Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘copper’

Trying Rose Bronze (Part 1 of 4)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/10/10

As I’d mentioned a couple of posts ago, I finally got around to seeing what it’s like to work with some of Hadar Jacobson’s Rose Bronze metal clay. Shown with this post are the first four pieces I tried.

Let me begin with this question: what is rose bronze? To answer that, it helps to know what bronze is, in general: an alloy of copper and tin. If you put in “enough” tin, the result moves from the reddish “copper” color to more of a yellow or brown that we typically think of as the “bronze” color (as well as giving it the strength and other characteristics of bronze). If you use less tin, and thus more copper, the final product retains more of that coppery-color while still acting much like bronze in general. (Similarly, rose gold is an alloy that contains both gold and copper, such that it there is enough copper to give it that rosy-coppery color.)

So the questions that I had about this product were:
(a) How would it work, in general (would it act much like regular bronze)?
(b) How would it work in combination with other metal clays (starting with the standard yellow bronze, for now, but eventually I’ll check others too)?
(c) What would it look like, in comparison with, and contrast to, copper and bronze?

For my first attempts then, until I was sure of how it would work, I didn’t spend very much time either designing or making the pieces. Then again since I had every reason to believe it would work much like cooper and bronze do, my first pieces involved more than the simple “charms” I often use for testing a completely new product. Still, I did not go much beyond the very basic techniques of rolling, texturing, draping, layering, and doming, though I did try a mix of flat and curved shapes.

Of course, this being me … I did make all four of my first “test” pieces reversible! In the first photo, above, you can see that each of them has some curvature to it, with one side that is clearly convex (like the bottom or underside of a bowl). The second photo, to the left, shows the range I first tried on the “other” side of each one: perhaps concave (like the inside of a bowl), or else flat and layered, or even another convex draped shape. I don’t consider the sides shown in the second set to be the “back” of any piece: I just consider those to be the “other” sides, ones which could easily be worn in front.

Note that, while I used mostly the darkish reddish “rose bronze” clay, three of the eight sides also contain one or more elements made from regular “yellow bronze” too. While the difference in color between the two is highly obvious with pieces in the greenware (dried clay) state, I suspected that they’d end up almost similar after being fired. And I was right!

More on that shortly….


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Time to get back on track!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/14

Please pardon my slipping out of metal-clay / artistry mode for a moment to publicly offer here a lifetime of best wishes to the oldest grandson and his bride, who “got hitched” (their wording) late last week. It was raining as everyone arrived: but if you’re getting married in the Baltimore harbor, maybe you should just accept water as somehow a part of the event?! With lots of umbrella-toting escorts, everyone got into place safe and mostly dry. Thankfully, the skies began to clear as the ceremony began, and the sun emerged in full force as the couple exchanged the vows each of them had written. The sun’s return, of course, was taken as a good omen! (Oh, and, since I’m writing about you, my dear: Happy Birthday too!)

And now it’s time to get back to “work”! I had gone on a making-binge in the spring so I could get a number of pieces out for sale at various new or special venues. But then, in the last six weeks or so (as I’ve at least tried to catch up a bit with various reports I’d intended to write for this blog), all I’ve made are some pre-class samples and in-class demo pieces, plus a small handful of commissioned items. Sort of a feast-or-famine routine. What I’m hoping I can do over the next few months is to find a better balance: continue to teach workshops and make the items associated with that; try out some new pieces I’ve been thinking about, make more variations on my favorite designs, and get some of those out for sale right away; but also gradually build up inventory for the winter holiday sales season.

In preparation for more making, one of the things I did as soon as I got back from Maryland was to review in detail the sales statement that had arrived from Koolkat regarding the pieces of mine that had been their Gallery Booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival last month. And I learned two major things.

[1] This I had suspected but (because I didn’t have to be there the whole time) had not been able to confirm until my statement arrived: the vast majority of my sales came during the first five days of the ten-day event. Now, partly, that is to be expected in any year: even if people stroll through the market a number of times for various events (e.g., the different concerts), when they see an item they like in a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces, many know it’s a get-it-while-you-can situation. So I’d bet that accounts for part of the early-days boom.

But this year I suspect there might have been another aspect to the huge drop-off in the second half: jewelry-saturation. I had been feeling particularly honored that Koolkat had asked if I wanted to be represented in their booth this year because I’d heard that the organizers of the festival had put a strict limit on the amount (%) and types of jewelry that that Koolkat could exhibit. What I had not realized until I got to the festival was how many individual booths in the Artists Market would feature jewelry as well. Mind you, jewelry has always been a part of Three Rivers: I love jewelry, and “art jewelry” in particular, so over the years (from long before I ever started making the stuff myself!) I have enjoyed a lot of “window shopping” as well as a good amount of actual buying of it at this festival (and others). This year, there did seem to be a good bit of it in the first half, but a nice mix, certainly not quite what I’d call an overwhelming amount. But, in the second half, the amount of jewelry was even higher: something like one in three booths featured it! As a visitor myself, I know that after I have looked at some number of booths with any particular kind of work, I just reach a point of overload and can’t process any more through my brain, no matter how interesting or unique the work of the remaining artists may be. (I love museums too but, for example, often reach my “limit” on a single visit there as well!) And I know I’m not alone in that. Oh well, at least I did fine in the first half!

[2] Luckily, the second thing I learned was really good news. In addition to having a few of my silver items go to new homes, I also sold a lot of pieces made from bronze and/or copper and/or steel: basic pendants, more complex necklaces, earrings, etc. As I’d been working on those this past spring, with the idea that I would “introduce” them at Three Rivers, I had been wondering if they’d turn out to be worth the effort I was putting into them. Apparently, the answer is “Yes!”

So, as I said above, now it’s time to get back into studio and try out some more ideas, and to do that across the whole range of metal clays. Well, at least I’ll do that once the plumbers have finished fixing a few problems I’ve had at home, and in between sessions with the rototiller as I attempt to move and expand my garden beds, plus whatever other surprises crop up as life goes on….

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Foil-Firing Base-Metal Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/06

One question that seems to keep recurring (everywhere from individual conversations to the big, international Yahoo group on Metal Clay) involves what people use for firing their various copper, bronze, and / or steel clays, so I decided to write a bit about what I’ve been doing.

At first (~2008) I used the stainless steel “steam table” pans that were the original suggestion for this. The clays fired OK (i.e., the metals sintered), but the pans flake black crud. (I’ve seen hints that the technical term is that they “spall,” though I know that word with a slightly different connotation, so I’m not sure…) Anyway, it’s not a crisis, but cleaning it up is just one more little thing to tend to, and I’m seeking to simplify this process as much as possible.

Later on, a number of ideas for other, alternative firing vessels started to circulate. Some people fire in used metal cans (i.e., reusing the kind food comes in, which would mean having the inner plastic linings burn off as you fire them; and, while cheaper than the steam table pans, they still flake). Others suggested building vessels out of fiber blanket. Neither of those held much appeal for me: I never tried either one.

Last winter and spring, Hadar Jacobson blogged about several other options, such as building a frame out of kiln posts, drilling an opening into firebrick, and building a box from ceramic cloth and T-pins. I tried the first and third of those. The posts are easier to find, the cloth is easier to use, but neither quite fit my “simplify” goal. Hadar also talks about working with several options in the instruction manual she provides. (Aside: Her manual is useful even if you’re using other copper or bronze clays! You may have to adjust specifics of the firing schedules to fit other products, but Hadar does a great job of explaining in a simple way what’s going on, what you want to have happen, and what might be going wrong if you encounter problems.) In the past year, also, several manufacturers came out with a range of fiber or ceramic firing boxes, but at least the ones I investigated appeared somewhat high-priced to me. (Or, perhaps a better way to say it is that the ones I checked seemed high for my budget for this, so I just stopped hunting. If you have found any well-priced ones, do let me know!)

Right after Hadar was here late last winter (when I gained motivation to do more with these non-precious metal clays) I decided to try something Hadar had not discussed, and to invest in some No-Flake Firing Foil. (I got mine from CoolTools.) That’s what I’ve been using quite happily now for the last few months. It does take a little fiddling-with before the first time you use it–you do have to fold it into the box shape–and then you should fire some test pieces to verify the temperatures to use–which you should do with any new firing vessel you try (or new kiln, or new carbon, etc.). But after that, this kind of box is both very easy and much more affordable than most of the other options.

The first photo with this post shows a newly-contructed firing pan before its first use. The foil comes with instructions on how to fold this particular box, and there’s a video available on the product-page. From my (somewhat basic) knowledge of origami boxes, this does seem to be a pattern that yields a relatively large-volume basic box from a given amount of material, so I did not try to second-guess the instructions there. But I will note two things about the instructions….

(1) They provide finished dimensions for various sizes of foil one might start with, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to just those. Make a box of whatever size will fit the foil you have and the size of your kiln. (Be sure to leave room for air to circulate all around the box!) Try a few paper models first, if you don’t already have experience folding boxes, so you see how it works and get a sense for the size. But, here’s the trick: the instructions list only sizes for rectangular boxes because that’s what you want to build. Not a square!

Any rectangular box will have a sort of “flap” of material that gets folded over the short edges and part-way around the long ones. (You should be able to see it on the photos with this post.) A square one won’t have that flap. You want the flap for two reasons:

  • Those “flaps” seem to increase the stability of the box, and
  • You can fold up the corners of the flaps on one long side of the box to mark the “front”–something that’s useful when you’re putting a carbon-filled box into your kiln (and especially important with front-loaders, because you don’t want to position any pieces along the un(der)heated front edge).

(2) The instructions and video use the traditional origami trick of making two folds at the very start that you just open back up again. They simply mark the center of the sheet. If you can find and mark the center-lines yourself, you can start with that rather than those two folds. That’s why my “new” box (above) has black ink lines, rather than folds, down the center. Why does that matter?

Well, some people report that these boxes only hold up for a couple of firings. Mine have held up much longer. The one shown here has been through several dozen two-phase firings, has not been treated with any particular care, and seems to be holding up just fine.

When pressed for more information, those reporting early failures say that their boxes seem to fail along the folds. Not necessarily the center ones in particular, but along folds somewhere. Now my theory is that they are not failing after, say, two or three or four firings: I think they are beginning to fail with their very first use, but the problem only gets big enough to see after several more. If you put a hole in the foil while folding it, it will get bigger with each firing, through the heating (expansion) and cooling (contraction). So the trick is to not put holes in the foil to begin with!

Thus, I chose to not make those first two folds, which must then be reopened. You’ve got to mark the center line accurately or the box won’t come out with everything lined up right, and doing it via that fold is an easy way to mark it. So either be careful folding and unfolding those lines or, if you can find both centers another way, do that.

Then, proceed with the rest of the instructions. Crease smoothly, but not so harshly that you rip little holes in the edge. Unfold smoothly too, also with care.

And, then, enjoy the treasures that emerge after being fired in such a box…

Please leave a comment if you’ve found anything useful in this post! It’s great to hear from readers. (I can see from my “blog stats” that you are out there! But comments offer even more motivation to keep on writing these notes….)

UPDATE: This box lasted for seven more months of regular use! Since this topic keeps coming up, and I keep pointing folks to this post, I’ve decided to add a link to my follow-up post.

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Art All Night by the Numbers

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/01

OK, here we go at last, with the first of a couple of posts discussing and displaying this year’s Art All Night event (two months ago! yikes!! time sure does fly when you’re having fun!!!).

First of all, my entry (shown) was Steering a New Course. At the Three Rivers Arts Festival (June 3 – 12) I officially “introduced” my new copper and bronze pieces (some of which included little hints of steel as well), and I also have a few of those available at Portage Hill Gallery up near Lake Chautauqua. But Steering a New Course is the first such combo-piece I ever made and the first one I put up for sale anywhere, as my entry in Art All Night for 2011. Thanks so much to Alice B for entering the “winning bid” on this pendant: I hope you remain happy with your purchase!

Now, for a few statistics (sorry, the old math-teacher in me just can’t resist…). All of these came from the “about” page on the Art All Night website (and some of the “missing” info just isn’t there: sorry!):

  • 1998 debut: 101 entries, approximately 200 visitors.
  • 1999 repeat: over 200 entries, over 1100 visitors.
  • 2000 had more record numbers including over 300 entries.
  • By 2005, there were 868 entries and over 7,000 visitors.
  • In 2007, only 850 entries but still over 7,500 visitors.

The first one that I attended was, I think, in 2002 (though I might be off by 1 year either way?). I know I was still living in California at the time, was just in “the ‘burgh” on a visit for some reason or other, saw a little blurb about it somewhere, decided to go check it out, and was immediately hooked! I attended every one I could after that (i.e., every one for which I was in town, something for which I then did try to plan!).

The first one in which I actively participated was 2008, after I had moved to Pittsburgh. I’m sure of that year, because it was the spring that Donna Penoyer, Jan Durkin, and I “launched” the Western PA Chapter of the PMC Guild. Our first meeting wasn’t until May of that year, but I offered demos on the Saturday night of Art All Night so more people could see what metal clay was. That was actually the first time I’d done demos of metal clay in a truly “public” venue … and I did it at an event that drew over 10,000 people: Talk about jumping off at the deep end! Every year since then, I’ve both entered a piece (as an individual artist) and offered live demos (which I’ve since been able to organize in collaboration with other members of our local Guild chapter), and encouraged more friends and acquaintances to attend. And continued to have a great time every year!

  • In 2011, there were 1,240 entries, 40 on-site artists (where I’m pretty sure that either an individual or a group counted as “1”), and over 12,000 visitors!

Tentatively, the dates for 2012 are April 28-29. Mark your calendar: I sure hope to see you there!

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Portage Hill Gallery is now carrying my work!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/15

I am absolutely thrilled to report that, as of June, 2011, my work is also available at the Portage Hill Gallery in Westfield, NY. It’s on route 394, NW of Lake Chautauqua (just past Mayfield) on your way from there to Lake Erie.

Of all the possible venues for my work, I have to admit that this one is particularly special to me. Because I just love to shop there. Over the years (decades!) this is a place where I’ve bought–both for myself and to give as gifts–paintings, photographs, pottery, CDs (and, before that, cassette tapes), candles and, of course, jewelry as well as several different wooden jewelry boxes. (And that is just a sampling; I’m sure I’m missing some items!)

To have a place where I’ve shopped so happily now be interested in carrying my creations is a real delight. If you ever find yourself in the area, do stop by to check it out. It’s run by Audrey Kay Dowling and Donald Dowling who for years, in addition to the gallery, have been involved in various aspects of education and of the making and displaying of art. Which should give you a clue that they’re really interesting people. Be sure to tell them I suggested you check out their Portage Hill Gallery!

And if you’ve never been to the Chautauqua Institution for any part of their summer program, that’s really something else to check out. Their main summer program runs from late-June through mid-August, supplemented by other events off and on throughout the rest of the year. There are other “Chautauqua-style” events at various locations around the country, but this is the original one and, at least from what I’ve seen in my various travels, the largest and best of them all!

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Little Rain the First Weekend….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/05

After all the rain we had here in SW Pennsylvania throughout May, would that continue into June? Even after a dry May, it always seems to rain during the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Some years, more; others years, less; but rain is to be expected for at least part of the time.

The only rain we had the first weekend were a few overnight storms. There was no rain when the Artists Market booths were open, the various hands-on activities running, the outdoor concerts playing, the exhibits displaying. And it’s looking like a pretty good week coming up too: predictions are for a few hot days and a few rainstorms, but mostly typical weather for the days approaching the summer solstice.

The larger photo (top, right) is of the Koolkat booth on Gallery Row (Artist Market spaces 78-79). They may rearrange the booth shelves a few times throughout the show but, at least on that first day, my pieces were on the end, in the corner, on the top shelf (i.e., above the blue carrier bag in the photo). You can check out my copper+bronze pieces (some with steel too) for the first time there, along with some of my newer silver pieces. (And by check out, of course, I mean that I hope that at least some folks will buy a few!)

The smaller photo (bottom, left) is of Jill West performing with Blues Attack at the Main Stage in Point State Park on Friday night. There are a number of free performances on each of the ten days of the show (and lots of other good stuff too: follow some of the links on that page to see what else is going on).

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Another example of the “mokume gane effect”.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/02

The thing is, once I get started posting, it is hard to stop.

Shown is one more example of the “mokume gane” effect technique, a pair of earrings in copper and bronze.

I sort of felt I had to post another image from my (somewhat incomplete) selection, to give a better idea of the nice satin finish that’s possible on these pieces (and which, however, drives their price up because of the time–and tools and skill–it takes to achieve that).

The “effect” is visible on both sides, but these niobium earwires wanted me to decide on one side that would be the front (unlike the various ones I use with my silver pieces, that permit me to offer them as fully reversible). With these, however, choosing the front was easy: one can make these so that one pair of sides (but not, or at least not easily, both sides) are “mirror images” of each other.

So, even though these will be separated by the wearer’s face, meaning that the casual observer is unlikely to notice the “mirror” effect, at least the wearer can know…. It’s little “surprises,” like that, that make it so much fun for me to create these little adornments. They’re also going up for sale at the Three Rivers Arts Festival starting tomorrow.

(For those seeking out technical details, these were made using Hadar’s Quick Fire Copper and Quick Fire Bronze.)

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One piece I was weaving….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/02

Sorry, I’ve been a bit too busy to continue the thread I started back there. But I suddenly have a little “found time” this afternoon, so I’ll try to sneak in one quick post in between some crazy rescheduling. (Long story about a leak in the water line at my house that I thought was finally going to be fixed today, but the water company called to say they were “too busy to get to this” today so we’re trying to coordinate a time for next week … PA is so not-CA sometimes, and a water line leak, even if it’s just a small one, that can stretch on for a month with no one but me seeming to be very concerned about it is one of them…).

Anyway, the photo at the top of this post is a straight-from-the-kiln shot of a piece with a “mokume gane” effect in the metal on this side (it’s all-copper on the other side, shown in the second image, below) and strips of solid copper or bronze or steel woven inside the little heart-shaped opening. At this point, it has been fired twice: once to burn off the binder, and a second time to sinter the metals. (It’s not true mokume gane, because it uses an entirely different technique–pioneered by Hadar Jacobson from whom I learned it–but the end result has a somewhat similar appearance, not identical, but closer to mokume gane than to any other technique.)

And this sure does illustrate the difference in shrinkage among the various metals and clays! If you realize that the “mokume gane” had been sanded to a very smooth finish on that side when it went into the kiln, you can see some of the variation by just looking at the bumps and valleys on that surface. But the three distinct woven bars illustrate it even more. Hadar’s “original / traditional” bronze shrinks the most: look at the huge gap that opened up in that bar! Her copper is in the middle: you can see a fairly small crack in it. The steel, both because it’s steel and because it’s available only in the Quick Fire formula, shrank the least, by a lot. I actually find it rather interesting the way the steel bar in the weave bulged a little bit out the back of the heart-shaped opening as the rest of the piece shrank down into it.

So, it was time for some repairs, followed by a refiring (another two-phase episode). This second photo shows the patching in-progress, from the other (textured copper) side. I had filled in some gaps in the copper, and had just finished adding the bronze patch when I got a phone call. So I caught this shot quickly while taking that, and then went back to texturing the patch as soon as the call finished (before the clay dried).

Fast forward through what ended up being several rounds of patching and refiring (… what can I say: each two-phase refiring can fix some places while opening up cracks somewhere else, until you just say, “Enough! It’s done!”…) plus some polishing (especially on the side with the “mokume gane” effect), and I had a piece that looked like the final photo shown below (though it got a bit more polishing, then a good oiling to protect the steel, and finally a nice coat of wax, plus a hanging-ring and a cable-chain, all before it was really done…).

I call it, “Heart on the Mend.”

It’s among the hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces that will be available at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

I’ll say a bit more about that event in a follow-up post, but do let me know (leave a comment) if there’s a chance I’ll see you there. (I’m “working” there only two half-days, but I’ll be around and about at other times.)

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Two Hearts, revisited

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/05/16

Back in March, when I was writing about some of my trials with Art Clay copper, I used several photos of the piece shown to the left (as well as others) to illustrate what I was talking about.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I encountered some major problems working with that clay. Not to say I’ll never try it again, but I’ve been really busy lately, and I had other products to use and things to make when I managed to find some spare time.

Still, I liked that two-heart design (’twas just from a very inexpensive rubber stamp I bought soon after a very special couple announced their engagement) so, the other night, when I had a bit of Hadar Jacobson’s bronze clay left over, I used the stamp again, with one of her techniques: I made the base out of bronze, with copper inlaid to follow the stamp’s design.

Admittedly, this approach resulted in a few small glitches too. I lost a little bit of the inner edge of the top heart while never quite getting all the spirals to reappear, but I kind of like the little random “blobs” so that’s ok for a “practice” piece.

The thing that surprised me most was the way this domed a bit when it was fired! Being bronze, after its been fired there’d be no way (certainly not with the relatively simple set of tools I’m working with…) to either achieve that (as an afterthought) or undo it (if it bothered me). But I found it a pleasant surprise so I’m just going to appreciate it without, at least for the moment, being concerned about understanding why that happened.

Though, of course, I know I will eventually have to make a number of other pieces, varying slightly on the overall approach used here, to try to figure out the pattern of when that does and does not happen. How long can I savor the moment before being driven back to figure that out?

Metal clays may be relatively easy to work with, but part of what I love about this is puzzling out all the different quirks….

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Last of the notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/12

First of all, for you (as “they” say) dear reader. I’ve been writing away here about Hadar as though everyone already knows who she is. One thing that surprised me about the recent workshop here was that, although most of my classmates were very familiar with her art jewelry work, owned her books, read her blog, etc., not everyone was or did. How could I tell? Mostly by their reaction to the array of pieces she spread out on one of the large tables for us to examine (shown here), and by the ones that she passed around to illustrate various points during her presentations. I didn’t bother trying to take photos of them at the time, because I knew I could find Hadar’s great photos themselves via the various links I just provided above. If you’re not familiar with them, please go take a look. The art jewelry link features plenty of “eye candy” for you to admire (and, perhaps, even purchase), while the other two have a mix of text and photos if you’re hooked by this and want to learn more about how it all works.

Since I started this series of posts with a snapshot of Hadar, I’ve decided I’ll close this set with one too. Shown, she is “sifting” the finished pieces from their carbon bed, but she’s pouring the vessel contents from such a height in order to let the very lightweight ask blow away in the process. (This is better done outdoors than in your workspace, but that’s a topic for a post at some other time.)

I got a real kick out of watching Hadar do this! Though large in “our field” she is not a very tall woman. To get the effect she wanted in this particular setting, therefore, she had to really reach to get the full vessel far enough above the sifter and collection bowl. It made her look, to me at least, like she’d stepped right out of a modern-day Avalon as some sort of “high priestess” making an offering in honor of the “goddesses of metal clay.” It was delightful to have her cross the misty skies to share those rites with us, and to encourage us to follow our own paths to enlightened and creative artistry. Thanks, Hadar!

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Some more notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/10

I don’t want to go on forever about this, but I am using this blog to keep some notes for myself about our recent workshop with Hadar Jacobson, as well as to write some comments for others to read. So, if you’ll bear with me, this post will cover a number of “loose ends” from that, then I’ll probably add one final note, and then I’ll move on to posting about other things.

The photo at the left shows Hadar’s own design for “firing vessels” that are made using a piece of “ceramic cloth” formed into a bowl shape and held together with stainless steel T-pins. In this workshop, we started out having three kilns available to us, so here you see three vessels lined up with the results of a test-firing in each of those three kilns. Test-firing means to run some “test pieces” through the entire two-phase firing process each and every time you change any (one or more) of the variables: try a new kiln, use a different size or type of firing vessel, introduce a different carbon (type or supplier), make pieces out of a different metal or brand of clay, etc. In fact, we also tested and then used a fourth kiln later on and, at one point, tried a different material for firing vessel construction that required its own test as well. (I’ll try to remember to write a bit more about testing and test pieces eventually, whenever I get around to trying out in my own kiln some carbon from a new source.)

The vessel on the bottom in that photo (far left, if you faced the table straight on) shows a bit more ash than do the other two, but not enough to be of concern. Once the test pieces had been sifted out from the carbon, we examined each piece by looking at and feeling it. Since they all seemed ok, the next step was to begin to buff a “back” edge very lightly. (Of course, I hear that and think, “Wait! My reversible pieces don’t have a back!” There’s no problem, of course, if the piece has sintered. If it hasn’t, then I’ll just be stuck with doing any necessary patching on one of the two “front” sides of the piece but, hopefully, that will be a rare occurrence.) Once they pass that test, they can be sanded a bit more aggressively.

As I know well from previous experience, when Alice and I were experimenting with these clays on our own and together, an unsintered piece typically makes its condition known very quickly. Luckily, all of our test pieces seemed just fine. That meant we could proceed with both firing some of the pieces that had taken more work to construct and the lesson on all the steps for post-firing polishing.

I will mention that Hadar had brought an example of an unsintered piece so folks could see what one looked like. Because I’d wanted to ask her a few questions about “sintering issues,” I had also brought a couple problem-pieces. So we were both able to share our examples for everyone to learn from, in addition to having the successful pieces from our kiln-tests to use in the polishing demo.

Speaking of firing our actual artworks, to the right here is a photo of the first vessel loaded up and ready to go. Several things to note:

  • Each piece is at least half an inch from the edge of the vessel and from all of its neighbors.
  • Each piece is positioned horizontally. Some people write or teach about positioning them vertically. That does allow you to fit more pieces in at one time, but Hadar insists that there can be enough of a difference in the amount of heat reaching the top and the bottom of a piece that one end may sinter while the other does not. She says she has not found as much discrepancy edge-to-center as she has top-to-bottom, so this way produces more consistently successful results.
  • The pieces are positioned in a single layer. Once again, you can fit in more pieces if you use multiple layers, spaced at least a half inch apart, but Hadar reports more examples of unsintered pieces from that arrangement. Better to just do as many different firings as you need than to have to worry a lot more about sintering with every single piece.
  • The “front” of the vessel should be clearly indicated. Here, it is marked with a T-pin, though that doesn’t really show up in the photo. In top-loading firebrick kilns that have heating elements running around all four walls, this is not crucial. In front-loading muffle kilns, however, with elements on the back and sides but not on the door in front, this is necessary. Since we had a mix of the two types of kilns, better to be safe than sorry, and just mark all the vessels. (Remember: once the pieces are covered with carbon, you can no longer see what’s where! That’s why you mark the outside of the vessel itself. And you do it in a way that will survive the firing, in case you need to remove the vessel from the kiln between the two firing phases, especially because the pieces are extremely fragile at that point.)
  • In a front-loading kiln, in most cases, pieces should be placed around the back and sides of the vessel. Not in front, towards the door.
  • In either a front- or a top-loading kiln, in most cases, pieces should not be placed in the center of the vessel.
  • The one exception to the previous two rules is this: If you have one of the really round firing vessels, you may want to test whether pieces placed in the center, or near the front in a front-loader, will sinter. In some cases, this does seem to work…
  • It is best to fire together only pieces that are roughly similar in size. If you mix sizes, curiously, the ones most likely not to sinter are the smaller ones. (Yes, that;’s what Hadar said but it’s also something I have observed.) It seems almost like the big pieces somehow draw the sintering-heat away from the smaller ones… Experience has shown that, the more even the size of your pieces, the more even will be the sintering. (Here’s yet another situation where I wish I better understood the whole science of these processes!)
  • You can make a few exceptions to those rules, if you know what you’re doing, and take care in the process. In the load illustrated above, for example, Hadar placed pieces of similar size around three sides but, finding she had one small piece left, she put it on the fourth side with extra space around it and fired this in a top-loader.

The next photo on the left shows our first load going into a front-loading muffle kiln. Note that:

  • The vessel is raised up on kiln posts, so that air can circulate all around it.
  • There is no lid on the vessel.
  • The vent-hole plug has been removed.

The last photo, below, shows our second load as it began to fire in a top-loading firebrick kiln. While you can’t see inside this one, it also has the vessel raised to allow circulation, and it does not use a lid on the vessel here either. The purpose of this particular photo is to show that:

  • While there is no actual vent-hole on this kiln, an equivalent effect can be achieved simply by placing the lid slightly askew.

Whew! That covered a lot more than I was expecting when I started this post. What can I say: the workshop was just loaded with interesting and useful information!

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More on Working with Combos of Hadar’s Clays.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/08

Several of my posts so far this month have included “after” photos of my new bronze + copper pieces, some with steel too. The opening shot in my very last post (below) showed a before-piece of “greenware” clay (dried but unfired). But, what happens in between those stages?

Well, let me tell you, each piece goes through a phase in the middle when it barely resembles what it looks like at either end! The opening photo with this post shows all the pieces from the first round of firing in Hadar Jacobson’s recent workshop in Pittsburgh. No, I did not switch to black-and-white photography for any of the images on this page! This is how they came out of the kiln! Sort of center-left you can see my round “gear” piece. I think those are Deb’s “people” just under it; then Donna’s triangle-shield, upside-down-and-backwards, under that; then maybe the back of Stephania’s obong under that. I’d love to have photos of my classmates’ finished pieces so I could better identify more of them here (hint, hint: I know some of you are out there reading this…), and maybe I could even post a few of their finished pieces while I’m at it (repeat hint).

But, since what I have to work with here are my snapshots, let’s talk about the gears to the left. The rumor that eventually developed later was that, because of their varying shrinkage rates, copper inlaid in bronze is less prone to cracking than is bronze inlaid in copper. And, yes, this is bronze inlaid in copper … and it sure shows some cracks!

And, of course, this “gear” was a particularly challenging choice for doing it “backwards” because it’s connected the whole way around! Not a crisis, but it means this needed to be cleaned, patched, and refired before I could proceed with it. I did say I was in the workshop to learn, so I’m glad I had the chance to learn about such problems, and their solutions, right there in class!

While I was taking photos, I made a point of capturing the other side as well. The “wheel” showed evidence of cracking too. Same situation: all the bronze components were “connected” to each other, so the only way they could shrink as much as they wanted was to open up some gaps in the bronze. Since the fired sections have already shrunk as much as they are going to shrink, any patches should fill in safely without causing more problems. (“Should” of course, is the important word in that sentence… There’s always the chance that it can take several tries to get the patch right … among other things that can continue to challenge too.)

So I patched it, and got it in the next round of firing. The photo to the right shows the next three of my pieces that got fired, all on the second day but spread across different kilns. They are, from left to right:

  • The first piece I achually made, wheel on front and “hidden bail” behind, that didn’t get fired until the second round;
  • The fourth piece I made, the one with the canes, whose topography clearly illustrates here the difference in shrinkage rates between the bronze (shrinks more) and copper (shrinks less); and
  • The second piece I started (its wheel-side showing here too), the first one that was fired, but now you can see what it looked like after being repaired and refired.

The “first piece” (leftmost in the above photo) was fired in a different kiln from the other two. The pieces from that load were crash-cooled with water, which makes it a bit easier to just use your finger to rub off some of the black coating. If you want your pieces to have that old, rough, and worn look, that’s clearly the way to go. (Sometimes you can find great colors hidden underneath the black, but that will go away if you start polishing.) But if you want a more clean, sleek, and modern look, it doesn’t matter as much. Regardless of how you cool it, there’s still a lot of polishing to be done.

I include a photo of Michelle kitted up with a safety mask since we didn’t want to be breathing any of the stuff that’s being ground off! Here she’s using sandpaper fitted into a slotted mandrel on a rotary tool. I can’t say whether, at this point, she was grinding off the black crud, or grinding the copper down to the level of the bronze, or smoothing out the copper and bronze to a nice, even finish; though she would definitely be using a different attachment if she were matting that perfect-polish back down to a slight satin effect that is useful in working with a patina to accentuate the different metals.

One thing I can say for sure is that this takes a lot longer than what many people do with silver (dump it in a tumbler and go spend your time doing something else constructive). Even for those of us who hand-finish a lot of our precious metal pieces, this stuff takes a lot of time and effort merely to get it to a state comparable to the starting-point with those.

So that’s a heads-up / reality check (depending on whether you are a shopper or a maker, respectively): even though the “base” or “common” metals may come in less than do the “precious” ones in sheer materials cost, the extra time and attention needed to first “fire” and then to “finish” a piece is going to add a good chunk back to its final price….

Other than that, though, it sure is fun to watch each piece evolve! I think Stephania was the first person to finish her first piece. (If she wasn’t actually the first to finish, she was surely the first classmate I caught wearing her initial creation with an aura of success!)

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Cane Designs and Mokume Gane Effects with Hadar Jacobson

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/06

On the second day of Hadar’s recent workshop in Pittsburgh, we focused on (a) making and using extruded “canes” and (b) creating a sort of “mokume gane” effect (although without using quite the same laminating steps of true mokume gane as practiced by metalsmiths for several centuries and recently adapted for use with polymer clay).

It dawned on me at home after the first day that I had not stopped to take any photos of my pieces at any point in the “clay” state. I didn’t take many the second day either, but I did think to stop and take the one shown at the top (right) of this post. (The little thumbnail-size shot looks much drearier than the piece looked in person! The photo was taken in our classroom with just a bit of daylight through the window on a gray late-March day: clicking on the shot here should open up a new page with a larger and slightly less-dark version.)

The second photo (left) shows the same piece after it has been fired and finished. The six circular “canes” are made of bronze and copper. The whole piece was wrapped in copper. It was then topped with a bail that was made with a bit of “leftover” clay that was a mix of both metals worked together so you can’t distinguish them, yielding a bail that just looks slightly lighter than the rest of the edge.

Although I do like the effects one can get with canes, for some reason it’s never been a technique that held a lot of interest for me as a maker. Thinking about how it’s done can be kind of fun but, even during the time when I was happily exploring polymer clay (before I got hooked by metal clay), I just never felt compelled to make many of them myself. The approach we used for this was interesting (and will be described in Hadar’s next book); I enjoyed making this piece; and I’m sure I’ll try a few more out of curiosity … but I’m still not sure how much of a future this technique will have in my repertoire. Some, yes, but how much remains to be seen.

I did find the next step, however, creating mock mokume gane, to be much more fun and intriguing! Why, I’m not sure. Probably because I want canes to be exact and, done as we did in this workshop, they just never will be. But mokume gane is, by its nature, somewhat unpredictable (not entirely so, but somewhat), so it’s easier for me to “let go” and just see what happens. Plus, I find a certain intrinsic satisfaction in the way it comes out two-sided automatically. Both sides exhibit the effect, even though they are not identical.

I had a small amount of prepared clay left after making the hexagonal donut shape, so I smushed it into a little triangle shape with my fingers and added a bronze wire bail. The wire we had was, I thought, a somewhat small size for the bulkiness of the pieces we were making, so I made it into a double-loop to give this bail a bit more heft.

Oh, and both of these last two pieces shown here were made out of a three-metal combination: copper, bronze, and now also “pearl gray” steel.

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Inlay Projects with Hadar Jacobson

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/04

In Hadar’s recent workshop here in Pittsburgh, the first project we covered involved making an inlay of one metal (clay) into another one. We began by working with copper and bronze.

Long-time readers of this ‘blog may know that I have been quite happy working with Hadar’s various clays individually. I’d read about combining them (e.g., in her book, Mixed Metal Jewelry from Metal Clay) but, right around the time I started to think about actually trying that myself we started talking about bringing her here to teach it. Since I had enough other things to do and try and experiment with, I just figured I’d wait until I could learn how do do it right from the start.

(The decades-of-experience educator in me is always in conflict with the creative spirit in there too. The latter wants to charge ahead, just try things, and see what happens. The former knows that it’s much (much!) harder to unlearn bad habits than to learn how to do anything right from the start. For me, time is often the simplest mediator between those two. There’s just never enough time for everything. If I really want to try something now, well, I go ahead and do that. But, if I have a list full of things to try, and the definite opportunity to learn some of those from an expert not-too-much later on, then I’m fine with using that as one factor in how I order things on the list…)

So, back to the first day in Hadar’s workshop. Inlay. She mixed up some of my copper to use for her demo (on both doing the mixing and starting the inlay). Since I had that already mixed when I went to start, my first trials involved a copper base (conveniently left to dry while I then mixed up the next material for use) with bronze as the inlay.

As I mentioned last time, I made the first piece just as instructed: texture the copper (I used a metal “wheel” shape Hadar had brought); cut out the shape (I used a circle cutter I had brought); let that dry; inlay the bronze, add an “invisible” (from the front) bail to the back; let that all dry; sand it down smooth and patch as needed; then put it onto the tray of pieces to be fired.

As often occurs with this medium, while “waiting for something to happen” (e.g., some bit to dry), I started on a couple more pieces. For the second, I used the same “wheel” shape for my inlay-depression. But I marked the center so that, on the other side, I could position a “gear” shape for a reasonably well aligned (for first attempt, at least) inlay depression on the other side.

And, with just a little copper clay left mixed at that point, I also made one more base piece, an oval shape, also reversible, with different sorts of “branching” textures on each side (that I showed both last time and at the start of this post).

Had I been thinking, I’d’ve made at least one of the others an inlay of copper into bronze. But, first time around, I was just repeating, for practice, without thinking of much more than the one change that I most wanted to make: to produce reversible pieces.

Hadar walked past just as I was turning over the two-sided wheel-gear piece on my drying plate. She stopped, looked at it a moment, and stated, “So, you’re going to be one of those students who has to make the project more difficult.” Well, yes, of course! All those years I spent also teaching teachers about teaching have shown that I’m typical: teachers are often the most “challenging” students! I’m here to learn as much as I can! That’s only the first variant I want to try but, if I’m going to have questions about even just that, I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to ask them here!

The photos with this post show my first three inlay pieces, fully finished. But getting them to that point is enough of a story in itself, I’ll have to tell that in a separate post….

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Hadar Was Here!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/01

It’s time for me to admit the real reason why I’ve put so much effort lately into fiddling with various aspects of working with copper (and a bit with bronze too, though I didn’t take the time to write about that): I wanted to get my brain out of “silver-only” mode in preparation for a workshop with Hadar Jacobson.

I’ve been a fan of her work — in any metal she chooses — since I first discovered her, years ago now. I’d been working on plans for a trip back to the west coast (where I’ve lived, at several different times, in a different location each time) and had been trying to figure out how to work in a study-visit to her studio (in Berkeley, CA) when our local chapter of the PMC Guild (MetalClayWesternPA) started talking with the chapters in Columbus and Cleveland (Ohio) about sharing the costs of bringing her across the country to do a series of workshops here. I have been looking forward to this since last summer and, I’m delighted to say, she certainly lived up to expectations!

Both Columbus and Cleveland opted for two-day sessions, but our members voted to go for thee days and I am sure glad we did! There was just so much information to absorb, and try, and adapt, and think about, and experiment with, and compare notes on, and…..

There were a dozen of us, and four kilns. Each kiln had to be be tested (in a two-step firing process!) before we used it. Then, each piece had to go through a two-phase firing, each phase takes several hours, and everything has to cool down between phases. Oh, and each kiln had to be run on a different electrical circuit! We met in a community center (an old school building, one that’s been around for over a century -> at best one circuit per room) with lots of young children and elderly seniors wandering about. That meant we had to be careful where we located the kilns at different times of the day or night! And that involved moving them around, and being extra-careful with any loads we had to move after just one firing (when the binder has burned off, and each piece is very fragile). Which of course just added to the “adventure” of it all!

In a single firing with precious metal clays (silver and gold), you can tightly pack lots of pieces onto a kiln shelf, and cram several shelves at once into the kiln. With non-precious metals (copper, bronze, and steel), pieces are typically positioned in just a single layer per load, and you need to leave at least half an inch between everything, so you can fire only a very few pieces at one time.

We covered two major techniques (inlay and caning), with a number of variations on each of those. (My first one was done exactly as instructed–design on front and “hidden” bail on the back–and I am happy with it but, for all the rest I reverted to my normal mode of making life more complicated, as shown at the left, by having them fully reversible….) In those three days, I was able to complete half a dozen (6) good-size pieces. I did manage to get all six of them fired during the session, though I had to finish “finishing” four of them afterwards. On the last afternoon, I rushed to begin making ten more small pieces that will eventually be used to make five pairs of earrings. But they were merely started, and need a good bit of pre-finishing, then to be fired and, finally, lots of polishing. I chose to try just a couple specific techniques during the workshop, and to thus reinforce my learning by making several pieces each way, but I look forward to trying the rest on my own in the coming months.

Over the next week or two, I’ll try to write and illustrate a few posts about the workshop, and to show more of the pieces I made in it.

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Other times, just waiting isn’t the answer.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/30

Here are a couple more of the pieces I tried, hugging silver metal clay around large copper sheet washers. I get the construction part of the process (where the silver is the potentially tricky part) but I’m clearly still trying to figure out the best finishing methods (with the copper).

The piece on the left was treated much like the one in my previous post. I did let it sit in the pickle a few hours longer as I worked on other pieces. There was still some firescale to grind off before I torched it to produce a range of heat-reaction colors. (It did take a bit less grinding than with the piece in my last post.)

The piece on the right is shown basically straight from the kiln. The red color, on the side that faced down on the kiln shelf, is closer to what I had been expecting for most of these pieces. I liked that red and didn’t want to do anything that might affect it.

This second photo shows the “backs” of both those pieces. The one that’s red on the front, with the semi-circle of silver, had been very black on the back (also, as expected). This shot shows what it’s like after I’ve ground almost all of that off. (I didn’t quite finish the job because I had to get them off to a friend who’s photographing them for another purpose … more on that in a later post.)

The piece to the left shows what can happen on the back of one with the torch-activated patina. It has a range of colors too, but they are darker, and with a rougher texture to them: a somewhat different look from what’s on the “front” but very interesting in its own way.

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Sometimes, you just have to wait a while.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/29

Here’s another “silver hugs copper” piece.

In this case, once again, I started with a washer-shaped stamping from copper sheet, and added a pair of simple silver metal loops around it. I pressed those together lightly at their ends, but did not press the silver down onto the copper. I pressed a “pilot hole” in the moist clay end; once it had dried I then drilled that to size. Then I fired it as usual for silver clay.

When that was done, once again, I quickly opened the kiln door, lifted the kiln shelf with tongs, and dumped the results into a bowl of room temperature water. That cooled it quickly to handling temperature. I repeated the attempt to reheat and requench (described in my last post) but that still yielded nothing that would “peel” off.

After several more tries I finally took the just-quenched piece, and dumped it into a bowl of bubbling-hot pickle (acid). I left it there for several hours while I worked on other things. Other than, perhaps, how long I had to let it sit (because I was using the weaker citric acid pickle, not the old sulphuric acid (aka battery acid) pickle), that’s my understanding of one of the traditional metalsmith’s ways of handling just-heated copper.

I could have left it to pickle for an even longer time. (I don’t have a photo of how this piece looked at that point….) The ugly black coating was somewhat thinner, but still evident.

So I took it over to my bench (in this case, a card table repurposed for use as a bench…) got out my Dremel tool, and started trying to “grind” off what remained. I got most of it off, except for a bit that was up right next to the silver bands. I didn’t have a good attachment for getting in really close without grinding off some of the silver. (I had one, but had recently chipped it doing something else silly, and have yet to replace that.) But, at last, I was seeing most of the copper.

What did I do at that point? I reheated it! Huh? Direct heating of “fresh” copper can do some nicely interesting things. So I got out my torch again, put a quench bowl right next to my firebrick, laid the piece on that, and fired away just until it started to glow. Keeping the heat on it as best I could–as with my earlier attempts at torching it, this takes a bit of simultaneous ambidexterity–with my other hand holding a pair of tough old pliers, I swept it off the brick into the bowl. This time, at least, it did what I was expecting: colors!

Although the exact results are always unpredictable. That is, I can’t guarantee, oh, “I want a bit of red here, green there, and blue over in that spot.” But you can say, oh, “I hope I get a nice assortment of colors,” and have a reasonable hope of getting that. They’ll be brighter on the side that felt the direct fire than they will be on the underside, but that’s just fine.

I liked how the colors of this piece turned out, at last, so I added a pair of bronze jump rings. The piece will eventually tell me what it wants to be hung from and with (probably while I’m working on something else with components that remind me of this one).

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While waiting for something to happen…

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/28

Having finished, for the moment at least, my tales of my trials with Art Clay Copper, I figured I’d me mention something else I’ve been exploring at the same time.

One of the things about working with metal clay that really can suck you into it is this: There are a lot of times when you’re sitting there for a little while, waiting for something to happen (a component or a connection to dry out, some clay to rehydrate, some pieces to fire or tumble or react to a patina solution, whatever). It’s often not a really long time, but in some situations it is long enough that it’d be a shame to waste the time doing nothing. And, with all your metal clay and tools and everything sitting around, what better than to start work on a new piece?

So, while I was playing with copper clay, I was also playing with using copper sheet combined with silver clay. (I may eventually use both copper clay and silver clay to produce a single piece, but figured I’d reduce a few variables by first trying the regular sheet form of copper with silver clay.)

In the past, when I’ve mixed metal clay and copper sheet, I’ve combined them–after firing the clay to just metal–with any of a number of cold connection techniques. This time, however, I fired the silver clay right around the copper component. I started with some solid copper sheet that had been stamped out into a large “washer” size. I formed a bit of silver clay around it, and fired the two together. Now, the silver clay shrinks as it fires, which I think of as having the silver “hug” the copper.

This piece was fired at the optimum silver clay temperature of 1650. (Depending on the brand, copper clays may be fired somewhere between 1500 and 1800°F; the melting point of pure copper is 1984° F.) That 1650 temperature is, of course, well hot enough for various copper oxides to form on the copper.

As soon as this piece had fired, while it was still hot, I removed it quickly from the kiln (watching its red glow darken to black in the seconds it took me to move it) and quenched it in lukewarm water. A bit of firescale popped off from around the edge of the piece, but most of it remained on the two larger copper faces.

In one of her books, Hadar Jacobson mentioned that you could take a piece from the kiln, reheat it to a red glow, requench it, and the black should “peel of easily.” Now it wasn’t clear to me why I should have to reheat it if I’d done a quick-quench the first time, but I gave it a try. A little more black popped off from around the edge, but there was no peeling possible (let alone easily!) of the stuff on either face of this copper washer.

So I tried something else, suggested as one other alternative by Mary Hettsmansperger: brushing a just-cooled piece with a brass brush! That produces the interesting effect of turning the black coating to a sort of brassy-green color. It seems like that is stuck on: it still won’t come off at all easily. It does, however, tend to chip a bit at the edge, producing small brassy-black chips. I’ll have to wear it around a bit to test if that will eventually stop, or become more pronounced, or what. I’ll report my findings back here … eventually.

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #10 of … 10!)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/23

As I’ve said, I’m getting a bit tired of writing about this little group of pieces, and I expect you’re getting tired of reading about them. So this is the last post I intend to write about them (unless something really surprising should happen to turn up later on).

But I need to end the story somehow, so I will finish up with a couple of snapshots as I’ve gotten around to doing more finishing of them.

I finally broke out the radial bristle disks from 3M, put a small stack on a mandrel, and fired up the Dremel tool with that. It removed more of the black crud than had any other tool … though still not all of it from all the pieces. That’s really where I would have started with my clean-up attempts, except I don’t remember anything else I’ve read about using the Art Clay Copper having mentioned that, so I was just doing what others recommended…. Next time (which may be a long while for this product…), I’ll start with these and see how that turns out.

I started with the yellow (80 grit) and worked my way through 120 and 220, ending up at 400 on these pieces. Then I did some hand-polishing, with micron-graded polishing papers. (Not so much because I thought going to finer-grit disks couldn’t do it, but because I was still trying to get a “feel” for how these clays end up.) On the little fish, I finished up a silicone polishing wheel instead, which seemed to turn out just as well.

Finally, on a few of them I added a bit of patina, and polished up the high points. I’m not sure how long the color will hold, or darken further or wear off, or change and turn green (“verdigris”), but I’ll just have to wait and see. And then decide whether to apply patina to more of them.

For now, however, I’m moving on. More on several new projects in the next few days.

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #9 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/20

[All images in this post are composites that show both sides of the same pieces. One side of each set is to the left; the other, to the right. Clicking on any image should open a new window where you can see a larger version of it if you want.]

Four more hours in simmering pickle, and over an hour of concentrated dental-picking later, and they’re still not done!!! In addition to some remaining firescale, they still all need to be hand-polished and such. I will admit it: I am getting kinda tired of these 15 little copper pieces.

If one reason to use copper (aside from its lovely color, of course) is to help keep down the price of my work as silver prices soar, working with this copper this way isn’t looking promising. Yes, the raw material costs less, but the difference is eaten up by the hours (of my time) that will be required after firing. Yes, I can do other productive work while pieces just sit in the pickle. Yes, I’m still learning at this point, so I’ll likely find ways to speed up with trial and practice. But right now, what I have invested in these is far more than what I could ever sell them for had they been silver. And copper sells for less. I can picture getting the copper-work down to the same cost, to me, as it’d’ve been had I worked in silver. I’m having trouble picturing how to get the cost (materials + time) to come in at less. (And, yes, Art Clay Copper can also be fired in activated carbon, like the other copper clays, which should eliminate some of the firescale problems … but the point of trying it was to see if I could avoid the various other issues in using that technique.)

The two fish — the pieces that caused the whole episode of having to start a second packet of clay during the construction phase — have cleaned up nicely. The fan still needs some clean-up on the front, and the ginkgo needs a little on the back. But these four are in pretty good shape. The end of the work on them seems to be in sight.

The pair of matching wedding-love medallions don’t match. In my last post I noted the huge air-induced bubble on the one at the top. It’s a kind of nice effect; my only disappointment with it is that the other one didn’t react the same way! Both heart-sides cleaned up well, but dental picking was key there. (The top one was also polished with a Dremel tool. That didn’t help with the firescale, at least not via the attachments I tried, but it’s why that one looks a bit shinier than any of the others for now.) The bells still need a bit of work. Note that the bell that’s on the convex side of the bubble dome cleaned up a bit better than did the one that’s still flat. (Yet another reason I wish both had bubbled!)

The other pair of disks show something similar. They each have the same intricate texture on one side, and the one that’s on the convex side of the domed piece cleaned up well. The other one, on a flat piece, is going to require a good bit more cleaning: whether that means going back in the pickle or being attacked with more hand tools has not yet been decided!

Of the next five, the little leaf-shapes are in the best shape. The other three all still have a lot of firescale, on one side or the other. On the paisley shape, the most black is on the side that was facing up on the firing shelf, so that makes some sense to me. I’m sorry to see, however, that the patch I had made to the little ding the piece suffered while drying is one of the bits that popped off. (Please, can we just have the firescale pop off? What’s this with losing other bits as well!) On the butterfly, the most black remains on the side that was fired down, which is not how it’s supposed to work. Same thing on the long oblong shape: the blackest side was fired face-down. I can almost understand it for that piece: the face that was down was not really flat, so some oxygenated air could have slipped underneath. But it also disappoints because in the “popping off” action, a small area near the top (right edge, just under the smooth area at the top of the textured section) now has a small hole in it.

But the biggest disappointment is this last little pair. Even after almost seven hours in hot pickle, the black just will not come off them. And they totally defy the theory of less firescale on the face-down side, because the dense black — up in the indentations on the side that doesn’t have the little “snake” — is on the side that was facing the kiln shelf. I tried picking at them, just to see if it’d work, and it did not. These were meant to be used in an inexpensive little pair of earrings, and it is not worth my time to pick at them any more. They’re going to sit in the pickle until they clear themselves up, or they just disintegrate in the acid.

But I’m too tired to think about them any more right now. Polishing remans .. both to be done, and to be reported on.

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #8 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/18

A few posts back, I mentioned that I had my doubts about how well any of these pieces with components I’d squidged together would hold. Well, yes, there were some issues.

1. Edges that had looked perfectly smooth in the clay state now show gaps between two pieces that had been squidged together. While this can be an issue in any clay if you don’t properly finish the edges, with this product, even seams that had looked and felt well-groomed still reverted to showing their two-part construction.

To illustrate this point, here are four of the five pieces I made in Art Clay Copper using this technique, and three others that I made the same way with some form of silver clay (PMC+, PMC3 and Art Clay 650) that I just happened to have handy. (I don’t have any samples that used other brands of copper nearby to photograph.)

2. While the “snake” I formed to add to this piece seems to be holding well, it surprised me earlier by shifting a little bit as it dried. Originally, there’d been a big circle at the tip of this paisley shape. But, while drilling a hole in that from which I’d planned to hang the piece, I broke it off. Smoothing out the point, I decided to try this approach. I squidged the (still moist) snake into place, taking care to make sure it extended exactly over the pointed tip. When I came back the next day, after I’d left it to dry, apparently the shrinking clay had caused it to shift off that point a bit. (You can see how much it shifted by seeing how far off the point it is as the top of this photo. Had it been fully secured, there’s no way that could have happened. Other problems might have arisen instead, just not that…) By the time I saw this, it was too late to move it at all, but I wanted to make sure it was really secure. I re-moistened it, pressed it back down, and held it for far longer than I would normally do. At last, that did seem to hold. (This photo shows the piece fired, quenched, pickled, and dental-picked. Many of the little dots are still full of firescale…)

3. But my biggest surprise was the big expanded air bubble in this one. It clearly shows that some air had been trapped between the two layers, something I’ve never had happen when I used a similar technique on other clays. It is a somewhat interesting, if unintended effect. The only problem is, I’d made a “pair” of these, and only this one gained the bubble. The other one is shown, on edge, in the first photo above: both it and this show separation cracks around their edges.

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #7 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/17

I keep talking about the “stuff that popped off’ (or didn’t pop off as I’d been led to expect…) when I quenched my fired pieces of Art Clay Copper. It struck me that, if you haven’t seen this, you might not know quite what I mean.

The photo with this post shows what was left in my bucket once I poured off the water after firing my first two trays of this product. It doesn’t include what fell of either in the pickle pot or as I was cleaning up pieces that had been pickled, nor does it include what I managed to scrape off with a dental pick. Those actions, however, generated far less fall-out than did the initial quenching.

To give you a sense of scale: In all, I fired about 90 grams of clay. The copper oxides in that little plastic cup are somewhere between 2 and 3 tablespoons in volume. Admittedly, there’s a good bit of air in between all the little chunks but, still, it looks like a lot of “lost” copper to me…

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #6 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/16

OK, it’s time to return to my saga of trying the copper clay from Art Clay (Aida Chemical Industries).

While I was contemplating what to do with the six little pieces from my first firing, I put the second load into the pickle pot. And this is what they looked like after, oh, well more than one hour but a bit less than two.

I did fiddle with them a bit more before I thought to take this photo. I gave them a good rinse, of course. I then sat there for a long while, with a dental pick, chipping away at the remaining firescale. You can sort of tell where I had some success. The pickle-finish areas are pale, while the pick-cleared are a slightly darker, redder color.

The pick worked better along lines than it did in indentations that were more round. Thus, though I’ll still need to clean up those areas (with more pickling? or what else?), you may note the clearer areas (whether light or reddish) in the hearts (upper left), wedding bells (upper right) and the single flower (right side, second from the top). The little black dots in the wedding bells and both the paisley-shape (left side, third from the top) and the fish (bottom right) would not budge; neither would the random shapes in the deeply-patterned textures (left side, second from the top and center, second from the top),

I was too tired, by that point, to even contemplate dental-picking the butterfly at the bottom. But this part of the exercise did confirm for me that I didn’t make an error in career-choice. I would not have been happy, as a dental hygenist, doing this all day. I’ve always admired people who did choose that, and this little episode sure has confirmed that feeling!

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #5 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/11

All my pieces have been fired and … sigh … it’s time to talk about firescale!

The first photo here shows the items in my second firing: taken from the kiln, quenched, removed from the quench bowl, and then knocked on the table a bit to see if any more firescale would fall off. Some did, but a lot remains. The darker-red colors in some of the pieces is what most of them looked like at that point. I tried using a steel brush on a few to see if it would remove any more firescale. Though that polished some of the darker red down to a lighter and slightly brighter copper color, it seemed to have no effect on the black bits. I was worried I might be burnishing them into the pieces, so I didn’t do much of that.

The six small pieces, from my first firing, were treated the same way, except I didn’t use the steel brush on them. Here, I did what was on the instructions, and moved them straight from the quench bowl into my pickle pot.

Now the instructions say they may need to be pickled for a few minutes. How many? Well, in part, that will depend on what sort of acid you use, and mine isn’t one of the strongest ones. I use, instead, one that’s based on citric acid: it’s still pretty harsh as far as acids go, but it doesn’t have as many nasty side-effects to people or the environment in general as some of the others. I know that, using it, I have to leave pieces in a bit longer than with, say, a sulphuric acid one. But, ummm, this is what the pieces looked like after two whole hours in the pickle, and then a good rinsing. You can see that some of the firescale is still flaking off, but there’s still plenty left…

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #4 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/10

In this post, I’ll say a bit about firing Art Clay Copper. It’s a different process than any of the other metal clays.

With silver clays, you arrange your pieces on a shelf and put that into the kiln. Then you turn the kiln on and, if it has a digital controller, you program that to reach a certain temperature and hold that for a specific length of time. When it’s done, you wait for things to cool down a bit (easier on the kiln itself, and safer for you as the operator), and then remove your pieces. Folks often just set their kilns to fire over night, figuring they can wake up to pieces that have been fired and cooled. If you want to take them out hot, however, you can either quench them in a bowl of room-temperature water or just let them air-cool on the shelf for a while before you touch them. (Other factors may be involved, such as whether they include glass or stones, but that’s the general process.)

With other copper-based clays, you fill a firing vessel with a layer of activated carbon, arrange your pieces on that, cover them with more carbon, and then (depending on which product you are using) may or may not put a lid on the vessel. Then you put that into a cold kiln, and proceed as with silver. For some such clays, a two-stage firing process is used; there are other variations involving whether you let them cool in the kiln or use a slotted tool to scoop them out of the hot carbon.

But the process for Art Clay Copper is different. Pieces made of this clay can be fired on an open shelf (just like silver and gold are). It is recommended that you put something on the shelf to help prevent the pieces from sticking to it: fiber paper or fiber blanket are two such possible aids to releasing the fired pieces. Once they’re all ready, you set them aside, and fire up the kiln. Your kiln should be empty, except for a few small posts that will, eventually, hold your shelf. You get it up to 1,778 degrees Fahrenheit first. Then you open the door (wearing appropriate safety gear), quickly insert the shelf with your pieces on it, and close the door again right away. You let it fire, like that, for 30 minutes.

This photo shows my kiln after two such firings. The yellowish discoloration along the top of the door is the result of previous firings. The dark brown streak up the left (hinged) side is new, from these copper firings!

And after firing, however, Art Clay Copper requires several additional steps. Before the firing time is up, you must prepare a bucket or large bowl of water and place it as close as you reasonably can to your kiln. Then, as soon as the firing is done and with the kiln still up at full temperature, you open the door, reach in with an appropriate tool (I used tongs) and grab the shelf. Moving as quickly as possible, you dump the pieces into the water to quench them. (Once again, dealing with pieces that have inclusions such as glass or stones complicates the matter more than I will address right now.)

Realize that, when you open the kiln door, the interior is all aglow. You can see the kiln elements and your pieces all bright from the heat. (You should, at this point, be wearing safely glasses with filters that will protect your eyes from the infrared glow, as well as gloves and clothing that will resist the heat!) But as soon as air from the room starts to rush into the kiln, the hot copper starts to form firescale oxides. It takes just a fraction of a second. So you have to act quickly, to minimize the amount of firescale that appears. And dumping the pieces into the quench bowl causes a lot of that black crud to just pop off into the water.

If it doesn’t all pop off, the instructions say that you can place the pieces in what is known as pickle, which is a metalsmith’s term for a hot acid bath. That should remove the rest. The word “should” in that sentence should give you a clue that there’s more to this story. That will appear in my next post.

For now, however, I’ll end with a shot of the two kiln shelves I used, showing what they looked like after being uses for this purpose.

On the one with the broken corner (it arrived broken, so that’s not a result of this process), you can see the residue from where the pieces did stick a bit, despite my having used some release paper. On both it and the other one (which I used for the first firing, with pieces aligned just along its left side as it’s placed here), you can see some remnants of that paper too. I’d not read nor heard any comments about that from others, so while I knew it was a possibility, it’s not really something I was expecting. I won’t be using these, or at least these sides, for subsequently firing silver pieces….

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #3 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/09

In my third installment of this tale of Art Clay Copper, I begin with a snapshot of the second tray of pieces almost ready to fire. (I’ll turn the fish so both are design-down, but I thought I’d show you the front of one for now.) As with the first shelf, it contains a mix of pieces I made over two days of working with the product. Before I talk about firing them both, I want to write a few notes about what this clay is like to work with.

In my first post from this series, I noted that my favorite for handling is Hadar’s Copper Clay (which comes in powder form). It has the most incredible silky-smooth texture when you work with it. The Art Clay Copper, straight from the pack, is a metal clay that feels much more like real clay (the kind potters use and gardeners hope to avoid). Once you’ve added lots of extra water to it (much more than with the silver clays), kneaded all that in, and let it rest a bit so the water can fully work its way into the binder, it gets to be much smoother. I never got either of the packs I tried to the super-soft feel that comes quickly with Hadar’s powder. (That’s just a comparison, not meant as criticism.)

But it was another of this clay’s handling characteristics that really surprised me. One of the techniques I use quite frequently with other metal clays (silver, bronze, and other brands of copper) involves making several components of a piece, letting them dry, then re-moistening the surface where they’ll connect to each other, waiting a bit for the water to soak in and, perhaps, adding more water if some areas dry out again faster than others, then putting the two pieces together with a motion that is often referred to as squidging.

Some people make attachments another way. They will thin down a bit of clay into a thick paste form, spread that all over one piece, then moisten the second one and push it into the paste. I’m not as crazy about that one, mostly because it leaves you with some paste oozing out around the joint that you then have to clean up. In most cases, the best way to do that is to let the paste dry and it will chip off more easily than will any parts of the original clay components. But it’s still messier, and the chipping is still riskier, than what you get through the squidge-process; and I’ve seen no prior evidence that the paste-seam is any stronger than one that has been squidged.

Though I’ve no clue why this is the case, I found Art Clay Copper very difficult to squidge! Most of the people I know (or know of) who’ve preceded me in trying this product are paste-users, not squidgers, and they have reported that it takes a lot of paste to attach pieces. (Like the comments about additional water needed while kneading the clay initially, however, further details were not readily available.) I guess that could have been a clue that squidging would be a challenge, but that hadn’t dawned on me until I tried it.

Squidging involves moving the two pieces you want to attach, gently and slightly but repeatedly, against each other. At first, they slip past each other very easily. You are creating a tiny bit of paste with the water and the motion; you don’t want to move the pieces very much, however, because you don’t want to alter the texture around the edges of either piece. After a few seconds, they stop slipping as readily. You feel them grab onto each other. At that point, you make sure they are aligned correctly, stop moving them, and apply a bit of gentle pressure for a few moments more. And they’re attached!

Well, that’s how it works with other clays. With the Art Clay Copper, I never got that moment of feeling them grab. I’d get the moment just before that one, as the slipping slowed, but not the definite grab. It took a good bit of pressure to get the pieces to feel like they were holding onto each other securely. I had the same reaction every time I tried this. (In the photo, above, that means with: the “matched pair” of big disks at the top, the ball on the piece at the upper right, and on the underside of the domed piece in the middle to the right. I also did that with the partial-layer on the two leaf-shapes, and the disk on the back of the ginkgo that are on yesterday’s photo.)

With other clays, all it takes is a bit of smoothing with a moist fingertip (or, in tighter spaces, with a moist rubber-tipped tool) to clean up the seam. With this product, it took a lot more effort at that point, and even required additional sanding (which I’ll do, when necessary, but really prefer to avoid as much as possible) to get a neat-looking seam. Even with all that, I set up both shelves ready to fire with only moderate confidence that everything will hold together well. Time will tell, I guess.

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #2 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/08

In my last post, I mentioned digging into a second packet of Art Clay copper. That was unplanned! What I’d expected was to come back the next day, do a bit of fine-finishing on the pieces that would now be fully dry, and try firing that first group of pieces.

What happened, instead, was that when I came back, I found that the bails on the back of the two fish had cracked and broken apart! I made the bail-pieces early the first day and set those aside to dry. Then I made the rest of the pieces, ending with the fish. I did it in that order because the fish were formed in a little push-mold, and I figured I’d just keep making other pieces until what I had left was around the right amount to use for those: it’s just easier to push the last bit of clay into a mold to finish it all off than it is to roll it out into some reasonable shape.

(This image is an excerpt from yesterday’s snapshot, showing how they looked shortly before I left the studio.) I’d never before used those fish molds for metal clay. They are bigger (both longer and deeper), and thus require more clay, than what I typically make with silver. I had used a few others around that size in other copper and bronze experiments, and they’d turned out fine. I often push a dried half-washer of clay (any variety) into moist clay for either decorative or practical (e.g., hanging) purposes, and it’s always been a simple yet effective technique.

I didn’t think to take a photo of these in their broken-apart state, but here’s my theory on what happened. I have pushed semi-rings into clay as deep (even deeper) than this before, or into a shallow spot with as much clay surrounding it on all sides, but never both at the same time. As all the surrounding clay dried and started shrinking, could the force of that have caused the semi-ring bands to crack? In fact, on one of them, it did more than just crack open. There was further shrinking after the crack that caused the two pieces to offset a bit and slip past each other. (Made me think of certain kinds of earthquake…)

Since I’d used up my entire first pack of Art Clay Copper in making these, I had none left for making any sort of repair! I had bought a second pack (the smallest size available is 50 grams!) thinking I’d learn from any problems in my first round and then have another go at it later on. Since I had to open that one just to repair the fish bails, however, I decided to keep going. I don’t yet know how long this stuff will keep once it’s been opened. I do know it’s definitely for far less a time than one can leave an opened pack of silver clay, because the copper starts to oxidize from exposure to the air. So I used up the majority of pack #2, but this time I did set aside a small ball just in case I later found I needed to make yet more repairs!

I ended up with a few more pieces than I could comfortably fit onto a kiln shelf and fire all at once. (I might have just fit them all, but this stuff requires handling while it’s all quite hot, which I’ll discuss in another post, and I wanted to be sure to leave enough room to get a good grip on the shelf with my tongs….) So I selected out a few small pieces to fire the first time around. I include a snapshot of those.

The little “fan” and “ginkgo” shapes are from the first day’s batch; they’re face down since that’s the recommended firing position for one-sided pieces. (The ginkgo is a shape I have used with those semi-ring bails pushed into the step. Since I was trying to end day #1 with nothing left over, however, and I’d only made one of these, I didn’t do that this time. In retrospect, I wish I had, to compare with the fish. Oh well, I can test that another time.)

The two “pairs” towards the right are reversible; they are set to fire with their “flatter” side down. The theory is that the bottom side, in contact with the shelf, will develop less firescale. While I think of the side you see on these pairs as more likely to be the front, the other side is also nicely textured, though flatter. I figured it would maintain better contact with the shelf, so it faces down. I’ll just have to see what happens. Stay tuned for that report…

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Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #1 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/07

Over the last year or so, I’ve tried several of the copper clays that have become available.

To date, Hadar’s Copper Clay has had my favorite handling characteristics. Most of the others come as a moist clay product, but Hadar’s is a powder that you mix with water to form the clay. It takes several minutes to mix up, but it’s easy to do. You mix just the amount you need and, once you get the knack of estimating quantities, you don’t have to worry about storing the remains of a partially-used package.

The thing I absolutely love about Hadar’s copper clay is how it handles: it has a wonderful, soft, smooth, silky feel. It’s easy to texture, roll, drape, fold, and otherwise manipulate. It works fine at a range of thicknesses.

I have had some problems with firing it, however, which is my main reason for exploring other possibilities. Like most copper-based clays, Hadar’s has to be fired in activated carbon (to produce an oxygen-reduced atmosphere that prevents the surface turning black from copper oxides known as firescale). While firing all metal clays involves a fine balancing act with time and temperature, so they sinter properly into “solid” metal without melting, it’s much trickier when (a) the stuff is buried in some sort of carbon and (b) the carbon needs to be contained in some sort of firing vessel. Why? Because both of those affect the temperature that reaches the pieces you are firing. And, to complicate things further, the various types of carbon and of firing vessel affect that in different ways.

This week, at last, I found some time to try the copper product from Art Clay (i.e., Aida Chemical Industries Co. Ltd.), so I’ll document my learning process here. I wish I’d posted more detailed notes on my earlier trials. This time, I plan to do a series of posts — I’m not sure how many it may take, thus the “?” in the title of this post — but I’ll just keep going until I’ve covered a range of items.

I’ll start with opening the package and preparing to work: I’d heard people comment that it took a lot of effort, kneading and rehydrating, to get this clay to a workable state. They were not kidding! I hadn’t understood why so many people had remarked that they’d had to add a lot more water than they expected. I’d thought, “Adding water to rehydrate clay is a common activity, what’s the big deal?” Well, let me tell you, it takes so much more, it’s easy to just lose track of how much you’ve added! I’m pretty sure that one package took a good six times more spritzes than I’d ever expect to add to other “fresh” clays. And another packet took more still; I think it was close to ten times as much, but that’s the one where I lost count.

But I’m getting ahead of myself by mentioning that second packet. Though I had several, my plan had been to just experiment with one; I’ll explain that later. I will say that, comparing the mixing of Hadar’s powder to the conditioning of this form, I don’t think I saved any time or effort there.

I did have a good laugh, trying to condition the clay. I thought of my friend, Barbara, who kept telling me I had to try this product because I was going to love it. Love, love, love it! And there I was, struggling to get it ready to work with, and it hit me: Barbara has worked for years with polymer clay. Of course she thinks nothing of all the effort it takes to condition this clay! I told her that, and she got a good laugh too!

For now, I’ll just include that snapshot of the pieces I made from my first pack of Art Clay copper, as they dry. The top three are fully reversible. The four smaller pieces, along the bottom, each do have a clear front and back.

I’ll try to post more of this tale each day or two until it’s done. I hope you’ll stay tuned!

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Reworking, and rethinking.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/02/07

Several years ago, I made a fine silver piece that I intended to use with a copper disk that I had enameled. Individually, I thought they were fine, if just a bit plain, but when I put them together, I just didn’t like how they looked in combination.

So I set them both aside, figuring that one day a reasonable alternative would come to me.

Well, the lovely enamel disk is still sitting there, waiting to inspire some other components. But the silver piece has undergone a gradual evolution.

First, it acquired a fine silver bezel cup, and then a small stone. Better, but not quite enough.

A bit of silver wire was added to it; while that didn’t conflict with the rest of the piece, it didn’t seem to add enough to justify what it would add to the cost to keep wrapping more. I left what I had there, because an idea was forming…

Late last week, while waiting for some earring components to finish up in the tumbler, I picked up some pieces of copper and bronze wire and added those. At last, the pendant had the impact I’d been seeking!

While the other side is fully finished, the overall piece is unusual for me because it isn’t truly reversible. Although my to-do list is already overflowing, I probably should include more wire wrapping, in both design and practice, until I figure out how to both create and execute more reversible designs. Except … that’s one of the things I just love about metal clay: making reversible pieces with it is easier than with just about any other medium I’ve ever tried! And I love that two-for-one feeling of accomplishment.

For now, however, I am much happier with how this particular piece has ended up. My original plan of backing it with an enamel disk would have made it more of a front-and-back pendant as well, and this iteration simply allows it to remain that way! As my friend Alice says, sometimes you just have to let the piece tell you what it wants to be.

It has 2″ of fine silver wire (22 gauge), 6″ of copper (20 gauge), and 10″ of bronze wire (24 gauge) wrapped around its 6 mm green aventurine cabochon and a fine silver rod that crosses the disk.

Now, all it needs is a good home. Let me know if you’d like to give it one!

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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.)

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