Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘Art Clay’

Crazy-busy Season

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/12/01

Life tends to get crazy-busy this time of year, for multiple reasons, some of which I’m sure you can imagine and others would take too long to explain. So I’m just going to list a few events you may want to know about should you be interested in seeing some of my work in person:

  • November 30 – December 7: H*liday mART at Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Sewickley, PA

  • December 5-6-7: Holiday Gift Shop at the Wilkins School Community Center, Swissvale, PA

  • December 5-6-7: Open House in my Studio, to coincide with WSCC’s Holiday Gift Shop

  • December 13: Open House at the Hoyt Center for the Arts, New Castle, PA

  • December 13-14: Open House in my Studio, to coincide with an Art Studio tour in Regent Square (Swissvale, Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Wilkinsburg), PA

  • For other venues, please see the list of Ongoing locations down the right side of this blog.

If you find yourself missing any of those, no problem. Just get in touch with me: leave a comment on this post, or message me via Convergent Series page on Facebook (and, while you’re at it, a Like there would be very much appreciated…). We’ll find a way for you to explore my creations!

I’m not sure how much else I’ll manage to post this month. But I have new designs in the works, new workshop pieces I’m testing out plus, of course, new variations of ongoing favorites in both those categories … and lots more for 2015! I look forward to posting about all of those in the New Year, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them too.

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2013 Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/12/14

Have you heard the buzz? Six sites! All in the Pittsburgh area’s “East End” this weekend: Regent Square, Swissvale, and Squirrel Hill. And my studio is one of the locations on it again this year.

I’ve got lots of jewelry on offer, plus a handful of other small adornments.

I also have aloe vera plants that need a new home, babies that i repotted from some of the big ones I keep around. (I do work with hot metals here!) BONUS: small ones are free with a purchase of $35 or more (or a discount can be applied to the price of any of the larger ones if that’s what you prefer).

Plus you’re welcome to share some of my cookies and hot mulled cider. (I also got the makings for cranberry-orange frosties but, with all the snow that’s falling, I’ll save that until there’s a request or I run out of cider, whichever comes first.)

Happy Holidays to all!

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Two More Hollow Beads

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/31

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

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

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

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

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

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Hollow Bead Armatures

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-firing Hadar’s Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/04/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, to the Point of this Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Butterflies
with two polished
to confirm sintering.

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

Seven Butterflies with
preliminary polishing complete.

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

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

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

Bits & Pieces

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2012 Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/12/03

Have you heard the buzz? It’s even louder this year! Over forty artists! Seven sites! All in the Pittsburgh area’s “East End” this weekend. And my studio is one of the locations on it again this year.

At WSCC (where I’ll be), the Holiday Gift Shop will still be running downstairs, and I am pretty sure that Daviea Davis will have her glass mosaic studio open too, upstairs across the hall from mine.

2012 Art Buzz Map

If you’re in the area, I sure hope you can stop by. To say, “Hello” and “Happy Holidays” at least. If, for some reason, you can’t get yourself there in person, how about leaving a holiday greeting as a “comment” on this blog post. Even having you say just “Hello” or “Happy Holidays” would be much appreciated!

I look forward to seeing / hearing from you, dear readers, so I can extend my best wishes for this holiday season to you too, in return, in a more personal way.

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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!

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

Third blob’s a charm….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/12/09

Have you heard the buzz? Eighteen artists! Seven sites! All in the Pittsburgh area’s “East End” this weekend. And my studio is one of the new locations added this year….

Map of 2011 Art Buzz tour

If you’re in the area, I sure hope you can stop by. To say, “Hello” and “Happy Holidays” at least. If, for some reason, you can’t get yourself there in person, how about saying “Hello” or “Happy Holidays” or something else even more interesting as a “comment” on this blog post.

I look forward to seeing / hearing from you, dear readers, so I can extend my best wishes for this holiday season to you too, in return, in a more personal way.

Posted in Events, Studio | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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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Making My Ring Come Out the Size I Wanted.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/09/16

Given how many pieces of various sorts I have made out of the different metal clays over the years, relatively speaking I have not made many rings. What’s the difference? I do make rings for myself; I will teach others how to make them; I may give the occasional one as a gift; but, at this point at least, I rarely make rings to sell.

Sizing is an issue for any ring-maker. Since metal clays shrink as they sinter into a more-solid metal form, however, size is a detail that really matters when making rings. (This is one reason why I would never use a mix of clays for a basic band ring. If I can’t be sure of the shrinkage, I may have to spend more time post-fire in resizing it. Using “fresh” clay is a simple way to reduce the chance of that! That’s also why I held off posting this item until I could write the two entries that preceded it this month….)

When I do make rings, I often start by making a flat piece that will become my ring’s band, firing that, then shaping, sizing, and adjusting the resulting piece of metal as needed, all before adding the top and re-firing. While that method does require two firings, there are several very simple ways to test and adjust the ring band before proceeding. The already-fired band won’t shrink any more, so I can be pretty sure what size the ring will come out to be before I start on its decorative top.

The recent class I took at the Valley Art Center with Gordon Uyehara, however, used a different technique. We formed the clay around a ring mandrel, let that dry, then added the top, and fired everything at once. It’s a hold-your-breath situation waiting for the rings to come out of the kiln, to see what size you end up with. Yes, there are methods for adjusting size, if necessary, to make rings larger (relatively easy with a simple band) or smaller (can be trickier, depending on the ring, and does require yet another firing, whether in kiln or via soldering). Personally, I find it more thrilling to have the ring go into the kiln and come back out the right size in the first place, but I was happy to venture down the other route for that one day.

Also, while I’ve used both PMC and Art Clay for rings with the double-fire method, I’ve only used PMC-brand clays for band-rings made the way we did at that workshop. (Why? Because I’ve only done them that way in workshops, specifically, in ones where the clay was included in the class price.) For Gordon’s Pearl Box Ring class, however, we could bring whatever clay we wanted. Since he works mostly with Art Clay, that’s what I took. If I had questions about working with it on the ring, I could get help from someone with lots of experience using it. Here’s what happened with sizing (sorry, but rings require simple math):

  • My goal was a size 8 ring. Anything from 7.75 to 8.25 would be OK. A little smaller would be tolerable. But 8.5 would be bigger than I wanted, and I did not want to have to do anything to reduce the size afterwards.

  • Gordon reported that Art Clay says to make a ring 2 sizes larger, to account for shrinkage.

    • Thus I should make it a 10, so it’d shrink to an 8.

  • But, he added, since you’re covering your ring mandrel with a teflon strip or another easy-release surface, you should figure that adds about a half-size. Position it 1.5 sizes beyond your goal.

    • If I made it on the mandrel mark of 9.5 then, with wrap, that would give me the 10 that would shrink to an 8.

  • With rings, I always try to “work-harden” them a bit after they’ve been fired. The “99.9% pure” fine silver of regular metal clay comes out of the kiln annealed (i.e., soft). Fine silver will always be softer than sterling or Argentium silver (and even those are not necessarily the strongest choices for rings). But any form of silver will harden up, at least to some extent, if you “work” it for a while: hit it (gently…) between two hard surfaces (e.g., a between a hammer or mallet and ring mandrel or a steel bench block), to “re-align” the silver crystal structure. But, in my experience, that hitting tends to increase the ring size at least a little. (If a ring comes out to small, that’s one of the easiest ways to size it up as needed!) In the end, I chose to position mine only 1 size larger, and use the work-hardening, along with a little reshaping, to get it back up where I wanted.

    • I built it on the mandrel at 9. I had some moderately heavy teflon wrapped around it so, per Gordon’s logic, I guess that took it up just a tad above 9.5.

  • It came out just a tad above 7.5.

    • Once I finished hardening and reshaping the band, it ended up right at 8, maybe a hair over that. Perfect!

Why did I reshape the band to no longer be the perfect round I had out of the kiln? (The round band is shown in the first photo with this post, above. The slight change should be just visible in the second photo above.) Because I find that round rings with heavy tops tend to topple over on my finger. The thing that really controls the ring size you wear is rarely the space where you’re wearing it! In most cases, it’s the knuckle the ring must pass over to reach that spot. (And the extra size of the knuckle often helps to keep the ring from just falling off the finger.)

With an oval band shape, you can make it a bit smaller than you think you need, turn the ring sideways to put it on, then straighten it back up to wear. Or, with a squarer band, the sides of the band and the sides of your finger are fairly well matched up, so the ring sits in place as intended.

(If I’d made this in my studio, rather than in a class, I’d’ve taken the extra time to add a few embellishments to the top. In the workshop, we didn’t have that much extra time, and I wanted to wear mine home. But, at least, I got the “fronds” to sort of sprout from the space where I set the pearl, so I’m OK with it as it is.)

What’s your favorite “tip” for making metal clay rings, using whatever method you prefer?

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Silver Metal Clay “leftovers” — Mixing & Matching

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/09/12

In my last post, I described some little elements I’ll make at the end of a session when I have only a little bit of clay left over. But there are times (I’m sure you have these too!) when I’ll be at the end of a session and just not have much time left to fiddle with the leftover bits. In that case, if what’s left is just a small amount, I may mix it in with some other opened clay. The important thing is to remember to mark what I’ve done: that is, if I’ve mixed, say, PMC3 with PMC+, or PMC+ with Art Clay Low Fire, then I make a note of that.

Why is the note important? Well, in those examples, it’s because PMC3 and PMC+ have different minimum firing requirements, while PMC+ and Art Clay Low Fire have both that and different shrinkage rates. Each clay has its own specific characteristics but, at one point or another, I think I’ve mixed up leftover bits of just about every possible combination of silver clays!

Yes, there are a few exceptions: Leftover sheet or paper clays don’t mix in well, but they are essentially “dry” elements that I just stash for later use as-is. Art Clay’s Oil Paste is a special formulation with a specific purpose–as a bond between pure metal pieces (not clays)–so it shouldn’t be mixed in with other products. PMC Pro contains copper, and should not be mixed with the fine silver varieties. But I have no qualms about mixing together with abandon the various fine lump clays, regular paste, and unusable dribbles from syringe-clay.

Also, though I try to minimize the amount of sanding that I do on dried clay, there are still times when doing that really is necessary. I save up any “silver dust” as I go and then, at the end of my session, I spritz the whole thing with a little bit of water, knead everything together well (whether it’s just all “dust” or a mix of dust and lump clay), and let it sit to finish rehydrating until the next time I sit down to work. Easy! And economical!

And, yes, I’ve mixed clay-dust of one sort with moist-clay of another. Same thing if I work on a piece, let it dry, decide it has some major issue that I just don’t want to deal with. I do try to mix it back in with some other clay of the same kind but, if I don’t have any of that handy and open when I want to recycle it, I’ll mix it with what I do have. Makes life simpler!

[Aside: I hear about other artists who suddenly go on a binge and “reclaim” huge amounts of dried clay at once. I can’t imagine letting clay just sit around in the quantities I’ve heard reported (many, many ounces). Any clay I have on hand gets used up as quickly as I can find the time to get to it!!!]

The main tricks that I see are:

  • I really want to knead any mix well, to be sure both the silver particles and the binders from the different clays are thoroughly distributed (I find that my experience with making both pie crusts and bread has paid off here);
  • I have to fire according to the “strictest” clay in the mix (though, with fine silver, I usually just fire everything at 1650°F for two hours anyway); and
  • I have to remember the effect of mixing on shrinkage: if the two clays have different shrinkage rates, then the mix will shrink a sort of in-between amount (and, how close to one end or the other of the range between the two will depend on how much of each kind is in the mix).

Because of the last factor, I do take a bit of care with how I use mixed-clays. They are just fine for simple, stand-alone pieces. The round one in the photo shown with this post (which is domed, textured on both sides, with added embellishments on the concave (hidden here) side) could well have been made with a clay mix. For the oval one (which was made from two ovals, each textured on only one side, dried, re-moistened on their plain sides and “squidged” together, then embellished a little bit more), I deliberately chose a “pure” clay, fresh from the pack. I could have used a “mixed” clay for the individual pieces but, in that case I’d want to be sure I had enough so I could use the exact same clay for all the elements. Otherwise, I’d risk having one layer shrink more than the other, thus distorting the shape. With clay straight from the pack, I can be sure I can have enough that’s all the same. An alternative, which I have done but can’t find a photo of just now, is to build a little bit of distortion into your design, and use elements made from clays with different shrinkage to achieve that effect. That’s your choice!

If you are wondering how all this applies to “base metal” clays (such as copper, bronze, steel), for now I’ll just say that there are possibilities but it’s not quite as simple. I’ll probably write about that eventually, but I’ve got a lot of other things higher on my to-do list, so that may not happen for a while…. I my next post, however, I will mention the one and only time I never use a batch of silver mixed-clay, myself, even if I’m sure I have enough to complete the project. (Your choice, of course, may differ.)

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Silver Metal Clay “leftovers” — Components

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/09/12

The first metal clay I ever heard about was Art Clay Silver (from Aida Chemical Industries) but the first one I ever got my hands on to try was PMC (from Mitsubishi Industries). Over the years, I’ve made pieces from both brands and, in fact, just about every product available in both lines.

There are things I like more and less about each one, though I’m not planning to go into details of the (mostly relatively minor) differences right now. For the moment at least, I will say simply that, when I’m starting a new project, I pick whichever clay seems most appropriate to me at the moment.

But when you work with metal clay, and you’re rolling and trimming, taking a little bit off here and adding some more there, you generally want to have some extra clay on hand. And what is one to do with that when the project at hand is complete?! You can just mist and knead it to be sure it’s still in a workable state, seal it away appropriately, and use it in your next project. But, there are other possibilities to consider! The ones I’ll discuss in this post are useful in many situations, but they are my absolute favorites when I think it may be a while before I will find time to work with my clay again.

If I have just a little bit of that clay left over, often I will take a moment to form what’s left into some little element that I can use in another piece later on (e.g., bail elements, toggle bars, washer- or loop-shapes, some little decoration which could be anything from a few tiny flower petals or a butterfly body to even just a few small balls, etc.). Or I may use it to add a new embellishment to a piece that’s sitting there in the dried (“greenware”) state, waiting for some final element in its design before I consider it complete.

Magic Carpet (striped frame side)Other times I may mix in some glycerin, which prevents it from ever really drying out. That means it will remain flexible in its near-dry “greenware” state, which allows me to weave, twist, and knot it in that state. (Information on how to do this is contained in Hadar Jacobson’s first book, The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures and Forms. This does seem to work better with PMC+ or PMC3 than any of the others from PMC or from Art Clay.) I’ll then shape it into a long rope or roll it into a little textured sheet—sort of like making my own metal clay “paper” except that mine is now textured! Once the rope or sheet has “dried” I can work with those pieces without smushing their texture or leaving fingerprints everywhere!

Will all of the above approaches, you can see that I let these new elements dry, and then set them aside for later use. I like that approach for several reasons: it is very convenient later on to have this little stash of pieces from which I can just pick one up and use it to complete a piece, and silver metal clay keeps just fine in this “greenware” state (unlike lump clay, which needs to be kept both moist and protected from mold, neither of which are problems with “dry” clay). I do try to keep track of which elements were made from which clay, of course, so that I know what are their firing temperature limitations or shrinkage rates. I’ll talk a bit more about those in my next post.

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WPaPMC tries 14K Rose Gold Metal Clay!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/01/30

Yesterday (January 29), the Western PA Chapter of the PMC Guild became the first group anywhere to try out 14K Rose Gold metal clay.

A member of our chapter, Michelle Glaeser, announced the availability of this product earlier this month. This will not replace the more traditional yellow gold, but it can be a nice alternative or complement to that color. Michelle and I got to talking and the end result was that, when 14 of our members gathered on Saturday in a local library’s community room, we ended up sharing almost two packs of the stuff. Michelle kept what was left over for her own continued experiments.

Of course, the price of precious metals — including gold and silver — has been climbing lately. So we didn’t go off making big gold pieces. People brought their own creations made using their favorite form of silver metal clay. Some had already been fired so that only fine silver remained; others were still in the dried “greenware clay” state. Each participant bought a little piece (0.2 grams) of rose gold clay with which to embellish them. The open domed disk with a rose gold heart was made by Stephania; the photo shows her little heart, still in the clay state, attached to her piece of pre-fired, un-burnished silver.

Why would we fire the silver first? The basic formula for any “rose gold” involves gold, silver, and copper, and the presence of copper means that the rose gold clay must be fired in an oxygen-reduced environment. But the silver clay itself prefers to be fired with oxygen. If the silver clay has been pre-fired as usual then, once it is in its fine silver state, it can be re-fired with or without oxygen. So you can attach the rose gold embellishment and fire that new bit of clay in activated carbon, which is the easiest way to get the necessary reduction atmosphere. (There are other alternatives, if you really do want to fire the two together, but I won’t go into those here.) We had several stainless steel pans (which can take the heat of the kiln), filled them part-way with carbon, loaded our pieces (as shown), topped that with more carbon, covered it with a lid, loaded those into several of the kilns we’d brought, and set them to fire away!

When the firing cycle was complete (slightly over an hour later) we let things cool down a little bit, removed the pans, and started sifting through the (very hot) carbon for our pieces. Shown, are Dee, Donna, and Nicole searching through one of the pans.

As we found the pieces, they were laid out on a firebrick shelf for a few minutes until they had cooled down to a safe-handling temperature (as shown to the right).

Then we started examining the results. Most turned out beautifully!

Two of mine are shown at the very top of this post. Each little coil used half of the rose gold clay that I had (thus, about 0.1 gram each). My one on the left (up above) is what pieces look like straight from the kiln: the silver looks almost white, and the rose gold looks dark like the clay. The one on the right shows what happens when you burnish and otherwise polish the piece: the silver and rose gold get very shiny and bright. The darker areas on that piece are the result of applying a “liver of sulphur” patina (which turned especially colorful around the rose gold!), and then polishing that off the high points to accentuate the textured areas.

(I’m pretty sure those are Sharon’s hands, in the photo to the left, polishing one of her pieces.)

For a few, the little rose gold embellishments had come loose: with more (and very careful) sifting through the carbon we were able to retrieve those. (They can be reattached and refired.) Michelle’s earlier testing had shown that painting on thick layers of paste worked just fine; we discovered, however, that trying to be “conservative” by just painting on a very thin layer wasn’t a good idea. The way the attachment happens involves a reaction between the silver and gold atoms and, if there’s just a thin gold layer, it all sinks down into (alloys with) the silver. You need to use enough for some to remain above the part that attaches. (Well, and there may also be factors involving the exact temperature and length of the firing, but that’s beyond the scope of this basic report.) Michelle says that she saw no such alloying with embellishments that were at least 2 cards thick, and that is consistent with what we observed. With pieces that big, the shrinkage rate for the rose gold clay appears to be about 15%.

Finally, I will note that regular readers of this blog will know that I emphasize the fact that most of my pieces are fully reversible. This last shot here shows the “other” side of the two pieces with which I opened this post. Though they’re similar in design (but rotated 90° from each other) on the side where I added the rose gold (shown first), this last photo lets you see how different they are on their “other” side.

(As usual, clicking on any photo should open a new tab with a larger image.)

Posted in Guild, Learning Metal Clay, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Happy New Year!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/01/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted in Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

A New Year & A New Blog

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/01/01

Well, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now and, at last, here it is….

I feel so behind-the-times doing this now! It’s not like I’ve been oblivious to advances in technology. I got my first arpanet (as it was then known) account in 1978 or 79 (’twas that academic year, by now I just forget exactly when, possibly mid-year), I wrote my first web-page in 1993 (late fall of the 93-94 year), and so on. I just had lots of other things to do as well.

Back in that same 1978-79 school year, I also signed up for a course in jewelry design and metalsmithing. I’ll tell the full story of that some other time: the short version is that it was a huge disappointment, extremely discouraging, and I simply dropped out before the term was over. The interest wasn’t gone, but there were other activities that I found more rewarding.

I first heard of Art Clay Silver (ACS) in 2002: I saw a couple samples and a book at Crystal Creations / Beads Gone Wild in West Palm Beach, not too far from where I grew up. I was then living in California, was just back in FL visiting my mother, but my life was crazy-busy with work so I had no chance to really explore it. But I was fascinated. I finally got my hands on the stuff in October of 2006, by then I was living in Pennsylvania, and the class I took used Precious Metal Clay (PMC).

Here’s a photo of the first fine silver piece I ever made, in that class. It’s the shape of a “lentil” bead that is about an inch across, with some embellishments (the smooth oval and three tiny balls) added to the surface:

First Fine Silver Lentil Bead

Over time, I hope to post more about ACS, PMC, fine and sterling silver, other metals, and related topics. Plus, probably, miscellaneous other stuff. When I find the time…

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