Monday, September 30, 2013


I encourage new students to spend a lot of time filing and perfecting their work before they send it to the kiln. Even after they tell me it’s, “Good to go,” I send it back for closer scrutiny and a second go around. I point out things that they never considered an issue and remind them there are no Kiln Fairies to come in and magically smooth out rough, un-sanded areas.

When I go back and look at the first pieces of PMC I made way back in 1998-99, I have a really good laugh! I thought they were so good back then.  Now I realize how rookie they were and how much more time I needed to devote to detail. But they were my benchmarks. 

I’ve kept those pieces, and while I’m not artistically proud of them, I am proud of my progression in learning to deal with a new medium. After all, I’d worked with metal, not clay, so it was a whole different set of rules…and tools. I hold those first pieces up against my current work and have a humble laugh at my own expense. 

So, point out the areas in your students’ work that need refinement and teach them the best method of achieving it. 

1. There are sandpapers and sanding pads that go to fine, super fine, and micro fine. Give a lecture and demo the various qualities of each grade and why and when they are useful in our work.
2. Files: one size does not fit all. Again, show students the various grades and uses of files, especially the micro-mini files which are beneficial in getting inside bails, etc.
3. Explain that most sanding and filing should be done before the project is ever assembled.
4. Point out the benefits of a Baby Wipe or a moistened finger in wiping down and filling in an area that has a scratch or is uneven. Every teacher has his or her favorite method for getting at those bothersome areas.
5. Teach them to work slow……to file, fill, dry….then do it again.
6. Use eye cheaters or another form of vision aid so you can see the fine details.

Remind your students to hang on to the work they do as they progress from beginner to more advanced. Someday, a student may look back on those early pieces and think they look like something she made at fifth grade art camp. When this happens, remind her that these pieces are benchmarks. Each new piece represents growth in artistry and skill and it’s good to occasionally remind ourselves how far we have come.

Creative blessings,

by Linda Kline
Director of Education


Monday, September 23, 2013

Using Whacha Got

Do you have a Pinterest board? How many happy hours have you spent trolling the internet searching for inspiring imagery? Far from being a mindless time sucker, I believe Pinterest to be one of the most valuable social media tools ever invented for artists. Of course, we all create boards for some of our more mundane interests. I've made boards for things like recipes, home furnishings, moving tips, and memories of my home town - Venice Beach in Los Angeles. I've also pinned all sorts of beautiful jewelry, fine art, ceramics, glass, tutorials, and anything else I thought would be creatively enlightening. I've even started a board called "I See Jewelry" that features objects that could easily be re-imagined as adornment.

So much inspiration from this uncredited Tumblr image.
I see two brooches, a pair of earrings, and a hair ornament.
What do you see?
The question is not do we make pin boards, the point of the boards is in how we use them. Tagging photos that attract us and then forgetting to actually USE them as inspiration for new designs is entertaining - but dismisses the objective we had in the first place. Pinterest board photos need to be visited, re-visited, contemplated, distilled, dismantled, and re-formed into something beautiful and unique to be worth the time it took to collect them in the first place.

And even more than that, Pinterest can be viewed as a world wide cabinet of curiosities put together by the thousands (maybe even millions) of other pinners that inhabit the world of Pinterest. By clicking on the bulletin board thumbtacks/grey speech balloon icon to the right of your name, you can see how other pinners are attracted to the images you post. Then by clicking on those pinners, you can see what interests they have that you might not have considered before. I've been introduced to stunningly intricate and beautiful scientific micro organisms, and how some of those scientific images have been translated into art pieces by other makers, seen how people have taken iconic objects and totally transformed them; and just been totally blown away at the creativity and intellectual imagination of my compatriots.

Vina Rust's micro organisms as jewelry

The next time you 'waste' time surfing the world of Pinterest, switch gears and be more mindful of the images you're viewing. Observe the details, zero in on the elemental structures and forms that make up the whole of what you see. Try to re imagine and re conceive seemingly trivial aspects to turn them into inspiration for future projects.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What to Do, What to Do

A question was recently proposed to me, "What can I do with unwanted fired metal clay items?"
So, you have fired (sintered) a metal clay piece and you have decided you don't like it, don't want it, it’s ugly, it’s broken and unfixable, and so forth. What do you do with it?

There are many options to choose from. I will these discuss one today and the others in my next post.

Send the Metal to a Refiner

This option is for fine sliver, sterling silver, and gold scraps. Most base metals including bronze and copper, have little value for a refining company, so you will need to use one of the other options for reclaiming this metal. 
Review these questions before choosing a refining company.

  • What type of material do they accept?
  • What is their required minimum weight for the metal you are refining?   
  • Do they offer free secured shipping?
  • Is there a local office you can visit?
  • How much do they charge, or take off the top from your return?
  • What are their settlement options?
  • Are they well known in the refining industry?
Many refiners accept more than solid scrap including  bench dust (called sweeps*), floor sweeps, carpet, buffing wheels, tools like grinding stones or sandpaper with precious metal embedded in them. There are several places that have no minimum weight restrictions,but you'll have to search for them.

Most large refining companies offer free shipping. They will send you a shipping label and some will also send a container for you to ship in. The shipping is usually through a well-known shipping company that uses tracking numbers. This way, you can keep track of your shipment. Most companies will email or call to let you know they received your shipment. It’s really nice when a refiner has a receiving office in your town or city. This way you can physically drop off your material and watch them weigh it.

It’s a given, you want the most return for your metal. Shop around and find the best price.  In most cases you must call for a quote.

Settlement options are the options you can choose for reimbursement for your metal.  Here are a few and a description of what they are.
  • Check – they issue a check in your name.
  • Wire Transfer – they send money to your bank account. This is a fast option if you don’t want to wait for a check. Make sure your bank doesn’t charge a fee for this!
  • Gold Returned to You – this is usually only for refining gold. Gold sent in is returned as pure gold for you to alloy and use as casting grain.
  • Products – a true refinery company issues metal products like silver wire, sheet, solder, and etc in exchange for your refined material. Other places offer merchandise which has a high percent of markup on the product allowing them to make more money from your material. This is great if you were planning on purchasing that merchandise from them in the first place.
  • Pool – this is for the larger metal traders. This option allows you to choose the settlement date (within 24 hours) after your material is processed. There are no additional charges for this option, and you have an unlimited time period available. This allows you to refine your material and continue to have the flexibility of monitoring the gold market and then cashing in when the market is high.
Always choose a certified, well established place to send your scrap metal. Otherwise you may not get what you expect.

*Sweeps are defined as dry, free-flowing, inorganic powders consisting of fine particles, constituent elements and bearing economically significant precious metal elements. 

Until next time have fun claying around.


by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Monday, September 16, 2013

Media Mindset

[Editor's note: As usual, Kris explains words in bold type in an earlier post.]

I am close to my brother and appreciate him to infinity and back. I share things with him that I could not share with anyone else. We are able to observe and laugh at our family's traits and characteristics. Both of us are in our 60s, and we've shared with each other our secret fears of aging.

But I can’t dwell on my fears for more than a second because of all the new information with which I have to deal. This is not information I've sought out. Rather, it has happened to me. I will recap it here, so I can try to grasp the big picture.

Here is list what I wish I could accomplish every day or two. Can anyone do all these and maintain his or her PMC artisan activity? If so, I’d like to know your secret(s).

  • Maintain my online retail shop by posting new items (after I make and photograph each), feature items, build/offer coupons, participate in site activities, follow other shops, and read site updates.
  • Maintain my online wholesale shop by posting new items (again after photographing), check on numbers of views, change New Work status and tags, read weekly emails that highlight artists and retailers, and send follow up emails to existing customers.
  • Maintain my own website which includes a gallery (photographs again) and blog, not to mention teaching schedule and my shop.
  • Maintain my facebook page with at least three posts per week, posts with lots of photos, including some personal stuff, thinking of good questions and topics in which to entertain and engage folks, posting the bi-weekly Featured Item, and Replying to Comments. Oh yes, and read others’ posts and Like, Comment, or Share.
  • Maintain my Google profile with activities similar to my fb page, make a video or two a month and post to YouTube, take a serious look at my website’s Google Analytics data, weekly. I have reports emailed to me every Monday.
  • Maintain my Yahoo presences, including most importantly my Flickr photo sharing and the Yahoo Groups such as Metal Clay and Metal Clay Gallery.
  • Reply to emails from LinkedIn, connections and endorsements, and drool over the Jewelry Design job postings.
  • Read PMC Connections Cornerstone blog and any other blogs I subscribe to, such as those of my favorite PMC artisans and, oh yes, the Social Media blog I RSS’d.
  • Point and link all social media sites to my own website, which means I need to put the content on my own site first.
  • Perform my weekly SEO Tools activities suggested by my domain host:  submitting my sitemap, checking blacklist status, refining tags and links, viewing listings, and reading SEO Tips because they constantly change.
  • Stay active on Pinterest with pinning, re-pinning, adding to albums, following, and liking
  • Continuously add to my quarterly newsletter on Mail Chimp
  • Keep on top of my Credit Card processing activities and statements such as Square (Intuit or PayPay), including reconciling my monthly statements.
  • Maintain all my unique passwords, NOT on my computer.
  • In the end, hire a social media guru to do all this for me.
Some day I might take on Twitter. I’m bewildered that I can hardly remember what we did before to market artwork. Furthermore, I am not sure that this would be useful to know. What bugs me is I constantly feel like a dinosaur, yet some folks tell me I’m not. My complaint is this requires too much time and understanding. My request for change is will someone put it all together so that the numerous identical steps become one? Also, can someone prove to me that we are better off, that this stuff works and translates to sales, service, and a better quality of life?

My brother and I constantly discuss the humankind repercussions of social media, texting, cell phones, wrist computers, and instant verbal/visual communication. The word 'communication' seems outdated as I type it. If I asked my brother “What do I do that lets you know I love you?” he might respond with, “Help with the current mindset so I can stay connected.” I would respond, “Ditto.”

by Kris A. Kramer

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bench 'Press'

We asked and you answered. Eight lovely artists shared their work benches with us, and we're so impressed! Thanks go out to all for taking the time to show us what you were working on. Of course, those who posted multiple views or additional pieces were only entered into the challenge once.

Janie Zetsch, Teri Dorse, Laura Moore, Jo Ellen Vice,
Glenda Skarie, Michelle Felice Glaeser, Laura Moore, Carol Scheftic

And a special congratulations to Cyndy Williams-Wolf for being the artist whose photo was randomly chosen to receive a $25.00 gift certificate for anything her heart desires from PMC Connection! Please contact PMCC to collect your prize.

Cyndy says "I love my work in PMC silver the most. I am also
trying to branch out to include all metals and types of metal
work. I am learning new things everyday and really appreciate
all the help and kindness recieved from the Metal Clay community."

What I really love about these photos is the ability to take a peak into the working process of so many different artists, and to see the diversity of imagery each used in their designs. From salt dishes, to rosary components, to the variety of pendant designs - our readers, students, customers and metal clay compatriots have the best imaginations! This was so fun, let's do it again, shall we? Check back in a few months for another chance to show us what you're working on.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Friday, September 6, 2013

Class Ethics 101

As an instructor, I'd like to discuss some topics on class ethics - or rather, class consideration.

Last Minute Registrations 
So, you are thinking about taking a class but you're going to wait to register until the time comes closer so you're sure you can make it. Lots of people do it, so it must be OK. Right? Well, yes and no. The problem with this thought process is that if everyone waits until the very last minute to sign up for a class, the class might already have been canceled for lack of registration. Or, there might not be enough time for the instructor to purchase the supplies for the last minute stragglers.

It takes time for instructors to put together those class kits and sometimes items must be ordered a week or more in advance. Instructors are expected to have extra supplies on hand, but then they have their money tied up in extra supplies that may or may not be used for months.

So, wait if you must. But take the consequences of waiting too long into account when making your decision about when to register.

Arrive on Time
Being tardy really disrupts a class. When someone is late, the instructor must teach two separate groups and the students who arrived on time loose out on the time they would have had with the instructor. In some cases, a late student may even result in the class not finishing the proposed project for the day. Be considerate and make it a point to be on time.

Continuous Talking
Haven't seen your friend in ages? Dying to catch up? That's great, but don't do it while the teacher is giving instruction. Be considerate and take the conversation out of the room if you must talk. The other students paid good money to listen to the instructor and they shouldn't have to fight to hear over your conversation. And you never know, you might just benefit from hearing what is being taught.

Filming the class
Sure there are times when a short video will really help with your notes when you get home. But first ask the teacher if it's alright to record demonstrations and make sure you are not blocking the view for the other students. Get a list of the students and offer to send it to them if its alright with the instructor. But never put it up on the web for everyone to watch without the explicit permission of the teacher.

Until next time have fun claying around.


by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor