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.

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.