Friday, December 23, 2011

More Metal Clay "+" Pieces

by Jennifer Roberts

We leave you with our last post before the holidays with more inspiration for your entry in the Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday, get lots of rest, and start 2012 with your creative juices flowing!

Teva Chaffin - Porcelain

Lora Hart - Porcelain

Gale Schlagel - Porcelain

Janet Alexander - Enamel

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wet to Wearable

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I wore one of my own necklaces to Thanksgiving dinner and my lovely hostess just plotzed over it! She loved the focal Inro type box, the chain design and the overall "look" of the piece. She liked it so much that at the next family dinner, her husband snuck over to my seat and whispered that he'd like to give her a similar piece for Xmas. How fun!! A commission for the holidays. What stress! A commission for the holidays.

The original inspiration
I never do commissions. I'm a teacher foremost and a maker second. I don't really have the dedicated time it takes to do justice to custom designed work. Or the energy to get it done before the buyer forgets that they ordered something in the first place.

The only reason I agreed this time was that it was a design I had done before. I knew exactly how to construct it, how to embellish it, how to hang it, and what kind of patina to give it. I'd worked out all the bugs years ago when I made the first version. It was like sleepwalking. In fact, it was so easy that it went from wet to wearable in 4 days. Not solid working time of course. There were blog posts to edit, and books to write, and kitties to snuggle, in between the forming and sanding and setting and polishing. Making it was a pleasure. And I can't wait to see my benefactress wearing one of my pieces at the next event.

The whole process went so well that the next time I'm jewelry bound, I'm going to try to plan the entire design out on paper before opening a single packet of clay. I have a small wearhouse of unused focal pieces, molded elements, clasps, and chain waiting until I have an imaginative thunderbolt that will inspire me to transform it into wearable jewelry. And I think that somehow I'm not alone.

The finished commission

How much thought do you give to the completed piece before you begin to form the focal? Do you sketch? Make maquettes? Work out the steps in polymer clay?

Kait Schott, Ashley Akers

Do you know what kind of suspension mechanism (bail) you'll create before you start? If you'll add riveted pearls or found objects after it's fired? And what about the hanging material? How many of you are happy to simply hang your work on commercially made chain or finished necklaces?

Meghan Patrice Riley, Bob Ebendorf, Mia Maljojoki (the pink 'chain' is knotted silk)

Have you given thought to alternative materials? How do you think planning in advance would help take your work to a more creative level?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

PMC Sterling and Copper Clay - First Results

by Jennifer Roberts

Hadar is testing the combination of the new PMC Sterling with copper clay and sent us the beautiful examples of sterling and copper below.

Hadar has found that following the PMC Sterling instructions for pieces with both sterling and copper clays can result in melting. So, watch those temps. She is hard at work on the tests and will update everyone when she has perfected a firing profile.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Metal Clay and The Magic of Gemstones

Posted by Delia Marsellos-Traister
Guest Blogger

I personally enjoy placing stones in my work. I am a fan of agates, opals, and other ‘don’t you dare put that in the kiln’ stones. I am a bigger fan of ‘fire in place’ gems. But I’ve not taken the opportunity to test fire a lot. In fact, I don’t actually ‘test fire’ anything. I have a lot of knowledge about gemstones (I’ve been a gem dealer since 1994), so I’ve simply set stones in metal clay and then found out what would happen.

When placing a stone in metal clay there are several criteria I consider:
  • Will it fire okay, at what temp, how long, in the kiln only, is a torch okay, and is it quenchable?
  • Will the material have durability (which is often an element of how it is set, and exactly what the stone is); and does it hold up under use or when someone drops or bangs it against a file cabinet.
  • How lovely it looks, the variety of colors I can choose from and how much it costs.

Some of my favorite gems for fire in place work are Cubic Zirconium [CZ], Yttrium Aluminum Garnet [YAG] and Corundum, aka sapphire and ruby (both laboratory grown and natural).

Cubic Zirconium (CZ). Does it fit my criteria? Sure.

CZ has a base of zirconium and was originally developed for laser use. It’s REALLY pretty and comes in a wide range of colors to play with, has a similar dispersion to diamond (dispersion = how bright and shiny it is) and a beautiful refractive quality (how it responds to light or how sparkly it is).

It’s been my experience that some green and yellow CZ’s might cloud during firing. This has been especially evident when they are fired in copper and bronze clays. Some CZ 's may show abrasion after being rubbed up against things like, for instance, other jewelry in your treasure box. I believe both of these issues may be dependent on where you get the stones. (Editor’s note: CZ’s are made by many companies each of which have a proprietary chemical recipe. Some stones fire perfectly, some not so much. Black cz's are notorious for changing color in the kiln. Which is why you should always buy lab grown stones from retailers that have tested them for use in metal clay.)

According to metal clay instructor Terry Kovalcik it may be the phosphorus in some base metal clays that's causing cloudiness. One expert recommends using magic marker to avoid this anomaly: “You can prevent the cloudiness of CZ's (and probably YAG's) by coating them with magic marker or India ink prior to firing in the copper clay.” (editor's note: Some people on the Yahoo! board have reported success and some failure when trying this trick. Again, this might be due to the exact stone used.)

Here are my suggestions when using CZs:
  • Fire yellow and green CZ’s at no more than 1475ºF for 45 min to an hour in silver clay just to be on the safe side, unless your source for the material has tested them in advance.
  • Avoid using CZ with copper or bronze clays unless you have tried one of the above methods and found it useful.
  • If you enjoy torch firing, be prepared to throw a fiber blanket over the piece when you're finished to allow a slower cool down.
  • Avoid quenching a piece straight from the kiln. If you are really hot-to-trot, leave it in the kiln until it’s about 900 degrees and quench in warmish water.

Now, let’s take a look at Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (YAG).

Many of us are familiar with both aluminum and garnets, but what the heck is Yttrium? It’s a rare earth mineral, also a metal. Like CZ, YAG was originally developed and manufactured for laser use.

I like it because of its dispersion (brightness) and durability, and overall it fires in place well in silver metal clay - up to 1650ºF for an hour (or two if that’s the way you like to fire). YAG wears well, with little to no abrasion seen over the time of wear.
  • Avoid setting YAG in copper or bronze clays, again unless you’ve tried techniques that have worked. It has been a disappointment for me to have both yellow and green YAGs fracture.
  • YAG stands up to quenching and quick cooling in silver clay! But use room temperature (or slightly warmer), not cold, water.
  • If you enjoy torch firing, go for it. Let it cool to room temperature on it’s own.
  • (Editor's bullet point: If you want a true emerald green color - you can't do better than YAG. It's a bit pricey, but it's gorgeous and fires perfectly.)
Okay, last but not least, my very favorite fire in place gem - Corundum (sapphire and ruby) fits all my criteria! Laboratory sapphire has also been manufactured in rods for laser use!

I use faceted laboratory grown stones more often because they’re far less expensive than natural sapphire and have no inclusions (flaws). Lab grown corundum has the same physical and chemical properties as natural corundum. Corundum is made of Aluminum Oxide, which creates “white” or colorless sapphire. In nature, trace elements create the colors you see. Natural sapphire has about 400 color variations.

In my personal experience, all corundum can be safely fired in place in silver, copper and bronze clays at all of the popular firing temperatures. And you can always find plenty of information by simply overwhelming yourself with a Google search to find out if your stones will fire well in the exact type and brand of clay you're designing with.

Corundum can be kiln fired, torched and quenched. More durable than a diamond, it is very useful and valuable. When I say ‘more durable than a diamond’ I’m speaking about commercial grade diamonds that have fracture points (referred to as cleavage) that may cause the stone to break apart on impact. Sapphire has no such cleavage and in fact sapphire powder (grit) is what is often used to polish diamonds.

So there you have it. Some tips, ideas and information that you can draw on when you’re making a choice about what stones may work for you. Have fun, try everything!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going Up!

Posted By Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

"Hi! My name is Lora Hart. I'm a Senior Instructor and the Artistic Advisor for PMC Connection. As a metal clay maker, teacher, and enthusiast, I love inspiring creative entrepreneurs to discover, re-imagine and refine their artistic voices, develop a conscious intention for their business, and fine tune their working practice. Working one-on-one with emerging artists to take their craft to a new level is one of the most rewarding aspects of my business."

How many times have you been introduced at a party and gotten tongue tied when another guest asked what you do? It's happened to me too many times to recall. What about when someone comments on a piece of jewelry that you're wearing? And how will you describe your craft when it's time to work on a business plan?

You're the best PR person you'll ever have the pleasure to work with. You know exactly what it is that makes you special. Maybe the time has come for you to start sharing that magic with anyone who asks. Wanna write how-to articles? Submit to calls for entry? Interview for teaching opportunities at art centers and colleges? Coming up with a short, introductory, statement in advance will allow you to confidently explain your passions whenever the situation arises.

It's what's known as an 'elevator speech'. A brief blurb that tells your audience a little bit about your life in 15 - 60 seconds. You might include information about your family, day job, hobbies or second job (like jewelry making), or any other interests you have. It's a kind of verbal business card.

The 30 second example at the beginning of this article is one I might use at big jewelry conferences or Guild meetings. I wrote another version to promote my jewelry to potential buyers or galleries. It's a good idea to target each speech towards a specific audience.

The last PMC Guild sponsored metal clay conference is coming up next June in Kentucky. Wouldn't it be fun if we all introduced ourselves with fabulous elevator speeches? Here are some tips to get you going on yours:

• Be sure to include your name.
• Tell an interesting story.
• Share the wonderful details that you think define your life, work and/or craft.
• Talk about your inspirations and how they make you different.
• Keep it short and sweet.
• Let it rest overnight. Re-read it with fresh eyes and re-write until you think it's practically perfect.
• Record yourself. Listen to the rhythm and timing.
• Tighten it up and use a Thesaurus to come up with alternative words that might make the talk more compelling.
• Practice on friends and family until it falls trippingly from your tongue.
• Use it to take you, your craft, and your goals, to the next level of success.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Artist's Journal - Adapting the Box-Building Technique

By Yvonne Yao

The recent rains in Los Angeles reminded me of a design I scribbled down a month ago. My vision was of a three dimensional rain cloud with a cascade of raindrops that would swing with the wearer’s every movement. It’s so peaceful when sunrays peak out from behind a cloud, and the cleansing effect of rain always makes the world look new again after it subsides. I was so charmed by this imagery that I decided to transform it into reality for my third PMC project.
Aluminum Foil Cutters

I had never built a 3-dimensional form with metal clay before, but decided it would be a fun experiment to adapt a box-building technique for my design. The plan was to make a pair of earrings, and since I wanted them to be identical, I needed to find out how to make my own homemade cookie cutters. With help from these instructions, I made one cloud and three different sized raindrop cookie cutters out of aluminum foil and tape.

Using PMC3 I cut out 4 clouds, a multitude of raindrops (all 2 cards thick), and two disks – ¼” in diameter and 1/8” thick (which would act as a platform for the drops). After drying and sanding, I pierced holes into the tip of each raindrop with a needle and set all the bits and pieces aside.

To create the walls of the cloud boxes, I cut two 3/16” wide rectangular bands. Since I did not have a mold to form the scalloped walls around, I brushed water along the edge of the cloud shaped cutout and used the handle of a paintbrush to shape the clay directly around the bone-dry piece. Once the wall was dry, I attached a circular disc to the center of the cloud with slip, and capped the box with the second cloud shape. Later I inserted a fine silver bail into the top of each box. The frame of each cloud-shaped box was left open at the bottom to allow the wire wrapped raindrops to dangle freely.

Being a newbie at box construction, I learned a lot in the making of this project. I ran into some difficulties shaping the curved walls, and experienced some cracking along the curves because the clay was getting dry from my continuous handling. Thick oil slip was my friend when I used it to reinforce the cracks and aid in the joining and structure of the piece.

Editors note: Yvonne might have made a polymer clay form that matched her cutter's dimensions to form the cloud walls around. Wetting the strip of clay, covering with plastic wrap, and allowing the water to soak in would have made the clay 'floppy' enough (a technical term) to shape without cracking. It's a good thing she didn't use the cutter itself as a drying form though. Metal clay and aluminum don't play well together!

The boxes were allowed to dry and then finished with fine grit sandpaper for a smooth and seamless look. Each cloud box was inserted into a bowl of vermiculite and fired upside down to prevent sagging or warping of the cloud walls from gravity. After firing, each piece was polished and the raindrops were attached to sterling and gold-filled chains and inserted into each box.

The final effect was so adorable and fun that I have taken my mini rain clouds with me everywhere I go.

To the best of my knowledge, Yvonne has only taken one entry level metal clay class from me. I'm so proud of her for tackling this project. Not because I think that my teaching had anything to do with her success (I don't), but because she's always willing to push her skills on her own, think creatively, do the necessary research, and persevere until she brings her idea to life. That Yvonne is one smart cookie! ~ LH

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Thoughts: Connecting With Customers During the Hectic Holiday Season

by Jennifer Roberts


If you are anything like me, you were not lined up outside a big box store hoping to get a great deal this morning. I am sure that there are wonderful deals out there to be had, but I can’t think of a single gadget or toy that I need badly enough to endure the long lines, cranky people, and seriously early (or late this year) hours. I’d rather snuggle with my puppies and drink some hot chocolate.

Once Black Friday is over, businesses start differentiating themselves by size, location, philosophy, you name it. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Green Tuesday . . . the list goes on. I often choose whether to shop somewhere because of who owns a business and how they run it, but lately, I have been a little annoyed with all of the various shopping days that have popped up.

Annoyed, that is, until I started thinking about the challenge we share with many of our customers – those metal clay artisans who sell their work. We all have to contend with Wal-Mart effect, or in the case of internet sales, the effect. Can the potential customer standing in your booth buy a piece of jewelry for their loved one for about 12 cents on Probably. But it won’t be handmade. It almost certainly won’t be American artisan made. And it likely won’t have a connection to the local community. It will be one of many thousands instead of a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Local artisans do have some advantages over the big guys – they can develop personal relationships with their customers that keep them coming back, they can create commissioned pieces, and they can change what they are producing in order to move with trends faster than any large operation.

The trick is, when the person standing in front of you picks up one of your pieces and says “I can buy this cheaper at Wal-Mart” you have to resist the urge to throw it at them. Don’t go negative. Instead, list all of the benefits of buying from you. The big picture pro’s are OK, like supporting local artists, but it is critical to lead with the benefits to the customer. For example, you may be willing to make minor repairs to jewelry for your customers. Being local, you will be around in the future when your customer is ready to add another piece to her collection. Your designs may also include local elements, like sea glass or Petoskey stones (my personal favorite). These kinds of elements create an emotional value that an on-line mass produced trinket just can’t compete with.

It also helps to think through the various categories your business falls into. For some, knowing that your work contains recycled silver is a good enough reason to choose your work over another. I’ve given some thought to which categories PMCC falls into:

Family owned and operated? Check.
Woman owned? Check.
Female CEO? Check.
Small business: Yep!
Dog friendly: There are days when the dogs in the office outnumber the people.
Cat friendly: Nah, but only because of allergies.
Recycles? Absolutely, whenever and wherever we can.
Brick and mortar location: Yes!
Fast Shipping? Most days it’s same-day.
Personalized Customer Service? It’s our number one goal.

You likely share many of these traits and you may also be part of local groups that your potential customers support. Thinking about these in advance can help you make a connection with a customer that makes your piece something they will value instead of just something they found for a song at a sale.

To some artists, this may sound too calculated or like too much work. Your work should speak for itself, right? Yes and no. Quality work and beautiful design stand on their own. But all other things being equal, if I have a choice between an artist with whom I have a relationship or whose practices and values I support, and one I don’t, that’s an easy choice for me.

So, good luck this holiday season. It can be a hectic time of year for artists running from one sale and exhibition to another. I hope you find new ways to connect with your customers, both because it can help close a sale and also because it can also be pretty wonderful.

And find time for some hot chocolate too!

Comments? Any good groups I missed that might help other artisans connect with their communities?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends around the world. Without you, there would be no us. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teaching Techniques

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

In my last post I talked about the pros and cons of teaching specific projects versus techniques. As both a student and teacher, I love technique classes. I like learning a new medium, skill, or technique, and then applying that application in my own creative vision.

I’m one of those students who signs up for a class and never finishes the project. At my work bench, I keep a box full of partially completed classroom pieces. I’m sure I’ll never finish those pieces. But, I do enjoy ruminating over them, pondering the various skills and techniques that I learned in those classes and how I’ve moved forward by incorporating those mastered skills into my work.

Above: PMCC Senior Instructor Marlynda Taylor and student.

Before taking a class, I give myself permission to enjoy the learning process. To continually learn and grow as a teacher – to bring new energy to our classes – we need to take classes as often as possible. I use my class time to focus on the skills, not the outcome. It’s very freeing and much more enjoyable. I see students getting frustrated because they can’t keep pace with the group and fear they won’t finish the piece. They impose unnecessary stress on themselves and forget to have FUN!

There are amazingly talented teachers all over the world teaching incredibly beautiful metal clay projects. The designs they create and share with their students are part of the branding of their name and artistic image. You may leave their class wearing a piece which everyone will identify with that designer/teacher. The real trick is in learning their technique and then giving it your own voice.

I like teaching technique classes. I usually have 3-4 good finished pieces of the technique I’ll be demonstrating, bezel setting or riveting, for instance, and I prepare for class by showing samples that are breakdowns of each stage of the process. This gives students a broad perspective of the endless options available to them using the skills we will be covering, as well as some step-by-step guidance. If students feel they need to “copy” a piece of my work, I encourage them to go right ahead. This relieves the stress for those students who get creative brain freeze and can’t come up with an idea of what they want to make. Those whose brains are in creative overdrive will already be planning their design strategy!

Above: Class samples by PMCC Artistic Advisor Lora Hart.

Remember, don’t over look the need to have good written instructions, with photos and drawings, if possible. And most importantly, show your students your mistakes. This lets them know what can go wrong and it lets them know we’ve all had to learn some lessons the hard way.

Creative Blessings,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Metal Clay Meets Glass

by Jennifer Roberts


More inspiration for the latest PMCC-sponsored Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest. Next up, metal clay + glass, compliments of our talented Senior and Certification Instructors.

The theme of the contest is “Metal Clay +” which means:
“Metal clay needs to be featured prominently in the design. You can use any kind or combination of metal clays you wish! The rest of the piece must include one or more non-metal materials – resin, polymer clay, glass, enamel, porcelain, bisque, cement, beads, fabric, found objects, etc.”

Here is how this particular "+" inspired some metal clay creations. . .

Teva Chaffin
Teva's first piece is a wonderful reminder that glass comes in many forms.

Debbie Rijns
(South Africa)
Glass and silver combined for striking contrast.

Marlynda Taylor

Sometimes you just let the electric blue of a striking piece of glass speak for itself.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PMC Sterling

by Jennifer Roberts

Exciting news - PMC Sterling will be here in just a few weeks.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Challenge Success

Congratulations to everyone who took the time, made the commitment, and indulged their creative spark by joining in on this month's CornerStone Challenge! Thank you for entering such inspiring work.

'Stoneware Spoons. The bowls of the spoons were formed in molds I made from shells, an antique button, and a walnut. The spoons were bisque fired and then the bowls glazed. After firing again to cone 6, the spoons were coated with PMC paste and decorated with PMC lump clay and syringe. Additional materials are dichroic cabochons, glass cullet, glass clay, and peridot. After firing, the decorative elements were colored with alcohol inks and then patinated with liver of sulphur.'
Happy Shopping to Barbara Rivolta who entered her beautifully designed spoon collection. Although the photo Barbara took is not quite up to submission standards, the work she created is imaginative, well executed and very innovative. Thank you for a well thought out entry. Please contact PMC Connection to claim your prize.

The way a submission is completed is really the most important part of the process. Photos should be in focus, and cropped to highlight the piece. Backgrounds should be uncluttered and neutral. If other information is requested - like materials, inspiration, or title - be sure to include it or your entry may not be considered at all. Picasa is a wonderful, free, website that offers photo editing services. If you're in the market for a point and shoot camera, try to find one with image stabilization (IS). All of my own submission photos are taken by a professional, but to archive pieces as they are made, I just use the auto focus option which takes very presentable shots. A piece of frosted glass backed by black paper gives me a lovely pseudo gradient background.

'Dreams of Rome' by Lora Hart. Sterling silver, roman glass, pearl.
For a professional submission, the putty holding the ring
upright would have to be removed from the shot.
If the entry will be published on the internet, be sure your photos are downloadable. Here are some other examples of well presented entries. 

Fall Leaves by Julie Johnson. Fine silver, Dichroic glass.
The props in this photo reflect the theme of the pendant, and
although it may not be considered for some print publications,
their inclusion does not distract from the jewelry.
'Fall Blossom' by Chris Brooks.
Fine silver and stainless steel mesh.
This photo is in focus, cropped well and the earrings are beautifully designed.
However there is not much contrast between the color of the background and the earrings.
'Real Leaf' by Harriet Warkel. Fine Silver and Pebeo vitrea paints.
Although I'm not a fan of submitting work presented on jewelry forms,
and this shot is a bit dark, the work is centered, in focus, and the
cropping draws your eye to the focal point.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Metal Clay & Enamel

by Jennifer Roberts

We've gathered more inspiration for the latest PMCC-sponsored Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest.

The theme is “Metal Clay +” which means:

“Metal clay needs to be featured prominently in the design. You can use any kind or combination of metal clays you wish! The rest of the piece must include one or more non-metal materials – resin, polymer clay, glass, enamel, porcelain, bisque, cement, beads, fabric, found objects, etc.”

We are exploring some of the possibilities for that "+" and last month we looked at found objects. This month, we've got two posts, starting today with metal clay + enamel, compliments of our talented Senior and Certification Instructors.

From solid blocks of color to watercolor type effects, enamels are a beautiful way to add color to your work.

Leslie Tieke
"Blue Moon" (top)
Pendants (bottom)

Gale Schlagel
Pendant and Earring Series

And one from our Project Guide Editor
Nellann Roberts

More "+" ideas coming soon!