Monday, February 25, 2013

A Seat at the Table

By Jennifer Roberts

We’ll be meeting with representative from Mitsubishi this evening and tomorrow. If you were joining us, what would be on your mind?What would you want Mitsubishi to know or consider for 2013?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bench Tips

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Here are some simple tips to help you in your studio.

I found myself making a small nut for a screw to hold a decorative silver piece on a leather band. In order to hold it while I made the threads, I left one side long. Then when I was finished I cut it down to size. 

I needed to solder the screw post onto the back of my silver piece. But the piece wouldn't stay level on a flat surface. So, I carved out a charcoal block to hold the uneven surface of the piece while keeping the back level.Then I used locking tweezers to hold the post tightly against the back while soldering.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Night and Day

by Linda Kline

I’m having a challenge with my evening class at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. I’ve been teaching weekly classes there for the past ten years. This semester I have a class in the morning and another in the evening.  It’s been years since my evening class has had enough students to meet the class size requirement, so I was delighted when it made. But I’d forgotten how different the dynamics are between day and night classes. 

The morning group is fresh, lively, and nicely buzzed on caffeine. There is lots of noise, chatter, and excitement in the studio. They are a diverse group ranging from beginners to advanced artists, all very supportive of each other.

The evening group is as opposite as “night from day.” Probably a bit tired-out from a long day, these folks are quieter and more subdued. They are new to metal clay artistry with expectations that far exceed their skill level. Still, as a teacher, you have to admire students who set the bar high. 

The group is an interesting mix that includes a father, mother, daughter trio with no jewelry-making experience. Dad is an avid collector of bling and came to class with a collection of amazingly beautiful, but unidentified gemstones. When I saw the stones, I launched into my discourse about what can and cannot be successfully fired. Intuition told me I was being ignored by at least one member of the class.

One evening, I asked to see the students’ homework assignments, which were to be drawing of the first pieces they would create. The previous week, I had lectured about composition, design, and balance. I had ended with specific criteria for the construction of the first piece, which was to have ONE gemstone. 

Dad did an excellent job designing a simple, straight-forward piece which was very executable for a beginner. As for mom and daughter, their love of bling took hold of their sensibilities. They showed me drawings with so many gemstones, Elizabeth Taylor would blush. My stomach sank. They were in for disappointment and I knew it. All of my warnings about keeping it simple were ignored, as were my concerns about using untested gemstones. Despite my renewed efforts to convince them to go the simple route, they were going for it!

One hour later, mom was defiantly struggling to hold a magnifying glass in one hand and set eight heart-shaped gemstones with the other. Daughter had downsized her design from eleven stones to five to none.  Frustration finally got the better of her. She scraped the design and folded up shop for the night.

It’s always a delicate balance. I tell my students to “crawl, walk, and then run.” I explain that it’s a process: learn the fundamentals and then enter the marathon. But sometimes students simply need to understand things for themselves. I can push, prod, encourage, explain, warn, explain again, warn again, and strongly advise against a design in the strongest of terms. But at the end of the day, these are adults and (barring safety concerns) sometimes there is no alternative but to allow a student charge down the unwise path and learn a lesson from firsthand experience. 

Four weeks later. . .

We are now in the fourth week of class and we’ve come a long way. Everyone is having a great time and their skills and confidence have grown to the point where they can master those challenging pieces. After the frustrating experiences of the first projects, they have also developed an appreciation for taking things one step at a time.

Same of the mysterious gemstones did melt in the kiln, but with a not-too-unfortunate result. Mom set several of the stones in a syringed design. When they melted, they created a plique a jour enameled effect. It was actually a very interesting design and I’ve encouraged her to add more stones to the piece for a deliberate effect.

Creative blessings,

Monday, February 11, 2013

PMC Time -- The Six P's

by Kris A. Kramer

Some people are big-picture people and some are detail oriented. Which are you?

I tend toward being a detail person and must continuously challenge myself to take a step back and gain perspective from the large picture. Being able to shift focus back and forth, from zooming out for the big picture and zooming in on details is incredibly useful. Leaders and idea-people live in big pictures; achievers and doers live in the details. The most resourceful individuals are adept at both.

Keeping track of PMC-related hours is a good venue in which to practice shifting your viewpoint. Recording hours is a detailed task and one best maintained by a habitual practice. Understanding the resulting information, the big picture, is useful and makes the task worth the work.

When I began a studio log, I kept track of total hours. As I built my art business, its usefulness became apparent. I began categorizing my time into creative time and other times, such as tracking inventory, maintaining the web site, ordering supplies, teaching, and more. Along came the realization that the log gave me essential data needed for some business-related endeavors. In addition, my log prompted contemplation:  I stepped into the big picture and felt better about making choices regarding how to spend my time. I had achieved deliberate living!

Simply put, here are Six P’s - reasons for keeping track of your PMC-related hours and minutes. I’ve labeled them Detail Oriented or Big Picture Oriented, but these labels are disputable.
  • Pricing (Detail Oriented)
When I write about pricing and how to price an item, you will want to know how much time it took you to make it. So, yes, keep track of time for individual items.
  • Progress (Big-Picture Oriented)
There will be some point at which you look at the accumulation of your hours and will feel rewarded by how you have progressed in your work. You’ll see evidence of your improved efficiency in your art process. Efficiency translates to skill, and positive reward is a great motivator.
  • Planning (Detail Oriented)
If you know how much of your time is spent on art-related activities, then you can more easily balance these with other day-to-day life activities in your mind and on your calendar. Also, one day you may have a work calendar on which you will schedule retail and wholesale orders. You’ll know your own turn-around-time.
  • Production (Detail Oriented)
Production, which is the act of making products in a product line from raw materials, is usually an undesirable concept to PMC artists. PMCer’s love one-of-a-kind, totally creative pieces; furthermore, to create something more than once seems to negate artistic freedom for some. If you want to gain monetary rewards for your work, then you may want to come to terms with production. If you enter the world of production, you might need to farm out some of your work. For example, I dream of hiring someone to do my bookkeeping, mail out orders, and maintain my inventory. Knowing how much time I spend on these activities will help me take this step.
  • Practicality Check (Big-Picture Oriented)
A hard-business concept is called the break-even analysis. This is simply the number of pieces you would have to sell of a certain item or collection of items in order to break even on cost of materials (metal clay, gems, findings, etc.) and labor (time it took you to make the piece).

For example, in order to recoup your time-and-material dollars for one item, you may conclude that you need to make and sell 76 in a year. And because you’ve kept your studio log, you know that you are able to make 50 items in a year. Oops -- not practical.  It’s back to the pricing or feasibility drawing board.

  • Pride (Big-Picture Oriented)
When once asked how often I get into my studio I said, “I average about 120 hours a month,” and was surprised by feeling a sense of pride. Pride is the validation of personal achievement, yours or another’s. (Contrast pride with vanity, which is the broadcasting of your achievements to others.)

Back to details . . . .  Find a log or a system that works for you and stick with it long enough to make it a habit. Here is an Excel file, if you are so inclined --  Studio Log One Year.  I leave you with some basic instructions.
  • Enter the time either in hour : minutes with an “am” or “pm” after or military time, such as 22:00 for 10:00 pm.  
  • There are numerous fields on one line to enter lots of times for one day because this is the nature of our work. I do not count kiln time or tumble hours while I do household chores or go play.
  • There are color-coded, time-category tabs at the bottom of the page.  If you cannot see them, click the tiny + in the upper corner. Then, there are left and right arrows to the left of the tabs.
  • Formulas abound in this Excel file, so be careful when deleting.
  • If you get stuck, ask your questions in Comments.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Part 2 - Design Principles

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Last month, I introduced the idea of principles of design and design elements. I can’t stress how important these concepts are to your creative work. We have all heard that when we meet someone for the first time, we form an opinion of them within a few seconds. The same goes with looking at a piece of art or jewelry. Our subconscious mind forms opinions very quickly and if you use design principles effectively, the first impression of your jewelry will be a positive one.

Observing the work of others and thinking about the use of design can be a powerful first step in your design education. In my last post, I ended with the picture above and asked you to think about the design elements present and how they were used.

Let’s look at line, shape, scale and color.

First off, what is the first thing your eyes see?  The large head. What is the next thing? The purple sleeve. Then your eye travels down to the hand, up to the ruler (to the top of the photo) and then back to the head. Subconsciously your eye quickly traveled around the whole picture settling back on the face.
This photo relies on:
  • Shape (the head arm, and ruler)
  • Scale (the head)
  • Line (the arm, pointing hand, and ruler) 
  • Color (complimentary colors from the color wheel, purple and yellow.)
I bet you didn’t know how much this photo was planned, did you! Notice how the eyes both point inward to the center of her face. The lines in the background also point down to her too. The more you look, the more you see how much care was taken create a compelling design.

Studying and mastering the use of design principles is a life-long process for artists of all media. I hope that this brief taste of design theory will inspire you to explore further and to think differently about your own work.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I'm At *Your* Service!

[Editor's note:  Due to an oversight, we originally published this post from Lora Hart at a really, really bad time. The night before Thanksgiving! Creative juices were flowing, but they had little to do with metal clay. 

We really do want to know what questions you would ask Lora if you had some one-on-one time with her. This is your chance. Leave a comment, send us an email, or drop Lora a line. Lora will take her marching orders for her 2013 posts from you!]

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

As the year is drawing to an end (can you believe it?), I've been reflecting on all the wonderful aspects of my metal clay career. From creating to teaching to mentoring to writing, I've been so lucky to have so many wonderful opportunities, to work with and meet so many talented artists, and to enjoy my work life like no 'job' I've ever had.

Since 2010, when this blog was born, I've tried to inspire our readers with posts on how and why to create an elevator speech, shared a bit about my own inspirations and process, offered suggestions on how to banish creative block (among other posts), and created the CornerStone Challenges. Now I would love some feedback and suggestions from you! What kind of posts would you like to read from your Artistic Advisor? Linda writes about teaching, Janet is the expert on all things technical, and now Kris Kramer will be sharing her expertise on the business side of art. In the past my posts have touched on all of these topics because I think they all are integral parts to being a well rounded artist, and they're all things I've struggled with, utilized in my own artistic practice, or wanted to learn more about.

Going forward, I want to make sure that you have the information and inspiration to be the best that you can creatively be, so please let me know how I can best serve you. Don't hold back. Ask for the moon, and I'll try to lasso it for you.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Forging Sterling Silver Metal Clay Test

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

This month’s test, requested by PMC Connection Artistic Advisor Lora Hart, explores how well fired PMC Sterling handles forging. Lora wanted to know if she could  forge the bowl area of a spoon she planned to make from a flat piece of fired metal clay.

Design Template
Spoon Plank
I made two spoon planks rolling them out eight cards thick, and lightly texturing the handle areas. I fired them per Mitsubishi's instructions in the kiln.

I hammered the first spoon using a steel dapping block, which was too deep to support the metal correctly. I promptly put a hole in it.

With the second spoon, I wanted to use a wood block but didn’t have one the correct size. So, I made one out of a stump of firewood I found laying outside the house.

Carved wood
First I traced the bowl area’s outline onto the end of the stump. Then I used a 10mm ball bur and my rotary tool to carve out a shallow area.

I hammered the bowl area with a rounded raising hammer on the carved stump.

After I got it somewhat domed, I annealed the metal.

Time to anneal

Using a dapping tool
I carved the hole in the stump deeper, and since my hammer was too big to fit where I needed it, I used a dapping tool and a rawhide mallet to forge the spoon’s end into the stump.
It worked fine so long as I stopped regularly to anneal the metal before pushing it too far.

Front side of hammered spoon
Back of hammered spoon
Success! Fired PMC Sterling can be forged and the spoon is ready for refining and finishing.