Convergent Series

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

Posts Tagged ‘steel’

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….

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Time to get back on track!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Foil-Firing Base-Metal Clays

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portage Hill Gallery is now carrying my work!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/15

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

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

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

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

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Little Rain the First Weekend….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/05

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

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

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

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

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One piece I was weaving….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/06/02

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

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

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

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

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

I call it, “Heart on the Mend.”

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

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

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Another curious little surprise.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/05/25

I noticed something in my studio yesterday that, once I got over the surprise, did actually make sense in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

In several other posts, I’ve mentioned that I like making pieces where I weave together bits of metal clay that have been specially treated so that the resulting dried “greenware” remains flexible.

Well, I recently made several pieces using that technique applied to copper, bronze, and steel clays too. I’ll post about those pieces eventually, I’m sure, but it’s the leftover materials from those that are the focus of this post.

With silver metal clay, it’s fine to just leave lying about the dried greenware (whether it’s of the hard or the flexible variety). Dried pieces can just sit there waiting to be fired, and extra bits of dried but still flexible greenware can be left alone waiting to be used in some future project. (Leftover moist clay should be sealed up securely, so it remains moist for future use. Care should be taken with leftover moist clay to prevent it from becoming moldy, but that’s not my point here either….)

With copper and bronze clays, you can leave dried pieces around for a little while, waiting to be fired. Maybe not as long as with silver, since the outer layer will begin to oxidize (tarnish) eventually, but it’s not like you have to rush to get the stuff into the kiln. (Besides, since you can fire fewer of these pieces in a single load than you can with silver, it doesn’t take as long to accumulate a “full kiln load” as it does with silver … though sometimes it does take me a while to find the time to tend to the more complex firing schedules with these clays.) The same seems to be true of stuff that’s been treated to form flexible greenware. It will remain flexible and usable for some time, though not forever. Moist clay should be sealed up very tightly: in addition to preventing evaporation of the moisture in it, you also want to reduce any possible reactions from exposure to atmospheric oxygen and pollutants. Luckily, freezing of any of the moist or dried clays in this family seems to help reduce the oxidation that can form as a result of even limited exposure.

But steel, well, that’s a different beast. It doesn’t just tarnish, it can actually rust, so finished pieces require some extra treatments to help reduce that. But here’s the bit that surprised me when I first saw it, but not once I’d thought about it: specks of rust can form all over any pieces of flexible greenware that are left lying about! Even if it’s only been for a few days, the trick to flexible clay is that it never really dries out and, of course, damp steel will rust for sure….

Shown below are “left over” pieces of flexible greenware. In order, they are: copper, bronze, and now-rusty pearl gray steel. Sigh.

I guess I’ll have to try freezing any leftovers from the next batch I test out, to see how long that holds up.

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Last of the notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/12

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

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

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

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Some more notes from Hadar’s workshop.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cane Designs and Mokume Gane Effects with Hadar Jacobson

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hadar Was Here!!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/04/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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