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.


Holly Anne Black said...

Hi Yvonne, I'm new to this group, invited by Jennifer. Sounds like a good place for 'freshman artists' such as you & I. Very lovely ring, simple yet a graceful, natural,flowing feeling that will be very attractive on the hand! Sounds like you learned alot and certainly gave me many things to remember when I try my first ring.
I just read your blog & found it so coincidental that you used a lino block for your design. I've been exploring alternate stamping techniques as I don't have a photopolymer plate or any etching materials. This morning after getting my darling hubby off to work this morning @ 6a when no one is awake & my mind is clear with only a tiny bit of Mountain Dew Super Nova in it. I pulled out my good old Speedball lino cutters & found a couple newer soft blocks & started moving & swirling. Then as I was starting to clean up the scraps, I looked at the bigger pieces & thought, 'what if I glue them on the other side of the block so it would be a 'bas relief' right? [I'm sure I've seen something of the sort in one of my many books]
Whats it called when there's that kind of unknown synchronicity going on? Sorry to digress, your ring is very nice & I'm sure one of your family or friends with little fingers will be clammering for it!! Look forward to seeing more of your creations! Blessings!

Yvonne Yao said...

Hi Holly,

Thanks for reading my blog and commenting! I've never tried working with some Mountain Dew Super Nova in my system early morning to get the creative juices flowing (will have to give it a try). ;) However, I do also love the rare moments working in the early morning quiet when my mind slips into a flow of its own-without thinking-and subconsciously things just seem to creatively come together.

I would love to see your work, and thanks for sharing the great idea (re: gluing the block cutouts to make a relief stamp on a new pad)! I know that will come back to re-visit me whilst I'm playing one morning.

Hope you keep on reading and creating lovely new pieces! Cheers!