Friday, September 13, 2013

Learning to Walk Before Running

[Editor's note: We asked Janet to write about this topic because it is an issue that comes up time and again. Teachers and suppliers of metal clay routinely get emails or calls from people asking for help with complex projects when it is clear that the artist has little or no experience with metal clay. In a tough economy, it can be hard to explain to these artists what they probably don't want to hear - that they need to start with the basics. And, no, you really can't explain all there is to know about metal clay in one email. I recently forwarded one of those emails to Janet for her help and asked her to write about what she would advise the budding metal clay artist.]

Metal clay is a great medium to work in for beginners to advanced artists. For a beginner, it isn't too scary to work with on your own, because if you mess up you can wad it up and start again.  For the advanced artist there is always a new skill to learn.

Its great to explore its properties on your own, but after a while it's best to take a class to learn specific skills and to explore aspects of metal clay you may not have discovered on your own. This way, you have fewer failures and when you do have one, you understand what went wrong. That means you don't have to make costly mistakes twice. The skill sets you learn in classes build on each other, giving you confidence and a much more nuanced understanding of the medium. Only then should you attempt advanced techniques.

Many times, I've had beginners attend a class wanting to create complicated  masterpieces with set stones. When this happens, I have to slow them down so that they are not overwhelmed with all the information and skills that they must learn in order to make those masterpieces. I learned to be firm about this the hard way. In the past, I sometimes tried to indulge those ambitious beginners, only to have them become frustrated or overwhelmed and end up quitting  altogether.

For you beginners out there, keep exploring on your own. Lora Hart's post here contains some great resources for free online instruction. But when you have an advanced project you want to tackle, take a class first. You never know, you may come up with even a better project than your first!

For you intermediate to advanced artists, follow my rule of thumb: try to learn something new everyday!

Until next time have fun claying around.


by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor


Libellula Jewelry said...

I've tried to help a young women who has posted several times in the Etsy forum but she seems determined to jump right into making items with PMC Sterling even though she has no metal clay experience (or metalsmithing experience, either). She is absolutely resistant to taking any classes due to the expense. My explanation that classes will save her money in misused or ruined materials hasn't helped. What do you suggest when people are that stubborn?

Janet Alexander said...

Hi Libellula, as the saying goes, " You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." I would keep sending her flyers or notices about upcoming classes. She may become inspired by a class project and want to take it. Until she makes up her mind, or opens it, there is nothing you can say or do to convince her otherwise. Yes, taking a class may cost money up front, but you learn so many tips, tricks, and skills that override the cost. Plus meet some great people with like desires.