Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘fine silver’

Let’s Be Thankful with the Cranberry Artists Network in 2015

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/10/07

Cranberry Twp Billboard announcing the Let's Be Thankful show.It’s time for another show sponsored by the Cranberry Artists Network, and I’m very thankful to report that I’ve had two pieces accepted!

The theme of this show is Let’s be Thankful, and I’m displaying my pieces along with the thankful / gratitude quotations that inspired me as I was making them. I chose to use silver this time, because I wanted its preciousness to help represent the value of thankfulness. Having done that, however, I deliberately tried to keep them fairly simple, with just a few special embellishments, to keep the prices as manageable as I could. Much as I love making more elaborate pieces, I really do want to offer items that are reasonably affordable.

Joyful Gratitude is in a domed triangle shape. It contains a carnelian on its concave side, said to represent joyfulness, as one form of the depth and range of feelings associated with gratitude. Its convex side exhibits the heart where such gratitude is felt, and held. It is offered on a sterling silver chain cut and attached to gratefully “hug” the top of the triangle.

The slightly heftier Grateful Gardeners is a highly textured oval piece. Like much of my work, this piece is reversible. In this case, however, there is one side that feels like the front to me: it exhibits yet another heart-shaped texture accented by a nephrite jade, a stone of the heart signifying friendship, and also considered to be a water-stone and thus appropriate for a garden-theme. The side I think of as the back (though it could well be worn to the front!) contains a sort of secret garden of textured embellishments: a heart, a leaf, a flower, and a butterfly.

The opening reception will be tonight, from 6 to 8 pm. If you can’t get over to that, I hope my local-folks can get over at some point during the show. It runs through November 2 in the Cranberry Township Municipal Center on Rochester Road.

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Arts on the Riverwalk 2015

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/07/18

I’m late in announcing this one, but I’ve got two pieces (a “pillow” pendant and a multi-part “spools and lentils” necklace) in another show up at the Confluence Cafe in New Castle, PA. The show opened back during the Arts on the Riverwalk weekend, July 10, but it will stay up for a while, through September 10, so interested folks around here still have plenty of time to check it out.

New Castle is sort of at the limit of what I think of as my “local” area (and, I’m just at the edge of the region the Hoyt Center for the Arts there considers a “local” artist, so at least we match there!). I wish I lived a bit closer, because The Confluence Cafe is just a nice little space! How can you not love a place that uses their chalkboard, not for menu specials, but instead for thoughts like those in the first photo shown here!?

I’ve got a ton of other things going on right now, so the rest of this post will just contain a few of the better photos I managed to capture of the pieces on display. That is, these are the shots that I thought turned out OK; I was talking with friends as I snapped away, and didn’t realize until I got back and started to post that I’d changed an option on my camera and messed up some of the photos, including the ones of my entries! Clearly, I’m not quite as familiar with that new toy as I’d thought. Oh well, these 16 pieces are less than a third of the 51 total entries, but they’ll give you an idea of how strong the show was. (As usual, clicking should open a new page with a larger version of each image.)

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More Fun at Three Rivers, or Ivy Woodrose is simply charming!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/06/07

I have loved jewelry for ages. Not mass-produced jewelry, but special kinds of pieces ranging from unique antiques to modern artisanal pieces. Talking with colleagues as we staffed the Arsmiths of Pittsburgh booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival yesterday, I noted that it’s an interest I shared with my mother. Kate said that, in contrast, she and her mother did not share that at all. Now, it’s not that my mother and I liked the same pieces: our tastes were not mere miles apart, the scale was more like galaxies. But we did both relish finding unusual pieces, and we could pretty reliably spot something that the other would just love. This was in complete contrast to clothes: we could rarely buy clothes for the other that the recipient could even tolerate. But we had great success with jewelry exchanges! And then there were further delights when, shopping for the other, we’d also find treats for ourselves….

In the 1990s, I started experimenting with making some jewelry. My earliest attempts were simple beaded creations of various sorts. I also dabbled a bit in glass-work and polymers and wood and more, but never felt the urge to go full-scale on any of those. Long before that I’d also dabbled in traditional metalsmithing and pottery: those were both far more interesting to me than later media but still had not completely grabbed me. I first heard about metal clays while I was in my beading heyday but for various reasons (including but not limited to a more-than-full-time academic post) I just wasn’t able to pursue it at all at that time. A few years later, enough had changed in my life that I could try to pursue it. I started out slowly but, eventually, I decided to kick it up a notch, moving things off the tray-table in my guest bedroom and into a full-scale studio. By then, my mother was gone and, in fact, I used a fair portion of my “inheritance” from her to set all that up. I figured, if it didn’t work, at least I’d know that I’d tried but, if it did work out, I’d have her (and my dad) to thank for it.

The thing is that now, since both my mother is gone and I’ve started seriously making more jewelry, I’ve pretty much stopped buying it for myself…. Clearly, I can wear anything I’ve made whenever I want (until I sell it), but an even bigger part of it is that I do have a fair amount already, not a whole lot, but enough that I certainly don’t need any more. I still enjoy looking at it, and I believe in helping support other artists, so I do still buy pieces now that I can give as gifts. I’ve continued to buy non-jewelry art for myself and I’ve exchanged pieces with other jewelry artists. I also make a point of taking several of my art- and jewelry-loving friends to shows where I know there will be art jewelers whose work I think they’ll like, and encourage their purchases. But I’ve bought very little jewelry for myself.

But more than zero. And today was one of those “exception” days: I bought a pendant from Ivy Woodrose (aka Ivy Solomon)! I’ve admired her work for years!! I never imagined meeting her in person but there she was, two booths up from the Artsmiths this weekend! I asked if she’d been there before and I’d somehow missed her but no, this really was her first time at Three Rivers. I went up yesterday and gushed and drooled and embarrassed her with my admiration, then went back today with some cash and, after a very lengthy and delightful discussion about techniques and products and sources with this absolutely charming artist (and her congenial husband), I actually bought a piece!

It was a difficult decision, balancing what I wanted against what I felt I could afford. The one I chose has fewer different colors than I first thought I’d pick, but I couldn’t find one with lots of colors that fit both my budget and my personal style. (One or the other, but not both…) I spent a long time debating between this and another “floral” one. That one had more, smaller flowers and thus could fit more pinks and reds and several greens (and far, far less yellow!) than this one. I listened to her talk with other customers about how she’d be happy to listen to the colors the person wanted and the budget she had, and could send her pictures of other pieces that either she had or could (re-)make to suit the person’s taste. But, having decided to get a piece, I just did not want to wait. So here’s the one I picked, and I’m thrilled to have it:

In person, the colors in this one are far brighter, more vibrant, than I was able to capture in this photo. (Sorry, Ivy!) But the image in this one is what captured my heart: the sun / sunflower at the water’s edge (which way is the viewer facing?!), with a hint of sunlight on the water and oddly-geometric constellations / clouds in the sky beyond. Though living in Pittsburgh now, I’ve spent a good third of my life so far on one coast or another, and much of the rest along lakes or streams, loving the water and sunsets (and sunrises too, though I’m less often up for those…) and gardening too. The appeal of the image in this piece, in particular, for me is the way I feel it reflects the following quote, one of my favorites from Douglas Adams (in Mostly Harmless):

“We all like to congregate … at boundary conditions …
Where land meets water. Where earth meets air.
Where body meets mind. Where space meets time.
We like to be on one side and look at the other.”

In the end, the one big problem I’ll have with this piece is that, instead of wearing it, I’ll want to be on the other side so I can look at it myself. But I’ll find a way to manage…

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Another June Event: The 2015 Three Rivers Arts Festival begins at Noon Today!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/06/05

The 2015 Three Rivers Arts Festival opens today (June 5) and runs through Sunday a week later (June 14).

The Artists Market will be open each and every day from 12 Noon to 8 pm each day.

Due to a change in the market this year, a few “Gallery Booths” will still be there, but in a different location from recent years and only on the weekends. My work will once again be carried in the Koolkat Designs booth … except Koolkat closed last month and is about to be reincarnated at The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh next month. So the booth will have a black-on-white banner saying The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh (a bigger version of what’s in the opposite colors on the bottom of the map shown here) with another little banner underneath that identifying it as formerly Koolkst Designs. The little arrow on that little map (which shows only the Gateway Center portion of the market) does point to the location but, if you’re trying to find it, probably the best thing is to know that it’ll be a double-space booth in positions #133-134, on Penn Avenue down at the end closest to the Point, on these dates:

  • Saturday & Sunday, June 6-7
  • Saturday & Sunday, June 13-14

Since there will have to be two rounds of setting up and taking down the booth, on top of new artists with new media to offer at the festival, Koolkat has decided that the only Artsmith’s jewelry that they will carry will be earrings. So that’s all they’ll have of my wares. Here’s a photo with a small sampling of what will be in my section of the booth.

I am scheduled be in the booth on Saturday, June 6, from 4 to 8 pm. If you’re around then, do stop by and say “Hello!” Music-wise, that Saturday is what’s being called Bluegrass Day at the festival itself, but just across the river in Heinz Field (where the Pittsburgh Steelers play football), will be the ‘burgh’s offering of the #1989WorldTour by Taylor Swift. Ah, yes, I’ve always considered 1989 a memorable year too: should you stop by the booth while I’m there, do feel free to ask me to share one of my stories from htat year….!

Since I’ll only be working one half-shift, I’ll have plenty of time, off and on, in the market and elsewhere, to just enjoy all the music, art, artists, art-lovers, creativity, makers, and more, filling up the downtown area for those ten days. So do let me know if/when I should be looking out for you at the Festival!

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June Show-Season Begins: Members-Only Show with the Cranberry Artists Network

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/06/02

It’s looking like a busy month. I hope I can remember to post all the various announcements! First of all, there’s the inaugural 2015 Members Show with the Cranberry Artists Network (CAN).

I’ve had two pieces accepted for this show (my first since being selected as a member). I chose to enter two reversible pendants. One is made from fine silver (.999) that I’ve hung on a sterling silver (.925) chain. It’s about an inch across, and composed of three separate layers. The middle layer has a texture pattern that displays concentric circles. A good portion of that is visible through an overlay, a highly polished disk with lines radiating out of its center, where I’ve been able to cut a circle out of it that aligns with the circles on the middle piece. I’ve centered all of that a little above and to the left of the center of the piece: that positioning reminds me of the rising sun, which has always been a part of my vision for this side.

There’s a third overlay, placed on the “back” of the inner-circles piece. It displays a textured pattern of (sun-drenched, perhaps) gingko leaves and is embellished with a lilac-colored corundum stone. I don’t know if there is an “official” name for that pale purple stone, other than simply lilac-colored corundum but, if you’re not familiar with it either, just know that rubies and sapphires are also forms of corundum. I do apologize for the quality of the photo, though: tiny shiny objects are just such a challenge to get right….

My second piece in the show is more of what I’d call an “entry level” piece, deliberately kept relatively simple in order to keep the price down for the beginning collector. This one is made of bronze; it’s a little over an inch across and is another of my reversible creations. One side is a textured and domed disk with a single strip overlay as embellishment, which I see as simple but elegant. The other side is then concave, with a faceted stone set into a hand-formed bezel and nestled down into the curve, to help make that side special too. This stone is in the cubic zirconia (CZ) family, a purple color that the vendor calls “Lavender.” This one is hung on a brass chain, one that’s in a style I seem to have been using fairly frequently lately.

The show runs from June 3 through 25 at the Cranberry Township Municipal Center, 2525 Rochester Rd., Cranberry Township, PA 16066. The Opening Reception will be on Wednesday night, June 3, from 6 to 8 pm, with lots of good refreshments to complement the delightful art. I’m going, and it’d be great to see a few “locals” there! And for several weeks afterwards, you can still check out all the great art in this show any time the municipal center itself is open.

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My computer’s been quiet, though I’ve still been making stuff….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/05/08

Long story not worth going into, but one of many reasons I’ve been relatively quiet online (here and elsewhere) has to do with having lost a whole bunch of photos of recent pieces. Some were great, others were mere experiments, but it’s still a loss.

The photo with this post is not a great one either: it’s just me trying to pick up where I left off on the photos, where I was playing with ways to get photos of a group of pieces (rather than my usual close-up of each individual piece without using any props).

I do know how to fix the background on this; at the time I took it, my focus was on trying to use a glass without any additional fuss in taking care with a background. I still think glass is a good idea, but its just yet another approach that’s best for only a small number of pieces, not the bigger group I was going for here.

Still, I just happen to like all the pieces in this particular set, so I figured I could post it and try to make that clear that focus. They are all made with various beads from my stash, and all feature some sort of hand-made end-caps. The caps are from yet another project that I’ll write more about once it’s farther along. For now, though, I’ll point out that some caps are silver while others are bronze, they vary in thickness intentionally (though I do prefer thinner ones myself), and some were cut with little generic pastry cutters while others were custom-sized to a particular bead and cut using an electronic cutting tool (where those are doing double-duty as part of yet another project…). For these, all the earwires are commercial products.

I have another, much bigger collection of recent pieces on hand-made earwires that I also want to capture in a picture. Regarding the earwires, for silver I tend to make them from spooled Argentium silver wire while, for use with base metals, I tend more towards niobium headpins. I do use other sorts of wire too, but those are my personal favorites. I appreciate the versatility provided by the spooled silver wire: I can ball up the ends if I want, can adjust the length as needed, and hardened Argentium will yield a stronger piece than will fine silver wire … without the need I’d have with traditional Sterling silver to use pickle (acid!) if I heat them up as I make them. But finishing the ends of the niobium is trickier than it is for the silver (even simple smoothing is harder, and achieving a ball-end look is far more effort than I can justify in terms of both cost and time…). For now at least, I’m happy-enough to hand-form those wires from headpins.

If you know of any good online photos of earring collections — six pairs or more all in a single photo — I’d sure appreciate it if you’d leave a link in in the comments for this post! I’m unlikely to copy the approach of any such images directly, but I sure could use some more inspiration on different ways to approach this photo-task. Thanks!

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Combining Inspirations

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/04/15

Two of my favorite art jewelry makers and teachers are Hadar Jacobson and Mary Hettmansperger. I love many of their designs, though I’m rarely if ever inclined to copy any of them (including those in their project books) exactly as shown. What I like is the way they create designs using techniques that inspire me to tweak a little here and a little there, and somehow end up making something that’s much more my own.

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

I wore a couple of them throughout the holiday season at the end of 2014, and I probably got more comment and compliments on those than on any other piece I’ve ever made and worn. I’m not just talking about friends and family comments, I’m including store cashiers, physical therapists (yeah, one of the reasons I’ve been off-line a good bit lately), random people sitting near me at concerts, and so on.

Since I had so much fun both making and wearing those pieces, at the start of the year I tried a few others. The second photo here shows one of the first bronze pieces I made in this style. Bronze is a less expensive metal to purchase than silver, so I felt I could afford to go bigger (wider or longer) with the ones I made that way. Mind you, working with bronze (or any other base metal clay, such as copper or steel) takes more time which I feel, in the end, pretty much balances out most of the savings on the materials. The final retail price for a base metal piece ends up similar to that of a silver one of a similar design, because of the extra time one has to spend on it. The thing bronze does allow me, however, is the opportunity to go a bit bigger without having the price of a piece go out of reach. The one shown here (reversible, with a “fiddlehead fern” texture) is about as long as the silver one, but easily thrice as wide.

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

The bead-shelf-foldie is fun to make out of clay (thanks, Hadar!) and fun to finish and hang (thanks, Mary!), and I find an extra-bonus in having found a way to adapt ideas from two of my favorite jewelry artists. I look forward to stretching this idea even more in the future.

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Happy “Super Pi Day”….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/03/14

Well, the long-time math-teacher in me can’t let today’s opportunity pass without at least noting today’s date. I may not do this every Pi Day (3.14 in month.day format), but somehow I can’t let pass the only one this century that goes into extra digits (3.14.15 in mo.da.yr format) without saying something. And, of course, simultaneously wondering how “the ‘net” will do with, I am sure, a lot of people (in each US time zone, at least) trying to post at exactly 9:26 (am or pm) on that date.

You see: 3.14.15 9:26:53.58979 –> 3.14159265358979 –> Pi,   (usually written as the Greek letter Π), which represents the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle…  Like the outside of a nice, round, freshly baked and cooled pie that you’ve just sliced right down through its center….

Nor can the metal clay artist in me ignore a day when it’s suggested to celebrate with a Pie (or two, or more). As I teach how to mix powdered metal plus binder particles into something that feels like dough, then how to roll it out into the desired shape and move the clay into its final position until, at last, firing (baking) it, I often make reference to any pie-makers in the group regarding how similar those actions are in the creation of both pies and metal clays.

And while I don’t typically flaunt my background in math and math-related areas, those familiar with such subjects may also find it relatively easy to pinpoint the occasional mathematical influences in much of my work.   Not exact representations, mind you, but ideas influenced by math-sketches I’ve drawn countless times while teaching it.  Here are a few more samples of that:

But that’s all for the moment: I have pies in the oven that should be done at any moment now! Just in time to go celebrate Pi Day all day! May you find great ways to celebrate the day too.

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Where Oh Where Has Carol Been…?!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/02/03

Long-time readers of this blog will know that, if nothing else, I always post a New Years / Blog Anniversary message. The fact that I’ve not posted since before Christmas, without even I clue I was going off-line for a while should be a big clue that something or other had gone awry.

Well, while close friends know the details, I’m just not one to post all sorts of personal stuff everywhere online, but I will say this much: it wasn’t just one thing…. There was this, and that, and then this other thing, and then on top of all that…. No crisis, as such, just no time left for dabbling online. I’ve no clue if or when I’ll manage to catch up with posts, but I did have to take a moment now to share some news about one great recent treat: two of my pieces were accepted for the Isn’t It Romantic show sponsored by the Cranberry Artists Network (from Cranberry Township, which is north of Pittsburgh, PA).

I didn’t manage to make anything completely new for the event, but entrants were allowed to submit two pieces, and I had on hand two that fit the theme perfectly, so in those went!

There’s Love’s Garden in Pinks, a necklace with a fine silver (.999) focal bead and clasp, strung with some really luscious cloisonne, Swarovski crystal, and glass beads. The fine silver pieces are reversible. The bead has little pink CZs on each side. Its Love side (shown) has a heart-shaped texture, and the Garden side has an acanthus-design. Though I made it back in 2011, I’ve only risked putting it up for sale in one quick event because I kept debating with myself whether to sell it or keep this one for myself. But I’m finally ready to let it go, should someone else now want it, for themself or to give as a gift.

And there’s Friends & Lovers, a bracelet in bronze with glass beads, copper wire, and bronze jump rings. The bronze hearts all have a roses-and-swirls pattern, but I curved them so I could nestle little sweetheart-pink, blood-bond red, & romantic-rose colored beads in their hollows. The toggle clasp was made to match, with an arrow for the bar. I submitted this photo for an online challenge in February 2014, but I never really liked how the clasp worked, so I finally got around to remaking the bar at the end of last year (and just realized I don’t have a photo of that … sigh!). But the arrow-head and “feathers” are the same as shown here; the very subtle difference is that, instead of using a loop in the shaft to hold it together, the latest version has a straight shaft with a U-shaped wire embedded into it. Now that I’m satisfied with its design, I can put it out for consideration by others. As far as its title goes, I’ll share the little inside-joke about it: the snuggly-hearts were meant as signs of Love all along, but it’s one of the first pieces I made out of Hadar’s Friendly Bronze metal clay powder after she made it available. I just couldn’t resist the urge to tie the two together in the title.

The Isn’t It Romantic show opens tomorrow, February 4. I’ve seen a number of the other entries, and there’s a lot of really great work in this show. There’s an opening reception from 6 to 8 pm (with, I’m told, lots of wonderful sweet treats planned) and, weather permitting, I plan to attend that. If you’re in the area and would like to join me, it’ll be in the Cranberry Township Municipal Center, on Rochester Road just west of Route 19.

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Crazy-busy Season

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/12/01

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Simple Weaving Project with PMC Flex

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/11/25

Let me be clear from the start: I think that “weaving” metal clay is loads of fun, and it produces interesting results. Great combo, eh?

Some Background

I don’t have any decent pictures from when I first started trying to weave metal clay. I don’t even have any of the earrings I made by weaving strings of PMC+ (on my own) or strips of PMC+ sheet (when I took a RioRewards certification class with CeCe Wire, down in Baltimore). Both ways, I had fun doming the results by backing that with the now-discontinued, sigh, high-shrinkage PMC Standard clay. But here’s a pair of the latter that I made in 2010 (yeah, well, I redid the Rio Rewards when Tim McCreight taught it a few miles from my house); this photo is from when I used them as one of my entries in Vickie Hallmark’s Month of Earrings Challenge that year.

Woven Rectangles

While I enjoyed doing this, and I did play around with other weave-spacings, I found that the sheet product had two drawbacks. First of all, you have to be very careful attaching sheet to a backing or frame: not enough water and it doesn’t stick, but too much and you’ve ruined it. Second, another thing I love about metal clay includes the design possibilities with textures, and sheet does not take textures the same way. Early in 2008, not long after Hadar Jacobson’s first book (The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures & Forms) had come out, I was thrilled to read about how to doctor-up my own clay so that I could texture it but it would still remain flexible, like the sheet product, in the greenware state. Here are several of the first pieces I made with that clay, photographed together to use in promoting the first workshop I taught using this approach.

Three Woven Silver Pendants (Class Samples)

Though my workshops for beginners emphasized making woven pieces that were still essentially flat, on my own I went on to explore a number of other designs. Magic Carpet (or, to those with some knowledge of non-Euclidean geometry, Weaving through Hyperbolic Space), shown below, is one of my favorites from that period.

Magic Carpet (striped frame side)

After Hadar came out with her own base metal clays, and introduced us to various ways of combining those, I again launched right in to combining those with multi-metal weaves. Here is a piece I called Mixed Metaphors. Hadar was kind enough to include a photo of this in her fourth book, Patterns of Color in Metal Clay, which came out in 2011. (This piece later went to live with my cousin Debby; by then it was also sporting a lovely coiled-copper wire bail.)

PMC Flex

So when I first got my hands on PMC Flex, one of the things I thought to try with it was another woven piece. Yes, I knew I could also explore other styles entirely, and that’s coming. But, first time with a new clay, my inclination is to do something that is already deeply seated in my “finger memory”! Something that I know I can make successfully some other way, such that the question is how this particular clay performs in that approach. So, at last, here’s something of a step-by-step on weaving PMC Flex.

I began by rolling out a few strings (aka rods, snakes, etc.) of PMC Flex. I also textured a few small sheets of clay; after neatly trimming two edges, I returned the extra clay to the package.

Once the sheets were dry, I cut them with a pair of plain scissors. For what it’s worth, I’ve been known to cut moist regular clay the same way, with plain scissors and with fancy-edge crafting scissors. By waiting until your clay has dried to cut it, you remove the risk that you’ll smush the piece, leave unwanted finger- or tool-marks, or stretch the pattern. And, yes, I’ve been known to cut dry regular clay, but there is some risk of breakage doing that. Dried flex clay just cuts beautifully, with ease.

While my flex sheets were drying, I also made two narrow washer shapes. To keep this test simple, they are the same size in both inner and outer dimensions, plain on one side and textured on the other. They were dried over matching light bulbs. One had the texture facing up; the other, facing down. The one on the left (textured on the convex side) was made out of PMC Flex; the one on the right (textured on the concave side) was made from PMC 3. There is no technical reason to use two different clays. I just didn’t want to use the relatively small amount of PMC Flex that I had on components that didn’t require the flex feature, so I used PMC 3 for one of them. Still, I was curious how the PMC Flex would work in this design, so I did use it for the other. (I’ll discuss this more in a moment…)

Next, I started loosely weaving together my strips of dried PMC Flex. My intention all along had been to make a somewhat open weave. I did not plan to push the pieces tightly together (as shown in the PMC+ earrings, above); neither did I intend to leave extremely large openings. What I found was that the PMC Flex could be pushed together as much as is shown in the following photo, but only that much. Had I used PMC+ to make my own diy-flex, I would have been able to snug the strips up even closer. These strips made from PMC Flex felt rather similar to the diy-flex I’ve made from PMC3. (No surprise there, just confirmation: the product is, in fact, marketed as being most-comparable to PMC3!)

My last question for the evening was how well this little woven sample would fit my cut-out washers. There’s no reason one has to get it to fit as well as shown below, though that is a pretty good fit if I do say so myself! The point is that the strips need to be long enough; later on, you can always trim off any pieces that are too long.

The one and only problem I noticed (as you can see, above) was that the inside edges of each the washers were a bit rough. I’m one of those people who tries to minimize the amount of sanding that I do: when I cut moist clay, I just take care to smooth the edges immediately. With narrow-edge washers, however, it can be a bit of a challenge to smooth the inner edges without risk of distorting the shape of the piece. So that is one area that I will “refine” by sanding once the piece has dried. Here’s what I was able to do the next morning. (Note the color change in the photos in the daylight!)

And here’s the thing about that sanding. With diy-flex, I would almost always make the washer / frame shape out of regular (non-flex) clay. Why? Because the diy-flex clay (especially the extra-bendy stuff I could make from PMC+) was challenging to sand. It was so flexible, it just bent away from my sandpaper. I’ve read about heating this new PMC Flex clay to harden it up so that you could sand it. Had that really been necessary, in this instance, it would have made sense to just make the frames out of non-flex clay. But, given the success I’d had with smoothing the sharp-ish edges on the Möbius-strip earrings I’d tried first, I decided to make one frame out of flex clay to see whether or not I could sand smooth its inner edge. As you can see from the images above (especially if you click to enlarge them), I was able to smooth both pieces out nicely. I did hold them both carefully as I did so: the PMC 3 so I would not risk cracking it, and the PMC Flex so it would remain straight-up under my sandpaper. But I did not have to heat the Flex to accomplish this, which really did please me.

Next, I put the rigid PMC3 frame back onto the light bulb on which I’d dried it. (That’s why I’d made that one out of the non-flex clay: there is no reason at this point to have it move at all.) I carefully placed my woven swatch over that, shifting it around a bit until I was happy with its position.

Then I took a dab of water, and attached each strip-end to the frame.

And then, well, I really thought I’d taken photos of the next few steps too, but now I can’t find them. I put a few little end-trimmings in the bigger gaps around the frame to serve as supports. Then I moistened the strip-ends and the other frame element, and squidged all that together. Finally, I took a little bit of moist PMC3 and filled in all the gaps around the outer edges. (I could have used the Flex for that but, again, I was conserving my first batch of it.) Once that was all neat and smooth, I waited until I was sure it was dry. Then I fired it, sitting on top of a little pile of vermiculite to offer a bit of support. After firing, I polished it a bit, and added a liver of sulphur patina, before adding a jump ring from which to hang it.

My last comment here is that using the frame-ring made out of PMC Flex for the second side was a bit of an experiment. I wasn’t sure if the flex-aspect would help, or cause problems, in that step. In the end, I think it’s a bit of six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other. Its flexibility let me wiggle it around a bit to line everything up nicely; its flexibility also let one little segment end up a tad out of alignment. My current thinking about future pieces is that, with simple frames like this, I’ll probably go back to making both sides out of non-flex clay. For less-precise shapes, making it possible for the second side to be “flexed” to match the first (but out of a clay that can still be sanded as needed for clean edges) could be a real advantage.

Here’s the final result: one photo that shows both sides:

Your comments on this are welcome!

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A second second-report on the new “PMC Flex” clay.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/10/18

In other words, this is merely a follow-up to my earlier “second report” on PMC Flex (which I thought I’d posted earlier but just noticed I had not…) I’ll use subsequent “numbers” on later projects.

I really am working on some other designs using PMC Flex, but must-do-now tasks keep interrupting my explorations, and then I get inspired to try something else, and I end up having lots in-the-works but not yet finished and ready for reporting. As usual! But my earlier post had stopped before I’d gotten through the entire process with even my first little pair of earring elements. They are now finished, so I’ll at least take the time to finish their documentation too.

Since I last wrote, somewhere I viewed a series of pages (annotated images, but I forget where, and even whether it was a slide show or a .pdf file or…) that contained another “introduction” to the PMC Flex product. But I’d started playing with the stuff even before that was available, so I’d been just sort of guessing as I went along … based on my prior experiences with diy-flex (where you add glycerin to various regular metal clays). That “intro” also talked about heating the clay at 300°F for some amount of time, not so you could sand it (as I’d mentioned in my last post) but in order to help it hold its shape during firing. OK, now, the do-it-for-sanding idea makes a little bit of sense to me (even though I long ago learned how to work with clay in a way that will greatly minimize (though not always eliminate) sanding) but that one baffles me even more. If it’s going to distort, I’d think it would do so at the binder-burnout and/or early-sintering stages; either way, if it’s going to need support to get through that part of the firing process, I just don’t see how having “hardened” it for room-temperature handling is going to make much if any difference. (Hmmm, maybe that file was taken down and that’s why I can’t find it again now when I want to reference it? Or, if you truly understand what I’m missing about all this “baking” please contact me to discuss it! Yes, there are a few instances where I can imagine it would help, and I’m trying to explore that a bit too. But I simply don’t see why it should, in general, be required….)

Anyway, long before I saw that, I’d already fired my first two little pieces by just placing the still-flexible greenware flat and unsupported on my kiln shelf.

Now, to be honest, I had thought I might place them on some vermiculite in a little silica crucible I have. Except, I’d just taught a morning-only workshop where students made at total of 19 pieces (using PMC3 and PMC Plus that had been ordered well before the Flex was released). I had to get those pieces fired and returned to the participants. With this particular group I was not going to have a follow-up finishing session, where I could show them how to re-shape any that had “shifted” during firing. Though many were ones I could place flat on my kiln shelf, there were enough that had gentle curves I wanted to support, so I squeezed all of those into the vermiculite. Since I didn’t want to wait to fire my two little earring pieces, flat on the shelf they went too (as shown in the second photo with this post).

And I think they came out fine! I added a small glass bead to each for a touch of color, and hung them on ball-end sterling earwires. I’m calling the “Almost Möbius #1” (the number because, though I’m sure I’ll never make another pair exactly like this, I can imagine myself playing around some more with the Möbius-band idea).

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A second little report on the new “PMC Flex” clay.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/22

I’ve got several other high-priority things going on right now, but I just can’t resist sneaking a few moments here and there to play with this new toy!

(Sorry that the photo-colors are all over the place because I’m just shooting on my work-table as I go, not stopping to move everything over to my photo-table. And the light at my work-table varies by time of day and by which of the overhead lights are or are not on at the moment. I work in a building that’s over 100 years old, and much of the wiring is very old too.)

Fresh from the pack, when I try to break off a piece of it, it gives way in the same (what to call it? stringy? gummy?) way that diy-flex (regular silver clay with some glycerin mixed in) does:

There’s nothing wrong with clay that does that! I just note it here, in case you’re wondering why this happened to your clay. It’s normal!

Right away, I decided to use a little “cherry blossom” texture (that I got ages ago at Cool Tools, but seems to have been discontinued…) and a butterfly-shaped pastry-cutter:

You can see (especially if you click on the image to enlarge it) that the edge of the cut is rather rough. Normally, I would smooth that out as much as possible while my clay was still wet; but I know that a lot of metal-clayers just leave it and sand the rough bits off later. I am just not into sanding clay if it can be avoided, so even when I find I’ve missed and left a rough edge behind, I still use a bit of water and various other tools to smooth out my clay. For this little test, then, I just left the edges as they were, to see how much I could smooth it once it had “dried” using my usual tools:

Pretty good!

My plan had been to cut a matching shape out of the interior of this butterfly, using a paper-punch I have. Except, it seems I had not marked that punch (for my own short-memory benefit) before I made this piece, and only at this stage did I realize it was one of my “thinner” ones … meaning this piece was one-card too thick to fit into the punch. Oh well, I’ll deal with cutting it, a different way, later on. For now, let’s just look at another little play-thing.

I had rolled out another little sheet, trimmed it down to a rectangle, and cut that in half. I left the pieces to air-dry overnight, and returned to find they were curving apart. I’ve seen a couple other early-testers mention curving, and having to press their clay down, but I’ve not seem that. The only curving I’ve seen has been like this, left to right:

Still, this is “flex” clay, so I never worry if it curves much in any direction. It’s simple enough to ease it back into shape:

The problem I ran into was with my next step which, of course, I did not stop to photograph. I had wanted to try something with this clay ever since seeing the little video that Mitsubishi had put out on YouTube about the product:

In it, they talk about how easy it is to let the clay “dry” and, since it remains flexible, you can still form it into a ring. Now, the one thing I’d always had trouble with, using the diy-flex clay, was when I wanted to join ends of “dried” flex-clay together. I found that to be far more difficult than with “wet’ clay. But I really didn’t want to invest the time in a ring first-time out. So I thought I’d just try making a couple little “Möbius bands” … where you take a strip, flip one end, and join them together. (With paper there’s tape to show the join. With clay, you get a true “Möbius” shape, where you can take a pencil, draw a line down the middle of the band, turning and drawing as you go, the whole way around, and end up where you start: there is no front or back, top or bottom of the strip. It’s all on the “same” side! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you already know that I love to make reversible pieces. Continuous ones are even better!!!)

If you watch the video, you’ll see them make it look so easy! And I’m here to tell you their secrets: First of all, you can see the “cut” in the video stream where they left out a bit of the fussing needed to make it work (it IS possible, even with diy-flex clay) but, even more important, their band is perfectly smooth. That makes it much easier to get the join to work, because you can fuss and fill and sand it all smooth again. But I like textures, and I don’t like sanding. It’s not like it wasn’t going to work at all, but I soon realized (soon … after a twist, some water, some squidging together, some tape to hold it for a while, etc.) that it was not going to be quick and simple. I’ll work on that idea a bit more but, in the meantime, I moved on to test-plan-b for these strips.

I let the newly-damp parts dry again. I trimmed off a tiny bit at the ends that had gotten smushed; I also trimmed the second piece to match. I then gave each piece a twist, folded the ends up so the tips aligned, added a drop of water, and clipped them together:

Now, I could have gotten that shape with non-flex clay. But I would have had to do everything while the clay was wet. Or, more accurately, while it was starting to dry out, which can sometimes be a problem for me (especially when trying to make two matching pieces) and is far more often an issue with students when it all starts to crack. So, in that sense, the PMC Flex does make this project now far easier to do in a beginner class.

And, doing it this way, I could still try using a paper punch!

Not one of the fancy crafting punches, as I’d planned with the butterfly, but with a plain, small hole punch. Yeah, I could have drilled a little hole with a drill bit, but this turned out to be way more fun, once I’d gotten over the surprise!

With non-flex clay, I’d never have tried that. (I’d’ve just used a drill bit.) But, with flex, even though the piece slipped down into the punch-opening (gasp!), it was really easy to pry out–carefully–with no harm done! (I took the little “holes” I’d punched out and wrapped then with a bit of moist clay. I wrapped that in a piece of plastic, and put it back into the foil pouch. And by the next day, it had all rehydrated to the point that I could not find the little bits any more.)

The thing is, if you look at the piece lying along the bottom of the photo above, you’ll see that both it and its mate (though harder to see in the punch) have a very straight, sharp edge along what will be the top end when hung. I didn’t want that sharp edge with the rest of these curves. Had I planned to do this from the start, I would have smoothed all those corners while it was still wet. But now I had dried, attached, and punched clay, and I needed to soften its edge.

With non-flex clay, I’d either wet and smooth it (as I discussed earlier in this post) or I’d take out a bit of sandpaper and smooth it down (I may try to avoid sanding when I can; but I have no qualms about doing it in situations where it really is most appropriate…). With diy-flex clay, however, I always found that sanding was pretty difficult. Actually, the fact that I really enjoyed working with diy-flex is what first led me to figure out all sorts of sanding-alternatives! Once I started using them, I just let them spread over into my non-flexible greenware too, thus replacing much of the sanding I’d earlier been taught.

But the video and the package insert talk about how you can “dry the object by heating it to 300°F for 20 minutes.” Hmmm, I’d never even though to try that with diy-flex clay with glycerin in it. And, as of my writing this, I still haven’t … with neither diy-flex nor PMC Flex! I think those two references may have caused a little confusion via some “social media” posts, where people talk about “baking” their clay. Personally, I never saw any reason to “bake” it until you want to make it hard enough to sand. (Or, if you want to harden it in the process of building some complex 3-D structure, but I’ll get to that in some other post … much later on.)

For now, I just want to go on record as saying that you can sand PMC Flex gently in its flex state, without any “baking.” which is what I did here:

I didn’t change it a lot, but I did round out the corners as I’d wanted, while it is all still flexible.

That’s all I have time for tonight. I’ve also started on a woven-silver piece that I hope to report on next.

I’m teaching a fine-silver workshop this week (non-flex: had to have that clay on hand before the PMC Flex was actually shipping, but I’ll show of the Flex a bit since I have that first trial batch), and I will report on firing this clay once all the student pieces have been fired.

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Flexible Greenware, or What Metal Clayers Mean by Flexible Clay….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/19

There’s a lot of “buzz” today in the Metal Clay community: Mitsubishi has just released a new fine silver product they’re calling PMC Flex. Well, it’s been available in Japan for a couple months now; the rest of the world is able to order it starting today with, I’ve heard, shipping to commence on Monday. I was lucky enough to get my hands on some of it just this week, so I haven’t had the months of experience with it that some of the official “early testers” have had, but I wanted to report my very first reaction….

First, though, some background. I’ve been working with clays that remain flexible after drying almost as long as I’ve been working with metal clay. I will say, that I find the term “flexible clay” to be a bit confusing: all clay is flexible when you’re working with it! The ones I’m going to talk about today are the ones that remain flexible, that do not get really hard, until they are fired in some way.

Three Woven Silver Pendants (Class Samples)The center pendant in this group of three (photo, left) was one of the first pieces I ever made this way. It was after I’d used some clay at an event where I gave repeated demos, working and reworking it, exposing it to oil (so it wouldn’t stick to the textures I was using with it), adding water (to replace what had evaporated during use, but also risking the washing away of some product, silver and/or binder). By the end of the day, the clay had gone rather funny: it wasn’t acting like clay at all. It had gone from sticky to slippery. It didn’t leave bits stuck on tools or hands but it did sort of slime everything it touched. Was it destroyed? I had no clue. In the very first class I took, I’d been taught that you could extend the working time of clay by adding a very tiny bit of glycerin, but one should take care to not add too much. (And … I later heard that same instructor say she no longer recommended doing that.) I’d read in some online group that you could “revive” clay that had gone “off” by adding a bit of glycerin to it. I’d also heard or read somewhere (in a class? online? this was years ago now..) that you could make clay that would remain flexible after being allowed to dry if you added a good bit of glycerin. No specifics. Nothing about how much, or how one should do it, or just what would happen if you added too much (other than, obviously, thinning the silver out so much that it could not sinter in the kiln). There were just vague comments. Questions I’d seen about such details had remained unanswered. But … I had some glycerin on hand: what more did I have to lose beyond this clay that was unworkable? Why not try it? And, while at it, why not try to go the whole way?

I added some to the wad of muck I had. I kneaded it in. It went even more funny, and not in a humorous way: by then it was falling completely apart. I tried to not panic. I attempted to knead it some more, and it seemed to start getting better. I kneaded a bit more, and worked a bit of water into the clay too. I began thinking this might work, after all, so I rolled it into a neat ball, wrapped it up air-tight, and went to bed, hoping that would all soak in better with time. The next morning, I took the clay out of the plastic, and it seemed much more workable. It didn’t feel like clay fresh from a new pack, mind you, but I could roll out a couple small pieces and texture them. I let all that air dry while I did whatever all else it was I had to do that day (years and years ago now). When I got back to it that evening, it was wonderful: dried out enough that didn’t feel like I could smash it with clumsy fingers, but still soft and pliable enough that I could cut it with scissors and begin to weave it together. I couldn’t get the strips really close together, but that was fine. As I said, above, that weaving is shown in the center of the group of three. (The frame around it was made from fresh, regular clay.)

I had a little bit left from that test, so I added a little more glycerin, kneaded it in (it was easier this time), waited maybe an hour or two, then I rolled out a couple more small bits and left those to dry overnight. Voila! The dried clay was enough-more flexible that I could weave the strips much closer together: the pendant to the right in the collection was the result of that.

(The one to the left in the trio was made later; the photo is an old image, taken to promote one of the first “woven silver” workshops I taught.)

But this getting-more-flexible trend was appealing. I had just a tiny bit left, so I added one more drop of glycerin to that. (Proportionally, with how little I had left, that was a huge amount more!) Again, I kneaded that in and wrapped it up. The next day, I found it that my final scrap was flexible enough that I could tie it into this little knot. I used the entire last bit in making this, spending time adjusting the knot to the middle so the ends would line up, meaning I didn’t have to trim any off. I used fresh wet clay to add the little coil along the top. Once that had dried (hard), I made a loop from fine silver wire and embedded that into the top. I apologize for the quality of that image: it’s a detail from a very old photo, but it’s all I have to show of that piece now.

Magic Carpet (striped frame side)Over the next few years, I continued to make my own silver clay that would remain flexible as greenware, playing with weaves, knots, twists, and other shapes in various ways. The curved-square piece to the left (which I’ve called Magic Carpet in public but is, to the mathematician that’s still quietly in me, a basic example of creating a bit of hyperbolic space…) is but one of such explorations. I learned about Hadar Jacobson and that, in her first book, The Metal Clay Handbook: Textures and Forms, she talked about this, which is one of the main reasons I bought that book … which, eventually, led me to learning much, much more from her and her approaches!

When Hadar came out with her clays, I played around with them for a bit. But I didn’t go all-in for her clays until two things happened around the same time: Hadar herself came to town (well, our local metal clay guild chapter brought her in!) to teach a workhop on her “married metals” approach (which I took), and I started playing around with adding glycerin to her original line of clays, which she now calls the “flex” powders, because they are the most (not the only, but the most) conducive to having glycerin added to yield clay that stays flexible if you want that. (If you want the clay to dry hard, just don’t add anything besides water to the powders.) Mixed Metaphors, shown to the right (before it got its bail and went to live with my cousin Debby) is one example using copper, bronze, and a little bit of steel while combining married metals with weaving.

The other thing that people do with glycerin-enhanced metal clay is to cut it with electronic cutters, like the Cameo and Portrait products from Silhouette. (That was actually one of the things I’ve been hoping to write a bit about this coming winter!) People started by cutting out the very thin PMC+ “sheet” product with that. (I don’t know this for sure, but it would not surprise me to learn that “sheet” was the inspiration for trying glycerin! Though “sheet” acts somewhat differently than does glycerin-enhanced clay, with both the point is that they never quite dry out completely, and thus remain flexible. While sheet does make nice, plain embellishments, the advantage to glycerin-enhanced clay is that you can add textures in various ways, and make it thicker or thinner as required for your design.) When folks started trying to cut sheets of regular clay with it, the question became whether it would be helpful (or not) to add glycerin. (The short answer is: sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. The full answer, available now in various online sites, will be tackled here in future posts … eventually!)

At last, on to the new PMC Flex fine silver metal clay. Needless to say, when I first heard about the new PMC Flex, I was both eager to try it it and wondering why one might purchase that rather than just go the DIY route. When I first got my hands on a pack of it, I began by trying the techniques I have in finger-memory, the ones I’ve been doing and teaching for years, just to see how it performs. The very first thing I did was to grab a little piece of it (a bit less than 1 gram), and roll it out into a “snake” or “rod” shape. I left it to dry over night.

The next morning, I measured it: 3.25 inches long, and the size of 15 gauge wire. (Clearly, it will have shrunk a bit while drying, and will shrink even more when it’s fired. But that’s it’s “dry” measurement.) It seemed like it would bend, but felt a little stiff. I’ve had that experience with the glycerin-enhanced clays too, and found that gently “working” the piece along its length will often make it more pliable: I tried that with this piece, with the same good result.

I then tried to tie it into a knot. The photo shows how far I could get it to go before feeling a lot of resistance. (The calipers shifted a bit as I was setting up the photo, so they represent a visual guide and not an exact measurement, but that’s OK for this very-preliminary report…) If I want more elaborate knot designs, I know how to get a tighter bend with my DIY-flex (as shown, for example, even in my first silver knot above, which began with a bit of clay about the same size as this). Still, this PMC Flex will clearly be great for a variety of other applications. I plan to write more about those, with photos, in future posts. As ever, as time allows…. But I’ll close by saying that it is a lot of fun to have such a delightful new toy to play with!


Update:  With Hadar Jacobson’s Flex-clay powders, one trick to slightly increasing the flexibility of a piece of “dried” clay is to refrigerate it for a little while.  I tried that with the above piece and it seemed as though it was going to let me pull it a little bit tighter.  That is, until is broke just about in half.  I’ll use the two pieces some other way, but figured I should note that (as a reminder to myself, as well as information to you…).

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Softly Draping Hard Metals

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/05/25

I have to admit something: I love “draping” metal clay! The clay is so soft and pliable, and the end results are so satisfying!

I am impressed with many of the effects that can be obtained via various “metalsmithing” techniques, but this draping is just sooo different from working with “solid” metal (sheet, wire, etc.). Yes, there are a lot of little “tricks” involved in successfully draping a mix of powdered metal, binders, and water, but it still is a relatively easy process for achieving a look that is much more difficult to achieve via any methods used with, say, sheet metal.

All the photos in this particular post were made with Hadar’s new-ish Friendly Bronze metal clay powder. At one point or another, I’ve draped every clay I’ve ever tried: every brand, every metal, etc. (OK, no, I haven’t done this with gold. It should work, but I don’t feel I can afford to use gold for anything this big. Of course, if you can afford it, I’d be absolutely thrilled to “drape” a gold piece for you on commission!) But all the different brands of silvers, coppers, bronzes, steels: yes! I’ve draped those.

In fact, there’s one very-special thing I do with draping that I teach in my metal clay workshops. Yes, while I do share a lot here on the blog, there’s even more that happens in person! You see, this little post is not only about draping metal clay. It’s also a little bit about workshops. (My plan is to mention workshops a few times, in this and several other posts over the next few months, then tie that together with one specifically about classes and workshops, both ones I offer myself and those offered by others.)

Anyway, the two draped oblong shapes are ones that I made in advance of a recent workshop. They were fun to make. I fired them both before the class; they ended up being about 37 mm long (excluding bail) and 25 mm wide. The idea was for me to have finished polishing one completely, and use the other one in my demonstration illustrating some techniques (and potential issues) in polishing such drapings. They also served to illustrate two of the many different bail-mechanisms that can be used for hanging the piece.

The long and narrow piece was begun during the in-class demo. It illustrates a different kind of draping, and a different kind of bail structure, both of which are harder to describe (but still easy to show) compared to the first two (oblong) pieces. It’s 66 mm long by 24 mm wide, and contains a little over 24 grams of metal.

The last photo shows two sides of a fourth piece. Also constructed mostly during in-class demos, it’s the biggest of this lot: 45 mm high by 56 mm wide. It weighs a little over 33 grams (including a CZ on each side, but excluding all the chain on which it’s hung). While I was manipulating it in class, we talked about things like overall size and weight versus maneuverability and polishing constraints. (You may notice this piece has a separate backing, while the two oblong ones do not, and the longer-narrower piece folds over on itself.)

Have you tried draping metal clay yet? If so, please leave a note about it in the comments!

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2013 Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/12/14

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays to all!

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Double Double Duty

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/11/15

I love it when I can save myself some time, effort, and / or money by getting “double duty” out of something. It’s great whenever it happens, but it’s a special treat at this time of year. (That is, as anyone in any aspect of retail sales know, during the time when the holiday-sales season approaches, schedules fill up, and spare time simply evaporates!)

So the reversible fine silver pendant with a lab-grown pink corundum stone shown with this post was a real treat:

  • I made the “base” piece as part of my demos during a recent beginner’s workshop. I fired it with the student pieces, which got that out of the way quickly too. Then, I added the bezel cup and “sapphire” as my part of my demos during a session on adding a stone to a finished piece. Two classes that were lots of fun and one piece that worked for both. Double duty.

  • But the double-double comes from the fact that the piece is now done, and into inventory for one of my pre-holiday shows! It’s going out to the H*liday mART at Sweetwater Center for the Arts (November 30 – December 8). I hope it will go home with someone else who falls in love with it there. But the timing is such that, if it ends up coming back with me, I can offer it again at my studio, with all the other pieces I’ll be saving specifically to offer there during the Art Buzz Tour (December 14-15).

While the making and placing of tags is nowhere near as much fun as is the making of these pieces, I’ve found I can overcome the boredom of that by imagining the people who will attend such events, and imagining those who may connect with one (or more) of my creations. I hope you’ll be among them, for real.

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Two More Hollow Beads

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/31

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

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

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

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

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

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Hollow Bead Armatures

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/08/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bits & Pieces

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2012 Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/12/03

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

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

2012 Art Buzz Map

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

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

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Productivity!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/11/05

I led a “woven silver” workshop at the weekend. The first photo (right) shows the pieces that were made that afternoon and, um, once everyone got a roll, that evening too. (Yes, a few didn’t involve weaving. That’s OK too.) In that image, no finishing has taken place: it shows the “white” appearance of the silver crystal structure straight out of the kiln. I just wanted to grab a quick photo, while I could, to show how productive the session had been.

The second photo (left) of the folks at the west-side table at work is mostly a sort of visual note to myself to try to remember to take photos more often, in class but also elsewhere. Because the caption for that image should be, “No! I won’t look up! I will not look at the camera! No!” Still, I’d like to thank everyone who was there for being such good sports … in every other way.

I haven’t posted over the past couple of weeks because I’ve done all sorts of things where I just did not think to take any photos. You might think that I would have taken photos while attending a workshop on photographing artwork. But no, there were lots of handouts and images of copyrighted work and discussion and more. Even though I had both of my cameras with me, the only times either one came out of its bag were to show a few images that were already on their memory cards.

You might think I’d’ve taken some shots at our recent metal clay guild chapter meeting but, no, I didn’t even think to take a camera to that. We had an opportunity to play with the Silhouette Cameo cutter that one of our members has gotten; we did lots of great planning for next year; and there was all the usual sharing and showing and telling and hand-on time and more. But no photos….

I also didn’t think to take a camera on any of my recent shopping expeditions. But, now that I think of it, I have added a few interesting items to “the stash.” Maybe I can manage to (remember to) take photos and write in the next week or so, before those elements finish going to into pieces and out for holiday sales events.

It is such a busy time of year, with all the autumn chores and the lead-in to the season of holidays, I am sure you, dear reader, are keeping busy too. Please know that I hope you are feeling productive!

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The Charm(s) of Mika Tajiri

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/08/15

This note will finish up on one item, leftover from my last post, about the charm exchange at the 2012 PMC Guild Conference….

The first two photos here, to the left, show both sides of the charm I received from Mika Tajiri in the charm exchange at the 2010 PMC Guild Conference. Although I did not make a big deal about it at the time, my immediate reaction was that, while I certainly enjoyed all the charms I received that year, this one was definitely among my favorites, both for the overall design, and for its being reversible!

But there was something else. Right at the moment of exchange, all I knew was that I was trading with a couple of “the Japanese ladies” who had come over for the conference. In retrospect, I did not recall noticing any jewelry this artist was wearing: But I remember being charmed by her, in particular, with her apparent delight at participating in the exchange.

Later, I saw her again in the “Show and Sell” area, and that’s when I did notice the jewelry she was wearing. I had just seen it in a recent issue of Fusion (which was (then) the quarterly journal of the (now much modified) PMC Guild): She had won one of the “Favorites” awards at the 2010 Hobby Show in Japan! And that evening she was wearing another piece from that collection. I recognized it immediately.

With a lot of smiling and hand-motions, I managed to ask, and she managed to confirm, that she was the person who had made the pieces (i.e., she wasn’t just wearing something gorgeous that she’d bought from that artist), and that my memory was correct that the charm I was already wearing on my bracelet from that year was also hers. Honestly, I felt like I had won the charm-lottery: a favorite charm was by a delightful artist who had won an award for a piece that I really admired!

So, at the 2012 conference’s charm exchange, I will admit that she was one of the artists I was hoping to spot for an exchange. When I caught sight of her, she was again wearing one of her signature pieces. I gave her a big smile, which she returned immediately. Which was just the friendly thing to do, right? Since I was wearing a collection of my charm-exchange bracelets linked together as a necklace, I reached for the segment from 2010, located her piece, and held it up with another smile, to indicate that I recognized her. Which brought on happy hand motions to say that, if I’d brought charms this year, she’d be happy to exchange again. Yes!

Well, the business card she included this year (photo with black background; but with no website listed … unless I just missed that in the part written in Japanese) included an image of her winning piece from 2010. And her “charm” for 2012 was a simpler, miniature piece made the same way as those other elements (the last photo, left, with this post). She was giving these lovely pieces away to others, in exchange for whatever little piece we had made. I was delighted with its design, and thrilled by this generosity!

I know, from talking with several other artists who traded with her, that we all think this one is both too lovely and too delicate to risk getting beat up on a fun-but-clunky charm bracelet. This is the one I held out (as mentioned in my last post): it has gone on a chain all by itself so I can wear it as a necklace. People I know ask if I’ve made it and I have to say, “No, but I sure wish I could both imagine and execute pieces like the charming Mika Tajiri makes!”

And this post is my way of saying an extra “Thank you!” to her for honoring me with one of these.

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Two More Charm Bracelets for the Collection….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/08/12

It’s taken me almost two months (where has the summer gone!) but I figured it was time to post a follow-up showing all the treats I got during the Charm Exchange at the 2012 PMC Guild Conference.

With a change of both venue and of overall schedule, there had been a bit of uncertainty as to whether this very popular exchange would even happen at all this time. Once there was confirmation that a modified form of the exchange would take place, and in between lots of other commitments and deadlines, I did manage to make a collection of small, very simple (but, this being me, reversible) charms in a mix of silver (some shiny; some with a patina) and bronze (some the traditional yellow color; others in the more-coppery rose bronze).

Alice and I had a great time “carpooling” out to Kentucky for the conference. Since we’d taken my car the last time we went together, this time we took hers. And she drove, which meant I was able to sit in the passenger seat and add jump rings to all of my charms while we chatted our way across five states: whew! Once I’d finished adding those, I kept going with jump rings and made a pair of bracelets: one out of Argentium sterling silver (with a sterling lobster clasp) and the other out of bronze (with a copper lobster clasp). Admittedly, a moving car is not necessarily the ideal setting for those activities, but it’s not like I was doing complex chain maille, we were mostly on good interstate highways, and Alice’s driving was nice and smooth. (I will let her declare whether that’s her normal mode or a concession to my activities.) So it was easy to complete those tasks and they even added to how quickly the time seemed to pass.

As I’d said before the conference (an event which also happened to extend over the Summer Solstice), I called mine “Moonlit Garden” charms, “not just because I cut them in a waxing/waning moon shape, but also because they have a sort of moonscape texture on one side, and some sort of garden-theme texture on t’other (cherry blossoms, gingko leaves, roses, ferns, or various daisies).” My idea was that all followed that same theme, but no two were alike.

Curiously, as I was adding their jump rings, I did notice three “pairs” that seemed to match up nicely. I stuffed those in a different pocket, thinking I could later sell those as earrings (and make a little money to help recoup a bit of the cost of all the charms…). One of the fifty charms I made went into the thank-you box that was presented to Tim McCreight and I kept a bronze one for my own bracelet as a record of what I’d done. That left me 42 to exchange: an ideal number for the two bracelet-chains I’d just made.

And, now, I’d like to thank all of the following metal clay artists for exchanging charms with me:

All but one of those charms are shown above. I’m hoping to find time to write about that other one in a separate post….

Also not shown here, but much appreciated as well, are the non-charm trades I received from:

I’m thanking you here too, because I’m not sure when I’ll get around to posting something about how I used your little treats. But I expect they will show up eventually….

For anyone who included a link on the card that came with your charm, I included that on my list. If you didn’t, but I could find you in a quick, easy online search, I added what I found. Otherwise, I’ve just listed you without a link but, if you stumble across this note and have one you’d like me to add, let me know and I will update this post with that information. (Ditto for any other changes or corrections I need to make.)

I sure hope all of you (as well as any of the other artists I somehow missed in the exchange) are as happy with your new charm collection as I am with mine! Happy claying, everyone!

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Color Shifts!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/25

After designing a piece, working with metal clay to create it, and firing it in the kiln, there remains another step to consider: post-fire color of the now-all-metal creation. There are lots of ways to add color to a piece, and I’m not about to go into all of them now. That is, for this post at least, I am not going to address deliberate colorings like enamel, resin, colored pencils, inks, various forms of plating, and so on. I am going to make a few points about several of my newer bronze pieces and will mention only in passing the “Liver of Sulphur” (LOS) patinas that can produce such nice (but somewhat unpredictable) colors on fine silver (and black or near-black on silver, copper, etc.)

Instead, what I’m thinking about today are the kiln-produced colors that sometimes appear on bronze pieces (and, to a lesser extent, on copper ones). Now, the thing is, they are basically unpredictable. You get what the kiln-gods decide to give you that day.

If the pieces come out a dark gray or black color, I will usually just polish that off. I wrote a series of posts in April of last year with “before, during, and after” photos using Hadar’s Clay Powders, and one of those showed pieces with a lot of this mostly-icky black coating that is best just polished off. That is why the first photo with this post (above, right), of a rectangular bronze piece, shows it all shiny: that side came out of the kiln all dreary gray except for one small, dreary, brown spot on its edge. (It was so dreary, in fact, that I didn’t even think to take a photo of it in that state.) But you’d never know that now from looking at its bright, polished surface if I hadn’t told you, would you?

Then again, sometimes pieces come out of the kiln with stunning colors. The second photo (left) shows two other pieces that came out of that same load. (As ever, a click should get you a bigger version of any of these.) When people see pieces with colors like that, they always respond with all sorts of exclamations of “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh”!

Which I fully understand. Except I know that those colors are basically ephemeral: there for your enjoyment at the moment, but nothing that will remain so brilliant for very long.

If I make a comment to that effect to the piece’s admirer, novices are often generous with suggestions. And I do appreciate the offers. While I am open to new ideas (especially since many of my students are artists with experience in other media), there’s also a good chance that I’ve already tried everything that’s being suggested, and then some…. The third photo with this post (over to the right again) shows two of the many things that one might consider trying.

Of the two pieces shown there, the one on the left has been lacquered. Notice how the nice, variable, kiln-green has all gone a sort of even brown shade, and the lovely bright scarlet has turned a much duller orange. I don’t dislike those colors; they simply are not the ones I was trying to preserve. In fact, I only rarely use lacquer on my pieces. It does provide some protection in the short term but, once it starts to wear off, then you have a piece that darkens in those spots but not in the ones where it remains. I do keep trying various kinds of coatings, here and there, just to see what happens, but they are not a major part of my routine. (Similar shifts and dulling of bright colors happen to LOS’d silver that emerges all brilliant and lovely.)

More often, I will do what’s shown on the piece to the right in that photo. That is, instead of the “high polish” of the rectangular piece, I will give it a “light polish” like this, often highlighting one or more select areas with a slightly brighter shine. I chose to include here a piece where I’d done that so I’d have an example I could show folks, later, who seem very surprised when I say that another reason the original colors are ephemeral is that, if they are deliberately polished or rubbed enough in normal wear, the colors will go away. Except that’s exactly what polishing does: the color is only on the surface and polishing that removes whatever reaction has happened there while also laying down the metal “crystals” so they reflect light in their “typical” color range. (Again, this can be compared to what happens with silver, both in the disappearance of the “kiln white” (or, in some cases, “kiln glitter”) and the dulling and/or shifting of colors from LOS or other patinas.)

Except, the crazy thing is, just like everything else involving these colors, you can’t quite count on all the things I described above. Some, yes, but not everything. Shown below are two shots of the “other side” of the rectangular piece with which I opened this post. This side came out of the kiln with lovely colors. I considered polishing the dragonfly, but decided to leave it alone at least for the short term, and grab a photo of how it looked with no post-fire treatment. Later, when I got the lacquer out to use in coating the round piece, above, I decided to hit this piece with it as well. And, here, the color shift was much less dramatic!

straight from the kiln after being lacquered

I’m not complaining: I liked the colors here and I’m glad they didn’t shift. I’m just saying, if you happen to get this the first time you try a protectant product, don’t assume that’s what you’ll get the next time.

And I also recommend learning to appreciate and celebrate ephemeral beauty, in jewelry and otherwise.

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Contrasting Textures in a Design

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maybe I should try a white lab coat?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifty for the Charm Exchange!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/06/20

As I’ve mentioned several times in the past (both here and here, and maybe elsewhere…), one of the regular events at PMC Guild conferences has always been an evening reception that involves a charm exchange. For the conference this year (the last one ever of this particular group, since it is disbanding at the end of this week … but those details will have to wait for another post!), no time was allocated for it. So no one knew whether or not to stock up on charms in preparation for the exchange.

Then, at pretty much the last minute, a way to do the exchange was decided upon by a few people who were going … and, presumably, already had a stash they were wanting to trade! Those of us who did not have much of a stash ready were left to assemble ours amidst the flurry of other things involved in preparing for the trip.

But I managed to make fifty! Of course, they all still need to have jump rings added so recipients can hang them, but I’m hoping to do that on the ride over. Lucky for me, Alice said she’d drive us! (If I’m really lucky, I’ll also have time then to make a bracelet or two from which to hang the charms I’ll get in exchange for these too.)

They are all similar, but no two are alike! And, of course, this being me, they are all reversible.

I call them “Moonlit Garden” charms, not just because I cut them in a waxing/waning moon shape, but also because they have a sort of moonscape texture on one side, and some sort of garden-theme texture on t’other (cherry blossoms, gingko leaves, roses, ferns, or various daisies).

In rough numbers:

  • 60% are made from fine silver and, of those:
    • 35% were polished in a magnetic finisher, and then got a LOS patina;
    • 65% were tumble-polished and left all shiny.

  • 40% are made from bronze and of those:
    • 30% are a rose bronze color;
    • 70% are the more-typical yellow bronze; and
    • both colors were lightly hand-polished in the hope of maintaining a bit of their lovely but random kiln-coloring.

The silver costs more in raw materials, but the bronze ones take longer to complete. At what I figure is a reasonable rate for my time, they come out at about equal in value to me. I still need to find the little grab-bag I used last time to haul them around in, so anyone who wants to trade can just reach in and get whichever kind their hand is drawn to.

And now that I’m over the concern about whether I’d manage to finish them, at last I’m able to look forward to seeing what I might get in exchange! Might yours be one of them?

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A hot ending.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/06/11

After ten days, and increasing heat, this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival has come to a close.

And a very hot ending it was. Hot for Pittsburgh. And, officially, it’s still merely Spring. What will summer bring? Time will tell….

In the meantime, a few quick comments. The festival organizers rearranged the market yet again, but somehow managed to leave the Koolkat Designs booth down at the very end of Gallery Row. (I added a silly purple arrow to the photo here to show where my pieces were once again displayed on the top corner shelf.)

The trees as well as the breezes wafting up from the Point over the fountain are what made the location bearable on the hottest days. (It was well over 90°F the last weekend; though I did not note the humidity, that was high too.) The photo of the fountain, below, was taken from the same spot as the first shot, though I’d just turned a bit to my right. That location is a bit of a challenge on the windiest-stormiest days but, over the years, Koolkat’s owner Kate and the rest of the crew have figured out increasingly better ways to manage that.

But during the hottest times down there this year, and especially the final weekend of the festival, I kept remembering my mother, standing in the kitchen of our house in South Florida–with the big double patio doors slipped into their wall “pockets” so the whole room was open to any breeze that might come from the ocean and up the canal behind our house–and saying, “The heat won’t get to you as long as there’s a good breeze.” As a child (especially as a teen, and one who was happiest at temperatures she considered cold) I would argue, “I will not agree to anything beyond that the heat won’t get to you as quickly as long as there’s a really good breeze.” I know she’d’ve liked the weather at this year’s festival, and the breezes in Gateway Plaza, and I wish she could see the art jewelry I only really got into making, and even selling!!, after she was gone.

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Starting Out by Layering.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell which is which?

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

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