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

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