Convergent Series

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Archive for the ‘Teaching Metal Clay’ Category

Yes, Thank You Indie Knit & Spin!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/11/16

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!

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Yes, hand-made: Buttons at Indie Knit & Spin!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/11/10

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.

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Combining Inspirations

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/04/15

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.

Towards the end of last year, I was browsing through one of “Mary Hetts'” older books, Wrap, Stitch, Fold, and Rivet (© 2008), looking for some tip I thought I’d read in it a while ago, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a project I’d seen before but had never given much thought to, one she calls a “Bead Shelf Pendant.” In it, she talks about cutting, punching, and heat-coloring copper, but at that moment I suddenly saw a variation on it as a great metal clay project as well. The first photos here show one of several fine silver pieces I made as soon after realizing that as I could find the time.

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.

But, as I was playing around with my first bronze bead shelves, I had another “gotcha!” moment: Foldies! These are also known as Drapings. There’s a great description of the basics of this technique in Hadar Jacobson’s third book (© 2009), Mixed Metal Jewelry from Metal Clay, on pages 104-105. I’ve made a number of such pieces over the years (and posted a number of photos on this blog) but, while I’ve been happy-enough with the ones I have made so far, I have never been totally satisfied with any of the bail designs I’ve used. But, as I was making those bronze bead shelves, it suddenly came to me: make a bead-shelf-foldie…. You’ve already seen on this blog a photo of the first one of those I ever tried (which, for the time being at least, I’m keeping in my own little stash of personal NFS (not for sale) pieces): it’s one of the pieces I submitted with the application that got me admitted to the Pittsburgh Society of Artists.

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.

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Some Bronze Buttons.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/03/12

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…!

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Softly Draping Hard Metals

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/05/25

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!

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NEW CLASSES! Copper, Bronzes, & Steel: A 4-Part Series in May

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/08

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!

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I Made It Onto “Hadar’s List”!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/14

It has been one long, fun, hard, exciting, challenging year, with lots I’ve learned and still more I’ve been inspired to explore further, but I’m now a “graduate” of the Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers’ Accreditation Program.

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!

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Double Double Duty

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/11/15

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.

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Accreditation Program for Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/03/08

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:


  1. She is starting an Accreditation Program for Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers … and … [drum roll …] …
  2. 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!

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Bits & Pieces

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Productivity!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/11/05

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!

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A special kind of “Costume” Jewelry!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/10/11

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.

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Pushing through the storms….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/08/04

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!

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Pushing, in more ways than one….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contrasting Textures in a Design

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maybe I should try a white lab coat?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/01

I was just wondering if being dressed in white might help me in my ongoing struggle to get decent photos of small shiny objects without unwanted colored reflections in them….

In person, I think it’s somewhat more obvious that the design on this intentionally-simple ring involves a butterfly on some flowers, with ferns around the ring-band. The LOS patina came out nicely, with a sort of blue-tint to the butterfly and a sort of rosy-color deep into the roses. I know that the butterfly would stand out more from the flowers if I’d used textures with more contrast, but I’m happy with subtle difference–the camouflage–that I achieved this way. Yet at some point I just stopped counting the number of shots I have taken trying to get one that looks even remotely like what I see. (O the joys of digital cameras with their instantaneous results!) I hope you can see my intended design because mostly what I see here are various reflections on the silver….

Oh well, the important thing is that students in my next ring class, who will be there in person (at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company later this month), can see the points I’ll be making with this and the other dozen-ish rings I’ll be taking to illustrate various aspects of ring-making.

I’ll have two rings (this and one other) that I’ll use specifically to illustrate post-fire sizing. I don’t use the “ring pellets” that seem popular among many metal clay artisans. I understand what they do, but I cannot fathom why they seem so popular. I’m happy to have a ring come out a tiny bit small–in fact, I construct mine so that they come out of the kiln a very controlled amount too small! And I don’t care at all if they do not emerge from the kiln in a perfectly round shape–though mine rarely change shape during firing. Even if I wanted a ring to end up round and it came out of the kiln a slightly different shape, it’s easy enough to get a properly fired-to-metal ring into round, and to strengthen it in the process of getting it to the desired shape.

Once my ring has been fully-fired and, unlike the one shown here, usually before I apply any patina (but my snapshots of the other new, and as-yet-untreated ring, have even more distracting reflections), that’s when I do all the sizing, shaping, and work-hardening of the finished metal to achieve just the fit I want and to give my creation as much strength as possible. In most cases, my ring will end up a bit bigger than it started (meaning it will then fit just right) and a bit oblong or oval (so it will stay put when worn, much better than a round one does), both of which are results that I want. Even if I were to use the pellets, I’d still do all that … so I just don’t bother with them.

Yes, it did take me a slight leap of faith, back in the beginning, to believe that metal clay really turned into a true metal that you could metal-smith. And, yes, I’ve seen people with under-fired pieces that were still too brittle to treat that way. But a pellet isn’t going to solve any of that…. If you’re making rings, especially silver ones, I encourage you to make one a few sizes too small, and fire it for a full two hours, so you can try some gentle yet firm hammering on the edges of the band and around the band itself to see what happens in terms of both size and strength. Bypass rings, in fact, are particularly good for this exploration (better than ones like the construction shown here) because the bypass rings really let you feel how much stiffer / stronger they get as you work them. They are also a bit more forgiving as you aim for a certain size!

If you try this, please do let me know what you find, knowing that another reason I was thinking about the white lab coat is because I look at learning about the metal clay process, and the best ways to work with both the clay products and the final all-metal results, as a series of ongoing experiments.

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We should all be this lucky!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/06/04

Have you ever taken a workshop using metal clay and, in the demonstration of how to roll out a textured design, been told to roll only in one direction (or, perhaps, start in the middle and roll out from there just once in each direction) … and then been warned that, with textures, to not roll multiple times, and to not roll back and forth?

Did you ever wonder why you were told that?

In a workshop I led on Saturday, one of the participants didn’t quite heed that warning for the element she was going to use on the back of her piece. And she found out the reason for the rule. Sort of. I say that because the “shadowing” you will get usually turns out looking rather messy. Rarely does it turn out looking this interesting:

Do you see all the parallel ridges? That’s the good effect you can get if it’s your lucky day! It is more likely to work well only with certain textures. And you have to multi-roll just right. So you should not count on getting this effect, but do take a moment to enjoy it when it does appear!

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Starting Out by Layering.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell which is which?

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

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Speaking of Box-with-Pearl Pendants….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/25

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/23

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

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

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

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

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Doubly-Coiled Metal Bracelets

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/15

While it does take study, practice, more practice, patience, practice, skill, more practice, talent, and still more study and practice to do exceptional work with any medium, including metal clay, one of the things I love about this approach is the way that even a first-time novice can actually produce a delightful and amazing piece. You just have to be willing to take the plunge and try it!

But if you don’t really have a clue what the stuff is, how do you convince yourself to do that? As an instructor, one of the challenges I’ve found is to devise projects that are simple enough for even a beginner to complete in a reasonable amount of time, yet with something “new” that the returning student can learn. So I have a particular appreciation for others who clearly address that conundrum.

And there I was one recent day, browsing through my copy of the book, Mixed Metal Jewelry Workshop, by the delightful Mary Hettmansperger, when I saw what she describes as “probably the simplest project in this book.” It involves winding wire into a bangle-bracelet shape, taking some care with the sizing of that, and then wrapping it with “organic coils” of metal clay. The end result is so interesting, but the process permits lots of exploration!

How “wonky” can you make the clay-coils before they break all apart as you wrap them? How thin can you work them before they dry out and crack too much? How thick can they be and still let you wrap them? How does the shrinkage of the clay work with the fixed size of the wire? How (and how much) does any coiling on the wire interact with the coiling of the clay? How can you use combinations of different clays? How do you want to design them so they fit nicely and are comfortable to wear? Those are the questions that came to my mind in the first half-minute of looking at the project; after a few hours of trying this, I had dozens more, going well beyond what was covered in the book.

The photo shows my first four attempts. (Two were brushed after firing, while two are shown with their magical kiln-colors.) More exist already (still unphotographed…), already veering in other directions, with yet more to come after those! I hope to offer some of those variations in workshops over the summer: Of course, I will credit “Mary Hetts” for the original idea, direct everyone to the book that inspired my path to new options, and suggest that folks get it to inspire their own explorations in other ways.

Of course, one advantage to making pendants and earrings, rather than bracelets or rings, is that exact-sizing is not such an issue with them. Even with cuff- or link-style bracelets, you have more sizing options than with these bangles. So that’s a major feature to address. And one disadvantage to using the “base metal” clays for these is how few you can fire at one time. So this fun project is slow going in its own way, but it’s my incentive, at last, to look at alternative firing approaches. There has to be an easier way to make lots more of these, for my own enjoyment as well as for both my students and customers. Ahhh, just what I needed: yet another exploration on which to spend time! But, what else are summers for, eh?

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Following Up with Alice.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Having Fun with Bronze, and More.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That sure was fun….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/08

Off and on for several weeks now, I’ve been battling a sinus-plus infection. I vaguely recall calling Trish (the owner of Zelda’s Bead Kit Company) a few days before one of my recent workshops, right before a doctor’s appointment, sort of hoping to learn that it was looking under-enrolled and I could use that as excuse to just cancel it and sleep another day. And the night before the class, after I’d been on antibiotics for a few days (resulting in a portion of the head-malady improving but digestive tract upset), though I knew I’d learned I really should go out and lead it, I thought I must have been sick enough to hallucinate a conversation that I was thinking had gone something like this:

“Do I have enough folks signed up for Saturday.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do. A good crowd. Let me check the book. Oh, yes, very good: Let me count. 1, 2, 3, breath, pause, breath, breath, 9. You have nine this time! Isn’t that wonderful!”

“Sure, but, um, Trish, with all the stuff I haul over there, my max is typically six. Aside from the question of where I’m going to find enough extra tools for that many, I cannot even imagine where you think everyone will sit.”

“Don’t worry. With that many enthusiastic people, we’ll clear out the whole front room for you.”

“OK. Thanks. Gotta go now. See you then.”

[Aside: Even during the Instructors’ Trunk Show before Christmas, she didn’t fully clear out the front room! Where might all that stuff go? I still was not imagining how this might work.]

I had a bit of leftover PVC pipe that I could cut up to get a few more rollers. For classes, I make up card sets that people can use as thickness guides: I actually glue together stacks of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 cards, with the “top” card showing the number in the stack (which makes it really easy to check what you’ve got … and I can keep an eye on things from across the table)! I didn’t have enough extra cards on hand to make more. For this project, however, I figured I could just limit folks to 5-card and 3-card rolls. Then we could split the sets and, for a few of the more-experienced folks in the group, I’d give them the 1, 2 and 4-card pieces to use (since 4+1=5 and 2+1=3).

For all the other tools, we’d just have to share…. I don’t normally stockpile a lot of extra silver clay, but I did have enough clay for nine because I’d gone ahead and made sure I had what should have been enough for my next two sessions.

Well, I arrived early to find that Trish had fully cleared out the front room. (And made a crock-pot full of wonderful soup too. Talk about customer service!) There really were two whole tables for folks to sit at. She disappeared in back for a few minutes and re-appeared from I-know-not-where with four extra chairs. Added to the seven she normally has around the one big table, that came to eleven. Oh, yes, Trish wanted to sit in on this one too, so there’d really be ten people (plus me)! Oh, and I backed myself up against the front wall to get the photo I’m using here, so I’m missing more than half of the front table.

I know I was not at my best that day, but I think I held things together pretty well. And, since a number of participants signed up right away for my next workshop, I’m guessing that wasn’t a fevered delusion. So this is really just a note to say a slightly belated “Thank you!” to Ellie, Sally, Valli, Marie, Glenda, Jan, Ruth, Ronna, Bill, and Trish for helping me have such a good day!

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Snowy White versus Shiny Silver

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/11/28

As I was polishing up a few pieces recently, I decided to take a “comparative” photograph that I could save and use when discussing a certain point in some of my workshops. (In my studio, I often have a few examples available, but sometimes I don’t think to pack them up when I teach at other sites…) And, while I was at it, post about it here too, for anyone curious about the topic.

Q: What topic? A: When you work with fine silver metal clay, and fire it (either with a torch or in a kiln), what’s the “white stuff” (or, sometimes even, “glittery white stuff”) you see on the piece?

The answer to that question is: it’s the silver! When the clay is fired, and the binder burns away, and the silver atoms move in closer and re-organize themselves, then they tend to form a crystal structure such that they are all lined up and the light reflects off them in all directions, giving a white appearance. Depending on exactly how they line up as they cool, it may be more of a white-white or a glittery-white, but it’s still white. (I’ve no idea if this is technically accurate but, in the mental model I have of this, I think of it as comparable to how snowflakes form. As in how, under different circumstances, it will end up heavy or fluffy, etc.) Metal artists then use one or more of a range of techniques for burnishing the silver, polishing it, forcing the crystal bits to lie down all in the same direction so the light reflecting off them has that normal, shiny, metallic color. (Other metal clays will produce a similar effect in their all-metal end-product. On a number of occasions already, I’ve posted about the range of colors one sometimes gets when firing copper and, especially, various bronzes. It also happens with gold and steel, though I don’t recall ever stopping to capture that in a photo … yet.)

In the shot near the top of this post, the bottom two pieces remain in that “kiln-white” color, while the top two have been polished to more of a silvery-metallic look. More polishing could get them even shinier, but I thought that was enough for those pieces, at least for the time being.

As for the snowy-white ones, they do have to be polished: That finish is not stable. Anything you do to it (from the lightest rubbing to bumping it and so on) will undo-that “white” look. It won’t necessarily make it all shiny, but it will turn that part so it’s more clearly a silver shade. So the safest thing is to just polish it from the start, to whatever extent seems most appropriate (to both your artistic vision and your technical skills; for example, one could polish the high points to a very shiny state, and leave the more-protected valleys with some of the white look).

I’ve just finished adding a patina to one of the polished pieces with some “liver of sulphur,” so I will close for now with a photo of that.

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Workshop ideas can come from workshop participants too!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/27

Jane and Rose, delightful students both, have taken several of my workshops. The last time we were together, Jane asked if I could please offer a workshop on making little fine silver books that could be worn as pendants. Yes, of course, great idea!

I asked Jane to show me sort of what she had in mind, just to be sure we were thinking in compatible ways. Shown with this post, are two of my simplest interpretations of her ideas. I’m working on a few others too, in between everything else that’s a part of life, but I wanted to let folks know this is in the works via a couple of the simplest interpretations, ones that anyone can do. Yes, anyone: that does include even those of you who keep reading and thinking about metal clay without ever trying it to actually see and feel what it’s like!

Before I offer a workshop, I always make a collection of sample pieces. Partly, that’s so participants will be able to see some variations (to get their imaginations going); but, even more, it’s so I can try to do some things right, and some things wrong—I can be sure of what works how and where I can and cannot safely push the limits of what folks might want to try. So far, I’ve focused on the metal covers, not so much the contents. But I believe it’s the inside that makes this project particularly special: you can put anything inside your special little book that you want. You can put in blank pages, and write little notes on them. You can print something out. Or cut pictures or bits of text out of magazines. Or include photographs. Even little bits of pretty fabric, or would work. So could relatively thin “found objects” such as pieces of plastic or metal trimmed to fit. That part is entirely up to you!

In the piece shown above, I used little bits of origami paper, white on one side with a design on the other; you could add drawings or text to the white side, or used papers with patterns on both sides, or…. Note how it hangs from its “binding” loops: that turns out to be a great yet easy way to handle both the “binding” of the book and how to “hang” it as a pendant.

I made another piece, “A Book Full of Love” (shown both closed and fully open) in order to illustrate how you’d actually have to factor in gravity if you wanted the “binding” to run down the side: because the top loop is in a corner, it’s going to want to hang with that at the top, and the rest will just naturally angle down from that. If you want that look (which, conveniently, also helps to keep the book closed), great: gravity just gives it to you! If you don’t, however, then you’ll have to think of other ways to counteract the way it will want to balance. You could, for example, embellish the whole thing with some additional elements (e.g., beadwork), and then dangle some more beads from the bottom hinge piece to pull it down and into place. There are lots of other options too, of course, which is yet another way in which this is a very versatile project. (I’ll get some more photos up, eventually, though it might not be until after the actual workshop….)

Here are a just few other points, to keep you thinking about this: while the jump rings I used to hold everything together in these particular samples are an easy way to do this, what else could you use to bind the pages and covers together? How many places do you want to loop through (these samples used two sets of holes, and then five, respectively) and how much might that vary depending on whether you chose a different mechanism for your binding (or content for your insides)? Where and how do you anticipate this piece being worn: that is, do you need to make sure the pages are waterproof (or, at least, water resistant)? Jane specifically requested a pendant, so that’s what I’m showing in this particular post, but what else might you do with a little silver-covered book? Or what other designs might you come up with, that used a book-binding sort of approach, but didn’t end up being a book at all?

I’ll be working with Rose and Jane in the next few weeks to come up with a time and place to offer this workshop. We’d love to have a few other folks join us, so please let me know if you’re interested.

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Fine Silver Butterflies!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/21

Since I’ve been writing about workshop inspirations, here’s another one: My annual “Fine Silver Butterflies!” workshop is coming up! So many folks signed up for it (this year, I’m offering it down at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company in Bridgeville, PA) that we had to add a second session! With two of them now (both afternoon and evening on Wednesday) I think there may still be a seat or two open, so check it out if you’re interested.

But where did that idea come from? Regular readers of this blog may have picked up the fact that, in addition to my passion for metal clay and related topics, another interest of mine is gardening. And not just my own garden either: I also volunteer with the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County, which means both helping out in their various Demonstration Gardens, and also helping to prepare materials, give talks, and teach workshops on a range of gardening topics throughout our area.

Before my latest move to PA and joining the PSMG program (as well as visits to Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory with its lovely Butterfly Forest), I lived near a couple of different Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries. The first of those is in Pacific Grove, CA. Later, after a stint in MN, I lived near another such grove in Pismo Beach, CA. (Did you know that those monarchs and their descendants, since they wintered along the Pacific coast, then all summered west of the Rockies? Monarchs that summer all over east of the divide then winter in one specific place in Mexico!) And, although south Florida’s Butterfly World came into being only after I’d headed off in search of cooler climates, when I’d head back south to visit the folks down where I’d grown up, I felt a little bit of relief when I found that sort of development amidst all the seemingly relentless “expansion” there.

All of which made it sort of obvious, to me at least, that when I took up metal clay, I’d then try making some butterflies out of it and even add a Butterflies class to my offerings.

For the workshops, it took me a little while to collect a reasonable number of butterfly stamps and cutters and such so participants would have a nice set of choices, but I’ve been offering this workshop each summer for several years now. (I schedule them then, but am happy to offer this at other times of the year if people request it.) In addition to my usual metal clay handouts, I get some brochures from the Penn State extension office on butterflies and other pollinators, and I provide a few links to information that’s online. (I mention our pollinator-friendly program with respect to bees too, since they seem to be having such a hard time with their colony collapse disorder these past few years, and it seems increasingly important to mention those as well.) Workshop participants are welcome to take brochures home with them if they want, and to look at some of the butterfly (and insect) books I bring along. During the moments in the hands-on time when everyone is working but some chatter still goes on, I provide an introduction to the value, care, and feeding of pollinators.

I usually take with me a good number of lovely but fairly simple examples (such as the ones that accompany this post) plus a couple more advanced samples. I find it interesting to watch the choices participants make: do they stick with simpler designs and go for quantity; do they focus on one piece but add more intrigue and complexity to it (e.g., using shaped drying forms, adding movement mechanisms, constructing detailed little 3-part butterfly-bodies and antennae, etc.); do they make only butterflies or add one or more flowers to hold or accompany that piece?

Even if these fine silver butterflies do not themselves contribute to the important task of plant pollination, it’s my ongoing hope that the wearing of them—along with the relevant gardening information provided in the class—will help to both draw attention to, and spread the word about, the value of these wonderful little creatures in real life.

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2 half-days, 6 people, 52 pieces …

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/26

… and I forgot to take photos!

On Thursday, it was great to have several folks came over just to use my studio as a workspace. Then, on Friday, I taught a small semi-private introductory workshop.

And everyone was very productive, as you may be able to guess from the subject-line of this post.

The thing is, I had my camera with me, but everyone (including me, myself) kept me so busy that I only thought to take one quick snapshot, after everyone was pretty much done on Thursday, then not even that on Friday, neither the people nor their any of their many, lovely, silver pieces (lentil beads, domed pendants, foldover pendants, earring components, charms, and more!). But, since I had my camera with me, I stuck it in a little black case I have for it, and put that into my pocket as I headed off to the Summer Music Festival sponsored by community radio station WYEP in a local park that is tucked into a curious little space (called Schenley Plaza) between Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Library, and the University of Pittsburgh. (The city actually tore out a parking lot a few years ago to install a public park area!)

With a series of bands playing, an array of vendors, and lots of general socializing, etc., I just didn’t think to take photos there either. But I did manage to lose the camera! Somehow it fell out of my pocket. I didn’t even realize that until well after the first big rainstorm of the evening. (The band playing a few minutes before that started had commented on everyone just sitting around in lawn chairs or on blankets as storm clouds gathered; but they seemed stunned as the downpour began and most people just stayed right where they were, popping open the umbrellas they had brought!) Anyway, on top of that, I only noticed that the camera had gone missing after sunset, after most of the park had gotten pretty dark.

We spanned out in different directions and, amazingly, my friend Lyn (thank you!!!) still managed to find that little black case with the camera inside, spotting it (in the near-dark) somehow underneath a folding chair (and thus relatively dry) about 20 people away from where we had camped out. (It must have fallen out of my pocket when I got up to wander over for some browsing in the crafts market along the east side of the venue: that’s the only time I headed off in that direction, and I was not sure of the exact path I had taken to get there.) Miraculous as that was, the camera did not acquire any additional photos while lying there in the dark. So I still have only words (and a few numbers) to use to illustrate all those events. But they were lots of fun!

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Follow-up re Late April Bracelet Workshop

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/10

I said I’d try to get to it eventually, and it’s only taken about six weeks to get around to trying to organize some of my workshop snapshots. This shows a happy crew on the second evening of the custom bracelets session at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company at the end of April.

I tried to get some quick snapshots of the final results. If you were there and want copies of the ones I took of you, please let me know. I’m not sure if it was the wine, or the lighting, or what, but there were a lot of rather blurry shots from that batch. Which is a real shame, because the results were fabulous.

I was able to find a small section of one that did a decent job of showing Ellie’s creation: click on the small image at the left if you’d like to see a slightly larger version of that one.

To illustrate that all the fine silver components can be made to be fully reversible if you want, I’ll close with a shot of one of the pieces that I made during various demonstrations (taken later, once I was back in my studio with better lighting) with little inserts showing the reverse sides of those elements. (As always, click to enlarge the image.)

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More reasons why I love my studio!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/08

I had a relatively small “Big Links” workshop scheduled to be held at Koolkat Designs at the end of May.

For a number of reasons not worth going into, it became necessary to reschedule it. Three of the participants and I were all available to gather on Sunday, June 5. Except, the Koolkat folks were all tied up with the Three Rivers Arts Festival that day, meaning they were not available to open and later close the shop for us.

Not to worry, however, because Abby, Jane, and Rose were all willing to come over to my studio instead. So that’s what we did. Everyone learned several tricks needed to make metal clay links connect to each other without obvious joins, and everyone had a little bit of clay left over to make a few other trinkets of their choice.

And since I’d dashed out on the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend (the first hot weekend of the year) to buy and then install and connect to the new electrical line (that the board at the Wilkins School Community Center had approved & installed for my studio), we even had a room at a great temperature to work in. (Yes, the dehumidifying nature of the A/C led the clay to dry out quickly, but I just helped everyone to keep kneading in more water between each step, and things came out fine.)

So it was great to have a place where we could do this, and everyone seemed to agree that it was a great place to work. Thanks to all for coming over there!

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