Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Artist's Journal: Transitions

Editor's Note: The journal entry Lois created for us for June was published a little early - before she had a chance to add her photographs. We've all been there. Your computer zigs when you expect it to zag. So, we are re-publishing her entry, this time with a few additional details and the all-important photos. This is a transition many who have not used PMC is some time find themselves making and Lois shares her experience.

Transitioning from PMC+ to PMC3
By Lois Lynn

I’ve used PMC+ for almost six years, so making a transition to PMC3 might end up being a big deal. But how much different can PMC3 be from PMC+? I need to find out because a change in the way a medium I’m familiar with responds can really throw me off. That being said, I need to compare “apples to apples” as much as possible. So for this first project, I decide to create a focal bead from PMC3 similar to one I made in PMC+. That way I can clearly compare the feel and pliability of one to the other.

Well, I found there are differences, subtle, yes but definite differences between them. PMC3 has a slightly tacky feel and seems to dry out more quickly, giving me less work time to refine the molded embellishments before I mount them on the bead. But once mounted, the molded pieces hold their detail much better as I touch them when I rotate the piece to do the embellishing. This is a definite plus!

I also used PMC3 oil slip exclusively when working with the project. My mix rate is 12 drops of lavender essential oil to a new container of PMC3 for doing the embellishment. I find that once the slip goes on the surface and dries, I cannot manipulate it. With the other material, I can apply a wet brush and tone down the applied details. But with the oil slip, what I put down is what I had to live with. This discovery causes me to change my approach on how to embellish my piece. I end up drawing out the complete design with all details before I apply any oil slip to the surfaces. Not a bad thing, really. It does take some of the creativity out of working with the piece.

After I fire the bead I find the oil paste embellishments re much stronger than I had thought. It makes the bead look quite busy so I antiqued it several times until the coral background was quite dark. I mask off the two shells and the stone mounting so they would be bright silver, then polish the top surfaces of the coral so the shells will stand out.

I’m disappointed in the final result. The coral background still is much too much for me. I want a much more subtle effect, similar to the one achieved on my original PMC+ bead. Even though the oil slip I used was PMC3 slip, I think the regular PMC3 slip is susceptible to detail dulling just like objects made from PMC+. I didn’t realize how much detail was lost while handling the regular PMC3 slip and had just assumed that the result with oil slip would result in the same softened effect. Lesson learned- I will use regular slip now on to do my embellishing.

Something came to me as I am working on this project. As I “tuck in” all the embellishments and details, I find I’m really enjoying myself. It’s very soothing, almost comforting… making sure all is well and secure on my piece… almost like putting an adored child to bed. Some say I spend much too much time on the details and finishing… but now I know why I do. It’s sort of a conversation I have with the piece… asking it where it wants more detail, is the whole thing balanced, is this detail secure, do I need a stone added - things like that. Strange? Yes, but very satisfying. I guess you never stop learning about yourself. And that’s what makes life interesting.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flush Set Stones in Metal Clay

by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Many people want to create a smooth, sleek, look with flush set stones in their metal clay pieces. Some time ago, I got the following email from a student and thought I would share my answer with you.
"Hi! I've just finished a project that involved gypsy settings (these were small CZs set close together - almost touching - in a line, sort of simulated pave). The finishing, both in the greenware state and after firing, was a nightmare. It was almost impossible to get the clay really smooth (I wanted a mirror finish) next to the stones and in the very small spaces in between them".
This is relatively easy. Start with fresh clay--not reconstituted. Make the base piece smooth and thick enough to accommodate your stones. Do not do anything about setting the stones yet. Get it as smooth as you can while wet. Dry thoroughly. Use successively fine grits of sanding pads or sand paper to get the clay surface as smooth as you possibly can. Now you are ready to set the stones.

For small round stones: Mark where each stone will be and use a small drill bit in your hand drill (pin vise or bead reamer) to drill a hole all the way through the clay. Then take a setting bur (for best results you should purchase jeweler's setting burs to match your stones) that is about 10% larger than your stone and use it in your hand drill to create a perfectly shaped hole for your stone. Test the stones in the holes--girdle edges should be a little below the surface of the clay. Remove the stones and make sure the piece is completely finished--smooth, no dust, and completely dry. Make sure the stones are clean. Set the stones in the clay and carefully place in your kiln for firing. If the stones are set on a curve, you can use white glue to hold them in place long enough to get them in the kiln.

After firing you should only need to brush and burnish. I find a tumbler to be the easiest way to burnish this kind of piece. If you are using metal polishing compounds and power tools (dremel/flex shaft), you need to be careful that you don't scratch the stones. This is why it is essential to get the clay as smooth as possible *before* setting the stones and firing.

For other stone shapes: The process is much like the one above, but you will have to use your file set after drilling the initial hole to create the properly shaped seats for the stones.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meet Our Teachers...

Introducing: Sharon Gillespie

How long have you been working with metal clay?
Eleven years.

What did you do before that?
Stained Glass, Eggery, Oil Painting.

What other mediums do you work with?
Glass, Eggs, Paint.

How did you come to be a PMC Connection Senior Teacher? What year?
In 2009 I was recommended by Sherry Fotopoulos and Marlynda Taylor.

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of teaching?
I have the honor of giving someone the wonder and excitement of discovery. Every time I see the look of wonder in a student’s eyes, it makes me happy. I can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching.

Do you have a studio in your home? What does it look like?
I designed a beautiful studio that overlooks the 18th green at Twin Rivers Golf Course. I have a picture window where I sit with granite counter tops. I am surrounded by things I have made which sit on display shelves around the room. I am so at peace there.

Do you teach at home or another venue?
I started a co-op in Robinson, Texas that I completely stocked from my business. Each member pays a fee and can go there on their own to work on their art without having to buy their own kilns.

Do you like to take classes yourself? What kind?
I love all classes and I will take almost anything to do with photography, jewelry, metalsmithing, glass or whatever peaks my interest. I have always gotten something out of every class I have taken.

Do you sell your work? Where?
I have my art in two galleries. I also sell to friends and sometimes even someone I meet while out and about.

Where do you find inspiration?
From other artists, from being quiet and letting my mind design something that I dream up, and from nature.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am making another saddle and some kaleidoscopes. I love the fact that pmc and silver can be used in other ways besides making jewelry. I want to create small objects of art.

Where has your work been published?
My work has been published at PMC Connection. I have been shy about submitting my things to magazines and other media. My eggery has been published and I am also on the web. I have had some local articles written about my work.

Tell us about an artistic hero or influence.
I have really been influenced by Sherry Fotopoulos and Hattie Sanderson. They both are wonderful artists and great teachers.

Is there a new direction that you’d like to explore?
I am open to pretty much anything.

What else would you like to tell us about yourself?
I am a wife and mother, first and foremost. I enjoy meeting people and because I am a teacher at heart, I like helping them. You can’t shut me up trying to tell you how to do things! I have owned several businesses. “The Busy Needle”, “The Country Mouse”, “House of Eggery”, “Collage Boutique and Studio”, “Collage Studio” , “Gillespie Trucking” and “Caylor Sports Sands”. I love to sell stuff and have trouble ordering one of anything. I have accomplished a lot of things from driving race cars, water skiing, to teaching belly dancing.

Thanks for giving us this insight into your life Sharon. That saddle is fabulous and deserves to be seen! Glad we were able to give it it's introduction to the art world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts About the PMC Guild Announcement

by Jennifer Roberts

While last week’s announcement by the PMC Guild came as a surprise, the expressions of dismay at its passing did not. It is never easy to lose such an institution and the sense of wanting a place to share ideas is even more pronounced in a field as young as metal clay. The gratitude we feel for the people who introduced us to a medium we love so dearly cannot be overstated.

The metal clay community now has a unique opportunity – one I hope its members will seize. The Guild will not cease to be the Guild as we know it until next summer, so there is time to thoughtfully create something to take its place. All of the various members of the individual Guild chapters are already organized and talking with each other. Combine that level of organization with an active metal clay digest group, a healthy blogging community, and some wonderful metal clay magazines and we have a golden opportunity to create a new organization with a broader reach and even more involvement at the grass roots level.

You can already see the creative minds on the metal clay digest pondering the possibilities. For my part, I hope that whatever organization emerges reflects the brave new world that metal clay has become. What started as a field with two brands has blossomed into an arena offering tremendous choice to the artisan who wishes to mix and match, experiment and perfect, or just play with an ever-changing palette of materials. Metal clay is no longer just metal clay. It is enameling, resins, faux bone, mokume gane, wire-working, origami, mixed metals, mixed media, beading, found objects, polymer clays, glass, glass clays, gold, silver, copper, bronze, stainless steel, brass, cold connections, fingerprints and kinetic design. Some ancient techniques, some brand new, but all now part of the creative possibilities for a metal clay artisan.

While I believe that the various producers could get together to create a new organization, my hope is that the mission and shape of the new entity will spring not from the top down (the old model) but from the artisans up. The world of metal clay needed brand-specific guilds in the past to tell the world about this wonderful new stuff because no one knew what it was. Today, artisans are educating each other in classes, on-line, and in magazines. Who better to tell us where the art form and the materials should go than the people using them?

There are some aspects of graduating to a non-profit organization that can seem daunting, but with time and guidance, they are entirely manageable. I have guided many Texas groups through the process and all have been both successful and relieved at how smoothly the process went. Having chaired a few non-profits, I can attest to the fact that a burning desire to see your organization succeed and the willingness to work very hard are both prerequisites to survival. But I can also tell you that creating and leading one of these organizations is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. And I see no lack of passion or stamina in this group.

It is very early days and everyone is still in a bit of shock. I hope that before we jump too quickly to version 2.0 of what came before, we will all let ideas about why and how to organize percolate a bit. So much has already been done by the hard work of the Guild that the artisans now have the luxury of asking this question: If you were creating an organization for metal clay artists from scratch, what would it look like?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Putting it Together

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Have you ever thought about what really goes into the making of a single piece of jewelry? I know you're aware of the obvious things like working with wet clay, grooming and perfecting dry clay, firing it into silver (gold, copper or bronze), and finishing it perfectly. Then of course there's the part where you spend time stringing, setting, soldering, chain making, ring sizing, or any of the other myriad ways we turn our pretty, shiny bits and pieces into wearable works of art.

I've adopted this song as my artistic manifesto.

But making jewelry takes so much more energy, time and money than simply sitting down at your bench and getting busy. What about:

1. Research
2. Set up
3. Clean up
4. Physical time spent shopping for tools and supplies
5. Maintenance
6. Postage
7. Mileage
8. Catalog browsing
9. Gallery going
10. Web surfing
11. Day dreaming
12. Sketching
13. Class taking
14. Equipment re arranging
15. Do overs
16. Question asking
17. Phone answering
18. Bill paying (lights, rent, baby sitter, etc.)
19. Peer socializing
20. Comparison shopping
21. Magazine reading
22. Imagining, pondering, and planning
23. Collecting
24. Note taking
25. Trend following

I could go on. And then there are the expenses and time taken while doing shows, selling online, selling in person, submitting photos, proposing to galleries, writing articles, participating in challenges, wrapping gifts, making trades, going to conferences, Skyping, marketing, designing web sites, ordering business cards, re listing, ad infinitum.

Whether you're a home crafter, wholesaler or anything in between, many of these activities (and others I haven't listed) are involved in the making of just a single piece of jewelry. Are you being well paid for your efforts - monetarily, emotionally, and in every other way that makes you feel successful?

You'll notice that I put monetarily first. Often times artists don't factor the above mentioned activities into their pricing, but each is a necessary element in your jewelry making practice. In addition to the all the other responsibilities you have, like child and spouse care, housekeeping, day job, play time, think of all the time you really spend on your art. And make sure that you're not undermining your own success.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kilns, Smoke & Flame

by Mary Ellin D'Agostino
Technical Advisor

Frequently, when someone purchases a new kiln and uses it for the first time, they call or email in a panic about their kiln catching on fire or the inside turning black. Usually, they have turned the kiln off. In every case, after they have answered a few questions, I have been able to assure them that everything is fine; that they should turn the kiln back on and continue firing.

When you fire metal clays, there will always be some smoke and flame. This is perfectly normal. We call it “firing” because we heat the metal clay up, burn off the binder, and hold it at a very hot temperature to sinter (fuse the particles of metal together). The binder has to catch on fire. There will be smoke and flame. If you are firing at a very low (for metal clay) temperature, some of the soot might even remain on the inside of your kiln, but if you fire again at a hotter temperature, the carbon soot will continue to burn and your kiln will return to its natural white state.

If you open the door of the kiln while it is hot, but before the binders have burned completely away, the binder in the pieces may instantly catch on fire and emit an alarming amount of smoke and heat. When you open the door to the kiln, you introduce oxygen into the firing chamber. The oxygen combines with any remaining (hot!) binder and starts a flash fire. While alarming, this is perfectly normal. A flash fire of this type is slightly dangerous since the person who opened the kiln door can get a face full of smoke and heat. Generally, I recommend that you don’t open the kiln door during this period of firing—especially if your pieces include burnable cores since the cores add a lot more fuel to the flame.

I did do this some years ago without thinking (even though I knew better) and had my own exciting moment. Since the kiln was full of beads with cork clay cores, there was a lot of flame and smoke! The soot stains on the outside of my kiln remain to remind me of the consequences of opening the kiln during the binder burn-off stage. I probably could clean them off, but I kind of like the reminder and it is a great teaching tool because I can point to the soot stains as part of my kiln safety and use lecture in classes.

If the chamber of the kiln remains dark after a low temperature firing, it is because the kiln was not maintained at a hot enough temperature for a long enough period of time to burn out the soot. Most often, this happens when people follow the directions for pre-firing their new fiber kiln shelves. Simply re-fire the kiln to a hotter temperature and it will return to it’s normal white state. If you are firing low-fire silver clay and the chamber remains dark after firing, you may want to check your firing schedule as it may have not gotten hot enough, long enough to sinter the metal clay. Even the lowest firing temperature (1110°F) should be sufficient to burn out the soot if held for the recommended 45 minute firing time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Last Chance to Dance

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

We have just a couple of seats remaining for Patterns of Color in Metal Clay with Hadar Jacobson, June 3-5, 2011 (this Friday-Sunday!) in PMCC's Mesquite, Texas classroom.

Learn how to combine base metal clays to create different color patterns, such as millefiori and mokume-gane. These new techniques were developed to suit the nature of metal clay and are significantly different from polymer clay and metalsmithing techniques. Focusing primarily on copper and bronze clay, the class may also cover Pearl Grey Steel clay.

We have extra clay on-site for late registrants.
Get the details here and call 866-PMC-Clay (762-2529) to register!