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."


Teva Chaffin said...

Lora - this sounds like it was so much fun. The beautiful setting of the workshop along with all the new techniques. In my experience, I feel the success after I have repeated the new technique in my own studio with my own tools, while relaxing and creating. I look forward to seeing your future creations incorporating these new techniques! Thanks for sharing.

Ruth said...

Sounds like an intense 5 days. I love how everyone displayed their work afterwards too. Maybe I'll have to check out next year's offerings!

Sarah Triton said...

Oh Sweetie, I SO felt your frustration with soldering...have been right there, and probably will again, since you TOTALLY inspired me to get back to some traditional work, since I do have the supplies for it! Your week was invaluable learning, and more than worth it, I'm sure!

Miss Sarah