Monday, May 30, 2011

Meet Our Teachers...

Introducing Vera Lightstone

What did you do before you began working with metal clay?
I was in a sculpture show with large ceramic abstractions when the gallery director gave me a tiny piece of what looked like clay and asked me to try it.  “Are you kidding?” said I, “I’m working at six feet!” She insisted, and my life changed.

What other mediums do you work with?
My work had been previously in ceramics, and bronze, with uninspired detours into oil painting and stone carving, but oh!, the transformation from ‘clay’ to precious metals was the ultimate seduction. I was hooked.

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

Gathering  A twelve figure sculpture set in a sixteen foot 
water table for reflection.
My research led me to Mary Ann Devos and I flew to Fort Myers for her class. It was 2001. She and Earl and Ken were just starting a teaching group.  I had been teaching pottery and sculpture for years, and as we hit it off immediately, she hired me to be their first teacher in an organization that grew to be what it is now.

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of teaching?
It has never stopped being exciting to get students as hooked as I am.

Do you have a studio in your home? What does it look like?

In 1981 I bought a large loft in Hells Kitchen in Manhattan.  I divided it into a living space and an art studio to die for -- it is large, well equipped and has a great city view.

Do you teach at home or another venue?
Creating in that space also changed my work, as good environment does, and it is in that space I teach my silver workshops and private students in clay sculpture.  I also teach advanced students in clay sculpture at the JCC in Manhattan.

O'Keefe - Silver Clay Pin
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration has always been from nature, For example, when I learned to scuba dive, my work was about the beauty of life undersea. My other inspiration comes from drawing from the model.

Tell us about an artistic hero or influence.
An artist I have always admired is Georgia O’Keeffe. Strong, intensely female, erotic, I can’t resist her. For drawing with the syringe, the wire drawings of Alexander Calder make me laugh out loud and wish I were that great.

Thanks Vera. Your work is stunning. This peek into your life and process has been an inspiration. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Artist’s Journal: Meet Yvonne Yao

Editor’s note: Last month, PMCC launched our new series, Artist’s Journal. This post is the second installment and introduces you to our second blogger, Yvonne Yao.

Our Artist's Journal bloggers will 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 newest blogger, Yvonne Yao. . .

Love life. Trust the journey. Live the story – Your way.

Early this year I set my New Year’s resolutions to be: 1) earning the first net dollar on my newborn jewelry business and 2) making time for play and exploration within my craft to provide opportunities for the unexpected, so as to sweep away the boundaries I have a tendency to build up around me when I think too practically and plan too much. As luck would have it, the kick in the butt I needed to help me stick to my promise to myself came in the form of an invitation to be a guest blogger for PMC Connection. This was my chance to renew the short affair with PMC that had originally made me mad enough to believe I could start my own business, so of course I said-“Yes!”

Like a lot of handcrafted jewelry artists, I have always loved making things with my hands, but did not believe I could actually do it for a living. I sometimes wonder how I managed to miss the mark so persistently over the years, since it has been my joy and obsession ever since I was old enough to understand the importance of coloring within the lines. It took me six years of working a practical job in television (painting fences and lugging lights on home makeover shows), in fashion (overseeing product development and overseas manufacturing of apparel and accessories), and a lot of berating and encouragement from my husband---before I finally found the courage to believe in myself and take the final leap into starting my own home-based business, Yvonne Yao Jewelry. It took all this, even though the first seed of madness and curiosity was planted in 2009...

I first became fascinated with PMC when a friend of mine told me that I didn’t need to turn
my boyfriend’s apartment kitchen into a small forge, with money and space that I did not have. Instead, I could actually buy metal in clay form, shape and manipulate it to whatever design I wanted, and bake it in a kiln the size of a microwave—then Voila! I would have a piece of metal jewelry! I told her she was nuts, enrolled in a metal-smith course, and it was six more months before I found my way to my first PMC class with Lora Hart.

Since then, I have been repeatedly surprised by--and in awe of--the practicality, versatility, and beauty of PMC. I love that it is eco-friendly and low in wastage because it can be shaped, molded and carved into a design, only then to be melted down and recycled again into a new creation when its old form has lost its value. It is also a medium that easily allows an average income city dweller--like me--affordable and limitless creative possibilities as a hobbyist and artist, with minimal overhead, limited space, and basic tools that can mostly be found or collected around the home/craft/or hardware store.

So here I am, ready to relearn old skills and scheme up new ones, to get my hands dirty and color outside of the lines, and to blog about my PMC adventures--which I hope will surprise us both. I look with enthusiasm towards a chance to combine, layer, sculpt, carve, imprint, and paint to create stunning and beautiful things of delight! As Jennifer said, looking forward to sharing the good, bad, and the ugly--but most of all, the unexpected--with everyone!!

Yvonne Yao
Los Angeles, California

Friday, May 20, 2011

Water and Metal Clay

by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Every type of metal clay suggests the use of distilled water for moistening your clay. Many metal clay users don’t understand why they should use distilled water. Many of us get away with using tap water. Why the fuss? And, what is distilled water anyway?

One of the myths regarding the use of distilled water is that it will help prevent mold in your clay. Sorry, but that is not the case. While distilled water shouldn’t contain any mold spores in it, the main source of mold spores is your local environment. Tap water, which contains some chlorine, will do more to prevent mold than distilled water! To read perhaps more than you ever wanted to know about mold and metal clay, read my post Oldy But Moldy.

Distilled water is pure water with nothing added or (supposedly) contaminating it. Of course, it is usually sold in plastic bottles, so there are probably a few contaminating molecules from the container in the water. Water is distilled by boiling it and recovering the water vapor; salts and other contaminants are left behind in the boiling chamber. It can also be made using a filtering process called reverse osmosis. Distilled water tastes “flat” because we are used to and want a few contaminants like salt in our drinking water. Carbonated beverages start with distilled water and add the drink syrup or ingredients to it. In that case, they want pure water, because any contaminants can alter the flavor of the beverage and we all know how people are about their Coke and Pepsi! Like Coke and Pepsi, you can buy it at the grocery store.

Distilled water is the best choice for adding to your metal clay, because you can be certain that you are not adding any chemicals that can affect the metal clay. Metal clays can react with contaminants such as calcium and aluminum in ways that are not desirable. Calcium and aluminum, for example, bond with pure silver and you no longer have elemental silver. The result is that the contaminated silver clay will not sinter properly. If you have “hard water” that deposits a lot of calcium (white residue) or iron (rusty residue), or if it smells sulfurous you should probably avoid using your tap water.

If you are in an area that has good tap water without a lot of contaminants, you can add tap water to your metal clays. However, if your water is not relatively pure, it may cause problems. Base metal clays may be more susceptible to contaminants because the base metals (copper, iron, nickel, and tin) are more reactive than silver. This means they will react or combine more easily with other chemicals. Gold doesn’t react with much, but at the price of gold clay, I would probably stick with distilled water when working with it!

Bottled drinking water is not the same as distilled water. It is (supposedly) high quality drinking water and usually contains at least some salts. Sometimes it is made using distilled water and adding some (sodium, potassium, or bromine) salts to the water to make it taste “good.” Bottled drinking water is not regulated, so there is no guarantee that the bottler isn’t just taking it out of the local municipal tap and calling it “mountain spring” water. Some bottled waters are taken from springs and they have whatever contaminants are present in the source water. In most cases the contaminants in bottled drinking water won’t bother your pmc, so you can use this as a second choice for moistening metal clay.

If you have a filtered water pitcher or a filter on your tap water, this can also be acceptable for use with your metal clay, but you should check to make sure that the filters are changed regularly. These filters do not remove all contaminants, and are not the perfect answer.

That said, if you add a drop of not-as-good water to your metal clay, you can probably get away with it. Just be aware that you are taking a risk and use the best quality water you can easily obtain.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Just Do It!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines, submissions and proposals. I know they're good for me. I'm a procrastinator and seeing a deadline looming in my near future is often the shot of adrenaline I need to get the job done. But the extra biochemical push that gets my heart racing towards the finish line also prompts me to just drop the ball and let it roll away. Sometimes it takes a lot of willpower to overcome.

Saturday night I got the last minute idea to propose some classes for an event in Houston. When was the deadline? Sunday at midnight! Luckily online submissions were requested. Today is the last day to send in images for the next PMC Guild Annual. I have all my photos on CD and filling out the paperwork is not much of a stressor, but do I have it done? Uh - nope. But I got an email version of Fusion last Thursday giving permission to submit via email "next week". Does that mean today? Monday is "next week". Or does that mean the entire week? I'm shuddering. Now I think I have permission to put off till Friday what I should have done a long time ago. I'm gonna wise up and get the job done today though. Right after I finish writing this post. Which was due last Thursday. Sigh.

So, why should I bother? Why create so much angst for myself? Why submit anything, for any one, at any time, in the first place? Here's where the love portion of the equation comes into play.

I love the opportunities that submitting presents. I love the way I feel after I put the envelope in the mail. I even love the anticipation while waiting to see if my work has been accepted (which is not always the positive surprise I was hoping for). I believe that it's part of my job as an artist to improve my visibility in any way possible. Submissions are part of my marketing plan. I love to teach. I have an ego that likes being stroked, just like everyone else. I love to see my work in print.

What about you? Why should you submit? What does the very act of submitting, proposing and putting yourself "out there" accomplish?

10. Beneficial for your brain matter. Risk taking creates new synapses and releases dopamine which makes you feel good.
9. Presents opportunities in arenas that you might not otherwise have been exposed to.
8. Broadens your list of accomplishments.
7. Invites you to think about your work and how you can develop new and exciting designs.
6. Builds self confidence.
5. Allows you to look at your work objectively.
4. Encourages you to take more risks.
3. Very satisfying.
2. Makes your Mama proud.
1. Gives you bragging rights until the next submission is due.

So get on board. Research the opportunities. Find your venue. Then pull out that pen, limber up those typing skills and take a risk.

Start with the Annual this week. Plan for Holly Gage's calendar.  Check Lark's Calls for Submissions. Play along with our Creative Key challenges and stay tuned for an exciting new PMCC contest partnership soon. Share your artistic wealth!

From Fusion:

"In order to make this as easy as possible, we're going to allow people to send images as email attachments for the next week," says Communications Director Tim McCreight. "People need to understand that the size of their images is important. Each image should be about 6-8 megabytes (MB) in size, and at this size they should attach only two or three images to each email. Larger files will sometimes crash an email program or simply fail to transmit. Small files will appear fuzzy when printed."

Send your images as attachments to and remember to include your name along with title, size, materials, and photographer information.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gems and Copper Clay

by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Now that silver is so very expensive, more and more of us are trying out the base metal clays. One of the questions that comes up regularly is about firing gemstones embedded in copper and bronze clays.

For the most part, any stone that can be fired in place in fine silver clay using a 1650°F/2 hour firing schedule can be fired in place in carbon. Quite a few stones that don't do well in an open shelf firing at high temperatures can be successfully fired when buried in carbon. In a recent class, I had a several students try to fire CZs and lab grown spinel in place in copper and bronze clays. The stones in bronze came out beautifully, but quite a few of the ones fired in copper came out with a frosty haze on them. Intense cleaning removed some of the haze, but we couldn’t get the stones back to their original sparkly state. While we were able to clean the top surface of the stones, even with a clean-out opening behind the stones, I could not remove enough of the coating on the faceted sides of the stones to bring back their original sparkle.

This happened to almost every piece made from pure copper clay in January and February 2011. Repaired and re-fired pieces always ended up with cloudy stones. I ran some alternate test firings. I tried firing hotter, lower, shorter, and longer, but there was no combination of firing that eliminated the problem. I tried firing them in batches of copper only, in batches mixed with bronze pieces with much the same results. The stones in the bronze were beautiful, but the stones in copper were cloudy. I tried using new carbon, old carbon, coconut carbon and coal carbon with no change in result. I tried two different brands of copper clay with no change in results.

I am fairly certain that the issue has to do with the pure copper clay—it, or some other byproduct of firing copper in carbon, may be adhering (fuming?) onto the stone surfaces. To test this, I tried replacing some stones using bronze to make the repair and applying a bronze wash over the copper to blend in and even out the surface color. These stones came out beautifully!

Not many people seem to have been firing stones in the copper clay, but if you do try it and you have a problem with cloudy stones, you can try to fix them by replacing the stones and applying a bronze wash to the piece and re-firing.

I just did some re-testing (May 2011), using the same carbon, container, kiln, and firing schedules. Pieces fired at 1470°F and 1560°F came out fine. The piece fired at 1700°F did come out cloudy, so temperature may be a factor.

I put out a query to the metal clay yahoo group and several people reported problems, while others reported no problems. It may have to do with temperature and atmospheric conditions--more moisture in the air promoting the fuming/coating. Jokes about phases of the moon and dancing around in a ritual manner come to mind--except that I didn't do any dancing around any of the batches. This may just remain a kiln mystery until more successes and failures display some pattern.

Sadly, this raises more questions than answers, so I am sending out an appeal: Please let me know if you have success or failure when firing gemstones in copper clay and maybe we can find a pattern and figure out what is going on. Respond here or to my email

Happy Firing!