Thursday, May 31, 2012

Testing Enameling on PMC Sterling Silver

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

enameling, metal clay, sterling silver, enameling problemsThis month I wanted to revisit my previous test of enameling on sterling silver. Last fall, while testing for Mitsubishi I had a bad outcome with enameling on the new PMC Sterling silver clay. The test piece ended up with lots of large bubbles.

These bubbles showed up during  the last firing. I had already fired two layers onto the metal with successful outcomes.

All pieces in today's test are made from the same  PMC Sterling silver clay package; have the same size, thickness, and texture; and were fired together using the firing schedule recommended by Mitsubishi. Each piece had three layers of transparent Thompson Enamel applied to  recessed areas. I used these colors: 2335, 2350, 2330, and 2190. All enamels were washed and wet packed into the recesses. No clear flux was applied. Each firing was performed at 1450˚ F - 1500˚F for one minute.

After firing the third layer, each piece was stoned under running water, brushed with a fiber brush under running water, rinsed in distilled water, and then fired again allowing the enamel to become shiny. I did not sand or remove tarnish as it developed on any pieces between firings. I did not pickle between firings. As in my test last fall and now, I made sure the enamel and metal was completely dry before firing.

My enameling tests are as follows: 

Test 1 – Can air from the porosity of the metal cause bubbles in the enamel? Does burnishing the metal keep this from happening? Does the fired PMC Sterling silver require burnishing before firing enamel on top of it?

1A – the sterling silver piece is depleted* and then tumbled and burnished.
1B – the sterling silver piece is depleted and not tumbled nor burnished.

1A – It has very fine bubbles.
1B – It has very fine bubbles.

Theory- My best guess as to why I had large bubbles is that I may have piled too much enamel on my piece, thus trapping air in the enamel when it fired. This time I applied thin layers. I still have tiny bubbles, which may be inescapable when enameling on metal clay. (My enameled pieces on sheet don't have these.) All in all, the enameling came out looking nice the tiny bubbles are only visible by using magnification.
enameling test 1A on sterling silver metal clay
enameling test 1B on sterling silver metal clay

 Test 2- Is it necessary to deplete fired sterling silver metal clay? According to enamellists, sterling silver sheet must be depleted and cleaned to keep the metal from tarnishing while firing the enamel to the metal. Otherwise, the enamel may not adhere well. (The lazy side of me wanted to know if I could skip this step.)

Another reason why I am asking this question is because typically when applying keum-boo to sterling silver, it must be depleted first. Celie Fargo has had much success with keum-boo without depleting the sterling silver metal clay.

2A – deplete the sterling silver, tumble and burnish metal before applying enamel.
2B – tumble and burnish the sterling silver metal before applying enamel but do not deplete.

2A – The enamel attached and it has very fine bubbles just as in test 1.
2B – The enamel attached and it has very fine bubbles just as in test 1.

Enameling test 2A on sterling silver metal clay
Enameling test 2B on sterling silver metal clay

Summing It Up
For enameling on metal clay, sterling and fine silver are both very nice. If I wanted to do something like this in sheet I would have to etch the design into the metal which would take much more time to make.

In the meantime, have fun claying around. I hope to see you all at the PMC Conference!

Janet Alexander

*Depletion - Removing the copper alloy in the outside layer of the sterling silver. This keeps the metal from tarnishing when heated.  See my previous post where I explain how to deplete sterling silver.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A New Kind of Challenge

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Announcing the return of the CornerStone challenge! This time we're going to try something a little different. This time the only judge and jury is you!

Taking part in creative challenges and contests like ours can be an important tool to use when trying to step out of your creative comfort zone. Having clear guidelines to follow and an outside entity to be accountable to makes it easier to incorporate specific details into your work, but ultimately may not cause a permanent shift in your design process because those guidelines may not have reflected your personal passions.

So this month's challenge is a study in self exploration. Below you'll find a few suggestions of methods you may like to use on this journey. Of course, as an artist, you probably have some other ideas and we encourage you to travel any path you like as you delve further into your personal aesthetic to reveal more of what makes your work unique.

We'd love to see the results and hear about your inspiration, so of course we'll welcome postings to our Flickr group page. Or leave a comment on this post detailing the steps you took and your reaction to your new work. Just enter "new challenge" into the search box at the top left of the blog and it will lead you back here. Don't have time in the near future to devote to the challenge? Bank it for a rainy day when you need a push in a new creative direction.

Possible Projects
• Go here and choose a designer who's clothes best match your design style and make a piece of jewelry to compliment your favorite outfit.
• Describe your perfect customer (write it down!) and design something for her to wear for a specific occasion, like at work, running errands, or a special evening out.
• Switch things up. If you usually work large, make something delicate; if you always use Liver of Sulfur to add color, try Prismacolor pencils, paint, or enamels. Make a piece of jewelry that you haven't tried before, like a brooch or hair ornament.
• Work with a material that you haven't used before. Go up and down the aisles in your favorite craft, art, or hardware store, to find something you'd like to play with.

Deadline: The challenge ends on June 30 and we'll post some of your responses here on July 2!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A New Way of Attracting A Buyer to Your Website

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I have now caught up with technology at least for the next month. My husband gave me a smart phone for Mother’s Day. At first I was a little lost with what to do with it. My other phone was seven years old and didn’t even send text messages. I’ve learned  a lot about the new technology in the week I’ve owned it, like what  an app is used for, and what these cute little black and white squares are that I see everywhere!

This tiny symbol is called a QR code.  It stands for Quick Response. With the help of an app I’ve downloaded onto my phone, I can now scan a QR code and my phone reads the information stored on the code! This information can be about nutrition values on the side of a box of cereal or just about anything - including linking to your Etsy point of sale website, PayPal buy button, a map of your location, your YouTube video with your portfolio, and more.

With a little research, I found out that I can have my very own QR code! And it’s FREE! Your code can also be in color! You are not limited to the simple black and white version. I got my code from this website QR code generator

Now what does this have to do with metal clay you say…  Well, not a lot, though I could turn my own code into a ring or a pendant in metal clay by making a stamp out of the drawing. Hmm, that would be cool. 
But, here is what I have done. I needed new business cards and post cards for the up and coming Bead & Button show. So, I printed my code onto the cards. Now when someone scans my business card or post card it takes them straight to my website. How cool is that!

As of right now, the technology for code readers isn’t that advanced. But in the near future, the code will be able to automatically place your contact information into the end user’s contact list.

The code even works on a computer screen.  So for those of you who have the ability to scan check out where this code takes you.

Until next time, have fun claying around.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teaching From Home: Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

All teachers hope that our students will decide whether to come to our next class because of our artistry, our ability to convey concepts, and the resulting value to the students. But sometimes we force students to make decisions about us based upon other factors, like a messy studio, a late-starting class, or distractions in the classroom. It's even easier to fall prey to these sorts of problems when you work from home. 

Here are two big issues to keep in mind. Be your own toughest critic and your students may thank you.

When was the last time you walked into a friend’s home and knew exactly what was for dinner last nite? Or that the garbage needed to go out; or the kitty litter box could use some attention; or the dog is long overdue for a bath. Lingering odors of raw and cooked food mixed with pet smells and a neglected disposal can combine to make a home smell pretty funky.

Some of us have really sensitive honkers…..that would be me. My olfactories are a curse! I can smell someone smoking 50 feet away, outside, in a strong wind. Perfume, cleaning supplies, and harsh chemicals can set my allergies into a full-fledged-gasping-for-air-fit. It seems that more and more, many of us are becoming overly sensitive to adverse environmental conditions.  

If you plan to teach at home, take heart. Maybe you need to bring in a trusted friend to give your home studio the “sniff” test. Our own senses grow accustomed to our environment so a neutral nose may detect something you don’t.  

Noise pollution is another sensitive issue when teaching at home. If you play music during class, watch the volume and try to keep the selection neutral and soothing. I’ve had mixed-age audiences for classes where music became a big issue. Young people wanted something rockin’ and fast paced; older students want classical or calming. It’s best to have a conversation with the group and come to an agreement.
Are children running in and out disturbing you and the group? Believe it or not, not everyone will find your kids or grandkids as adorable as you do. Is the TV blaring in the other room; doors slamming, dogs barking? You may hear these sounds so often that it seems like a normal part of your environment. You hear "home," but your students might hear "cacophony."

Remember that your students are coming to you for a quality learning experience.  They’ve invested time and money in this experience and they expect it to be all about them. And it should be! Teachers who teach from home generally do so because it’s less expensive and convenient.  But it shouldn’t negate the professional image you project and the quality of the overall learning experience.  

Creative Blessings!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Recently I was honored to be on the jury for the Metal Clay Artist Magazine (MCAM) annual metal clay design competition along with Celie Fago and Joy Funnell. The entries were many and the choosing was tough. There were about eight entries I would have liked to award the prize to. Of course when the jury is comprised of two or more individuals, a compromise has to be made. But I'd like to congratulate each and every artist who took the time to enter this wonderful competition. I'm serious when I say that sending off a CD of your images is a huge step to take, and every single person who puts themselves and their art on the line in this way should be proud of their accomplishment.


Submitting is never easy, even for the pros. Intentionally allowing your work to be scrutinized by total strangers is a potentially agonizing experience. We put so much of ourselves into each and every piece of jewelry we make. We think it's perfect, and it's sometimes hard to understand why another viewer might have a different opinion. Unfortunately the people doing the judging are not able to hold the entries, examine their construction, and feel the care taken with finishing. As miraculous as large format dpi photographs are, and as clear as online resolution has become, neither tells the story of an object as well as being able to hold it in your hands.

Which is why it's so very important to do absolutely everything you can to let your submission materials tell the tale. Of course the photograph is arguably most important thing to get right. But making sure you follow the guidelines set out by the entity sponsoring the contest is paramount. Each competition will have different rules. Each will have certain criteria that they're looking for. Ignoring any aspect of the guidelines is enough to add your submission to the cutting room floor.

In the case of the MCAM competition, besides fabulous photographs, we asked that each entry be creative, show a high level of originality, effectively incorporate another material into the metal clay design and not have won or placed in another competition. In addition, we wanted to know the inspiration behind the piece, the construction details, and what materials were used. Photographs were to be labeled with specific information, in a specific format. If any of these criteria were left off, we had no choice but to disqualify the entry.

Considering all the variables and the stress of completing a submission, it might be a good idea to have a friend or loved one look over your package before you drop it in the mail. Or you might want to make a check list of all the requirements and tick each off as you complete it. I always make a word document of requested information and put it on the CD with my images in case the paper entry form gets lost along the way.

Overall, making submissions is a skill. And as with all skills, you perfect them the more you put them into practice. So my advice to all artists is to search out calls for entry, send out the most comprehensive and exciting package you can, and prepare yourself for the day when you get a congratulatory response!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fur and More Fur Everywhere!

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

I have a black lab that is determined to have her hair in every one of my metal clay pieces. I know she is doing this on purpose. She comes into my studio and waits until she is right next to my bench and then gives a good shake. The hair flies into the air and stays suspended waiting for me to get my wet clay out!

Ah, but I have gotten a little smarter these days and have greatly reduced the hair problem by using a plastic report cover. They are sold at the office supply stores.

I remove the brightly colored plastic binder (saving it for something else) and then apply a light coating of olive oil to both inside pages. Now it’s ready for use. The report cover lasts until I dent it up with my pin cutter.

I like using this for several reasons.

 1.  I place my cards and texture inside the cover’s pages and roll out the moist clay. The cover keeps the hair out. Now I don’t need to worry about my roller being dirty either.

2.  While teaching, I can stop what I’m doing, close the cover, and then come back to my still moist clay.

3.  If needed, I can re-hydrate the clay (because I talked too long) by simply painting some water on the surface of the clay, closing the cover, and allowing it to sit for a minute.

 4.  If mixing some newly opened clay with some used clay, I can easily roll the two very flat mixing them together between the cover.

5. I also re-mix ground clay inside the report cover without any waste.

6. After I cut out a shape, I can bend the page the clay is attached to, flipping it off the cover without hurting the shape.

7. I like to save all of my scraps, shavings, and clay powder. I grind it back into dust using a coffee grinder. But you know that dog hair sometimes still gets into the clay. Sieving the powdered clay through a screen helps rid some of the stray hair. I can’t guarantee it’s foolproof, but it does keep the peace between me and my dog. It works for you cat owners too.

Oh, the report binder, I use it to cover the sharp end of my blade.

Until next time, happy claying around!