Monday, November 28, 2011

Artist's Journal - Adapting the Box-Building Technique

By Yvonne Yao

The recent rains in Los Angeles reminded me of a design I scribbled down a month ago. My vision was of a three dimensional rain cloud with a cascade of raindrops that would swing with the wearer’s every movement. It’s so peaceful when sunrays peak out from behind a cloud, and the cleansing effect of rain always makes the world look new again after it subsides. I was so charmed by this imagery that I decided to transform it into reality for my third PMC project.
Aluminum Foil Cutters

I had never built a 3-dimensional form with metal clay before, but decided it would be a fun experiment to adapt a box-building technique for my design. The plan was to make a pair of earrings, and since I wanted them to be identical, I needed to find out how to make my own homemade cookie cutters. With help from these instructions, I made one cloud and three different sized raindrop cookie cutters out of aluminum foil and tape.

Using PMC3 I cut out 4 clouds, a multitude of raindrops (all 2 cards thick), and two disks – ¼” in diameter and 1/8” thick (which would act as a platform for the drops). After drying and sanding, I pierced holes into the tip of each raindrop with a needle and set all the bits and pieces aside.

To create the walls of the cloud boxes, I cut two 3/16” wide rectangular bands. Since I did not have a mold to form the scalloped walls around, I brushed water along the edge of the cloud shaped cutout and used the handle of a paintbrush to shape the clay directly around the bone-dry piece. Once the wall was dry, I attached a circular disc to the center of the cloud with slip, and capped the box with the second cloud shape. Later I inserted a fine silver bail into the top of each box. The frame of each cloud-shaped box was left open at the bottom to allow the wire wrapped raindrops to dangle freely.

Being a newbie at box construction, I learned a lot in the making of this project. I ran into some difficulties shaping the curved walls, and experienced some cracking along the curves because the clay was getting dry from my continuous handling. Thick oil slip was my friend when I used it to reinforce the cracks and aid in the joining and structure of the piece.

Editors note: Yvonne might have made a polymer clay form that matched her cutter's dimensions to form the cloud walls around. Wetting the strip of clay, covering with plastic wrap, and allowing the water to soak in would have made the clay 'floppy' enough (a technical term) to shape without cracking. It's a good thing she didn't use the cutter itself as a drying form though. Metal clay and aluminum don't play well together!

The boxes were allowed to dry and then finished with fine grit sandpaper for a smooth and seamless look. Each cloud box was inserted into a bowl of vermiculite and fired upside down to prevent sagging or warping of the cloud walls from gravity. After firing, each piece was polished and the raindrops were attached to sterling and gold-filled chains and inserted into each box.

The final effect was so adorable and fun that I have taken my mini rain clouds with me everywhere I go.

To the best of my knowledge, Yvonne has only taken one entry level metal clay class from me. I'm so proud of her for tackling this project. Not because I think that my teaching had anything to do with her success (I don't), but because she's always willing to push her skills on her own, think creatively, do the necessary research, and persevere until she brings her idea to life. That Yvonne is one smart cookie! ~ LH

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Thoughts: Connecting With Customers During the Hectic Holiday Season

by Jennifer Roberts


If you are anything like me, you were not lined up outside a big box store hoping to get a great deal this morning. I am sure that there are wonderful deals out there to be had, but I can’t think of a single gadget or toy that I need badly enough to endure the long lines, cranky people, and seriously early (or late this year) hours. I’d rather snuggle with my puppies and drink some hot chocolate.

Once Black Friday is over, businesses start differentiating themselves by size, location, philosophy, you name it. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Green Tuesday . . . the list goes on. I often choose whether to shop somewhere because of who owns a business and how they run it, but lately, I have been a little annoyed with all of the various shopping days that have popped up.

Annoyed, that is, until I started thinking about the challenge we share with many of our customers – those metal clay artisans who sell their work. We all have to contend with Wal-Mart effect, or in the case of internet sales, the effect. Can the potential customer standing in your booth buy a piece of jewelry for their loved one for about 12 cents on Probably. But it won’t be handmade. It almost certainly won’t be American artisan made. And it likely won’t have a connection to the local community. It will be one of many thousands instead of a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Local artisans do have some advantages over the big guys – they can develop personal relationships with their customers that keep them coming back, they can create commissioned pieces, and they can change what they are producing in order to move with trends faster than any large operation.

The trick is, when the person standing in front of you picks up one of your pieces and says “I can buy this cheaper at Wal-Mart” you have to resist the urge to throw it at them. Don’t go negative. Instead, list all of the benefits of buying from you. The big picture pro’s are OK, like supporting local artists, but it is critical to lead with the benefits to the customer. For example, you may be willing to make minor repairs to jewelry for your customers. Being local, you will be around in the future when your customer is ready to add another piece to her collection. Your designs may also include local elements, like sea glass or Petoskey stones (my personal favorite). These kinds of elements create an emotional value that an on-line mass produced trinket just can’t compete with.

It also helps to think through the various categories your business falls into. For some, knowing that your work contains recycled silver is a good enough reason to choose your work over another. I’ve given some thought to which categories PMCC falls into:

Family owned and operated? Check.
Woman owned? Check.
Female CEO? Check.
Small business: Yep!
Dog friendly: There are days when the dogs in the office outnumber the people.
Cat friendly: Nah, but only because of allergies.
Recycles? Absolutely, whenever and wherever we can.
Brick and mortar location: Yes!
Fast Shipping? Most days it’s same-day.
Personalized Customer Service? It’s our number one goal.

You likely share many of these traits and you may also be part of local groups that your potential customers support. Thinking about these in advance can help you make a connection with a customer that makes your piece something they will value instead of just something they found for a song at a sale.

To some artists, this may sound too calculated or like too much work. Your work should speak for itself, right? Yes and no. Quality work and beautiful design stand on their own. But all other things being equal, if I have a choice between an artist with whom I have a relationship or whose practices and values I support, and one I don’t, that’s an easy choice for me.

So, good luck this holiday season. It can be a hectic time of year for artists running from one sale and exhibition to another. I hope you find new ways to connect with your customers, both because it can help close a sale and also because it can also be pretty wonderful.

And find time for some hot chocolate too!

Comments? Any good groups I missed that might help other artisans connect with their communities?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends around the world. Without you, there would be no us. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teaching Techniques

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

In my last post I talked about the pros and cons of teaching specific projects versus techniques. As both a student and teacher, I love technique classes. I like learning a new medium, skill, or technique, and then applying that application in my own creative vision.

I’m one of those students who signs up for a class and never finishes the project. At my work bench, I keep a box full of partially completed classroom pieces. I’m sure I’ll never finish those pieces. But, I do enjoy ruminating over them, pondering the various skills and techniques that I learned in those classes and how I’ve moved forward by incorporating those mastered skills into my work.

Above: PMCC Senior Instructor Marlynda Taylor and student.

Before taking a class, I give myself permission to enjoy the learning process. To continually learn and grow as a teacher – to bring new energy to our classes – we need to take classes as often as possible. I use my class time to focus on the skills, not the outcome. It’s very freeing and much more enjoyable. I see students getting frustrated because they can’t keep pace with the group and fear they won’t finish the piece. They impose unnecessary stress on themselves and forget to have FUN!

There are amazingly talented teachers all over the world teaching incredibly beautiful metal clay projects. The designs they create and share with their students are part of the branding of their name and artistic image. You may leave their class wearing a piece which everyone will identify with that designer/teacher. The real trick is in learning their technique and then giving it your own voice.

I like teaching technique classes. I usually have 3-4 good finished pieces of the technique I’ll be demonstrating, bezel setting or riveting, for instance, and I prepare for class by showing samples that are breakdowns of each stage of the process. This gives students a broad perspective of the endless options available to them using the skills we will be covering, as well as some step-by-step guidance. If students feel they need to “copy” a piece of my work, I encourage them to go right ahead. This relieves the stress for those students who get creative brain freeze and can’t come up with an idea of what they want to make. Those whose brains are in creative overdrive will already be planning their design strategy!

Above: Class samples by PMCC Artistic Advisor Lora Hart.

Remember, don’t over look the need to have good written instructions, with photos and drawings, if possible. And most importantly, show your students your mistakes. This lets them know what can go wrong and it lets them know we’ve all had to learn some lessons the hard way.

Creative Blessings,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Metal Clay Meets Glass

by Jennifer Roberts


More inspiration for the latest PMCC-sponsored Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest. Next up, metal clay + glass, compliments of our talented Senior and Certification Instructors.

The theme of the contest is “Metal Clay +” which means:
“Metal clay needs to be featured prominently in the design. You can use any kind or combination of metal clays you wish! The rest of the piece must include one or more non-metal materials – resin, polymer clay, glass, enamel, porcelain, bisque, cement, beads, fabric, found objects, etc.”

Here is how this particular "+" inspired some metal clay creations. . .

Teva Chaffin
Teva's first piece is a wonderful reminder that glass comes in many forms.

Debbie Rijns
(South Africa)
Glass and silver combined for striking contrast.

Marlynda Taylor

Sometimes you just let the electric blue of a striking piece of glass speak for itself.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PMC Sterling

by Jennifer Roberts

Exciting news - PMC Sterling will be here in just a few weeks.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Challenge Success

Congratulations to everyone who took the time, made the commitment, and indulged their creative spark by joining in on this month's CornerStone Challenge! Thank you for entering such inspiring work.

'Stoneware Spoons. The bowls of the spoons were formed in molds I made from shells, an antique button, and a walnut. The spoons were bisque fired and then the bowls glazed. After firing again to cone 6, the spoons were coated with PMC paste and decorated with PMC lump clay and syringe. Additional materials are dichroic cabochons, glass cullet, glass clay, and peridot. After firing, the decorative elements were colored with alcohol inks and then patinated with liver of sulphur.'
Happy Shopping to Barbara Rivolta who entered her beautifully designed spoon collection. Although the photo Barbara took is not quite up to submission standards, the work she created is imaginative, well executed and very innovative. Thank you for a well thought out entry. Please contact PMC Connection to claim your prize.

The way a submission is completed is really the most important part of the process. Photos should be in focus, and cropped to highlight the piece. Backgrounds should be uncluttered and neutral. If other information is requested - like materials, inspiration, or title - be sure to include it or your entry may not be considered at all. Picasa is a wonderful, free, website that offers photo editing services. If you're in the market for a point and shoot camera, try to find one with image stabilization (IS). All of my own submission photos are taken by a professional, but to archive pieces as they are made, I just use the auto focus option which takes very presentable shots. A piece of frosted glass backed by black paper gives me a lovely pseudo gradient background.

'Dreams of Rome' by Lora Hart. Sterling silver, roman glass, pearl.
For a professional submission, the putty holding the ring
upright would have to be removed from the shot.
If the entry will be published on the internet, be sure your photos are downloadable. Here are some other examples of well presented entries. 

Fall Leaves by Julie Johnson. Fine silver, Dichroic glass.
The props in this photo reflect the theme of the pendant, and
although it may not be considered for some print publications,
their inclusion does not distract from the jewelry.
'Fall Blossom' by Chris Brooks.
Fine silver and stainless steel mesh.
This photo is in focus, cropped well and the earrings are beautifully designed.
However there is not much contrast between the color of the background and the earrings.
'Real Leaf' by Harriet Warkel. Fine Silver and Pebeo vitrea paints.
Although I'm not a fan of submitting work presented on jewelry forms,
and this shot is a bit dark, the work is centered, in focus, and the
cropping draws your eye to the focal point.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Metal Clay & Enamel

by Jennifer Roberts

We've gathered more inspiration for the latest PMCC-sponsored Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest.

The theme is “Metal Clay +” which means:

“Metal clay needs to be featured prominently in the design. You can use any kind or combination of metal clays you wish! The rest of the piece must include one or more non-metal materials – resin, polymer clay, glass, enamel, porcelain, bisque, cement, beads, fabric, found objects, etc.”

We are exploring some of the possibilities for that "+" and last month we looked at found objects. This month, we've got two posts, starting today with metal clay + enamel, compliments of our talented Senior and Certification Instructors.

From solid blocks of color to watercolor type effects, enamels are a beautiful way to add color to your work.

Leslie Tieke
"Blue Moon" (top)
Pendants (bottom)

Gale Schlagel
Pendant and Earring Series

And one from our Project Guide Editor
Nellann Roberts

More "+" ideas coming soon!