Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s All In How You Look At It – Part 1

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

Perspective, both before you start a piece and after it is finished, is critical for an artist. Being in the right frame of mind can be the difference between a masterwork and the scrap pile. Similarly, having the ability to analyze your work to see where you have grown, what you did well, and what needs to be refined is key to growth. But, wheth
er it is due to lack of resources or your own preconceived notions, real perspective can be elusive.

In Part One, below, we’ll talk about how you can change your approach to find new creative territory. Next month, in Part Two, we’ll talk about ways to really “see” your finished piece and learn from it.

Getting Started Is the Hardest Part

I often hear artists, from beginning students to accomplished artists, bem
oan the fact their pieces didn’t turn out like the visions in their heads. Or they stare at the blank canvas or brand new lump of clay, paralyzed by the fact that they don’t have a fully realized vision of the final piece in mind before they so much as touch a tool. In short, artists forget how to play.

Teachers talk about playing a lot, but I don’t think students
always know what teachers mean by it. Worse yet, for a student who doesn’t yet have the technical skills to feel comfortable in a medium, being told to “play” can be downright intimidating. For me, the notion of playing means two things: the willingness to mess around with your method and the courage to go wherever it takes you.

The first part, the messing with your method, can almost seem academic or contrived. Your goal is to knock yourself out of your usual patterns, so you think about the steps in your process or the elements of your work and make calculated decisions to change them. For example, you may give yourself a challenge that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Try making something with the ugliest stone
you can find, make something that incorporates something bizarre like a pencil eraser, or commit to creating on a schedule. The Ring A Week group is an excellent example of this sort of challenge.

Ask yourself “what if” questions. What if I stretch this waaaaaay out, throw it in the air, wind it around my finger, slice it, dice it, roll it, or flatten it? What if I save all my little scrap cuttings for a week and make pieces with only those parts? What if I make everything very tiny today? A wonderful example of this method is a version of Justin Bieber's song "U Smile” that earned over 1 million hits on YouTube this past August – a version of the song slowed down by more than 800 times its original speed. What began as a relatively dry idea – what happens when we slow popular songs waaaaay down – had stunning results. While it is possible the person who created that version of the song had that result in mind from the outset, I doubt that the full impact of the manipulation - a cosmic, ethereal piece of sound – was expected.

Look outside your medium to see how other artists change things around. Look to dance. Merce Cunningham made some of the greatest dances of the 20th century using chance. He created movement that trained dancers would not normally explore by following the combination and order of movements that essentially came out of a hat. He was also revolutionary in that he and his partner, John Cage, created dances and the scores for those dances independently. Unlike most dancers who practice with a score for months, Cunningham's dancers often heard the score for the first time on stage in performance. Or look to the literary. For whatever reason that I’m not sure people fully understand, e e cummings shunned capital letters and punctuation in his poetry. Think about methods used in other visual art forms. Many portrait artists start from photos hung upside down because that makes it easier to draw what their eyes actually see instead of what their minds expect to see.

Metal clay artists can take these ideas and translate them to their own work. Write down all of the metals, kinds of jewelry, embellishments, patinas, and themes you have at your disposal and then let chance determine the combination. Follow the lead of Cunningham and Cage and create elements of pieces independently and find new ways to combine them. Decide to leave out what seems to be an essential element of a design and see where it takes you. The great thing about metal clay is that the upshot is new creative territory, while your worst case is reconstituting or recycling.

But what about the second part of it – the courage to go with the flow? That one can be tough, especially when you are in a classroom setting or when you have a deadline looming. For me, keeping my eye on the big picture helps. If I “fail” with a particular piece, that doesn’t negate what I learned from the process. In fact, sometimes “failure” can be more instructive than success. When successful business owners are polled, most report at least one failed business attempt. Likewise, I suspect that there is not a single expert metal clay artisan around who hasn’t experienced a colossal failure of both form and function. It can be easy to say, but tough to do: you’ve just got to cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to take some risks to take it to the next level.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Whazzat Mean?

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Did you notice the phrase "Great Grey Goop" over there in the Welcome message? Have you ever heard it before? I can't actually remember where I first heard it. It's a description of metal clay that Linda Kaye Moses came up with many moons ago. Linda says "I initiated the use of the phrase Great Grey Goop to add a little levity to our favorite material, somehow this phrase just seemed obvious to me. I began calling [metal clay] the GGG when I started using it... if it has a silly name, then it's not so intimidating to use, right?"

Anti-War Medal #3
The Purple Blossom of Tears Medal replaces the Purple Heart. It rewards compassion and sorrow. Compassion for humanity and all living things. Deep sorrow for those who have suffered as a result of war.
Linda is working on a five piece project now that should take her about a year to complete. Five jewels accompanied by five nesting boxes. The collection will be shown in three exhibitions in New England in 2012. Linda is the author of Pure Silver Metal Clay Beads and teaches regularly at Snow Farm in Massachusetts

Monday, January 24, 2011

Have you heard about Meetup Groups?

Posted by Peggy Houchin
Director of Education Marketing

If you're thinking of beginning a teaching career, starting a local guild, or just looking for people in your local area that share your love of metal clay or any other hobby or interest, Meetup Groups may be perfect for you.

I started my
N. Colorado Metal Clay Meetup group about a year ago. I have had great success advertising and promoting my metal clay classes and meeting new people in my local area that are interested in metal clay. So far, I have 34 members (and growing every day) and the majority of them have taken one or more of my classes.

The initial start-up fee is a very affordable $54 ($9/month for 6 months). After that, the fee is $72 for 6 months and you can cancel at any time. I found the website very user-friendly so if you're not a techno-geek, it's simple and easy to get started and keep updated. You can create blog posts, upload photos, schedule meetups and post ideas without having a degree in computer science!

In addition, you can easily interact with other Meetup groups that share your interests. For example, my Meetup group interfaces with a metalsmithing group in the Boulder area (about 40 miles from my area). Several members of a local polymer clay guild have also joined my meetup group. It's great if you are planning to travel to another area and want to find local artists. Check it out!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Perfect Slab

Posted by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Ok, so you have rolled and rolled and rolled and just can't get that perfectly sized, even, and smooth slab to create your masterpiece in metal clay. Cracks, seams, thicker in the middle, raggedy edges...

What is the problem? Aaarrrggghhh!

Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to roll your clay out into the perfect slab.

Start Larger

If you are consistently getting a reasonably good center to your rolled slab, but the edges are raggedy, one simple solution is to start with a larger ball or slug (a cylindrical fat pre-form) of clay and trim the slab to the desired shape and size after rolling. This is not the perfect solution, but if it gets you what you want, it is good enough. Of course, this only works if you have extra clay.

The Un-seamed Ball

If you have problems with visible lines in the clay or a ragged edge, it is often due to not having a good pre-form of clay. If you have a freshly opened pat of metal clay you can just roll it out. More often, when working with clay we need to roll it into a ball or a slug that will then be rolled flat into a slab or round into a coil/snake. If there are seams in the clay ball or slug, they often interfere with creating that smooth, consistent slab.

To form a consistent ball without seams, you need to roll it between your lightly greased palms while applying pressure. It doesn't have to be perfectly round. The key is to press all the seams, lines, and imperfections outforcing the clay to join to itself.

This is an absolutely fundamental skill to perfect for the metal clay artisan.A good pre-form will create a good slab or coil.

Too wet, too dry, too greasy...? Another key is to have clay of the proper consistency. Aim for the consistency of silver clay right out of the package. It should be pliable, stick to itself easily, but not to your lightly greased hands. I will write a post on clay consistency problems and solutions later.

Slats, Cards, and Spacers

The next key is to have good spacing tools. There are scads of spacing tools out there. It seems like every company and teacher has a different solution for this essential slab rolling tool. Almost all of the ones being sold commercially will work, but each solution has its pros and cons.

The key is that you have at least two consistent and matching spacers in the thickness you want your slab to be and two a little thicker than you want it to be. A full range of sizes is great!

Stacking up poker playing cards is an easy and cheap solution (just use that deck that is missing the 3 of clubs). You can tape or glue the cards together to create more stable stacks. I like to use popsicle sticks and wooden coffee stirrers they come in a range of sizes and you can buy them if you need a lot or just grab a couple at the local coffee shop (buy something so you compensate the shop!).

Place the thicker-than-you-want slats on your work surface on either side of the clay pre-form and use your roller to roll out the clay. You may need to flatten the pre-form a little before rolling. The slats will help you roll the clay to a smooth, even thickness (more on this later). Pick up the clay and lay it on your (greased!) texture and re-roll using the slats that are the thickness you want. The key here is that the pre-rolled slab will be less prone to getting stuck into/onto many textures (cloth, paper, & rubber stamps) than if you just roll from ball to slab directly on the texture.


You often don't want a perfectly round pre-form. When rolled out, the round ball becomes an oval. If you want it to roll out round, you actually want to start
with an ovoid or cylindrical form. Perfectly round is difficult to achieve when just rolling out the clay. Circle cutters or templates are your friends.

The easiest way to get a truly round slab is to roll it larger and then use a circle cutter or template. Another way is to start with a round ball, place it on your work surface (or between sheets of plastic) with the slats or cards around it and use a Plexiglas snake roller (or other smooth, flat, rigid object) to press directly downward.

Metal Clay Memory

Ever notice that it always ends up thicker in the middle? It is especially vexing if you are trying to create a large slab that is a consistent thickness.

Why does it do that? Aaarrrggghhh!

Believe it or not, the cause is the same reason it is sometimes difficult to create that un-seamed pre-form. Metal, clay, and metal clay have memories. Yep, no brain, no mind, but they do have material memories. Like plastic or rubber, metal clays want to go back to the last stable shape or position they were in, so you have to convince them that a new position or shape is where they want to be.

Ever roll out dough for a pie shell? That stuff really springs back after rolling. You have to roll it, rotate it, roll it again, rotate it, roll it again.... until you get it to remain in the size, shape, and thickness desired. Happily, metal clay isn't quite so elastic, but you will get a more consistent slab if you roll the slab along one axis, then rotate the slats and clay 90° and roll again. It can also help to start rolling from the center outward in one direction, then return to center and roll in the other direction rather than rolling from one end to the other.


If you are having trouble with the clay sticking to a rigid work surface or if you are creating an especially thin slab, you might want to work between flexible work surface sheets (Teflon, cut up plastic bags, or sheet protectors). A flexible work surface can really help you get the clay off when it is time to move it. Otherwise, let it dry completely and it should slip off your work surface. If you find that the clay is warping as it dries (especially if you are drying with heat), you can try letting the clay dry naturally in the open air or place it on a permeable surface such as a paper towel or piece of cloth so it can dry on both sides evenly.

Another cause of warping and unevenness can be picking up the clay. When you lift up the clay and peel it off of the work surface, you actually stretch it, so if you are trying to create precision pieces like matching earrings, you don't want to pick it up after the final roll. Instead, let it dry flat on the work surface.

But how do I dry it on a permeable surface, work it on a smooth (non-porous) surface, and get it to dry without warping? Aaarrrggghhh!

This is a problem. If anyone has found a permeable, non-sticking, flat work surface, please let all of us know what it is!

In life and art there are seldom perfect solutions for things and this is one of those situations. If your piece is reasonably thick and not too large, just let it dry on the work surface before moving it. If the piece is very thin and large, you may opt to do the final rolling on cloth (greased sheer synthetic cloth with an even and fine weave works better than natural fiber cloth) or between cloth and your texture surface. When you pick it up on the cloth, the whole thing can be placed in/on your drying device. If you are using a flat heated surface, you may want to put a screen or a few layers of cloth or paper towels under the piece to ensure air circulation. If you can't live with a cloth texture, roll the slab slightly thicker than desired and sand it after drying.

To minimize warping, drying without heat is better than with heat. If the piece is still warped after drying and appears to be otherwise acceptable, you can moisten it slightly, place it between layers of cloth or paper towels with a weight on top of it and re-dry it. I will write more on the warping issue later.

And I thought this would be a short post! I am sure there is more to say on this subject and look forward to additional comments, suggestions, and insights!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Our Teachers...

Former Directors of Education

Ken and Mary Ann Devos
How long have you been working with metal clay?
Ken: Since 1999
Mary Ann: I have worked with metal clay since 1996. I participated in Tim McCreight's first class for studio jewelers. In 1999 I trained in Japan with Art Clay and helped introduce their products to the US and Europe.

What did you do before that?
 Mary Ann: I began my arts career as a ceramic potter, then a stained glass artist and a studio jeweler/silversmith. My previous profession was in Nursing Administration as an ICU Head Nurse, Hospital Director and Administrator of three kidney centers.
Ken: From 1989 to 1999 I worked as a studio jeweler with Mary Ann primarily making sterling silver chains for her pendants. My work outside metal clay was, and still is, as a commercial real estate appraiser. I have also worked as a luthier, creating numerous lap dulcimers and mandolins.

How did you come to be the education directors of PMC Connection? What year?
Ken: Mary Ann and I worked with Earl Roberts when he headed the Art Clay program. In 2000, Earl negotiated with Mitsubishi to become the second importer/distributor of PMC in the US. He was successful in this effort and in 2001 established PMC Connection. He asked us to join the new company as Director of Education (Mary Ann) and Program Coordinator (Ken). We joined the company in 2001.

Why did you decide to step away from the business side of the company?
 Mary Ann: Ken & I decided to resign as administrators to devote more time to our own work and prepare more new classes for our students. 
Ken: Over the years we have spent much of our time traveling across the US as well as abroad representing PMC Connection to new markets. Recently however, we have been spending more time and effort in presenting classes. We still find a great deal of inspiration from the efforts needed to create and present new classes for our students.

Sea Nymph - Detail
What are your plans going forward?
Mary Ann: We are spending more time promoting ourselves both as artists and as teachers. I have joined two co-op galleries on the resort islands of Sanibel and Captiva, here in southwest Florida. We also have expanded the number of locations at which we present classes, including our home studio.

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of teaching?
Mary Ann: We love teaching. It's so rewarding to help people find an artistic voice in this medium. Imagination is the only limitation.

Where do you find inspiration?
Ken: It's hard just to walk around and not find things to inspire new ideas and new processes. Many times it's a simple matter of seeing an interesting design or object and saying "What if...". No matter what media you use, simple ideas can lead to interesting works.

Is there a new direction that you'd like to explore?
Ken: There are always new ideas, media and techniques that spark my interest. Recently Mary Ann and I participated in a scrimshaw class. The pieces that we were able to create in that class made us consider seriously adding that type of work to the jewelry we will create in the future.

What else would you like to tell us about yourselves?
Ken: I have been fortunate that from an early age I received encouragement to explore and develop whatever talents I might possess to express my vision of the world around me. Now that I have resigned the administrative duties for PMC Connection, I hope to have more time to continue that exploration to see what awaits me over the next hill.
Mary Ann: I have loved working with metal clay. Teaching is a passion for me. It's been a privilege to be a pioneer in this new medium and an honor to be Director of Education for both Art Clay and PMC Connection. I wish the best for the new leaders of the Connection and the best for all in 2011.

Thanks You Two! And we wish all the best for you in this new phase of your creative careers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Take a Picture Why Don'cha!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Didja notice that slide show of pretty jewels down there in the right sidebar? I've instructed the Flickr robots to scour all the photos that were uploaded there to look for a specific tag word. They'll pick the most recent 20 pics and send them over here so we can see what wonderful work is being made  all over the world. Every time a new photo appears on someone's photostream, it will replace the oldest one in our slide show. 

PMC Connection would love to see the fabulous work you all are creating, so I'd like to invite you all to join Flickr and tag one photo (any color clay) you'd like to appear here with the word pmccmetalclay. It's easier to spell this way than to remember to use quotes when using two or more words for a single tag as in "pmcc metal clay".  Every time you'd like to change the photo that appears here, just tag a new one with pmccmetalclay too. But PLEASE remember to remove the tag from the first pic. There are only 20 photos in the slideshow and we want to give everyone a chance to show off their work.

Flickr is more than a way to store your photographs. It's another social networking site that is becoming more important for making contacts and marketing than ever before. On Flickr you can make friends, leave comments and form small communities of cyber friends - but you don't have to work that hard if you don't have the time or interest. One of the most important reasons to be a part of Flickr (IMHO) is that it is an international showcase for your work. People go there to search for images, look for inspiration and occasionally to seek out professional contacts. I have been contacted by an editor from Belle Armoir (an opportunity I did not take advantage of) and by Marthe LeVan, the editor of Lark Books asking for images for a new book (an opportunity I leapt at). The photographs you post to Flickr don't have to be high quality, submission ready, professional images. All of mine are what I call "quick and dirty". Taken in my sunny window on a broken piece of Carrara marble (from my parents old fireplace). Here's my Flickr address. If you make me one of your contacts I promise I'll make you a contact too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Seeds of Sanity

2011 is already two weeks old. It started slowly for me, in the cold, snowy silence of a Montana vacation. But of course, the to-do lists and pressures of my daily life were just lying in wait. I came home to a mountain of work, the news that a friend had ended his life, and the tragedy of the shootings in Tucson. And then, just when I thought people might stop for one second and consider how they treat each other and how they talk to one another, everyone just got into a big, ridiculous finger-pointing fight over which side was nastier. I found myself wondering if everyone was going insane.

So what on Earth does this have to do with metal clay? Well, I had originally intended to write this post about one of the books we included in our selections on this page, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch. This is one of those books that changed the way I live my life as an artist and the way I live my life period. My plan was to write in particular about the idea of being truly present when you sit down to create something – a notion summarized by the phrase “Be Here Now,” made popular by Ram Dass. I was going to show you a picture of what happens when you are thinking about 10,000 things other than what you are doing (see the blanket I laid down on the hot burner while folding laundry last weekend?). I thought I would also talk about the idea of “walking meditation” and how the fifteen minutes of time you find to work on your art each day can be its own kind of meditation.

But , in the course of researching the book, which I fully encourage you to read, I ran across a speech given by Nachmanovitch called A Mountain of Gold. Given shortly after September 11, 2001, the speech doesn’t just describe art as a part of life. Nachmanovitch says art is life and he encourages us to spread the “little seeds of sanity” of creative expression. He explains:

As we contemplate the spread of anthrax spores now, I’ve been trying to imagine another kind of epidemic. I’ve been asking everyone I meet to do whatever they can do, in their personal sphere, to spread an epidemic of sanity. Mental and spiritual states can spread, and sanity can be just as contagious as insanity. We must remember the purpose of our work: the arts are a primary means for transmission of sanity. I mean “arts” very broadly, of course. As in the Borges poem, there are many activities that are not virtuoso expressions of one’s theatrical or musical ability; there are many activities that we engage in that would not win prizes and awards, that might be technically flawed and clumsy, but which still carry some spiritual essence of communication about the nature of sanity from person to person.”

So often, art is seen as unnecessary and jewelry can really get a bad rap in that regard. But Nachmanovitch beautifully illustrates how the things we surround ourselves with and our ability to express ourselves – in whatever form – are fundamental to our health as individuals and as a society. Take a step back for a moment and think about the bigger picture, then check out Free Play to expand the boundaries of your own creativity.

Learn more:
Free Play, the website and the book.
Stephen Nachmonovitch’s writings (A Mountain of Gold is second under Articles and Talks)

Jennifer Roberts is the President of PMC Connection.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Posted by: Linda Kline
Title: Director of Education

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” ~ Lily Tomlin as "Edith Ann"

I love this quote. Its innocence says so much about what we do as teachers. When we teach we open up a whole new Universe for our students. We ignite a fire in them and send them home with new skills; expanded vision; and a burning, burning desire to bust out and let it rip!

I recently interviewed a new senior teaching candidate and asked her a question that I think caught her off guard. “Why do you teach?” How do you suppose a “seasoned” teacher might respond to that question? The same as she did... simply and directly - “Because I love it”. But what is it that we love? (We certainly can’t be in it for the money. ;-)

I think we are all driven by a common and shared passion: To nurture the creative spirit. Aren’t we all just a bunch of do-gooders who go all gooey inside when we fuel the imaginations and spark the creative juices in another? I get tingly every time one of my students has an, “Ah Ha!” experience….That magical moment when they really begin to grasp the unlimited potential that our amazing medium offers. That’s what it’s all about!

Here’s hoping 2011 is filled with the biggest reward any teacher or student could hope for……Lots of, “AH HA!” moments.

Linda Kline
Senior Instructor

Director of Education and Curriculum Development

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Be Safe! Be Healthy!
Health & Safety For The Metal Clay Artisan, Part 1

Don’t burn yourself. Don’t breathe smoke, dust, or fumes. Work in a well ventilated area. Avoid cutting yourself on those sharp tools. Don’t eat or drink in your studio. Don’t sniff glue or eat paste. And don’t eat the silver clay, even if it does say it is non-toxic. Basic, simple, common sense advice, right?

But the truth of the matter is that life and studio work are more complicated than that. Lots of us do eat and drink in our studios! In fact, lots of us have our “studios” at the kitchen table! Where do you draw the health and safety line? Everyone has to make their own decisions on what precautions they are willing to take in the studio, what hazardous materials they are or are not willing to work with, and how they are going handle those materials. I can’t answer that question for you, but in this ongoing series of articles, I hope to give you the information you need to make well thought out decisions and find your own balance between the hazards of life, art, and appropriate safety precautions.

Let’s start with the issue of studio dirt and dust. It could be dust from metal clays, fiber kiln shelves, fiber blanket, refractory brick, dirt, soot, cat hair, spores, pollen, or just general detritus and low local air quality. We all have different tolerances for dirt and dust.

Personally, I would love to have a pristine clean studio (and house!) that would withstand the white glove test on any surface and where everything got put away as soon as I was done using it. But I am not willing to spend all my time cleaning. LOL!

If you have tons of money, you can hire people to help you keep clean and install a professional or industrial grade filtering system. If you don’t care about dirt and air quality, you can just ignore it. If you do care, but are only an occasional MC user, you might settle for just cleaning up your work area and not worry about it. However, if you work with art materials and metal clays a lot, have your own studio, are sensitive to dust, or have a compromised respiratory system, you do need to consider the dust and dirt issue. It also will help you keep contamination out of your metal clay and other art materials. Cleanliness can improve your artwork results and may be critical to some processes (like resin!).

If the only concern is airborne dust, a true HEPA air filter of the type sold for home allergy sufferers may be sufficient for your needs. These can be placed in front of your work area to suck up any airborne dust down to 4 microns in size. I use HEPA air filters originally purchased for my house-dust allergy. These are an economical solution for the hobbyist and small scale artisan who is not working with materials that produce fumes. High production studios, may want to investigate further and purchase filters designed for industrial use. No matter what type of filter you have, be sure to change the carbon pre- and HEPA filters regularly. For studio use, you may have to replace them more frequently than for standard household use.

This is one of the filters I have in my studio, opened up, it is clear that it is time to change the pre-filter!

A HEPA vacuum cleaner or a high efficiency bag for your standard vacuum cleaner can be a real asset for cleaning up dusty and dirty surfaces. If you can’t go with one of these, use a damp cloth or wet mop to clean up dirty surfaces without causing dirt and dust to become airborne.

A combination of regular cleaning and an air filtration system can vastly improve the air quality in your studio. You should also keep in mind the materials you are using, some art materials are more hazardous and require more precautions than others. Be sure to read and understand the art materials you are using and how to handle them safely. I will cover more on specific and common materials in a later article.

Ah, but what about smoke and fumes? Ever notice that burned smell you get when you fire metal clays? Isn’t that toxic?

While the binders in silver clay are non-toxic, fumes and particulates from firing are not great to breathe. Smoke from metal clays is similar to those you get when burning food. Those are not great to breathe either, but not necessarily something to cause panic (unless the burning goes too far and your house catches on fire!). You can read reports on organic gasses released during firing on the PMC Guild website. The Manufacturers’ Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) for PMC Silver and Art Clay Silver may also be useful. All confirm the non-toxic nature of silver clay binders.

All of them also say to have “adequate ventilation” when firing. So just what is adequate ventilation? Linda Kaye-Moses believes that we should be thinking “active” rather than just “adequate” ventilation. An open window and/or doorway make a good start, but not usually enough for even “adequate” where toxic fumes are involved. A fan that blows air from an open window or door toward another open window creating a cross breeze and flow of fresh air is a lot better for general room ventilation. However, if your work creates a localized source of dust or fumes, a fume hood or filtration system that will suck away the contaminated air is a good idea. Such a system may also be required in cases where there are not multiple windows and doors that can be opened or when weather makes open windows not an option. Excellent discussions and advice can be found on the Ganoksin jeweler’s forum by doing a search on “ventilation,” “workshop safety,” or scanning their archives. Two excellent places to start are Charles Lewton Brain’s articles on Basic Safety Principles, Ventilation in Your Jewelry Workshop, Jewelry Workshop Safety Report, and Brandney W. Simon’s Workshop Air Quality. When you read these articles, you will find links to paid advertisements selling ventilation equipment. There are is a whole lot more on the Ganoksin archives, including discussions and directions for building your own fume hood. Ganoksin and its Orchid discussion forum is the best resource for jewelers on the web.

If the concern is also fumes from the materials being used (resins, soldering, firing, & etc.), you should have a filtration system or fume hood that pulls both dust and fumes away and either filters them before returning the air to the room or vents to the outdoors. Brands include HAKKO, Sentry Air Systems, Electrocorp, Vaniman, Lab-Air, and others—I know, I should include links here, but I am lazy and these names give you a place to start an internet search. Some of these units are portable and have hoses that can be positioned to focus on your work area.

Further Reading:

The US EPA has an excellent page with information on comparing the various air purifying technologies and a guide toissues in indoor air quality. I know the government info is far from perfect, but these sites are great places to start looking for reliable information before moving on to the industry, muck-raking, and alarmist sites that pepper the internet.
© 2011 Mary Ellin D'Agostino

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Technical Topics

I am delighted to be the new technical advisor for PMC Connection. I will be making regular posts to CornerStone on the techniques, technology, and technicalities of metal clays and related materials and issues. If you have a particular issue you want covered or a question you want answered, let me know and I will tackle the topic for you. I will begin with the first installment in an ongoing series on health and safety. I hope you find this series as informative and enlightening as it has been to research and write about.
Mary Ellin D'Agostino

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome To Our World!

So happy you found us. This is PMC Connection's new blog, CornerStone. Capital "C", capital "S". I'm Lora Hart, the Artistic Advisor for PMC Connection. In addition to me - Senior Instructors Linda Kline; Peggy Houchin; Mary Ellin D'Agostino and President Jennifer Roberts will also be posting. Some of our posts will be jam packed with information and others may be short and sweet, but there will be two new posts every week.

A cornerstone is defined as a "fundamental assumption from which something is begun, explained or developed". That seems to define PMC Connection's mission as well as anything. If you look to the left you'll see the PMCC motto "Supplies. Education. Inspiration."

To begin offers some of the best supplies around; with carefully considered explanations the Senior Instructor educators are dedicated to sharing skills and techniques with which to build a firm metal clay foundation; and by developing CornerStone the goal is to inspire us all to bring our craft to new heights.

Linda will be posting everything educational; Peggy will give insight into the world of marketing; Mary Ellin will delve into the technical aspects of metal clay and Jennifer will be wandering behind the scenes at PMCC (and anywhere else that strikes her fancy). Me? I'll be sharing interesting tidbits about the art jewelry world, inviting you to take part in personal challenges and generally (hopefully) presenting inspiration as you travel your metal clay path.

I'd also like to introduce you to each member of the education team, so starting next week there will be a profile every few weeks on one of our talented Senior Instructors. There are about 20 of us - so you'll get to know a bit about us all before the year's over. To start us off I thought it would be nice to meet our fearless leader.

Introducing PMC Connection President Jennifer Roberts

How did you first come to PMC Connection? When?
I first became involved with PMCC two years ago. My dad, Earl Roberts, had been with PMCC for years as the Director of Marketing and I loved the medium. He learned that there was an opportunity to purchase PMCC from its former owner and I jumped at the chance to join him. At the time, I was practicing law full time and wanted to get back to my artistic roots – and away from the daily snarkiness of a litigation practice. We haven’t looked back since.

What does your position entail?
Much of the past two years has been about learning for me. Learning about the art form, the business, our customers and students – everything. Recently, I have shifted my focus to re-shaping PMCC to make it more responsive to the needs of our customers. The re-structuring of the education program is part of that and we have some exciting projects planned for 2011.

Were you artistically inclined before joining the PMCC team? What mediums?
It seems like I started life surrounded by art. My grandparents had ceramic stores and I used to spend a lot of time there. That’s one reason I took so easily to PMC. Anything involving clay is like second nature to me. Our family business ultimately broadened into general art supply stores and I used to “work” in the stores, though I’m not sure how much help I really was. Because of this background and my later interest in art, I think there are very few art forms and handcrafts I haven’t dabbled in. Painting, drawing, weaving, basket weaving, stenciling, calligraphy, metal sculpture, pottery, glass fusing, photography, printmaking, website design – I’ve done it all at some point. Just don’t ask me to knit or use a sewing machine. Those are two areas where my exploits can only be described as “disastrous.”

Photo by Bill Jack
While I was surrounded by art supplies and art classes as a kid, my preferred fields were dance and music. I started dancing when I was three and, over the years, played the guitar, drums, and flute. Dance was really my passion and I ultimately attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the performing and Visual Arts, majoring in Dance. The photo above is from a modern piece I was in during that time. I also got a B.S. in Dance from Texas Woman’s University, with an emphasis in Education.

Throughout high school and college, I taught dance in many arenas and for many populations. This included working on studies that measured the usefulness of arts in general education (think a dance class for third graders learning about states of matter) and I wrote Texas state dance curriculum standards. I also did a lot of choreography, including an opera and produced an independent concert. Much of my choreography was cross-disciplinary and included original works of music and visual art. Following graduation, I was the Director of Education for a dance company and an adjunct faculty member at Booker T. Washington HSPVA.
Then I changed gears completely and went to law school. I wanted to practice animal law and I have done a fair amount of that. During my years of practicing law, I was also very active in the community and did a lot of event planning and chaired a dance festival. But, after ten years of being a lawyer, I found that I was restless and thinking a lot about getting back into the arts.
And viola! This opportunity appeared. Today, I split my time between PMCC and a little bit of pro bono legal practice on behalf of animals and artists. I also sit as a commissioner on the City of Dallas Animal Shelter Commission. I always joked that someday I would find the perfect career for my strange skill set and PMCC pushes me to grow as an artist, educator, and leader every day.

Have you worked with metal clay yourself?
Yes, but not as much as I would like to. I am hoping to spend more time creating in 2011.

What is your vision for PMC Connection?
My vision is a work in progress. I am still learning and the metal clay world is changing rapidly. In a nutshell, I want PMCC to be a source of innovation and quality in all of our offerings – from supplies to education to inspiration. I also want PMCC to provide opportunities for artisans and teachers to advance the art form, in addition to being a resource for metal clay instructors everywhere.

How do you find inspiration?
I enjoy creating and that takes many forms. I find that how I create has evolved over time. I used to be a full-time dancer and now I express that energy in yoga classes. I never had much interest in drawing until about four years ago and now I can't get enough of my life drawing class. I never had any interest in the business world, but with PMCC, I seem to have come full circle. I’m back in the world of art and education, working with my family, and loving it.

Wow! Thanks Jennifer. We're all really excited to see how PMC Connection develops over the year and are so happy to have you at our helm.