PMCC - How long have you been working with metal clay?
RS - About 2 years. My thoughts at the time were “Can I add this material to my other sculpture materials and give a unique perspective to my work?"
PMCC - What skills, interests, or achievements did you bring to your designs from previous, unrelated work?
RS - In my professional career I am a mechanical engineer with a strong background in metals. I also have an artistic background in ceramics, costume design, and sculptural felt making.
PMCC - How did you discover and/or develop your signature style or technique?
RS - I have always been more of a storyteller than a designer. I think that is why I find it hard to design jewelry, I need a larger “canvas” to show the movement of the character in my story. I frequently find inspiration in nature: an unusual rock, a wind-blown tree, a charging animal. I am drawn to the simple lines that make up the essence of the scene, then I try to capture that simple, but powerful image in metal (clay), stone, glass, etc. in such a way that draws the viewer into the negative space within the piece.
My first experimental piece that used this technique was a Pegasus. I built it out of Hadar’s original Steel clay (200 grams) with accents of copper. He took about 40 hours to carve and assemble. I fired him as per the instructions, and when I opened the kiln I found him in 16 pieces! I may have developed my “style” of forming and carving long slender “ribs” but I soon discovered that the real “technique” (i.e. technical challenge) came in the assembly and re-firing process involved in putting Humpty back together again. The process of rebuilding Pegasus to his final form eventually took 20 firings using lots of fiber blanket and wire supports… it was very painful! It has taken another 6 months of experimentation, but I can now build and fire a sculpture in about 5 firings and generally only have a few fractures along the way.
PMCC - How has your work or skill set evolved since you began working with metal clay?
RS - I started by taking a box-making class. It was a little advanced but I had done ceramics for 30 years so I got through it and made a nice little (carved) hinged box. I found silver a little too soft (and expensive) for my taste, so I quickly moved to base metals and began carving. The real challenge was, and continues to be, the firing and sintering process. I love the way base metal clays carve, and now I just keep pushing the limits in terms of how large and thin I can form a metal clay structure. I am also experimenting with firing base metals onto porcelain and cast glass to create unique surface extensions and effects.
PMCC - Do you teach?
RS - Not in metal clay. I have taught in other media in the past (felting, ceramics, polymer clay, etc.) but I have chosen to focus on building my technical skills in using the metal clay in mixed media sculptures.
PMCC - Do you consider yourself primarily a teacher or a maker/seller?
RS - Maker, although I am happy to share my processes on line and plan to share more of my technical “tips and tricks” via YouTube videos and a blog.
PMCC - How do you feel about teaching others your signature techniques?
RS - It’s not ready for prime time. My designs tend to be pretty intense and the techniques used to build them are very time consuming and complicated. A typical sculpture takes 30-40 hours to form and carve, plus 5 or more 2-stage firings to assemble. There is also a great deal of “engineering-sense” that goes into how to balance and support each section of the sculpture during the sintering process. I am experimenting with simplifying my designs into smaller forms that can be put into an online tutorial, but I am not there yet.
PMCC - How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
RS - As much as I love all the new colors of base metal clay that are coming onto the market, I am still sticking to a few base metal clays (steel, copper, bronze) and hoping that the sintering process becomes more reliable and the final product becomes stronger and less brittle, particularly as it relates to larger-scale, non-jewelry applications.
PMCC - Why did you choose metal clay as your primary jewelry (sculpture) making material? What qualities do you particularly appreciate?
RS - I am basically a mixed media sculptor/carver. I gravitate toward using base metal clays as my primary sculpture media because of their strength (in the bone-dry state) and ability to hold detailed carvings when using traditional wood carving tools. People often ask why I don’t sculpt in wax. My answer is that wax (and lost-wax casting) doesn’t give me the “immediate satisfaction” of combining multiple metals (copper, steel, etc), and other materials (glass, stone), into unique pieces of art. Metal clay allows me to build the one-off unique sculpture, as well as the prototype for a casting mold without all the wax.
PMCC - What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
RS - It’s a wonderful material, but it is still in its infancy, particularly the base metal clays, so have patience. It’s fun to keep trying all the new colors and formulas of clay, but you still need to test, record, re-test and record until you find the right balance of firing conditions.
PMCC - Oh my gosh, it's been so wonderful to get this glimpse into your process Rosann! Please let us know when you create your YouTube channel and blog. You're the first artist that I know of to use metal clay in this application and we all look forward to seeing more from you.