Monday, April 30, 2012

PMC Sterling Silver Metal Clay Test - Soldering

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

For this month’s PMC Sterling Silver clay testing, I focused on soldering. I explored the following questions over a series of tests:

1.   Does the porosity of the clay cause problems with soldering?
2.   Do I need to burnish the clay first before soldering?
3.   How well does hard, medium, and easy silver solder work with fired    clay?
4.   Does pre-melting solder to the piece change the metal’s malleability? 
5.   After soldering, can I form the metal without the sterling piece coming off or cracking?

I’d like to explain more about question 4, which relates to the changes of the metal. Melting solder onto the metal actually causes the solder to alloy with the metal (this is true with any non ferrous metal). The two metals combine at the molecular level to create a new metal with a different melting point. So, with this question I wanted to know whether the malleability of the new alloy differs from the PMC Sterling.

Test 1
In my first test, I made a two-tone ring with copper and metal clay. The center of the ring is made with fired PMC Sterling silver metal clay and the ring band is made from copper sheet.

 In my first experiment, I created a strip of textured clay 4 cards thick and fired it per the manufactures instructions. I only fired the clay for 30 minutes in the second stage firing at 1500˚F.

I then pre-melted hard silver solder to the back of the sterling silver piece.

Afterwards, I sweat soldered* the sterling silver piece to the copper.

Once I started bending the copper/sterling silver into a ring, the sterling silver started cracking.

Here are my initials answers to my questions:
  1. Does the porosity of the clay cause problems with soldering? No it does not.
  2. Do I need to burnish the clay first before soldering? No
  3. How well does hard, medium, and easy silver solder work with fired clay? Hard solder worked fine. 
  4. Does pre-melting solder to the piece change the metal’s malleability?  It might, I will perform another test. More on that below.
  5. After soldering, can I form the metal without the sterling piece coming off or cracking? In this test, the metal cracked. More below.

*Sweat soldering is the process of melting solder to the back of one piece and then attaching it to another piece by again melting the solder, thus connecting both pieces together.

With the questions of malleability and bending still unanswered, I devised two more tests.

Test 2
I created three PMC Sterling Silver metal clay bands using the same texture but made them 6 cards thick and fired them in the second stage for 2 hours at 1500˚F. I created three variations and bent them into rings with the following results:

  • Band 1- No soldering/plain PMC Sterling band bent into a ring without any problems. 
  • Band 2- I melted hard silver solder onto the band and then bent it into a ring without any problems. 
  • Band 3- I repeated my experiment from Test 1, but wanted to see if making the band thicker and firing it for a longer time would keep it from cracking. I annealed the metal after bending it a little and bent it into an oval ring with few problems. It was only on the final, sharp bend that I experienced any cracks - just two small cracks that I was able to solder with medium silver solder. I also soldered the join successfully using medium silver solder.

Test 3

I created a two-tone ring top using PMC Sterling and copper. I  domed it, and then soldered a ring band to it using easy silver solder. I used the plain PMC Sterling Silver ring band from Test 2 (Band 1).

The results: Everything soldered fine and the ring top domed without the sterling silver cracking.

My Conclusions
All silver solder types, hard, medium, and easy worked well on the metal with no burnishing required. I'm sure IT silver solder would work fine also.

Overall the sterling silver metal clay held up suitably while bending it into a ring band by itself. Doming and rounded bending of the fired metal clay also worked well. The sharp bending of the sterling attached to the copper was too much stress for it, but was easily fixed by making it thicker, firing it for a longer period of time in the carbon, and by annealing it during the bending process. Additionally, I soldered small cracks before they worsened. Sometimes even sterling silver textured wire can crack under these conditions. All in all, the fired sterling metal clay performed competently.

Join me at the end of May for my next report on PMC Sterling Silver metal clay. Until next time, have fun claying around!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Artist’s Journal: Enameling & PMC

by Yvonne Yao

Editor's note: Since Yvonne is starting to experiment with PMC and enamel, we asked PMCC Senior Instructor Teva Chaffin to add her thoughts to Yvonne's journal. Teva's comments are italicized.

I’ve recently started enameling again and it has reignited my desire to learn how to simplify the cloisonné and plique-a-jour framework process by using PMC and PMC syringe. So today, I decided to go back to the basics and both review what I have learned, as well as try out a few new techniques.

Since I do not have my own kiln, I decided to work with what I have. With a butane torch and kiln shelf, I began to torch fire my own PMC pieces. I also wanted to try rehydrating my old hardened clay and review how to gypsy-set a stone in wet clay. Lastly, I needed to test and find out how thin I can make my plique-a-jour frameworks and still apply the enameling techniques without warping the piece throughout the additional heating process.

First step: re-hydrating my old clay. I originally learned to do this by laboriously filing down the hardened lumps into powder, then slowly adding water to bring the clay back to a sculptural consistency. However, the filing part was so time consuming that the process felt like a waste of time. Therefore, I did a little more research online and learned that by putting the cay in a ziplock bag with water and pressing out the air, I can rehydrate the clay by just letting it sit. Simple absorption will do the rest. This did not work out for me as I expected, the clay remained hard to the touch. But I did find that it softened the old clay enough within the core that I was able to file faster and easier due to the creamy texture.

With the newly rehydrated clay, I rolled out a sheet three cards thick and cut out a design to start texturing. I gypsy-set my row of CZ’s and cut out a shape in the piece to test my plique-a-jour. Then I syringed a small scale design onto the panel to test out a shallow cloisonné. Next, I drew an organic pattern of a leaf on a sheet protector, let it dry, and peeled the shape off to fire and test to see if I can create a plique-a-jour design in a framework that is as thin as it is-straight from the syringe nozzle (no backing and no thickened and equally balanced cells -just a raw and roughly drawn organic shape).

I stored the syringe for future use in distilled water and turned my attention to firing. I set up my fire brick and kiln shelf on a stool and torch fired each piece for 1-1.5 minutes. The pieces turned out beautifully. For best results, fired PMC should be tumbled for up to two hours before enameling. This helps pack down the porous silver and make the piece nice and dense so that the enamel will sit on top of the silver surfaces and give off a beautiful clean color. I tumbled my pieces and set off for my enameling workshop. The results are below. I was excited to find that PMC syringe made for a wonderful-quick and easy-solution to creating sterling silver frames for small plique-a-jour work.

My observations:
1) I chose to use very thin syringe extrusions to create my framework. This did not cause warping of the frame during firing, did it make enameling with capillary action more difficult.

2) The rounded edge of the syringe framework (instead of a flat edge that is created by sawing it out of metal sheet) made it more difficult to fill each compartment and increased the chances of the enamel pulling back between firing.

Teva: Your plique-a-jour framework of the leaf is so cute. Of course I love leaves and trees! Years ago I came across a square syringe tip. I wonder if using it would eliminate the challenge that the rounded edge of the syringe work posed. I have found that it is challenging to apply square PMC syringe without twisting the flow thus distorting the square.

3) The variance in size between the smallest compartments in the leaf design to the largest made it difficult to distribute and fire all compartments in the design for an even and clear color on the enamel without multiple turns of patching. Thus, I will have to continue to experiment with the design itself to get a better result.

4) As for the cz studded PMC piece, wet packing on it worked beautifully. Some of the colors did not turn out as I had expected, but the stones did not change color through multiple firings.

Teva: In my enameling and PMC adventures I have learned that by applying a first layer of flux for silver helps to eliminate color distortions. Also when using a easy to over-fire color such as pink, red or orange in a piece, I use flux (for silver) in that space until the last firing at which I use the color. This prevents the over-firing of those particular colors.

By doming your 3 card thick cloisonné piece you lessened the need to counter-enamel. You stated that the CZ’s did not change colors with multi-firings so I am just curious how many firings (or layers of enamel) you applied to this piece. I am usually limited to 2-3 very thin layers of enamel on a domed piece of PMC with a 4-5 card thickness without having to counter-enamel. 

I highly recommend to everyone to make test plates of their enamels. I do this by rolling a slab of 3-cards thickness, cutting in a rectangle size of 2” x 1.25”. I fire these at 1650 degrees for 1 hour.  After firing, I tumble for approximately 2 hours. I do counter-enamel my test plates and use flux for silver on the front side as the first layer. For my second firing, I apply a counter-enamel on the back and a dot of each color on the front. I keep a chart of each test plate so that I can reference it for my selection of colors I may want to use on future PMC pieces. Oh yes, be sure to use a sharpie to record test plate number on the actual test plate. 

Excellent article Yvonne. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Great Expectations

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

I got a call this morning from a woman who wants to take my five-week class at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. She saw a piece of bezel-set sea glass jewelry at an art show that she wants to duplicate using sea glass she’s been collecting for years. While I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, I’ve learned that it’s better to be up-front and honest about the realistic expectations for a beginner. In 15 hours (five, three-hour classes), the length of my average museum class, a student isn't going to master something that complex. I often remind students that Michelangelo had to do years and years of apprenticeship before anyone put a chisel or paint brush in his hand.

Below: Mixed metal pendant by PMCC Project Guide Editor Nellann Roberts. Not a beginner project, but a great goal. Photo by Doug Baldwin.

PMC is an instant gratification medium. But teachers owe it to students to set reasonable expectations and achievable goals, especially with the current cost of silver. Students may not be bezel setting stones in an introductory course, but given time, patience, and persistence the possibilities are limitless.

Be honest with your students. Focus on the fundamentals. But most important, set high expectations for the quality of student work. Show them pieces of amazingly beautiful jewelry that a newbie can realistically master. Explain the opportunities available for taking advanced classes. Tell them about the certification program and the specific educational components of each of the levels. Whet their appetites; fire up their creative juices, and let the fun begin!

Creative Blessings,


Saturday, April 21, 2012

In a Pinch? Look Around Your Studio for Answers

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Have you ever wanted to dome something only to find you don’t have the correct size or slope? I had that happen to me this week. So, I looked around my studio to find an object I could use that had the correct size and dome.

I wanted a small round high dome so I could make this bead. I decided to make a mold of the ultra sonic lid’s handle. Here is what you can make on the spur of the moment with stuff sitting around your shop.

I pulled out these items:

Top to an ultra sonic cleaner
2 ea. Gatorade caps
Two part silicone mold compound
Two part epoxy
A scale weight
Popsicle stick
Tooth picks

Here is what I did.

1. Mix the two part silicone mold compound in equal parts until they become one color.

2. Press into the Gatorade cap. This gives the mold a flat surface at its opening..

3. Press the object into mold compound. In my case the lid’s handle. Weight it down so that as the compound sets it doesn’t push the object out.

4. Allow it to set (per manufactures recommendations).

5. I added a paper lip around the top of the cap so I can pour extra resin making a footing for my form.

6. Mix equal parts of two part epoxy, enough to fill the mold. I added colorant to make it easy to spot the form on my cluttered workbench and just to make it fun.

7. Allow the epoxy to set, per the manufactures recommendation.

8. Remove dried epoxy and enjoy your own custom form!

Remember to lubricate the form before laying metal clay over it! Do not place the form on a hot plate to dry the clay.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mise en Place

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Image Source
It's all about the prep work. In the kitchen it's called mise en place, the tradition of organizing all the ingredients that will be used in a dish before the real cooking begins. The chef (or his assistants) will get out the bowls, pans, meats, and spices; chop the vegetables; and go over the recipes one last time to make sure that everything needed for that evening's meals is available at the slightest stretch of a fingertip. Prepping the kitchen in advance ensures that there is no time is wasted looking for a single item. Prepping the studio before opening a package of metal clay is just as important to a jewelry maker as assembling the correct herbs for a bouquet garni is to a cook.

I taught a Level One Certification this weekend. I always recommend that L1 students have at least 40 hours of personal, unguided studio time under their belts so they can trouble shoot for themselves and have a cache of design ideas in their mind's eye to draw on as they complete each prescribed project. Certification classes teach techniques, but they don't offer an opinion of how to execute and decorate a finished piece. In this class, there were a couple of students who were very talented and wanted to challenge themselves, although they had only been taking classes for a few months. So, there were some drying lumps of clay as someone got up to search for a texture or hunt for a cutting tool. And hard to get at sanding areas when another forgot to finish an element before attaching it to the focal. And bails, perhaps, weren't quite the right size to compliment a pendant.

Knowing what to do, in what order, and with what tools - as well as how you're going to finish, patina, and hang the piece post firing - is the best preparation you can do when starting any creative endeavor. This applies whether you're making a complicated design that may take weeks to finish, or just cutting out a simple charm to give as a gift later that afternoon.

My tips for a stress-free day at the metal clay bench are:
• Get out all tools, textures, lubrication, cutters and templates before you sit down at the bench.
• Have a game plan for what you're going to make and the steps you'll need to follow before you open the package of clay.
• Sand and perfect each element before joining them.
• Know how you're going to finish, texture or decorate the back of the piece.
• Think about how you'll hang a brooch, pendant, or earring before you begin work on it. You may need to add reinforcements to accommodate a particular finding.
• Always touch the piece before you put it in the kiln, feeling for sharp corners or potentially uncomfortable protrusions.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


by Ruth Greening
Guest Poster and Senior Instructor

Main Entry: in·spi·ra·tion

Function: noun
1 : the drawing of air into the lungs in breathing
2 a : the act or power of moving the mind or the emotions
2 b: the quality or state of being inspired
2 c: something that is inspired
2 d: someone or something that inspires

I was asked to share the sources of my inspiration, so I started by looking up the meaning of the word. We all know talk about artistic inspiration, but there is another definition of the word relating to breath. Reading this, I realized that in my case, the anatomical act of inspiration is a big part of my artistic inspiration.

Sometimes in my studio I get surrounded by too many ‘things’ that are calling for attention. It can be difficult to focus and the mind wanders to the long lists of what needs to be tended to. I find that this is a great time to go the nature reserve and go for a walk and breathe in fresh air and beautiful designs from nature.

We all have things that move us emotionally - the power and grace of an eagle, the wonder of how a dancer moves, architecture, so many things catch our eyes and move us to create. These things can translate into wonderful design possibilities and the experience of each of them can feel very big and very powerful.

For me, artistic inspiration is usually a very quiet experience. It can be as simple as just holding a 1000-year-old pottery shard in my hand and thinking about the hands that made that amazing work without all the bells and whistles that we have available to us now. How can I use that in my work to honor that ancient artist? Sometimes I will pick up something on walk in the reserve and notice its design and its beauty. In the end, it all boils down to slowing down enough to look around and notice things we normally take for granted. Breathe deep, walk slow, and look with new eyes.

Being an artist in this day it is so easy to surround yourself with ‘cyber inspirations’ but for me nothing will ever replace the physical bond of being connected to the natural world.

I hope my thoughts will inspire and help you!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Get a Plan!

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

From a teacher’s perspective, I sometimes wonder if the user-friendliness of metal clay may also be one of its draw backs. When I demonstrate different techniques to new students, I see them light up in anticipation of the really cool “stuff” they can make. The creative juices are pumping and they can’t wait to get started.
I am constantly reminding them (okay, harping may be more precise), they are jewelry designers, not makers of stuff. They need a plan for the execution of their work. Having a plan means they know what they are making and how they are going to make it.
Imagine a contractor building a house without a set of plans. The house might be sort of funky without some forethought to the infrastructure, plumbing, and electrical considerations. The same thing applies to jewelry. Designing means you have given thought to the creation of a design. You’ve considered all the structural and functional components before you ever opened that yummy, inviting, fresh package of PMC.
Even if you aren’t a budding Picasso you can still make a fundamental sketch. Some of my students have had me nagging them for so many years they are getting really good at designing their work. They draw beautiful, elaborate designs featuring magnificent stones and embellishments. Sometimes, though, they forget some of the basics. How will the stone be set, for instance? Is the piece designed to be a brooch or a pendant? If the piece is going to hang, where is the bail going? Does the bail match the symmetry of the design? Does the piece have movement? If it’s a brooch, will a pin back need to be embedded or soldered in place? Do you know how to solder? Do your skills match the ambition of your creation?
Creative Blessings,

More Tips and Tricks from Janet Alexander

by Janet Alexander

Technical Advisor

Cabochon Stone Setting

I'd like to share a great tip from Senior PMC Instructor Marlynda Taylor. When she makes a ring with a cabochon stone setting, she fires each piece (the ring shank, ring top, and bezel) separately, avoiding many problems with shrinkage.

But the real tip she gave me was to drill a couple of holes through the ring top (the platform where the stone will sit) while the clay is in the dry stage. After everything is fired, attach the ring top to the ring band with oil slip, made from lavender oil added to PMC3 paste. The oil slip oozes into the holes creating a mechanical locking system and holding the ring top securely on the ring band. Just be sure you don't allow too much paste to flow up through the holes because it will keep the stone from sitting flat.

Cleaning Your Files

I like to use small needle files to fine-tune my dry metal clay, but they get clogged with the clay. To clean them, I use a file brush called a 'file card.' The file brush has short, stiff steel bristles that allow it to get into the tiny crevasses of the files.

Be sure to use a back-and-forth stroke in the angle of the file's teeth. And remember to always keep separate files for each metal clay type and sheet metal you use.

Keep the comments coming. We want your ideas and questions!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What If...

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

For the past couple of years I've been enamored of and influenced by the work of jewelry makers who are university trained. I stalk grad students on CraftHaus, go to avante garde exhibitions at galleries like Velvet da Vinci and Taboo (both in California), and pour over images in Metalsmith magazine of work I consider imaginative, unusual, and cutting edge. And I wonder how they come up with the inspiration for all their unusual techniques and designs.

Charity Hall uses her background in biology as inspiration.  Kristin Beeler lazer engraves pearls. Emily Watson uses wood, plastic, faux bone, sterling and metal clay in her wearable sculptures.
I finally figured out that it's the academic atmosphere itself that gives the current crop of art jewelry makers the opportunity to experiment with many different tools and equipment that most self taught makers don't have access to, provides a self contained networking platform with artists specializing in other crafts - allowing an exchange of information and inspiration, and forces the students to ask themselves "what if" and push the boundaries of conventional themes and materials.

Even in the metal clay world I find myself most attracted to the work of artists who bring more than one talent to the table. I think that the more familiarity with other elements of design one has, the more interesting and engaging the artistic outcome is.

Terry Kovalcik utilizes his graphic arts background in every piece he makes. Celie Fago brought years of polymer clay texture and carving talents to her metal clay work. Donna Penoyer accessed a joie di vivre and sense of fun from her stilt walking alter egos when developing her metal clay whistles.
I'm self taught myself. My previous experience as a make-up artist definitely started me out with a good 'hand' for working with clay - I have a very gentle touch and seldom put marks in fresh clay as I manipulate it while I work. But it did nothing for my creativity with other materials, tools or innovative practices. That's where my cyber stalking, class taking, and play date experimentation, comes in handy.

Those of us who work on our own need to push our own boundaries while students have professors and the system to force them to push theirs. How often do you drive past your comfort zone? What experiences have you had, or do you intentionally expose yourself to, that ignite the creative spark of your individual artistic identity? When do you get inspired to ask yourself 'what if'?