Monday, December 31, 2012

Sterling Silver PMC Clay - How Thin Can It Go?

Editor's note: We leave you on this last day of 2012, with a post about one of the most exciting developments of the year. Thank you from all of us for a wonderful year!  Here's to a 2013 full of more surprises, new developments, and abundant creative energy.

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Lila Diamantopoulou sent in this request about testing sterling silver metal clay. She wanted to know if she were to make a bead in sterling silver only two cards thick and 20mm wide, would it slump upon firing and how big could she go? After deciding that 20mm was too small, I made three larger beads. The first two were flat beads 35mm x 26mm (before firing). I domed the third bead and made it 45mm x 26mm. All are two cards thick.

There were many variables that could have affected the outcome of this test. I knew that if I added a raised texture to the surface of the beads, then that would make them thicker and stronger. If I carved texture into the two-card thickness, then that would make the bead wall thinner and weaker. Along those lines, I thought about adding decorative syringe to the surface of at least one bead, but that would have added strength to it. So, I decided to add decorative elements by making a texture using scratch foam. I impressed the texture on the backside of the bead, keeping the thickness at 2mm while allowing for some kind of decoration on the bead. Let’s face it who wants a plain bead?

While designing the bead, another variable occurred to me. Do I make it a flat-sided hollow bead or domed? Doming creates strength, so I opted for domed. I wound up with three beads - one domed and two flat.

Time to fire and another variable crept up - how to orient the beads in the carbon. I knew that if I placed a bead with its widest side horizontal to the kiln floor, there would be a higher chance of slumping. Vertical placement seemed to be the better option to decrease slumping. For testing purposes, I used both placements.

Note: With the one bead on its side and the other flat, I had to move them farther apart so that I could ensure I would  only have 1/2" of carbon covering each bead. The carbon covering the vertical bead will be "taller" in the stainless steel container than the carbon over the horizontal bead. Additionally, I needed to make sure the vertical bead had 1/2" of carbon under its lowest point. 

I fired all beads for two hours, making sure to allow for ample soaking time of 1500F degrees. I fired the domed bead by itself with it placed vertically in the carbon.

The Results

I had mixed results with the flat beads. The vertically placed bead slumped inward a little on one side, maybe due to shrinkage while sintering. The other bead, placed horizontally in the carbon, slumped inward twice as much on both sides.

Little to no slumping

Slumping on both sides

But the domed bead came out just fine!

Until next time. . .

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sintering Considerations

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

When firing your clay in the kiln, there are a few things to think about: support, placement, heat, and time.

I like to place my sterling (for the first firing) and fine sliver pieces in a fiber bowl with vermiculite to support them. If I have an item with a wide side, then that side is placed perpendicular into the vermiculite. This avoids sagging because gravity has less effect. 

Be sure to raise the bowl off the kiln floor so that the heat can move around the whole thing. This keeps the bottom of the bowl from being cooler. If you don’t use a bowl, then raise the kiln shelf off the kiln’s floor and support the items, if needed, using fiber blanket or thick fiber paper.

Always note the locations of the kiln’s heating elements. Most front-loading kilns do not have elements in the door, so the front of the kiln will be slightly cooler than the back. Top-loading kilns tend to heat more evenly throughout. If an item contains a stone or sterling silver embedded element, place it towards the cooler area of the kiln. Note that you should never fire pieces with sterling silver embedded objects higher than 1200 degrees F, but do fire them longer to assure they attach.

I have discussed the importance of testing your kiln temperature at different degrees in the past. I cannot stress how important this is. Some members of the local Metal Clay Guild in Dallas recently tested their kilns and found kilns up to 10 degrees F higher than the kiln’s readout.

Sintering time can be a challenge in some circumstances, for example, in a classroom setting where time is at a premium. It is always best to sinter metal clay for the longest period of time recommended by the manufacturer whenever possible. If attaching pre-fired items together, then heat the piece as high as allowable for the metal with the lowest melting temperature and fire for the longest time.

Until next time have fun claying around!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Planning Makes Perfect

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Last week, I wanted to create a sample for a new class. I always base my class projects on the techniques they'll make use of - and let my students put their own spin on the design. Likewise I like to reveal my own artistic voice in every piece of metal clay or traditional jewelry work *I* produce. For this project the techniques I wanted to include were 1. a template for a custom bail 2. a cabochon set with milled bezel wire 3. a two-part firing for the pendant (once for the pendant base and again for the addition of the bezel wire) 4. a riveted element.

Starting with those parameters, I wanted to make a piece that displayed my creative vocabulary and could easily be identified as my work. Often times as teachers, we want to make samples that are universally appealing and that our students can identify with. This attitude sometimes translates our intention into a jewel that is beautiful - but nondescript. One of my core beliefs as an instructor and artist is that it's always possible to produce an item that looks unique to the maker, even when one is taking a class or following a set of specific instructions.

I decided to sketch a few ideas before breaking out the clay - an unusual method for me to take. Usually I open a new package of my favorite material to just see where it takes me. But this time I wanted to be more mindful and explore various ways to "get the job done." I knew I wanted to include a number of my go-to design choices - namely slip printing, a double 'mickey mouse ear' style hanging mechanism, and an historical element (this time a wink to Victorian Lover's Eye jewelry).

'Legally Tender'
I bought a quantity of clear quartz cabochons at the 2010 PMC Conference with the intent of setting them over interesting or colorful objects. I've used the quartz to magnify handmade felt, a small out-of-focus picture of my Mother, and a piece of gilded leather torn from an old jewelry box. This time I used a common object that every one of you has in your wallets right now! Can you guess who's behind the quartz?

I'm very pleased with the way my sample came out. You can see that I'm not a skilled fine artist. My drawings/sketches are very rudimentary - but they helped me refine the nebulous idea I had in mind, and even gave me a few options for future designs. Next step? Hanging it of course! I'm imagining a few different chain assemblages that will compliment the materials used and style of the design. Perhaps I should continue in the same vein and sketch a few variations on my theme.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lemons and Lemonade in the Classroom

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

Every teacher must have a favorite tool in their tool box. Mine is a hammer. My motto, “When all else fails, beat the crap out of it!”

A few weeks ago my class made syringe projects. Some people just take naturally to the syringe….others, not so much. I’ve seen people use it with amazing grace and style….just like a natural extension of their hand. They can write with it, draw with it, and control it with precision for beautiful, detailed results. On the flip side, there are those who literally have their hands full….no pun intended. No matter what we try, the syringe just doesn’t work for them. As painful as it may be, I encourage them to make at least one syringe project because there are so many amazing techniques and skills that can be achieved with the use of the syringe…….and if you don’t try, you’ll never know!

This group suffered more than a few mishaps. As a teacher I’ve learned that it’s sometimes okay to let your students make their own mistakes….. like when it comes to laying on enough layers of paste or getting a syringed design sturdy enough to survive the firing and cleaning process.  I ask them, “Does it ‘feel’ like a piece of jewelry?” There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to learning these lessons. But when impatience gets the better of them and they fire the piece prematurely - without sufficient silver - the inevitable “meltdown” poses multitudes of opportunities for making lemonade from lemons.

Take the case of the Boo-Boo Ball…………

Several students made syringed beads created over hard cotton balls. The heat from the burn-off of the cotton can cause the silver to overheat and sometimes melt if it isn’t thick enough. So yep, we had several cases of Boo-Boo Ball…….partially melted beads. Of course, they could have added more silver and re-fired. Instead, I reached into my little bag of tricks and whipped out my trusty hammer. I had them cut the beads open so they would lay flat on a metal block and we literally hammered the crap out of them. The students were amazed at the unique and abstract pieces of silver they salvaged and even more excited that they could create inspiring new designs from their unfortunate meltdowns.  It caused a frenzy of excitement in the group and now everyone is trying to mimic those mishaps.

As Marlynda Taylor, one of my PMC sisters and mentors once told me, “There is no such thing as an ugly piece of PMC jewelry…….it just isn’t finished yet.”  Rethink it….recreate it….or when all else fails, beat the crap out of it!

Creative blessings,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Intent is Everything

by Kris A. Kramer

I have an appreciation that PMC artists and artisans observe the world, well, like a photographer or painter observes an interesting character or a brilliant sunset. Differently. A photographer sets up a tripod, the painter sets up an easel. What goes through each one’s mind at that point? 

What goes through your mind when you sit down at your workbench? Do you have a particular piece in mind, or are you facing a lump of clay like a writer’s blank page? When you create, are you creating a signature piece for a collection or are you making something that you think will sell? 

Here is a personal evolution that you might understand. When I first discovered PMC, my workbench was like a research laboratory.I explored and tested clay, syringe, slip, paste with regards to each one’s limitations in shape, textures, strength, and what I could do with it. Everything was an experiment.  I made the “successes” my own or put up for sale. The failures were not failures at all; they were feedback, each one giving me huge insight and knowledge.

Then, in a program I took called the Montana Artrepreneur Program offered by the Montana Arts Council, I learned more about a brand. Branding is not just what cattle ranchers do to their livestock to identify ownership. Similarly though, a brand is a design, symbol, or other feature that distinctly identifies your work. As in, if I saw one of your pendants without any description, I would know that you made it.  Let’s assume you have a distinct style and a brand, which most of you do whether or not you know it. 

Back to the chair at your workbench. Put aside that you might be fulfilling an obligation like a custom order or producing inventory, what goes through your mind at that point?

Wait. First, add this new information. When asked, “…what’s selling the best?” in an article in American Craft December/January 2013, gallery owner Stefan Friedemann replied with this.

“In the gallery, we have work that will appeal to passersby, as well as the 'museum pieces,' and we do well selling both. What we find the most difficult to sell is work by artists who are between those two niches. They could be artists who have very interesting ideas but feel like they need to make something sellable, or young artists who haven’t fully matured yet. But the serious collector wants a major statement or lasting value, and walk-in traffic wants something very easy, wearable. There isn’t a middle niche.”

Here’s how, as a PMC artist, you may observe the world differently. Do you want to just let your creativity flow, or will you let a gemstone or cabochon inspire you? Do you want to incorporate a new texture you’ve made? Do you want to stay true to your style and brand? Are you creating something that you want to be a best-seller? Do you want to stretch your limits with a new signature piece that you fantasize on the cover of an art museum magazine, posthumous, well after your claim-to-fame in PMC world? Remember, there “isn’t a middle niche.”

Here’s my theory/wish/hope/dream. It matters not, your what and why. What matters is not that you kill the special moment with these questions. What does matter is that you appreciate the value in setting a pure intention. Intent is best clean and simple. For each piece you design and set out to make, pick a path, focus intention, follow through, commit to your creative process, and tap into Creativity--yours and the Universe’s.

Lastly, what does Creativity do that lets you know it is your friend? It gives you permission to change your intent and direction at any time. As many times as you need. To keep your intent clean and simple, all you need to do is be true to yourself. Make what you love--what you would wear, what you would buy, what you would collect."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Problem with Embedding Sterling Silver Wire

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I had a student email me about a problem she had with some embedded sterling silver wire in her piece. She decided to use the sterling silver because it is stronger and holds its shape better than fine silver. She embedded the sliver between two layers of PMC3 metal clay making it a loop coming out of the bottom of the piece. It was to hold a dangling object.

She said she fired the piece at 1300 F for 30 min in order to give it the best strength and highest shrinkage. She chose not to fire it at 1650 F because sterling silver is an alloy of copper and silver, and copper has a lower melting point than pure silver. Her problem is that the sterling silver wire became weaker and broke easily.

I responded with this answer:

Firing sterling silver above 1200 degrees F makes the metal brittle and can actually cause it to crumble. The melting point for sterling silver is 1640 F / 893C. Maybe using a fine silver embedded jump ring or incorporating a hidden bail made from PMC3 clay would have worked better. This way, the piece could be fired at 1650 F for two hours.

Keep the questions coming! I hope to hear from you all soon! In the meantime have fun claying around.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Name Game

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I was reading my FaceBook news feed the other day and was struck by a comment from a maker I don't know on the wall of one of my friends. The writer was bemoaning the high cost of silver, but saying that she didn't want to start using base metal clays because she thought they presented more as 'costume' jewelry than pieces made with sterling or fine silver. That statement kind of stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about how our own perception of the materials we use may subconsciously influence our customers' impressions of and appreciation for our work.

Cartier articulated tiger brooch
When I was a child, there was a definite difference between my mother's fine jewelry (almost all of it gold) and my baubles, bangles, and beads - almost all brightly colored plastic. Some of the things I wore were actually costume-like (who else had a pink plastic tiara studded with sparkly rhinestones?) so the appellation made sense. But even in earlier decades the description 'costume' was confusing. Chanel and Cartier offered whimsical designs made with precious materials that were considered costume jewelry. Today Miriam Haskell's brightly colored 'costume' confections from the '40's bring high prices on the collector market, although they were made with 'paste' gems and base metals.

Felieke van der Leest
Necklace: Brian the Lion
Today, with the rise of artisan/studio jewelry, more unusual materials are being used to adorn the body than ever before. Steel, powder coated copper, plastics, polymers, base metals, and even paper are just some of the materials being used in the manufacture of jewelry. But don't think that using less expensive supplies directly relates to the monetary worth and desirability of the finished product. An important element to remember when pricing and presenting your work is 'perceived value'. Take into account not only the cost of materials used - but the skill, labor, artistry, blood, sweat, and tears that were employed when you designed and built your work.

From Google:

Fine Jewelry - Jewelry made of precious metal such as gold or silver and set with precious or semi-precious stones. 

Bridge Jewelry - Bridge jewelry is jewelry that "bridges the gap" between fine (precious) jewelry and costume jewelry. An example of bridge jewelry is sterling silver pieces. Wait - I thought you just said that silver was 'fine' jewelry!

Costume Jewelry - Jewelry made with inexpensive materials or imitation gems.

As you can see, metal clay falls into all of these categories. There is yellow gold, rose gold, and green gold metal clay; sterling and fine silver metal clay; many of us use precious and semi precious stones either fired in place or set traditionally. We have also embraced the 'new' base metal clays and lab grown gems. The two examples I used to illustrate this post represent the far ends of the 'costume jewelry' market. Most of what we make as metal clay artisans will fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. A spectrum that is yet to be defined, because as far as jewelry is concerned - what's in a name? The only thing to consider is whether it brings you joy. Joy in the making, joy in the collecting, joy in the wearing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Does PMC Sterling Silver Clay React to Aluminum?

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Jamie Sells wanted to know if the new PMC Sterling Silver metal clay reacts to aluminum like the fine silver metal clay. 

Over the years I’ve been told not to place my metal clay on aluminum or there would be a reaction, so I never have. With that being said, I don’t know what the reaction is! Inquiring minds want to know now! So, I tested PMC3 and the new Sterling Silver metal clay to find out.

I placed a sample of each clay type, PMC3 and PMC Sterling, on aluminum foil and also samples on an aluminum pan. I cut out a total of four oval discs labeling the discs that are laid on top of foil with an " F" and those laid on top of the pan with a" P". I allowed them to sit there for an hour, until they were fairly dry.

PMC3 on the right and PMC Sterling on left.

PMC3 on the right and PMC Sterling on the left.

The two samples on the foil had a huge reaction as did the foil.

Reactions to the foil.

The foil's reaction.

The two samples on the pan had a less of a reaction to the aluminum.

PMC3 on the left and PMC Sterling on the right.

It looks like the combination of moisture, clay, and aluminum causes the reaction. The PMC3 clay on the pan had less moisture and so had little-to-no reaction whereas, the foil seemed to trap the moisture between the clay and foil.

I fired each sample per the manufacturer’s directions to see if the reaction area would burn off. It did not. The areas that reacted with the aluminum are raised an bumpy. It gives the clay a look of reticulated metal.

Polished metal with reactions to aluminum foil.

Polished sterling silver exposed to aluminum pan.
 So, if you want a cool looking texture, now you know how to get it. Otherwise, keep the clay away from aluminum.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is it Sintered or Not?

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I recently had someone ask me some questions about a fired metal clay piece that broke from trauma from being hit. They didn’t know if it broke because the clay wasn’t sintered or if it broke because of too much stress. They said the exposed cross-section of the break was a chalky white. It broke where the bail attaches at the main body and in some other thin areas on the pendant.

A good way to find out if the piece isn’t sintered is to take a sharp object like a needle and scrape the broken inside area. If it falls apart then it isn’t sintered. If it becomes shinny from the scratching then it’s sintered.The chalky white color is just the metal not reflecting light because it is rough and porous.

Due to its particle makeup, metal clay is not as strong as sheet no matter how long it’s fired in the kiln at 1650 degrees F. On a molecular level it is porous and those tiny holes reduce the fired metal clay’s tensile strength.

With that in mind, design your pieces so that stronger in areas that will receive the most stress. For example, if you have a bail that attaches to the main body of the piece then make it thicker where it attaches instead of a thin connection. If your design requires that it be thin in that area then re-design it so that the bail is hidden behind the piece.

I hope this answers your questions. Please email me or post a comment if you have any questions about your clay.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

With an Attitude of Gratitude

by Linda Kline

I love Thanksgiving.
In fact, it’s my favorite holiday.

It’s a simple holiday, focused on the 4 F’s:
Family, Friends, Food, and Football!  

I tend to get a bit mushy at Thanksgiving, especially after a couple of glasses of champagne and about 1500 grams of pure fat! Lying around waiting on the pumpkin pie to digest affords the perfect opportunity to focus on all my blessings.

The older I get, the shorter my Gratitude List gets, which sounds a bit strange. It seems like we should have more blessings in our life as we age. It’s funny how the things we once considered important can begin to seem trivial while the things we once took for granted become a very big deal.

Health is at the top of the list. It becomes apparent with each passing year that you have to have good health to enjoy all the other blessings in your life. I used to love living on the edge – rollerblading, skiing, mountain climbing, skydiving. If there was an element of danger involved, I was all in! But these days, not so much. The consequences of an injury or breaking something gets more complicated…..especially if you teach jewelry design for a living! It’s hard to schlepp a kiln or demonstrate a technique with a cast on your arm.

Next on my list, family and friends. I have a very small family. They live 1200 miles away, which means I don’t often see them. But they stay very close to my heart and I miss them like crazy. That’s why my friends have become my family. And the really cool thing……most of my friends started out as my students! That, in itself, has been an incredible blessing in my life. 

I have new students all the time, of course, but my core group has been creating with me for nine years. It’s hard to believe that a little lump of metal clay could bind so many people together and weave such a complex and myriad pattern of life experiences. I think of our jewelry group like a Crazy Quilt – every piece a unique and different  shape, size, fiber, and texture, all blended together to form one amazing creation. We’ve become closer than family, in many ways. We’ve have shared amazing joys and painful losses; celebrated the birth of grandkids, consoled and supported through health scares, cried over the passage of parents, whined about the economy. While I was teaching them to make jewelry, they were teaching me humility, patience, and resolve. So such beautiful jewelry formed; so many amazing blessings shared. 

I wondered what my PMCC instructor friends would say were their greatest blessings, so I posed the question to them. 

Lora Hart said, “So many times life puts opportunities in your path that you weren’t aware existed. I’m so grateful for the unexpected discovery of some kind of stuff called ‘metal clay’ while on an early morning walk when I was at a crossroads in my career. And even more, I’m grateful that an enthusiastic appreciator of my jewelry, who I met at a local craft show, suggested that I teach at a bead shop where she worked. And that she suggested it over and over until at last I listened and submitted a proposal to the owner. Working with metal clay has changed my life in so many ways - introducing me to some amazing artists and friends, providing an opportunity to interact with talented students, and inspiring me to develop my creative practice in directions that I had never considered.”

Janet Alexander contributed, “I am thankful for the synergy that happens in class. When a problem occurs everyone works together to solve it. One student will think of a solution and then another and another. We all end up learning more together!”

Delia Marsellos-Traister added, “I am most thankful for the opportunities of 'possibility' and experimentation in classes. Sometimes artists want to try a new thing and I am so happy when they do…… Except rings in an intro class!”   (That’s okay, Delia.  We all have our breaking point!  ;-)

Gale Schlagel contributed, “Two of the things I love about teaching...being thankful for the experience...1. I love seeing the spark of possibilities in their eyes and 2. I love seeing through their eyes...their vision with their hands. It's inspiring and energizing!”

Sharon Caylor Gillespie beautifully summed up the sentiments of all of all teachers, I think, when she said, “I am thankful first to God for giving me opportunities to live the kind of life I am living, to my family for supporting me in all my many quests in life -- being a wife, mother, daughter, sister and an artist. I am thankful to my students from whom I receive the blessings of teaching me as I teach them. Not only are we getting the new technique, but we are learning to share our talents with everyone. Thank you, Linda, for giving me a moment today to think about how blessed I am.”

Take a moment today to think about all the blessings in your life and send a silent blessing to all the teachers who have challenged, motivated, and inspired you along the way.

Creative Blessings,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Business and Art: Introducing Kris A. Kramer

Business with Art?
by Kris A. Kramer 

To say I’m excited to write for PMC Connection’s CornerStone is an understatement. I get to share my art-related business knowledge? And get to hear about yours via the comments? Are you kidding? I truly appreciate Jennifer and CornerStone readers for this opportunity.

I will be writing about the business side of art and the world of metal clay. Whether you dabble in metal clay for recreation or market and sell it to high-end galleries, there will be topics and tidbits for you. I will include hard, left-brain topics and soft, more introspective topics. Any post can be turned into a task you might want to take on, a validation of what you are already doing, or an opportunity to refine your business even more.

The first puzzlement is this: are business and art mutually exclusive? That is, can you be an artist and an entrepreneur at the same time? The answer to the second question is "no." You can be both - just not at the same time. Can you be comfortably at home and on vacation at the same time? Consider a vacation -  toward the end of it, you kinda want to get back home. When you get home, you are refreshed and see your life differently from the perspective you gained while traveling.

The same relationship exists between your art and your art business. The business tasks I do at my desk in the house leave me feeling an urgent need to get into the studio. Too much studio time, and I need the focus that results from my business tasks. Each one fuels and feeds the other. It’s an ideal situation. On top of this, I’ve never known anyone to improve their business savvy and not also enhance their artistic skills at the same time. Amazing.

The basic assumptions for my posts are these: you are an artist or artisan; you tap into your creative aspect freely and often; you have a sacred studio or workspace and a personalized art process. I will be talking here then about the organizational and business aspect of art, about artist statements, mission-vision-values statements, about budgets, gallery cover letters, branding, business goals, logos, hangtags, shows, portfolios, press releases, videos, and marketing plans. I’ll cover consignment, commissions, contracts, and more.

All the while I will be trying to understand your needs and what you are curious about. So leave comments, concerns, and questions, anything that puzzles you. I love feedback, too! My wish is to write a blog that excites you, causes you to pause and reflect, and gives you information that you’ve been craving or needing.

Some business tasks might seem daunting. They did for me. I chunked them down and worked in small spurts every chance I could. I remember my daughter watching me, her greatly frustrated mother, ranting about what she had to do that she didn’t think she could. But, I took each daunting task step-by-step, giving myself permission to take the time I needed. Much to my surprise, I ended up being a model and inspiration for my daughter along these lines: you hit a wall; you get through.

Another thing that helped me pump up the business side of my life when I was feeling entrepreneurially inadequate (now that’s a phrase) was a simple piece called “Daily Sharing,” which I will close with today. Here, it applies to a business task or art process, but it works pretty well with a friend or family member, too:
  • Express an appreciation about that business task or about something good in your life.
  • Offer a bit of new information about what you’re feeling about that business task, something that happened to you, some new learning, something that you want to share.
  • Talk about something that puzzles you related to that business task, an issue you’re trying to understand, a quirky thing about it, a not-quite-complete bit of knowing.
  • Talk about something that’s bugging you or irritates you. First say what is working for you then make your valid complaint with a request for change. Explain how you would like this particular business task to change, using only “I” statements.
  • Talk about your wishes, hopes, and dreams or about anything you’d like to see happen to the business task It can be a hope for today, five years from now, or for all time. 
  • Ask your business task, “What do I do or can I do that lets you know I value, accept, or appreciate you?”

Friday, November 9, 2012

Questions I Ask Myself While Setting Up My Studio

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I am in Alto, NM setting up my new studio and thought I’d like to share with you some of the things I’m thinking about while setting it up.I ask myself some questions and then set it up from there.

First and foremost will I be teaching in my studio or elsewhere?
In this case I’ll be teaching in my studio. So I need to look at what my students will need. Since this is in the mountains, they will need a place to put their coats, boots (it snows here), purses, lunches, and tools.  They will need a workspace.

How many students can my studio accommodate and how will I place/make working stations? Where will I sit to demonstrate?

I think I will set up my bench in front of the built-in counter top with drawers and have my students sit in front of me. I plan to put in a counter top along the right side of the room with flex shafts attached as polishing stations.

My studio doesn’t have heat, so I place this fake fireplace space heater in the room and I made a space next to it for hanging coats. In the future I will make some cubby holes for storage for purses etc.

What will I teach?
I will be teaching metal smithing and metal clay classes, so I need to look at storage for tools, books, chemicals, soldering stations, and a place for my kilns. I have a casting kiln and a PMC kiln both run on regular 110 current which is readily available. I need to store my chemicals in locked cabinets. One cabinet will be for flammables and the other for acids. I use acids for plating and etching. I also need to install a fire detector and next to the entry door a fire extinguisher placed at around 4’ off the ground for easy access. Nothing should ever block the fire extinguisher.

The soldering area will be in the far corner where I can open cross windows allowing for venting. Since I am renting this place I cannot install a vent system. This room has windows on three sides. If I need to vent for soldering or for the kilns, all I will need to do is open opposing windows, and place a small box fan on the window sill with it blowing outward.

For fire proofing, I will place some left over granite on top of the counter top. Solderite board works great too. I will attach some backer board or Hardie Board on the wall behind the soldering areas to fire-proof them.

That's my plan so far. As I set up, I will continue to think about these practical and safety concerns and adjust accordingly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Note to Self...

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

This morning I searched my favorite travel site looking for the best airfare to next year's SNAG conference in Toronto. The conference is in May 2013, but I want to plug it into my calendar and buy the ticket so I don't procrastinate, or find an excuse not to go, or just plain get caught up in my day-to-day life, and miss out on the opportunity.

This past summer I let a few creative prospects pass me by. There were calls for entry; teaching possibilities in the Southwest and Northeast; a major, fine craft exhibition; and a local show that were all planned or presented without me because I allowed myself to be sidetracked by life. I didn't make the travel plans or write the syllabus, or do whatever prep needed to be done to ensure my participation in the timely manner required.

Not only does one need to know about the submissions, proposals and events before they happen or merely plug them into a calendar, you must actually create a plan of action, perhaps months in advance, and detail the action steps in the calendar before the event's deadline. A calendar that you'll actually look at from time to time. Oh - I have a slick calendar on the wall of my studio with pretty, inspirational pictures in it, and others on my computer, phone, and iPad. There may even be dates flagged and cryptic notes jotted in the little boxes of days - but all to often I look at it, only to be dismayed by my last minute perusal, lack of planning, and poorly described happening. So, out I go today (as soon as the shops open) to buy a nice, big, boring, utilitarian calendar/journal/book in which I can write long messages to myself in the clean, white, empty pages that will (hopefully) turn my good intentions into plans of action.

November  15 2012, Ornament my Dear Metal clay design competition sponsored by Metal Clay Today.

January 14 2013, Tales of the Heart - Competition sponsored by Mitsubishi Materials.
Details and more info here.

May 15 - 18 2013, Toronto. SNAG conference - Meta Mosaic, Society of North American Goldsmiths. Not just for metal workers - this is a fabulous all-jewelry conference that will provide a similar educational experience to our beloved metal clay conferences.

June 2013, Palm Springs Ca. Metals Week at Idyllwild. Metals Week is designed to be a week of creative and social renewal where you can relearn how to be open to learning and seeing from a creative perspective. Five full days with one instructor - focusing on hard metal techniques. Following metals week is a one week intensive with metal clay artist Jonna Faulkner in the same idyllic surroundings. 2013 program TBD.

August 9 - 12 2013, San Diego Ca. Metal Clay by the Bay - A premier conference for All metal clay artists. Classes offered in paired teamings by some of the best instructors around.

September 5 - 8 2013, Connecticut. Metal Clay MoJo - A multi faceted program including technique demonstrations, presentations, round table discussions, panel discussions, critique sessions, open studios, and more. Post conference classes will also be offered.

November 1 - 3 2013, Chicago. SOFA Art and Design Fair - Gallery Presented Masterworks of Contemporary and Modern Art and Design. An exhibition of some of the best fine craft artists and galleries in North America.

Ongoing - Crafthaus - Calls for entry and job opportunities are listed for members. Online exhibition opportunities as well as print publications and live shows/xhibitions are shared here.
 Lark Books - Submission details for upcoming Lark Books publications. Up now - 500 Traditional Quilts. Deadline February 28.

No date yet, but check here for information on the next Art Clay World Conference in Europe.

Registration closed for 2013 - The Saul Bell Design Award - Don't miss out in 2014. Dates to be announced.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Putting Our Best Foot Forward

by Jennifer Roberts

Progress! When it comes to creating a website, it can feel painfully slow. But I am thrilled to announce that we've launched a new section for our PMCC Instructors and have upgraded our class page. 

Instructions for those of you who post on our class page are coming next week. In the meantime, take a look at our crack staff.

I'd also like to congratulate Lora Hart, Teva Chaffin, and Janet Alexander for having their work published in Hattie Sanderson's Contemporary Metal Clay Rings. Beautiful work!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Failure is a Chance for Learning

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I read somewhere or was told that painting the stainless steel container used for firing the sterling silver clay would keep it from flaking, so I set out to test the idea.

I took a brand new clean stainless steel container and lid and painted them with high-heat paint used for coating rifle barrels. After it dried, I baked it at 300 degrees F for several hours to cure the paint.

Unpainted Container

Painted Container

Next, the test to see if it flaked or not.

I fired it at 1500 degrees for 30 minutes with coconut carbon and some sterling silver rings inside. I removed it from the kiln while it was still hot. For the first minute or two nothing happened. But then all of the sudden paint started flying off across the lid like stacked dominoes falling over. It was very interesting to watch the paint flake off in a line going around the lid. Then as the bottom started cooling the paint on each corner flaked off. Watching this, I decided that the reason the paint flaked is because the metal was contracting while cooling, forcing the paint off the surface. There was less metal flaking, but as I used the container over and over again the metal started flaking also.

So, back to square one. But I do know now that paint doesn't work. A friend told me to try coating it with kiln wash. Maybe I will try that next?

More sterling sliver clay is on he way for my testing, so keep an eye out for the November test and have fun claying around!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Vibratory Tumblers

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

How is the Tumble-Vibe different from a rotary tumbler?

The basic difference between a vibratory and a rotary tumbler is the way the unit is driven.  A rotary tumbler consists of a barrel that sits on rollers causing the barrel to spin. Polishing media and the objects to be polished (jewelry pieces) are placed inside the barrel. As the barrel spins, the contents fall and slide over each other causing abrasion or polishing to the jewelry pieces located in the top 1-inch of the sliding media.  Jewelry pieces not located in the top inch are not polished. Some items can become dented due to the polishing media falling on the jewelry pieces.  It can take hours, days or weeks to bring a piece of jewelry up to a high shine using this type of unit. The lid on the barrel can leak or come off during the process.
A vibrating tumbler includes a bowl that sits on an out-of- balanced motor. As the motor moves, it causes the bowl to vibrate in all directions. The polishing media and jewelry pieces are placed inside the bowl. The bowl’s vibration causes the objects in the bowl to rotate around the bowl in two directions rubbing and polishing the jewelry 100% of the time. The items are polished much faster than a rotary tumbler and there is no chance of leaks, spillage, or denting of pieces. The items can be easily retrieved by opening the lid and fishing through the polishing media.

 A variety of different media, from cutting, to polishing, can be used in the vibratory tumbler including ceramic and plastic abrasives, walnut shells, and steel shot, making the vibrating tumbler more versatile than a rotary tumbler. The ceramic and plastic abrasives are sold in different grits. Polish is embedded in the walnut shell with the same polish jewelers use on buffing wheels. Steel shot, due to its hardness, is used as a burnisher. As it moves across the jewelry it rubs and burnishes the outer layer of the metal. 

General Instructions for the Raytech TV-5 Model
  • The working capacity* of the Tumble-Vibe 5 is approximately .05 cu. ft. (three pints) or 4 pounds. The capacity includes the media, water and the work pieces.
  • If the tumbler will be used for polishing as well as for cutting, always reserve one bowl strictly for the polishing media so it can remain free from embedded cutting grit.
  • Successful finishing of most jewelry requires preparing the jewelry. Parts must be filed, sanded, or ground smooth over rough areas. Attempting to finish jewelry parts without adequate preparatory finishing can result in very long finishing cycles and loss of detail in the jewelry pieces.
  • All plastic media or ceramic media should be broken-in before using. Media that is not broken-in may cause scratches. (See separate section, below, for breaking-in plastic media.)
  • Keep a 70% media to 30% jewelry ratio. Too many items tumbling at one time can produce a poor finish.
  • Always use cutting/burnishing soap with the media as required.
  • If using steel shot, fill the bowl with water so that it just covers the top of the shot. Never completely fill the bowl with water. Too much water or soap hampers the media’s action. After tumbling, remove and dry shot.
  • If using plastic or ceramic media, add 1 ½ oz. of water and a ½ teaspoon of polishing compound. Note: if the machine does not roll the media well at the start of a cycle, there is too much water or soap.
  • Change water if it becomes gray or loses its suds. Rinse the bowl and clean the media.
  • If the media tumbles too long without replacing the water, the jewelry pieces will absorb the gray sludge which is very hard to remove. The manufacturer recommends changing the water every three hours.
  • When using ceramic media, don’t allow the bowl to run dry. This will cause premature wear on the bowl.
  • Walnut or other shell media do not require water. Fill the bowl ¼” below the center cone and jewelry items.
  • On average, dry polishing media is good for polishing up to 200 hours of use. When not in use, store in an air-tight container. See manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not use media filled with silicon carbide or alumina powders as this will impinge and impregnated the metal surface and retard polishing.

Breaking-in Plastic/Ceramic Media
1.   Place media into tumbler bowl.
2.   Add water and polishing compound /soap.
3.   Tumble without jewelry for one to two hours.
4.   Rinse media and bowl. Rinsing the media in a colander works well.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

When I made the move to Richmond, I decided that I wanted my studio separate from my home. There were too many distractions in my apartment studiolo in Venice (couch, dishes, cats) and I knew I hadn't been as productive as I would have liked to be. I rented a great 161 sq. ft. place in an artist's co-op about 10 minutes away, and I have to say I'm really enjoying the drive and the hustle and bustle of the facility. After unpacking all the boxes (who knew I could squeeze so much into my old, tiny, studio?) I started going through photos on Flickr and Pinterest of other people's work spaces so I could get some new ideas on how to set up mine.

Views of my new, unfinished, studio at ArtWorks Virginia. 

The results I got were so interesting. Some studios looked like they were ready for a magazine shoot, and others looked like the artist was working furiously just moments before the shutter clicked. I've read posts online of folks who think they have to clean up before (or after) each creative session. I know jewelers whose benches look like a hurricane just hit (but they know where to lay their hands for each tool or supply needed).

I think I'm somewhere in between. My last apartment was a single. One room. Living, sleeping, dining, entertaining, and working - all in one space. So of course I wanted to keep the studio area neat and clean. I know I do more creative work when I start with a neat bench top, but the floor and surfaces were always a mess. My new studio has a big glass window that let's passers-by take a peak at my process. I don't want to appear slovenly, so my instinct is to keep it in tip, top, shape. But my natural working habits don't mesh with the concept of a tidy space.

Where do you fall on the photo-ready or well-used look of your work space? Do you care what others think when they view it, or is your motivation based on your working methodology? 

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's All in How You See It

[Editor's note: We love Lora Hart's eye candy series. Check out today's eye candy, below, and visit her blog every week for more.]

It's that time of year again. Now that I'm in the east, I can actually see the leaves change. There were a few trees in LA that developed some color, but nothing like I'm expecting this year.

One of the greatest things about artists is how they each interpret a theme differently. All leaves, All unique. Here are examples of chasing and repousé, forging, carving, slip painting, piercing, soldering, and gluing; using steel wire, silver wire, resin, natural leaves, wood, sterling, metal clay, gold, and iron. Styles are simple, complicated, modern, gothic, realistic, and interpretive. And all are beautiful.