Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Anatomy of a Pendant, Stone Setting

I'm primarily a self taught cabochon stone setter. I learned the basics in a class early in the millennium, and have set enough 'regular' cabs that I think I can do almost any cab I find. But jewelry making will always teach you that there's more to learn.

The raw setting. Curliques broke, so
I added leaves. The bezel was attached in
a second firing.
Today my lesson came in the form of a faceted 'slice' of quartz. I learned this past weekend that clear quartz is what is known as 'rock crystal', but I'll still call it clear quartz. I chose a particular width of bezel wire because the stone was very tall. And when I looked at it, pre set in the bezel cup (resting on a piece of dental floss, so I could easily remove it), it looked perfect. But the minute I started to push the wire over, I realized my mistake.

See all the ruffles at the top of the stone?
Too much metal. Would have been easier
with lower bezel wire.

Bezel wire only needs to be pushed over 3% of the stone at the widest part of the shoulder to be secure. With the rather severe slope of my quartz slice, I could have used wire 2/3 shorter! And then I realized how much the facets impacted the setting. I've set faceted slices before, but they were very low profile, and the bezel wire was the shortest I could find commercially. Using shorter wire with the facets would have meant that the wire didn't need to be fit around as many angles as it did at the higher profile.

The custom jump ring stone riser

Another of the main reasons using shorter wire would have been a better choice is that I set an antique tintype photograph under the quartz, and the higher bezel meant that it covered too much of the already dark image, making it even harder to see. A lower bezel would have allowed more light to enter the stone and illuminate the image. Next time. I have 3 more stones that I want to use in a similar way.

Then, I started to set a companion stone. One of the shorter faceted slices I referred to above. But since I wanted the shorter stone to compliment the taller one - I wanted to raise it in it's setting. So this time although I used the shortest/narrowest bezel wire, it was still too tall - but did I want to sand it down? No! Instead I bent a piece of wire into a jump ring that fit perfectly within the bezel. I used 16g fine silver, so that it wouldn't oxidize as much as sterling would have and then hammered it slightly to flatten the area where the stone would sit, so it would rest evenly. That worked perfectly!

The finished pendant. With a custom Fragment Chain.
Small blue natural faceted sapphire, faceted clear quartz slice,
Faceted light blue sapphire slice.
The pendant is really beautiful (if I do say so myself), and I don't know if the high bezel will be noticed, but I'll know. And that's ok. It's how we learn. Every time we do something new, we learn something. That's how we improve. I like being my own evaluator. I'm honest about what works, and honest about what didn't, and I don't call myself names when I did something 'wrong', and I make mental notes about how to do it 'right' the next time. So this whole thing was a win-win. I made a pretty thing, and I learned while doing it. Can't wait to get started on the next one!

Tools used to push over the too tall bezel:
• I start all stone settings by using wood - a chopstick or similar. All tools will slip, and wood will do no damage. If one is really worried about scratching the stone while setting, you can put blue painters tape over the stone to protect it.
• I found a highly polished hammer setting tool that I must have bought in a class one time. It is softly rectangular and has lovely rounded edges. Worked well for a while.
• Then I switched to a bezel rocker, straight from the vendor - never used it before - sharp edges that might scratch my work. I was careful and it worked perfectly to lay down the rest of the 'ruffles'.
• There was some scratching. It's inevitable. So I went to a pumice wheel on my flex shaft machine to polish the marks away. Thank you to whoever suggested that in whatever FB group you posted it in! It's a miracle! Smooths away shallow scratches, no need for sandpaper. Love!
• The pumice smooths the scratches, but lightly dulls the finish. So I switched out the pumice tool for the light green 3M Radial Disk.
• The final touch was to go around the very edge of the bezel wire with a round ball burnisher, not only to create a bright shine, but to flatten the edge into a kind of frame around the stone. It's a really nice effect. I think I also learned to do that from a FB comment. I love Facebook. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ultimate DIY

I'm telling you, there is just nothing more satisfying than looking at a photograph of something, and figuring out how to do it yourself. Which I did with this little, forged, finding. Did I say it was a friction fit, forged, finding? And it works!! It may not be very pretty right now - it's my first after all. But when I make 10 more, the last 5 are sure to be pretty fabulous!

It took one and a half inches of 16g sterling wire, and is just a touch
over a 1/2" long. If I could do it so can you. Try it!
Original by Donna Veverka

I don't like shepherd's hook type closures on a bracelet because I'm always afraid they'll come undone during the day. But to keep my pieces well priced, I don't want to make a box clasp either (not that I know how to). And I don't want to put a commercial finding on my handmade work. So I was looking around to see what other maker's use and came upon this one's Mama. Then I set about to figure it out, which wasn't really that difficult. While I got the beginning proportions wrong, the rest of the clasp was formed pretty easily.

I like it! And can say that I made it myself!!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Marketing Milestone

I've been in Richmond Virginia for 4 years now. And have been renting studio space in a coop for the same time. And today I upped my marketing game. I feel like a professional now. I got a professionally installed sign for the window in my door!

The area that I worked in in LA was tiny, then I moved into two small studios when I first came to RVA (that stands for Richmond Virginia). One to work in and the other for storage and the kilns. Then I condensed those two rooms into one, so I could downsize again. I do dream of a large, airy, light filled studio - maybe even one with a window to the outside. And maybe that window would actually have a view! I know some of you have wonderful spaces like that and I'm kind of jealous, if I'm going to tell the truth. But it's probably not gonna happen for me. And I do like my little cubby hole. It's compact and quiet and has no studio beasts to shed all over my clay and distract me from the task at hand.

All of this is to explain why I'm calling it The Studiolo. That's what I've been calling my space since I lived in LA. The Small Studio, but Studiolo sounds more romantic. A long ago Flickr friend called his studio in Italy - Studiolo, so I appropirated the sobriquet. Ok - I stole it. I figure there can be more than one Studiolo in the world.

The sign is made of vinyl. The 'etched glass' is on the inside of the door, and the lettering is on the outside. Made and applied by Cut Cut in Richmond. I highly recommend them. Nice people.

So now, hopefully, people will be able to find my studio a little easier in this maze of cubicles. C'mon by and take a look sometime.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


This past weekend I taught "Forever Blowing Bubbles" at the inaugural Metal Clay Artist Symposium (MCAS). I had a great time, and I think my students did too. They learned how to turn a tube into a closed canister to be used as a vessel, and how to make a friction fit lid. Unfortunately we didn't have time to design and create the paper/sheet clay decoration (I was afraid that would happen), but they promise me they'll take photos when they finish their work at home. (insert pouty face here)

The Symposium was held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The hotel was right down the street, and many fantastic restaurants were within walking distance. I can hardly wait until the next one. I live in Richmond Virginia, so it was super easy to get to, and in fact a number of my local students also made the 3 hour trek. All in all, I think there were about 90 artists there. Which seems like a low count - but it *was* the first one.

Being able to take classes from instructors you might not otherwise have access to is a wonderful thing! At this particular conference, a super talented artist came from Russia, and I'm so sad I didn't have the time to drop in on her class!

Understandably, going to Symposiums and conferences and other types of learning venues is expensive. In addition to the class and materials fees one may have to travel, pay for a hotel, and you always seem to spend more on food that you would if you were home (did I mention how yummy all my dinners were?) - and you can learn online, from books, ask friends in cyber/social groups you may belong to... there are many excuses why a person wouldn't want to go to one of these things. But the benefits far outweigh the potential costs.

I've already mentioned being able to learn with top notch instructors, but just meeting your fellow metal clay artists, spending time, being able to concentrate fully on your work for days in a row, listening to entertaining and enlightening discussions, and having a good reason to go to a part of the country that you would have no other reason to visit are just a few of the reasons why you should try to keep an eye out, and try to attend national conferences. I wish I had scheduled an additional day to visit the colonial town of Old Salem while I was there.

I was able to visit with a friend from England and many from all across the US that I hadn't seen in over 4 years! And that was all the excuse I needed. Back in the day the national PMC Guild had a bi-yearly conference that attracted between 300-400 attendees from all over the world. It's a shame that that opportunity has faded, but we can all try to keep the small regional get togethers happening if we plan and save our pennies. The very next conference I know of is Metal Clay Mojo next summer, and I really hope I hear that MCAS will be back in 2018. In between there is the fabulous Bead and Button show, a variety of BeadFest's around the country, Art and Soul retreats, and more. Some people try to get to a few of these every year - but even if you only go to one a year, or even every other year - You horizons will be expanded in unimaginable ways.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's Elemental

Many times when I look at a piece of jewelry that has caught my eye, I like to mentally deconstruct it to imagine how the maker may have put it together. That happened this morning while I clicked on a link and landed at Fox Haven. This particular ring was pretty easy to reverse engineer. 

The Malachite is set in a wire bezel, which is surrounded by a twisted wire 'jump ring', and ornamented with granulation and wire 'buttresses'. The buttress I saw looked like two round wires soldered together. I think it may actually be one wire with a dark shadow line in the center, but I like my imagined element better. The entire assemblage is mounted on a split ring shank (one thicker piece of wire sawn in two at the ends and pulled apart to make the seat). 

I'm known for making, drying and saving small bits and pieces to use  at a later time. My  stock consists of granulation balls, pre set gems, simple bails, and what I call 'micro molds' - tiny molded elements that I use to embellish almost finished designs. Like this artist used many small elements to create interest in what otherwise might have been a rather simple setting. 

Reverse engineering is a very helpful mental game to play when viewing any piece of art. Whether it's a full scale bronze sculpture, an intricate piece of wood working (a cabinet for example), or a piece of jewelry.  Try it! The exercise may help take your designs to another level.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bezel and Bedazzle

I'm really a magpie. A bird that decorates it's nest with sparkly, shiny, bits and bobs. I'm also a minor league hoarder/purchaser. Earlier this year I discovered a seller of sapphire slices on Instagram. What's a slice, you ask? It's a very low profile, faceted, irregularly shaped, cabochon. Flat on the bottom, faceted on the 'dome'. Usually made with second rate (or less) gem, slab, material. That's why they're not clear, or perfect colors, or expensive. And I've bought a few parcels to fondle.

Hen's teeth sapphires and wire stripper 'bezel cutter'. 

One of the parcels was really small in diameter. When I got them I called them 'hen's teeth' sapphires. Pink. Yummy. And I actually have an idea of what to make with them! But of course setting cabochons involves making bezels. I could try to set them directly in metal clay, but because they are cloudy and have all kinds of inclusions that I can't see, and because I really like them - I don't want to chance it. I might experiment with one I don't like so much another day.  In general - sapphire does really well in the kiln.

So today, I'm making bezels. Hopefully 5 of them. I'm on #1, and I'll give you a few minor league tips that I learned many moons ago.

See how the reflection of the wire in the tool looks like a chevron?

This time it's straighter. Hard to take photos with one hand
and hold the tool with the other. I swear if you were in my studio
the wire on the left, in the reflection, and on the right would
all be in a straight line.

1. I  use fine silver, commercial bezel wire. It comes in many widths and I have three.
2. I place the stone on double stick tape to fit the wire around it. (so it doesn't move and jiggle and fly into deep dark corners of my studio)
3. I use a hardware store wire stripper to cut the wire. It creates a very flush cut and if you look at the wire, and it's reflection in the side of the tool, you can see if it's straight. If the wire and it's reflection are in line, chances are very high that you're cutting a perfect right angle. I tried to take a picture - but I'm afraid it doesn't really 'read' online.
4. I use a coffee stirrer stick to form the bezel around the base of the stone. Once you have correctly determined the width of the wire, that's pretty much all you should care about at this point. That the bezel matches the contours of the BASE of the stone perfectly.
5. I fuse the bezel closed instead of using solder. That way I don't have to think extra hard when I want to use it with either a metal clay base or a sheet metal base. A fused silver item can be fired onto the base with slip/oil paste/overlay paste or soldered.

The bezel is too small and doesn't touch the pink paper/double stick tape
all the way around.
6. If the bezel is just a tiny bit too small, you can put it on a steel tool like a ring or bezel mandrel, and roll it on a steel bench block, and it will stretch a little bit. I'll tell you another trick. I have a set of really inexpensive Harbor Freight dapping tools to use just as mandrels! I form metal clay beads and long container shapes on them, make jump rings of all sizes, and occasionally dap with them too. Great tool to get for alternative uses.
7. When the bezel is attached to the base plate, and the stone is inside, I use a chopstick to push the wire into place. Fine silver wire is very soft, and as I'm not an expert stone setter I sometimes use too much 'push power' and have been known to scratch the stone. Wood doesn't scratch. When the stone has been set securely, I switch to traditional metal pushers et al.

The only way to become proficient at anything, is to practice, practice, practice. So that's why I'm making all the bezels at once. And I might make even more bezels for stones that I don't know what to do with yet. Practice makes proficient.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Before you go...

One of the very best ways to check your work, to make sure that it's ready to be finished, patinated, stones set, or whatever the next step is - is to photograph it. Even if you've examined it wearing a visor. The lid of this canister has already been repaired and refired once! I took photos of it only to see which stone I liked best so I could made and attach a bezel. And look what I found! A tiny rip in the seam just below and to the left of the top surface. See it? Sigh.