Monday, July 6, 2015

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu...

CornerStone was conceived in 2010 with the mission of sharing the knowledge of our very talented Senior Instructor team with our lovely friends and customers. Since that time we've published articles on topics covering business, technical concerns, design considerations, marketing, teacher's tips, and much more. I can't speak for the other contributors, but I've learned so much right here that I might not have been exposed to in any other forum. And, I've been honored to participate in the discussion.

Starting now, CornerStone will be taking a sabbatical. PMCC is taking stock and formulating some new ideas, and although we're not completely leaving the blogging world, we'll be taking some time off to re-boot. All of the information on the blog will be archived, and if the URL address changes, we'll let you know. Until then, please take a look at our past posts. This is a great place to spend some time surfing for metal clay, jewelry, and business information that is tailored to your favorite production methods.

Start at the beginning, or take your chances by clicking links on the right, over there at the Blog Archives. Each page is stuffed full of great content. Many thanks go out to all our contributors - past and present, all the interviewees (remember the Profiles in Artistry?), and everyone behind the scenes that made this blog the wonderful resource it has become.

We're not totally gone from cyberspace. Please keep in touch via FaceBook and let us know if you need help. If you haven't already, please feel free to 'friend' both Janet Alexander and myself and we'd be happy to try to answer any questions you may have. Until next time... World - May the Clay be with you!

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Many Uses of Paper Clay

Recently, I have had students in my classes remark that they have either never heard of paper clay or had but didn't know how to use it. This is one reason to take the PMC Certification I class, as it introduces the many clay types to the student.

PMC Sheet clay is unique in itself as there is no other metal clay like it and can be used for many purposes. It is known as sheet clay and as paper clay. It comes in two shapes, rectangle as shown above and square. Both have the same amount of clay and are the same price. Choose the shape according to your intended use. Paper clay is very flexible, like paper, and doesn't dry out. Once opened, keep it stored in the plastic sheet it comes in, just so it doesn't become damaged or dirty. Cut it using scissors, a straight edge razor, or craft knife. It can also be cut using decorative paper hole punches.

It is listed on PMC Connection's website under PMC+ clay and is fired at the PMC + time and temperature. Paper clay can be folded and fired just as it is or attached to other clays including PMC3, PMC Flex, PMC Sterling, and the mixture of PMC 960. Fire the mixed clays at the higher temperature and time for PMC+, per the manufacture's recommended firing instructions.

When attaching the clay to itself or other clay use only a small amount of water. If using too much water, it melts into nothing. Clay paste is too thick to use.

Paper clay is great for weaving clay pieces together. The designs can be varied by simply making the woven pieces different widths. The clay can be fired as is or attached to lump clay. Here are two samples of weaving paper clay.

Here is an example of using it for a hinge. The clay is thin so its best to double its thickness.

Here's an examples of using it as a decorative application and as prongs.

Other uses for paper clay are: creating a bezel setting (if doubled) and repairing a broken un-fired metal clay piece. Sometimes when repairing a broken lump clay piece it won't stay together. Use paper clay as a BAND-AID®. Attach the broken pieces together using PMC3 Paste, dry completely. Then on the back of the piece attach a small strip of PMC Sheet across the crack. Allow it to dry and then hide the paper clay by applying a thin layer of lump clay over the paper clay. The paper clay keeps the two pieces together as it is a solid piece.

I hope these examples spark your creativity and you all will try the PMC Sheet clay in the future. It's a must have in your inventory of clays. This is my last post for the Corner Stone Blog. I hope you all have learned and enjoyed my posts!

Keep on having fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why Certification?

So far this summer I've had the privilege to teach 3 certification classes, and am looking forward to two more before the end of the year. Certification was an idea conceived by Mitsubishi Materials (the manufacturers of PMC) in the 90's to make sure that this new material was understood and used properly. PMC Connection created it's own Certification Program with projects tailored to American artisans. Over the years the program has grown and changed as new products have been introduced and the possibilities with metal clay designs have become more sophisticated. The time has come, again, to start thinking about re-designing the program to take advantage of new developments.

With all of the education available online, at large bead shows, at unique retreats, and at local venues, some of you may wonder if metal clay certification is still relevant. Originally, certification came with a substantial discount and membership in the PMC Guild. With the loss of the Guild (and the fabulous publications it put out), and the skyrocketing price of silver (and the shrinking discount), what are the benefits of learning new techniques in this format rather than the thousands of other opportunities?

In my experience, beginning skills are only taught locally with some techniques being shared via YouTube by a variety of makers. Sometimes local classes aren't available in a given community, and new users are forced to self teach, basically reinventing the metal clay wheel. Certification offers an opportunity to learn a variety of basic techniques in two to three days from an expert who is committed to your growth.

PMC Connection has designed three levels that guide the student as their confidence, design aesthetic, and technical proficiency progresses. Certification doesn't qualify one to teach, doesn't make one a great artist - only time, practice, and dedication can do that. What you get (in addition to a small discount) is an intense, one on one, standardized learning experience. Projects are evaluated, and advice offered when appropriate. I know that in my classes, I try to encourage students to put their own twist on each project - to push past their comfort zone to create work that looks professional, is well constructed and finished, and that demonstrates a level of forethought and consideration in design. Although the project designs have been pre-established, students are allowed to add details to make each piece their own. I've never seen two projects that looked alike. In a class, you're able to look at the teachers fingers as they work, noticing little tricks that they might not be consciously aware of. Every instructor has their own way of doing things, and the intimate setting of a certification class is the perfect environment to absorb all sorts of valuable techniques.

Although certification instructors may not be able to travel to your location, most are willing to schedule one on one classes at your convenience. To find a teacher near you, visit the PMCC website and click on the Education links.

What are your thoughts on the certification program? Why do you think it is or isn't valuable in this day and age?  We'd love to hear your feedback!

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How to Transfer a Design to Metal Clay

I love to carve into metal clay, especially the PMC Flex Clay. I was recently asked how I transfer a design onto the clay. Below are the steps I use when creating a carved piece.

1.  If I have a photograph of a subject, I reduce it down to lines using Photoshop or by tracing the lines using tracing paper.

2.  I adjust the drawing to the finished size for my desired piece. 
3.  Then I enlarge it, compensating for the metal clay's shrinkage. 
4.  If I am using PMC3, I add glycerine to the clay making it flexible. I prefer to use PMC Flex clay instead. 
5.  I roll the clay out to the desired thickness.
6.  I tape my drawing to the table and then insert the clay under the drawing.

7.  I trace the image onto the clay.

8.  I then choose the outside shape template and cut the clay's shape.
9.  I dry the clay to leather hard and then proceed to carve away or add clay as needed.

Until next time have fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser

Thursday, June 11, 2015


When I want to make a specific design, I start by drawing a few rough sketches. If the design includes a stone or other added element, I'll draw the sketch around an outline of the stone. Sometimes, I'll also make decorative components in advance, so I can include them as I finalize the design. Then I start to play. I set out an array of little bits and pieces (which I refer to as my design 'palette'), and begin to rearrange the parts to see if I can create a more pleasing layout. I turn the parts this way and that way to check the balance, add things and subtract things, all in an effort to bring my piece to life.

I make a lot of little elements that I keep in a container in my tool kit. I have pre-set stones, micro molds, granulation balls, bails, hinge rods/knuckles, and other decorative details. When I find the perfect combination, I photocopy an enlargement (to account for shrinkage) and can make the metal clay base plate with confidence. I love the ability to change my mind and the design on the fly!

Which version do you like? (The one on the far right looks like a water pitcher doesn't it?)
Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sintering Considerations

When firing your clay in the kiln, there are a few things to think about: support, placement, heat, and time.

I like to place my sterling (for the first firing) and fine silver pieces in a fiber bowl with vermiculite to support them. If I have an item with a wide side then that side is placed perpendicular into the vermiculite. This avoids sagging because gravity has less effect.  Place the bowl raised off of the kiln floor so that the heat can move around the whole bowl. This keeps the bottom of the bowl from being cooler. If you don’t use a bowl then raise the kiln shelf off the kiln’s floor and support the items, if needed, using fiber blanket or thick fiber paper.

Always notate the locations of the kiln’s heating elements. Most front loading kilns do not have elements in the door, so the front of the kiln will be slightly cooler than the back.  Top loading kilns tend to heat more evenly. If an item has a stone or sterling silver embeddable, place them towards the cooler area of the kiln. If there are sterling silver embedded objects, don’t heat higher than 1200 degrees, but heat longer to assure they attach.

I have discussed the importance of testing your kiln temperature at different degrees in the past. I cannot stress how important this is.  Some members of the local Metal Clay Guild in Dallas recently tested their kilns and found kilns up to 10 degrees higher than the kiln’s readout.

Sintering time is a constant variable depending on the circumstances, for example if there are time constraints due to a classroom situation, or no time constraints. It is always best to sinter the metal clay for the longer period of time allowing the molecules to soften and attach to each other. If attaching pre-fired items together then heat the piece as high as allowable for the metal, and for the longest time.

I hope this helps those of you who have had problems with rings not fitting the finger properly.

Until next time have fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Take a Picture, Why Don't You?

The convenience, simplicity, and level of accuracy (focus) of cell phone cameras has developed to such a degree that they should be top on the list of necessary tools for any jewelry maker. Better than readers, a visor, and even a microscope, digital photos taken with your phone are the best way to see
Bicone bead with a split
in the seam. Artist: Me!
the tiny defects, construction problems, scratches, and unintentional slip 'texture' that might go unnoticed when finishing your work before firing.

Take a quick shot of your work from a variety of angles and open the photos on your computer for the best view. I bet you'll see some nicks or cracks that could use some love before you put the piece in the kiln.

The picture to the left shows a split in the seam, which I didn't see when I was checking the piece.  I don't think it will affect the stability, and an antiqued patina may help it to look intentional, but it might be better to do a simple repair or fill before the bead goes into the kiln.

Posted by Lora Hart

Artistic Advisor

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Saul Bell Metal Clay Winners and Ceremony

Janet Alexander, Jennifer Park, Holly Gage, Ivy Solomon

As a recipient of the Finalist Award for the Saul Bell Design Award, I wanted to share what the evening at the awards banquet was like.

The Reception
As I walked into the conference room there were four display cabinets, around 5’ long and 3’ wide, sitting back to back displaying this year’s Saul Bell Design Award winner’s pieces. Every piece was more beautiful in person than the photos shown on the website. Walking in and seeing all of this work was awe inspiring!

Each piece had the artist’s name and listed First Place or Second Place. So, everyone was eagerly walking around, looking at the outcome of the competition. It was very exciting!

One artist, Kent Raible won two first place awards! One in hollowware and the other in Gold/Platinum. His work is outstanding.

Off to each side of these display cases were round tables with photos of the other Finalist’s submitted pieces. It was great to be one of those artists!

Ivy Solomon

Ivy Solomon, of Oak Park, Michigan, won first place in metal clay. In fact, this is her third time winning the Saul Bell Award!  She won in 2004, and again in 2006. She uses a mixture of metal clay, silver sheet, and resin. The metal clay has texture and is accented with color using resin, much like Champlev√© in enameling. Each of her pieces tells a story. When asked where she wants to take her skill to next, she said she would like to write a book on her technique and teach workshops. 

Holly Gage

Holly Gage, of Bowmansville, PA, won second place in metal clay. Her piece, Je t'aime, was made by combining metalsmithing with Metal Clay. It is a love story expressed in dance. The pose you see is the final movement in the lover’s dance. As their love grows, they emerge from a blossom.

Kathleen Nowak Tucci and mom
The Dinner
The banquet room had two bars with free beverages throughout the evening. Sitting at my table, the winner’s table, were Ivy Solomon and her husband Steve; Holly Gage and her husband Christopher; Kathleen Nowak Tucci (first place in Alternative Materials) and her mom; Jennifer Park, first place winner in the enameling category; and myself with my husband Gary.

Dinner was served, including salad, filet mignon with a potato mixture, green beans, dinner rolls, and a white mousse with a chocolate stick topped with a strawberry. Wine flowed freely to all! The centerpiece was a beautiful long stemmed red rose arrangement.

Jennifer Park

The Awards
The Bell family turned out for the occasion in large numbers! What a wonderful family! The winners were introduced by way of a video. Previously, they were shipped a video kit for them to film a video with someone off camera asking them questions. They were told not to look at the questions before filming! It made for a fun video as each one tried answering questions. For example, “If you were in need of being saved who you would choose from these three people, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone.” There were a lot of fun questions and some serious questions about their piece.

After the video, awards were given to the finalists and then to the winners. I happened to be the first Finalist as my name starts with an A. Allan Bell handed me a framed certificate and then they took a photo of me with him. They showed my entry piece on the overhead screen during the process. It was very exciting.

The winners went through the same process, with a photo of their entry piece showing on the overhead screen, they received their award from Allan Bell, and had their photo taken with him.

I had a great time visiting with the other artists. It’s great to get together, ask them how they created their piece and find out who they are. We all have so much in common, even though most of us just met a few hours before the ceremony, it felt like we were old friends.

Congratulations to the winners and finalists! You all are an inspiration.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, May 11, 2015

The ABC's of Scratch Foam

Some metal clay artists have innate drawing abilities, and some do not. Those who do may find it easy to come up with illustrations for custom texture plates. Those who do not (like me) struggle and might feel they have no option other than to use commercial texture products. The ones who are 'art class' savvy are capable of creating beautiful sketches, doodles, and zentangles. The ones who were in choir instead (me again) turn out stick figures that are unrecognizable. But, there is hope for the challenged ones with template aided drawing!

Earring designs
Here are ten ideas on how you can create wonderful Scratchfoam textures using commercial 'helpers'.

10. Raid a childs' toy box and use their 'Spirograph' to etch nuclear, mid-century filigree.
9. Use decorative paper punches to completely perforate the styrofoam (see below).
8. Enhance a line drawing by cutting out simple shapes with a pointed craft knife, which will create a matching 'puffy' design in the metal clay.
7. Press hollow tubes, cookie cutters, and other metal shapes into the scratch foam sheet to create crisp, clean outlines.
6. Make outlines for specific pieces of jewelry by scribing the inside shape of drafting templates.
5. After pressing a specific shape into the center of the foam sheet, fill the rest of the sheet with additional designs.
4. Punch a ball burnisher through the styrofoam to form 'granules' in the clay.
3. Use a succession of ball burnisher sizes to develop tapering line widths.
2. Create sharp, thin lines with a pin (scribe lightly and slowly to avoid 'drag').
1. Draw a pattern on paper (or trace a copyright free illustration in a book) with a soft pencil, turn it upside down on top of the scratchfoam, and burnish with your fingernail to transfer the design onto the foam.

Design made with an oval cookie cutter,
 mini Kemper's teardrop cutter, straight pin
and cut outs. Texture tested with Silly Putty.
Basic tips:
• Use a ball point pen to press abstract lines, dots, and swirls all over the Scratchfoam (the ink helps the pen glide smoothly).
• Cut a large sheet of Scratchfoam into individual 4.5"x 2.75" pieces.
• Scratchfoam is very soft and will develop unintended marks very easily. Keep your texture plates pristine by storing them in an index card case.
• No matter what you do, Scratchfoam will eventually get scarred. If you love a plate you made, use polymer or silicone mold compound to make a copy of it.
• Use meat trays or to-go containers as a practically free Scratchfoam alternative!
• Test your Scratchfoam (and other) textures by pressing Silly Putty onto it.
• Scratch foam is very difficult to clean completely. Use separate texture plates for different clay bodies (silver, copper, bronze, etc).

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, May 4, 2015

What is Methylcellulose and How Does it Affect Metal Clay?

Yummy fluffed substance!

In my posts on reviving failing metal clay, I had several people ask me to try Methylcellulose (or methyl cellulose). It's a chemical compound derived from the cellulose of vegetables. Like cellulose, it is not digestible. “A” type food gums are methylcellulose AKA modified vegetable gum.

In researching this substance I found that it has many uses: as a thickening component in foods, as fiber in laxatives, in the science field it's added to organisms for viewing under microscopes (it slows them down), artists use it for paper repair, bookbinding, and for general archival adhesive applications. Horror movie companies use it for making green slime and blood.

It has neutral pH, is nontoxic, and is listed on the MSDS sheet as hazardous due to its dust's flammable potential. It can cause skin, eye, and throat irritation. Last, but not least, it is dangerous as surfaces subjected to spills may become slippery! 

Methyl Cellulose can be found as a powder and as a liquid. Its powder dissolves only in cold liquid forming a clear viscous gel. If heated this gel turns solid and then returns to liquid after cooling.

With all that said, how does it affect failing metal clay? 

I decided to try the liquid form (1.5%) since most of my metal clay needs rehydrating. After rolling approximately 16 grams of crumbly metal clay as thin as possible, I added drop after drop of methyl cellulose, mixing it into the clay. I used a total of five drops. The clay became more homogenous. I wrapped it tightly in plastic and allowed it to sit for a couple of hours.

It still pulls apart showing fibers, but it is more pliable. It couldn't be used, however, if I needed it to bend into a ring.

I decided to test this clay mixture with glycerine and see if that helps. At first, it became smooth just as it did when adding petroleum jelly. After allowing it to sit for several hours, though, it is still fibrous.

Since this solution is only 1.5% methyl cellulose, I will try the powder form next. 

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser