Monday, April 29, 2013

Everybody Needs A Good Cheat Sheet

"Quilt "by Hadar Jacobson
You've just had the greatest idea for a mixed metal piece. You can see it in your mind. You can visualize how to construct it. You can already hear the accolades that will come pouring in from your fans!!!

You just can't remember how to fire it.

Hadar just posted a handy Map of Hadar's clays. This simple document is a wonderful quick reference for combining and firing clays. Read her comments about the map and get it here.


by Jennifer Roberts

Friday, April 26, 2013

No More Marring your Metal

All jewelry tools are made smooth without teeth so that they don't mar the finish of your work. But, sometimes it's helpful to have a vise with gripping teeth to hold various objects.

If you buy a bench vise at a discount store, it's not necessarily made for working with non-precious metals while making jewelry. You may need to smooth it in order to hold a piece of soft silver without marring it. So what do you do?

Solve this problem and have the best of both worlds by covering the jaws of your vise grip with copper sleeves.
  1. Anneal the copper to make it malleable.
  2. Cut two pieces of copper with the following dimensions: Width (equal to the width of the jaw) x Length (twice the height of the jaw).
  3. Place one copper piece into the vise closing it tightly.
  4. Using a rawhide mallet, hammer the copper down over the top of the vise.
  5. Repeat the process with the other copper piece. 
Viola! You have a nice smooth surface inside the vise. When you need to use the vise with teeth, remove the copper.

Until next time have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

That’s Just How I Roll

Whenever I load the car to go to a teaching assignment, I back out of the garage with the nagging feeling that I have forgotten something. But what? And how could I possibly have forgotten ANYTHING? My car is usually packed to the ceiling. Literally, a mobile jewelry studio. I can never predict where the creative whims of my students may lead, so I try to have everything they might need on hand.

 If you teach already, you know what I mean. If teaching is something you aspire to, you’ll find out very quickly that you always need the one thing you don’t have. So, your tools and supplies just keep growing and expanding. One of the big challenges of schlepping all this stuff around is in keeping it organized. Through the years I’ve tried lots of different approaches. While I still have room for improvement, my system seems to work most of the time. I have designated plastic containers for each major category: PMC, beading, and metalsmithing. Then I break it down even further with separate containers for each skill, each individually labeled. For example:

  • Supplies – PMC clay, syringe, sheet, and paste. 
  • Basic Tools – Students are required to purchase their own tool kit but I keep extras of all the basics in case someone has forgotten something. 
  • Texture – Including lace, fiber, organics, rubber stamps, molds, etc. 
  • Ring Making - Mandrels, ring sizers, tape, freezer paper, etc.
  • Sheet – Paper punches, scalloped and decorative edging scissors. 
  • Miscellaneous– Sales book, calculator, class handouts, pens, etc.
  • Specialty Tools and Supplies – Hole punch for fired silver, drills, mold making compound, Indian ink, patina, fine silver wire, bezel cups, chains, insertable bails and jump rings, slumping, forming, shaping and carving tools, cores for hollow form beads, polishing clothes, and the like.
  • Gemstones – Assorted sizes, colors, etc., separated by those that may and may not be fired in the kiln.
  • Burnishing Compound for Tumbler - I even take “special” water for the tumbler. 
  • Project samples and instructions. 

  • Assorted Hand Tools – Files, hammers, assorted pliers, millimeter index, small anvil or metal block, bezel pusher, metal saw, etc. 
  • Torch – Solder, solder pick, pickle, copper tongs. o Sterling wire and fine silver bezel wire in assorted sizes. 
  • Epoxy/chemical fixature o Jeweler’s investment. 

  • An Assortment of Findings: Headpins, jump rings in various sizes, clasps and toggles, ear wires and posts, pin backs, etc.
  • Beading Wire, i.e., Beadalon or Acculon in various weights.
  • Beads – Spacer, accent and focal beads in glass, gold, silver, natural gemstone, etc., in numerous sizes. 
This list is by no means an all-inclusive list of everything you will need. You’ll figure it out and refine it as you go. The biggest element of success for any organizational plan, however, is in training your students to please return everything to its proper place.

by Linda Kline
Dir. of Education

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rubber Ducky Trouble Shooting

I recently called my very patient IT guy with a question about a software issue I was having. I told him what I was doing and how I had encountered the problem. Then I told him all of the things I tried to fix the problem, like restarts and refreshes. I followed that up with the things I had checked or noted – things I knew from previous experience he would ask me.

About half way through my last sentence, I stopped abruptly and apologized for wasting his time. I knew what was wrong and how to fix it. He laughed and asked me if I had ever heard of Rubber Ducky Debugging. Needless to say, I had not.

Rubber Ducky Debugging” also known as “Rubber Ducky Trouble Shooting” and “Rubber Ducking” is a simple notion: sometimes explaining an idea aloud will help you reach a solution. I’ve seen lots of technical types keep rubber duckies on their desks and figured it was just some inside joke I wasn’t privy to. But, I think they were probably on to a very good idea that metal clay artisans can apply when dealing with the challenges of design, construction, heat, and metal.

So, next time you can’t figure out why your mixed metal piece cracked, or your silver was sintered, or your patina isn’t working, give it a try:

Step 1
Get some object - I’m partial to rubber duckies - and place it in the area where you will be doing your problem solving. You may want to consider whether others will see you talking to the rubber ducky and whether they are the types who will ask you what you are doing with a smile or just quietly call a mental facility on your behalf.

Step 2
Explain the problem to the rubber ducky. Step-by-step. Speak as if you are talking to a fellow artist or teacher. Speak in complete sentences and organize your thoughts just like you would if you were having a real conversation. Do not rush and don't skip any details.

Step 3
If you haven’t had an epiphany yet, turn the table on Mr. Duck and pretend he is the one with the problem. Ask all of the questions you would ask if your colleague or student called you with the same problem. Again, speak in complete sentences, don’t skip things, slow down and let your brain work.

Why does it work? I think the biggest reason is that it forces you to slow down and to step methodically through the bits of information you have. Staring at a problem, scratching your head, with all of your thoughts and frustrations swirling around in your mind creates a chaotic environment for the problem-solving parts of your brain to work in. When you slow down enough to take one idea at a time and say it aloud, the wheels start turning.

It also makes you aware of asking the important questions and gathering the right information. When something goes wrong, we have a tendency to get stuck on the outcome instead of  the many factors that led to the problem. It’s OK to get angry and blow off a little steam when you have a technical failure of an otherwise beautiful piece. But, if you want to avoid having a repeat experience, you must tackle the problem in a logical mindset. For some biological reason, going through the analysis aloud to a third, if inanimate, party works more often than going through it in your head.

by Jennifer Roberts

Monday, April 15, 2013

Criticism vs. Critique

 by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

There was an interesting discussion a few days ago on a FB jewelry making group that I belong to. The writer spoke about a customer who commented on a specific ring saying she liked it because it was so different from the rest of the jeweler's work, which she thought was 'completely uninteresting'.

We've all dealt with comments by thoughtless potential customers/viewers: comments about the pricing of our work, requests for detailed (and free) how-to's, promises that their eight-year-old could replicate the design, or simple statements such as "I like it" or "I don't like it". And at some point in our own lives, we may even have had some of the same thoughts.

In general, knowing how others perceive your work can be a good thing. Critiques can help you brainstorm a solution to a construction problem, give insight into why a particular piece or line isn't selling well, or help a maker to look at a design in a new light. On the other hand, a harsh or hastily thrown out quip will probably result in a loud guffaw, a complete dismissal of the speaker, or possibly a momentary lapse into self doubt. What we have to remember at such times is that the judgement speaks more to the inner workings of the commenter than it does about the makers work.

To quote Jim Binnion "Giving a good critique is a difficult skill to learn. However by learning how to define and describe what you like and dislike you give yourself a better ability in examining your own work as well."

"In this piece the sides are symmetrical, the bottom stone setting in shape alone reflects the stone setting on the top. 
The marquise sapphire directs and continues the eye along the natural diagonal line from the
 breast through to the natural line of the hip." Lisa Bialac-Jehle
Above are the observations that the jeweler had of her own ring. And these are thoughts from Beth Wicker, another member of the group, "I find critiques that make meaningful comments the most helpful. Telling me you love it or hate it is not helpful. Tell me you think the colors work together well, or you think I needed more texture, or this looks too thin or thick - the more precise the criticism the more helpful it has the potential to be. Even if you don't agree with the comment, you now know what someone else thinks and more  importantly WHY they think that way. It is easy to say we like or dislike something - much more difficult to say WHY we like or dislike it!"

I try to look at every piece I make or admire (and some that I don't like at all) with what I call Mindful Observation. I like to take every detail into consideration, to try and decipher what is creating a specific response in me. Thinking about what I like in another maker's work helps me refine my own. Likewise, hearing commentary on my own pieces, while it may sting in the moment, might ultimately open my mind to another possibility.

How have you felt about criticism in the past, and how might this discussion change your point of view?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Using Plastic Multi-Mold Pellets

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Ever heard of Multi-Mold Pellets? At first glance the pellets look like rock salt. But, they are small plastic pellets that become malleable when heated in hot water (140 - 170˚ F). They can be used to make molds, reverse molds of texture plates, doming forms, and more. 
To warm, place a small amount of pellets into a stainless steel strainer and then place in a pan of hot water. When they become clear they are ready to mold.
Pellets in pan of hot water

Pellets are ready to mold

Forming a shape with my fingers

New handle
File with no handle
Here, I formed a handle for my flat file. Once you form your desired shape, allow the plastic to air-cool before using. The plastic turns opaque and hard once cool. If you want to re-use or re-shape, just heat again until clear and re-shape.

 For more tips on using this great product, go to the mold-making section PMC Connection's website.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pie, Profit, and Pricing

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.}

Since tax season is upon us, it would be a good time to write a little about pricing. If you are selling your PMC creations, you have priced them. If you received money for your work, then you have income to report on your tax return. If you are reporting income on your tax return, then you are likely accumulating legitimate business expenses (deductions) associated with this income.  

I’ve noticed that there is a natural evolution for artists, PMC artists included. When one first begins to sell one’s wares, he or she tends to undervalue time and creations. I appreciate this period in an artisan’s career no matter what the medium, as it often marks the most creative, authentic, primal, and truly artistic phase of one’s life. Perhaps basic needs and the practicality of life kick in, as most of us become savvy on how to make a living or gain some sort of monetary rewards from our art.

Articles written on pricing abound. A Google search “How to price art” yields about 1,790,000,000 results in 0.12 seconds.  How could I offer a bit of new information on this subject?  I’ll put a picture in your head.  Think of your favorite kind of pie, then cut it into three pieces.

  • Piece #1 is Overhead dollars. Overhead includes things like mortgage or rent on studio space, electricity, insurance, network or Internet expense, phone expense, and more. These are fixed costs and costs that do not change if you make one PMC creation or hundreds.   
  • Piece #2 is Production dollars. Production costs vary (variable costs) with each metal clay piece and the number of pieces you make. In this category I put Cost of Goods Sold (metal clay, cabochons, etc.) and Production Labor.  I pay myself $15 per hour, the standard rate in my part of the world (the state of Montana where people sacrifice rate of pay for lifestyle.) Here is where you get to use your PMC Time Log information.
Any other not-so-clear costs you might incur need to go into Piece #1 or #2. Which piece of the pie, #1 or #2, you put them in matters less than the consistency with which you place them. (See below for where I put these.)  Examples of these costs include donations (you can deduct materials only), education, small tools, bank or credit card fees, online-store fees, hang-tags, marketing costs, cost of shows and displays. Note that pieces #1 and #2 may not be equal in size; in fact, let's hope they are not.
  • Piece #3 is Profit dollars. Piece #3 dollars equals Piece #1 plus #2 divided by two. Yes, you get to make a profit.  This is the portion on which you pay taxes.  If you need to adjust your prices for what the market will bear, up or down, this is the piece of pie you adjust.
Piece #1 dollars plus Piece #2 dollars plus Piece #3 dollars equals the wholesale price for your item. Two times wholesale equals the piece's suggested retail price. These should be consistent wherever your pieces are marketed and sold.

The variety of inventory systems for businesses puzzles me. If I ever need to develop a complex record-keeping system, I will learn about them out of need. I’m swift to complain about complicated tax returns. I wish the IRS could make one easy form for every small business, which it has, IRS Form 1125-A Cost of Goods Sold. While this form continues to baffle me, I learn a lot from it. I learn a lot each year from my tax return and my accountant, too. If you want to study up, learn about legitimate business expenses, and/or do your own tax returns, then here is a link to IRS Publication 334 (2012), Tax Guide for Small Business.
What can I give you that lets you know I’m trying to keep this simple? That I’m really trying to help? Here is how I connect the dots between my prices with my taxes. Basically, from the income I make on sales, I have two kinds of deductions— pie Piece #1 Overhead a/k/a all other Business Expenses and pie Piece #2 Production a/k/a Cost of Goods (materials and labor). This is roughly how my deductions are grouped on the pages of my tax return. This is how I have my budget categories set up in my bookkeeping system. At year’s end, I print a report and transfer figures to the return.

There is one more consideration in pricing, which is in itself a way to determine your price. Look around at comparable PMC artwork and note the selling prices. Align your prices with others. My wish here is that everyone realizes the market value for all of us is brought down by PMC artisans who are casual about pricing or who still undervalue their time and materials. My desire is that we continuously survey what is out there in the market. My dream is that we assist each other in the valuation of our medium and our work so that PMC becomes even more appreciated and valued for its unique design capabilities and as the commodity that each precious metal truly is.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sterling Test: How Much is Too Much?

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Well everyone, we have come to the end of my testing of PMC Sterling. After pushing, pulling, kneading, bending, and prodding it for over a year, I think we have found out quite a bit about it! 

For my last test I wanted to re-visit a test I did in August on making flexible clay. If you would like to refresh your memory here is the link to that test.  Flexible Sterling Clay  

Questions I wanted to answer with this test were:
  • When is too much glycerin too much?
  • What does the clay look like when it has too much glycerin ?
  • What happens if there is too much glycerin mixed into the clay?
  • How much is enough?
  • Does the clay become stiff after drying for months?
I will answer the last question first. The flexible clay I made last August has been moved from one state to another, been left unwrapped, and tossed into boxes and unpacked. And now after seven months of neglect, it is still just as flexible. It didn't even get torn up from the move! 

In today's test, I took a 50 gram package of PMC Sterling and cut it in half giving me two pieces weighing approx 25 grams each.

I wrapped one up and put it away for later. The other I rolled out as thin as I could between a report cover and added seven drops (even sizes) of glycerin to the clay. Then I rolled it up into  itself mixing the clay, as shown in the August test. I added eight more drops to the  clay, with a total of 15 drops of glycerine. I mixed into the clay. 

This turned out to be too much glycerin. As I started rolling the clay into the thickness I wanted I noticed that it got harder to roll flat. I couldn't get it three cards thin. It had developed a memory of being in a lump and started recoiling just a little. As I forced it to lay flat it became bumpy trapping air in the clay. Take a close look at this photo. The surface looks like an orange peel. I cut a shape out of this clay to test fire.

Next, I added glycerin to the other lump clay, this time adding only five drops of glycerine. Its texture was smooth and I was able to roll it three cards thick without trapping lots of air. Here is a photo of both clays.

Clay with 15 drops
Clay with 5 drops
After drying I test-bent the clay samples. Both bent the same amount without breaking.

I fired them, per the manufacturer's instructions, to see how the final results differed. The clay with too much glycerin came out bumpy.

At the end of the day, five drops per 25 grams appeared to be the magic number for me.

I hope you have found these tests as valuable a learning experience as I have!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reverse Molds Update

Posted By Lora Hart

Artistic Advisor

When last we met, I was working on a project using Patrik Kusek's Woodland Chic stamp. I made reverse molds of a few different designs using two-part silicone molding compound. I then proceeded to make a number of teensy molded leafy bits and rocks. After they dried, I sanded them with 320 grit gray wet/dry sandpaper, a needle file, and a toothpick. Of course a few of the more delicate ones broke as I held them in my fingertips, but I have a long history of saving and using broken bits and pieces - so I didn't worry about having to rehydrate them.

Some of the broken pieces are on the side of the chamber.
In fact, the smaller broken pine boughs and rock segments added some much needed movement around the reliquary that I might not have thought about adding if not for my clumsy sanding technique. I also experimented with a few different design elements like granulation balls, and a central hanging bail. In the end, however, I decided to go with my signature 'mickey mouse ear' style.

"Into The Woods"
To decorate the reliquary's chamber, I used an art nouveau brass stamping and some mineral shards that I picked up at the last Purdue conference. Then off it went to Patrik for a photography session. I really enjoyed the reverse molding technique, and suggest you give it a try with a few of your favorite texture stamps!

In Other News...

• Submissions for Cindy Silas' book 'Clay Combinations' must be postmarked by midnight tonight! So - if you have a fabulous photo of a piece that contains both metal clay and polymer clay, go here to download the form, and submit, submit, submit.
• Lark has also extended the time to submit to Showcase 1000 Beads until May 10, 2013.
• 500 Metal Clay Objects (which will probably go by another name) won't have an official call for entry until the fall.

So get busy people! Make some beautiful work using our favorite material and show it to the world! And take a look at my article in the current Metal Clay Artist Magazine which gives tips for how to go about the submission process and other grand tasks. ;)