Monday, February 27, 2012

Just Do It – Really!

by Jennifer Roberts

The deadline for the Metal Clay Artist Magazine contest is upon us and it’s time to throw your hat in the ring. The idea is a simple one – metal clay plus some other material of your choice – and the possibilities are endless. MCAM has lined up a wonderful panel of judges and there are great prizes in store for the winners.

Maybe you don’t think your piece is good enough to win, so you haven’t entered yet. The fact is, you can’t know that unless you are aware of every single piece that has been entered and how the judges will react to each of them. Maybe they will get 100 beautiful pieces that are look alike and yours will be the standout for its originality. You never know unless you try and the worst thing you are going to hear from the judges is “thank you for entering.”

So, pick the inspirational line of your choice and repeat it until your entry is flying through cyberspace into the eager hands of Metal Clay Artist Magazine. Go big or go home. You can’t win if you don’t play. Go for it. Step up to the plate. Knock it out of the park. Bring it on home. Put yourself out there. Stand up. Lean forward. Fight the good fight. Do your thing. Show us what you’ve got. It’s now or never. Take the plunge.

Details here.
Deadline 11:59 Eastern Time on February 29th, 2012.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fine Silver is Beautiful, But Sometimes Sterling is Better

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Photo by Marsha Thomas

I love the look of fine silver with its bright white color, but it is so malleable. It doesn’t hold its shape very well! So, instead of using fine silver wire for earring wires, I use sterling silver.

In a previous post I recommended not using fine silver for earring wires. It’s too soft and won’t hold its shape no matter how much it is work-hardened. Work-hardening sterling silver, with its copper content, makes it stiffer and it holds its shape better.

However, the copper content in the sterling silver wire keeps it from adhering to the fine silver metal clay when embedding it. This is because the copper in the sterling silver oxidizes when heated with a torch or on a kiln shelf.

Removing the copper from the outside layer of the sterling silver allows it to adhere to the fine silver. This is called depletion gilding. The process essentially brings the copper to the surface of the metal by heating the sterling silver with a torch. The metal is then cleaned in pickling solution. The pickling solution absorbs the copper from the surface of the metal. This is why the pickling solution turns blue over time. This process is completed over and over until the sterling silver no longer turns black when heated.

The depletion process requires the following materials:
  • A bowl of water
  • Jeweler’s pickling solution (Sparex, Citric Acid, or PH Down for pools)
  • Copper tongs
  • Torch
  • Kiln brick or fire-proof surface

The Steps:

  1. Heat sterling silver until it turns black (above left).
  2. Quench in water.
  3. Pickle metal until it is no longer black. Warmed pickle works faster.
  4. Rinse metal with water.
  5. Repeat until the metal no longer oxidizes (above right).


  • Take care not to sand the metal after depletion gilding. This removes the layer of fine silver.
  • After embedding the sterling silver into the fine silver metal clay do not heat over 1300˚F. The metal becomes brittle.
  • Work-harden* the metal after firing it in metal clay by hammering the sterling silver with a rawhide or plastic mallet against an anvil.
In a future post, I plan to address embedding sterling silver into sterling silver metal clay. Next time, I will give some tips I use everyday in working with metal, including work-hardening wire.

I appreciate all of you who posted questions and comments last time. Keep it up. The best way to learn something new is by asking questions and sharing!

*Work-hardening involves compressing the metal so that it becomes rigid.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Share and Tell

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I've taken lots of classes. Most of the time I never actually complete the proposed project, but I absorb skills and techniques from each teacher I meet. I also 'take classes' during my day to day activities by practicing what I call 'Mindful Observation'. While looking through books, surfing the web, and handling work in galleries, I look at construction details and try to see if I could recreate a setting, clasp, or other working element. I don't think that appropriating the mechanics of a design is the same as copying or usurping another artist's voice.

Joanna Gollberg, 'Reds to Yellow' Brooch.
I recently made four brooches for an online personal challenge by adapting a prong design that I first admired in Joanna Gollberg's work. I tried to replicate her technique in a ring I made last year for Ring A Day. But it felt too similar to what she is known for, so I decided not to make it again. I've since seen other artist's use the same design - there's nothing new in the world - but I'm still not comfortable using it in exactly the same way that Joanna does.

My attempt at Joanna's setting technique
This year I decided to adapt the design to marry a metal clay element to a hand made porcelain shard for my first entry to the Four-a-Month challenge. To make each setting, I first bent 20 gauge wire into a loop that would support the porcelain shard. Then I soldered prongs to capture and hold the shard in place - some horizontally, and some upright. I was able to solder them together using a butane torch, but I have to say - as simple as it looked to me at first, completing so many joins at once is not an easy task. I'd get three finished and move the flame to the fourth - only to have the first lose the connection! These settings were a study in patience for sure. But I really liked doing them and was much better by the fourth brooch. I'll definitely use this technique again.

Brooch skeletons
After I made the backings I soldered a metal clay piece to each setting, a 'scatter' pin to two, a fine silver tube to the others, patinated them, and set the porcelain bits. Then I inserted steel wire into the two tube sections to make double pin stems. I'm really thrilled with this design and can't wait to expand on it. I'd love to make a multi piece neck collar, earrings and perhaps even a bracelet to fill out the series.

I'm really excited to be teaching the texturing technique I used on the metal clay elements for Craftcast on March 12! Hope to see some of you online in 'Learn to Stencil Using Metal Clay'.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What did she say?

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

I just love it when I’m teaching and I hear someone say, “What did she say about ________.” (Fill in the blank.)

Of course, I know I’m the “she” they are talking about and I get tickled that they ask a fellow student instead of asking me. So, I listen intently to hear what the answer will be. And I’ve heard some whoppers!

I’m always curious why they don’t ask me. My theory is that they are embarrassed. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention when I was lecturing. Maybe they were busy talking to someone else. Maybe they were preoccupied with filing or fumbling with the tumbler. Maybe it’s just too overwhelming and too much to take in.

Above: Linda with students at the 2011 PMCC Retreat.

I’ve been teaching at Vero Beach Museum of Art since 2003. My classes are great fun. There’s so much going on in the classroom. In the back row I have students who have been with me for up to eight years, affectionately known as the “old timers.” Most of them hold advanced certifications and are exceptional artists. The middle row has students who haven’t been around quite as long, maybe 3 or 4 years. They haven’t been through certification yet but they are chomping at the bit to try new skills. Their work is amazing, original, and unique. And the front row is reserved for “newbies.” These students are just beginning their metal clay adventure. They are overwhelmed with all the new information, ideas, concepts, and possibilities.

The room is loud, noisy, and busy. There are 12 students, all with different skills and levels of accomplishment. The kiln is cranking; the tumbler churning; and there’s lots of chatter. No wonder some vital information occasionally falls through the cracks.

It’s a complex group to handle. But more often than not, instructors have students of varying experience in a class. More and more, this is the rule and not the exception.

Right: PMCC Sr. Instructor Marlynda Taylor and student.

Here are a few tips for managing a diverse group:

Take the lead, keep control of the group, and set standards and expectations.
First, I require everyone in keep a journal. I want to see images or drawings of designs that inspire them. If they don’t have a plan for their finished piece, they are not designing jewelry – they are making “stuff.” Given the cost of silver, everyone needs to focus on the big picture, the end result, creating with intention.

Give students a class outline so they know what to expect.
Tell them ahead of time what projects will be covered and what supplies they need to bring to class.

Prepare a glossary of terminology.
A bail is not that “sticking up thing.” Paste is not GLUE. Expect them to learn the lingo of the studio.

My personal preference: I insist that everyone take notes.

There are three basic types of learning styles -- visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. To learn, we depend on our senses to process the information around us. Most people tend to use one of their senses more than the others. By watching my demo, listening to my lecture, and then writing down what they have heard, I know students are reinforcing their various styles of processing new information.

Review concepts and engage students
At the beginning of each class, I reinforce what we covered the previous week by doing a quick review. I ask questions and except students to know the answers. If they don’t, I wait while they go back and review their notes and come up with the right information. In time, this process helps students become more self-sufficient. They process the information more completely and have it at their fingertips when they are working on their own, rather than waiting for someone to give them an answer.

What are your favorite teaching tips?

Creative Blessings,

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cutting Dry Metal Clay With a Jeweler's Saw

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

In my first post, I mentioned some fabrication skills to consider when making metal clay jewelry. One of these is using a jeweler’s saw for cutting out negative space or open areas in your clay instead of using a file. Here's how it's done.

I have a piece of dry (unfired) sterling silver PMC. I want to cut an opening in the center. First, I drill a small hole in the area I want cut out.

I take the drill bit and twirl it between my fingers until it drills through the clay. You can put the drill into a small pin vise for more control while drilling. Do not apply pressure to the drill bit; the bit should automatically cut into the clay.

I then string my saw blade (# 03) through the hole with the design facing upward.

Using my bench pin as support, I saw out the area.

I have a 7-part video on how to use the jeweler’s saw on YouTube.

Once the area is cut out, I file it smooth with a needle file. I use a needle file that is the same shape of the area I am filing. Since I need to get into sharp corners for this piece, I am using a triangular file.

Make sure you are supporting the dry clay as much as possible so that it doesn’t break. Notice how I have four fingers supporting it while I file! Additionally, my fingers are against the bench pin so that they don’t move. I use short strokes while filing the opening smooth. Sometimes I move the file sideways, removing the ridges.

Cutting areas out using a jeweler’s saw saves a lot of time. Had I used a file it would have taken me a lot longer. If you have any questions please post them and I will do my best to answer them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Challenge Success

Congrats goes to our own Senior Instructor Teva Chaffin for a beautiful entry in the CornerStone Challenge!

Original Inspiration Photos

Teva was inspired to make this lovely, gothic window pendant and really rocked the design by including a weathered tree trunk to add a sense of depth and dimension to the vista. Thanks for playing along Teva.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New PMCC Level 1 Certification Goes Live!

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

We bring out “bubbly” to toast and celebrate the most festive and long-anticipated occasions -- the arrival of new babies, the christening of ships, weddings, birthdays, graduations, and especially the New Year. Champagne says, “Whew…..we made it over the hump and something newer, bigger, and better is on its way!”

We've all celebrated the new year and the Chinese new year, but now the teachers and staff of PMC Connection have special cause to pop open the bubbly and look forward to 2012- the long-awaited, much-anticipated launch of our brand new Level I Certification program.

Exponential changes in the world of PMC have given metal clay artists a whole new perspective on their art form. In just a few short years, new techniques, tools, and products have propelled PMC from its humble beginning as a “craft” to a well-respected fine art. Even the most discerning of traditional metalsmiths are giving PMC a well-deserved nod as metal clay artists keep pushing the limits and developing mind-blowing new concepts.

Likewise, we at PMCC felt it was time to take a critical look at our certification program to be sure it represented the changing standards of skills and techniques. As the expectations of artists worldwide catapult PMC to new heights, we knew it was time for our educational program to do the same. We wanted our students to rise to new heights and to achieve a level of polish and sophistication rivaling any medium or educational program.

Of course, nothing worth having ever comes easy. And how much would we value it if it did? So, we turned loose our eager team of senior instructors and challenged them to tell us what to keep and what to throw out. At the core of the challenge, we wanted to keep our program to two days, limit it to just four (4) projects, and bump up the quality of students’ work. The public has a discriminating eye for perfection, the price of silver continues to rise, and competition in art jewelry sales is keen. Anyone who is serious about selling their jewelry needs to accept that these factors demand exceptional skills.

Certification has always been the BIGGEST BANG FOR YOUR EDUCATIONAL BUCK! And it is now more than ever before: Guess no more about what temperature to fire your work; master the dreaded syringe; create “weird” shaped beads without a core; set stones like a pro; and more, more, more!

Even if your other resolutions have already fallen by the wayside, make 2012 the year you resolve to become a certified metal clay artisan.