Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Artist’s Journal: Studies of Antiquities

by Lois Lynn
Guest Blogger

Exploring the Designs and Techniques of Ancient Metal Artisans with a Modern Twist

This month, I tried my hand at replicating an ancient design. I’ve been looking through classical jewelry books and wanted to create a ring inspired by those elements. I wanted my piece to have an air of being created in antiquity, one in which you could see the organic markings of the artisan as the ring was formed and fashioned.

I also wanted to experiment with a purchased, open-back, fine silver, bezel cup to see how it would respond with PMC3 to blend the ancient with the modern. Because metal clay shrinks about 15% when fired, the challenge here would be how successfully the pre-made bezel would survive structurally when the clay surrounding it shrank.

I started with seven grams of PMC3 and divided it into two parts, putting one back into the protective pouch. I wear a size 7 and this ring was going to be rather wide so I went up three sizes to size 10. Slipping a ring gauge on a wooden ring mandrel, I noted where size 10 fell, taped a piece of parchment paper in place, and marked it so I could position the clay in exactly the right place. I then spread badger balm on the paper and some on the tapered end of the wooden mandrel so that the whole unit could slide off the tool without catching.

Using my hands, I rolled out a thin 5” x 1/8” snake of PMC3. I cut the snake in half and created a double ring shank, which I mounted on the mandrel. I positioned the commercial bezel cup between the two snakes and wrapped the ends on either side of the bezel so that I knew exactly how long each snake needed to be. I then cut the snakes on the diagonal on either side of the bezel and pasted them down.

Then I wanted to add an additional decorative section on each side of the bezel, so I took the remaining PMC3 from the package and formed another snake, which I used to create a number of coiled elements. I initially rolled a long snake to assure that all of the elements would be the same size. I put oil slip on the shank where I would be mounting the first coil detail, pressed it onto the shank, cut it to size with an exact-o knife and re-formed the ends so they joined the edge of the shank smoothly. I did the same with the second coil on both sides.

I wanted the last coil to end in a curled half circle so I applied oil paste carefully to the shank, took the tapered end and applied it to the shank in a “c” curve. Cutting off the excess at the shank, I again refined the end and made sure all the bands were well secured. I applied the “c-shaped band to the other side, making sure the c's were the same shape and size.

I then embellished the ring. Granulation was very popular in ancient times so I added small, fine silver balls to the shank. I pasted one in the inside of the “c” and then repeated it on the other side, checking the symmetry with the first side. Then I added three more balls to both sides and bottom of the shank, each one slightly smaller than the first. A small detail that some may think unnecessary, but one I would enjoy seeing when I wear the ring… a little secret surprise for me!

I refined the inside of the shank and all the embellishments on the ring. Because I was working in such a small space, I wet my finger with saliva (Linda, my instructor’s discovery!) to remove unwanted marks and give the embellishments a smooth, polished look. When applying granulation in the past, I found that I needed to carefully wipe away any clay that obscured the balls and make sure their surfaces looked shiny all the way around. Otherwise they never take on that look of ancient Etruscan granulation.

(Editors note: I use saliva for wet sanding in my work too. It gives a different look than water applied with a brush, but you should be careful to wipe excess clay on a towel before "re-wetting" your finger.)

I have been dreaming of and sketching ancient ring designs for about eight months so I was very excited to see how the ring would come out! I set up the firing sequence and fired at 1650ºF for two hours. I was so excited to see the fired ring, but when I opened the kiln I realized I fired the kiln without the ring in it! Humm…. So I set up the firing schedule again with the ring in the kiln and waited another two long hours to see the result. It looked beautiful!

I carefully brushed the ring and tumbled it for eight hours (editors note: tumbling silver metal clay for an extended time will wear away fine textural detail, so use that technique with discretion.) When I opened the tumbler, I could hardly contain myself. Wow, it looked great! I antiqued the ring with liver of sulfur and mounted the cabochon garnet in the commercial bezel cup. I ran a risk by using a commercial finding, but it didn’t seem to compromise the look of authenticity of the ring, as it was not that prominent. And doing so allowed me to experiment with blending ancient with modern techniques.

The ring looks exactly as I designed it. I could not be more pleased!


Linda Kline Designs said...

Absolutely gorgeous, Lois! Gotta love that SPIT technique.

KCarroll said...

Love this idea! Super!

Glenn said...

Gorgeous piece. One thing I would like to have seen addressed is if there were any problems with cracking or shrinkage due to firing the bezel in place; I assume not since you didn't mention it, but that was a concern of yours at the start of the article.