Monday, March 25, 2013

Further Test on Stainless Steel Foil Box

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

In my March 1 blog I found a way to make a stainless steel box from foil I can easily purchase at Grainger.  
In my test, the sterling silver fired perfectly and the box didn't flake. I had someone email me that she had purchased some foil online and that after six firings the foil fell apart. So, I did some more testing on my box.

Its still strong
I fired it at 1500 degrees F for 30 minutes with carbon in it. It never fell apart but it did have some minute flaking after the 8-9th time. It is still strong and the lid still is flexible at the center bend I made for opening. But hey, for the price of $28, I can make a heck of a lot of boxes in different sizes to accommodate what I want to fire without flaking for the first several firings.

But look at the flakes. . .   I didn't even notice them until they started building up on the kiln floor.
Tiny Flaking

I tested a little further and fired the box at 1650degrees F for one hour. No problem. Even though the suggested maximum temperature for this foil
(321) is for 1600 degrees, it worked fine. Now, that's not to say that I recommend firing it at a hotter temperature than what the manufacture suggests. I am sure that over time it will degenerate at that temperature and intermittent heating.

The chart on the left shows that this foil is good for intermittent use up to 1600 F and 1700 F for continuous use. The difference in these two uses is attributable to the cooling down of the metal. As it cools, the metal contracts. As it heats, it expands. This process causes the scaling or wear to occur from the stress of heating and cooling - and this happens more quickly with shorter, more frequent firings.

A lesson I'd like to reiterate here is to always follow the manufacture's suggested use if you want to have an expected outcome. If you deviate from that, then test first.

In the meantime have fun claying around!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reverse Molds and Project Preps

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

My friend and colleague, Patrik Kusek, has asked me to create a sample project using his new Woodland Chic texture stamps. I don't usually use commercial texture and it took a while for me to think of a design that would compliment his graphics while remaining true to my own style.  One of my favorite pendants was a reliquary I made after a trip to Gatlinberg, Tennessee called Woodland Altar, and I thought it would be a wonderful inspiration for this piece.

I tend to like "outie" textures rather than "inny's", so I decided to make reverse molds of the designs I wanted to use. I had some two-part silicone mold material in my tool box, and it made perfect 3-D duplicates of Patrik's imagery. I was worried about the silicone sticking to the rubber stamp, but it released easily.

After making; sanding; and perfecting a number of tiny molded elements, I spent some time arranging and re-arranging them on the reliquary until I created a pattern that I liked. I still have a lot of design work to do, like figuring out an appropriate bail and deciding what to fill the niche with.

I couldn't have done it without a few of my favorite tools. I love my black rubber block. It raises the work up and helps support delicate pieces as I sand edges or carve. I found that the molded bits were a little too 'soft focus' so I used single thickness, 320 grit sandpaper along with a wonderful plastic sanding needle that I discovered at my local model train store to reinforce the details.

I'm really excited to see how this project comes out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Over-enrollment: Nipping Disaster in the Bud

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

I’ve been teaching PMC long enough to remember the “Good Old Days.” Back when silver was $17 per ounce, the economy was healthy and prosperous, and our classes were always full. Then the magic bubble burst, silver prices soared, the economy tanked, and we were beating the bushes to find enough students for our classes to even make.

This week, for the first time in many years, I was filled with a refreshing sense of optimism that things are looking up. Instead of just eking by with the minimum enrollment, I was faced with the opposite extreme. I walked into a classroom filled to over-capacity!  It sounds like a good problem to have, right? Experience, however, tells me it’s not so simple. 

There is a happy medium between too many and too few students to make a class a great experience for everyone…..including the teacher. I’ve learned the hard way that to try and accommodate a group that is too large is a formula for unhappy, disgruntled students and an over-extended, ragged-out teacher. What is the magic number of students per class? That depends on the resources. 

Based on the size of the classroom I could comfortably accommodate twelve students; there were eighteen registered. But there are other factors that are equally as important to consider such as accessibility to the kiln (no one is happy if their work isn’t getting fired), the tumbler, drying station, and other tools. And above all, do you have the financial resources to stock sufficient supplies? This can amount to floating a considerable capital outlay while you are waiting to recoup on your investment. 

In this case, I did something painful but it was what I thought necessary to keep my sanity and teaching integrity in tack. I told the group the truth. There were simply too many students and no one was going to have a positive experience. I encouraged them to register right then and there for the next session, five weeks away. Thankfully, five people voluntarily took that advice and my next class is already full!

We teachers are people pleasers and we’ll do just about anything to make our students happy, like squeezing just one more into an already full classroom. So the next time you’re faced with a decision to admit “just one more”, ask yourself, “Is it worth it to make one person happy at the risk of making the whole group miserable.”

Until next month,
Creative Blessings,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Creating Wholesale Marketing Materials

by Kris A. Kramer

[Editor's note: You may notice some words in bold type throughout this post. See this earlier post by Kris to understand the method to her madness.}

Here’s my appreciation for the day:  Life was a lot easier before Wholesale Marketing. I am going to a wholesale show in April 2013. Besides filling in the gaps in my inventory so I can display a good representation of my products, I need to update, redesign, and reprint my marketing materials.

What marketing materials will I take? As usual I will work backwards. I’ll start with the number of marketing-material units, because the number will determine a budget and thus materials. How many people will take materials? Five thousand buyers will be at this show, but it’s unlikely and impossible that they all visit my booth. My booth will be open-for-business for 18 hours over 2.25 days. If I hand out a complete unit of marketing material every five minutes that would be twelve per hour. Twelve per hour times 18 hours is 216.  I need then about 250 complete units of marketing materials--always take extra.

What actual materials then?  Here is new information and some more of my way of thinking.
  • 250 rules out CD and DVD presentations, such as an e-Portfolio. Too expensive and time consuming to burn all those.
  • I need to share contact info, and a business card is the standard way to do this in large numbers.
  • Not everyone wants an artist statement or an explanation of my art process. But, I need to have it for buyers who like to read these.
  • I need to have a finite offering of my items or product lines. I need to organize them. By material? By function (pendant or earrings)? By color? Hmmm.
  • I need to have one or more packages for buyers who prefer to write orders this way or for first-time customers who want an assortment for starters.
  • Pick boxes* would be useful for new and repeating customers.
  • A little pre-show advertising would be advisable.
I was puzzled at first. I make five products:  pendants, earrings, charms, necklaces, bracelets. And I have four product themes: Gems and Glass, Landscapes, Pebbles, and Animals. I need to present these well (a good reason to photograph every item you make) and in an orderly manner - one that makes sense to someone viewing them as a collection for the first time.

What bugs or irritates me at times? It feels like wholesale may kill my artistic expression. I mean, can’t I have a category called One-of-a-Kind? One-of-a-Kind’s usually live in gallery environments and collections. My complaint with a request for change is this: I want for every artist hawking their wares at any venue to have a section called One-of-a-Kind. Or perhaps Contest-Entries-That-Didn’t-Win. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Back to the marketing materials. Here’s what I did. I purchased 250 folders. I could have put my sticker on the front of store-bought ones and called it good. Instead, I ordered custom folders printed on the front with my logo and a lower a row of photographs. I used a sale coupon so they weren’t that much. On the back, I had text describing my work, my values and mission, my art process, and photos of two pieces. Inside on the front left flap was again my logo and basic company and contact information and on the right inside flap my business card tucked into the slits.

I included the following in each folder.
  • Product line inserts (two double-sided inserts on photograph paper) with an organized presentation of my four product themes with representative photos. One insert had my commodity items (best sellers). The second had one-of-a-kind pieces (ta da!) with different gem or glass cabochon in each--gallery pieces, organized into pendants, earrings, and charms.
  • Price list.
  • Terms, which are my ordering and shipping policies
  • Order form
  • Credit reference form
  • Package descriptions (2) with list of items, the savings, other perks such as a free display board, and photo representation of each package
  • Pick-box description
I will take extra individual copies of each of the above. I also applied to be featured as the artist of the week, paid for a small ad in a publication that will go out just before the show, and submitted some hi-res photos, one of which was already included in the parent company’s email to buyers. All I can say is we’ll see. Have I ever shared with you that there is no such thing as failure? There is only feedback. Whatever happens at this show will be good information for me going forward.

My wish about this show is that I get some orders. I hope and dream for the perfect number of orders, a number that leads to a decent income matched with a reasonable workday in terms of hours. I love what I do. I’m sure you understand my PMC passion. I’ve started training my daughter, who happens to owe me some money, for some office tasks. Just in case . . . .

*  A "pick box" is an item/process in which you send the customer a selection of items and they purchase the ones they want and return the rest. You can charge however you wish, but you have their credit card in case they don’t return some or all.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Box Making Made Simple

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

In last week's sterling silver post, I test-fired PMC Sterling in a box I had made from stainless steel foil. Here is how I made the box.

This box fits inside my kiln that has inside measurements of 8" x 8”. The finished box size is 7” x 5”. With a longer box, I can now make longer items!

  • 309 or 321 Stainless Steel foil 
  • Ball scribe or ball point pen 
  • Scissors 
  • Ruler 
  • Permanent marker 
  • Burnisher 
  • Gloves
The Template

The Steps 
1.  Cut foil 12" x 10”.
2.  Layout lines per attached drawing.

Step 2
3.  Tape foil over a piece of cardboard or file folder.
4.  Score side and tab lines with scribe or ball point pen.
5.  Do not score the diagonal lines yet.
6.  Remove foil from cardboard.
7.  Cut out outside edges with scissors.

Step 7
8.  Flip over with the back side facing up.
9.  Score diagonal lines on each corner, per the template.
Step 9
10.  Fold each side over a ruler to make them fold straight. 
Step 10
11.  As you fold the sides upward allow the corner diagonal lines to fold inward. 
Step 11
12.  Fold the diagonal corners so that they lay against the box’s short end. Then fold ½” tab down over them to hold them in place. 
Step 12
13.  Fold tabs on both long sides down.
14.  Burnish all folds with a burnisher making them firmer.

You can download these instructions and the box lid instructions here.  In the meantime, have fun claying around.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Road Trip Inspiration

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Recently I was lucky enough to visit the Walters Museum in Baltimore. My work is often inspired by ancient history and their collection is right up my creative alley. Although I forgot to take my little point and shoot, I made good use of the camera on my iPhone to record interesting shapes and textures that may make their way into some future work.

I was particularly intrigued with the surface and patina of this ancient torso.

The shape of this fragment also caught my eye.

And I'm pretty sure I see a bracelet trying to escape from this door handle

We all find inspiration in so many different ways. We'd love to hear how you access your muse. Leave a comment, won't you?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Firing PMC Sterling in a Foil Container

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Enamellist Merry-Lee-Rae wanted to know how well the new PMC Sterling fires in the home-made stainless steel foil containers. These containers do not flake, scale or oxidize, in the kiln after being heated. So, I set out to find out some information about the foil, made my own container, and then fired some PMC Sterling.

After researching the American Iron and Steel Institute’s handbook, High-Temperature Characteristics of Stainless Steels, I found out that there are two types of stainless steel foil made especially for heat treating items in kilns. These foils are listed as number 309 and 321. Foil 309 has a higher rating and can be fired up to 2000˚ F (1093°C) without scaling. Foil 321 is good up to 1500˚F (816°C).

I found I can purchase a whole roll 12” x 10 foot of foil on line at Grainger. The 309 is more expensive than the 321.
Another advantage of being able to make your own container is that you can make it longer than many ready-made containers, as much as your kiln allows. This comes in handy when you want to make a spoon or longer items. I will be posting two tutorials on making your own boxes with a tab lid later.

Now onto the test. . . 
I made my box 7 ¼ “x 5” so I can use it in the future for longer items. I fired my piece in the recommended two-stage firings with the first stage in open air on the kiln shelf for 45 minutes at 1000˚F. In the second stage, I placed ½” of coconut carbon under my piece, and over my piece. I fired it for an hour and a half at 1500˚F.

My sterling silver piece came out perfect.

 And the box? It held up fine and no flaking!