Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Friends, Shopping, and Amazing Adventures

Linda Kline
Director of Education and Senior Instructor

"A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles." ~ Tim Cahill

Here we were at last in Istanbul, Turkey -- the legendary city of breathtaking beauty situated at the crossroads of two continents; the ancient land of the Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman Empires; home to the oldest bazaar in the world; an international shopper's mecca! We'd traveled nearly 24 hours; logged 5,000 plus air miles; endured airplane food and cramped seats, along with snoring, coughing, screaming children. We were bone tired, hungry, a bit cranky, and a tad smelly, too, I venture. But do not underestimate the determination of seven shopping-crazed women with Turkish Lira burning a hole in their pockets! With visions of a pasha's ransom in gold, rubies, and diamonds (or pashmina at the very least) dancing in our heads, we were off to the bazaar!!! And pity the fool who gets in our way!

Splash some water on your face, brush your teeth, grab a granola bar, and let's go!

Some of us were old friends; a few were new to our group and not yet acquainted with the wacky ways of our travel madness. We were jewelry artists hot on the trail of all things bright, shiny, and beautiful, and nothing bonds a group of women faster than shopping. The Turks love to haggle, and, in fact, it's expected. So there was instant bonding and fast friendships formed as we brokered our way through first the Spice Market and then the 3,000-kiosk Grand Bazaar in search of inspiration and treasures to incorporate into our own designs.

Our week-long journey to Istanbul and Cappadocia was all about art. We were here to see, touch, taste, and savor every morsel this culturally-ripe country could throw at us!

Our highly impressive team of tour guides totally "got" our objective and went over the top to open doors beyond our expectation. We met artists in their homes, studios, galleries, and even caves. We picked their brains and watched them work their magic in medium that included fiber, textiles, jewelry, gemstone cutting, rug making, ceramics and pottery.

We drooled over priceless gem-encrusted artifacts once belonging to Sullyman the Magnificent. We were awed by young women in remote villages as they double-knotting vegetable-dyed fibers into intricately patterned carpets on ancient looms. We sipped sweet apple tea with a Turkish "National Treasure," honored for his efforts to revive the ancient art of wool felting. We watched the spiritual transformation of the Whirling Dervish as they performed their sacred, mystical dances. We saw textures in the stuccoand carved doors of the ancient palaces and mosques; intriguing images in the tiles of the mosaics and frescoes; unique symbolism; vibrant colors; amazing shapes. Our creative juices were jumping. We were more than inspired. We were transformed, enlightened, rejuvenated, and restored. We filled our hearts, minds, spirits and sketch books with designs we couldn't wait to make and I had tons of new ideas to share with my students.

We came to Turkey as strangers -- tourists in a foreign and exotic land. We boarded a plane seven days later as seven closely bonded friends. We were on our way home and we were filled to the brim -- hyped, psyched, and ready to work!

Teachers by nature are passionate people. We exude a joy for the subjects we love. And as joyful as it can be to share our passion with our students, we also risk a high rate of burn-out because of the depth of our conviction and dedication to our work. We need to find ways to nurture ourselves so we can inspire and motivate others.

Travel and interaction with like-thinkers does the trick me every time. If you need a good dose of artistic razzmatazz, the PMCC Retreat at beautiful, serene, remote Arrowmont is just the ticket....and timely, too. Meet new artists. Take a class. Learn a new technique. Take a long, peaceful walk in the forest. Open your eyes, heart, and senses to new and endless possibilities. Nourish and replenish your inner artist; your creative core.

So right about now you're thinking, "A trip to Turkey? The Arrowmont Retreat? Is she out of her mind?"

Okay, I'll grant you, those destinations may be a tad pricey or a far stretch to go in search of artistic inspiration. So look around your own community. Are there galleries and boutiques you've not yet explored? Is there a nature trail you've never hiked? Is there a museum close by with a new exhibit? Thrift shops you've wanted to rummage through?

It doesn't take a ton of time or money to have a unique and inspiring experience. Call your friends. Load up the van and organize an "Out of the Box" day trip. Head out with a mission to discover something new and different. Have everyone bring something for a "shared" picnic lunch; something new and different, perhaps using recipes from different ethnic and cultural origins. Stage lunch at a lovely park where you can get close to nature and look for "treasures" to bring back to your studio. Write the name of an artist, a word, or message on cards and distribute them to the group. One at a time, discuss what that word or phrase conjures up. How are they inspired by that thought, person, or concept? Takes notes to review and share later.

In other words, do something different! Life is full of surprises, diversity, and unexpected blessings. Open your heart, mind, and spirit to the possibilities and let the creative juices flow!

Looking forward, perhaps, to seeing you in the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

Creative blessings,


Monday, April 25, 2011

Artist’s Journal: Meet Lois Lynn

Editor’s note: PMCC is proud to launch our new series, Artist’s Journal. We’ve asked artists to join us for an in-depth look into their journeys with PMC. Some are beginners, some know their way around metal clay – and all are willing to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with all of us.

Meet our first artist, Lois Lynn. . .

Recently I received an email from my certification teacher inviting me to a PMC open studio. It’s been two years since I handled PMC and I really miss it, all of it…the group, the medium, the jewelry! I’m not going to let this opportunity go. So I begin…again.

Before moving to Florida, I was a career teacher in my native Virginia. Not much time for art. I taught grades four through eight, the majority of which I spent teaching intellectually gifted students. This was the highlight of my teaching career because I was allowed to teach whatever subjects I chose. I explored design, fine arts, the social sciences and psychology and developed hands-on experiences in many areas, among them museum studies, archeology, design and studio art.

Through these expeditions, I found that I had the heart of an artist. I also found that the form of teaching I cherished was really that of a mentor. I made a promise to myself that when I retired, I would allow myself the joy of doing both.

My first art classes were at the local museum and while viewing a local artist exhibit I came across the most intriguing piece… made from PMC. It was a necklace with an ammonite as its inspiration…so intricate…so exquisite…and not made by any of the traditional bench methods. I was so taken with it that its image is still with me. The museum offered a course in PMC so I took it. When my first piece came out of the kiln, I was amazed. It was a real piece of jewelry! I was hooked.

So, here I am…blogging about my experiences with PMC. Got that mentoring thing in, didn’t I? I’ll be writing about transitioning to PMC3, trying out new tools and experimenting with other PMC products. Also, when I get inspired to make a piece (which is most probably impossible to make) you’ll hear about the crazy things I try to make it happen. Yes, I’m all about pushing the envelope.

I hope you will enjoy my journey back into PMC. I’m very excited to be in this place… to be able to revel once again in that creative, almost intoxicating environment with these spirited women. I can already feel my sense of joy is re-igniting. I’m a happy girl!

I’m looking forward to sharing with you again!

Lois Lynn
Rockledge, Florida

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Meet Our Teachers...

Introducing Ruth Greening

How long have you been working with metal clay? 
I was introduced to metal clay in 2000.

What did you do before that?

I still have my dreaded 'real job'. I'm an electric meter journeyman. Not a meter reader - I install, test and build industrial metering for the power company. I have always had some form of art in my life however. I started with a simple cake decorating class and developed it into doing caricature and wedding cakes with hand built flowers, wonderful English fondant and filigree pieces of edible art.

What other mediums do you work with?

I find it very interesting how the tides change in our interests. I saw someone doing beautiful silver wire wrapped jewelry and fell in love. I soon realized that I needed to learn to cut and polish my own stones. It was during the stone work that I took a little side trip into soapstone and alabaster carving. Now I work with glass, silver, copper and brass metals and wire.

How did you come to be a PMC Connection Senior Teacher?

After taking a beginner class and found out the advanced class I was going to take next had to cancel, I started checking into more classes and found the certification program.
Sondra Busch was teaching, traveling all the way from Kansas! When I asked why she traveled so far she told me there were no senior teachers in this area.  I thought about it for a while and on the third day I looked at Sondra and said “I want your job!” As it worked out Sondra recommended me to Mary Ann Devos and I flew back to Georgia to take a Level 2 with Mary Ann and Ken.  Then in April 2004 Mary Ann called and asked if I would be interested in becoming a senior teacher.  I was so excited I could hardly speak!

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of teaching?

The “AH-HAW” moment!  When a student has been struggling with a task or a concept, all of a sudden their design and the concept join and they get it!!

Do you have a studio in your home? What does it look like?
A very small one, if it were ever totally organized and neat I could easily have one student.

Do you teach at home or another venue?
Very rarely do I teach at home, because of the previously mentioned condition.  I am only 5 minutes away from Shipwreck Beads in Lacey, WA.  For me that is the very best place to teach, great people, huge class room, great deli, not to mention the world’s largest selection of beads and findings. It’s hard to beat that!

Do you like to take classes yourself? What kind?
In the past two years I have really started to ‘allow’ myself the time to do that.  Honestly, if a teacher does not continue their education they will die on the vine.  Our students are so interested and talented in so many things and the ‘cross-craft’ world is the place to learn and grow in this industry.

Grandma's Pearls
I love metals, hammering, cold connection and mixed media.  I also like to take metal clay classes from people who I admire for their non-traditional ways of creating.

Do you sell your work? Where?
That is not a real ‘goal’ but when it happens I really appreciate it.  I have a friend that takes some pieces to sell in her shop and to sell to other shops, but there are only so many hours in a day and somehow selling my pieces is not near the top of my list.

Where do you find inspiration?
I love looking at ancient cultures art and jewelry, the work that was done with what we would consider crude tools; it just makes me step back in wonder.  I enjoy looking at traditional metal pieces and say how can I do that in metal clay!  Books, painting and photographs of all kinds of art are always inspiring.

What are you working on at the moment?
I joined the Ring A Week group but found that the challenge is not making the ring - it is photographing and posting it!  I have some reversible hinged projects rattling around on the drawing board in my head.  I want to get better and more refined with all the new clay products and seeing if I can do some of the things that “can’t be done”.  I do not mind ruining what I am working with as long as I learn something.

Where has your work been published?
  Exceptional works in Metal Clay and Glass by Mary Ann Devos, 2010 PMC Guild Annual, and a number of the PMCC advertisements and retreat ads.

Tell us about an artistic hero or influence.
I have to say my dear friend Debbie Rijns from South Africa.  I am always amazed what she can do with some very unusual materials.  Give her a rusty piece of metal, some horse hair, bit of wood and a ’scrap’ piece of metal clay and she will produce an amazing piece of art!  She made me realize that deep down I love ethnic art and it is OK to be strongly influenced that way!  She has such an eye for beauty and is able to translate that into what she creates. And passion! What a passion she has for this art form. I always feel so full and lifted up after spending time with her. I just want to go to my studio and not come out until all the ideas are out of my head and ready to grace someone’s body.

Is there a new direction that you
d like to explore? 
I think the idea of offering classes that will challenge the student out of their comfort zone that so many of us stay in, me included.  What would happen if you walked into a class and were handed a “grab bag” and you had to make an art piece, jewelry piece out of the contents of the bag?  There is actually a great book on that very subject!  So I would like to see who is willing to get “outside the box” with me once in a while!

What else would you like to tell us about yourself?  
I don’t suppose that too many can say that they were once a Mermaid!  I was a Weeki Wachee Mermaid (in Florida) and did shows there for 4 wonderful years.  We still have reunions and have an amazing diverse group of ladies that share that special bond (that sounds familiar!).  I also worked with Flipper the dolphin and Hugo, one of the first performing Killer Whales at the Miami Seaquarium.  That was a very special time when you could get that kind of job because you loved the animals and did not need to have a piece of parchment to work with them. They are special memories that make me smile and helped to make me who I am.

Oh My! How I would have loved to have seen you in your scales and tails! I bet you were the most exotic maid in the surf. Ruth will be teaching 6 great classes at the upcoming PMCC Retreat at Arrowmont in just two weeks, including the above pictured "Grandma's Pearls". I expect a few long evenings of tale spinning and Flipper exposés.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Double Negatives Create Positively Beautiful Design

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

Join us at the PMCC International Artists' Retreat, May 2-6, 2011 and learn how focusing on negative space can open up whole new worlds of design.

Accentuate the Negative with Lora Hart

Negative space and intentional voids make a powerful statement when what’s left out is just as important as what’s included. Learn how to incorporate nothing into your work as you make an intricately pierced pendant. Focus will be on form - using custom made templates, fine finishing, and uniform surface treatments that will allow the beauty of the design to shine. Alternate ways of piercing will be discussed and demonstrated. Previous experience with metal clay preferred.

Mon, May 2, 2011
Class & Materials Fees Class Fee: $210.00
Bench/Materials Fee: $25.00

Students Buy or Bring: 18 grams of PMC+ or PMC3

Negative Space Caning with Holly Gage

Negative Space Caning is a high-energy workshop focusing on creating filigree, chambers for enamel or polymer inlay, and patterns easily duplicated for tessellating designs by combining Metal Clay and a combustible material that disappears after firing in a kiln. Holly has been working on lots of new uses for this technique. In the photo at left, she explores making complex canes and 3-dimensional forms.

Holly shows us a quick glimpse into the process:

First you make various canes where you layer a combustible material and Metal Clay - she'll discuss what combustibles work and which don't.

To make the complex cane, she puts several canes together to form the design - it looks very intricate when done, but this technique enables you to make several detailed components more easily then you'd imagine.

Then she slices the canes - there are several ways to do this and she breaks it all down.

To make the centerpiece, she builds the components over a doming plate. - she makes it look so easy.

This exciting new technique developed by Holly Gage is a springboard idea for looking at and working with Metal Clay in a whole new way.

The class will include a presentation and handouts on the basic cane-making process, what combustible materials are suitable for the process, as well as simple and advance assembly techniques. You will also be introduced to how a complex cane is designed and created. Your finished piece will be of your own design ready for polishing and a patina at the workshop or inlaid on your own.

Wed-Thurs, May 4-5, 2011
Class & Materials Fees Class Fee: $425.00

Bench/Materials Fee: $65.00 (PMC included)

See the full schedule and make plans to attend today!

Polish and/or Patina?

Posted by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

When metal clays come out of the kiln, they still require a bit of work. Silver clays have a matte white surface (this is the natural color of the crystalline silver). Base metal clays may have beautiful or not so beautiful patinas and a matte surface. Generally, these surfaces scratch easily and are not stable. There are multiple ways to finish or polish your metal clay pieces. Deciding what method to use is a personal choice weighing aesthetics and costs.

You may opt to leave the out-of-the-kiln surface on your clay. If that works for you and the piece remains stable with use or handling, great! If not, you will want to either protect or polish the surface.

Patinas, while beautiful, are often not stable and the colors will change over time. Protecting them with some kind of coating has its own problems because the patina colors are created by reflected light. Adding a coating (wax, varnish, acrylic, urethane, etc.) changes the patina appearance because when light is transmitted through the coating it is refracted. This means the light is deflected and changes the angle it is hitting the metal surface. The light is then reflected back, but at a different angle and the color appears different than before the coating was applied. This process of refraction and reflection changes how the patina looks, which may be good or not so good.

The matte white surface of the silver clay scratches easily, attracts dirt and oils, and will not be satisfactory for long term wear or use unless it is located in a protected area and (probably) coated with something to protect it from dirt and grease. The good news is that coatings will not affect the color and this can be a good solution for keeping that matte white finish. The matte white surface diffuses light. If you want a metallic, mirror-like reflective surface, you need to polish further.

The least expensive method of finishing metal clay is hand finishing. There are a host of options, but the most common ones involve brushing the surface of the metal clay with a stainless steel or brass brush. Stainless steel is excellent for dry brushing. Brass is best used with a lubricant such as soapy water. The two metals give a slightly different result and the fineness of the bristles makes a difference in the finish. Brushing pushes the crystalline surface of the metal over and smooths it out. The finish you get from these is, not surprisingly, called a “brushed” finish. This surface gently reflects the light in a variety of directions. Many people like this finish on their pieces and stop there. You can also refine the brushed finish by using sanding pads, papers, steel wool, or different grades of brushes.

Burnishers come in many shapes and sizes, but are generally made from polished steel or stone. These are used to create a surface that is highly reflective. Burnishers work by applying pressure from a very smooth surface onto the metal, compressing the surface and causing a very uniform surface that reflects the light more like a mirror. Creating a smooth mirror finish with hand burnishing is very difficult, but sometimes the slight irregularity of a hand burnished surface is just what you are looking for.

If you don’t like or have difficulty using handheld tools or want a different look, you can use machines to polish for you. Rotary tools can be used with a wide variety of polishing points, wheels, or bristles and polishing compounds. These types of tools can assist you in hand polishing your pieces. Your attention and time is still required, but electricity relieves you of some of the muscle power required by hand tools.

For finishing many pieces or to free yourself from even more of the labor, you can choose to tumble polish your pieces. Metal clay pieces are usually tumbled with highly polished stainless steel shot. Rotary or vibratory finishers tumble or vibrate a container containing the tumbling media (shot) and soapy water or burnishing solution. As the media impact the jewelry pieces, they burnish the surface. This is essentially the same action as hand burnishing but because the action is more consistent, the resulting look is also different. Other tumbling media are used for different purposes and different results.

Magnetic finishers work by using electro-magnetic action to spin or agitate polished, magnetized, stainless steel pins in the burnishing solution. The result of this is a softer more brushed look to the polished metal. The pins used in a magnetic finisher are very tiny and excellent for getting into small crevices.

Burnishing solution needs to be changed frequently to avoid the dreaded black gunk (a dark, dirty deposit) getting on your jewelry. More on the tumbling process and cleaning in a later post!

Each finishing technique gives a different result and you may find you want to vary the technique used to suit each piece you make.

Happy finishing!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whizbangs & Whirligigs

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

Of all the classes we are offering at our 2011 International Artists' Retreat, Jennifer Smith-Righter's Metal in Motion class has drawn the largest number of questions from potential students. So, we asked Jennifer to tell us what's it all about? Is it really as complex as it looks? How will skills learned translate to students' personal styles? Is the class about a specific project (that beautiful gear piece) or developing a fundamental understanding of using motion in your work?

1) Why make jewelry move?

I have always been fascinated with things that have moving parts. I want to fiddle with them. I don't want it to just sit there. The art of making things move goes all the way back to Hero of Alexandria. Although Romans were masters of sculpture, they longed for a little dynamism after a while and Hero gave them just what they wanted. He would fascinate temple goers with his moving doors and flying chariots. He created motion with his little machines!

2) What is the easiest way to make motion with metal clay jewelry?

The easiest way is to take a couple of contrasting metal clay pieces, drill a hole in their centers, put a balled wire up through the hole and melt the unballed end.

3) How were your first spinning pieces made?

I have a large collection of molds. One day, I had several stamped out pieces and was just playing around with them, arranging them this way and that. I had a small, a medium and a large piece. I stacked them on top of each other and thought they would look cool if they rotated! So I drilled a hole in the center of each piece and fired them. After firing and polishing them, I balled my wire and assembled them as I described before. Voila! It worked!

4) How do you recommend a student get started?

I will provide access to my favorite molds I've made for these kinds of projects and show you how easy it is to ball the wires so that your pieces are as dynamic and fun as any I've ever made. In no time you'll have your own favorite molds and develop your own style!

5) That gear piece looks really complicated? How did you first conceive of it?

Well, let me just say that it wasn't the first piece I ever made -- it was a progression! Once I felt really comfortable making spinning pieces, I was wanting to make things a bit more elaborate. Instead of making a flat piece of metal spin, I thought it would be interesting to make a box spin. So I took one mold and pressed out two identical pieces from it. This would be the lid and the bottom of the box. To the bottom of the box a wall was added and the box was drilled though the center just as the other spinning pieces and assembled in the same fashion.

6) But there's more to the gear piece that just a spinning box -- what's the secret?

The center is a spinning box -- but the outer piece is too! I created the center box first and then created another box -- two identical pieces raised apart from each other with walls. The inner box slides into the center of the outer box and is held in place by a single wire, just like all the others!

Editor's note: We will have plenty of torches on hand - no need to bring your own.

Join Jennifer and PMC Connection this May at our International Artists' Retreat in Gatlinburg, TN.

For more about the retreat:

The Retreat Website
Mountain Laurels and Metal Clay
Learn the Hard Way

Friday, April 8, 2011

Meet Our Teachers...

Introducing Mary Elllin D'Agostino

How long have you been working with metal clay?
Since 1998.

What did you do before that?
I have always done art, but prior to finding and falling in love with metal clay, I was an anthropologist and archaeologist just completing my PhD. I taught and fixed computers and was interviewing for university academic jobs when I took a turn onto the road less traveled and started teaching metal clay.

What other mediums do you work with?
I love lots of mediums--ceramics, glass, enamels, pencil, watercolor, acrylic, oils, collage, pastel, cloth, paper, metal fabrication, photography, digital art, screen printing, and probably others that don't come to mind at the moment.

How did you come to be a PMC Connection Senior Teacher?
I came in at the very beginning. I had become one of the first 10 (?) Art Clay USA certification instructors and followed Mary Ann Devos to PMC Connection. I started the first summer after I finished teaching my last scheduled Art Clay certification class.

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of teaching?
Giving people the knowledge and power to create their own beautiful works of art and jewelry. I just love the way people take what I show them and fuse it with their own ideas and come up with fabulous, original art. Did I mention I like working with people? Much better than computers!

Sun & Sea City. Photo by George Post

Do you have a studio in your home? What does it look like?
My one and only studio is attached to my home in the room formerly known as the garage. I share it with the washer, dryer, and freezer. We spent a lot of time painting the place, putting in a functioning sink, adding electric circuits, painting and installing cupboards. When it is clean, it looks fab, though very white because I want the colors of my work to be the focus and not have colored walls affect how they look.

Do you teach at home or another venue?

I love to teach at home because I always have that one extra tool or supply item that a student needs and I don't have to cart everything around. I also teach at bead shops, community centers, colleges, and travel all over the country for workshops. I am getting back into traveling a bit more now that my daughter is getting older (5 1/2!).

Do you like to take classes yourself? What kind?
I love to take classes of all types, but have focused on jewelry and related classes over the past 10 years. A lot of times, I make my own class by reading a bit about a media or technique and then just diving in to it.

Do you sell your work? Where?
When I get around to it! LOL. I have done shows in the past, but really prefer galleries and boutiques because I am really not into [the selling end of the business].

Where do you find inspiration?
Lots of places! I am inspired by nature, my students, art and culture. Recently, I went to Van Gough, Gauguin Cézanne, and Beyond: Post Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and was immediately transported into the land of inspiration. Wow!

What are you working on at the moment?
[My last] exhibit, combined with the sample pieces I was making for the new PMCC certification curriculum, really got the creative juices running and I am revisiting and improving work based on a sketch series I started many, many years ago. I keep vacillating between calling it the Motherhood, Parenthood, or Playground series. I am working on the metal clay Masters Registry program and I *will* get those first ten projects finished soon. Not to mention my alloying research and writing all that stuff for CornerStone as the new technical advisor....

Where has your work been published?
Quite a few places besides CornerStone and my own website/blog ( One of my favorite published written pieces was in Archaeology Magazine in July/August 2000. It was titled "Privy Business" and was about chamber pots, drinking parties, and sex. Serious research. Really.

Tell us about an artistic hero or influence.
Someone else asked me that about a week ago. If they hadn't I would have had a hard time answering this because I just couldn't think of an answer at that time. I decided my artistic hero(ine) is Vera Lightstone. Vera, one of the PMCC Senior Instructors, is a fabulous sculptor and teacher. She has the most wonderful and perceptive outlook on life. Every chance I get; I take a class with her or talk to her. If I lived in Manhattan, I would be one of her groupie students! I have learned a lot about art, developing my [style], and teaching from her. I think Monet and Van Gough are big influences on me, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they are heroes.Is there a new direction that you’d like to explore?

Is there a new direction that you’d like to explore?
I am focusing on a new direction in my teaching by looking to teach more children's classes and bring art and learning to disadvantaged kids. Kids are great because they don't have all our adult inhibitions.

Thanks, Mary Ellin.
We've loved reading all your wonderful technical articles
and now we're delighted to get to know you a bit better.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It Ain't Easy Pickin' Green!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

So many wonderful pieces were submitted for the second Creative Key challenge! Thank goodness that we let the random number generator give away the prize. I would never have been able to decide by myself. Congratulations to Lorena Angulo for her fabulous Creative Paper Clay ring, "Verde es Vida (Green is Life)"!

Verde es Vida (Green is Life) by Lorena Angulo

"My inspiration for this piece was nature. I love organic forms and I just let my hands work and create this piece in the moment I took the paperclay out of the package. I hand sculpted the ring with Creative paperclay. After the piece was dried I sanded the whole ring and applied colored pencils. The green is a combination of two tones of green. Inside I applied the green tones plus purple and blues to finished it up with some silver high lights. Finally I added the pearls."

1. Greenware, 2. The Green Man, 3. IMG_0561, 4. PMC Pendant - Tangled Weave, 5. Lucky Charm, 6. Good Luck Bangle, 7. Erin's gift, 8. IMG_4472, 9. Untitled, 10. Deco Green #1 Tag , 11. Green is the Color of Paradise, 12. CSC2 by Teva

Congratulations to everyone who played along. You're all winners in my book!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Firing Options for Silver Clay

Posted by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

People often ask about what they need to fire their silver clay. Do they need a kiln? Can they use their old ceramic or glass kiln? What kiln should they buy?

Let me say first that silver and gold clays do not care what your heat source is. Heat it long enough and hot enough and you will have a good result. Heat it too hot and it will melt. If it doesn’t get hot enough for a long enough time, it will be brittle. There are many firing options available and all have their pros and cons mostly having to do with expense, convenience, and consistency of use. In this article, I discuss several why or why not you might choose any particular firing method.

Base metal clays have additional issues to consider when firing. These clays are still in their infancy and the most reliable firings methods are kiln based. Many metal clay artists and manufacturers are working on coming up with reliable firing alternatives.

Hot Pot: The reason to purchase a Hot Pot is if you are a new user of silver clay, don’t know if you will continue using it, are concerned about using a torch (often this means you are concerned about the open flame or of the possibility of melting your piece), and only firing the low fire metal clays. Hot pots are a good choice for people who match one or more of these criteria. The Hot Pot, WHEN USED CORRECTLY, gives an adequate firing–I do not recommend it for firing rings or other items that need to be very strong unless the maker has no other firing options. These items should be fired in a kiln for a longer/hotter firing schedule than is recommended by the manufacturers. Even when firing such items with a torch, it is highly recommended that they be fired for longer than one might fire a pendant. The choice to fire twice is often made with a torch and kiln as well as the Hot Pot and reflects more on the particular piece and the person making it than on the type of firing system used. Finally, part of the concern over the Hot Pot may be due to people using the wrong fuel for it. When purchasing replacement fuel, it is important to buy the right kind. Not all gel fuels are the same! Unfortunately this means that the safest choice is to buy the Hot Pot branded fuel as the heating characteristics of gel fuels is not listed on the various brands found in hardware or camping stores. Hot pots are only for low fire silver clays (PMC3 or ArtClay650)!

That said, the torch is more versatile and I prefer it for that reason, but many people are concerned about using an open flame. A person using a torch to fire metal clay should be very clear on what is meant by “glowing orange” as many people have under-fired their pieces when their “glowing orange” is different than what experienced metalsmiths and torch fire-ers understand the term to mean. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to learning from books and instructional media. Nothing beats learning from a good experienced teacher in person.

Speed Fire Cone or Stove Top: A stove top can be a good firing option if you actually have a gas stove. These are not as common as many people think. While gas is cheaper to run, it is a lot less expensive to install an electric stove and that is what many builders have chosen in the USA. In my experience, you can’t really just set it and forget it because you may need to adjust the flame while firing. Also, you need to be sure to use a stainless steel wire grid and not standard hardware cloth, which is usually galvanized and will deteriorate during firing. Camp stoves are far more problematic than the household range as the flame does not remain consistent–it changes as the level of fuel in the propane or butane canister goes down and as the canister becomes colder while firing. Hence the Speed Fire Cone™, which concentrates the heat AND comes with a pyrometer so you know what your temperature is. The SF cone needs to be monitored as well. Also, the most consistent result will be gained if using a large BBQ type tank for the butane/propane–an adaptor is needed in this case for the SF Cone. Note that the Mini Speed Fire is only for low fire silver clays like PMC3.

Kiln: Kilns give the most consistent firing assuming one has a reliable pyrometer in the kiln. These are available in a wide range of options, but if one can afford it, a kiln with (or that can be retrofitted with) a digital controller and pyrometer is the way to go. The kilns designed for use with metal clay products are the best for using with silver and gold clays because they are designed to have a very consistent temperature throughout the firing chamber.
Lots of people like the Ultralite™ kiln because of its small size and relatively low cost. It is comparable to the SF cone at its base price, but the special metal clay inserts may make it a little more costly. It does take longer to heat than the SF Cone, but does run on electric.

The easiest and most reliable method for firing any type of silver or gold clay is a small programmable kiln with a ceramic fiber or refractory brick muffle. A muffle is the insulating part of the kiln. Ceramic fiber is a good choice for silver and gold clays because it is an excellent insulator, lightweight, and the heating elements for the kiln can be embedded in the sides. Traditional refractory brick insulation is bulky and kilns made from it tend to weigh a lot, take up a lot of space, and have the kiln heating elements exposed on the interior of the kiln.

Ceramic fiber is a space age material that can be formed in a mold with the kiln elements in place. The embedded elements are not exposed so you can load, unload, and crash cool the kiln without worrying that the elements will be damaged. The exposed elements in a traditional kiln require periodic replacement because they can become damaged if the kiln is opened while hot or by glass, glazes, and other substances in the firing chamber. On the other hand, traditional brick kilns are a lot less expensive and the elements are inexpensive to replace when they wear out.

If you plan on firing bronze, copper, or other base metal clays using the “bury it in carbon” long firing schedules, brick kilns with exposed elements are preferred because the long firing times wear out the elements more quickly and, if you do a lot of firing, you will appreciate their easy and inexpensive replacement. When the elements go in a ceramic fiber kiln, you have to replace the whole muffle, which is expensive.

The size of the kiln is an issue because the larger the kiln, the more difficult it is to have even heating throughout the firing chamber. By “small” I mean a kiln that has an interior chamber that has a footprint less than or equal to 12″ at it’s widest point; a little bigger will be ok, but the typical 18″-20″ kiln may give less even heating. A large ceramic kiln will have hot and cool spots which can make firing metal clays chancy. This is not to say that they can’t be used, but you should know your kiln well and place any silver or gold clay objects near the thermocouple or cones so that they are heated to the desired temperature.

Top loading and front loading kilns also have different heating characteristics. When firing base metal or PMC Pro clays in a carbon filled box, a top loading kiln is preferred because the box is heated on all sides. Front loading kilns do not usually have heating elements in the door and the side of the firing box facing the kiln door remains cooler than the rest of it.

Glass and silver clay kilns tend to have maximum operating temperatures of 2000°F/1093°C and extended firings at the hotter bronze/copper temperatures will wear out the kiln elements relatively quickly. These kilns are designed to be fired at glass fusing and silver clay firing temperatures and will last for years when used for these purposes. If you are doing the long carbon filled box firings for copper and bronze, you may want to look into using a kiln designed for firing ceramics. These cost more because they are made using materials that are durable at the higher temperatures required for firing stoneware and porcelain.

Happy Firing!

Hadar Jacobson Workshop

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

PMCC is thrilled to host Patterns of Color in Metal Clay with Hadar Jacobson, June 3-5, 2011 in PMCC's Mesquite, Texas classroom.

Learn how to combine base metal clays to create different color patterns, such as millefiori and mokume-gane. These new techniques were developed to suit the nature of metal clay and are significantly different from polymer clay and metalsmithing techniques. Focusing primarily on copper and bronze clay, the class may also cover Pearl Grey Steel clay.

Get the details here and register today - half of the seats in this great workshop are already spoken for!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Learn the Hard Way!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I don’t remember where, when or why I first heard the phrase “hard metals”. It’s certainly not a description that goldmsiths use to describe their chosen supplies. It refers to the difference between the kind of metal that traditional jewelry makers use - milled, drawn, forged, stiff and hard; and the kind we use - malleable, carveable and moldable, mushy even. They use hard metals and we use soft ones. I guess. I also don’t ever remember hearing our favorite material referred to as soft, although it is.

When metal clay was introduced, the goldsmiths stuck to their guns and used only hard metal. They poo poo’d this new form of alleged metal clay. Clay is just another word for mud, and mud does not a jewelry material make (thought they)! Likewise, novice users of the great grey goop wanted to prove that metal clay could be used to make objects that were just as beautiful as their traditional counterparts and developed ways to use only clay.

In the past few years, the lines have been blurring. Hard metal experts are more willing to try to add metal clay to their repertoire and metal clayers are starting to understand the value of using metal smithing tools and techniques in their work.

Because PMC Connection is dedicated to helping you to push your personal boundries and bring you the best classes anywhere, our wonderful teaching staff has decided to offer a wide variety of hard metal working workshops at the upcoming Arrowmont Retreat!

Silver Chains and Beyond with the Devos’ will teach you how to bend, twist and turn wire to make custom chain for your metal clay focals.
Linda Kline goes green when she reveals how pouring molten silver over pine needles can create a magnifient one off wearable sculpture.
I’m offering an evening class designed to help you brainstorm how to make custom tools to answer a specific need, something goldsmiths are always doing.
Janet Alexander, a professionally trained goldsmith and metal clay expert will show you how to refine your own scrap and turn it into a beautiful one of a kind pendant with cuttlebone casting.
Janet Alexander’s full day class using milled copper to make a box will give you a real fabrication education. You’ll learn how to solder, pierce with a jewelers saw, make rivets and much more. Then later that evening, Ruth Greening will share her finishing and polishing tips using the metalsmith’s favorite tool - a flexible shaft machine.
Friday night 
Janet reprises her Cuttlebone class and I help you learn to dap, forge, rivet, and saw as we make a simple steampunky pendant. I know the description says there won’t be a particular project completed, but there may be a fun surprise.

Bench photo via Ganoksin

I hope  quite a few of you will be there to soak up some knowledge and add a few of these wonderful metal methods to your box of skills. See you in May!