Monday, July 25, 2016

Soldering Tips For the Faint at Heart

I've developed the habit of designing fiddly, little solder joins into my work as of late. Whether it's a safety chain for my friction fit lidded bottles, or a hanging chain design for earrings - I seem to feel the need to drive myself crazy with these tiny joins! The thing about obsessions is that they sometimes teach you techniques that you didn't know you needed to know. Such is the case with me and fiddly, little solder joins.

All done.

Thing One: It's hard to see the seam in teensy jump rings! After perfectly closing the jump ring, holding the seam to the light to make sure it's really closed completely (solder won't jump a gap - so one side of the ring MUST touch the other side), and moving from the fabricating area of my studio where my pliers are to the soldering side of the studio - I've completely lost track of where the seam is so I can place the solder! It's also a rule that solder won't flow if the metal is dirty. But just what constitutes dirty? 

I mark each end of a jump ring with black marker prior to closing it so I know to place solder in the marker gap. The marker doesn't seem to interfere with the solder flow at all! In fact, sometimes it burns completely away before the metal has gotten to temperature. 

Each side of the open jump ring marked with Sharpie.
(Please pretend I've had a manicure)

:: Bonus Tip :: If you're trying to anneal silver and are not sure when the job is done - mark up the work with black marker and when it's burned away, the annealing is done!!

Thing Two: If you heat the solder too fast, the solder balls up and drops off. And/or if you have the flame too high/big, it will produce just enough wind to blow the solder off the workpiece! So frustrating. The solution is to hold the flame a little away from the workpiece until the flux has started to burn out. Then as it gets a little glassy, it will hold the solder (which has indeed formed into a little ball) in place. I play the flame around the piece and perhaps on the most distant part of the silver until it seems like the solder has stuck, then I hit and run with the flame right on the join until the solder flows. Then just to make sure - I play the flame back and forth in a slow sweeping motion until I'm positive that solder is on either side of the seam. Then I quench. Then I try to open the jump ring with pliers to make super sure it's soldered. Then I fist pump myself in celebration. 

Closed jump rings on the soldering board. The thin chain is
underneath the earring piece so it has less chance of melting.
I use paste solder (about the size of a poppy seed for something like this jump ring) and a butane torch that has a flame adjustment and make sure it isn't too long (hot), but also not too small (cool). Remember the three bears - you have to use just the right amount of heat to get the job done. It's a practice thing. And I don't always get it the first time. Sometimes I have to try, try again. One of my favorite sayings is "Practice makes proficient". I don't believe in perfection. I'm happy to be pretty darn good. Where would the excitement and pride come if I did it right every time??? 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Crafting Style

In 2011 I started writing a book. "Crafting Your Artistic Voice". A guide for the newly inspired jewelry artist. I sent it to a couple of publishers, got some nice feedback and a couple of rejections, and although I kept at it for a while - eventually lost steam and put the book to bed.

Recently some of my students have brought the topic up in class. How do you find inspiration? How do you know what to make? How do I start? So I thought I'd re-read my original draft to see if any of it was still viable. And I think it is! so I'm gonna give it another go. No  promises when it will be ready. I'm thinking it would be a nice self published e-book. I'll let you know when and where you can access it. But in the meantime - I thought I'd occasionally publish a paragraph or two right here on my blog. All comments will be not only welcome, but extremely helpful.

Small ceramic pot I made in elementary school
Excerpt #1

Everyone has been on the flip side of artistic expression. We’ve been consumers of stuff all of our lives. We’ve bought (or bought into) this or that because:

A. Our families steered us towards a certain way of looking at the world.
B. An ad company was good at their job and convinced us that we really needed their product.
C. Our peers all decided to embrace a certain trend at the same time and we felt compelled to follow along.
D. A particular item struck a chord within us. We related to what the maker infused into their work because we recognized something in its story.

It’s the inspiration we feel when we visit a certain museum, see a particular movie, or save a postcard and tape it to the wall. We do the things we do, and like the things we like, because we have an innate connection to the subject matter.

Some of my home decor

Exersize #1

Go on a scavenger hunt in your own house and community. Use your camera phone to document similar motifs in your home's decor, photograph architectural elements and street art that you're drawn to, and edit shots of favorite works from a local art gallery or museum to focus on small details that grab your attention. Print the images on regular paper and tape them to the walls of your studio space. 

Pendant I made as a class sample. Notice the repetition of the
scroll motif?

You may be surprised, once you gather the images, how similar your current interests are to the motifs you've always been attracted to.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Cutting Kerf

Whenever you divide a material into sections - whether you're felling a tree with an axe, piercing metal with a saw, or cutting a slice of birthday cake, the amount of material that is wasted by the thickness of the tool is called the 'kerf'. This is also the term I use for the amount of clay that is dragged away from a fresh slab of metal clay when using a pointy tool to cut a shape. If the tool is thick, the kerf is wide. If one uses a thinner stylus or 'needle' tool, the kerf is narrower and the piece of fresh clay tends to retain it's shape better. I'm sure you've noticed that the clay is sometimes pulled out of alignment as a 'pin tool' drags a path through the clay. A thinner tool won't do that. A friend of mine uses an ultra thin beading needle that makes a practically unnoticeable cut, but I find something THAT thin to be too bendy and unwieldy. Especially if I've already had my morning cup of coffee.

I use an actual dressmaker's pin when using a template to cut a shape in clay, you know - the ones with the pretty pearl on top? I suppose I could set it into a thin wooden dowel, or make a polymer clay or thermoplastic handle for it - but I like the pearls and have a wire shelf in my studio that contains the pins perfectly.

So the next time you're reaching for a tool to remove a tiny bit of clay from a big slab, think about how much you can afford to 'lose' to the kerf. That might encourage you to reach for a tool with a narrower tip.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Expanding in the 21st Century

It takes me a while. I didn't get a computer for a long time. I thought "What do *I* need a computer for?" Didn't want to join Facebook until an Australian friend wouldn't send me photos of her visit. Didn't see the need for Pinterest. And didn't want to waste MORE time on Instagram. Until today.

Please follow me and validate my existence!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Studio Newz

In case you didn't know it - I love to teach!! I get really excited when I see the spark of understanding light up in a student's eyes. The moment they realize that metal clay is not as intimidating or as complicated as they thought, and sit down to bring their ideas to life is just as rewarding to me as it is to them.

Metal Clay Immersion was the first of my 4 day workshops to be held in my Richmond Studiolo, and it was too much fun! (Even the students said so) We learned everything from rolling out the clay with my Reduction Rolling method of texuring, to how to create calibrated coils, to bead making, gem setting, mold making and much, much more. We spent two days working with bonze to learn and perfect the most basic skills and techniques - then broke out the silver to set gems, build bails, form beads and make as much beautiful jewelry as possible in the time we had left. I'm so proud of my students and know they'll be able to take their new knowledge to any other workshop and be totally successful. I think this long format, intensive workshop worked so well, that I'm going to offer it again next spring.  Unfortunately, we were having so much fun with the clay, that we didn't have enough time to fire our work. I'm really hoping they'll send me photos of their completed pieces.

Then just a couple of days later three ladies joined me for a Level 1 Certification class. With goals of teaching, selling, and advancing the artist's skills, the certification program designed by PMC Connection is an invaluable way to take your knowledge to the next level. All three of my students passed with flying colors, and they'll be back this summer for Level 2.

"Make Your Mark - Developing a Textural Vocabulary" has been postponed to later this summer,  so my favorite class is up next! Prepping for "Tiny Bottles - Venturing Beyond the Bead" has been an obsession. I'm kind of giddy trying to make tiny containers out of every kind of bead I know how to make. I'm using traditional lentils, open lentils, deconstructed lentils, pillow beads, drum beads, and crazy sculptural beads. To make things easy for the student - we'll use the traditional lentil form during the workshop - but we'll start out forming a variety of bead shapes of all sizes and shapes. 
There are still a few seats open, and if you'd like to read more about it, scroll down this page. Make Your Mark begins June 3rd.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Change is Good!

When I arrived in Richmond a few years ago, I found an artist's co-op called Artworks and immediately rented some space for my studio. I decided to get two small studios that had access to a conference room which I could hold classes in, rather than one larger studio. One was dedicated to the kiln and my supplies, and the other was strictly a working space. That worked really well, but ultimately I decided that I'd rather have everything in one room, so last week I condensed the two small studios into one (also small) studio. It was ever so easy to empty the old studios, but when it came time to set up a new configuration - well that was another story altogether! It took 4 days to arrange things, and I'm still not fully organized. And really, I could use another 10 square feet.
Well, I always thought I worked better in a little chaos. I guess I got what I deserve.  Sigh.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Making Molds

I'm prepping for "Make Your Mark - Developing a Textural Vocabulary", which is a new workshop I'm offering here at my little Studiolo in Richmond Va. One of the techniques I'll be demonstrating is how to use silicone molding material to create 'micro molds' - little elements that can embellish and enhance metal clay designs. So last week I ordered some brass stampings from Etsy to give my students an idea of what kinds of things they could mold.

Pendant made with micro molds of decorative head pins (Sorry for the blurry photo)

I don't promote the idea of molding an entire design and simply replicating it in metal clay. In my opinion that's the same as copying. But reimagining pieces of an element to include in a new design, especially if the element is a classic motif, may be acceptable. Brass stampings are usually derived from antique, Victorian, medieval, Greek/Roman, or other classical imagery. 

Although there are some artists who can sculpt an original leaf shape (as an example), others (like myself) are less competent with graphic design or simply like to use available objects.

Today I thought I'd share my method of making a successful metal clay mold. I use a silicone material originally meant to mold the inner ear for hearing aids, but two part silicone molding material is pretty much the same wherever you get it. You might even be able to find some in a local craft store.

You'll need:

The bird was placed inside the lid, this photo
it's seen through the bottom.
• Two part silicone molding material
• A container/lid slightly larger than the item to be molded
• A small scoop, spoon, or other implement
• Something to mold

1. Start by scooping some of color A  out of it's container and roll it into a ball. Scoop the same amount of color B, roll into a ball and compare to make sure that the two are of equal sizes/amounts. Blend both into one cohesive color. The colors of the silicone I use are blue and white - so I tell my students to blend until there are no more 'clouds in the sky'.
2. Place the item in the center of the molding lid and press the mixture over it. Try to develop a level surface.
3. In about 15 minutes, use a blunt wooden object like a popsicle stick or toothpick to lift the cured mold out of the container. You'll know the material has cured when a fingernail pressed into the mold compound does not leave an indentation.
4. When you're ready to make a replica with metal clay, roll a small ball of clay and press it into the mold. You might need some trial and error to find the correct amount of clay to use. I try not to overfill the mold.
5. Let the clay dry in the mold, or gently bend the silicone to allow the freshly molded component to drop onto the table top.
6. Sand, refine, and attach to the base metal clay piece with slip.
** You won't need to use any release/lubrication with the silicone molding material

Stamping, the lid it was molded in, and the finished mold.