Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deadlines and Details

Well, today is the last day to get your images to Lark Books for the next 500 Rings book. But you have two more days to submit a design based on the theme "Wearin' of the Green" to our Creative Key challenge!

The rules of the challenge are simple:
• Use any material you like to realize your vision. If you need to hone your hard metal skills - use traditional fabrication. If you're a whiz with photoshop or have access to (and the knowledge of) CAD software - illustrate a masterpiece. If you have a complex idea you need to work out - make a polymer clay or paper maquette. Or just take the plunge and create something fabulous out of our favorite material, metal clay. 
• Design any piece of jewelry out of any material, any size; shape or color. It can even be purely conceptual. This is a challenge you set yourself. Designed to inspire you to work outside of your usual comfort zone. Some of our Senior Instructors will even be joining in (although they're not eligible for the prize).

 Interpret the theme "Wearing of the Green" in any way and post the results in the CornerStone Challenge Flickr group
Include a description of how you made your piece and tell us about your inspiration. There's a space for text right under the photo.
• Be sure to write your real name with the description of the piece.
• The winner will be notified via Flickr mail.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Exquisite Corpse

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

The Surrealists were on to something when they turned this parlor game into an enriching artistic exercise.

At its heart, an Exquisite Corpse is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. The assembly happens in a linear progression, with each person adding something to the end of the creation. This can take many forms and participants generally follow a simple set of rules. For example, in a literary Exquisite Corpse, players may follow a word order (adjective, noun, adverb, verb) or each person may be allowed to see the last few words of what the previous person contributed.

My first experience with an Exquisite Corpse was in a life drawing class, using the method the 20th Century Surrealists favored. You fold your paper into thirds, draw the top third of figure in the top third of the paper, cover your work, and send it on to the next person. They draw the middle third of the figure in the middle third of the paper, cover it, and send it on to the last person – who has no idea what is in those top frames. They draw the bottom third and return it to you. The figure at left is one of the most famous examples of the process (attribution varies widely but usually includes Joan MirĂ³ and Yves Tanguy and sets the piece in 1926.)

This method has also been widely used in various forms in music composition, movies, graphic novels, comedy, performance art, children’s’ books (remember those tri-panel flipbooks!) and improvisation of all sorts. I have even seen people knit socks using a similar method and the US Mail. And of course, I think it has many possibilities for expanding your horizons in metal clay.

For the truly adventurous, you could get a group of artisans together and design a more traditional Exquisite Corpse exercise. Maybe start with the base of a piece and have each person add to it as it makes its way around the table. Do an Exquisite Corpse drawing of an object and challenge each person to re-create it in clay, no matter how surreal. Or go way out there and make the top, middle, and bottom of something separately and find a way to assemble it at the end. Recall that you don’t have to work with silver to engage in truly constructive play – this could all be done with polymer clay or a ten dollar bag of ceramic clay.

I think it also has value as a classroom exercise. Start a class with an Exquisite Corpse drawing of an object in the room and then talk about how it might be inspiration for a piece of jewelry. Or, have your students place elements of seemingly unrelated pieces on a piece of paper and draw around them to create connections.

PS – Why in the world is it called an Exquisite Corpse? The famous example above was drawn from a sentence created this way: “The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let's Get Together!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor
Do y'all know about Crafthaus? The Ning hosted  website is the brainchild of self described craft nerd and mixed media artist Brigitte Martin. CH is a little corner of heaven in cyber space where Professional craft artists display their work, and connect with each other across all fields of interest.

As metal clay artist's we are lucky to have more than one cyber "community center" where we can find support, view other's work and find out the latest happenings and advancements in our field. Crafthaus offers another venue where jewelry makers, ceramists, fiber artists, cabinet makers (woodworkers) and other crafters can gather, become inspired and communicate with each other in one easy-to-access location.

Among it's pages are stunning photos, videos, blogs, how to's, discussions, challenges, calls for entry and gallery showings. All in cyber space. A couple of great posts cover Photographing Small Scale Work, making one of a kind work vs. a production line , there's a great group that offers suggestions and answers questions about bench problems and a business blog called eMERGE (check out the pricing article by Anne Havel). Just scroll down the extremely long front page to see all the different offerings in both side columns.

I have to admit that I haven't taken the time to explore all that Crafthaus has to offer. I think I'll spend some of my ID (indirect labor) time surfing this weekend.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Invitation and A Question Answered

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

The Invitation
We are all asked to take a lot of surveys in our lives. So many, that I often wonder if anyone actually looks at the results. But the new survey published by the The PMC Guild and Mitsubishi is one you don’t want to miss. They want to know who you are and how they can better serve you – and they are listening to your responses.

Changes in the metal clay world seem to be happening faster and faster every day. Here is your chance to shape the future of PMC – take the survey today!

A Question Answered
From time to time, we notice a pattern in the questions from our customers and this blog seems like the perfect place to provide answers. One of the most frequent goes some like “Why did my PMCC order come in a (fill in the blank) box? That blank could contain things like “office supply,” “computer equipment,” ‘dog food,” “bicycle parts” - you name it.

The answer is simple. We believe that it is important to reuse before you recycle and we have incorporated that principle into the way we do business. Not only do we bring our used boxes to the office, but our friends and friends-of-friends save their boxes for us. So, if your PMCC order comes in a box that was once the home for birdseed or a wireless router – consider paying it forward and sending that box on another journey the next time you ship.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Oldie But Moldy?

Posted by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Spring is here and lots of things are growing, including mold. Questions about mold in metal clay come up regularly this time of year. Here is probably more than you ever wanted to know about mold in metal clay.

The health issues related to mold revolve around breathing the mold spores and the mycotoxins they produce. Unless you have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems, minor exposure is usually just irritating. Mold is everywhere, so I don’t want to be an alarmist, but some molds are toxic and you do want to take some care (links to info on toxic mold are at the end of this missive). Wear a dust mask when you start working with the moldy clay–if you are “smelling” the musty mold, you are breathing mold spores. If you are sensitive, wear a HEPA grade dust mask. Be sure to wash hands and use a good air filter or positive ventilation to keep from breathing mold dust.

Personally, I am very sensitive to mold and dust and try to open up and do the initial working of moldy clay outside to keep from adding mold spores into my studio. If there is a breeze, I may not bother with a dust mask. I usually scrape off and dispose of the worst of the mold for aesthetic reasons and then knead the clay. Once it is thoroughly mixed in, the chances of getting mold spores in the air is a lot lower, and I take it back into my workshop and try to use it up quickly (within a few days).

Keeping the clay tightly wrapped so no air gets to it will help limit the mold growth as well. White vinegar can be added to kill the mold. Simply add a few drops of white vinegar to the clay and let it sit overnight; small spots of mold will often completely disappear. Larger incursions may still be visible, but can just be mixed into the clay.

Lavender essential oil also seems to retard mold growth (it may kill it as well). I haven’t had a problem with mold since I started using the lavender oil. I add it to all my slip because it makes the slip stick better to both fired and unfired silver clay.

After working with moldy clay, you will want to clean your tools and work surfaces to remove mold spores. Bleach or strong white vinegar can be used to sterilize tools and work surfaces. If you have a HEPA air filter, you should run it in your working area before, during, and after in order to remove as many of the spoors from the environment as possible. These steps may help prevent future mold outbreaks.

The absolute best way to prevent moldy clay is to not let wet clay sit around for long periods of time after it has been opened (factory sealed packages are usually sterile). So use that clay up! Alternately, if you have leftover clay that is pretty dry and do not intend to use it for some time, let it dry out completely and store that way. Dry clay, will not grow mold, but does give you the challenge of reconstituting it--for directions on reconstituting clay see my post on Clay Consistency. Adding a few drops of lavender oil or white vinegar can give you some mold insurance. Pick your smell! Other essential oils (such as citrus) will probably do the trick, but I haven’t tested them.

You can also sterilize moldy clay by heating it. This means that you are going to dry out the clay and will have to reconstitute it. To sterilize the clay using heat, you will need to heat it over 130F (56C) for a minimum of 30 minutes. Heat for longer to ensure the entire piece has been sterilized. I usually use my oven or toaster oven to do this at its lowest setting–about 200-250F. A good dehydrator will allow you to adjust the heat to specific temperatures as well and will give good positive airflow. Don’t heat much hotter than this or the binder will begin to darken and burn. To read more about heat sterilization, check out: This is written for heating and sterilizing wood, but will give you a lot of information on sterilization, heating and drying that can be applied to metal clays (or at least their binders). Apparently this is a big issue in the wood pallet industry! Who knew?

Finally, keep in mind that the mold is using the binder in your clay as a food source. If you let it keep growing on your clay, it is degrading the binder. This is probably not an issue unless you let it grow for a *really* long time though! ;-) I had a tub full of moldy clay that has been sitting in my studio for a couple of years and it was still ok to work. Keep in mind that the binder in the metal clay does start to break down after 6+ years, so any *really* old clay you have should be used as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit around too long.

If you know that your working environment is contaminated with toxic mold, you need to take appropriate precautions. A quick Google search found the following sources on toxic mold:

This post was written with silver clay in mind, but the advice should transfer to the other metal clays as well. Bronze and copper clays are probably resistant to mold as copper tends to be toxic to growing things—it used to be used in bottom paint for boats to prevent stuff from growing on them, but has been banned because it sheds toxic residue wherever boats are regularly stored. The replacement paints are not nearly as effective at retarding marine growth.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Friends in Japan

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

Any time a natural disaster strikes, our hearts go out to the people affected. We listen for news and watch our TV’s, hopeful for good news. When we see images of devastation, we recognize how lucky we are to be safe and we do what we can for those who are not.

The metal clay community has a special relationship with Japan – the birthplace of PMC. In the 24 hours following the earthquake, we slowly received word that friends in Japan are safe, as are their loved ones. And now we wait again, hoping that they stay safe as Japan deals with a frightening and sad situation.

I rest assured in the belief that the ingenuity and determination that led to the invention of such an inspiring medium are enduring qualities. I am reminded of the Japanese proverb I heard as a kid that has stuck with me my entire life: Fall down seven times, stand up eight. I believe that the people of Japan will do just that, and in the meantime, that the metal clay community will do whatever it can to help our friends through a terrible ordeal.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Creative Journeys

Posted by Linda Kline
Director of Education

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
~ Miriam Beard

With the writing of this blog, I'm sitting on my bed surrounded by piles of clothes, an open suitcase, and a rather anxious looking dog. Bear, my Golden Retriever, is giving me the evil eye. All you have to do is pull out the suitcase for your adoring pet to lay a major guilt trip on you.

Packing is always a challenge. I've got it narrowed down to two piles: The, "I can't live without it" pile, and the "I might need it," pile. On the very top of the, "I can't live without it," pile, is my well-traveled and much loved pocket sized sketch book. It's like an old friend. Worn and scuffed, it's pages are filled with "this's and that's," bits and pieces, found objects, drawings, thoughts, images, and memories from all my worldly travels. And here we go again.......on our way to a new and exciting adventure!

By the time you read this I'll be stomping through Istanbul, Turkey -- the most breathtaking city in all of Europe and the birthplace of art, culture, and religion --sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience with six amazingly talented students and friends.

Through travel, my small little world has opened and expanded by vast proportions. Encounters with different races, cultures, and customs have humbled, awed, and inspired my vision and perception as an artist and teacher. The beauty of natural and man-made wonders have given meaning and purpose to my work. Travel feeds my artist soul.

As I pack, the little black sketch book goes in first. It rides in my backpack where I can quickly grab it. By the end of this trip it will be brimming with new ideas for designs; thoughts for future classes; and countless observations that have enlightened, inspired, and expanded the limits of my creative essence.

Next blog, I'll share photos and adventures from our amazing journey. In the meantime.........

Take out your own little sketch book this week and have a journey all your own. It doesn't have to be a long or exotic trip; maybe a walk in the woods or a visit to an art gallery you've not seen before. Make it a personal journey with an objective to see things in a whole new way. Make notes about your adventure and share those thoughts, ideas, and reflections with other creative friends. Create a piece of jewelry that talks about your experience. Savor the essence of your being.

Safe travels and creative blessings,

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kudos and Creativity

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

And The Award Goes To...
The excitement has been building, the artists have been designing, principal photography has been completed, the nominees have gathered on Flickr to screen their masterpieces.  Today the results will be broadcast the world over! And no one had to squeeze into a couture gown or fight through crowds of paparazzi to learn the results.

Our first Creative Key challenge got off to a lovely, gentle start. Thanks to all those who took part.  Congratulations to Kylix007 and her "Creature of the Heart" for snagging a fiber firing container and carbon. WingsofDragonz included the sweet poem that inspired her flower seed packet butterfly - "You are the butterfly, and I am the dreaming heart".

Senior Instructors Ruth Greening, Peggy Houchin and Sharon Gillespie joined in the fun as well, with their interpretations of the theme "Heart's Desire".

Word Play
CornerStone's Creative Key challenges are intended to inspire you to think more deeply, to use your vast imagination to interpret the theme words or phrases in your own way and design something uniquely personal.

Words can be a wonderful way to jump start the design process, develop a signature style, or define the meaning behind your work. Take the phrase we used last month. "Heart's Desire". I'm pretty sure that the first thing that came to everyone's mind was an image of a traditional Valentine type heart. Now sit quietly, close your eyes and see what other pictures develop as you meditate on the phrase. Perhaps you're reminded of a trip to a distant shore that you've been longing to take, or have the desire to go back in  time, or dream of a box filled with exotic treasures. Maybe you know someone who is being challenged with heart disease.  How can you interpret the image that appears in your mind's eye to develop a design that gives voice to your artistic soul? Consider the possibility of transforming your vision into an abstract interpretation.

Challenge #2
While there won't be a challenge every month - let's keep the momentum going with another holiday inspired theme. March Madness meets the wearing of the green on St. Patrick's Day! Shamrocks, gnomes, and cheeky pinches may spring to mind. But what about green eyed monsters, greener grass, Saints, old boyfriends named Patrick (yes, I had one of those), conservation, or rain forests?

The rules  of the challenge are simple. 
• Use any material you like to realize your vision. If you need to hone your hard metal skills - use traditional fabrication. If you're a whiz with photoshop or have access to (and the knowledge of) CAD software - illustrate a masterpiece. If you have a complex idea you need to work out - make a polymer clay or paper maquette. Or just take the plunge and create something fabulous out of our favorite material, metal clay. 
• Design any piece of jewelry out of any material, any size; shape or color. It can even be purely conceptual. This is a challenge you set yourself. Designed to inspire you to work outside of your usual comfort zone. Some of our Senior Instructors will even be joining in (although they're not eligible for the prize).

Interpret the theme "Wearing of the Green" in any way and post the results in the CornerStone Challenge Flickr group
• Include a description of how you made your piece and tell us about your inspiration. There's a space for text right under the photo.
• Be sure to write your real name with the description of the piece.
• The winner will be notified via Flickr mail.

The prize this month is a $25.00 gift certificate for anything your heart desires (like how I tied that in?) on the PMC Connection website. The winner will also be featured in our newsletter and right here on the blog. The final day to post your work will be April 1st. No foolin'. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and announced here on April 4th. Here's to creativity, new paths and pushing ourselves to be all that we can be.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Revitalizing Wood & Cork Clays

Posted by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

I have known for some time that one can revitalize old dried or partially dried cork clay by adding water, letting it sit, and kneading relentlessly. But now that wood clays have supplanted cork clay, many of us want to know how to rejuvenate the wood clays. Since wood clay made an entrance, there have been two brands used and sold by metal clay suppliers. The first was a Japanese brand that came in packages of similar size to the cork clay (about 8 oz). The most commonly sold current brand is from Spain and is called Patwood by Jovi®.

Neither of the wood clays could be successfully rejuvenated by adding water. In fact, I had been having trouble with the Jovi brand sticking to itself even if it was just a little dried out. Adding water did not seem to help. Glycerine didn’t seem to help. Then my friend and colleague Judy Pagnusat said she had tried adding common school glue. That did the trick. She used the Elmer’s® blue school glue. I tried white glue and found the same thing. I also tried rehydrating some completely dried Patwood and found that by adding water, letting it sit for a while, adding glue, and kneading, it came back to its original pliable form.

So, to rejuvenate wood clay, when it gets annoying, just knead in common white glue. If it is really dry, add water and glue. It is a messy process, but the results are worth it.

PS: Thanks to Linda Kaye-Moses for the reminder: Be sure to check out the ingredients and MSDS of the glue you use to make sure it is safe and will not produce hazardous compounds when burned. Elmer’s Glue-All, School Glue, and their blue school glue gel are not particularly hazardous when burned (no hazardous polymerization and the decomposition compounds are CO and CO2), but you do need good ventilation, as you do anytime you burn something. This firing advice is only good for small quantities of burnable core material; if you are going to burn a lot of pieces with cores or very large cores, you need to make sure you have really good ventilation.