Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Doubly-Coiled Metal Bracelets

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/05/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/21

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Sorry about the scarcity of posts recently.
I’ve been off visiting kids, grandkids, colleges, museums, and more.
I am back home now, and should be getting back
to metal clay by the end of the week.
In the meantime, best wishes all around…..

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Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/14


Happy
Valentine’s
Day!

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Where I Spent Last Weekend.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/09/03

Three Metal Clay guild groups–in Pittsburgh / Western Pennsylvania, Cleveland / NorthEast Ohio, and Columbus Ohio–got together (with the help of a small grant from the PMC Guild) to sponsor four days of workshops, held at the Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls, OH, over the last full weekend in August this year. (Sorry, but I don’t have links for websites of those Ohio groups. If anyone reading this can provide them, I’ll be happy to add the links here! In the meantime, if you’re trying to find either one, you might try checking the guilds listing at Metal Clay Today.)

One of the features involved a series of workshops by Hawaii-based metal clay artist, Gordon K. Uyehara:

  • “Fabulous Bail Link Bracelet” (two days: Thursday and Friday);
  • “Cosmic Honu” (stencilled turtle) pendant (Saturday); and
  • “Pearl Box Ring” (Sunday).

All the photos with this post show Gordon’s delightful pieces, samples for the various workshops. Two bracelets, above. One turtle is with the bracelets, and a second one is visible on Gordon himself during one of his demos in the ring class. (Click to see a larger version of either of those snapshots, which I took.) And, shown further down this post is one of Gordon’s own photos of an example of his ring project. (Beyond those, if you’re not already familiar with his work, do check his website to get a better clue of his style and range. I remain in awe of the work I know goes into making most of his pieces.)

There were a number of other sessions too, for which I have no photos (sigh…). The other major hands-on workshop, led by Ohio-based artist Catherine Davies Paetz, covered making a series of carved, seamless rings (stackable, if you wanted to wear them that way) using PMC Pro. Other scheduled sessions involved topics like design, photography, and flexshaft maintenance. And there was a big pot-luck dinner on Saturday night.

Now, it just so happens that all this got scheduled over days when I had tons of stuff already going on. And, in fact, I wasn’t the only one! So, while a few people stayed for the entire four days, there were lots of others who did their best to find an opening somewhere in their schedule when they could participate in at least some part of the weekend. Though that posed a bit of a challenge (would all the costs be covered by the registration fees that had been set?!) in another way it was OK: because there were a few openings, it was possible to accommodate requests from others to join the fun, which ended up including folks from Colorado, Maryland, Florida (and those are just the ones I caught; there may have been others).

So, on Saturday I drove up to Franklin, PA, to meet with Alice Walkowski, and we headed over to Chagrin Falls together. On my way to Alice’s, however, I hit a major traffic jam. I knew there was construction and, based on previous trips through that area, I’d factored in a 40 minute delay; online sites I checked en route then told me it would set me back 45 minutes; there is an alternate route, but it normally takes 45-50 minutes longer than the other route and due to lots of traffic lights, so I figured I’d risk the interstate construction for an easy drive the rest of the way. Wrong decision! In reality, that single three-mile stretch added well over two hours to my trip!!!

But we still managed to arrive in Chagrin Falls just in time to make a quick stop at the delightful Village Herb Shop. I wanted to get there because it’s a great source for edible flowers (which you should know by now that I love to cook with). But I mention it here specifically because they also carry the lavender oil that many metal clay artists use in joining pieces of metal! In fact, they carry both the essential oil (alone) and a tincture (with alcohol), in several sizes. I already have a bottle of that, but this time I picked up some organic edible flowers, both in the Village Herb Shop’s special mix (where I may have gotten the last jar of this season!), and some separate, individual varieties (including some delightful little button roses whose petals can go into my next few batches of rose petal ice cream!) Alice is not quite the edible flower fan that I am but, while I shopped, she explored the yarn shop upstairs and the garden outside. So we were both happy with that stop.

After we were done there, we headed over to meet up with all the various guild members for that delicious pot-luck dinner. We spent the night in a near-by hotel, and were thus able to arrive promptly for a 9 am start for Gordon’s “Box Ring with Pearl” workshop. More about that in my next post.

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Workshop ideas can come from workshop participants too!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fine Silver Butterflies!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where do other workshop ideas come from?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/13

I sure do think that it’s loads of fun to wrap strips of clay into cylindrical shapes … and, then, fire them so they turn into sturdy but lovely metal tubes! Do you? Have you tried it? Would you like to come to a workshop and make a few?

One fairly easy thing—something even an absolute beginner can do—is to overlap the material as you twist it around. This gets you a shape I think of as a “lapped cylinder,” one that’s open at both ends. Depending on the texture / design you have chosen, the pattern can remain the same along the full length of the cylinder (upper tube in photo to the right), or it can vary noticeably as you turn it around (lower tube in upper photo at right).

You can hang one or more of these cylinders from some fancy ribbon and you’ll have your very own one-of-a-kind piece of art-jewelry! You can use ribbon just as it comes from its package, or you can use any of a range of braiding and/or beading techniques to make it fancier. It can be as quick and easy, or as elaborate, as you want it to be.

(Not shown in that photo is the way you can even use a matching tube as part of a toggle clasp! I’ll write about bracelets again in a little while, and show that then.)

Cylinders that Can Spin. Little CylindersAn interesting variation on the cylinder involves capping one end and putting a small hole in that, just large enough for a piece of wire to pass through. Then, you can use a headpin (I often make my own!) to either: make a wrapped loop so you can hang the whole thing from an earwire (first photo to the left) or even use a headpin that’s long enough so you can bend it directly into a hand-made earwire (second photo, to the left). Though I illustrate only the second approach with additional beads here (I used crystal and glass), it’s possible to include them (or not) with either style, as you desire.

All of the cylinders described so far are possible outcomes for the workshop I offer periodically called Simply Stupendous Cylinders. Where did that idea come from? I wanted to find a way to offer a shorter, simpler version of a couple of my other favorite projects.

(1) Silver Spools involves another great project. It’s also appropriate for beginners, while those with prior metal clay experience will often have the chance to learn some new techniques. But the strategy used to construct spools just takes a bit longer to complete than does that for simple cylinders. Spools also use up some more material. So I like to offer the simpler version sometimes too, for those who want to try making some tubes but at a slightly lower cost.

Spinner Twists(2) I also love making and teaching others to make “twistie” earrings (or pendants) like the ones shown to the left here. I like their twisted shape, and I especially like the way they can be made to spin on their handmade ear-wires. Surprisingly, however, they are much harder than they may look to make! The Do the Twist workshop where we make these is one of the few I teach involving silver metal clay that I do not recommend for absolute beginners….

Here’s why: The “open twist” shape of this construction is just incredibly fragile in the greenware shape. The end result is sturdy enough, but even the slightest “wrong” move as you do any finishing or cleaning prior to firing can cause a “twistie” to snap into pieces. Then you have to decide: stick them back together (and risk snapping it somewhere else in the process), smooth off the ends of the pieces and just end up with shorter twists (though that smoothing can also lead to more breakage), or rehydrate the clay and try again another day (since, though no clay is lost, it still takes time to get it workable again)? That’s just not a set of choices I want to foist on metal clay beginners! You need not be an expert to make these, but I do recommend waiting until you feel comfortable working with metal clay in both its moist (lump clay) and dried (greenware) states before you tackle this approach. And the cylinders-class is one great way to gain the relevant experience.


If you’re reading this note within about a month of when it was first posted, you can look over to the right sidebar to see when I’ll next be offering the relatively quick and easy Simply Stupendous Cylinders workshop in my studio (in “Regent Square” in western Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh, Swissvale, Edgewood, and Wilkinsburg intersect…). If you’re interested, just let me know that you want to sign up for it.

If you’re reading this more than a month after it was first posted, you may not see it listed on my evolving workshop schedule. But, at any time, you are welcome to request any of my workshops (regular ones or something special), including the ones discussed here. I’m always happy to offer any of them (at my studio or even at your site) as long as I know there are folks interested in taking them!

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Where do workshop ideas come from?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/08/07

I was over at Zelda’s Bead Kit Company a week or so ago, and noticed a box with these cute and colorful little Lucite beads. I think they’re so adorable—with several different leaves and flowers and butterflies—and I just couldn’t decide which color or design to buy.

How could I justify getting a whole collection of them? Even a single strand of one color and design contained more than I’d be likely to use myself. Why? Well, while I may make “similar” pieces in a “series,” I don’t go around making lots of multiples of the same design. So I rarely use lots of the same kind of bead.

But … I got to thinking, in workshops, my participants are encouraged to take my ideas, demonstrations, and samples as inspiration and then make something that adds their own special twist to it.

So … could I justify buying a collection of these in different designs and colors, and offer a workshop where I’d make these available as materials? Clearly, given the presence of these photos, the answer was, “Of course!”

Garden Delight Earrings is now on the schedule as one of the workshops I’ll offer in my studio at the Wilkins School Community Center soon after the fall series opens. This one will be on the evening of September 21. Though returning students are certainly welcome, this is one of the classes I’ve designed as a super-easy one for beginners. And because the silver elements themselves are likely to be relatively small, the materials fee for this one should also be very affordable!

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Thanks, Cindy G., for the inspiration!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/02/12

Where do you get your inspiration? Your ideas for what to make?

That’s not a question I’d actually think to ask of many artists, though I have heard others ask it. (Of some artists, yes, I might think it, because I truly cannot imagine what would lead someone to make what they’ve produced. But only a few of those are ones for which I’d really want to know the answer, if you know what I mean… And, of the ones where I would want the answer, I’d be more likely to ask one or more specific questions, starting from a specific piece, rather than lead with such a general one.)

I just always figure, in general, that inspiration, while not always direct, still comes from some mix of internal and external sources: something you see or do or hear or … that connects to something you think or feel or wish or dream … that connects to the specific set of skills you happen to have or to be trying to acquire and strengthen … that combines with a variety of other bits of you and your life and comes out as the piece in question.

In the grand scheme of my own life, this idea of being an “artist” myself is a relatively recent development. For decades, yes, I admired art, and bought pieces I wanted when I could, while I worked in various aspects of “scientific visualization.” There I was trying to make concrete images of abstract ideas … so I’m having fun going in what feels like the other direction now. But one thing that has surprised me, since I got involved in all this, is the number of people who try to describe to me other pieces they want to insist that I should make. That is something I never would have imagined telling another artist. Am I a couple standard deviations off the norm on that? Do lots of people think that’s a good conversation starter, one to which I’ve just always been oblivious?

Wave and Curve Toggle ClaspNone of that, of course, applies to the photos with this post. What inspired me to make the above comments just now was simply the concept of where inspiration comes from! In the case of those earrings, above, it was Cindy, a friend from the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County. She came over to meet me at my studio one day, before we headed out on a project for that; she admired a necklace I had made (a couple years ago now, but whose clasp I still use as a class-sample) and commented on a couple pairs of earrings that I had on display for sale. Hearing her comments on both of those at the same time, it suddenly struck me to make a pair of earrings using a part of the design, and some of the same beads, as the necklace. They’re now for sale at KoolKat in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

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