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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

If It's Tuesday...

I'm busily preparing for a last minute jaunt to Belgium with Miss Donna Penoyer. Donna is teaching, and I'm tagging along for the ride! We'll go to Ghent, Bruges, Temse (where Donna is presenting a whistle class), and then a fast visit of Paris. Get ready for lots of inspiration.

I'm also really pleased to say I have two registered artists for Make Your Mark and one for Metal Clay Immersion. If you missed my last post, I'll be teaching four workshop intensives at my Richmond Virginia Studiolo in 2016. Read all about them here.

Last week I started work on a little amphora which I thought I'd decorate with a carved design. It was 5 cards thick, and very dry, but as I worked on it - it shattered into 5 pieces! After a quiet little temper tantrum, I decided to put it back together like Humpty Dumpty, and fire it anyway. Here's to perseverance! Can I get an Amen!! It's not exactly what I had imagined, but didn't turn out so very badly. I think I'll keep it.

Have a great week, and thanks for visiting.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Path to Perfection

I'll be doing my first craft show in 4 years this November. I used to do the Contemporary Crafts Market twice a year in Los Angeles, but since I moved to Richmond - I got out of the habit. Earlier in the year I applied for the one, really high-end show here. The Craft and Design show put on by the Visual Arts Center where I teach. It's a difficult show to get in to, and I sent in my application just to re-wet my craft show feet, thinking that I wouldn't actually be accepted. But I was! Fancy that. Woo Hoo! (Exhibit your excitement for me here). All very well and good, but since I've been focused on teaching and not making - I don't really have very much jewelry to fill my 8' x 8' booth.

So I've been making new pieces and trying to re work old ones, and in my search of ancient bits and bobs I found a tiny box that used to be a class sample for a workshop that I taught as far back as 2006 or 2007. And my brain's gears started turning... I decided to transform it into a pendant set with an antique photograph of somebody's relative (not one of mine). Since the box was already fired, I had to think carefully about what I wanted to do to it, and in what order the tasks needed to be performed. It was meant to be a table top trinket, so it needed some way of hanging it, it needed a chain, it needed a bezel. So the question became how would I accomplish each, and in what order. And as I worked I came up with a few more decorative details I wanted to add, like the two little beads on the bottom.

First I made the bezel, and soldered it inside the box, next I soldered two jump rings to the back of the box to act as the chain connections.  I was initially thinking of setting two little pearls on the bottom of the box, so I drilled two holes to fit 20 gauge wire into, and then soldered the wire into the holes. Then I stopped and thought some more about how I was going to construct the chain.  Was I going to use leather? Or ribbon? Was I going to wire wrap chain to the jump rings? Solder? I decided to use a handmade clasp that I had fabricated a few weeks before, and wire wrapped the whole thing together, just to see what I thought about it.

Then I started looking at my existing stock and realized that I use little pearls in my work quite a bit, and started looking through my bead containers for another option. I came upon some sliced, green garnet beads and decided to try those. Perfect! But the holes in the beads were too small for the 20g wire pegs - so I had to get out my diamond coated bead reamer to drill them out, and then used 2 part epoxy to glue them to the pegs. Then I decided that the clasp really should be soldered to the chain so that it would be really secure, and that the chain would look nicer if it were connected with a soldered jump ring too. But I had already glued on the little garnets! I knew that it would be a quick operation to solder the chain to the box, so I wrapped sopping wet paper towels around the garnet beads, and soldered the jump ring shut. Worked perfectly! What a good trick. Wish I could remember where I heard about it.

Then I decided that the chain didn't look quite right, and thought I'd attach a short line of beads to one side of the chain. I like to amend/alter commercial chain so that it looks a little more unique. Wire wrapping was the perfect way to 'string' the beads. Then it was time to set the photograph and the rutilated quartz. But how! The bezel was so tight to the inside dimensions of the box that using a traditional bezel pusher was out of the question. I ended up pushing over the bezel with a spatula, and perfecting the edge with a tiny ball burnisher, and the whole thing looks lovely.

So what's the point of this blog post? Is it to tell you my entire process? Kind of, but really it's to inspire you to think about what happens after you make your focal piece. How will it be worn? Do you have the skills to finish it the way you envision? Do you have the tools? If you don't, can you think outside the box to get the job done?

This project was actually very simple, and might have been easier if I had planned the entire thing out from the beginning, but even working as I did - kind of higgeldy piggeldy - I knew I could do it. The thing I thought about before I started was not all the soldering, or the chain design, or how to patina, but I had to know that I would actually be able to set the awkwardly placed stone. I love the way this pendant looks, and I'll try a design like this again, but with the knowledge I now have - I'll be sure to make some adjustments (like making the walls of the box shorter so that the bezel is easier to access), and to think about the work path a little more fully before I start.