Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘steel’

Picnics, and Parties, and Art Shows, oh my!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/07/09

What’s this mythical concept of “lazy days” of summer? Summers just seem so busy, with all sorts of events and happenings and things to do that one really does not want to miss. That’s not a complaint: it’s just a puzzle to me, where the lazy-days idea came from!

Anyway, amidst all the many things to do all summer, this is a super-busy weekend. Since I post here mostly about art & jewelry / teaching & learning types of activities, I’m going to skip over the truly “personal” events this weekend. I can fill a long post with places my jewelry and other art-creations are going themselves this weekend.

  • Arts on the Riverwalk, in New Castle, PA: The art show that the Hoyt Art Center is running at The Confluence, in conjunction with this event, has its opening tonight, 4 to 6 pm. The show itself will run through August 26. I’ve had two pieces accepted for this, one of which is shown below. Although I was thinking of all the ocean-shore walking I’ve done in my life as I created it, I do enjoy walking along any sort of waterfront, so this still seemed to be an appropriate choice for this show:

  • Community Days in Cranberry Township, PA: The Cranberry Township Community Chest and the Cranberry Artists Network are partnering (for the first time this year) on a show in the Cranberry Municipal Building in conjunction with this annual celebration. The opening reception for the show, Martinis with Monet, held on Wednesday night (for which I managed a post on Facebook, but not here…) was the kick-off event for the weekend-long celebration. The show itself will run through August 3. I’m thrilled to have had two pieces accepted for this show, one of which is shown below. I created Flowers Burst Even Through the Garden Paths for several reasons: primarily to honor Monet’s Gardens in line with the theme of the show, but also as one I could use as demonstration pieces for classes (layering, on the title side, and basic stone setting, on the other side) until it took off for Cranberry and, one hopes, a new home:

  • At the Panza Gallery, in Millvale, PA: The Pittsburgh Society of Artists is having a Members Choice show there this summer. The opening reception is tonight, from 6 to 8:30 pm, and then the exhibit will run through July 29, and be open Wednesdays through Fridays 10-5 and Saturdays 10-3. Silly me, I didn’t take photos of my entry before I dropped it off (because I thought I already had several) but now I can’t find any of them. What’s in the show is the latest piece in my Three Rivers series; an early piece from that is shown below. Both of them have bronze rivers (with “expansion joints” designating the major bridges) flowing through copper neighborhoods, with a cubic zirconia noting the location of Point State Park and its fountain. The one in the show has flowery-garden neighborhoods (not the metropolitan geometry of this one), and by the time I made it I was much better at getting the rivers to work as an inlay in the copper, like actual rivers (as compared to the onlay shown here). And it’s on a fancier chain. But anyone seeing one should recognize the other as different but similar / familiar…

  • ArtBrew at the Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley, PA: Last but certainly not least, from 7 to 10 pm tonight and tonight only (for this year) we have ArtBrew, the Arts & Crafts Fair where the “crafts” are the beers on tap. I was one of just thirty local artists who were invited to provide pieces for sale in the “arts” arena. Some worked in very beer-specific art forms, while others simply created works that the organizers found interesting. I’m in the latter category, and I’ve no clue how my pieces will do, but figured it was worth a shot. Sweetwater is a great place, and I’m happy to support this summer-fundraiser of theirs through commissions on sales of my work. Most of what I submitted are my earrings and pendants. Some were made using typical “metal clay” techniques, while some reflect other directions I’ve also been exploring. There are, for example, some enamel-on-copper pieces that I made on a whim in the spring. And some pendants and earrings, like the silver earring-elements shown below, that were cut out of clay in the “dry but still flexible” state using an electronic cutting machine on a design I created to fit the amount of material I happened to have on hand at the moment:

    I also had a dozen pottery items accepted for this event! I don’t often post about my clay-clay work here, but you can get a glimpse of the twelve I sent to Sweetwater below. Note: you really should click on this photo! I hope everyone who does will let me know (e.g., via a comment, either on this blog or at the photo-sharing site the click will take you to) whether you were surprised at what you found there, or whether, especially if you feel you know me and my interests, it was what you imagined as soon as you saw this photo.

Here’s wishing everyone a pleasant summer weekend, full of kindness and friendship.

And Happy 200th Birthday to Pittsburgh, PA, today too!

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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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This time, it’s more Intermingling than Interlude!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/10/18

In just one week, I plan to go all out on a combination of two of my major interests: metals and gardens.

“In 2014 the Penn State Master Gardener Program of Allegheny County partnered with the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation to develop a comprehensive plant survey of the lands in and around the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, PA. Eight Master Gardeners set out to learn more about the succession of native, aggressive and/or invasive plant species that are surviving, and even thriving, in these disturbed soils.

“As part of this research, the group was charged with developing an interpretive component to educate the public on best practices in environmental stewardship. For previous projects, this interpretation often materialized in the form of a booklet, poster or on-line resource, but given the nature of the Carrie Furnaces (pun intended) and its history and connection to iron, a multidisciplinary team in science, art, history and industry was created to develop a unique approach.

“Their decision was to create ten interpretive plaques, cast at a live iron pour event and designed to lead participants through the fields and structures of the site, providing a narrative of the wild gardens taking over the former industrial landscape of the Carrie Furnaces. Designed to allow the visitor to take rubbings, these plaques will include botanical illustrations of the local plant community. The illustrations, provided by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, will highlight features such as bark, fruit and leaf form for easy identification. The images are paired with narratives written by Penn State Master Gardeners on plant succession inclusive of soil conditions, environmental factors and the potential for future plant communities.

Rivers of Steel is hosting the iron pour event on Saturday, October 25th from 2PM to 7PM at the Carrie Furnaces site. Under the direction of Joshua Reiman, Visiting Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, Casey Westbrook of Carbon Arts, and local iron-caster and fabricator Ed Parrish, Master Gardener volunteers and CMU students will pour over 1600 lbs of iron. This collaborative iron pour will provide a first-hand look at the process and skills of casting molten iron into pattern molds. This same process produced the iron that built our nation and many of the world’s largest structures during Pittsburgh’s legacy era as “Workshop of the World.”

“Historical/garden tours of the site and other activities are planned for this unique event.”

(The above description was taken directly from the Master Gardeners announcement. Tickets ($10) are available in advance or at the site that day.)

Though I was not directly involved in the development of this project (I was busy with the Edible Teaching Garden instead), I am delighted to be able to volunteer at the Casting the Iron Garden event itself! No clue what I’ll be doing: besides taking photos on behalf of the Master Gardeners, I’ll probably just be taking tickets or escorting visitors to the various presentations that will be offered (starting at 2 pm) before the furnace is tapped and the pour begins (scheduled for 4 pm). To find me just know that, along with all the other volunteers, I should be wearing a t-shirt with the same logo as is on the poster. One major difference is that I may be the only one also wearing one of my own “Rivers of Steel” pendants. (That particular piece, Our Three Rivers Weave Us Together, is probably not the best, style-wise, to go with that shirt, but I think I have to wear that one for the sentiment of the day! I may just have to remember to use a bit of chain as an extender, to get it to land in a good location….)

Do let me know if I should be on the look-out for you that afternoon! It’d be great to see some familiar faces: garden-friends, metal-friends, and more!

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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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Hot from the Kiln (or, A Little Steel to New Castle)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/09/05

Here’s a peek at another of my Three Rivers pieces.

I say “peek” because the main image shows what it looked like straight from the kiln, cooled off a bit but not cleaned up at all (which should be pretty obvious, from the carbon-crumbs still clinging to it…). Just peeking out from behind is a hint of what it now looks like, what you’ll see if you find me wearing it tonight at the “Public Reception” up at The Confluence in New Castle, PA.

This is a Pittsburgh piece for sure. I embedded a trillion-shaped CZ into a little steel frame and positioned that at “the Point.” The “neighborhoods” are made from copper, with various garden-theme textures. I used those to reflect how much I appreciate all the green space in Pittsburgh.. I even continued that idea on the other side, which is all-copper with a rose-themed texture. The three rivers are made from bronze, with “expansion joints” positioned to reflect the locations of the major bridges. It is technically-convenient to add a few of those gaps, so I figure I might as well make them design-appropriate while I’m at it….

That sort of problem-solving is part of why I have so much fun working in this medium of powdered metals! What captures your interests that way (whatever is your favorite medium…!)?

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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!

Posted in General Techniques, Teaching Metal Clay | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This Weekend: Art All Night

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/23

Yes, once again, the last weekend in April brings the wonderful event known as Art All Night. As ever, it’ll be in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This year, it’s going to be held in the same location as it’s been the last two years: just east of the 40th Street Bridge, down next to the Allegheny River.

If you’re not familiar with the event, it is an absolutely amazing community-based celebration of art!

Details are at the event’s website: artallnight.org

Or, if you prefer, here: http://www.facebook.com/artallnight

No Fees. No Jury. No Censorship. One entry per artist. Drop-off times are 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday: thousands of entries will be hung in that short time-span. (I’m entry #2793, and I’m sure there will be more registered after mine!)

The show will open at 4:00 pm on Saturday, run through the rest of the afternoon and evening, keep going all night (yes, really!), run on into Sunday morning and early afternoon. After tens of thousands of people have explored the exhibits, listened to the music, watched demonstrations and joined in on the various hands-on activities, it will finally close at 2 pm on Sunday….

Participating artists can (must!) pick up their entries between 2:30 and 5:30 on Sunday. Bids are passed on to the artists, and it’s up to them to contact their potential customers after the event. (There’s also an auction of pieces created at the event. Funds from that go to the organization, to help keep Art All Night running every year. This year, 2014, is the seventeenth (17th!) time it’s been held.)

Those who know me “in real life” know that Art All Night is one of my very top-two favorite events of the year. (I can’t rate them against each other: they are too different for that. The other is the Edible Flowers Food Fest, but that’s going on hiatus for 2014 since the leader of the EFFF is also hosting the Garden Writers Association‘s annual symposium (their 66th) here this year. Which makes this year’s Art All Night even-more special!)

I include a photograph of the piece I’m entering this year: The Pittsburgh Point: Three Neighborhoods and Three Rivers in Three Metals. It was made using Hadar’s Clays: Champagne Bronze, Friendly Copper, and Low-Shrinkage Steel. It is, in fact, extra-special to me because I made it in the Accreditation Program workshop I attended out at Hadar’s Studio in Berkeley, CA, this past February. (Hadar herself took this photo with it on a steel cable she had out there! I’m entering it with a bronze-color satin cord to which I added findings.) I really enjoyed making it. Better yet, it inspired me to start a whole new series of Three Rivers pieces for the Three Rivers Arts Festival this June. I’ll again have pieces in the Koolkat Gallery booth there … but I’ll write more about that later on.

Until Sunday afternoon, I’m all Art All Night! Let me know if I should look for you there!

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

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/04/08

In addition to the workshops I’ve offered in fine silver for what seems like ages now, I’ve also been teaching classes in these non-precious metals too, mostly on-demand private or semi-private sessions, plus a few in local bead shops. All were relatively short, covering just one or two techniques in one or two day (or evening) events only.

Now, I’ve taken the best of the best and spiffed them up with some of the things I’ve learned in the last year with Hadar’s group of teachers worldwide. And I’m thrilled to be offering that great new combination in a four-session series, on Sunday afternoons in May, in my studio in the Regent Square (Swissvale) neighborhood, just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Whether you’re a beginner, or already have some experience with metal clay, you will make at least four separate items: a bracelet, a pair of earrings, and two pendants. Some may involve a single metal; others will combine various bronze formulas with copper and/or steel. You’ll learn every step of the process, from design through basic construction and on to final finishing for your pieces.

You’ll get to use at least three different metals (from yellow bronze, champagne bronze, dark champagne bronze, iron bronze, rose bronze, copper, and/or steel). Don’t know the difference between them? You’ll learn that too!

We’ll meet each Sunday in May (4, 11, 18, and 25*), from 12 to 5 pm. That’s 20 whole hours of instruction in a small class (max 6 students)!

* Yes, May is such a busy month! We will meet on Mother’s Day. But let me know if you’re hesitant to sign up simply because May 25 is part of the Memorial Day weekend. Several alternatives for that final date are possible!

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

Just Some of What I’ll Be Making-With!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/03/08

I thought about using the photo I include here as the “punch line” to the post I wrote yesterday about shopping, then decided it deserved its own little spot.

The twenty-four tubes in the front are most (but, aack my wallet cries out, not quite all) of what I had shipped back from the workshop at Hadar’s last month: all five of the new clay powders we were able to try out: Champagne Bronze, Dark Champagne Bronze, Friendly Bronze, Friendly Copper, and White Satin. The seven tubes along the back contain prepared clay (i.e., already mixed with water) that I hadn’t yet finished off so, in addition to the new five, there’s also some Low Shrinkage Steel XT and Pearl Gray Steel XT in that row.

What’s missing from the photo? Well, I store my clay in a repurposed CD cabinet with lots of little cubby-holes. I already had spots for the two older steels; had those put away before I thought to take a photo; and then couldn’t even remember how many new tubes I’d added to the existing stash… The thing is, Hadar has at least one more “friendly” clay coming out (i.e., that debinders and sinters in a single firing comparable in length to that of the much-easier-to-fire fine silver), and it’s a Friendly Rose Bronze. I’ve loved working with her original Rose Bronze since I first got my hands on it, so I know I’ll be ordering some of that before I’ve worked my way through all these.

Not to worry, though, I’ve got a workshop series coming up in April and May. It’s based on the Teacher Accreditation program from which I just graduated, expanding offerings I’ve been offering for several years. I’ll be ordering more clay powders for participants to use in that, and will get myself some Friendly Rose Bronze then. (And, no, I don’t know the date when they’ll be officially released to the public. As an Accredited Teacher of Hadar’s Clays, I can get small amounts early, not enough to stock a reseller’s shop, but all that I need for my own testing and teaching, which is great!)

So I need to stop nattering here and go make some pieces to sell, and teach some workshops (including several more using fine silver this month!), to bring in enough money to pay for all these purchases: the travel and workshop expenses, studio rent and insurance, as well as the clays, beads, chains, and all!

~~~~~

p.s., There are still some openings in my various classes and workshops, so do let me know if you’d be interested in taking any of them! (Although, since some have far fewer open seats than others, I suggest you let me know quickly….)

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Trying Hadar’s White Satin

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/19

Another new clay means another trial making rings!

Though I love rings–both wearing them myself and admiring those on others, in shops, at galleries–and I love making small adornments using metal clays, in general rings are not my favorite things to make. I’ll leave the reasons for that for another post specifically about rings. Why? Because today I want to talk about rings made from another “new” clay! Now that I’m familiar with a number of different types of metal clay, one of the things I often do to try to get myself comfortable with a new one is to make myself some rings out of it–to test what it’s like to work with–and then wear them everywhere–to test how they hold up. And my first question about an iron-bronze formula in particular was whether it would hold up as well as I might expect under all the stresses I put on rings.

So one of the first things I made when I got my hands on a (pre-release!) tube of Hadar’s new White Satin was to try making a couple of rings. I wasn’t going to be able to make them my favorite way (with iron in it, I was not going to count on being able to fire the shank first and then form it around a mandrel–a method that pretty much guarantees it will come out a perfect fit–and I was too eager to try it to first make a little test strip to see if/how I could manipulate it, though if will try that eventually…). And I didn’t want to make a ring using the “common” metal clay way, shaping a band in the clay-state (with lots of potential shrinkage-issues during firing). So my first White Satin rings were a pair of seamless stackers with each one textured on one side (using the “eastern paisley” design from Cool Tools) and plain on the other side.

My plan was to make them two different shapes, and wear them with the “plain” sides together. And, no, they didn’t warp during firing: I made the openings oval on purpose!

I usually make my rings either oval (as shown here) or square-ish (a rounded-corners trapezoid). The latter is easy with metal I can whack around something like the finger-shape mandrel from Rio Grande. Since I wasn’t yet ready to try that with White Satin, I just cut the clay itself with an oval opening. Hadar said rings would shrink about 3 sizes, so I used that for my beginning estimate.

Though, since I was making my rings oval, I did cut the opening a tad smaller than that. What I really did was to fit a narrow strip of metal inside a ring sizer at the +3 size, but then trim it a tad smaller. I then shaped that into an oval, and used that to cut my clay. The reason for down-sizing a tad is that, to put on an oval ring, I turn it sideways until it’s passed over my knuckles, but then turn it back up to wear. The “twist” allows the larger-direction opening (still at the +3 size) to fit over the larger-dimension part of my finger. But when it gets twisted back again, the straighter side (now smaller and narrower) holds each ring upright better, so I don’t have to keep straightening them.

The rings shown here were fired and then polished. And they did come out fitting the finger for which I was trying to make them! Since they contain iron, which will rust, they were sprayed with an acrylic protectant. Since they are rings, I have no clue how long that protection may or may not last. That’s what I’m now trying to test! I’ve been wearing them off and on for almost two weeks (more on than off, but nowhere near constantly) before taking these snapshots. They seem to be holding up fine in the short term. It’ll just take more time to see how they do over a longer stretch.

In the meantime, I am very happy with the results so far, and I hope you appreciate this early-report.

~~~~~

Update: This post originally referred to White Satin as a form of steel. I have since decided that it is more appropriately described as a form of iron-bronze, and have edited the post to reflect that. (Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Different proportions yield metals of a different color. Rose bronze, for example, has more copper than does the typical yellow-bronze. White bronze has more tin. which produces a nice color when used as an accent, but results in a metal that is too “fragile” to be used as a major structural component. Hadar’s White Satin is a bronze formula that contains some iron too, which produces a black-metal that can be polished to a white-metal color but has the strength more like that of a typical bronze….)

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

I Made It Onto “Hadar’s List”!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/14

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

As I write this, there are about two dozen of us around the world. Maybe a dozen or so more should be added in the next month. There’s a second group that should finish before the end of the year. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to spend the past year working with such an amazing and wonderful group of artists and explorers.

I look forward to the adventures we’ll continue to have together, and to continuing to share them with my students and with all my other readers here. Check for links to my workshops down the right side of this blog. My first four-part series based on this program will run in my studio during April and May of this year. (I’m still teaching silver too, and have four individual classes set up for that in March.) Do let me know if you’re interested in either the silver classes or the base metals series … or both!

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Update on the Lifespan of a No-Flake Foil Firing Box

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/10

A few days ago, I was talking with another metal clay artist about how I fire bronze, copper,and steel in vessels I “fold” myself from sheets of steel “no-flake” foil, when I realized it had been two years since the last time I’d mentioned them here.

Which I find interesting: in three years, I’ve used three boxes! Counting them up, I figure I put a box through a firing somewhere between 1 and 2 times a week, on average. But few things in my life are average…! No, really, it’s more like 6 or 7 times a month, but even that tends to happen in maybe two “bursts” of several firings in quick succession, then it’s several weeks before I do that again.

Something I learned from my first no-flake foil box, plus discussions with others after I wrote about that, is that the foil tends to crack open along the top edge of however much carbon is typically used. So, with my second box, I started out by piling the carbon a a little bit higher than I’d been doing. Then, when some cracking started to appear, I could just lower the level a bit, and get a number of additional uses out of it (because the holes–eventually stretching into a longer tear–were then above carbon, it didn’t leak out)! With the extra firings, it also began to crack along the top-most folds: what that meant is that I tried to be a bit more careful as I handled it, especially when moving it in and out of the kiln. Eventually, though, I decided I was carrying conservation perhaps a bit too far: after at least 75 firings over the course of a year, I took its picture and retired it!

Box #3 has lasted even longer! It has handled 80-some firings over almost 14 months. I did not keep fully-detailed records but, between the notes I do have and my general memory of the past year, I’d say that for its first year, I did a higher proportion of firings in the mid-fire range, and a smaller share in the high-fire range, than I had done with the first two boxes. That seems to have reduced the number of little holes it developed, so there were fewer to spread into wide-open cracks.

That is, until the start of this calendar year. That’s when I started playing with Hadar’s One-Fire High-Fire Trio. The single firing needed to both de-binder the clay and sinter the metals is a real treat, but when I started firing batch after batch in the high range, I noticed that the sides started warping out. So, even though Box #3 does not have any big holes, it is now being retired because I can barely fit it in he kiln any more: it is in danger of hitting the kiln’s thermocouple!

But. I still think that these boxes are well-worth their cost! Do you?

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One Thing Just Leads to Another

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/02/01

If you’ve stumbled across this blog / post without a lot of previous metal clay experience, you may want to just click on the photos to enlarge them and read the brief notes there. For the rest of you, I’ll start by asking if you remember the earrings I wrote about last week?

For today’s post, I’ll start by saying a little about the steps I went through in making the bronze-parts of the two-metal earring pair I described earlier.

  • Grab a good-size chunk of Champagne Bronze clay.
  • Roll it out to a thickness of four cards.
  • Position cards around it, two cards high.
  • Use a thin, straight edge to cut two distinct sets of five intersecting lines. (This was done freehand, so their positions are similar but not identical.)
  • Use a circle cutter to make two “large” circles.
  • Use another circle cutter to make a “small” circle inside each of the “large” ones. (Again, done freehand, so their positions are similar but intentionally not identical.)
  • Do all the usual clean-up and drying of the various bits of clay.

When the circles had dried, I used the small, matching “inner” circles (where each set of lines all intersect) over some Low Shrinkage Steel XT to make the earrings I mentioned before. So far, so good.

Looking at the dry “outer” circles (washers, actually: the larger circles with their centers removed), I had another idea. Using a texture sheet with some concentric circles, I rolled out two more sheets of clay, one each from Friendly Copper and Low Shrinkage Steel XT. Then I centered one of the bronze “washers” over each of those, and cut a matching circle out of each clay. Finally, I rolled out another pair of those two clays, this time using two different “flowered” textures, and cut out a third circle of the same size from each of those. Both the circles- and the flower-design were rolled to four cards at first and then, with the textures, down to two cards. (I didn’t roll the clay with textures on both sides because: (a) I hadn’t yet decided for sure how I would use them, and (b) I wanted to center the designs on both sides the way I wanted, and doing that separately for each side was easier.) I set all those aside to dry (as well as a few other bits I’ll try to write about another time), figuring I’d use them for something….

A few days later still, I got to wondering about the “high fire” temperature of these new “one fire” clays. In general, even with this new trio, it’s the bronze that’s going to limit how hot the product can get during the sintering process. Would the “bronze embeddable” bails survive that heat? (I use them myself, on occasion, and I often offer them to students, especially in introductory workshops, because they can save a bit of time when compared to having to make one’s own bail.) So I took one of the bronze washers, attached the copper disk with circles and let that dry, then positioned the embeddable bail and attached the copper flower-design disk. Once all that had dried, I filled in a few little gaps, dried it all some more, and finally fired the piece.

The results were interesting, as shown in the first photo, above. It all sintered just fine. The bail did blister a little bit: not enough to ruin it, but enough that any metal artist “in the know” should be able to spot what happened. But I still think it’s interesting.

There was one small blister on the sintered bronze section. My first thought was that I’d overfired the batch a bit, but then I realized it was exactly over the post on the embeddable bail. Silly me, I didn’t think to capture a photo of that: What I did was to immediately see if I could polish it out. Easy! I’m not done polishing this piece (it was just a spur of the moment creation, not a planned project), but I think the photo I include here (click on it for a bigger version) gives you a hint as to the blistering on the bail (in case you’re someone who uses them too), and to the way it does look like the disk itself will polish up nicely with a little more work.

There’s one other item worth noting: how the bronze in the bail alloyed a bit with the copper on the other side! Look at the side shown to the right in the first photo, up near the bail, and notice the golden-colored patch. Alloying! Again, artistically, I’m OK with its looking like that. But it’s good to know it will happen.

A few days later, I got to wondering, would the bronze wire I sometimes use with such pieces show the same blistering? [Later clarification: I’ve used that wire in the past with pieces made using Hadar’s Quick Fire bronze. That’s a clay that takes a two-phase firing and only mid-fire temperatures and it’s always held up beautifully in pieces fired that way. Here, I’m otherwise reporting on the newer one-phase high-fire clays.]

So I made a simple wire-loop bail out of phosphor bronze (melting temp listed as 1800°F), then took the other (matching) bronze washer and the Low Shrinkage Steel XT disks, and assembled it the same way as I’d done before. I fired that using the same schedule too.

And, again, I noticed a bit of blistering on the bail and, with this wire-design, a bit of fusing across the loops. Again, I think that slightly grainy look is OK. Other than a quick clean-up, I have not yet stopped to polish this one at all. But I decided to post about it quickly because, this time, the main piece shrank much further away from the bail. In its clay state, the loops were pressed lightly down into the piece, but the post-firing separation is visible in the photo. No alloying with the steel though, which is also good to know.

But you have to see the two together to catch what surprised me the most: the difference in shrinkage! They started out exactly the same size, and look how different they are now. The current (as I write this) Hadar’s Cheat Sheet (.pdf) says that, on their own, Champagne Bronze shrinks about 30%, Low Shrinkage Steel XT about 28%, and Friendly Copper about 25%. Combos will be limited, to some extent, by the least-shinkage clay in the mix. But there’s only a 3% difference between LSStXT and FrCu, and it sure looks to me like there’s more than a 3% difference in the results here. What I can feel, but can’t really show here, is that there is maybe a 3% difference in height but it’s in the wrong direction. The one made from copper is a teensy bit thinner (i.e., more shrinkage, not less).

I really do like the results I’m getting with these clays, and the 3-hour firing time is a huge help compared to some of the others. But, with the others (and any of the “older” clays, both precious and non-precious), I think I have a pretty good feel for the shrinkage. With this new One Fire Trio, I’m still exploring….

What are you finding with them? Do leave a comment!

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A very quick shrinkage comparison of Hadar’s “One Fire Trio”

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/01/25

Here’s a photo showing a few more little bits from my first trial firing of Hadar’s One-Fire Trio. Though I didn’t start out by making them as perfectly-similar as would be required for a scientific comparison, I did roll and cut them to the same size. So, in order, from the most shrinkage to the least are: Champagne Bronze (C), Low Shrinkage Steel XT (L), and Friendly Copper (F).

I’ll have to see if the apparent ratios continue to hold with other cubes. (That is, some differences could just be due to my having mixed more or less water into the different products. And I just stamped the letters in by hand, which could have changed the shapes a bit too.) But, with the other pieces I fired at the same time, the ratios do seem to vary depending on the shape of the piece being fired. I don’t have enough data yet to be sure, and these cubes are the only items where I made three matching pieces to start with.

But I will say that, while the Champagne Bronze cube did shrink somewhere around the proposed 30% rate all around (per the Cheat Sheet for Hadar’s Quick-fire Clays on her blog), a ring shank made from the same batch shrank barely 15% in length and a bit less than that in width. (Its height/thickness is just too small for me to accurately measure whether all the remaining shrinkage went into that, or not.)

Still, I figured I’d share the preliminary results. Please add a comment if you try these clays and find results that are either similar or different!

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Trying Hadar’s New “One Fire Trio”

Posted by C Scheftic on 2014/01/24

It’s taken me a while to post again as the state of mini-crises has continued, but I won’t bore you with those details. Instead, I’m delighted to report an exciting new development: At the start of the year, Hadar announced a new One Fire Trio that includes two new metal clay powders that, along with one of her older ones, can be de-bindered and sintered in just one firing (rather than the two separate ones that many others require). Their total firing time is just under 3 hours. Wow! Compared to the usual 8 hours (if you fuss in between) or 12 (if you don’t fuss but do sacrifice more carbon), that’s a huge difference!

The older member of the trio is Low Shrinkage Steel XT. On its own, it could be fired in a single kiln-run, but that limited the combinations in which it could be used. Also, it’s a high-fire clay, so it could only be used in small amounts with some of her other clays, the ones fired at lower temperatures. But, with the introduction of two new clays—Champagne Bronze and Friendly Copper, both of which also use high-fire and single-phase processes—it is now possible to produce more combinations.

Each of Hadar’s metal clay powders have their own advantages and disadvantages compared to the others. No one product (or small set of products) from her or (or any other producer) is yet able to achieve everything an artist might want. But each new combination offers new opportunities, which is what makes them so exciting! I am sure that some people got these clays and proceeded to develop complex creations. But me, I prefer to get to know the clays in simpler ways first, to discover their advantages and limitations. I have a few more-complex pieces in the works, and I’ll get around to completing their construction and firing them eventually. This post will show a few of the simpler pieces I tried first.

The earring pair to the left was made with Friendly Copper. The pair to the right used Low Shrinkage Steel XT in back, with the embellishment in Champagne Bronze. After firing, the copper and bronze were very lightly polished (just a quick pass with one set of (3M yellow) radial bristle disks); the steel is as it came out of the kiln; the earwires are anodized niobium (that I just happened to have handy). If / when I can find the time, I may fiddle with finishing them a bit more but, for now, I just could not resist offering this quick sneak peek!

The second (smaller) photo shows the other side of the steel pair, after each piece has been quickly polished in the same way as the copper and bronze on the fronts. I did that because I wanted to show the polished-steel color on its own, even though I liked the black+gold contrast in the combination on the other side of these. (Although ensuring that the black will stay black—neither shining up to gray nor rusting out—will require some of that additional finishing I just mentioned….)

One note on firing: Hadar says that firing any of the clays in this trio takes her 2:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes). For these, I used a brick kiln, outdoors on a covered patio, when the air temperature was around 25°F (-4°C). I also know that this particular kiln tends to overshoot the goal temperature early on in the firing process, regardless of the temperature of the air surrounding it, though it holds the temperature fine once it’s had the chance to swing up and down a few times. My work-around for that is to set a two-step program, where I first get it near the goal temperature and tell it to hold there for a couple of minutes (allowing it to spike higher there), then ramp it slowly to the real goal where it can hold for the required firing time. With those two differences between my set-up and hers, firing these pieces still took only 2:58. As I said above, that’s a real treat!

Another note on my kiln: I don’t leave it outside all the time. I keep it inside and just haul it out when I need to fire it. (If I fire it indoors in winter, when I don’t have any good way to vent it and I’m using carbon to provide an oxygen-reduced atmosphere inside the kiln, my CO detectors signal a problem!) Hauling it in and out takes only a few minutes each way, so it’s not a major problem, even when the temperatures are in the 20s. But, they’re currently hovering around 0°F, and that puts enough of a strain on my furnace, me, and more. I’m not leaving doors open to move kiln, kiln “furniture,” the stand, various tools, power strip, gloves, safety glasses, and more both out and then back in again.

In other words, even though I have more pieces underway, it may be a while before I get around to firing them and posting the results. It’s just winter … and I don’t mind at all living at winter’s pace … for a while.

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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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How long did it take you to learn how to do this?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/05/30

So far, I have not made many pieces out of steel. I have used bit of steel as small accents, but only a few times as the main element in my work.

But, over the last few weeks, a number of us who work with and teach about Hadar’s Clays have been doing some explorations with the “Low Shrinkage Steel XT” product. Shown is a photo of a dozen pieces, which are about half of the ones I made during this exercise. While most of them turned out pretty much as I would have expected, there were a few surprises that I’m still trying to understand. I will likely have to make a few more pieces like the surprise-ones (when I find some more time to just explore), to see if the pattern repeats or if the surprises were nothing more than the occasional surprise.

Specifically, we’ve been looking at shrinkage. All metal clays shrink from when you first shape a piece in that medium to when it ends up as fully-sintered metal. Different products shrink different amounts. Some shrink more as they dry (go from wet clay to what we call greenware); others shrink more as they are fired (as the binder burns out and the atoms sinter (arrange themselves into a regular metal structure)).

Even working with just one product, different pieces will shrink different amounts in different directions. This leads to some interesting results, such as the fact that rings (usually) shrink smaller (though how much depends on the size and shape of the ring), the clay around cracks (usually) shrinks away from the opening (thus making it look larger after it’s been fired), and holes (usually) remain about the same size (depending on how big and what shape they are in relation to the clay around them).

With my background in mathematics and statistics, I tend to think of shrinkage as a “degrees of freedom” issue: if a clay wants to shrink a certain percentage and, for some reason, it can’t shrink that much in one direction, it compensates by shrinking more in the direction where it has more freedom to shrink. Except, it’s nowhere near as exact as that might make it sound…. It may vary from one time to the next. It may also vary from one artist to the next.

Why? Is it the amount of water in the clay? The humidity in the air? The altitude at which you work? The attitude with which you work? Phase of the moon? I could go on, but I think you get the idea: some variations are fairly clear while, for others, your guess is as good as mine! (Feel free to suggest additional ideas in the comments: I could use both solid suggestions and a few good laughs!)

But I write all this simply because I wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoy exploring this entire “powder metallurgy” process: trying slight variations that go increasingly farther away from an original starting point just to see what happens. That is, in relation to the question in the title of this post (which I’ve been asked more times than I care to count) my answer is this: I hope to continue to learn as long as possible. I want to keep adding more information to my store of knowledge but, at the same time, I hope I’m never done learning!

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Pre-firing Hadar’s Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/04/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, to the Point of this Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Butterflies
with two polished
to confirm sintering.

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

Seven Butterflies with
preliminary polishing complete.

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

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

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Accreditation Program for Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/03/08

Well, I still don’t seem to have my head above water, schedule-wise, but there is a bit of news I’ve been sitting on for over a week now, and I just have to say something about that!

I have mentioned Hadar Jacobson in this blog before. I’ve found myself inspired by much of her metal clay art. I really enjoyed participating in a workshop she taught here just about two years ago (which I reported about in a series of six posts that started here). I find her clays to be delightful to work with. And I’ve been honored to have three of the pieces I’ve made using those clays selected as illustrations in two of her books.

And the latest news items, both Hadar-related, are these:


  1. She is starting an Accreditation Program for Hadar’s Clay™ Teachers … and … [drum roll …] …
  2. She has invited me to be in the “charter group” of teachers to participate in this!

(If it weren’t for the jaw-pain that, at the moment, I know would result from jumping up and down (even just once, let alone for days on end now), I’d show a video of that here. Instead, I’ll just include a photo of of one of my pieces from her book, Patterns of Color in Metal Clay.)

Now, we are just at the beginning of a year-long process. On the one hand, I am thrilled that there will be a cadre of us (all around the world!) spending pretty much a whole year working on a series of common projects, talking about the results, comparing notes, seeing what is and is not reproducible and what really does vary by individual, how to handle all this in various situations both in-class and on-line, and more, all culminating in a series of get-together workshops next year. On the other hand, I am also a bit intimidated to think that this will take a whole year of regular tasks and assignments just to get through the process, so I’m betting that some folks will drop out along the way. At the moment, I am simply hoping that I can hold on (although, of course, another part of me really does want to make it through “with flying colors”…).

But one of the things that really helps to maintain my fascination with the whole metal clay / powder metallurgy process is how intrigued I am by the continual learning that I am privileged to gain with it, and the opportunities I then have to share all that with others through classes, workshops, demonstrations, publications, and more. So that is the spirit in which I accepted the invitation. We’ll just have to see how it goes!

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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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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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What I did last week (part 3…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/02/01

Well, by the time I’ve managed to get around to posting this, I’m really talking about the week before last, but I figured I’d keep the same basic post-title I’d started this series with, and just keep going.

After writing last week about making some textured domed disks, so that I could use them in a bracelet inspired by Maria Richmond, now I’ll talk about how I’d imagined completing the project with an idea inspired by a post by Hadar Jacobson about making magnetic clasps from steel metal clay.

I thought I’d do pretty much just what Hadar suggested. The only difference was that I used a textured layer of her rose bronze clay, rather than the smoother layers of yellow bronze and copper she showed in her instructions. I draped that over a dried layer of her pearl gray steel. After letting it all dry, inserting a bronze wire bail, and “refining” everything, I fired it as recommended.

The rose bronze cracked. The steel under-side (not shown) seems fine.

I tried again, this time using textured copper draped over pearl gray steel.

Again, the steel under-side (not shown) came out fine but, also again, the copper over the top cracked.

I patched and otherwise repaired all three pieces, and refired them.

You can see that much of the wonderful kiln-induced coloring disappeared. (Compare that photo to the first two above; the colors were also mentioned in part 1….) No crisis there. One copper piece (top, above) shows only a tiny bit of cracking, at its edge. That’s not ideal but, at this point, I’m likely to leave that alone because, sigh, the other two came out worse than before! What happened? My guess (and this is only a guess), is that the steel (which sure had seemed to be sintered) had sintered some more (that is, it became denser and thus shrank some more) and the movement associated with that further shrinkage in the steel is what led to the additional cracking in the copper or bronze layer.

If I’d known that was coming, I could have measured everything much more carefully at each step along the way, and used that as a way to test my hypothesis (i.e., the guess, above). But I didn’t know; I just didn’t think to stop and take the time to measure….

Since I’d been stuck with refiring anyway, I tried a couple more. Shown, below, are the initial results from again using rose bronze and copper, respectively, but this time draped over clay made from Hadar’s newer Pearl Gray Steel XT powder. (They differ in size because I made my original textured dome elements in two different sizes as well; I point that out simply so you won’t think any difference you see could be due to variations in shrinkage. That was just my own doing….)

OK, much better! Much less cracking with that mix! Again, sanding the steel on the other side shows that it appears to be sintered. I’m not about to test that by refiring either of these. I’ll just live with a few hairline-crack issues on these pieces; all that means is that I’ll have to think especially carefully about how I use them.

Sometimes, even when I don’t think to do pre- and post-fire measurements, I do still come up with “Plan B” ideas. So, while I was at it, I made a couple toggle clasps using Hadar’s regular (i.e., yellow) bronze powder, to put in the box when I was (re-)firing the other clasp elements. Again, they were made in two different sizes. Their textures, curvature, and size match the domes I made to use with the coils; I added a heavy-gauge bronze wire loop to the toggle bars. In this photo (and the last one above), I show them after firing and after I’d brushed them just enough to confirm that they’ve sintered. I’ll shine them up a bit more before I go to use them in a piece.

Though none of the pieces from my last firing show the lovely kiln-coloring I got with the earlier batches, I do believe that there will be enough acceptable elements in all this that I can finish off my first round of bracelets with a few components left over. Earrings, perhaps? Or the start of a necklace?

[Update: I just added the “oops” tag I’d oops-ily omitted from the original post.]

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The lifespan of a no-flake-foil firing box….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/30

I folded this little firing box out of No-Flake Foil (from Cool Tools) some time last April, although I didn’t record the exact date because, at the time, I had no clue it was ever going to be worth noting.

I first wrote about this particular box in a post last July, after I’d noticed a little flurry of discussion about what people used to fire the copper, bronze, steel, or other metal clays that needed to be buried in carbon. At that time, I said it had held up just fine through several dozen firings.

I do tend to fire pieces in spurts (some weeks, nothing; other weeks, multiple loads) but, since then (especially, prior to the last “Holiday Season”!), it has survived dozens more.

The last time I emptied it out, however, during this past weekend and after it had provided almost ten months of regular service, I was sad to note that it has begun to sprout a few little holes. They are tiny and not easy to see (so of course I highlighted them with big red arrows for you in the photo!). But I know they signal the beginning of the end for this particular box.

So I thought I should note the date that it has been retired from duty as my primary firing box. My number-two box will step into that role. The experimenter in me isn’t quite ready to part with number-one yet, of course, so I’ve got it stashed away at the moment. I may try using it again a few more times, just so I can document its demise for my own information.

But, really, it’s just foil. There may be nothing more worth noting about it, except that I am amazed, and delighted, that it has already done so well for this long.

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What I did last week (part 2…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/23

OK, so why did I go off making those domed disks described in my last post? Well, I started them as soon as I received this photo in the mail:

That’s not a piece of mine. It was made by the very talented Maria Richmond, and it was included in an email from the delightful Zelda’s Bead Kit Company, to illustrate a workshop that Maria was to teach there last week.

I’ve wanted to take one of Maria’s workshops for quite some time now; but never managed to have both time and money available to coincide with the projects of hers that interested me the most. But when I saw this one, I contacted her right away, to ask about the size of the disks, and learned that they were some “antique enameling disks” that Maria had bought online to include in the materials-kits for the sessoin. Yes, they are very nice disks, and it’s great that they are now going to good use. But I saw that bracelet and immediately pictured making it with hand-made, textured domed disks, designed and developed using metal clay techniques!

Thus the little collection I made last week: two different metals (copper and rose bronze, from Hadar’s metal clay powders), some of each in two different sizes, all with a deep “rose” pattern on their convex (domed) side, and with either a much finer “rose” pattern or a shallow “fern” or “swirl” on the other (inner, bowl) side (varying in such a way that I could easily tell which was made from which metal). I made those to take to Maria’s class, about twice as many as I thought I’d need, plus a few smaller ones in case I needed some minor adjustments in length.

Now, my larger pieces are slightly bigger than Maria’s disks, and my smaller ones were not quite as big as hers. It looked like five of my bigger ones would come out to just a smidge under six of hers, which seemed like a size I could wear. So I just used those, rather than try to tweak the length any further by varying the size of the pieces.

Following Maria’s instructions in all other regards, the photos to the left and right here show how my bracelet came out. I was delighted.

Maria’s sample, and all of those made in the workshop except for mine, were made entirely of copper elements (not just the disks, but also the coils, links, jump rings, and clasp pieces) and, as a last step, darkened with Liver of Sulphur (“LOS”). I chose, however, not to use LOS on mine. I figured that would overpower the kiln-colors that I liked; the metals will darken soon enough on their own with age.

Then, a few minutes after I finished mine, as I looked at it on my arm, trying to decide which side should face out, I had a real “Aha!” moment. I took it completely apart and, when I reassembled it, I alternated both metals (rose bronze – copper – rose bronze – copper – rose bronze) and the orientation of each piece (rose up, coils up, rose up, coils up, rose up). I then bent the wire-wrap connectors a bit to encourage everything to lie in a particular orientation.

But, even if it rolls up and down my arm, this way I am more likely to have some elements land wire-coil up, and others, rose-dome up, thus featuring both Maria’s wire-work idea and my own metal-clay approach, respectively. (We’ve already discussed the possibility of jointly offering something along this line as a two-part class later in the year.)

And, yep, it’s a two-sided bracelet. Somehow, I just can’t help but make fully reversible pieces. Stay tuned: I’m hoping to find time to finish up yet another variation or two on this in the next week or so.

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What I did last week (part 1…)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/01/22

The simple answer to, “What did you do last week?” would be, “I made up a handful of textured, domed disks to play with.”

In the rest of this post, I’ll discuss (with illustrations) just what I did. In my next post, I’ll explain why I did that. I hope to add another post, eventually, where I’ll review a few little tweaks I just happened to add to the plan…

I didn’t think to stop and take photos of the earlier stages in the construction of these pieces. Mostly, it was just the usual routine for working with metal clay. I began by mixing up small batches of several of Hadar’s metal clay powders that I wanted to use. The clay was then rolled out, textured (in general, on both sides), cut, shaped, dried, drilled, and in just a few cases, further “refined” (e.g., a few pieces had their edges sanded down just enough so the final result would be even and smooth) before going into the firing pans.

At this point, I started taking photos. (I have found myself tending to take a quick snapshot of each shelf or pan as it goes into the kiln. That way, if anything seems odd afterwards, I’ll have a record of what was where. Though, my usual load involves one-of-a-kind work; with so many similar pieces in this load, that isn’t going to tell me very much, is it? Oh, well.)

This photo shows the thirteen pieces I made. Ten are basic domes. The other three (to be discussed later) are the ones with little wire loops attached to them. (Click on photo to enlarge it, if necessary, to really see any such details….)

The pan to the left contains pieces made mostly using quick-fire copper clay; to the right, mostly using rose bronze metal clay. (One or two of each also contain some pearl gray steel, but those are the ones I’m going to hold off discussing for a while yet.)

The next photo shows two of the copper domes, just as they came out of the kiln. Note the lovely color on the one to the right (convex side up). That was a surprise! (And it’s what prompted me to start my tale here, with the disks themselves, rather than just with how I used them.) I am not used to seeing much color variation on fired copper, at least not seeing it as vividly as I often see with the bronzes. My fired copper usually just looks dark, like the one on the left. Several (though not all) of the copper pieces showed delightful color this time. And the brightest colors all appeared on the convex sides, the side that I had placed face-down during the firing.

This next photo shows two other copper pieces, less colorful from the kiln, and therefore all polished up to a reasonably bright shine:

Here are four rose bronze domes, straight from the kiln. Again, these all show the side I’d fired face-down. In the past, when the bronze pieces came out with colors, it has seemed that the nicest ones seem to appear on the side positioned that way. (Though you can’t count on seeing that at all: you just have to be thankful when you do!)

Then again, this time I noticed some pretty interesting colors on the sides that were face-up as well! The pieces shown in this next photo are just the same four, from above, turned over.

A side note: All thirteen pieces had the same “rose” texture on their convex side. The other side, however, got a slightly different treatment, depending on which metal I was using. I wasn’t sure how much I might care to know which was which as I was later working with them, but that seemed a simple yet unobtrusive way to distinguish the different metals if I wanted to quickly tell them apart.

Here are a couple more rose bronze disks. On the piece to the left, note the little red dot just to the left of the hole at the bottom.

Now, I admit, I didn’t note anything particularly memorable about that dot, itself, until I turned the piece over. Hmmmm. I wonder what tiny bit of something got into my carbon, to create the little, tan “washer” image on this side? You should be able to see it clearly at the bottom of the piece here on the left, just to the right of the hole. Its center matches the position of the red dot.

Well, I’ll never know the answer to the question of what caused that. But, here, you can see all ten disks after I finished polishing them up by varying amounts:

Knowing that the kiln-induced patina-colors are rather ephemeral, that they’ll wear off the high points, at least, as the piece is touched, worn, jostled in a jewelry box, etc., I decided to polish that off all the high points on the convex sides, while still leaving some down in the hollows. (I did give a full polish to a few select pieces that did not show much range in color.) Then I fully polished the concave sides—for several reasons, the decision to go for a full shine there was somewhat beyond my control. Partly, it had to do with how I intend to use these (see my next post). Also, it was due to the polishing tools I have that made it easy for me to limit what I’d polish on the “outside” to just the high points, but that meant I pretty much had to do a full-scale polish down in the “inside” anyway (or else, spend a lot more time on these than I thought they warranted). That was fine. I am happy with the results so far.

Please stay tuned to see what I’ve begun doing with these….

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Art Buzz Tour — This Weekend!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/12/09

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

Map of 2011 Art Buzz tour

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

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

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What constitutes a “fair” price? (part 2 of 3)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/10/26

In Part 1 of this series, I raised the issue of how to determine reasonable prices for the pieces I create, prices that appear consistent across various designs and media. This is getting trickier as I have added materials such as bronze, copper, and steel to my repertoire, and thus moved beyond the silver and, occasionally, gold that I started with. In that previous post, I talked about issues such as the time directly involved in various aspects of creation, including that devoted to preparation, firing, and finishing of each piece. In this one, I will address a number of business-side issues: they include some aspects of creation that are perhaps better grouped together under the category known as …

Overhead. Even though the bronze / copper / steel raw material itself costs less than silver, there are many other higher or additional cost involved in working with the non-precious metals. Here are just a few examples from “behind the scenes” with those:

  • Beyond how the firing requirements of these metals impact my time (discussed last time), each piece that size also puts 8 times the wear & tear on my kiln when compared to a similar piece made from fine silver. On top of that, other kiln-related factors like the time and temperature combinations and the oxygen-reduced atmospheres used with these clays will further shorten the expected lifetime of the kiln. While I do still expect the kiln to last for years, I also figure that I need to add a bit more to the price of each base-metal piece so that, when the time comes, I will be able to replace that relatively expensive piece of equipment earlier than might otherwise be expected.
  • Covering the cost of firing boxes and carbon will also add a little bit to each copper, bronze, and/or steel piece too; they are not needed with the precious metals.
  • Each time I use a new kind of box or of carbon, there’s both time and material involved in testing the firing schedule. I should somehow spread that (small but real) cost over a range of subsequent pieces too.
  • I’m still working out which tools to share across the various metals (meaning I have to spend time cleaning them thoroughly each time I switch between the precious and non-precious metals) versus which tools I use often enough that I should just buy another copy of the same one to use with the base metals (and clearly label each so I don’t get them confused, and have to spend time washing anyway). Either way, however, there are small portions of the total cost to be spread across a number of items I’ll make with them.
  • I ended up buying a small refrigerator for my studio too: while there is a nice little bonus in having that to keep some lunch and beverage items cold, I see it as overhead for these pieces because I need to freeze any pre-mixed clay that I don’t use in a single session.
  • For pieces that require extra finishing time, there is also the cost of extra items used for sanding and finishing since they will thus wear out much more quickly. That also adds a little more to the cost of each such item.

That’s not even a complete list of the extra costs, but it’s a good sample of them. Now, none of those involve earth-shattering amounts. But there are other forms of “overhead” to be accounted for with every piece made, regardless of medium, and then every time you add a few cents for this, and then a few more for that because you’re working with base metals, and then you apply the appropriate mark-up factors (e.g., gallery commissions) to the whole thing …. well, the sum-total of such additions simply runs up the final price of any artwork.

(It is probably worth noting that some price formulas treat various overhead costs in entirely different ways. Some approaches do exclude a lot of factors directly, on a theory that goes something like this: If, for example, Ethel’s studio rental is $X / month, while Fred’s studio costs half that and Lucy works out of her home, and they all do comparable work, does that automatically make Ethel’s products twice as valuable as Fred’s, and even Fred’s more valuable than Lucy’s? Instead, all three could charge an appropriate amount for their time, and then pay any rent out of those earnings. If Lucy and Fred are able to work in cheaper spaces than Ethel, then any money left over after paying the rent would result in a “bonus” for finding economical work-space. Even if I go that route, however, I still need to be sure I’m charging enough somehow to cover “overhead” costs out of earnings.)

But that’s enough from me now on overhead for now. Have you encountered any other important factors, ones that I’ve overlooked here, in working with base-metal clays, that you feel drive up their price? Stay tuned, too, because I’ve got one more post dancing around in my brain that addresses a few other issues related to all this. (The big question, as ever, is when I’ll find the time to get those ideas to move from my brain down to my fingers and onto a blog post! It’s likely to be at least a week, maybe more….)

[Update: Yes, well, that “maybe more” was right. I got sidetracked into a variety of other projects in a number of other areas. And, with metal clay, I’ve been trying to work out a number of new ideas. I’ll be discussing a few of those next. I do still plan to return to this topic but, when I didn’t finish it up in October, I’m thinking I may now just put it on hold until after the holiday season. More shortly….]

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What constitutes a “fair” price? (part 1 of 3)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/10/21

I sure like working with many of the “base metal” clays (various versions of copper, bronze, and steel). I like the results I can achieve. But I also struggle with how to price these: How do I find that balance point where customers think my prices are fair while I feel adequately compensated?

Now, I do understand the various “formulas” that makers might use to calculate the price for their work. I’m fine with numbers, whether straight from such a formula or even after “tweaking” them a bit. I can figure the cost of the materials, a price for my time and/or an amount for general overhead (rent, insurance, equipment, consumables, etc.), plus a factor for the retail side (to cover commission to a gallery, entry costs for shows, etc.). I will price a number of pieces, sort them by price, compare that to recent history of items that have sold or remain unsold, and look to see if anything seems out of line. I may adjust individual items up or down a small amount: I’ll then bring in a bit more or less on some individual pieces but, overall, I want prices to look both consistent and reasonable.

I have been getting some very positive responses to the look of pieces I’ve made this year in copper, yellow- and rose-bronze, and steel. But a few people have indicated that they would expect those to be very inexpensive, because of the material. I try to explain that the price includes factors for both material and time, and that the time for design and basic construction does not go down for a unique “art jewelry” piece just because the metal itself costs less. At that point, I’ll try to steer the discussion away from price and more into the artistry involved in various pieces.

But, really, there’s more to it even than that, things I don’t tend to go into with a typical customer. (I may cheerfully offer something like, “You’d be welcome to take one of my workshops, and learn what all is involved! This material is relatively easy to work with, and fun, and you’ll see how making a piece can take a number of hours. Give it a try!” If that gets a positive response, then I may add a few more details: “a minute or so of free lesson right now!” Though I aim to keep that light and non-technical, I may point out something like the extra steps it takes to combine several metals in a single piece.) Still, I find myself wanting to think through a bit of what else is involved, to get a better grasp on it myself. I figure I can share some of those details here … and welcome your comments!

Once I’ve figured out what seem to be the most important factors, I can try to figure out how to distill those down for a short response to a potential buyer. In this post, I plan to address prep time, firing time, and finishing time. In a day or two or three, I’ll add a second post looking at overhead costs; and finally (it may take me a bit longer to get to that one) I hope to post about some other factors, like learning curves, brand variations and, perhaps, a few other issues.

Preparation Time. I really like working with Hadar’s delightful clays. Each of those comes as a powder that must be mixed with water before you can use it. This is not difficult, but it takes some time. How much to mix? If you don’t mix enough for a particular session, then you have to take the time to stop and mix up more. So it seems better to mix up a bit more than you think you will need (although you then have to find a way to store the excess, which I’ll address in my next post, on overhead costs). That mixing-time adds to what you have to include in the time it took to make each individual piece: it doesn’t take a lot of extra time, but there is enough to count.

Firing Time. This is probably the biggest issue. Together, those four rose bronze pieces I posted about last week “filled” the firing box in my kiln. Because I need not worry about creating an oxygen-reduced atmosphere when I fire precious metals, had I made silver pieces the same size I could have fit at least four times as many into a single firing. (I could have fit at least twice as many on a kiln shelf (probably more!), and I certainly could have fired two shelves at a time.) And, since these clays must be fired twice, that means I could have fired thirty or more silver pieces in the time it took me to fire those four bronze ones!

(And, this particular issue gets magnified even more when you consider the “overhead” issues involved in all the extra firing. I’ll discuss that further in part 2.)

Finishing Time. Some designs (e.g., inlays and mokume gane effect) are very interesting to see and lots of fun to make, but do require that a lot of time and effort be expended on post-fire polishing to come out looking really great. Other styles (e.g., basic textures) are more comparable in the time they take to finish across all the different products (precious and non-precious metals alike). Still others, however, seem to come out somewhere in between (e.g., various “draped” pieces), and I’m still exploring how best to approach building those so that they are appealing to look at yet not way out on the difficult end of the scale to finish.

Those three aspects are probably the easiest to address, in very simple terms, concerning “hidden factors” in the price of a product. In subsequent posts, I’ll outline a few others. As ever, I welcome comments from fellow artists, students, customers, and other readers of this blog….

Posted in Misc. Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Time to get back on track!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Foil-Firing Base-Metal Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in General Techniques, Technical Details | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

 
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