Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Artist's Journal: A PMC Ring

by Yvonne Yao

I took jeweler Ruth Shapiro’s “Metal Etching” class this past weekend at a local gem and mineral show and was instantly inspired to create my own texture plate for my first Cornerstone project. Playing with one of my etched class samples (by rolling modeling clay over it) indirectly led me to the ring design you see in the photos.

Little did I realize how many details can be over-looked in the construction of an un-adjustable ring band when one has never made one before.

This is the first time I have worked with PMC in over a year, and only the third time I’ve crafted with the medium, so I decided to keep things simple and focus on getting re-acquainted with the material. I was determined to avoid purchasing any prefabricated or commercials tools unless necessary, and wanted to stick with the basics.

Once the design was drawn, I copied it onto tracing paper and transferred it onto a rubber carving pad. Armed with an old set of cutting tools I inherited from my mother-in-law’s aunt, it took two tries to get accustomed to the tool and create an inverted texture stamp that I liked. I did a test roll with modeling clay on the texture to make sure I liked the depth of the carving, before proceeding with the actual PMC. The surface of the ring design rolled out rather nicely with PMC3. I don't have a ring mandrel, so after hand shaping the focal piece, I rested it on the curved handle of my rawhide hammer to set, while I rolled the clay again to cut out a ring band.

This is where I committed my first oversight. I wanted the ring band to lightly taper down the sides of the ring face and run smoothly across the back of the ring. This required the band itself to sit at a slight angle in the back due to the organic shape of the focal design. Since the focal was already finished and drying with each minute, I rushed to cut the band and attach it without the support of a mandrel. This was very difficult, since I used my fingers to support the fresh, floppy band while I used my other hand to smooth the edges and taper them to the asymmetrical focal piece the best I could. The effort took a long time and the band suffered a couple of hair-line cracks when the clay got too dry. I used slip to patch the small cracks and carefully smoothed out any sharp or rough edges with a light grit sandpaper before firing.

The piece was then fired at full ramp to 1650 degrees, held for 1 hour, and tumbled for 15 minutes in a friend’s magnetic polishing unit. I have to say, for only 15 minutes, the detailed polish that the magnetic tumbler gives the piece is beautiful. The only sad part is, the size of the ring band was crudely miscalculated by me in my haste and turned out pinky sized! Surprisingly, the thickness of the ring itself did not alter much between pre-and post firing, which will hopefully aid me in judging stone setting in the future.

Finally, in an attempt to enlarge the ring a size, I found that the force of the hammering brought out the two hair-line cracks I had tried to patch with slip. I am not sure if this means I did not patch the cracks as skillfully as I could have - causing weak points along the band, or if most patches have a tendency to re-occur when force is applied after firing. All in all, a good learning experience. I'm hoping I will get a chance to get into an enamel lab to apply color to the wingtip of the ring in the coming months, and share a photo with everyone. Other than having a lot to learn and read about when it comes to working with PMC, at least I am now a little less frantic about the clay drying out on me if I pause to think or need to scrap a design and re-roll.

Thoughts from PMCC Artistic Advisor Lora Hart:

Wow! What a lot of lessons learned. For an allegedly "simple" project, Yvonne used quite a few advanced techniques. And performed them beautifully, I might add!

I know there are many self taught students of metal clay out there. Whether this is due to financial concerns, lack of accessibility to teachers, or just the love of innovation and self reliance - being a problem solver and researcher are talents that every artist needs to develop. With so much information on the web (YouTube is a wonderful resource) and in books (library's too), there's really no reason to try to re invent the wheel with most techniques. Let's see if I can help shorten the learning curve for the next artist who wants to attempt some of these skills.

• I love that the copper etching class inspired Yvonne to hand carve a rubber texture plate. Learning one new skill, lead to an innovation that she hadn't considered before. Yvonne could also have used the etched copper itself as a texture for metal clay.
• Making the ring topper (focal) separately is something I often do when making rings. Love that she dried it on the handle of her hammer. She could have also used a tube of mascara, a knife handle, or a pill bottle. Look around your house to see what kinds of objects would make a good form to shape the clay on.
• Remember to do that research when teaching yourself a new task. Yvonne would have found lots on information online to show her how to make a ring shank, as well as reminders that silver clay shrinks 8 to 15% depending on the brand of clay used, the length of time in the kiln, and the temperature. Even Art Clay shrinks a bit more than advertised if left in a 1650ºF kiln for an hour. The longer and hotter you can fire the clay (up to a maximum of 1650ºF), the more the metal particles shrink together and the stronger and more dense it will be.
• Yvonne did a great job attaching the shank to the focal. The join is absolutely seamless, smooth, looks very comfortable, and is certainly very attractive. Making an asymmetrical ring shank wasn't easy. I've never attempted that myself, but I think if I did - I might have placed the dry focal on my ring form and marked the attachment points in sharpie. Then I would know where to place the ends of the shank strip to create the asymmetrical shape. I probably would have used slip to join the dry focal to the wet shank and let the ring dry on the ring form. Lots of grooming, filling and sanding afterwards would have resulted in the same seamless finish that Yvonne achieved.
• Making the shank at least 2.5 times larger than the desired size and using a firing plug made from investment would have helped with the annoying shrinkage factor Yvonne experienced.

All in all, I think this is an amazing first project from Yvonne considering how little experience she has with metal clay. I look forward to her next project and to seeing this lovely ring enameled.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Do Texas, Kansas, and Montana Have In Common?

New PMCC Certification Instructors!

by Jennifer Roberts

We are delighted to announce the addition of three wonderful instructors to our education program: Janet Alexander (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX), Gale Schalgel (Kansas City, KS), and Dona Miller (Missoula, MT). You get to know them more over the coming months, but here is a little about each of them.

Janet Alexander (Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas)

Janet has a BFA in Metals from the University of North Texas and has studied metal working with several Master Jewelers such as Valentin Yotkof, Vasken Tanielian, Tom Collins, Allen Revere and others. She has GIA (Gemology Institute of America) certification in diamond grading and stone setting with experience in jewelry for over 35 years.

Janet is an accomplished metal artist with her work shown in the El Paso museum of Fine Art, Wichita Falls museums of Fine Art, and the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Janet won Award of Merit (first place) in Craft Houston art competition in 2004. Additionally, she appeared several times on HGTV's Crafters Coast to Coast and That’s Clever demonstrating her lost wax casting and wax carving techniques. Her work has been sold in high-end galleries across Texas.

Gale Schlagel (Kansas City, Kansas)

Like many metal clay artists, Gale’s professional career began in a different creative field - interior design. Her search for a more hands-on creative outlet eventually led her to metal clay. Gale is based in Kansas City, KS and has a Bachelors of Fine Art in Design and a Bachelors of Liberal Arts in Art History. Her interests and skills in a wide range of areas - custom furniture and wall finishes; antique furniture repair and carving; woodworking; ceramics; raku; floral arranging; and beading- all influence her work in metal clay.

View Gale’s complete profile.

Dona Miller (Missoula. MT)

Jewelry design and teaching have always been part of Dona’s life. Her love of jewelry began when she was a small child. Dona began teaching beading in high school and was exposed to the world of pearls from the orient. Though Dona became an engineer, she never quit experimenting with different art mediums, including interior design, painting, and photography. After leaving the high tech world Dona returned to her first love of jewelry. She currently sells her work through select galleries, shows, and online. She was featured in the Dana Gallery Artists of Montana 2010 as one of only three jewelry artists accepted into the show. Dona currently teaches classes in Precious Metal Clay, traditional metal working, glass fusing, and yoga.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Glass, Heat, & Metal Clays

by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

This week I am at the Metal Clay World Conference giving a talk on mixing metals. I will post about that next time, but as long as I am in the mixing mode, I wanted to discuss mixing other stuff with your metal clay creations. I get asked a lot about combining glass with metal clays.

Glass and silver clay is a beautiful combination and can work very well because glass and silver have very similar Coefficients of Expansion (COE). That means they expand and contract at similar rates and temperatures. Alas, they do not expand and contract at exactly the same rate, so some care needs to be taken when combining glass elements in a silver clay piece.

First of all, you need to know that glass needs to heat and cool slowly so that it won’t crack. Everyone has a different favorite firing schedule and you have a fair amount of leeway when firing small pieces of glass, but don’t expect to be able to have a happy piece of un-cracked glass if you heat on a full speed ramp and pull the kiln door open to cool the pieces rapidly.

Above: Dichroic glass and fine silver pendant by PMCC Senior Instructor Marlynda Taylor

If you are firing at a very low temperature (say PMC3 at 1110°F) and the glass doesn’t soften (start to melt), you are in great shape! The silver will shrink around the glass and hold it in place as long as your silver is well constructed, with no bad joins or cracks that might open up when it shrinks around the glass and can’t shrink any more in that direction. The clay will thin out or find other directions to shrink, but if there is a hairline crack, weakness, or poorly joined seam, the clay may use that weakness to shrink in that less desirable way. You can often fix these cracks by filling with more silver and re-firing, but sometimes it takes more than one round of repairs. The really low temperature firing is great for the glass, but the silver is not very strong. Be sure to hold the kiln temperature at least 45 minutes (I usually let it go for 2 hours) when firing at 1110°F so your silver will be stronger

If you are firing a little hotter, to the point where the glass surface gets tacky and fuses to the silver, you will have a greater failure (cracked glass) rate, but a stronger silver piece. At slightly hotter temperatures, 1200°F-1300°F, the glass gets a little tacky and fuses to the silver. At these temperatures very thin layers of slip painted silver or syringe work will fuse to the surface of the glass and allow you to create a lot of cool design effects. This does, however, put stress on the glass and if it is too much stress, the glass will get a stress fracture (it will crack). There are many factors in what does and does not work. I really recommend taking a class or trying some of the excellent projects available in books and online before branching out on your own for this technique.

If you are taking the glass to a full fuse (melting it), you have to be even more careful. The guaranteed success method for doing this is to make an open-backed frame around the cabochon that fits a little loosely after drying and is perfectly smooth on the inside where it touches the glass. This ensures that the glass is stressed evenly around its edges and minimizes the chance that it will fracture from the stress. We used to use this method a lot before the low fire clays were available. The percentage of failures using this method is a lot higher.

What about copper and bronze? Copper has an expansion rate a lot closer to glass than silver, so it makes a really great fit. Glass artists have been fusing copper with glass for years. The problem with copper and bronze clays, of course, is the carbon firing method. Open firing won’t work with glass because the glass needs a slow heat and cool and the open firing for copper usually involves quenching (really rapid cooling) and is guaranteed to crack your glass. Glass and copper can be combined and fired in carbon if you can come up with a good way to keep the carbon from getting to the glass. Attempts to come up with a good technique for this usually involve copper mesh and ceramic fiber blanket or thinfire paper. I don’t think anyone has worked out a really good technique for this yet.

Bronze will probably work well with glass because it is 90% copper, but I haven’t gotten into researching how it interacts with the glass yet.

I hope this answers some of the questions about glass and metal clays. Post questions if you have them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

So You Want To Be a Teacher. . .

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

Students tell me all the time that they want to teach. I often wonder if that’s because the teachers that I know exude so much joy and derive so much pleasure from their work, that it isn’t work at all. But having a passion for teaching doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, while we may make it look effortless, years of preparation and a big chunk of money have been invested in our classroom readiness.

If you really want to teach, above all else, cultivate your talent and training. Know your stuff -- inside and out. You can’t be a good teacher unless you’ve put time, effort, and a substantial investment into learning everything there is to know about your subject. That means making mistakes, taking risks, and paying your dues. Take classes; lots of classes from lots of different teachers. Become a lifelong student, and read everything you can get your hands on. Remember, there are lots of ways to get a job done. Make sure you’ve tested lots of different methods and can honestly and confidently be prepared when your students ask you about alternatives.

Location, Location, Location

Just like real estate, location can be a make-or- break aspect when choosing the perfect venue for your classes. While your community may offer a variety of facilities, there are plenty of considerations to be weighed before determination if a location will be a winner.
Bead shops, museums, galleries, colleges, adult continuing education centers, glass stores, jewelry schools, and ceramic shops, are all good places to start your search. Bear in mind, however, that each facility may have its own protocol for teacher credentials. Colleges, for instance, may require teachers to have a college degree, while jewelry schools may require a bench jewelers’ certification.

A kiln can be a big consideration. If you plan to teach, own your own. Firing options will be limited if you restrict yourself to firing with a torch. Plus, some students may be intimidated by an open flame – or worse yet, they may melt their creations! Some facilities may provide access to a kiln, but don’t take it for granted. Ask lots of questions about what equipment and tools may be accessible to you and your students. If you do have access to various types of equipment, make sure you know safe operating procedures. And find out the policy on safety, insurance, and liability issues, too!

Know Before You Go
Before you approach a shop owner or department head, have all your ducks in a row and call ahead to schedule an appointment. Act like a professional. This is essentially a sales call or an initial job interview. Show up on time, dress appropriately, and bring your portfolio.

These are just a few of a very long list of questions you should think about before you go:
  1. How much will you charge for your classes?
  2. What will be included in the cost of your class? (Tools, raw materials, gemstones, etc.)
  3. Will you supply all tools for student use? (At the very least, plan to have texture, molds, rolling pins, Badger Balm, paint brushes, adequate work surfaces, cleaning brushes, etc., for each student.)
  4. Do you have adequate financial resources to invest in supplies (silver, bronze, copper) for the appropriate number of students? Be sure to order extra, just in call you have last minute sign-ups.
  5. How will the class be a win-win for you and the facility? What percentage of the cost of the class will the facility earn? Who will handle registrations and deposits?
  6. If they collect the registration, how and when will you be paid?
  7. Have several samples of the project(s) you plan to teach.
  8. Have step-by-step hand-outs prepared for each project.
  9. How will the class be marketed? Will the facility help you by including your classes in their newsletter, blog, catalog, website, bulk mailing, etc.?
  10. Will you (or the facility) accept credit cards for registration? For optional purchases?
  11. How many students will your classroom accommodate?
  12. Are there sufficient electrical outlets to accommodate a kiln, heater(s) or dehydrator, tumbler?
  13. Have you given every consideration to safety?
  14. Will you have optional findings and components available to students? (Chains, ear wires, embeddable bails, bezels, gemstones, etc.)
  15. Does the facility have insurance to protect you and your students in the event of an injury or accident?
  16. Is the classroom well lit?
  17. Is there adequate ventilation for the kiln?
  18. If it is a one-day class is there somewhere to get lunch or should the students’ brown bag it?
This is just a starting point. The more you think about it, the longer your list will be. You can never be overly-prepared.

Creative blessings,

Monday, July 4, 2011

How I Spell Success

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

I just got back from a mind blowing 5 days in the forests of Idyllwild, California at Metals Week, a retreat put on by the Idyllwild Arts Academy and Deb Jemmott. This retreat is a little different than most in that each class lasts the entire 5 days! This gives a student the luxurious opportunity to explore, practice, design, experiment and learn a variety of techniques that focus on a specific method of jewelry making. It was so great that I'm already planning to return next year.

This year Fred Zweig taught a myriad of hinge and hinge pin designs, Harold O'Connor shared his methods for surface design including reticulated sterling silver; roll printing; and a fascinating way to develop dimension with flat stock by scoring and folding, Joanna Gollberg inspired students to create a wild assortment of rings, Sandra Noble Goss covered married metals and non acid etching, Charity Hall's students made amazing enamel samples by drawing with graphite and painting with liquid enamel, and my instructor Pauline Warg showed us how to tube; gypsy; and jump ring set small stones.
Harold O' Connor and Joanna Gollberg's class work. Photos by Diane Weimer.
I went with gal pals Dawn Miller and Vickie Hallmark, and was happy to have the chance to meet a number of my cyber/FB friends. Dawn left on Friday morning with a long string of brass hinge examples which she learned to solder, rivet and wire together. Soldering brass is not as easy as silver, so I know she came away with many new techniques to supplement her repertoire. Vickie, talented thing thing that she is, made a number of 'bird journal' inspired enameled disks that she's looking forward to bezel setting.

I started class with zeal, looking forward to learning some new techniques to feature on my jewelry. We started by soldering huge half round wire into a ring that we could place our settings on/in. I learned how to use a wooden forming block to round the thick stock, then I pick soldered for the first time by melting a pallion of solder into a tiny ball and placing it on the seam with an altered coat hanger. I had brought some of my own half round wire which I used to make a second ring. Pauline demonstrated how to form it into a square shape by flattening three sides with a chasing hammer. I mastered both of those rings in the first two days. Woo Hoo!
Sandra Noble Goss and Charity Hall's class work. Photos by Diane Weimer.
Next we started making the settings. I cut and filed square and round tubing, notching corners and fitting stones perfectly. We were given a large copper bangle to practice our settings on. Pauline is famous for her gorgeous sterling bangles and students like to learn what their instructors are known for. And it made sense to have one item to show off each of the 6 different setting styles. Okay. Time to solder my first setting on the bangle.

I filed a flat area on the rounded bracelet so I'd have a level surface to solder the bezel to  (something I always teach my students - join 'like' surfaces. Flat to flat or convex to concave). The hefty copper bracelet was slightly thinner than the 5mm round tube, which meant the tube had to be perfectly centered - allowing the solder to flow correctly and fill the .25 mm gap on either side. Tricky! Especially for someone with a bit of a tremor. But I did it! Twice! (with a little help from my friends) Once for the cabochon stone setting and again for the faceted version. Then I was off to the Foredom to drill the seat for the faceted CZ with a gem setting burr. Drill a little, fit a little, drill a little, fit a little... rinse and repeat until the girdle of the stone is situated perfectly below the top of the bezel cup. Whew.
Fred Zweig and Pauline Warg's class work. Photos by Diane Weimer.
I went back to the soldering station so I could repeat the process with the square settings. This time, I wasn't so lucky. This time frustration reared it's annoying head. It wasn't as easy to center the square bezel on top of the ring and I wasn't as successful heating the great big bangle with the big girl torch. I'm really good with a butane torch and am learning to handle my small Gentec, propane/oxy 'little torch' pretty well. But I hadn't used an acetylene/air torch with such a big flame since my first jewelry making class about 9 years ago. Heating a large item to solder a small finding is a trick that must be done over and over to perfect. I managed to get the solder to flow, but when I used the pick to nudge the bezel into the perfect position, it started to slide off the copper. I was so startled that I pulled the flame away, causing the solder to solidify. Just as the bezel made it to the inside corner of the bracelet. If it had frozen on the outside corner I might have thought about 'learning to love it' as an interesting and quirky faux design decision. But as it was, I couldn't get the bracelet over my thumb without scratching my skin. So I resolved to use this as a learning moment and re flow the solder so I could remove and re set the bezel.

I took a big breath to center myself and began to heat the bracelet. Playing the flame on the bottom and around the sides until the metal began to look a bit like a rainbow covered oil slick. Then when the top of the bracelet was orangish and I saw the flash of flowing silver solder, I knew the time was right to knock the bezel off. Knowing just how much heat is enough is another thing one learns from experience. There are many stages of 'hot enough'. And I realized that I had passed my window of opportunity when the perfectly drilled round setting began to melt!! Arrrgggghhhh! That's when I turned off the torch and went for a short walk in the beautiful wooded campus.
My partially successful and abandoned work.
I won't bore you with a step by step of the rest of my time in the classroom. Suffice it to say, that the frustration didn't end there. And it pleases me to know that I wasn't the only one struggling with either soldering the settings or setting the stones (is that so wrong?).

There were many levels of success in our class. Some folks set all the stones. Some only got to a few. There were others who made it as far as soldering three of the 5 bezels. Students concentrated on 'this' setting but not 'that' one. I completed the jump ring setting, one square bezel and two tiny tube settings.  I decided to make my last day a good one, by not pushing myself to "just do it". I left the room about 20 minutes before the end of class.

So. Was I successful? I didn't learn everything I had expected to learn. I didn't completely finish a single project (I think I may by tomorrow). After much stretching and challenging myself, I finally gave up and gave in to my lack of skills.

But still, I left Idyllwild happy, inspired, with the understanding that there are some things I may not be able to accomplish and a long list of new knowledge, skills, tips, and tricks. Pauline Warg was a wonderful instructor. Generous with her knowledge, time and encouragement. I learned more in that 5 days, than I have in years of sequestered experimentation. So, although I wasn't able to wear a new bijou out to dinner on the last night, and although my work wasn't displayed along with the other students (I ran out and forgot to pin it to the board), I had a completely successful and enjoyable week.

How do you measure success? Whose 'fault' is it when a student doesn't complete a project as designed? Is it anyone's 'fault' at all? Or is it just that people learn at their own pace? Student's 'make' at their own pace. Revel in your successes and learn from your alleged 'failures'. Remember the words of Thomas Edison who patented over 1,093 inventions. "I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."