happy using either one of them. But glass just isn’t happy at the 1650°F (900°C) for two hours that all fine silver clays require for the strongest sintering, even with those formulas. Although they will technically sinter at lower temperatures and shorter times, they still don’t get as dense, and thus won’t get as strong, as they could do at 1650°F for two hours. They do come out perfectly acceptable, and I hope people will treat any piece with glass somewhat gently … but I just like going for the strongest pieces possible.
Still, I do love glass. So this summer I made some more fine silver pieces with dichroic glass cabochons, called them class samples, and included that process in another four-day session I was scheduled to teach at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh. The first photo with this post shows one of the sample pieces I made for that class. While a couple of my samples used the same PMC3 and Art Clay 650 that I’d used in the past (mostly to refresh my memory of how I’d done it) this one and several others used PMC Flex. Flex is similar to PMC3 but it has a slightly longer working time (good for workshop students not yet comfortable enough with metal clays to work really fast) and it remains a bit flexible when dried (which makes it very useful for anyone fashioning the parts that capture and hold the glass). And, though there’s still the problem of not sintering to the maximum density possible, it does sinter reasonably well at temperatures where glass remains happy. So, for fine silver with glass, it seemed a good choice.
Now, at last, on to the Urban Flowers explorations:
After I’d made those samples, on some of the hottest days this summer when I just didn’t feel like going out to work in my garden, I got to thinking about a possible new series of pieces, ones I’ve taken to calling my Urban Flowers. They are flower-like designs, but from my imagination. While they may be based on some actual flower varieties (and may or may not be named for their inspiration), I am not attempting to make biologically-accurate representations. They’re just a city-girl’s dreams. The textures come from urban life: wallpapers, flooring, construction debris, household objects, etc., and they feature glass (or, occasionally, something else that is commonly found in urban environments).
I’d been happily exploring these designs, mostly using PMC Flex, while working on some other styles completely and, for those, using diy-960 clays (i.e., mixing PMC+, PMC3, PMC Flex, and/or Art Clay 650 with PMC Sterling clay).
And then CoolTools released EZ960. OK, I didn’t really need it, as I’d been doing fine with my various diy-960 combos, but why not give it a try? Soon after, both PMC and Art Clay released their own silver-rich sterlings (PMC One-Fire Sterling, a .960 formula, and Art Clay 950, where the number designation has switched from a minimum Celsius firing temperature to a Fine Silver percentage). I got some of each of those and started testing them too. At some point, I hope to find a chance to write about all that testing. For now, though, let’s stick to the Urban Flowers story.
While I do love the color of plain fine silver, I can also appreciate the gain in strength that it gets when a bit of copper is added to produce sterling silver. And, as noted above, I much prefer to produce pieces that are strong. The 950-960 formulas will be stronger than a 999 fine silver; they get you to almost as much strength as you can get in the great 900-925 alloys. Plus, they have the benefit that they are as easy to fire as the 999 clays (i.e., much easier than the 900-925 ones, where having more copper complicates the firing). So, yes, any 960 (diy or commercial product) will be a compromise, but still an excellent choice.
With one exception: the 950-960 clays need temps and times higher than glass can take without just melting.
But, d’oh, why didn’t I think of this before (even with the .999 fine silver clays!)? I work with base metal clays, and I do some pottery, and we’re talking about multiple firings to get many of those to work. So here’s the inspiration I had, and the first (simple) piece I made to test it out….
I made an Urban Flower base out of EZ960: the petals, the stem (if included), the bail on the back … everything but the glass and the bit that holds the glass in place. I fired all of that according to the schedule for 960, to achieve maximum strength. Afterwards, I positioned a glass cab, surrounded that with a .999 fine silver washer shape to contain it, made sure that was well-attached to the already-fired petals, and fired the whole thing again at a schedule that worked for just the “bezel” and the glass. After a bit of tumbling, polishing, and patina, voila! It may not be perfect, but I am really happy with this result! (Though both the silver and the glass are brighter in person than they look in this photo….)
What do you think?
I do still need to figure out a reasonable pricing schedule to accommodate the fact that I’m doing two firings, and that attaching the unfired clay to the fired metal can be a little trickier than attaching two unfired elements. Though that will add a small amount, in the grand scheme of things, it won’t be much. Once I’ve found time to make more to extend the series, and refined the process of doing it this way, I can see how the time works out and apply that even to my initial-trial pieces too. The only real problem with this approach is the way the two firings will affect trying to do this in a class … but it’s just another reason to offer multi-session workshops, rather than the quick one-shot ones, when including easy but still advanced topics.
To help my local reader or potential visitors with planning their metal clay adventures, here’s a summary of the next round of workshops I have on the schedule at the wonderful Artsmiths of Pittsburgh. The link at the title for each one takes you to the registration service for it.
For the rest of September and on into October, I’ve chosen to offer a mix of classes where you can learn to create pieces that make a definite statement, or elements to use in more complex designs of your own.
Sunday, October 2, 1-4pm: Wrap A Straw in Silver and See What Happens!
Simple tools can be the best: We’ll texture some silver clay and explore different ways to wrap it around a straw. The end result will be a large, stunning “tube” pendant-bead … unless you’d prefer to make a whole little collection of smaller ones. (The latter make great earrings, but they also pair perfectly with the mini-beads from the October 11 class!)
Tuesday, October 11, Noon-5 pm: Mini-Beads: So Cute You Can’t Stop at Just One!
Another session making lentil beads, this time learning some of the extra tricks for making little minitature ones! These are great for beaders, or earring-makers, of all sorts. Making these little beads is easy and addictive, and you will find so many different ways to use them. (Hint: they fit wonderfully with the little-tubes you could make in the session on October 2!)
Thursday, October 20, 6-9pm: Lovely Silver Nests
Tiny silver balls are easy and fun to make. They’re a great way for beginners to get a sense of metal clay, and they’re a wonderful way for others to use up bits of clay that’s left at the end of a session. And once you have such a collection, one fun thing to do with them is to collect them into a little “nest” design. (Or, if you prefer, spread them along a coiled “track”!) Explore the possibilities.
Thursday, October 27, 12-4 pm: Simply Stupendous Cylinders
Whether or not you’ve ever made a tube bead before (which you could have done on October 2), this is the afternoon when you can practice making one or two more and learning how to close one end, which will let you hang them in any of several different ways. (The ones shown in the photo can rotate the whole way around!)
Then, in November, I’ve chosen to focus on sessions were you (yes, you, even if you are a total beginner at this!) can quickly make several simpler pieces … where the emphasis will be on making items you can give as gifts in the coming holiday season:
Saturday November 6, 1-4pm: How Charming!
OK now, the Holiday Season will be approaching, and you’ll be thinking about gifts, won’t you? But why spend an afternoon shopping, when you can spend it making several adorable little silver charms, ones you can hang from a bracelet, zipper pull, fine chain, earwires, etc. They make wonderful gifts … if you can bear to part with them!
Thursday November 17, 6-9pm: So Precious!
Once again geared for gift-giving, the idea behind this session is to make a very special pendant piece (or two, depending on how carried away you get with embellishing your first one!).
Beginners are welcome at all of these, while the projects are designed so that those with some previous metal clay experience are still likely to learn some new techniques with each one.
Note: the links on each session will open a new browser page where you can read a bit more about each class and register for the session. You may notice some minor discrepancies between what’s shown here and what’s there. Having tried (without success, for technical reasons not worth going into) to set up some the sessions I offer in my studio using the Eventbrite system, I have a LOT of sympathy for the several folks at Artsmiths who worked on setting up the registration pages there. It is not easy! The thing I will say is that the descriptions, date, time, price, etc., on the Eventbrite pages ARE correct. It’s just a few photographs that got mixed up, and a few titles that somehow got changed, from what’s shown above (here is what I submitted for these sessions). So … look at the titles, photos, and summaries here, then click the link and get the full description and registration information there. I hope to see you before autumn has passed!
Registration has closed for my class on making silver buttons this week, but if you missed it, don’t worry. I’ll be offering that one again, in my studio, in November AND I’ve got one on making bronze buttons on the studio schedule for February. Those dates are set to coincide with Indie Knit & Spin, which is a great event that happens in the building where I have my studio. More on all that next month … because I’ve got several other great classes lined up before those.
The next one will be at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh, this Monday, September 26, from Noon to 5 pm. We’ll make hollow, domed, reversible, silver “lentil-style” beads—one of my most favorite basic shapes to work with! If you want to add some extra bling to yours, you’ll learn a great way to set a lovely, sparkly cubic zirconia too, using an easy technique that lines up the top of your CZ with the top of your bead in a very elegant design.
Should you arrive early, consider having lunch at the Koolkat Cafe. You’ll want to start out well-nourished, from there or otherwise, so you’ll be ready to have lots of fun for the rest of the afternoon! During our session, there will be no specific time designated for everyone to take a break at once, but each person will reach stopping-points now and then where it’ll make sense to relax briefly.
The beads shown here are all just under an inch in diameter. That’s a good size to start out with: somewhere between 3/4 and 1.25 inches across.
We’ll be using a silver-rich version of sterling silver!
In class, I’ll help you understand the major differences (both advantages and disadvantages) of fine silver (99.9% silver), standard sterling silver (must have at least 92.5% silver, with the remaining 7.5% usually copper), and our class-clay (which is 96% silver and a mere 4% copper).
This class makes a great introduction to metal clay: the very first piece I ever made with the stuff was a lentil bead! Then again, if you already follow any metal clay discussions online, you’ll know that this “960” sterling silver is still relatively new in clay form but working with it is being explored by many metal clay artisans. This will be a chance for you to work with it yourself! Until recently, I taught classes using “999” fine silver; I still use that for a lot of my pieces and classes, and choose among brands and formulations according to which seems to be the best one for the various designs I have in mind. But I’m thrilled to have a number of “960” versions available now too, as yet another choice, and I’m selecting projects to offer as classes that allow me to highlight the advantages (or avoid the disadvantages) among the many wonderful metal clay varieties that are now available.
I’ve been doing some additional behind-the-scenes testing of the various forms of 960: don’t hold your breath waiting, but know that those results will appear here eventually too. In the meantime, besides that testing, I’m keeping busy in this part-time activity of mine through teaching some private lessons, planning for a guest lecturer session next week on metal Art Jewelry for the Costume Design (undergrad) and Costume Production (graduate) programs in the Drama Department at Carnegie Mellon University, and trying to build up inventory for the holiday-sales season. And the ‘net connection at my studio still varies from wonky to non-existent. I do have some great 960 information in the writing-queue, and I am trying to get it in condition to be posted!
What with all the ‘net-connection issues and photo-sharing dilemmas I’ve been going on about recently, I am waaaay behind in posting about upcoming workshops: sorry! I actually have a bakers-dozen on my schedule already, and I’ll write about the bulk of them as soon as I can. For now however: coming along soon are two metal clay workshops that are not my typical stand-alone jewelry-projects!
Funny thing is, I really didn’t get into this metal clay arena because I wanted to go off making pendants and earrings and bracelets and more. My original goal was simply to find a relatively easy way to make an array of different elements because I couldn’t find ones that I wanted to use in my other creations: bead caps and clasps for my bead-work, buttons for my fiber-work, etc. If you are anything like I was, you should know that my first two classes this month harken back to those beginnings!
Thursday Sept 8, 6-9pm,
Make Your Own Unique Silver Bead Caps
This one is especially for Beaders: Learn to make your own fine silver bead caps, designed to go perfectly with some of the favorite beads in your stash!
Thursday Sept 22, 6-9pm Silver Button Originals!
This one is especially for Fiber-Artists of all sorts: Hand-made creations deserve hand-made buttons, don’t they?! Whether they will be functional or simply decorative, they might as well be your own hand-made sterling silver treats!
Click on the title of each workshop, above, and it should take you to a page where you can sign up for that particular session. Beginners are welcome! These are fun ways to add both decoration and value to your lovingly-made creations.
Along with my other ‘net- and photo-woes, however, for some reason the folks at Artsmiths who’ve been setting up those registration pages have been adding the sessions, then changing, fixing, and again changing … the names of my classes. Some are showing the names I gave them; others show something that does fit but is not what I was calling them. Who knows? Problem is, the session name shows up in the URL I need to use to add the links! Not to worry, though, I think I’ve (finally!) found a way to add reliable links above but, should they fail, you can also get to them either of these ways (these will require an extra click or two, but they should be more stable…):
I hope I’ll see you there! Then again, if you’re just learning about these now, and the notice is too short for you to make it work with your schedule, let me know!
I can find a time to schedule the Bead Caps one again, either at Artsmiths or at my studio. I’m also happy to do one in my studio on making your own toggle clasps: as soon as enough folks tell me they’re interested, I’ll email you about picking a date that will work for everyone.
And I plan to hold button-making sessions again when Indie Knit and Spin is on: we’ll be making the same sterling-silver-with-holes buttons on November 12 and, depending on interest, I’ll either repeat that one or lead a session on making shank-style buttons in bronze during their February 25, 2017, gathering. More on those, and other button-options, shortly.
Another workshop I have coming up is one I’m calling Golden Bronze Beauties! It is this week! And there are only a few seats left! (Click the link in the class name to get to the official announcement and registration pages.)
This workshop will offer a simple introduction to working with bronze metal clay. If you’ve been wondering about metal clay, I hope you’ll jump in with this one. Or, if you’ve already worked with silver clays, this will be a great chance to explore a different formula. (Should you know enough to wonder about this, the clay I’ve chosen for us to use in this session is Hadar’s One Fire Brilliant Bronze.)
Everyone will be led through the process of developing your own unique, reversible design for a pendant and / or a pair of earrings, and then working with bronze clay to implement that idea.
This is a two-day workshop! Most of the classes at the Artsmiths of Pittsburgh (at least so far) have been one-session-only events. But I asked for two so I could offer one using bronze, and was delighted when they agreed to try this!
We’ll do all the making on day one. I’ll fire everyone’s pieces overnight and, in the second class, we’ll see how they all turned out, and explore a handful of finishing techniques. With all the base metals, there can be surprises in how they come out of the kiln. On the plus side, your piece may have acquired one of the stunning, but unpredictable, “kiln colors” that, although ephemeral, you may want to try to preserve for as long as you can. Alternatively, it may come out a dull tan or gray color, one that you’ll want to polish off your piece to reveal the golden-bronze color underneath.
Kiln-colors? Consider the photo of three small hashi oki (chopstick rests) that I made several years ago. While the pendants and earrings in the “promo shot” for this class have all been polished to a high shine, two of the three of these rests came out with such beautiful kiln-colors that I couldn’t bear to polish them the same way I did the third one. (I still have these: I actually use them in my studio as dohgu oki (tool rests) to keep brushes and burnishers and other round-handled tools from rolling off my workbench!) I have polished the bright one lightly a few times, but have let the colored ones slowly darken with age naturally and they are still lovely!
Alternatively, on this butterfly pendant with bronze wings (and a copper body), I left kiln-colors in the hollows of the texture, while selectively polishing the high points. That’s the thing with bronze: you can be determined and just polish the whole thing once it’s been fired, no matter what, or you can wait to see what the kiln provides and make your final finishing decisions based on what you’ve been given. Leading you through those options will be the focus of our second meeting this week.
FWIW, that is why all my base metal classes are longer than a single session. If we use just a single metal (bronze, copper, or steel), we meet at least twice: once to cover making and again to cover finishing. And when we start to combine metals, we meet at least three times (more is even better). Mixing metals increases the chance that the pieces will come out of the kiln with some cracking that will need to be dealt with on our second day (i.e., given some simple repairs & refired, and/or otherwise designed-around). Thus, with mixed metals, we need at least one additional day to ensure that everyone can complete their final finishing steps too.
I’m really hoping that this offering garners a good bit of interest! (This, and a four-day one I’ll discuss in my next post: an introductory silver class covering a range of techniques, including several for incorporating some bling that we often skip over in single-session lessons.) If Artsmiths sees that there’s interest in being able to “go deeper” in these processes, that’s what it will take for them to let me offer more like this! If you are interested, and can join us, please do! If your interest has been piqued, but you just can’t make it for those days (or at those hours), please let the folks at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh know: we can modify the scheduling for future sessions if we know what would work better! (And, if we can’t make the timing work in their classroom, I can offer the same thing at my own studio.)
It’s time to follow up on an earlier statement, and write a little bit about some upcoming classes. But since this is (what is often called in social media circles) Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d include a few notes on how the ideas and directions for two popular sessions have evolved over time, since I’m repeating them on a couple of Saturday afternoons this month (soon!) and next.
I must admit that the idea for this came from Hadar Jacobson. I’ve made pieces, and then been asked to teach classes, using both precious metals (silver) and base metals (bronze, copper, steel).
We texture the clay and then roll it thin in order to get it to drape nicely. With .999 fine silver, that produces pieces that seem to me to be a bit too fragile, risking bending or breaking at the thinnest points. We can solve that problem by adding a backing layer, or at least a frame, to provide additional stability.
When we use base metals (like these in bronze and copper), we get pieces that are a bit harder. Thus, most of our pieces can just be folded and embellished. They rarely seem to require extra layers for sturdiness, though of course those can always be added if desired from a design standpoint.
I will admit that I never tried making these with .925 sterling silver: I don’t particularly like fussing with the firing schedule for that clay, and have only used it for a handful of different designs. But last winter I started making these with .960 sterling which is much easier to fire than is the .925 form, and they turned out great. So that’s what we used the last time I offered this as a class, and it’s what we’ll be using again this week.
At this point, we’ll still be using “homemade” .960, that will come from mixing .999 and .925 clays. There is a commercial version now available, EZ960, that’s recently been released. We won’t be using that here simply because I haven’t yet had enough time to experiment with that to feel as comfortable as I’d like using it in a class. I want to learn any and all potential pitfalls with it myself before foisting it on a room full of students! Stay tuned for news in that arena.
The way I began to make these pieces, and lead students in making them, has had a number of inspirations. Hadar, again, was one of them, but so were CeCe Wire, a project in the RioRewards certification program, plus a whole range of others (such as some of Mary Hettmansperger’s metal-weaving projects).
Sometimes, as in the silver pieces above, the weaving would be the main element in the design. Other times, as in the mixed-metals piece shown next, the woven portion is more of an accent to another important part of the design. Because of the thin nature of the strips used in the weaves, however, I always made sure that their ends were securely tucked into a frame.
Ahh, but do you remember the .960 silver I just mentioned above? Yes! While I’ll still guide students through some dos and don’ts in letting small ends hang out, we can now be far more adventurous in allowing that. We no longer need to be completely constrained by framing. Again, we can use solid frames if we want that in our designs, but it’s now an option, not a requirement. This class is going to be another one that’s lots of fun!
If you’re in the western PA area, or can get here for one or both of those dates, I hope you’ll join us!
Please note: The links in the title of each session above take you to the site from which you can reserve a seat at that particular class. In each case, the materials provided will be enough to make an interesting pendant. If you want to divide it in half and make earrings instead, that’s fine with me. If you want to buy a bit more material and make something big or even (if you find yourself so comfortable with this material that you are able to work quickly enough to…) make both a pendant and a pair of earrings, that’s yet another option.
Also: I’ve got two other workshops coming up this summer, both of which are multi-day events. I’m hoping to write about those soon too, but the ‘net access in my studio is getting increasingly less reliable (we’re hoping for a fix next month…), so I’m struggling to keep up with online announcements. But you should know that all my workshops at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh are announced on the Eventbrite system. If you are interested in a specific class but for some reason can’t make it on the given date(s), please let me know. I’m happy to repeat any of my sessions on another date, whether it’s back at Artsmiths again, in my studio, or at another site.
I’m really excited: The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh has scheduled five of my metal clay workshops in July and August, and two of them are special multiple-day events so I’ll be teaching there for nine days in all during those two summer months!
(Some day, I hope to arrange a lighting set-up that will give me a consistent color background regardless of the time of day when I take my photos … sigh! The shots above show the range from morning to afternoon to after dark at night; and, yes, all of them DID have the same three bright “daylight” bulbs trained on them in addition to the room’s ambient lighting.)
The length of the various sessions does give a hint about the complexity of the different projects, but everything I’ve scheduled at Artsmiths for this summer should be do-able even by complete beginners. The reason I set aside more time for some of them is so that I can welcome even first-time clayers into any of these classes! Folks with some prior experience with metal clay are likely to learn some new techniques, and may well be able to apply their existing knowledge to kick their designs up a notch.
If you follow the links above to get more information and/or sign up for a class, you may notice that the descriptions there often talk about making a pendant (and the corresponding photos show a range of possibilities for how you might construct yours piece). Anyone who’s taken my classes already knows that, while I often demonstrate a pendant design, I’m happy to support reasonable variations on any given project. By reasonable, I mean variations that are appropriate to the materials we will be using, appropriate to the skill level of the student wanting to make something else and, tied to both of those, appropriate in the sense of the amount of support you’ll need to succeed at your idea while also being “fair” to others who are trying to complete the specified project. But I want everyone to make a unique piece they are happy with, so there’s a lot of leeway in exactly what you might make! Get in touch with me directly if you have any questions about that aspect of my classes. Or, just come and make some gorgeous, unique, and (probably) reversible pendants!
Also, if you have time and material left once you’ve completed the main project, I’m always happy to have you make a little something else with what’s left, often a pair of earrings or a few small charms, or even embellishments that you might add to future projects. I’ll fire those along with the regular class pieces.
With my one-day classes, I fire pieces for you after class, tumble-polish them to an even, high shine, and return them to the site of the class in about a week. This time, I’m especially happy about the two- and four-day sessions, because I’ll fire everyone’s pieces before the last session listed and then, on that last day, we’ll review and practice a number of different finishing techniques, ones that often get overlooked in the one-day sessions (unless you schedule a time to come to my studio for a private or semi-private lesson on finishing).
I’m going to try to post a little something about each session in the coming week or two but, given how spotty my blog-posting has been recently, I figured I should get the overview up for you to consider all at once now…
ALSO / alternatively …
Is Mt. Lebanon too far for you? Would you prefer another date and time? I’d be happy to teach any of these classes in my studio (in Regent Square) or at another location (that you arrange). Let me know if you’d like to discuss any other possibilities!
Where did June go?!! OK, actually, I do know where it went and, now that some of my travels and adventures are over, I’ll relay some stories about that over the rest of this summer. There’s also a story behind the earrings in this photo, and it will be coming shortly too.
But the important thing today is that these earrings were among a number of sample pieces I made for an upcoming workshop, and I really do need to do my part to get the word out about that now!
Late on the night when I had to get the class description in to The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh, I decided to call the class “Let’s Get Twisted”! The idea is that we will work with clay that remains somewhat flexible even after it has dried, and each person will be able to add some curled, twisted, or braided embellishments to their own uniquely textured pendant or earrings. Another thing about this class is that I think it’s a nice one for wire- or bead-workers, because you’ll be able to make a piece that lends itself nicely to further embellishments along those lines as well. (Artsmiths’ photo (at the link below) shows a couple more of the sample pieces for this class, and I’ll bring more that day.)
This is a great introductory class for metal clay newbies! Those with some previous experience may be surprised at the working time of this clay! It will be offered on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 from 12:00 Noon to 3:00 pm.
Note: The clay we’ll be using for this class remains reasonably flexible when dry. The little spirals are best made before it is fully dry. Twists and braids can be done either before or after the clay has dried. For those who have heard of (or taken) my class where we actually tie little knots from dried clay, the material we’ll be using for this session is not that flexible. If you’d like me to offer that one again (it’s been several years since the last time!), please let me and/or Artsmiths know, and I’ll get it on the schedule!
Here’s hoping you are looking forward to what this summer will bring as much as I am!
As I said in my last post in April, I sure had a great time teaching at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh last month, and I’m thrilled to have been invited back to offer more courses there this May! Here are the three that are on the calendar for this month. Clicking on each course title should take you to a page where you can read a bit more about the projects and, if you want, actually register for the various sessions.
This will be the simplest, most fun, yet easy-going introduction to metal clay that’s possible! In three hours, each participant will create lovely, unique, art jewelry: fine silver (.999) earrings!
There will be lots of options for texture, shape, and small embellishments, so everyone will come out with their own unique pieces. And, we’ll texture both sides, so each pair will be reversible!
There will definitely be enough time and materials for each participant to make (at least!) two pairs of earrings … but, remember, since they’ll be reversible, it’ll almost be like getting four pairs from just this one class!
Then again, even if you’ve been working with the stuff for a while, this project involves a few special techniques that are also applicable for a range of more “advanced” projects … which makes this a special (and easy) project on which to learn and begin practicing them.
I find that lentil-beads always seem to be such fun to make: join us, if you can, and see for yourself!
There’s a long story here, not worth going into but, although I’d hoped to offer this class last month, several situations conspired to prevent that. So we simply rescheduled this one for May! I hope that those who had signed up for April will be able to come to this one; plus, there were a few seats still open in that session so there should still be room for some new-comers!
There are lots of things I love about this woven-silver project. The one I’ll mention here is that this is a great session for people who like to make and / or wear silver pieces that are big! At times, the sheer cost of the materials can seem somewhat intimidating but, because these designs have so much open space, they require far less material. Relative to many other designs or approaches, you can stay small, and keep your material costs down, or go big, and not have those costs skyrocket. Your choice!
As I said last month, there’s no significance to the specifics of dates and times. That is, if you want to take a workshop and those date/time combos don’t work for you right now, please let me (or Artsmiths) know! All of us are trying out different combinations to figure out what will work for folks who are interested in the classes. As long as we know there’s interest, we can work out other day/time combos for future months, either repeating these topics or adding new projects to the offerings. And I’m willing to offer any of them as small (private or semi-private lessons) or group sessions (if enough people express interest) in my Regent Square studio as well as at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh.
Personally, I think that all of these are lots of fun to make!
Some days I think to take photos, other days I don’t. I can find no pattern at all to which is which!
But, whether or not I remembered at any point to stop and take photos, I want to say how much I enjoyed my first month of teaching at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh!
Our very first class, on April 14, was an easy introductory session, where we covered learning how to texture metal clay, give it some shape (e.g., by drying it over a dome), and embellish it for a bit of extra oompth (e.g., with balls or coils of clay). In all, in three hours, six students completed twenty-one different pieces!
Now, if you’ve worked with metal clays, one thing you know is that you usually should start out with a little more clay than you actually need to make a piece. You’ll roll it out, but then cut it down to the size and shape you want, and trim away the excess. And the question is, always, what to do with the excess? I’ve already written here about this, but the basic options seem to be: make something else (small) with what you have left; get some more clay and add your leftovers to that to make another piece (bigger); or, go to the bother of saving it to do one of the above later on. (Clearly, I lean towards either of the first two!)
And I have to give this group credit for finding ways to use all their clay. First-timer Linda, in particular, kept making smaller and smaller pieces, using the bits she cut out of one piece as elements on their own, and using the final dregs to make tiny ball embellishments.
Everyone’s pieces fired beautifully, but I didn’t think to get a photo of that. No, what I did capture was when, after I’d fished Linda’s last three teensy pieces out of the shot, someone surprised me by pounding on my studio door, and I dropped them back onto the shot. At least, they landed on top, so I didn’t have to search through the whole barrel-full again. Still, can you spot all three pieces in this photo?!! (I think two are pretty obvious, but not the third, which was the center she’d cut out of the little gear/sun-shape.)
Then, on February 21, I taught a “Draped Silver” class. Didn’t take a photo of that group at work…. Don’t have a good photo of all my samples either, but I include here two older pics of two pieces each, one pair in .999 fine silver, and one pair in bronze and copper (because that’s my best one of little “ball nest” embellishments).
In this class, we worked in .960 silver. That allowed us to roll the pieces nice and thin, which is the key to making draped metal clay pieces. It also let us make them fairly thin without having to add a backing or frame for protection.
Several of the folks in this session had taken one of my earlier classes (at Artsmiths or my studio) and had seen a wide range of my textures; for this workshop, however, I took only shallow-texture choices.
The last photo with this post shows the fired and tumbled pieces from this class (though, for some reason I don’t understand, it is not a good representation of any of the colors, nor the textures; though you can see the range of interesting shapes that folks made). The one with wire, beads, and chain (middle of top row) is the one I made as an in-class demonstration. It’s a slightly different color from the other pieces because, before I added the beads and chain, I gave it a very light Liver of Sulphur (LOS) patina and then polished off most of it. But I returned the students’ pieces all shiny-silver, and will let them decide if they want to leave them like that, or if they want to add a patina. I do love patinas but, sometimes, and especially with broad, shallow textures like many of these, I think that pure silver shine is wonderful!
I did have a third class scheduled for April, Woven Silver on April 26 but, as I mentioned before, April was a killer month. (I mean that literally: suddenly, randomly, several friends and parents of friends all died.) It got to the point that I just couldn’t swing that class. I didn’t get a clay order in on time (to get it without express shipping charges) and, even if I had made it to class with clay, it’s not clear where my head would have been. I want workshop participants to know that I am there with them, ready to present, encourage and help! So we rescheduled that one, for May 21.
I’ve got two other classes scheduled for May too. I’m really looking forward to those! More on all that shortly!!
As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m on the schedule to teach three workshops at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh as they launch their Underground classrooms this month. I feel very honored to be one of the first four instructors invited to teach there, especially knowing the caliber of the other artists in that group!
All of my classes this month are suitable for beginners. Those who already have some experience with metal clays are also welcome to participate and learn new techniques. I’m listing three separate classes here, and you’re invited to take one or two or even all three of them! (Just click on the link for each one, of course, to see more details.)
We’ll make a pendant in each session; if there’s time and interest, participants may want to try making a second pendant or a pair of earrings too. I sure hope that some of my readers here will be able to join us there!
Also, there’s no significance to the specifics of dates and times. That is, if you want to take a workshop and those date/time combos don’t work for you right now, please let me (or Artsmiths) know! All of us are trying out different combinations to figure out what will work. For April, select Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday slots were the only ones being tried, and there were other events besides classes on some of those days (e.g., the SOS_Underground opening I mentioned in my last post). But, as long as we know there’s interest, we can work out other day/time combos too.
Or, for that matter, you can just come out to my studio for a class too so, if there’s something you really want to try out, please let me know and we can find a time that’ll work for us.
The Underground is now open at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh. The launch was tonight, with a great “SOS_Underground” exhibit by one of Pittsburgh’s oldest guilds, the Society of Sculptors (SOS).
For more photos from the exhibit, feel free to check out the Artsmiths’ album from the show on Facebook.
The opening reception was lots of fun, and the exhibit runs through April 30. Should you go some time this month, it’s possible I’ll see you there. I’ll be heading back down to Artsmiths several more times this month for sure.
With great sessions planned from Olga Mihaylova, Nan Loncharich, and Maria Richmond, I’m delighted to report that I’m also on the schedule … to teach classes in one of the underground classrooms on April 14, 21, and 28! More on all that shortly….
The five reversible domed-heart fine silver pendants shown above have all been delivered to The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh in Mt. Lebanon and are now available for purchase there. I was thinking about making a few more to have on hand during the studio sale I’ll be holding when Indie Knit and Spin returns to the building where I have my studio.
But they are fun and easy to make so I’m also proposing a class: you can make one as a gift for someone dear to your heart; or come with a partner and make them for each other; or ask your sweetheart to buy you this class as a gift; there are lots of options, even if you’re a complete beginner!
That price includes both the class and enough silver to make one pendant (approximately 1 inch long). Extra material will be available for purchase if you’d like to make more than one pendant (or, say, a pair of earrings too). Several different styles of chain will also be available for purchase.
You have two days to decide! I know this is short notice, but I need to have at least four (4) people sign up by 10 pm on Thursday, January 28, in order to run this class. (And the maximum number is seven (7) so I can give everyone enough attention.) To sign up, please either send me an email or leave a comment with this post. I will accept people in the order in which they respond! By around noon on Friday, I will send an email to everyone I’ve heard from with: (a) whether enough people signed up to run the class and (b) whether your request was received before the class filled.
I sure hope that a few of you will be able to join me this weekend!
Update (8 pm on Thursday): Yes! Thanks so much to everyone who emailed me: this class WILL run on Sunday, as indicated. I’ll email everyone (either later tonight or else tomorrow morning, as noted above) with a few little details.
I may to have to try to do this again in the summer, when the natural lighting situation is better, because I don’t think these photos tell the tale as distinctly as I’d hoped. But this is one thing I’ve been experimenting with over the past week…. The point is to look at the difference in the color (and size) of the silver pieces at different points in their process. (Next time, instead of trying to capture so many, I think I’ll try to focus specifically on just one or two, with close-ups.)
But here is a shelf-load of pieces, ready to go into the kiln. They don’t look silver-colored at all, do they, even though they are at least 90% silver! Next time, I’ll try to burnish one in the clay-state, to try to show that the silver really is there, but for now:
And here we have that same shelf-load of pieces, after being fired, when the shelf had cooled just enough to safely remove it from the kiln. Note the “white” color of these pieces: this is normal for just-fired metal constructed from silver clay. Comparing this to the previous photo, you can also get a sense of the shrinkage that took place.
And here is that same shelf-load of pieces, after having been run through either a rotary tumbler (with mixed-size and -shape stainless steel shot) or a magnetic finisher (with tiny stainless steel pins). I need to work on the lighting for each of the different versions (and I really struggled with the meager equipment I have to get all of the shined-up ones together without too many shadows or too much glare!), but I hope you can see that they are, at last, starting to look like silver!
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.
Did you miss the button-making class at Indie Knit and Spin last November? If so, you’re in luck: I’m offering it again at the February 6 session, from 10 am to 12:30 pm!
We had a great time last year! A number of folks wandering along the hallway, checking the vendors and classes in other rooms, stopped in to see what we were doing and said they wished they’d signed up. There aren’t going to be many (if any) other classes at the February event but, since I’ll be using my own studio (i.e., Cosy doesn’t need to pay to rent another whole room for the class, and WSCC doesn’t need to schedule other events around IKS’s use of yet another of the by-the-hour classrooms), I said I’d be happy to offer this one again.
Please note: You don’t have to make actual buttons in this workshop! If you’d prefer to make a focal piece to serve as an embellishment on your fiber work, or just want to make some other type of decoration, that’s OK too. Unlike most of my workshops, where I make a point of showing how to make two-sided pieces, for buttons which are typically sewn down onto some fabric, we will just be texturing the “front” side of our pieces. But all it takes is a shift in the placement and/or size of the holes we’ll make in our pieces, and you can have another form of decoration for your work or even a few charms, earrings, or a pendant. It’s up to you!
As described there, to sign up for the class, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please sign up by 8 am on Monday, February 1, so I can have time to place an order that morning for enough material to use in the class. Seating is limited but, if spaces remain after that deadline, I’ll allow others in if but only if I have enough material for late-comers to use.
Once again, I forgot to tell Cosy to change the write-up but, as I discussed last fall, I’m planning to use .960 Sterling Silver for the class. If anyone has problems with that alloy, I will have on hand the .999 Fine Silver mentioned in the class description for you to use. The techniques used are the same either way.
(What problems, you may wonder? .999 means it’s 99.9% silver, and only silver; it’s not certified at 100% simply because no manufacturer is going to swear that not even an atom or two of something else managed to sneak in there somehow, but it’s as pure as reasonably possible. Whereas .960 means it’s only 96% silver and 4% copper has deliberately been added, so if you are someone who reacts badly to copper (or to traditional .925 sterling silver, which contains up to 7.5% copper), then you may want to stick to fine silver. It is extremely rare for anyone to have a bad skin-contact reaction to silver alone; most people who say they’re allergic to silver are actually reacting to the copper in sterling (not the silver element itself), or else to some patina chemical or polishing compound applied to their silver (which I am happy to omit for anyone with a sensitivity–there are several products I’ve learned to avoid myself!).)
Here’s looking forward to another fun class with more great participants: it’s only a little over three weeks away now, so please sign up soon.
As Cosy said at the Indie Knit and Spin site: Thank you to everyone who helped make this fall’s event yet another success: workshop students (mine and others), my fellow teachers, other vendors, all the wonderful shoppers, Cosy who organizes the whole thing, and Patty who first clued me in to this event several years ago.
Though I’d said I could fit in up to six people, I was actually slightly relieved when I learned I’d only need to find space to fit in five: that’s five plus a space for me to do demos! (I was then disappointed when one of the students got the time wrong, and arrived “early” for the end of the class, which is the time she thought it would start; sigh!)
In theory, I can fit 10 to 12 student into my studio comfortably (probably 14 in a pinch, though I’ve never gone that far: I prefer to limit class sizes so I’m sure I can give everyone the attention they need and deserve…), this was the first time I ever tried to fit a class in behind the space I use when I set up a shop!
Once I’d left some room for my shop assistant, Kathy, and for shoppers, not to mention a variety of my creations, the space left for the workshop did get a bit cosy! I managed to capture a snippet of it all in the photo here, though I couldn’t back up enough, nor squeeze into any other corners, to capture the whole space. Oh well, this shot is a nice memento of a lovely morning. I thought everyone in the class did well, and I hope they’re happy with their creations and will consider making more! (I did promise them a free firing if they did.) Also, though I can’t imagine why she’d see this (but I’m going to be vague just in case), I hope the mother of one student is delighted with the Christmas-present pendant her very focused and productive daughter managed to make in the time we had together!
Even more, I hope they’ll show me / us what they’ve done with their creations, whether it’s in a comment here or by bringing them (or at least a photo) for the next Indie Knit & Spin! Cosy may not organize classes for that one but, since I did this in my own room, I can offer another button-making workshop then. Even better, in a way: if there aren’t other classes that people want to dash off to, we can have time for a slightly more complex project: instead of just making holes in our buttons to sew through, we could even explore making shank-style buttons too.
Mark your calendar: that’ll be on Saturday, February 6, 2016!
The delightful Indie Knit & Spin returns to the Wilkins School Community Center this year on Saturday, November 14, 2015. The marketplace will run from 10 am to 4 pm, and there will be classes running from 9 am to 6 pm!
In one of those classes (10 am to 12:20 pm), I will be teaching how to make your very own silver buttons!
And, you may ask, just how do metal buttons tie into an event aimed at “Everyone who loves to work with beautiful and unique yarn and fiber”? Well, the theory is this: if you’re going to go to all the effort to attend this show in order to obtain fabulous fiber arts products and materials, and then lots more time making your own hand-made creations, doesn’t it make sense to have your own hand-made buttons that you can use on those items?
Though I originally announced this as a workshop using .999 fine silver (at least 99.9% silver; not 100% only because we can’t swear that there aren’t a few atoms of other stuff in there somewhere), upon some reflection it dawned on me that .960 sterling silver (at least 96% silver, with up to 4% copper) would be better for buttons.
In general, I tend to make a lot of pendants and earrings and, in that context, fine silver is a wonderful material to work with. But metals-folks have been adding a touch of copper to silver for ages because that alloy yields a slightly harder, stronger product, and that’s useful for things like rings or bracelets that tend to suffer a bit more from normal wear and tear.
Now, the most typical alloy, called sterling silver, is referred to as .925: i.e., it’s at least 92.5% silver, and the remaining 7.25% is usually just copper, though sometimes other metals will be included with copper in that 7.25% as well. The problem is that alloys with even just that much copper or other metals then require lots of special handling, firing and/or finishing than does true fine silver.
But, there is yet another compormise: .960! That designation means it’s at least 96% silver. With that mix, you get (roughly) 90% of the strength of .925 sterling with almost none of the extra complications!
So I’m now planning to use .960 for the class, though I will have a bit of .999 on hand just in case anyone signed up specifically because I’d said we’d use fine silver. But I’m assuming the students will all be metal clay beginners, and happy to use the product the teacher is recommending for their buttons.
I’d also said that it’d take just a minor adjustment to turn a button-project into one where the person is making charms, earring elements, or small pendants. We can make any of those out of .999 fine silver or .960 sterling silver.
Last I heard, there were still just few seats left. If you’ve been looking for a good introduction to metal clays, why not sign up for that session! Or, if you can’t make it that Saturday, let me know if you’d be interested and able to come over the next day, on Sunday the 15th. I’m hoping to offer another little introductory session then: the focus will be small earring, charm, or pendant pieces.
Two of my favorite art jewelry makers and teachers are Hadar Jacobson and Mary Hettmansperger. I love many of their designs, though I’m rarely if ever inclined to copy any of them (including those in their project books) exactly as shown. What I like is the way they create designs using techniques that inspire me to tweak a little here and a little there, and somehow end up making something that’s much more my own.
I wore a couple of them throughout the holiday season at the end of 2014, and I probably got more comment and compliments on those than on any other piece I’ve ever made and worn. I’m not just talking about friends and family comments, I’m including store cashiers, physical therapists (yeah, one of the reasons I’ve been off-line a good bit lately), random people sitting near me at concerts, and so on.
Since I had so much fun both making and wearing those pieces, at the start of the year I tried a few others. The second photo here shows one of the first bronze pieces I made in this style. Bronze is a less expensive metal to purchase than silver, so I felt I could afford to go bigger (wider or longer) with the ones I made that way. Mind you, working with bronze (or any other base metal clay, such as copper or steel) takes more time which I feel, in the end, pretty much balances out most of the savings on the materials. The final retail price for a base metal piece ends up similar to that of a silver one of a similar design, because of the extra time one has to spend on it. The thing bronze does allow me, however, is the opportunity to go a bit bigger without having the price of a piece go out of reach. The one shown here (reversible, with a “fiddlehead fern” texture) is about as long as the silver one, but easily thrice as wide.
The bead-shelf-foldie is fun to make out of clay (thanks, Hadar!) and fun to finish and hang (thanks, Mary!), and I find an extra-bonus in having found a way to adapt ideas from two of my favorite jewelry artists. I look forward to stretching this idea even more in the future.
While I was making the little domed disks I used for the charms I mentioned in my last post, I had another small project going, an item I’d made ages ago and had for some time been wanting to make more of: Buttons!
And then, my colleagues in the Western PA Metal Clay guild decided that our project / activity for our January 2015 meeting would be to make bracelets in the style popularized by Chan Luu, where the closing on her signature pieces involves a hand-made button. So now I had the push I needed to return to button-making.
Except our January meeting was cancelled due to weather issues, and the project was pushed forward into the February meeting. I didn’t want to show button pictures until we’d done the guild-project, so I put off posting about it. And then I got bogged down in snow-shoveling, ice-chipping, pothole-damage to the car, etc., until tonight, at last, I found a few minutes to take a few photos to share here.
First (above) is a photo of eight different buttons: three were made from Hadar’s Quick Fire Bronze and five, from her Rose Bronze.
Second (left) is a photo of the bracelet I made during the guild meeting … for which all in attendance offer thanks to our leader-for-the-day, Sharon Shepard! That one includes yet another of my Quick Fire Bronze buttons.
Third, not shown yet, are the backs of any of the buttons. Regular readers of this blog will know that I usually show both sides of the pieces I make. In large part, that’s because I tend to make pieces that are fully reversible. But buttons may or may not be used in ways that are readily reversible. So I made some shank-style buttons (all the ones shown here feature shank-backs) and some other two-hole ones. I hope to write more about all of them eventually.
But I’m not doing that yet: (A) Part of the button-making involved trying out a handful of different techniques for actually making shanks. While I do know enough to be successful at that, in general, my exploration-goals were to (1) examine how easy/difficult the different ways might be and (2) to be able to test whether any particular approaches held up more/less well after longer-term use. And (B) I’m testing them by further by producing samples of ways to use them well beyond just the Chan Luu bracelets, which also takes time to work out.
Why am I going to all that “trouble” when all I needed was one button for one bracelet at one guild meeting? Because the reason I’ve been wanting to spend a few weeks making buttons, and then several months (or more!) testing them out, is because for a long time I’ve been thinking I should put together a button-making workshop!
There are just soooo many great ways to use buttons and button-shaped elements. I’m looking forward to creating a variety of pieces to incorporate those, myself, and to the further inspiration I’ll get from students when I offer the class. I’ll post places, dates, and times here (and elsewhere) once I am satisfied that I’ve done enough testing. After I’ve taught it (once or a few times) then I’ll be more inclined to come back write more about it here. Please stay tuned…!
I have to admit something: I love “draping” metal clay! The clay is so soft and pliable, and the end results are so satisfying!
I am impressed with many of the effects that can be obtained via various “metalsmithing” techniques, but this draping is just sooo different from working with “solid” metal (sheet, wire, etc.). Yes, there are a lot of little “tricks” involved in successfully draping a mix of powdered metal, binders, and water, but it still is a relatively easy process for achieving a look that is much more difficult to achieve via any methods used with, say, sheet metal.
All the photos in this particular post were made with Hadar’s new-ish Friendly Bronze metal clay powder. At one point or another, I’ve draped every clay I’ve ever tried: every brand, every metal, etc. (OK, no, I haven’t done this with gold. It should work, but I don’t feel I can afford to use gold for anything this big. Of course, if you can afford it, I’d be absolutely thrilled to “drape” a gold piece for you on commission!) But all the different brands of silvers, coppers, bronzes, steels: yes! I’ve draped those.
In fact, there’s one very-special thing I do with draping that I teach in my metal clay workshops. Yes, while I do share a lot here on the blog, there’s even more that happens in person! You see, this little post is not only about draping metal clay. It’s also a little bit about workshops. (My plan is to mention workshops a few times, in this and several other posts over the next few months, then tie that together with one specifically about classes and workshops, both ones I offer myself and those offered by others.)
Anyway, the two draped oblong shapes are ones that I made in advance of a recent workshop. They were fun to make. I fired them both before the class; they ended up being about 37 mm long (excluding bail) and 25 mm wide. The idea was for me to have finished polishing one completely, and use the other one in my demonstration illustrating some techniques (and potential issues) in polishing such drapings. They also served to illustrate two of the many different bail-mechanisms that can be used for hanging the piece.
The long and narrow piece was begun during the in-class demo. It illustrates a different kind of draping, and a different kind of bail structure, both of which are harder to describe (but still easy to show) compared to the first two (oblong) pieces. It’s 66 mm long by 24 mm wide, and contains a little over 24 grams of metal.
The last photo shows two sides of a fourth piece. Also constructed mostly during in-class demos, it’s the biggest of this lot: 45 mm high by 56 mm wide. It weighs a little over 33 grams (including a CZ on each side, but excluding all the chain on which it’s hung). While I was manipulating it in class, we talked about things like overall size and weight versus maneuverability and polishing constraints. (You may notice this piece has a separate backing, while the two oblong ones do not, and the longer-narrower piece folds over on itself.)
Have you tried draping metal clay yet? If so, please leave a note about it in the comments!
In addition to the workshops I’ve offered in fine silver for what seems like ages now, I’ve also been teaching classes in these non-precious metals too, mostly on-demand private or semi-private sessions, plus a few in local bead shops. All were relatively short, covering just one or two techniques in one or two day (or evening) events only.
Now, I’ve taken the best of the best and spiffed them up with some of the things I’ve learned in the last year with Hadar’s group of teachers worldwide. And I’m thrilled to be offering that great new combination in a four-session series, on Sunday afternoons in May, in my studio in the Regent Square (Swissvale) neighborhood, just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Whether you’re a beginner, or already have some experience with metal clay, you will make at least four separate items: a bracelet, a pair of earrings, and two pendants. Some may involve a single metal; others will combine various bronze formulas with copper and/or steel. You’ll learn every step of the process, from design through basic construction and on to final finishing for your pieces.
You’ll get to use at least three different metals (from yellow bronze, champagne bronze, dark champagne bronze, iron bronze, rose bronze, copper, and/or steel). Don’t know the difference between them? You’ll learn that too!
We’ll meet each Sunday in May (4, 11, 18, and 25*), from 12 to 5 pm. That’s 20 whole hours of instruction in a small class (max 6 students)!
* Yes, May is such a busy month! We will meet on Mother’s Day. But let me know if you’re hesitant to sign up simply because May 25 is part of the Memorial Day weekend. Several alternatives for that final date are possible!
As I write this, there are about two dozen of us around the world. Maybe a dozen or so more should be added in the next month. There’s a second group that should finish before the end of the year. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to spend the past year working with such an amazing and wonderful group of artists and explorers.
I look forward to the adventures we’ll continue to have together, and to continuing to share them with my students and with all my other readers here. Check for links to my workshops down the right side of this blog. My first four-part series based on this program will run in my studio during April and May of this year. (I’m still teaching silver too, and have four individual classes set up for that in March.) Do let me know if you’re interested in either the silver classes or the base metals series … or both!
I love it when I can save myself some time, effort, and / or money by getting “double duty” out of something. It’s great whenever it happens, but it’s a special treat at this time of year. (That is, as anyone in any aspect of retail sales know, during the time when the holiday-sales season approaches, schedules fill up, and spare time simply evaporates!)
So the reversible fine silver pendant with a lab-grown pink corundum stone shown with this post was a real treat:
I made the “base” piece as part of my demos during a recent beginner’s workshop. I fired it with the student pieces, which got that out of the way quickly too. Then, I added the bezel cup and “sapphire” as my part of my demos during a session on adding a stone to a finished piece. Two classes that were lots of fun and one piece that worked for both. Double duty.
But the double-double comes from the fact that the piece is now done, and into inventory for one of my pre-holiday shows! It’s going out to the H*liday mART at Sweetwater Center for the Arts (November 30 – December 8). I hope it will go home with someone else who falls in love with it there. But the timing is such that, if it ends up coming back with me, I can offer it again at my studio, with all the other pieces I’ll be saving specifically to offer there during the Art Buzz Tour (December 14-15).
While the making and placing of tags is nowhere near as much fun as is the making of these pieces, I’ve found I can overcome the boredom of that by imagining the people who will attend such events, and imagining those who may connect with one (or more) of my creations. I hope you’ll be among them, for real.
Well, I still don’t seem to have my head above water, schedule-wise, but there is a bit of news I’ve been sitting on for over a week now, and I just have to say something about that!
I have mentioned Hadar Jacobson in this blog before. I’ve found myself inspired by much of her metal clay art. I really enjoyed participating in a workshop she taught here just about two years ago (which I reported about in a series of six posts that started here). I find her clays to be delightful to work with. And I’ve been honored to have three of the pieces I’ve made using those clays selected as illustrations in two of her books.
And the latest news items, both Hadar-related, are these:
She has invited me to be in the “charter group” of teachers to participate in this!
(If it weren’t for the jaw-pain that, at the moment, I know would result from jumping up and down (even just once, let alone for days on end now), I’d show a video of that here. Instead, I’ll just include a photo of of one of my pieces from her book, Patterns of Color in Metal Clay.)
Now, we are just at the beginning of a year-long process. On the one hand, I am thrilled that there will be a cadre of us (all around the world!) spending pretty much a whole year working on a series of common projects, talking about the results, comparing notes, seeing what is and is not reproducible and what really does vary by individual, how to handle all this in various situations both in-class and on-line, and more, all culminating in a series of get-together workshops next year. On the other hand, I am also a bit intimidated to think that this will take a whole year of regular tasks and assignments just to get through the process, so I’m betting that some folks will drop out along the way. At the moment, I am simply hoping that I can hold on (although, of course, another part of me really does want to make it through “with flying colors”…).
But one of the things that really helps to maintain my fascination with the whole metal clay / powder metallurgy process is how intrigued I am by the continual learning that I am privileged to gain with it, and the opportunities I then have to share all that with others through classes, workshops, demonstrations, publications, and more. So that is the spirit in which I accepted the invitation. We’ll just have to see how it goes!
I’ve been meaning to write for a while about several questions that often come up in workshops, especially with beginners when each person is allocated a package of clay and then finds they don’t use all of it: why did you give me more than I need and how do I save it for later use?
I see the answers to these questions as being connected, but let’s start with the first one: for many “projects” it is just worth having a bit extra as you roll it out, so you’re sure to get a big enough area to cut out the shape you want. While this remains true no matter how experienced you become, it is especially important for beginners who are just learning the various ways to manipulate clay.
The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated. Silver clays come in a well-sealed package, and can remain in great condition for a rather long time inside that. The trick is that, once the package has been opened, all sorts of things can happen. At a minimum, the clay dries out. If that happens, it can be rehydrated: ways to add water to get it back to working consistency is something I’ll try to remember to write about at some point in the future (even though it’s not something I encounter myself on a regular basis any more…). If you’re going to use the remaining clay again fairly soon, you can just try to keep it moist. There are all sorts of products you can buy, or build yourself, to create a little humidified storage environment. The problem with doing that for any length of time (and something that the product vendors rarely address) is that your clay can easily become contaminated with mold. Now, you can add something to the environment (not to the clay itself, but simply inside your storage box) that can help retard mold growth. White vinegar or lavender oil are examples of some mold retardants. And, even if your clay does acquire a bit of visible mold, it’s not a crisis. At that point, your options are to scrape off the mold or to just work with it. (You do have to take care with the latter because the extra “space” taken up by the growing mold may create spaces in your fired piece that may influence its look and/or interfere with its strength.) But, in my experience, there’s a much better solution: don’t even try to store it!
That is, my general answer to both of the original questions is this: why not see if you can just use up any remaining clay in some creative and productive way?! Add to your current piece, or make something else.
One of the earliest “lentil” shape beads I ever made is shown in an old photo here, to the left, strung with some Russian jasper and green glass beads. (It’s also one of the pieces that led me down the path of making reversible pendants!) Its other / first side had a more elaborate design; what at the time I thought of as the “back” had the simple, low-relief, fleur-de-lis pattern shown here. After decorating the first side, I had a bit of clay left. I rolled it all out, just two cards thick, which got it big enough that I could cut out a small square. I put that on the same drying form I’d used for the lentil (so it would have the same curvature) and cut a circle out of the center of that. With the clay left over from trimming the square and cutting the circle, I made a number of little balls and let those dry too. Then, I moistened the center of the fleur-de-lis side and the underside of the open square, and stuck those two pieces together. Once those seemed secure, I added more water inside the open circle, and pressed the little balls into place. Having the circle around the outside of the balls gave me a way to make sure I could attach all of them securely, to that ring and to each other, rather than trying to count on a small point of connection on the bottom of each ball. And, suddenly, after investing only a few more minutes and a tiny bit of “left-over” clay, the piece became reversible, which sure seems like a good deal to me!
Of course, if you have more clay left over, you can always make something else with it. All of the elements in the silver and bronze earrings shown in the smaller image to the right were made when I had some larger leftover bits. After completing other pieces I’ve often used any remaining clay to make little patterned disks, or cut out little textured designs, and just set them aside to dry. When I’m firing up a load in my kiln, if I have a bit of extra room, I pop them in. When I have a few spare minutes–with metal clay, one always seems to have moments of waiting for something else to happen … to dry, to rehydrate, to finish firing or cool off, for example–I will go through these bits and pieces, and assemble them into something interesting. Their small size, of course, means they often (but not always) become elements in earrings.
Sometimes I’ll add other elements to such “bits and pieces” too. The orange-and-silver earrings shown at the very top of this post were done that way. When I fell in love with the little colored lucite flowers, I bought a small collection of them to use both for my own creations and during workshops. For several months, whenever I’d have a little bit of clay left over, I’d make a little flower disk or leaf of some sort. I kept track, so that I’d end up with matching pairs, but I didn’t worry about completing any particular number at once. I just used up what I could for some larger shapes, made smaller ones when I had less clay left, and made other small elements or even just tiny balls with the very end of the clay I had on hand.
In fact, for silver pieces that I intend to fire first and figure out how to use later, those I make flat. Then, when I do decide where I want to use them, if they need some shaping for that particular purpose, I can use the “traditional metalsmithing” technique of dapping the fired pieces to shape them as needed. That’s what happened to the little flowers I set on top of the blue-and-white glass beads shown with the earrings in the final photo here. In fact, though I made those flowers specifically to use with these beads, I could not have domed them to match their shape in the “dry” state because I punched them out of a little bit of extra / scrap clay that I had mixed up so it would remain flexible as greenware. I had finished the project I wanted to make with that clay and had some left then too. Since I knew that “flex greenware” clay that has been rolled out is great for using with paper punches, I used some of my leftover clay to make a small sheet for punching. I then made these flowers but they had to be fired flat … since they were too flexible to hold any other shape. (I also rolled the final bits of that flex-clay into long “snake” shapes that would remain flexible and could be used to embellish other pieces later on.)
I will note that, while fired silver and copper clays can be dapped after they’ve been fired to metal itself, the various bronze clays that I enjoy working with cannot be formed much (if at all) after firing. That’s just the nature of bronze, not simply the fact that it came from metal clay.
I do sometimes wonder how much this is something I do, myself, verus what other metal clay artists do with their leftover bits of clay. I know that a number of you do read this blog (without commenting) but I sure hope you will speak up now: Do you do this too? Or what?? And, why?
I led a “woven silver” workshop at the weekend. The first photo (right) shows the pieces that were made that afternoon and, um, once everyone got a roll, that evening too. (Yes, a few didn’t involve weaving. That’s OK too.) In that image, no finishing has taken place: it shows the “white” appearance of the silver crystal structure straight out of the kiln. I just wanted to grab a quick photo, while I could, to show how productive the session had been.
The second photo (left) of the folks at the west-side table at work is mostly a sort of visual note to myself to try to remember to take photos more often, in class but also elsewhere. Because the caption for that image should be, “No! I won’t look up! I will not look at the camera! No!” Still, I’d like to thank everyone who was there for being such good sports … in every other way.
I haven’t posted over the past couple of weeks because I’ve done all sorts of things where I just did not think to take any photos. You might think that I would have taken photos while attending a workshop on photographing artwork. But no, there were lots of handouts and images of copyrighted work and discussion and more. Even though I had both of my cameras with me, the only times either one came out of its bag were to show a few images that were already on their memory cards.
You might think I’d’ve taken some shots at our recent metal clay guild chapter meeting but, no, I didn’t even think to take a camera to that. We had an opportunity to play with the Silhouette Cameo cutter that one of our members has gotten; we did lots of great planning for next year; and there was all the usual sharing and showing and telling and hand-on time and more. But no photos….
I also didn’t think to take a camera on any of my recent shopping expeditions. But, now that I think of it, I have added a few interesting items to “the stash.” Maybe I can manage to (remember to) take photos and write in the next week or so, before those elements finish going to into pieces and out for holiday sales events.
It is such a busy time of year, with all the autumn chores and the lead-in to the season of holidays, I am sure you, dear reader, are keeping busy too. Please know that I hope you are feeling productive!
As I was packing everything up to take to a recent off-site workshop, I had made sure that all my little oil bottles were full. I figured, that way, there’d be no way I’d need to pack the big bottle to refill in class: Five individual bottles for 8 to 10 people should be fine.
In the session, as always, I spent a moment talking about the need to place a lubricant between your moist metal clay and (almost all) your tools, and another warning not to use too much, especially when you’ll remove bits of clay you that will later be reused with yet more lubricant because the build-up can create other problems. After I got back and was unpacking everything so I’d be ready for the next workshop in my studio, I noticed the pattern in these bottles, and couldn’t resist taking a photo. Hmmm…. Do you share my impression that various participants focused more on one part of that message than the other?
Curiosities aside, it really was a delightful session. (I hope the participants agree!) Brian Russman (shown, under the clock) had invited me to be a “guest lecturer” on metal clay for the graduate students in his Jewelry Making course in the Costume Design Program in the Drama Department at Carnegie-Mellon. I used quotation marks there because there was only a little bit of opening lecture: most of it was hands-on time.
Thanks to Lena, Elisabeth, Lindsey, Mary, Sophie, Ying, as well as Brian, for such a delightful session. I hope you are pleased with the seventeen (17!) pieces you made that day! All very different, I found it a treat to see you figuring out how to express your different choices of style.
Well, I spent all that time preparing for several workshops at various locations where we’d make the items I have taken to calling Push Pendants. And then a couple of them, for perfectly reasonable reasons not worth mentioning here, ended up getting scheduled for September and October instead of this summer. I’m fine with offering this topic later into the fall … it’s just that I’d been so looking forward to doing them sooner. But one of them was scheduled for last Friday evening and was actually held then and … what happened? After extended heat with little rain, that night some flood-generating storms arrived and, of the five students I was expecting, only three had the nerve to venture over to Mars Beads for it.
Thank you so much — Kim, Tammy, and Carol — for braving both the elements and the processes involved to create such delightful pieces! I sure enjoyed spending the evening with you, and I hope you are glad you made it over to join in on the fun.
I’m also glad I remembered to take a photo this time. I take my camera to every workshop I teach and, probably nine out of ten times, I think of it while setting up, and then not again until I’m packing up to leave. I get so focused on what everyone is doing that I forget to step back and snap a shot. But, during this moment when everyone looked both intent on and satisfied with what they were doing, I did take a deep breath and think, “Oh, I should capture this.” So I open this post with what I saw just then.
I will also note that, while these Friday night workshops are fun, they are a little more limited time-wise when compared to what we can do when we have a whole afternoon or an entire day. Which is why I am especially impressed with all the pieces made that night, and include a little view of the final results (fired after class).
To give you a sense of perspective: this was the first-ever time for Kim and Carol to even touch metal clay. Theirs are the two pieces with simple holes and jump rings for hanging them. Tammy, who had attended one other Friday night session about a month ago, was all set to add a few extra embellishments to hers. As shown, the colors are just the luck-of-the-kiln. Each participant can still decide for herself how much she may or may want to shine hers up instead of leaving it like this. Their “other” sides are all nicely textured which, of course, is the thing this time for which I don’t have a photo to post. Sigh. I did take a few shots before delivering the pieces, but they just came out so much darker than the fronts, I don’t think they do justice to those pieces…. So, for now at least, dear readers, you’ll just have to enjoy these sides.
And, if you like these results, do feel free to leave a note of encouragement for these brand-new metal clay craftswomen!